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The 1 Player on Every NBA Team Who Deserves More Attention Entering 2013-14

Luke PetkacFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2013

The 1 Player on Every NBA Team Who Deserves More Attention Entering 2013-14

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    Lance Stephenson is ready to help take the Indiana Pacers through another deep playoff run.
    Lance Stephenson is ready to help take the Indiana Pacers through another deep playoff run.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    You know what both the best and worst thing about the NBA is right now? There are almost too many good players.

    The league is as deep in talent as it's ever been, if not more so. And while that's obviously great news for NBA fans, it also means that a few good players have slipped through the cracks as far as media attention is concerned.

    Sometimes it's because they're young and on surefire lottery teams, sometimes it's because they don't put up the sheer numbers to catch the casual fan's eye, and sometimes it's because they're simply overshadowed by another player (read: they're overshadowed by LeBron James).

    Whatever the case, they're all talented and deserve a bit more attention for their efforts. So let's give it to them, shall we?

     

    All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference if not specifically stated otherwise.

Atlanta Hawks: Paul Millsap

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    Millsap was a steal for the Hawks.
    Millsap was a steal for the Hawks.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Paul Millsap is perennially underrated, but even so, the fact that the Atlanta Hawks were able to snatch him up for a two-year, $19 million deal this summer is pretty shocking (contract numbers per ShamSports).

    Let's play a guessing game. Take a look at the per-36 numbers below:

     PointsReboundsAssistsTS%
    Player A17.28.43.055.0
    Player B17.88.64.350.1

    Pretty similar stuff, right? No big edge either way?

    As you might have guessed, Player A is Millsap. Player B? Josh Smith, the very player the Hawks signed Millsap to replace. Again, the Hawks are paying Millsap less than $10 million a year. The Detroit Pistons are paying Smith $13.5 million, per ShamSports.

    To be fair, Smith is a better defender than Millsap, but $4 million-a-year better? No way.

Boston Celtics: Jeff Green

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    Green played terrific wing defense toward the end of the year.
    Green played terrific wing defense toward the end of the year.Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Jeff Green's 43-point explosion against the Miami Heat may have been a bit of an aberration, but make no mistake: He played very well throughout the second half of the season.

    From January on, Green averaged nearly 15 points and five rebounds per game on 60 percent true shooting, per NBA.com. Better yet, he shot an impressive 42 percent from outside and switched seamlessly between both forward spots depending on whether the Boston Celtics chose to go big or small.

    Green's rebounding will always be disappointing, but he was one of the premier stretch 4s in the league by the end of the season, and that gives him big value even if he doesn't pick it up on the defensive glass—especially when you consider his versatility and the tremendous defensive effort he put forward in big games.

    Green actually spelled Paul Pierce as a sort of point-forward at times last season, and he has real potential as a slash-and-kick guy (even if he'll probably have to learn to go left). The Celtics are in the middle of a big rebuild, and Green is a very nice young piece, especially if they can keep him at the right price.

Brooklyn Nets: Andrei Kirilenko

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    Kirilenko's all-around game will give the Nets a big boost.
    Kirilenko's all-around game will give the Nets a big boost.David Sherman/Getty Images

    Andray Blatche nearly stole this, but in the end, Andrei Kirilenko just does too much.

    The Brooklyn Nets' signing of Kirilenko wasn't as publicized as their blockbuster trade, but it was just as important. Not only is Kirilenko's contract (just over $3 million a year according to ShamSports) an absolute robbery, he's just about the perfect defender to complement/back up Kevin Garnett.

    It's no secret that the Nets' title chances hinge upon Garnett's ability to lift the defense, and there are a lot of questions as to whether he'll be able to do that given his age. Kirilenko's a stellar defender in his own right, and he can switch seamlessly between both forward spots, which could end up being vital when it comes to saving Garnett's legs for the postseason.

    On the other end, Kirilenko's a solid playmaker and a decent off-ball player. He's not a great spot-up shooter by any means, but he's a sneaky cutter. Spacing might be a concern in some lineups, but the Nets should be able to make it all work. This is a very underrated pickup for Brooklyn.

Charlotte Bobcats: Kemba Walker

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    Walker's got the makings of a very good point guard.
    Walker's got the makings of a very good point guard.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    It's semi-understandable that Kemba Walker doesn't get much attention considering how bad the Charlotte Bobcats have been over the past few years. But Walker's got the makings of a quality starter, and it's high time people start to notice that.

    Like the Bobcats as a whole, Walker still has a lot of flaws. But he took a big step forward last season, and there's no reason not to expect another in 2013-14. He still takes too many jumpers, but he's upped his percentages from just about everywhere. He also got to the rim at over double the rate he did his rookie year, a very good sign moving forward.

    Walker's even become a strong pick-and-roll guard—he finished 30th in efficiency according to Synergy Sports Technology—despite the fact that basically no Charlotte big could even catch the ball. Walker's decision-making is a work in progress, and the deep two-pointers are still a problem. All in all, though, he's developing into a solid starter, and the Bobcats can't ask for much more at this point.

Chicago Bulls: Mike Dunleavy

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    Dunleavy will provide some much-needed shooting prowess for the Bulls.
    Dunleavy will provide some much-needed shooting prowess for the Bulls.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Mike Dunleavy's only so-so on the defensive end, but he brings a whole lot of offense to the Chicago Bulls, and that's exactly what they're looking for.

    Dunleavy's a knockdown shooter, something the Bulls have desperately needed. Last season, Dunleavy hit 43 percent of his threes, most of which were catch-and-shoot opportunities, per Synergy Sports Technology. Nate Robinson was great from deep last year, but he took a lot of off-the-bounce shots, and what the Bulls really needed this season was a wing who could sit in the corner while Derrick Rose slashed to the basket.

    Dunleavy can also provide some ball-handling in a pinch—pretty important considering how shaky the Bulls are in terms of shot creation. Dunleavy's not exactly Kevin Durant, but he can provide some scoring of his own in a pinch, and he'll never try to do too much. He's a big step up from Marco Belinelli and should get plenty of open opportunities alongside Rose and Joakim Noah.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson

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    Thompson made strides on both ends last season.
    Thompson made strides on both ends last season.David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Bynum will probably soak up most of the attention the Cleveland Cavaliers draw this season, but don't sleep on Tristan Thompson. Thompson improved a lot last year, and at just 22 years old, he's still got plenty of growth left in him.

    Last season, Thompson averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes and was one of the few bright spots defensively for the Cavs. Like most young bigs, Thompson sometimes struggles with positioning and his rotations, but he's already a solid rim-protector and has a chance to be special on that end in the future.

    Thompson still has a ways to go offensively, particularly as a roll man. But he improved his abysmal 30 percent shooting from three to 10 feet to a much more palatable 39 percent last season, and the offense generally ran more smoothly when he was on the court.

    It's hard to say how things will shake out minutes-wise between Bennett and Thompson, but so long as Thompson sees the floor enough, he could be a Most Improved Player candidate.

     

Dallas Mavericks: Vince Carter

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    Carter's totally reinvented himself for the Mavericks.
    Carter's totally reinvented himself for the Mavericks.Glenn James/Getty Images

    The attention Vince Carter used to receive has faded in the same way his athleticism has over the years. And that's a real shame, because Carter has reinvented himself as a fantastic role player for the Dallas Mavericks.

    Over the last few years, Carter has cut out many of the weaker parts of his game, and it's made him a more efficient player than ever. Nearly 55 percent of Carter's offense comes from the pick-and-roll or as a spot-up shooter, and he no longer forces nearly as many difficult shots as he did in years past, per Synergy Sports Technology.

    Toss in his renewed commitment to defense, and you're looking at one of the best sixth men in the league. The Mavs were over 11 points per 100 possessions better when Carter was on the floor, by far the top mark of any Dallas player, per 82games.com. Carter's superstar days may be behind him, but he's still a heck of a player.

Denver Nuggets: Evan Fournier

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    Fournier needs more minutes, but it definitely looks like he can play.
    Fournier needs more minutes, but it definitely looks like he can play.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Evan Fournier, the Denver Nuggets' young shooting guard, only clocked in 11 minutes a game last season, but he was lights out when he was on the court.

    Fournier averaged 17 points and four assists per 36 minutes on nearly 60 percent true shooting last year, and his 41 percent mark from deep went a long way toward spacing the floor for the rest of the Nuggets. Andre Iguodala’s departure leaves a lot of production to be filled, and while Fournier’s nowhere near his level defensively, he might just surpass him on the offensive end.

    Fournier was a very strong secondary ball-handler last season, finishing first in the league in scoring efficiency in the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports Technology. To be fair, that number is definitely skewed by sample size—Fournier only ran 42 pick-and-rolls last season—but he still gets to the basket fairly easily and is capable of hitting jumpers anytime defenders go under screens.

    Fournier’s due to get a hefty bump in minutes this season, and if all goes well, he’ll be seeing a lot of attention soon. The kid can play.

Detroit Pistons: Charlie Villanueva

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    Villanueva and Drummond made for a deadly duo last season.
    Villanueva and Drummond made for a deadly duo last season.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    To be honest, no one on the Detroit Pistons’ roster really deserves much more attention than they get, but when it comes down to it, Charlie Villanueva has to be the pick. He doesn’t even get enough attention from his own team.

    Villanueva isn’t a star by any means, but he shot 35 percent from three last season, making him a pretty solid stretch 4 and a very good fit alongside Andre Drummond. In fact, the Pistons’ Villanueva-Drummond lineups make up two of the team's top three five-man lineups in terms of net rating, per NBA.com.

    Yet because the Greg Monroe-Drummond frontcourt is important to Detroit's future, the two don’t see the court together nearly enough.

    Things won’t get any easier with Josh Smith coming to town, but somehow the Pistons have to find ways to get Villanueva minutes, particularly when Drummond’s involved. Detroit is starved for bigs who can shoot, and that makes Villanueva just about invaluable, even if he isn’t talked about much.

Golden State Warriors: Andrew Bogut

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    Bogut was awesome defensively in the postseason.
    Bogut was awesome defensively in the postseason.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Stephen Curry's incredible shooting was huge in the Golden State Warriors' playoff run, but Andrew Bogut's defense and passing were just as important.

    When Bogut was on the court in the postseason, the Warriors outscored their opponents by 6.5 points per 100 possessions. When he was on the bench, they were outscored by a whopping 8.5 points per 100 possessions. That's a massive swing, and even it doesn't tell the whole story.

    One of the primary reasons the Warriors were able to recover from David Lee's injury was Bogut's ability to adapt on the fly and facilitate from the high post in the same way Lee did. The Warriors actually ran their offense through Bogut at times, and more often than not, he delivered.

Houston Rockets: Omer Asik

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    Asik spearheaded the Houston defense.
    Asik spearheaded the Houston defense.Bob Levey/Getty Images

    The Houston Rockets signed Dwight Howard for a lot of reasons, but dissatisfaction with Omer Asik's performance was not one of them. 

    Asik was solely responsible for keeping the Rockets afloat defensively last season. When he was on the floor, Houston sat right outside of the top 10 on defense. When he wasn't, they were just about tied with the Charlotte Bobcats for last (per 82games.com).

    Just how much he helps the Rockets offense has also been understated. Asik's not exactly a dynamic scorer, but he's decent in the pick-and-roll, and more importantly, he lets the Rockets play at break-neck speeds.

    If Asik wasn't the second-best defensive rebounder in the entire league last season, the Rockets wouldn't have had near the number of transition opportunities that they did. Aside from James Harden, no one was more valuable to Houston.

    The Rockets have been pretty adamant about not trading away Asik, but they'll get some gaudy offers anyways. He's been that good.

     

Indiana Pacers: Lance Stephenson

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    Stephenson played a big part in the Pacers' playoff run.
    Stephenson played a big part in the Pacers' playoff run.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The Indiana Pacers' run to the Eastern Conference Finals was predicated on a lot of things, but one of the biggest was Lance Stephenson's emergence. Stephenson came out of nowhere to become not just a rotation player, but a very good rotation player for Frank Vogel. He basically made the loss of Danny Granger into a non-issue.

    Stephenson's not a very good outside shooter, but even so, he bumped his true shooting percentage up from a miserable 30 percent to a so-so 48 percent last season. He's developed a solid off-the-bounce game, and he can cause opposing teams a lot of problems when they switch their best wing to Paul George, as the New York Knicks did in the postseason.

    Stephenson's just 23 years old, so the sky's the limit. According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, he's been working on his shooting this summer, and if that pays off, he could be a very scary player indeed.

Los Angeles Clippers: Jared Dudley

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    Dudley is just about the perfect role player.
    Dudley is just about the perfect role player.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Jared Dudley is one of the league's premier three-and-D wings. Last season, Dudley hit 40 percent of his spot-up threes and played solid defense on the perimeter, per Synergy Sports Technology. That's it, and that's enough to make him very valuable.

    The stuff that Dudley does may not show up on SportsCenter or even in box scores, but it had a huge impact on the Phoenix Suns and will have the same impact with the Los Angeles Clippers. His shooting provides offenses plenty of spacing, and his defensive versatility helps his team hide its weaker defenders.

    Last year, the Suns were nearly eight points per 100 possessions better when Dudley was on the court, and even that might not capture how important he was to them, per 82games.com. Now that he's playing with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he should finally get recognized for all that he brings to the table, but remember: He's been doing this stuff for a long time.

Los Angeles Lakers: Pau Gasol

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    Gasol should be playing within his comfort zone this season.
    Gasol should be playing within his comfort zone this season.Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Well, positive attention, anyways. Pau Gasol shoulders a lot of the blame when things go wrong for the Los Angeles Lakers, so let's give credit where credit is due. He was an absolute monster toward the end of last season.

    Gasol averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists per game last April, singlehandedly dragging the Lakers to the playoffs and dispelling the idea that his best basketball is well behind him. Los Angeles is a long shot to make the playoffs, but it has a chance if Gasol can turn back the clock for a good chunk of the season.

    Remember, while losing Dwight Howard is a big blow to the Lakers as a whole, it could be great for Gasol. He's always been a low-post scorer, and Howard's replacement, Chris Kaman, will let him get back to that. Kaman hit 47 percent of his shots from mid-range and beyond last season, so the Lakers will never run into the spacing issues they faced with the Howard-Gasol frontcourt.

    The Lakers defense will likely be too weak for them to sneak their way into the playoffs, but Gasol seems set to make their season interesting at the very least.

Memphis Grizzlies: Quincy Pondexter

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    The Memphis offense would have been in trouble without Pondexter's shooting.
    The Memphis offense would have been in trouble without Pondexter's shooting.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Quincy Pondexter is the lesser-known—but by no means less important—half of the Memphis Grizzlies' shooting guard rotation.

    Tony Allen's suffocating perimeter defense is a big part of the Grizzlies' identity, but there are times in which he's simply unplayable. Allen shot 13 percent from three last season (not a typo), and his inability to shoot from just about anywhere often outweighs his defensive value—his defender can cheat off him and mess up everything the Grizzlies try to do offensively.

    That makes Pondexter a very valuable piece. Pondexter shot 40 percent from three last season on over four attempts per 36 minutes, and when the Grizzlies aren't facing any particularly scary wings, they're usually better off with him on the floor.

    If Mike Miller is healthy, he'll add more shooting, but Pondexter saved the Grizzlies from a miserable offensive year and should help do so again this season.

Miami Heat: Chris Andersen

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    Without Andersen, the Heat may not have defended their title.
    Without Andersen, the Heat may not have defended their title.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Much was made of Greg Oden's signing with the Miami Heat, but the fact that they got Chris Andersen to re-sign for cheap was an even bigger deal. Andersen may not have Oden's sheer potential, but he gave the Heat a massive—and possibly even title-swinging—boost last season.

    The Heat have a serious lack of rim-protectors, and Andersen's presence on the defensive end was a big help. But the bulk of his value actually came on the offensive end. Andersen emerged as a devastating pick-and-roll partner for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, making him the perfect complement to Chris Bosh's more jumper-oriented game.

    Andersen averaged a Tyson Chandler-esque 1.4 points per possession in the pick-and-roll last season, and his frequent cuts to the rim opened up easy attempts for the Heat's three-point shooters, per Synergy Sports Technology. When Andersen was on the court in the playoffs, the Heat scored an astronomical 122 points per 100 possessions and were a net plus-18.

    The Heat won the championship on the strength of their offense, and without Andersen, they wouldn't have had enough to outgun the San Antonio Spurs.

Milwaukee Bucks: John Henson

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    Henson could be a blue-chipper someday.
    Henson could be a blue-chipper someday.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Larry Sanders didn't get much help on the defensive end last year, but he'll breathe easier now that John Henson will be getting big minutes.

    Henson got sporadic playing time last season, but when he did play, he looked like an absolute stud. He averaged 17 points and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes, and his 18.3 PER ranked third among rookies behind Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond.

    Offensively, Henson can't really do anything unless he's right at the basket, but he's an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker. Once he started getting real minutes, he put up some absurd stat lines, including 28 points and 16 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder and a 17 point-25 rebound-seven-block outing against the Orlando Magic. Crazy stuff.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Martin

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    Martin will give the Timberwolves the shooting threat they've been looking for.
    Martin will give the Timberwolves the shooting threat they've been looking for.Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Timberwolves' addition of Kevin Martin got a little lost amidst this summer's free-agency scramble. Martin could be huge for the Timberwolves, and he'll help them make a serious playoff push.

    First thing's first—Martin's a terrible defender. That's not going to change. He's capable of making up for that and more with his shooting, however, and that's what the Timberwolves are counting on. Martin hit 43 percent of his threes last season. By comparison, Minnesota hit just 31 percent from outside (worst in the league), and no one on the roster shot over 35 percent.

    They need shooting badly.

    Martin will provide plenty of spacing for Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio to do their thing and could be an adept secondary ball-handler as well. Martin didn't create too much offense last season, but he was quite efficient when he did, per Synergy Sports Technology. Aside from Kevin Love, Minnesota doesn't have a pure scorer, and Martin should fill that void quite nicely.

New Orleans Pelicans: Greg Stiemsma

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    Stiemsma has become a solid rotation player.
    Stiemsma has become a solid rotation player.David Sherman/Getty Images

    Greg Stiemsma is nothing more than a quality role player, but he's a complete unknown to most fans, and that's enough for him to be listed here.

    Stiemsma is a nonfactor on the offensive end, but he's a very good rim-protector, and the New Orleans Pelicans made a great call in snatching him up for just under $3 million a year, per ShamSports. Stiemsma blocked nearly six percent of all shots when he was on the floor last season—a top-15 rate—and he's a solid defensive rebounder as well.

    Stiemsma told The Times Picayune's John Reid that he'd be making a push for the starting job this season, and there's a good chance that actually ends up happening. He's a solid center.

     

New York Knicks: Tyson Chandler

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    The Knicks will need Chandler to be excellent once again.
    The Knicks will need Chandler to be excellent once again.Al Bello/Getty Images

    Obviously Tyson Chandler (and really everyone else on the New York Knicks) gets a good bit of attention. But when you consider everything that he brings to the table for New York, he deserves a whole lot more.

    Everyone knows Chandler holds the Knicks defense together, but what's even more impressive is what he does for their offense. Believe it or not, Chandler is just as important to the Knicks' offensive attack as Carmelo Anthony is.

    New York lives on the long ball, and the reason it's able to get so many looks from outside is due to Chandler's pick-and-roll ability. Chandler sucks defenders into the paint every time he heads to the basket, and it opens up easy opportunities for the rest of the Knicks. Chandler posted the highest offensive rating in the league last season, and you can bet he'll be right up there again this year.

    Chandler truly does it all for the Knicks, and if they're hoping to compete for a title, they'll need him to be at the top of his game once again.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant

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    Durant just put up one of the greatest scoring seasons of all time.
    Durant just put up one of the greatest scoring seasons of all time.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Seriously. Kevin Durant, universally considered the league’s second-best player, doesn’t get enough attention. Maybe it sounds crazy, but it’s true.

    Everyone knows that Durant had a great season last year, but few realize just how good it was because, unbelievably, LeBron James surpassed it.

    Here’s just a quick overview: 

    • Durant finished last season with 18.9 win shares, 22nd all time. Throw out the wacky 1950s George Mikan seasons and only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and David Robinson have had better years from a win shares perspective. Those are some big names.

    • Only LeBron and Robertson can match the all-around playoff numbers Durant put up following Russell Westbrook’s injury.

    • Of the players to post 50-40-90 years, only Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird (twice) can match or come close to Durant’s 2012-13 season in terms of attempts.

    • Durant attempted nearly 40 percent more threes and free throws than Bird and Nowitzki in any of their 50-40-90 years, (arguably) giving him claim to the greatest shooting season ever.

    • Durant held opposing 3s to a PER of 10.5 and opposing 4s to a PER of 13.4 last season. LeBron held those same positions to PERs of 12.7 and 17.2, respectively, per 82games.com. This is a flawed statistic to be sure, but there's no question Durant is approaching LeBron as a positional defender (though he lacks LeBron’s versatility).

    Durant can go toe-to-toe with pretty much anyone and not bat an eye. He doesn’t have a ring or an MVP yet, but appreciate him while he’s around. He’s an all-timer.

     

Orlando Magic: Tobias Harris

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    Tobias Harris has a chance to be special with the Magic.
    Tobias Harris has a chance to be special with the Magic.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    The Orlando Magic more or less received Tobias Harris as a throw-in when they traded J.J. Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks. With Milwaukee, Harris averaged a modest 12 minutes, five points and two rebounds per game. Not terrible for a 20-year-old, but nothing too special.

    Nonetheless, the Magic gave Harris starter's minutes, and he responded in a big way. In the last month of the season, Harris averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game and tossed up a ridiculous 30-19-5 game against his old team.

    Apart from rebounding machine Nikola Vucevic, Harris was just about the only reason to tune into the Magic down the stretch last year, and not many fans outside of Orlando have even heard his name.

Philadelphia 76ers: Thaddeus Young

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    Young did just about everything for the 76ers last season.
    Young did just about everything for the 76ers last season.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Aside from the Philadelphia 76ers' promising rookies, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young is about the only bright spot 76ers fans can hang their hat on until the draft rolls around.

    Jrue Holiday may have gotten the All-Star votes last season, but you can make an easy case for Young being a better player. Last season, Young averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game and played solid defense on opposing 4s to boot. The biggest indication of his value comes when he's off the court, though.

    When Young was in the game last season, the 76ers were roughly league-average on both ends of the floor. When he was on the bench? Dead last offensively (by a huge margin) and in the bottom five or six defensively, per 82games.com. He held that team together.

    The 76ers are—by design—going to be very bad this season, and it'll be interesting to see how Young factors into their long-term plans.

Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic

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    Dragic actually made the Phoenix Suns fun to watch. Sometimes.
    Dragic actually made the Phoenix Suns fun to watch. Sometimes.David Sherman/Getty Images

    If not for Goran Dragic, the Phoenix Suns would have been entirely unwatchable last season. Dragic doesn't get mentioned all that much because of the sheer number of elite point guards right now, but he's become a very good player in his own right.

    Dragic carried the Suns offense last season. He led the team in points and assists per game and had a hand in creating just about every shot they made. He isn't quite elite on the offensive end, but he's a stellar playmaker and a crafty scorer. Dragic has a deceptive crossover and can score in all kinds of ways around the basket—no one in the league can drop layups from weirder angles than he can.

    Dragic didn't bring the Suns all that many wins last season, but he's a ton of fun to watch and makes an exciting pair with the newly acquired Eric Bledsoe. 

Portland Trail Blazers: Wesley Matthews

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    Matthews is a talented young three-and-D guy.
    Matthews is a talented young three-and-D guy.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Wesley Matthews is another of the league's better three-and-D wings and a perfect fit alongside Damian Lillard.

    Matthews has hit between 38 and 40 percent from three every year of his career, and while that's where the majority of his offense comes from, he can create his own shots as well. Matthews is a pretty efficient isolation and pick-and-roll scorer and is strong enough to bully a lot of guards and forwards on the low block, per Synergy Sports Technology.

    That same strength also lets Matthews switch to bigger forwards if the matchups dictate it, and that versatility can make him and Nicolas Batum a tough tandem for a lot of teams to handle.

Sacramento Kings: Patrick Patterson

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    Patterson gives the Kings a solid complement to DeMarcus Cousins.
    Patterson gives the Kings a solid complement to DeMarcus Cousins.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    A lot of people criticized the Sacramento Kings when they dealt Thomas Robinson for Patrick Patterson, but give them some credit. It's starting to look like they got the better player in that deal.

    Patterson's not much of a shot-creator, but he can shoot a solid percentage from just about anywhere on the floor, and that's not something you find too often in a big man.

    Last season, Patterson shot 39 percent from three, 48 percent from mid-range and beyond, and 74 percent at the rim. Sacramento can use Patterson in pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll sets, it can have him spot up from the three-point line...heck, it could even try running him off screens if it wants.

    Patterson's also a great complement to DeMarcus Cousins. Neither can protect the rim, so they may struggle defensively, but with Patterson floating around the perimeter, Cousins should have a lot more space to work down low and won't have to resort to firing up jumpers so much. Again, there aren't many bigs like Patterson, and he's a great young piece for a rebuilding franchise.

San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter

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    Splitter does all the little things on defense.
    Splitter does all the little things on defense.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    The San Antonio Spurs probably overpaid a bit for Tiago Splitter (he makes about $9 million a year, per ShamSports), but they still made a shrewd move in keeping him. He's great alongside Tim Duncan, and the Spurs' title window won't be open for all that much longer anyways.

    Splitter's an understated defender who's made a huge leap over the past year. He doesn't put up crazy numbers or have game-changing athleticism, but he's smart, always knows where to go and does all the little things—switching, hedging on pick-and-rolls, fronting big men—extremely well.

    Last season, Splitter-Duncan lineups posted a defensive rating of 92.7—a suffocating rate that smashes what the Indiana Pacers' league-leading defense did, per NBA.com. Splitter's no slouch on the other end either. He's very good in the pick-and-roll, and he never plays outside of the Spurs' complicated offensive scheme.

    Splitter doesn't get huge minutes because Boris Diaw's playmaking and ability to stretch defenses is vital to what the Spurs do offensively. But he'll likely get more this season, and unless Duncan suffers some kind of unforeseen decline, the Spurs will once again crush offenses when he's on the floor.

Toronto Raptors: Amir Johnson

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    The Raptors' MVP last season may have just been Johnson.
    The Raptors' MVP last season may have just been Johnson.David Sherman/Getty Images

    Amir Johnson is the plus-minus king. There's really no other way to put it.

    Last season, the Toronto Raptors were over 15 points per 100 possessions better when Johnson was on the floor than when he rode the bench, per 82games.com. Toronto outscored opponents by a total of 213 points when he was playing and were outscored by 334 points when he wasn't.

    That's unbelievable.

    Johnson's a solid rim-protector and really just a great overall defender. He plays pick-and-rolls well, he doesn't easily give ground down low, he communicates...there's not much more you could ask from him. On the other end, he never tries to do too much, he's developed a nice hook shot and his jumper is respectable enough that defenders can't sag off him.

    It's all very simple stuff, but it's led to Johnson being quite possibly the Raptors' most valuable player.

Utah Jazz: Enes Kanter

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    Kanter already has a lot of skill on the low block.
    Kanter already has a lot of skill on the low block.Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Enes Kanter doesn't have the ceiling Derrick Favors does, but he was arguably the more productive player last season and might fill Al Jefferson's shoes more quickly than most think.

    Kanter is pretty raw as an overall player, but he already has the makings of a sophisticated post game, and when he's on the floor, the Utah Jazz spend a lot of time trying to get him isolated on the low block. Kanter shot 48 percent on post-ups last season and has a good stable of moves for someone so young, per Synergy Sports Technology. He's got a nice jump hook with either hand, a quick spin move, a pretty baseline turnaround and an array of shoulder fakes.

    Kanter's never going to be a game-changing defender—that's Favors' job—but he could be good someday, and if he improves his passing from out of the post, he could be an awesome offensive weapon.

Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

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    Bradley Beal and John Wall are going to be a great backcourt someday.
    Bradley Beal and John Wall are going to be a great backcourt someday.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Bradley Beal is considered a future All-Star by almost anyone’s reckoning, and yet he’s still underrated. That’s how good he is.

    Beal’s numbers from last season look pretty good, but if you focus on how he played following John Wall’s return from injury, they start to look really good. From mid-January on, Beal scored 15 points per game on 57 percent true shooting including a ridiculous 47 percent from deep. Plus, the Washington Wizards outscored opponents by eight points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, per NBA.com.

    He was awesome.

    Beal’s not particularly good at creating his own shot, but he’s already a great off-ball scorer, similar to the way Ray Allen was back in the day. And considering how well Wall played to close out last season, that type of player might be ideal for the Wizards. You could make a legitimate case that Beal is already a top-five shooting guard, and he’s just 20 years old. That's scary.

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