Former NBA 1st-Round Picks Who Are Poised to Thrive in Larger Roles
For a lot of young NBA players, it's all about opportunity.
And sometimes, it takes a few years before a good one arises. For some, that time is now.
Thanks to a number of offseason moves, there are a few former first-round picks lined up for a significant boost in minutes. With larger roles, these are the guys you can expect to maximize their opportunities in major full-time positions.
Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns really might have something here. Miles Plumlee looked awesome in his starting debut, finishing with 18 points, 15 boards and three blocks in 40 active minutes.
He's a tremendous athlete, which powers the majority of his production. But Plumlee's improved footwork stood out right off the bat. There were no wasted steps or hesitance—Plumlee was grooving in the post, creating his own shot and executing with fluidity.
With a nose for the ball, 6'11'' size and noticeable hand-eye coordination, Plumlee is effective around the rim, both as a finisher and a rebounder.
He also showed off his touch on some soft hooks and a mid-range jumper.
Plumlee got 40 minutes in his debut, while Alex Len only got eight. Plumlee should be in line for a monster workload in this throwaway year for the Suns. There's a good possibility he emerges as a double-double machine and one of those where-the-heck-did-he-come-from type of contributors.
Xavier Henry, Los Angeles Lakers
A lottery pick just a few years ago, Xavier Henry has been awfully silent through a number of injury-riddled seasons.
But he has made some noise in Los Angeles, where he's earned a significant role in the Lakers' rotation early on.
He went off for a career-high 22 points on 8-of-13 in the opener, knocking down three treys from behind the arc. Henry actually showed off some deceptive athleticism as well, finishing above the rim in the open floor.
This is all uncharted territory for Henry, who really hasn't even had the chance to make an impact. If he can keep knocking down makeable shots, Henry could end up dropping some serious numbers playing in Mike D'Antoni's system.
With Kobe Bryant sidelined for who knows how long, Henry should have the chance to make a regular contribution. Look for him to revive his career as a key member of the Lakers' bench.
Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz
The stage is finally Enes Kanter's, who's been patiently waiting for two years after going top five in the draft.
It took just 29 minutes for Kanter to pick up 14 and 10 in the opener. He's super skilled in the post, which just seems like a rarity these days with young big men.
He's got a strong back-to-the-basket game, where he uses his size and mass to earn position and his touch to convert with a hook.
Kanter also showed off some nifty footwork by facing up his man, attacking off the bounce and spinning in the lane for a bucket against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though not an above-the-rim athlete, Kanter does a really nice job of using his body to finish inside.
There's no reason why he shouldn't be playing roughly 30 minutes a game at the minimum—which could lead to frequent double-doubles from the talented Turkish center.
Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
Corey Brewer emerged as a nice reserve for the Denver Nuggets over the past two years, but now he's got the chance to play a major role in Minnesota.
He started opening night and earned himself 40 minutes of action, finishing with 16 points on 7-of-11.
Brewer seems like a good fit for a team who needs a defensive-oriented forward and some athleticism on the wing. Offensively, he's an opportunistic scorer, and as a long, smooth athlete, he can help the Wolves pick up some easy points in transition.
I also like his chances to have his best shooting season of his career playing alongside a passer like Ricky Rubio. He knocked down a career-high 1.1 threes a game last year, so I'd expect that number to rise.
The upside with Brewer has pretty much washed away, but with nobody really threatening his playing time, he's a good bet to have a career year and potentially help the Wolves make a push for the playoffs.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic
I'm real high on Tobias Harris, despite the early-season injury. With the Magic's eyes on the lottery as opposed to the postseason, there isn't much of a rush to get him back.
He averaged roughly 20 and 10 in April last season and 16 and eight in March. Harris has the potential to emerge as a rare mismatch at the combo-forward position, with the size, strength and shoulders of a 4 and the skill set of a 3.
He's a tough cover at either frontcourt position, thanks to his offensive versatility, where he can face the rim from the perimeter or body up down low. Harris has also shown short-term promise with his mid-range jumper and long-term promise with the three-ball.
He's not going to reach his ceiling in 2014, but the elevator is certainly going up. Harris could easily emerge as Orlando's go-to weapon once he returns from this ankle injury.
Alec Burks, Utah Jazz
Alec Burks should be a 30-minute guard following consecutive seasons as a limited reserve.
He sure looked good during Utah's opener, when he went for 24 points, six assists and six boards. With Richard Jefferson starting at the 3 and Gordon Hayward at the 2, Burks is in a perfect situation to thrive as a sixth man.
He's an aggressive playmaker who can generate offense off the ball or off the dribble. Burks got to the line nine times on opening night, and those six assists reflect his ability to create plays.
His jumper has held him back a bit over the past two years, but with sharp mechanics and a threatening mid-range game, there's reason to believe his three-point percentage will pick up.
Burks was taken in the lottery a few years back for his offensive versatility. Now in Year No. 3 with an opportunity for minutes, he projects as a strong breakout candidate in 2013-14.
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