In the midst of the lockout, many people have doubts as to whether or not there will be an NBA season this year. One thing everyone can be certain about is that all players will be using this down-time wisely to improve their games.
With possibly an entire year to work until their next televised games, many players will make great strides and improve tremendously. In this article I will discuss five players who I see having much improved seasons and making the jump into the NBA's elite...whenever the season starts.
Stephen Curry is poised to bust out in his third season after basically duplicating his rookie season (statistically) during his sophomore campaign, albeit playing less minutes.
Curry is the best pure shooter in the NBA, without a doubt. His three point and free throw percentages both rank among the game's elite, and I believe next year he will be among the league's best in more than just those two categories.
With or without Monta Ellis, I see Stephen Curry having much better scoring numbers. Last year his minutes were limited, as he spent most of the season in Keith Smart's doghouse, often being benched for Acie Law. Law is a decent backup, but nowhere near Curry's status. Given the proper amount of minutes, Curry's scoring average will surpass 20 ppg easily next season.
Two areas where Curry does need to improve are his turnovers and defense. Steph is an excellent passer and the offense can without a doubt be run through him, but often times he telegraphs his passes or just tries to force the issue with a pass that isn't open.
On defense, Curry is a bit of a liability, but with some time in the weight room he can correct this issue and become a solid defender. He will never be a standout defender in the league, but I'm sure all the Golden State Warriors' coaching staff wants to see is more effort on the defensive end on Curry's part.
After next season, Stephen Curry will be in the conversation for top five point guards in the league. There is a reason I chose a picture of Steph with Steve Nash... Stephen Curry is truly the second coming of Steve Nash.
Coming off a solid rookie season, DeMarcus Cousins will most definitely not be one player jinxed by the sophomore slump. Playing alongside newly acquired JJ Hickson, I see these two young men forming one of the most exciting and athletic front courts in the whole league.
Although Cousins does have a major attitude problem, he now has gone through one whole NBA season during which I believe he matured and progressed remarkably as the season went on.
To start off the season, Cousins was not making good decisions, often forcing shots or turning the ball over too much. But as the season went on, Cousins began to adjust to the NBA lifestyle and his numbers improved across the board during the second half of the season.
As stated above, DMC definitely has to keep his cool on the court, and he also has to refine his decision making skills. He needs to cut down on the turnovers, and often times he becomes a volume scorer, so overall an improvement in offensive efficiency is needed by DeMarcus in order to have a breakout sophomore campaign.
Sacramento definitely seems to be on the rise with the additions of JJ Hickson, Jimmer Fredette, and John Salmons, but in order to make a playoff push they will need a breakout season from DeMarcus Cousins. I believe that Cousins will come through, become an NBA star and prove all of his haters wrong.
James Harden technically already broke out during the NBA Playoffs. But I believe he will make an even bigger improvement during the upcoming NBA season.
Throughout the second half of the season, Harden was among the game's best bench scorers, and next year he will be thrust into OKC's starting lineup. Thabo Sefolasha proved his offensive inability during the playoffs, and seemingly every time Harden came into the game, he changed the pace of the game.
Harden received tons of exposure during the Playoffs, but he also struggled with his consistency. Some games, Harden would be the floor general, scoring at will off of pick-and-roll actions or finding open teammates for easy layups. However, in others, he would be a non-factor and disappear, often times resulting in an Oklahoma City loss. His jump shot needs to become more consistent from downtown.
Although it will be hard for James to get sufficient touches with Westbrook and Durant already taking most of the shots, Harden proved during the playoffs that he may indeed be a better offensive facilitator than Russell Westbrook, and I believe the coaching staff will take note of this and run more isolation and pick-and-roll plays for Harden.
James Harden is not super quick, but he gets into the lane at will. Not only can he score, but he can create for others at any time. During the next NBA season, James Harden will make great strides and post numbers around 18/5/5.
Jrue Holiday improved across the board from his rookie to sophomore season, and I believe his third season will see another spike in all categories.
Going into college, Jrue was regarded as one of the best players in his class, and during his third year he will bust out and show why. It takes most point guards a few years to establish themselves in this league, as seen with Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose's breakout seasons during their third years in the NBA.
Well, I believe Jrue is next on that list, and he will become one of the great young point guards in the league. Not only is Jrue on the rise, but the Philadelphia 76ers as a squad are becoming a very exciting, young team to watch out for in the Eastern Conference.
Holiday has all the tools to become a defensive stopper, but for some reason he either does not give full effort or maybe just is not as good of a defender as many people think. Coming out of college that was seen as one of his strengths, but he has yet to display his defensive mastery in his first two seasons. To become an elite guard, Jrue will need to apply himself better on the defensive end.
Jrue Holiday is oozing with potential, and next year he will put up big numbers. He has all the tools to become a great PG in the league, now he just has to work hard and turn the potential into consistency and big numbers. And with the lockout, he will have tons of time to work on his game.
During his first three seasons in the league, Anthony hasn't seen too much of the floor. Well, in his fourth season, that is about to change, and Anthony Randolph is making sure of that.
Randolph has already hit the weights hard this season, reportedly adding 10-15 pounds to his thin frame, and with the lockout just beginning he will have time to get even bigger.
Minnesota's centers are Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, and Brad Miller... not very intimidating. David Kahn has already expressed the idea of playing Randolph at center, and once training camp starts he will see that Randolph can do more than all three of those players combined.
Moving Randolph to center will be essential to a breakout season, because if he stays at the 4 he will not get enough minutes to put up big minutes. Minnesota is packed at the 3 and 4 spots, so moving Randolph to the 5 will not only be good for him, but for the other players on the team as well, to give them more playing time.
Randolph has struggled mightily with consistency throughout his first three seasons, that often times being the reason for his lack of minutes. Even towards the end of last season, with Kevin Love out, Randolph was still slightly inconsistent. In order to become an elite center, Randolph will need to produce night in and night out, and I believe with his skill set he can do it. Besides, with the lack of talented centers in the league today, it shouldn't be too hard for Randolph to become one of the best in the game.
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