NBA

Small-Market NBA Studs to Watch This Season

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2013

Small-Market NBA Studs to Watch This Season

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    Kemba Walker could be in for a big year in 2013-14.
    Kemba Walker could be in for a big year in 2013-14.Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    We already know about the big-market stars and up-and-coming studs in the NBA. Their faces are plastered nearly everywhere you look, whether it be on billboards, television commercials or sports websites. There is no need to bring those guys to your attention.

    However, which small-market players should we look out for in 2013-14? Which youngsters on relatively obscure or poor teams are poised to break out this season?

    Unfortunately for the players we are about to discuss, recognition is quite hard to come by. It's not fair, but that's the nature of sports. Clearly, those who are in larger media markets are going to garner the most consideration.

    Let's at least attempt to level the playing field here.

    NOTE: In this article, "small-market" teams are defined as ballclubs who do not garner much media attention. This could be due to the fact that they play in a smallish city, are not a big-spending franchise or if they are overlooked by most because they are not exactly what one would call "good" teams.

    To further illustrate the point, examples of big-market squads include the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Kemba Walker quietly showed significant improvement during the 2012-13 campaign, averaging 17.7 points, 5.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and two steals per game while shooting 42.3 percent from the floor. He also posted .080 win shares per 48 minutes.

    No, those numbers do not necessarily jump off the page, and his efficiency could certainly stand to get better. But when you put those stats up against the ones he recorded in his rookie season, you'll see why Walker is on this list.

    During his first year in the league, Walker tallied 12.1 points, 4.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 0.9 steals a contest. He shot a paltry 36.6 percent from the floor and averaged only .009 win shares per 48 minutes. 

    Going a little further, the UConn product compiled minus-0.2 offensive win shares in his rookie campaign. Yes; negative 0.2. In his sophomore year? 3.7.

    That is a huge jump.

    Now that Walker has an adequate big man to play with in Al Jefferson plus fellow youngsters like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor on the rise, it's entirely appropriate to expect major strides for the point guard this season.

    We could have a star in the making here. Stay tuned.

     

JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    With Kosta Koufos now playing in Memphis, this could be the first year that JaVale McGee sees starter minutes on the Denver Nuggets.

    The thing with McGee is that, his well-known lack of a first-rate basketball IQ aside, he is very productive in the minutes he gets.

    Last season, JaVale averaged 18.1 minutes per game, and in those 18.1 minutes, he posted 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, and two blocks. That comes out to 18 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.9 blocks over 36 minutes of action. Plus, he recorded .163 win shares per 48 minutes and shot 57.5 percent from the floor.

    Don't you wonder what the big man can do if he is given 30 to 35 minutes a contest?

    He will still have to share some playing time with guys like Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson and Timofey Mozgov, but if I'm new Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw, I'm not giving Mozgov much burn if it means compromising McGee's floor time.

    Let's assume that the 25-year-old gets about 25 to 30 minutes a night. Well, that was the type of P.T. he saw in Washington, and he usually averaged around 11 and eight. An improved McGee should be able to put up 15 and 10.

    Hopefully the kid gets that opportunity.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Okay, so Detroit is not exactly a "small market," but Andre Drummond absolutely had to make this list.

    Saying Drummond is an animal doesn't even begin to describe how good this kid is going to be.

    This is a 20-year-old who averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 20.7 minutes per game during his rookie season. Translated over 36 minutes, those numbers come out to 13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.

    Wow.

    Drummond has also looked outstanding in preseason, and with a year of experience under his belt, expect him to see an increase in playing time for the 2013-14 campaign.

    If he puts up something like 15 and 12, do not be surprised. He has the tools to do just that, even if this is only his second year.

    Imagine the types of stats Drummond will be posting once he hits his prime.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Anthony Davis' impressive rookie season was overlooked due to the scintillating performance of Damian Lillard. It's a shame, too, because the kid averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while posting .159 win shares per 48 minutes.

    Davis appears fully intent on letting the world know just how good he is this year. He has been superb in the preseason, scoring 20-plus points in four of his five exhibition contests.

    Plus, Davis has some more support in 2013-14 from newcomers Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. Hopefully, Eric Gordon can stay healthy, too.

    The New Orleans Pelicans may be ready to challenge for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and Davis is a gigantic reason for that. The big man simply fills up the stat sheet. Averaging a double-double this season may not be out of the question.

Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    There are a lot of guys to pick from on the Orlando Magic who can make their way onto this list, but you have to take into consideration that players like Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris have already broken out.

    That leaves Maurice Harkless.

    Harkless emerged as a stout perimeter defender in his rookie year and also flashed a decent offensive game, posting 8.2 points per game on 46.1 percent shooting. He is also incredibly athletic and has utilized that athleticism to become a solid rebounder; he tallied 6.1 boards per 36 minutes last season.

    Now, Harkless has had a whole summer to work on his offensive repertoire and perhaps develop a better outside shot. The St. John's product shot only 27.4 percent from three-point range in 2012-13, a number that a wing like him should seriously focus on improving. His free-throw stroke—he shot 57 percent—could obviously use some fine-tuning, as well.

    Regardless, Harkless is a big-time breakout candidate this season. He possesses the tools to develop into an Andre Iguodala-type player.

Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Eric Bledsoe never got a chance to break free with the Los Angeles Clippers because he was playing behind some guy named Chris Paul.

    Well, now Bledsoe is out of L.A. and has a chance to develop into the star of the Phoenix Suns.

    While the 6'1" guard still has a lot to work on, it's safe to say that he has made major strides in his game since coming into the league in 2010-11, particularly in his shooting.

    Bledsoe was not a good shooter in college, and over his first two years in the NBA, he shot only 26 percent from long range and just 41.7 percent from the floor overall.

    In 2012-13, he augmented his perimeter game pretty remarkably, hitting 39.7 percent of his three-point attempts. Yes, it was a rather small sample size, as Bledsoe only took 78 triples, but it's still an improvement. As a result, his overall field-goal percentage saw a nice bump, jumping to 44.5 percent.

    It should be interesting to see what type of role Bledsoe will fill with the Suns. Right now, he is penciled in at 2-guard because of Goran Dragic's presence, but should Phoenix decide to deal Dragic in favor of Bledsoe, that will likely change.

    No matter what, Bledsoe will see the ball much more with the Suns than he did with the Clippers, and with more opportunities he'll produce more.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Everyone is talking about Paul George, and that's fair, but don't you dare forget about one of the other up-and-coming star small forwards in this league: Kawhi Leonard.

    Leonard was extremely steady in his first two years, demonstrating superb efficiency (in two seasons, he compiled a true shooting percentage of 58.4 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 55.1 percent) and excellent ability on the defensive end.

    Not only that, but Leonard displayed that he is not afraid of the moment, posting .194 win shares per 48 minutes during the 2013 playoffs.

    Did I mention that he is only 22 years old?

    With the Spurs' Big Three aging, Leonard's role will increase in 2013-14. Expect even better numbers from the San Diego State product this season.

Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

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    Ron Turenne/Getty Images

    Let's forget that Terrence Ross is an awesome dunker for a minute and acknowledge the fact that he is pretty darn talented and could develop into a very good all-around wing.

    While his numbers are not exactly going to be All-Star-worthy this year with Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan playing in front of him, Ross can still be productive off the bench, and he should be better in his sophomore year than he was in his rookie campaign.

    While Ross displayed insane athleticism and good versatility in 2012-13, he wasn't exactly efficient, shooting only 40.7 percent from the floor. However, he is only 22, so you have to figure that better efficiency will come with experience. Plus, he shot 45.2 percent in his two years at the University of Washington, so he has proven to be moderately efficient in the past.

    Finally, due to Ross' length and quickness, he could develop into a very good defender. 

Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz

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    Jim Urquhart-USA TODAY Sports

    After watching him for three years, we know quite a few things about Derrick Favors. He is athletic, a good rebounder and a good shot-blocker who is still very raw offensively.

    What we don't know, however, is what type of numbers he will put up if given starter minutes. He hasn't gotten that chance yet.

    After playing a little more than half of his first season with the Nets, Favors was traded to the Utah Jazz in the Deron Williams deal. Since then, he has been playing behind the likes of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and has had to share bench minutes with Enes Kanter.

    Now, Jefferson and Millsap are gone. For the first time in his career, Favors will be the unquestioned starter for the long haul.

    Can Favors handle it?

    Well, based on his lifetime per-36 statistics (14 points, 10.6 rebounds and two blocks), it appears that he can.

    It should be exciting to see what the young big man can do with his opportunity.

Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Yes, another Jazz player.

    With the aforementioned big men Jefferson and Millsap now playing elsewhere, Gordon Hayward becomes Utah's best player and team leader.

    Is the 23-year-old prepared for that type of challenge?

    It certainly helps that Hayward was clearly the top dog on Butler the year he took the Bulldogs to the national title game, so he knows what being the alpha male is like.

    Still, some of his numbers are a bit concerning.

    First of all, his field-goal percentage has dipped each year since his rookie campaign. In Hayward's first season, he shot 48.5 percent. Last season, that number dropped to 43.5 percent from 45.6 percent the year before.

    Also, Hayward is known for being a good playmaking forward, but he hasn't improved all that drastically in that area yet.

    If Hayward wants to reach that next level, this is the year he has to start doing it. He is now the man on the Jazz, and he has to prove he is capable of handling that.

    The thought here is that he will. He has very few (if any) holes in his game, and he has a very high basketball IQ.

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    As many expected, Bradley Beal enjoyed a very solid rookie campaign, averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting 38.6 percent from distance. Some nagging injuries prevented him from playing a full season, though, and Beal only played in 56 contests.

    This year, not only is Beal fully healthy, but his backcourt mate John Wall is as well. Those two should make for an outstanding tandem, not just for this season, but for years to come.

    With Wall playing alongside him to take some pressure off, look for Beal's efficiency to improve in 2013-14. He shot only 41 percent from the floor last season, and while his three-point efficiency was good, his two-point efficiency wasn't.

    Those numbers will likely look a bit better at the end of this season with more help on the roster.

    Beal and his sharpshooting will be an integral part to a Washington Wizards playoff push.

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