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Polished Gems: The NBA's Most Improved Players

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Polished Gems: The NBA's Most Improved Players

IconWith less than a quarter of the season in the books, a lot is still up in the air in the NBA.

Here’s what we think we know:

The Celtics are much better than last year. The Bulls are much worse. The Magic have matured and are a real threat in the East, while the rebuilding campaigns in the Pacific Northwest are chugging along a little slower than anticipated.

Given the small sample size, large-scale, team-oriented conclusions are precarious at this point. Instead, I'd prefer to take a look at some of the individuals who've clearly turned the page from their 2006-07 campaigns.

While some of these guys are rather obvious (see: Howard, Dwight), others are more obscure.

Here are my ten gems of the young NBA season (in no particular order)...

 

1. Chris Kaman, L.A. Clippers

Last season, fans in Clipper-ville expected this giant to earn his $8.6 million dollar salary and carry an improving Clippers team to the playoffs.

So what happened?

Kaman was injured and awful in '06-'07, averaging just eight boards and 10 points while looking slow and vulnerable on the defensive end.

This year, however, Kaman has upped his numbers considerably, contributing 14 boards and nearly 19 points per contest. In his last game, Kaman dropped a dominant 22 points and 22 boards.

For a seven-footer making almost $9 million, that's more like it.

 

2. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic

I know I know—Dwight Howard was a beast last year...so how can he be on this list?

The answer is simple: Dwight Howard might be the most complete, most athletic forward in the game right now.

Howard's numbers are up across the board, and his leadership ability has been impressive for a 22-year-old. Simply stated, Howard has emerged as a game-changing superstar that Magic opponents must scheme around. 

If Howard continues to improve at this sort of pace, we might be looking at the best power forward ever by the time 2015 rolls around.


3. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

Rondo's upgraded supporting cast certainly has a lot to do with his improvement—but the youngster has been the Mr. Everything floor general Boston desperately needed at the 1.

Rondo is averaging nine points, five assists, four rebounds, and two steals per game—all improvements over last year. And although Rondo has virtually no perimeter game, his shooting percentage is up to 54 percent from last year's 41 percent.

Steady with the ball and an asset on defense, Rondo has been crucial to Boston’s rise.

 

4. Ronnie Brewer, Utah Jazz

The second-year swingman out of Arkansas has made huge strides following a promising rookie year.

A great pick by Jerry Sloan, Brewer is averaging nearly 10 more points per game since seeing his minutes increase. What's more, his defense has helped the Jazz become a tougher perimeter unit.

At this early stage in his career, Brewer stands out as one of the more complete, polished young guys in the game.

 

5. Daniel Gibson, Cleveland Cavaliers

After his clutch Game Six performance in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson has seen a spike in minutes and productivity in 2007.

The second-year guard out of Texas is shooting a sparkling 50 percent from behind the arc, and has been a viable kick-and-shoot option for LeBron James in clutch situations.

Watch Gibson get better as the year progresses and his confidence grows.

 

6. Andruw Bynum, L.A. Lakers

The kid Kobe Bryant desperately needs to develop into a star is showing a lot of promise in his second full season.

The 20-year-old Bynum is averaging a double-double for the Lake Show, and has made nice improvements in both FG and FT percentage. Bynum's maturation is absolutely critical to the overall team play of the Lakers...and so far the pup seems to be on the right track.

 

7. Antoine Wright, New Jersey Net

Like others on this list, Wright has responded positively to an increase in minutes.

Building on a 21-point performance on opening night, Wright has seen his points per game average soar into the double-digits. The ex-Aggie has become an intangibles guy for Jersey, giving the Nets a solid secondary scorer alongside Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson.

The Nets will need continued improvement from Wright on both ends of the court if they hope to compete in the Atlantic Division this season.

 

8. Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies

Gay wowed people with his athleticism at UConn, but he endured his share of awkward rookie moments in his first season.

In year No. 2, he seems to have made the necessary physical and mental adjustments.

Gay's production is up across the board, and his turnovers down. He's an excellent slasher, which makes you wonder how good he could be if his perimeter shooting continues to improve.

Memphis has an excellent young asset here.

 

9. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

Larry Bird invested the 17th overall pick of the 2005 Draft in Granger—and the move is finally paying off.

Always full of potential, Granger seems to have grown into himself this year. He's become Indiana's go-to-guy, pouring in 18 points and grabbing six boards per game.

Like some other guys on this list, Granger's early success may be just the tip of the iceberg.

 

10. Andray Blatche, Washington Wizards

The Wizards are in the unfavorable position of searching for secondary players to fill the rather substantial void left by the injured Gilbert Arenas.

Enter Andray Blatche, whose 26 points vs. the 76ers a few weeks back served as a nice coming-out party.

Blatche has been productive for the Wizards, logging 20 minutes, seven points, five boards, and nearly two blocks per game. His defensive tenacity and superior athleticism have made him an asset on a Wizards team hoping to stay afloat until Agent Zero returns.

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