Top 10 Young Players Ready to Have Breakout Seasons in 2011-12
Every year, a new crop of young NBA players make the leap from relative anonymity to up-and-coming stars on their respective teams.
In the 2010-11 NBA regular season, players such as Serge Ibaka, Marcus Thornton and Marcin Gortat showed that when given the opportunity, they could prove they belong in this league.
The following is a list of the top young proverbial "sleepers" in the NBA for the 2011-12 season. They may not be regular starters or household names yet, but they may be only a year or two away from putting their stamp on the league.
Ramon Sessions, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
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Sessions first burst onto the scene with a 20-20 game (20 points, 24 assists) against the Los Angeles Lakers during his rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since then, his career has been steady but unspectacular.
As a fill-in starter for Mo Williams this past regular season, Sessions led a woeful Cavaliers team with averages of 19.9 points and 8.8 assists per game in the month of February with a very solid 56.4 field goal percentage.
He has shown that he can produce at an elite level when given the minutes. The only legitimate hole in Sessions' game is his lack of an outside jumper. With the Cavaliers leaning towards drafting Kyrie Irving in June and Baron Davis already on the roster, Sessions will once again take a backseat in the point guard rotation.
Will playoff teams, such as the Lakers, in need of a point guard give him a chance to shine?
Anthony Randolph, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
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The Golden State Warriors had high hopes for Randolph when they took him with the 14th pick in the 2008 draft. He was the epitome of a young player with limitless potential. At nearly 7 feet tall, Randolph is extremely athletic, handles like a guard and shoots a decent mid-range jump shot.
However, three years and three NBA teams later, questions of inconsistency and lack of maturity have dogged him. As a spot starter last year with the Timberwolves, Randolph again flashed his potential with several 20-10 games.
If this precocious 21-year-old ever puts it all together mentally, the sky is the limit.
Ed Davis, PF/C, Toronto Raptors
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Perhaps the most likely candidate to fill Bosh's sizable shoes in Toronto is Ed Davis, a 6'10" force in the paint who showed considerable growth throughout his rookie season in 2010-11. In the month of April, Davis nearly averaged a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds per game when given starter's minutes.
His name might not scream " NBA superstar," but look for a big leap in production from the young stud in his second year.
Jeff Teague, PG, Atlanta Hawks
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Blessed with blinding quickness and a deadly floater, Jeff Teague is a scoring dynamo of a point guard in the mold of Derrick Rose. Ironically, Teague's coming out party as a legitimate NBA starter was his second round playoff matchup against Rose and the Chicago Bulls.
An untimely injury to lead guard Kirk Hinrich forced the Hawks to press the rarely used Teague into heavy minutes against the league MVP. He opened a lot of eyes around the league and played solid basketball, averaging a very respectable 17 PPG through the first five games, and hounding Rose into some sub-par performances.
Wherever the Hawks are headed as a franchise, it is clear that the long-term solution at point guard will not be Hinrich. If Teague ever learns how to create for others as well as he can create for himself, he will make the jump to the upper echelon of the league's young point guards.
James Harden, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
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After hitting the jackpot in the first round of successive drafts (Kevin Durant in 2007, Russell Westbrook in 2008), expectations for James Harden were high when Oklahoma City took the Arizona State shooting guard with the third pick of 2009.
A brilliant scorer at the NCAA level, Harden was seen as a potential third star that would pair with the already dynamic young duo of Westbrook and Durant to make the Thunder into a playoff contender.
Safe to say, Harden was a mild disappointment in his rookie year, averaging 10 PPG on only 40 percent shooting. However, during these 2011 playoffs, Harden has stepped up his game, stepping comfortably into his sixth man role as an "instant offense" provider. Perhaps more telling is the fact that Coach Brooks has kept Harden in the game in fourth quarters of playoff games, showing an increased trust in the second year guard.
If Harden can continue expanding his all-around game, look for an increased role next year for the heavily bearded fan favorite.
Taj Gibson, PF/C, Chicago Bulls
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The NBA playoffs are arguably the truest test of a player's caliber. This idea may ring more true for Taj Gibson than for any other bench player in the 2011 playoffs. Although given only sparing minutes behind a loaded Bulls' frontcourt, Gibson has made the most of any opportunity he has been given.
An exceedingly agile big man at 6'9", the USC product has established himself as an intimidating post presence on both ends of the floor, with 1.8 blocks per game in limited starts and more recently, with his dunking exploits against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Any team in need of an athletic big man with room for growth should take a chance on Gibson, who has shown a solid ability to produce in big game situations.
Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz
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The lasting image of the 2010 NCAA championship game will forever be Gordon Hayward's last-second half court heave that nearly caused one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Butler fans will reflect for years on what could have been against Duke, but instead they should look forward to the future successes of Hayward, who is eager to put the memories of that game behind him.
Selected by the Utah Jazz with the ninth pick in the 2010 draft, Hayward showed glimpses of his potential when the team finally decided to go with the youth movement after Deron Williams' departure for the Nets.
His heady play and versatile play-making ability has given Jazz fans hope for the future. The high points of his career so far include a 22-point performance and stifling defensive play against Kobe Bryant in a win against the Lakers, as well as a solid 16.4 PPG average in the month of April.
If Hayward can continue to build on a promising career in his second year, that missed buzzer-beater will only be a minor footnote in a brilliant career.
Ty Lawson, PG, Denver Nuggets
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To be successful as a little guy in the NBA, one needs to have uncommon quickness and a deadly jump shot. The 5'11 Ty Lawson has both of these traits in spades, which is evidently what the Denver Nuggets saw in him when they drafted him 18th in the 2009 draft.
Throughout his brief career, Lawson has shown an uncommon propensity for someone his size to attack the basket and finish among the trees, as well as the potential to be a great playmaker.
As a starter for 31 games in 2010-11, he averaged 14.7 PPG on over 50 percent shooting and a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. On paper, Lawson is the starting point guard for the Nuggets, but in reality he splits time evenly with Raymond Felton, who was acquired in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Look for the Nuggets to try to move Felton in the offseason and hand over the reins to Lawson in his third year.
JaVale McGee, C, Washington Wizards
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Every so often, a young NBA player comes along that is seemingly blessed with all of the physical tools of a bona fide star, yet somehow manages to consistently fall short of expectations. One name that often comes to mind with that description is JaVale McGee, a regular on the ESPN highlight reel and owner of a pterodactyl's wingspan.
In his third NBA season and first as a full time starter for the Wizards, McGee showcased his mind-boggling athleticism as well as a mind-boggling lack of maturity. He averaged an impressive 2.4 blocks per game, which was second in the NBA behind Andrew Bogut, but also constantly hurt his team by getting into foul trouble. He also showed little progression in his offensive game, relying mostly on alley-oops and putbacks to score.
With the right coaching and continual growth, this electrifying 23-year-old still could develop into an elite NBA center.
Terrence Williams, SG/SF, Houston Rockets
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Williams first exploded onto the scene as a Nets rookie in 2009-10, averaging 14.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game with starter's minutes in the month of April. Those who assumed the triple-double threat would carry that momentum into his second season with New Jersey were proven wrong, as he immediately found himself in Coach Avery Johnson's doghouse, earning himself a demotion to the D-League at one point.
Eventually, he wore out his welcome in New Jersey, which led to a presumably fresh start with the Houston Rockets via trade. However, he quickly found himself buried on the depth chart in Houston as well.
A rare package of freakish athleticism, outstanding court vision and good size, Williams has the potential to be a star. If he can ditch his reputation as an uncoachable and immature player, there is no limit to how good he can be.
Jerryd Bayless, PG, Toronto Raptors
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After having been drafted in the 2008 lottery and having already been on three different teams, one would think that Jerryd Bayless had already flamed out as an NBA prospect.
Coming out of college, Bayless was seen as more of a hyper-athletic scorer than a true point guard. However, like many of the players on this list, he has shown the ability to produce at an elite level when given the minutes.
With starting PG Jose Calderon hobbled, Bayless produced 22.5 points and 5.6 assists per game while also draining almost two 3's a game. He needs to learn how to create for teammates without turning the ball over as much, but the ceiling is sky high for the 22-year-old.
Raptors fans, say hello to your point guard of the future.