Every year, we see a few players come seemingly out of nowhere to arrive on the forefront of NBA circles.
We’re not talking making the leap from good to very good or very good to great. Guys like Paul George and Anthony Davis will continue to improve, but they’re already prominent players with prominent roles.
This is a level below: the players who haven’t been able to get a ton of playing time or haven’t garnered much respect coming into this season and who might be able to make the leap to high-end role player.
That’s what Eric Bledsoe did last season in Los Angeles. It’s what Jimmy Butler did in Chicago. It’s what Andre Drummond did in Detroit.
Here’s a look at six players who have a chance to make a similar jump in the upcoming season.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Results from Las Vegas Summer League don’t mean much. Just ask 2012 summer league MVP Josh Selby if he can explain to you why that’s true. But maybe, if we’re feeling particularly hypocritical, we can put some stock into the numbers anyway.
Jeffery Taylor tore up summer league. Yes, it’s four games. And yes, it’s summer league, but we might’ve seen a leap in Taylor’s game back in July.
Taylor averaged 20.3 points per game—shooting 47.5 percent from the floor, 36.8 percent from three and 69.2 percent from the line—in his four games in Vegas. Meanwhile, his defense was exactly what you’d expect to see from Taylor: feisty on the perimeter, smart with his rotations and vocal on the floor.
You don’t always see a second-year 24-year-old forward communicate so much on the court, especially when he’s playing in relatively meaningless games with teammates whom he’s mostly never played with before and will never play with again. But Taylor did just that.
Maybe more than anything else, what’s to like about Taylor is that he’s an improver, someone who has legitimately gotten better every year of his career dating back to his collegiate days.
Remember when Taylor showed up on the Vanderbilt campus? He was an 18-year-old athlete who could play defense and slash to the hoop, but he had no shot. Actually, he had a negative shot. Its only constant was inaccuracy.
By his junior year, Taylor had developed his jumper enough to shoot 34.5 percent from three on 3.3 attempts per game. As a senior, he turned into one of the best shooters in the SEC, nailing 42.3 percent of his threes on 4.3 attempts per game.
You could argue that Vandy teammate John Jenkins, currently a dead-on shooter for the Atlanta Hawks, helped open up the floor for Taylor. That’s fine. It’s legitimate. That is one of the reasons Taylor’s percentage went up—but he improved.
He got smarter. He moved better without the ball. He improved his accuracy shooting off the dribble. He learned to create better for teammates. His defense became that much more intense. Yet, he wasn’t selected in the 2012 NBA draft until the second round.
Now, Taylor has a chance to break out for the Charlotte Bobcats, playing for a new coach in his second season. With more minutes, bet on him to improve mainly because, well, he always has.
Terrence Ross only played 17.0 minutes per game last season, but he was sitting behind Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan on the depth chart. Actually, let me correct that:
He was sitting behind Rudy Gay’s and DeMar DeRozan’s contracts on the depth chart.
Now, though, there is new management in Toronto, and newly hired general manager Masai Ujiri won’t want to hold on to the leftovers that Bryan Colangelo so generously handed him.
Ujiri came into Toronto and immediately unloaded Andrea Bargnani for whatever scraps he could find. Now that Bargnani is gone, it seems only intuitive that he’ll look to do the same with Gay and the $37 million Toronto owes him for the next two years. That means someone out there would have to take those potentially lost minutes.
Cue: Terrence Ross.
Ross has a chance to become a valuable athletic wing, someone who can impact a game as a three-and-D guy, but before he can get there, he has to shore up some glaring weaknesses.
Mainly, Ross’ shot selection was a little odd last season. Granted, that might have something to do with the Raptors’ slightly primitive offense, which called for too many fadeaway 22-footers out of double-teams with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. There’s a good chance we can chalk that up to the Rudy Gay Effect over all else.
Ross is athletic and a strong finisher around the rim, though he doesn’t go there particularly often. He took only 16.6 percent of his shots at the rim last year, compared to the 24.5 percent of his shot attempts that he took from 16 feet out to the three-point line.
That’s not the breakdown you want to see from a young athlete—especially one who shot only 29.5 percent in that mid-range area—but that was life with the Raptors last season: strangely disorganized and uniquely frustrating.
Inefficient basketball breeds even more inefficient basketball. But that might change under a new regime with a new philosophy.
If it does, a 22-year-old player can be impressionable for the better. He can learn the new system, learn a new style and improve because of it. If not, we might just be seeing the development of some weird DeRozan-Gay hybrid in Ross.
Take your arms and extend them out so they are perpendicular to your torso. Now, make sure you’re really reaching. If you’re a normal person, the length from fingertip to fingertip will be about 1.03 times your height.
Reggie Jackson is not a normal person.
Standing at 6’3”, Jackson should have a wingspan of about 6’5”. That would make the most biological sense, but whoever designed Jackson’s body clearly didn’t have biological sense in mind.
Seven feet. That’s how long Jackson’s wingspan reaches. Seven whole feet.
Now, Jackson and his outlandishly disproportionate arms actually have a chance to see the floor consistently. With Russell Westbrook due to miss at least the first four to six weeks of the season, Jackson has to step in as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point guard—and there’s a chance he could end up being the second scorer on the team.
James Harden isn’t there anymore. Kevin Martin isn’t there anymore. Westbrook isn’t there for now. Aside from Kevin Durant, what player does the Thunder have who can create his own shot? Probably Reggie Jackson.
Jackson doesn’t have much of a conscience, but that might not be the worst thing in the world. He took 12.8 shots a game in the eight playoff games following Westbrook’s playoff injury last season. He took 4.1 threes a game during that time even though he shot only 24.2 percent from long range.
There is nothing that Jackson has ever done that should make us think he won’t be firing up shots nonstop to start the season. Nothing.
The Thunder, though, need someone like that. For as much criticism as Westbrook takes for his high-volume shooting, he is doing a bunch of good by taking most of the shots he takes. The defense has to respect the ego of someone other than Durant on that team or else it’s going to be far too difficult to get Durant open.
Here’s the catch: Jackson isn’t just a chucker. He’s actually talented. He’s an upper-echelon athlete who should be able to develop into a terrific perimeter defender, one who can guard both 1s and 2s with those irrationally long arms.
Even once Westbrook comes back, it doesn’t automatically mean Jackson will lose loads of playing time.
Who’s Oklahoma City’s instant-offense bench player this year? Is Jeremy Lamb really ready to take those reins? Because if he’s not, that job will be Jackson’s to steal and if he produces with Westbrook in a suit on the bench, that’s exactly what will happen.
Can we just take some time to try to figure out why teams keep giving away Tobias Harris?
The Charlotte Bobcats originally drafted the third-year forward back in 2011 but traded him along with Shaun Livingston and Stephen Jackson for the everlasting, franchise-changing duo of Corey Maggette and Bismack Biyombo.
That deal sent Harris to the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Bucks turned around and traded the kid about a year later for a two-month rental of J.J. Redick, because when you have a chance to snag the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, you have to compromise your future in order to get there. You just have to.
So how did Harris respond to the trade after averaging only 11.5 minutes per game in Milwaukee? He sped through defenses like he was on his hometown L.I.E.
In 27 games with the Orlando Magic, Harris averaged 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 blocks a game, playing 36.1 minutes a night. And he’s only 21 years old. I repeat: He is 21 years old.
Harris is going to play just as much this year. Orlando isn’t trying to win. It’s trying to develop. That means guys like Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn, Nikola Vucevic and, of course, Harris are going to play no matter what.
He showed last year exactly how well he can produce in major minutes. Over the course of a full season, maybe we’re looking at someone who can put up 20 points a game in the near future. Milwaukee fans, we’re all so sorry.
The Milwaukee Bucks frontcourt is more crowded than Water Street on a Saturday night.
Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, and John Henson are all fighting for playing time, and that means someone is likely to go. We just aren’t sure who it’s going to be, but we can hypothesize.
Sanders just signed a four-year, $44 million extension, and Pachulia just came to Milwaukee on a three-year deal worth upward of $15 million. I know what you’re thinking. There’s nothing more peculiar than a three-year deal with Zaza Pachulia, and strange rhyming schemes aside, it makes even less sense to make that deal when you already have three developing athletic bigs.
The Bucks were set with youth in the frontcourt, but now after committing money to Pachulia, they have to make a move so that they don’t have a young talent rotting on the bench. That means moving either Henson or Udoh.
Udoh would probably be the easier get. He’s about four years older than Henson and is an expiring $4.5 million deal. He’s a decent defender and an athletic shot-blocker. Someone would pick him up without having to give up the house.
So it’s probable that the Bucks would keep Henson and use him as their starting power forward or first big man off the bench, but for some reason, Milwaukee didn’t treat a rookie whom it drafted 14th overall last year like a part of its future plans. And nope, that makes no sense.
Henson finally broke out in the final five games of last season, when he averaged 15.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. After averaging 11.3 minutes a night over the Bucks’ first 77 games of the year, Milwaukee finally started to invest some time in a rookie who should have earned burn far earlier in the season.
Then came the playoffs, and the Bucks decided to revert for inexplicable reasons. Actually, “reasons” implies that there was logic involved in playing Henson only 33 total minutes in the Miami Heat’s four-game sweep against Milwaukee last April, but truthfully, there was no logic.
There is no logic in playing your talented, young big man fewer than two minutes in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs. There is no sense in increasing Luc Mbah a Moute’s minutes from 22.9 a game in the regular season to 34.0 a game in the playoffs when you have other quality forwards who can contribute.
And there’s no sense in doing any of this when you have a 22-year-old who has averaged 15 and 15 over his past five games.
The Bucks did all of it anyway in one of those inexplicable Bucky moves that seem to happen so often. J.J. Redick and his eight minutes played in Game 2 of that series know exactly what I’m talking about.
Maybe we shouldn’t rely on Milwaukee changing its mentality about Henson. Maybe the Bucks are willing to trade him. Maybe a team like the Los Angeles Clippers, who are an extra guard deep and a big man short, could con them into swapping Jamal Crawford for a package that includes Henson. If Henson left Milwaukee, he’d get playing time, but it’s unrealistic to assume that leaving is even an option.
In the real world, Henson is staying in Milwaukee because he’s too good to leave. Now, all the Bucks need to do is take the remarkably small risk of playing a second-year stud who might complement Larry Sanders better than any other big on their roster.
George Karl doesn’t like rookies.
At least that’s what everyone says. But “doesn’t like” sounds so harsh, so stubbornly irrational, especially when you consider that both Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried have played upward of 20 minutes per game as rookies for Karl in the past few seasons.
All of that said, Karl definitely doesn’t prefer to play rookies if he isn’t forced to do so. Even though Lawson and Faried were legitimate rotation players in their first seasons, they still needed to play more, but they didn’t, because Karl doesn’t prioritize rookies.
That was Evan Fournier’s problem last season; he wasn’t prioritized. Something, though, that could help Fournier’s development this year is that Denver Nuggets management didn’t prioritize Karl.
Denver’s front office has made a conscious effort to drive the organization in a younger direction. That was part of the reason that the Nuggets fired Karl back in June, that age-related philosophical disagreement.
Now, team president Josh Kroenke has his guy: Brian Shaw.
We still have no idea what kind of coach Shaw might become. We’ve heard his name in coaching rumors for years. We’ve heard support for him throughout the league, but anyone who says he knows exactly what the Nuggets are going to get from Shaw is either lying or staring into a crystal ball.
You never know quite what you’re going to get from a first-year head coach. That’s the risk, but one thing we do know is that Kroenke wouldn’t have hired someone who didn’t share the same organizational philosophy as him. That means we’re going to see youth on the court.
Welcome to prominence, Evan Fournier.
The brilliance in Fournier’s game comes in the consistency of his shot selection. He attempted 152 total shots last year, and according to NBA.com, he took exactly 13 mid-range shots all of last season. Thirteen. That’s it.
Fournier was about threes and shots at the rim. Other than that, the ball rarely ever left his hands. Last season, 84.9 percent of his shot attempts came either from long range or at the hoop. He just wasn’t taking bad shots.
Someone who shot 49.6 percent from the floor, 41.1 percent from three and 77.5 percent from the line as a rookie should continue to produce with that kind of shot selection, and once Fournier gets more minutes, which could be soon, we’ll start to see the results of his talent more apparently.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
(Unless specified otherwise, all statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.)