Four to Watch For: Picks for Most Improved Player in the NBA

Brett FulmoreCorrespondent ISeptember 21, 2008

Chris Duhon (G - New York Knicks)

It's a new day in the Big Apple. The painful and often bizarre reign of Isiah Thomas has officially come to a conclusion this offseason, and it appears that Stephon Marbury's run as the team's number-one point guard will also soon be in the history books.

Marbury steadily grew out of favor with the Knicks franchise, their fans, and the rabid New York media over the last few seasons, and with the team looking to head in a completely new direction, the prized acquisition of the Thomas' tenure is likely not in the team's plans.

Chris Duhon is one of the players looking to capitalize on the sudden influx of minutes in the New York backcourt. Signed during the offseason, the Duke product should quickly endear himself to Coach Mike D'Antoni and the Knickerbocker faithful with his unselfishness, hustle, and winning attitude. Basically, he's the anti-Marbury.

I'm not predicting a Steve Nash-esque rise to the top of the MVP standings now that Duhon has hooked up with the run-and-gunnin' D'Antoni, but Duhon possesses the type of distribution skills and high basketball IQ to thrive in an uptempo offense.

He'll be challenged for the starting spot in training camp by Nate Robinson and Anthony Roberson, but appears to be the best bet to lead the Knicks on opening night. Roberson will be hindered by inexperience, and Robinson embodies a lot of the "me-first" characteristics that have plagued the Knicks in recent years.

Relegated to backup duty during his stint in Chicago, Duhon will finally receive the chance to compete for the starting spot and with a cast of capable finishers around him—such as David Lee, Jamal Crawford, and Wilson Chandler.  I fully expect his career averages 6.9 points and 4.5 assists to see a healthy bump.


John Salmons (SF - Sacramento Kings)

With the offseason departure of Ron Artest, the small forward position essentially has become John Salmon's to lose in Sacramento. After quietly putting together a solid campaign of 12 points, four rebounds and 2.6 assists in 2007-08, the Kings will be relying heavily on the seven-year pro as they attempt to rebuild.

That holds especially true on the offensive end, where Salmons will get a chance to show off the well-rounded game that made him a prized free agent in the summer of 2006.

The Kings will no doubt run a lot of sets for emerging star Kevin Martin, but Salmons could find himself as the number-two option for a team that isn’t exactly loaded with offensive firepower. After all, no one wants to see Mikki Moore putting up 15 shots a game.

It could be a very long season for Sacramento Kings fans. Hell, who am I kidding? It’s going to be an excruciatingly long year for Kings fans, but followers of the purple and black can gaze into the future with a bit more optimism if Salmons enjoys a breakout season.


Brandon Bass (PF – Dallas Mavericks)

Hitting the 30-games played plateau for the first time in his three NBA seasons, Brandon Bass enjoyed a solid season last year in Big D. Playing a shade under 20 minutes per game, the burly forward chipped in with 8.3 ppg and 4.4 rpg while shooting 50 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe.

And while Dallas suffered another demoralizing playoff exit at the hands of the Hornets, Bass played some of his best ball of the year. with 11.6 points and over 6.5 rips per contest in extended minutes during the Mavs' brief postseason run.

It’s the aggressiveness and competitive fire exhibited by Bass that has Maverick brass looking at 2008-09 as a breakout year for the former LSU Tiger. The criticisms that this Dallas team often faces—passive play, lack of heart—certainly do not apply to Bass. The 6’8 power forward plays every possession with reckless abandon and has intensity matched by few in the league.

He reminds me a lot of Jason Maxiell—a player who was overlooked coming out of school because he was undersized, but put them on a basketball court and they will flat out get it done.

Admittingly, coming off the bench behind a perennial All-NBA threat in Dirk Nowitzki isn’t the most traditional formula for a bust-out campaign, but look for Rick Carlisle to play the two together in small-ball lineups throughout the year.

The combined ineffectiveness of Erick Dampier and Dasagana Diop shouldn’t hurt Bass’s cause either, as he brings a certain punch that neither of the aforementioned big men can provide—specifically, on the offensive end.


Marcus Williams (G - Golden State Warriors)

Williams was already high on a lot of "Most Improved" Lists coming into this season, and now that Monte’ Ellis has been derailed until at least Christmas time, the spotlight will shine even brighter on the young point guard from UConn.

The story on Williams has always been hot and cold. He’s always shown a great deal of potential, but a string of off-the-court problems and on-the-court inconsistency has prevented him from reaching his ceiling, dating back to his days in college.

There’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic—whether it be Warriors Coach Don Nelson’s propensity to get the best out of his point guards, or the cast of skilled ball handlers that surround Williams to help lighten the load. 

But the one thing that is for certain is that the Warriors' season lies on the back of a third-year point guard with career averages of 6.4 ppg and 3.0 apg.


I’ve always been a Williams fan, extending back to his days as a Huskie, and I personally think that he’ll excel in Golden State under Nelson. The uptempo style should fit well with his skills, and the Warriors are littered with playmakers throughout their roster—Jackson, Harrington, Bellinelli, and Randolph—that should ease some of the pressure off of Williams when he gets overwhelmed.

Furthermore, he’s got something to prove after being shipped from New Jersey.

Like most of his career, betting on Marcus Williams is far from a sure thing. But there are some times when you just have to roll the dice.


Honorable Mention

Louis Williams (G - Philadelphia 76ers)

The former high-school phenom proved to be a great scorer off the bench for the Sixers, and should be a big part of their future in their sixth-man role. The Sixers will creep towards the top of the Eastern Conference with the addition of Elton Brand, which should also help Williams become much more of a household name.


Ramon Sessions (G - Milwaukee Bucks)

Sessions ended last season with Milwaukee and put up solid numbers—including some other-worldly performances in his last handful of games.  Seriously, check the stats.  However, the offseason acquisitions of Tyronn Lue and Luke Ridnour by the Bucks may diminish Sessions' oppurtunities, and keep him as a honorable mention.


Fransisco Garcia (SF - Sacramento Kings)

Another player that should benefit from the departure of Artest. Garcia was a great college player who hasn’t quite put it together yet in the pros, but he is one of the more offensively-gifted players on the Kings. It’s a make-or-break season for him, and there should be plenty of opportunities for Garcia if he gets off to a hot start.