The NBA preseason is one of the biggest opportunities for young players to show coaches what they've got and try to score a spot in their team's rotation. Players are given minutes they might not get during the regular season, and it's their job to try and make the most of those minutes.
Every year numerous players exceed expectations during the preseason and earn their spots on their respective teams. Without further ado, here are the top five young surprises of the 2010-2011 NBA preseason.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
After being picked ninth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, Gordon Hayward enjoyed a solid, if not great, summer league performance. Despite his strong play in the summer league, Hayward has struggled in the preseason for the most part.
The clouds lifted away, though, in a win versus the defending champion Lakers, in which Hayward scored 26 points in 33 minutes while making eight of ten field goals and ten of eleven free throws. Critics have been calling Hayward a likely bust, but based on his most recent preseason performance, he could be a very strong contributor for the Jazz.
Martell Webster, Minnesota Timberwolves
Webster can flat out score, and he's proved that during the preseason. He's averaged over 12 points per game while shooting 46% from both the field and three point range. After struggling to get minutes throughout his first few seasons on a stacked Blazers squad, the former lottery pick should benefit from a change of scenery.
Dejuan Blair was one of the top steals of the 2009 Draft, and was very effective in limited minutes during his first season with San Antonio. Blair was named to the All-Rookie Second Team and had a monstrous rookie challenge performance, exceeding the 20-20 mark while leading the rookies to their first win in several years.
At just 6'7, Blair is a beast inside and rebounds with an incredible desire. In six preseason games, Blair has averaged around 12 points and 9 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game while starting at center for the Spurs. With Antonio McDyess and Tim Duncan aging, Gregg Popovich may start relying more on Blair to handle the dirty work inside, and he should have an excellent second season.
D.J. Augustin had an excellent rookie season with the Bobcats.
And a positively horrible second one.
Augustin's scoring was nearly cut in half from his first season to his second, and his percentages and consistency plummeted. Augustin's confidence must have plummeted after such a poor season, and he's very eager to prove himself.
With the departure of Raymond Felton, Augustin has inherited the role of the Bobcats' starting point guard, and he looks very ready to assume this role. Augustin has averaged 13.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game during the preseason while shooting an outstanding 51% percent from the floor and 56% from long range. If his preseason play is any indication, Augustin looks ready to meet his potential and help lead the Bobcats to another playoff run.
When you think of the Portland Trailblazers, and you think of the guards, you think of Brandon Roy.
But in the preseason, two other Blazers shooting guards have been far more impressive than Portland's superstar. Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews have been arguably the Blazers top performers through their five preseason games, coming in off the bench to contribute tenacious D and efficient scoring.
The newly acquired Matthews has averaged 12.8 points in under 20 minutes per game for the Blazers and proved his prowess as a defensive stopper and high-flyer. Meanwhile, Fernandez has averaged 13.4 points in 23.6 minutes and has been absolutely deadly from three-point range. The Spaniard is shooting 60% from three point range while making around three treys per game.
Roy is recovering from injury and has suffered through a mediocre preseason thus far, but fortunately for Portland fans the two other shooting guards have more than made up for it.
Jordan Crawford is undoubtedly one of the best scorers of the 2010 Draft, as evidence by both his college career at Xavier and by an excellent preseason showing thus far. Crawford has averaged 16.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in four preseason games, and has displayed athleticism, court vision and, of course, great scoring ability.
Jamal Crawford has recently expressed his desire to be traded from the Hawks unless they sign him to a contract extension. Of the two J. Crawford’s on the Hawks, the rookie has played better during the preseason so far, and the Hawks may want to shop the older Crawford to see what value they can get for him.
Austin Daye out of Gonzaga didn’t play a whole lot in his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons. Stuck behind Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Gordon on the depth chart, Daye averaged just 13.3 minutes per game, but still managed to average over five points per game.
Daye has averaged 15.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game during the preseason, and appears to be ready for a breakout year. At 6’11 and 200 pounds, Daye is long, athletic and versatile, and has shot fantastic percentages during the preseason thus far.
Pistons’ coach John Kuester would be smart to look to the future and put Daye ahead of Tracy McGrady on the Pistons depth chart, and give him a sixth man role behind Prince and Hamilton. If given 24+ minutes per game this year, Daye could be a revelation for the Pistons and be a candidate for both the Sixth-Man of the Year and Most Improved Player awards.
Thanks for reading, please comment any thoughts/questions, and tell me who has impressed you in the summer league thus far.