Gerald Henderson and 7 Players Due for a Breakout Year
Every year, new stars are born with rim-rattling slams, three-point splashes and dizzying crossovers.
Up-and-coming passers, slashers, post players and any type of player you can think of. They've all been cultivating their craft, developing into potential threats that could scare the opposition for years to come.
Last year was no exception, and if there is a season next year, it won't be one either.
There are several young players oozing with potential, waiting for the right moment to pounce on an opportunity and make their mark on the league.
Stars pop out of nowhere every year, just look at Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They all found a respective niche within their team and made a profound name for themselves last season.
While the candidates are in abundance this year, I'm leaving out all rookies and focusing on players who have ridden the pine before or who are just coming into fruition.
These seven players have a legitimate chance to burst onto the scene as stars or highly valuable role players. Here, they are sorted in alphabetical order by last name.
DeMarcus Cousins: Sacramento Kings
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Last Season's Stats: 14.1 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, 4.1 fouls per game
The former Kentucky Wildcat turned in an incredibly solid rookie season last year, nearly averaging a double-double. However, concerns about his attitude that originated in high school and college proved to be true as DeMarcus Cousins was labeled a nuisance.
Sports fans are much too quick to jump to conclusions, and saying that Cousins will never learn is one I fear will come back to bite you in the you know what.
It's not like he's going to be the next Michael Olowokandi, and besides, plenty of serviceable but troubled players (and calling Cousins troubled is extreme) have shaped up and tapped into their seemingly limitless potential.
Cousins needs to mature a little, clearly, but he also needs to stay out of foul trouble. Someone who averages four fouls a game is someone who is consistently in foul trouble, therefore wasting potential on the bench.
To put his foul trouble in perspective, everyone else on this list averaged 2.5 fouls or less per game.
He's a banger in the post and a rebounder, and if he can find a way to use his physicality more to his advantage than to his disadvantage (fouls), he will be a serious issue in years to come.
His stat line of 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game are rather staggering numbers for a rookie, and to think, he could have spent another five to 10 minutes on the court if not for foul trouble.
DeMar DeRozan: Toronto Raptors
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Last Season's Stats: 17.2 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 9.6% 3PT
DeMar DeRozan is already well on his way to becoming a star, pouring in 17 points per contest in just his second year.
It's not unrealistic to think he will stake his claim as the Raptors' new franchise player next year as the frontcourt battle for playing time between foreign stars Andrea Bargnani and the newly drafted Jonas Valanciunas is sure to arise because of a just a crowded front court.
DeRozan's athleticism is off the charts, and you can tell just that from his stupefying display in the slam dunk contest. That's what is so appealing about him, not just his absurd dunks but the ability and potential that his athleticism gives him.
It makes him a versatile defender and a flexible offensive player, it opens doors,and very few people have that athleticism at their disposal.
He's greatly improved his slashing ability since entering the league, thus the massive influx of scoring in his second season. Still, his handle remains suspect, and his three-point shot is horribly mediocre.
If he wants to truly be a scoring threat in this league, he'll take a lesson from Derrick Rose and work diligently on his shot over the summer because if DeRozan opens up an outside game, he could become one of the game's best scorers.
Tyler Hansbrough: Indiana Pacers
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Last Season's Stats: 11.0 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game
Tyler Hansbrough really took off in the latter half of last season, dropping 20 points what seemed like every night. He's developed into one of those nitty-gritty players that every team needs and he could easily become more than that.
What plagues Hansbrough is his rebounding inconsistency. A player his size that gets his minutes should easily be snagging north of eight boards a game.
For some evidence, take these stats from his five-game playoff series with the Chicago Bulls:
Game 1: 32 minutes, 14 points, 11 rebounds
Game 2: 25 minutes, four points, one rebound
Game 3: 31 minutes, 10 points, five rebounds
Game 4: 40 minutes, six points, six rebounds
Game 5: 35 minutes, 22 points, four rebounds
His numbers are all over the place, and clearly he was frustrated by Joakim Noah, but one rebound in 25 minutes? Four rebounds in 35 minutes? For a 6'9" power forward who practically lives in the paint?
It's just not enough, and that seems to be a major kink in his game. His teammate Roy Hibbert (whom I seriously considered for this list) may eat up quite a few rebounds, but Hansbrough has to become a bigger factor on the boards, and he has to become more consistent overall.
He's clearly a capable post scorer who has his go to fade away move, and his future may be centered around his scoring ability if he can become more consistent with that as well.
Gerald Henderson: Charlotte Bobcats
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Last Season's Stats: 9.6 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game
Gerald Henderson, much like Hansbrough, rapidly took off near the end of last season. He started stringing together 20- and 30-point games consistently, with nearly every facet of his game improved from the previous season.
Clearly Henderson is willing to put in the work to get better as his free throw percentage jumped four percent from the previous season and his scoring jumped by seven points per game.
Most of that increase came from Feb. 14th and on, in which he only scored in single digits six times out of 28 games. In those last 28 games, he scored at least 15 points 15 times and at least 20 points seven times.
His scoring repertoire is ever evolving at this point as his mid range game is exemplary and his three point shot seems to have improved despite the percentage decrease (probably because he took so much more due to having more minutes).
Twenty percent from behind the arc is not something to be proud of, but considering his inconsistencies from his college days when the three line was 20 feet (as opposed to 24), it seems to have taken off a little.
He also has superb athleticism to go along with his solid slashing ability.
The Bobcats are looking for a go to scorer due to the Gerald Wallace trade, and if Henderson continues to develop, he could be just that guy.
He clearly has some work to put in on his three-point shot, no matter how much it has improved, along with improving his ball handling skills, which have been a slight hindrance since his college days.
Wes Johnson: Minnesota Timberwolves
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Last Season's Stats: 9.0 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game
Wes Johnson put in a solid rookie campaign last season, racking up nine points per contest, but the Timberwolves can put to bed any thoughts of Wes Johnson being a shooting guard.
After it became relatively clear that Johnson belonged at the small forward position last year, Minnesota still kept him at the 2-guard, temporarily putting clamps on his potential.
Johnson's ornate athletic ability gives him the keys to Minnesota's future as he grows into what is slowly becoming a truly talented roster.
Between Johnson, Kevin Love, the newly drafted Derek Williams and the finally arriving Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves might actually have a future ahead of them (I know, that sounds wild).
Johnson can stroke the three and can play with his back to the basket (to an extent), and his versatility makes him an incredibly tough cover. However, just like when he was at Syracuse, he has a slight tendency to disappear during games.
When Johnson's head is on a swivel, he's at his best as a tenacious defender with superior length to almost anyone and a deadly offensive player on the attack. If he can channel that focus for 48 minutes a game, he could become Minnesota's primary scorer.
Greg Monroe: Detroit Pistons
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Last Season's Stats: 9.4 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, 62% FT
Greg Monroe had a rather consistent rookie year, but like several young players do, he turned it up near the end of the season.
Maybe some players just hit a comfort level, or maybe they are just provided ample opportunity, but regardless, Monroe seized the opportunity in front of him, scoring in double-figures 23 out of his last 26 games.
His scoring had to catch up to his rebounding though, a category he started dominating in early January after struggling through his first few months in the league.
Monroe is fundamentally sound and not exactly a brute enforcer. He'll use his finesse to get places and work the post accordingly.
He was often called "soft" in message boards around the country during his time playing for the Georgetown University Hoyas (as fundamentally sound players often are), but he seemed to shed that label reasonably well, rebounding like a fool in the last four months of the season.
As an often utilized big man, free throws are a rather important part of the game, and that is an area Monroe can clearly improve on. Most big men struggle with free throws, but with Monroe's solid mid-range game, you'd think he'd have more of a knack from the stripe.
He clearly is the Piston's future as he and Brandon Knight will be center pieces for years to come. If Monroe improves his already solid rebounding and bumps his free-throw percentage up five percent, he could be a deadly player in the league well into the future.
Jeff Teague: Atlanta Hawks
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Last Season's Stats: 5.2 points per game, 2.0 assists per game
Looking at the stats above is pointless. Disregard those completely. They mean nothing, and I can't stress it enough. Jeff Teague was buried on the bench for the majority of the regular season, behind Mike Bibby (no one deserves to be behind Mike Bibby on a depth chart) and then Kirk Hinrich.
However, after Hinrich's injury in the Orlando series, Hawks' coach Larry Drew was forced to give Teague extended minutes, and boy did he impress.
These are the stats you should be looking at:
Jeff Teague Statistics from six-game Chicago-Atlanta Series:
Game 1: 10 points, five assists
Game 2: 21 points, three assists, three steals, two blocks
Game 3: 21 points, three assists, three rebounds
Game 4: 12 points, four assists, four rebounds
Game 5: 21 points, seven assists, four rebounds
Game 6 (injured): four points, three assists, two rebounds
Even those greatly improved stats don't do what Teague did justice. He brought hope to the Hawks team. He gave them a fresh look, and he ran the offense the way it should have been for the last few years.
Things were up tempo, they moved quickly and the Hawks finally had someone who could penetrate the lane consistently.
He defended league MVP Derrick Rose relatively well and scorched him on several plays. His first step is as quick as a hiccup and his floater is as deadly as Tony Parker's. He plays with a vibrant energy, one that sparks Philips Arena into a furor, a pandemonium.
Hawks fans are legitimately excited about what he brings to the table.
However, Teague was benched most of the season for a reason, and that was decision making. He'd all too often loft up a floater from too far out, he'd force an unnecessary pass and try to spark unnatural ball movement.
That being said, Teague's playoff performance has Atlanta fans stoked for the future because he just might be a breakout player.