Practice is one of those things that truly pays off in the ends. Players like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant—who have dedicated hours upon hours to mastering the ins and outs of their craft—have had their hard work and dedication show in the form of awards, titles, and impressive performance in front of thousands of fans.
But with the NBA lockout looming, this year's offseason looks to be longer than anticipated. With the extra time, every player in the NBA should be in the gym, practicing in the areas that they are weakest. With that said, which areas will each team captain be honing during their time off?
* Players are ordered starting with the team with the worst record (Minnesota Timberwolves) and ending with the team with the best record (Chicago Bulls). *
Kevin Love has been an exceptional rebounder for his entire career and has recently added a consistent three-point shot to his game. However, his 0.4 blocks do not sit well alongside his 20.5 points and 15.2 rebounds per game.
In order for Love to be a complete power forward, he must finally make an effort on the other side of the ball. He's got everything down on offense, but once he becomes a presence in the paint, Love will be a scary sight to see.
Kyrie Irving is supposed to be the point guard who grabs the Cleveland Cavaliers by the horns and restarts the franchise.
Unfortunately, Irving suffered a right toe injury that sidelined him for the majority of his freshman season. The NBA game is eight minutes longer than the college basketball game, and Irving will be expected to carry most of the load for the Cavs.
The rookie guard needs to get back in shape before putting all of Cleveland on his back. He'll have Baron "B-Diddy" Davis to take some of the load off, but the electric rookie must live up to the expectations of a No. 1 draft pick before he, too, finds himself being booed by the rowdy Cleveland crowd.
The only thing missing from DeMar DeRozan's game is a jump shot.
DeRozan's got it all: he can slash to the hole, finish at the rim, play defense well, and leap with the best of them. He's a freakish athlete that uses his length and vertical to make eye-popping plays around the basket.
As soon as he develops a jumper, both mid-range and three-pointer, DeRozan will make his way into the upper echelon of two guards in the NBA.
John Wall shot 29.6 percent from three and led the league in turnovers with 3.8 per game. Need I continue?
Normally known for his deadly stroke from almost anywhere on the court, Deron Williams' field goal percentages took a big hit after being traded to the New Jersey Nets.
D-Will's field goal percentage plummeted to a below lackluster 34.9 percent from the field, and his three-point percentage fell to an abysmal 27.1 percent.
Whatever the case may be, Williams needs to get his mojo back and continue producing at the high level he's accustomed to.
As for Brook Lopez, his main disability has been his inability to grab rebounds. He's seven feet tall, yet he can only manage to haul in six rebounds per game. How many starting centers do you know that can't grab more rebounds than feet in their height?
Once Lopez mans up and grabs some more rebounds, he'll finally be regarded as a premier big man in this league.
When running the point, Tyreke Evans is one of the most dominant players on the court. His size and strength causes mismatches for smaller guards, while his speed and quickness cause problems for the slower, bigger ones.
Evans has seen a lot of the shooting guard position lately, and if he is to continue in that role, adding on a consistent three-point shot is a must. At 29.3 percent from downtown, he does not force defenders to play up on him from the paint. If he can develop a semi-consistent stroke from deep, Evans would be an even bigger threat than he already is.
The comparison between Rodney Stuckey and Dwyane Wade is a striking one. Both are incredible slashers who finish well at the rim and both are below-average shooters from downtown.
Though he doesn't take threes very often, Stuckey should improve on his shooting just a little bit. He shot poorly from deep last season at 28.9 percent, but if he can bring that to around 32-33 percent, he'll force defenders to play him on the perimeter.
In addition, passing is another thing Stuckey should improve on during the offseason. At only five assists per game, he is more of a shoot-first combo guard running the offense. If he can improve his court vision and make better passes, he might just keep his job and not get traded to free up space for the rookie, Brandon Knight.
Blake Griffin is a physical specimen, but everything that does not revolve around his athletic ability needs improvement.
First off, for someone with athleticism as incredible as Griffin's, 0.5 blocks per game is simply unacceptable. He doesn't show the effort on the other side of the ball, and he must apply himself on the defensive end to become a complete player.
Secondly, Griffin, like Dwight Howard, must work on his offensive post game. It can't be all highlight reel dunks. (Well, it very well could, but where are the fundamentals of a big man in that?) He could better himself just by adding a jump hook, up-and-under, and a baseline spin to his repertoire. Imagine how nasty Blake Griffin would be if his back-to-the-basket game was just as good as, say, Al Jefferson's?
Finally, Griffin needs to consistently knock down mid-range jumpers. We've seen him hit a couple threes in his rookie season, but I'm not quite sure whether he could go for a repeat performance. Griffin needs to start small, knocking down foul-line extended jumpers, and then slowly increase his range.
Could you envision how ridiculous of a basketball player Blake Griffin would be if he added all of these assets to his game?
Neither can I.
As the new face of the Charlotte Bobcats franchise (next to Michael Jordan, of course), Kemba Walker is set to bring excitement and—hopefully—victories to North Carolina basketball, once again.
Walker led the UConn Huskies to an NCAA championship. He averaged 23.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in his final year with the Huskies, but I'm curious as to how his game will transform at the professional level.
Walker is, by all means, a shoot-first point guard. He has never been a distributor, and by the looks of things, he won't be any time soon. Walker will be playing alongside Corey Maggette, Gerald Henderson, Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo: four great athletes at their position.
He'll need to move the ball just a little bit more to become a true point guard in the NBA.
Andrew Bogut's got all the makings of a great center. He's an incredible shot blocker at 2.6 per game, a league-leading rebounder at 11.1 per game (fifth in the NBA) and an above average post scorer.
The one thing that's missing from Bogut's game is a 10-15-foot jumper. Once he knocks that down on a consistent basis, Andrew Bogut will be the most well-rounded center in the NBA.
One of the best pure scorers in the league, Monta Ellis has taken the NBA by storm over the past couple of years. Last season, Ellis averaged 24.1 points, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He's also managed to increase his three-point percentage every season over the past four years.
So, what's left to improve on for such a dominant scorer?
Ellis still takes a few questionable shots which, ultimately, are a detriment to his field goal percentage. He attempts just about 20 shots per game and makes nine of them. If he could become just a bit more efficient from the field—something not so easily accomplished by a guard who scores so much—Ellis would definitely be among the top four or five guards in the West for All-Star nominations.
It seems as though after receiving his Most Improved Player of the Year Award in 2009, Danny Granger kind of fell off the map just a bit.
His field goal and three-point percentages fell, and Granger's points per game average steadily dropped season after season. At 42.5 percent from the field last season, Granger needs to revert back to his old ways and become the shooter-scorer that everyone knows he can be.
Al Jefferson is definitely a top-five center in the NBA. He does it all: he's got one of the best low post games in the league, he grabs boards at an insane rate, he has a stroke from mid range and he gives a good effort on the defensive end.
Jefferson averaged 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, all while shooting 49.6 percent from the field. The only thing left for him to do is to extend his range beyond the three-point line. Once he does that, he'll be the biggest mismatch at center in the NBA.
Steve Nash has everything on offense down pat. He has a sweet stroke from anywhere on the court, can fit the basketball into any crevice between defenders and he shoots 89 percent or better from the line just about every season.
However, on the other side of the ball, Nash is no better than a practice squad defender. He's nearing the end of his career, so he might not need to improve on it, but it'd be nice to see him play some defense every once in awhile.
Though Andre Iguodala's scoring is at the lowest it's been since the '06-'07 season, his assist totals (6.3 per game) are at a career high. He's taken on more of a facilitating role, and unfortunately has lost a good amount of his fans because of it.
Iggy needs to return to his old, All-Star-caliber self and begin scoring at a high rate again. At 14.7 points per game, Iguodala ranked 71st in the NBA in scoring. Wherever he plays next season, whether it be in Philly, Los Angeles, or in a Golden State Warriors jersey, Iguodala needs to pick up his scoring in order to be an asset to his team.
After being traded to the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony took on a gunslinger mentality, jacking up the first available shot he could. As a matter of fact, Melo took nearly twice as many threes in a Knicks jersey than a Nuggets jersey and averaged about one less free throw attempt per game.
To his credit, Anthony's three-point percentage did jump up to a very respectable 42.4 percent, but the New York Knicks fans, including Spike Lee, were disgruntled with Melo's choice of shots. Easily the best scorer in the NBA, Anthony found himself settling for jumpers when he could have easily taken his opponent off the dribble for a high-percentage inside shot.
For him to be fully effective for the Knicks, Melo needs to find that perfect balance between shooting jumpers and attacking the basket.
In addition, Anthony now has a partner-in-crime in Amar'e Stoudemire. The two of them need to spend this extra lockout time in developing chemistry with one another. Whether it's practicing pick-and-rolls or give-and-go's, the newly forged dynamic duo need to set up some type of timing with each other.
If they can get something going, they'll be on a roll like the Miami Heat after their bumpy start.
Kevin Martin is an incredible shooter-scorer, but he's about as strong as a damp toothpick. He needs to follow whatever muscle-building regiment Kevin Durant was on and gain some weight quickly.
Otherwise, he'll continue to get bullied around when attacking the paint.
Joe Johnson's three-point percentage, points, rebounds, steals, blocks and free throws attempted per game were at the lowest last season than they've been since the '05-'06 season.
I'm not sure what his problem is, but he needs to fix it before he gets put on the trading block.
Could it be that this headband he's been wearing has been squeezing his brain cells out of his face?
It sounds crazy, but when you look at Johnson's stats and then look at the contract he signed last summer (six years, $123.70 million), you'll be forced to think outside the box.
Maybe a more plausible explanation is that Jamal Crawford has been hogging some of his spotlight? Well, the Hawks aren't looking as though they have intentions of re-signing him, so Joe Johnson needs to get his groove back before it's too late.
Chris Paul is easily the best point guard in the NBA. He's got the entire package:
- Incredible ball-handling
- Deadly mid-range jumper
- Smooth stroke from deep
- Flashy, yet deathly accurate passing
- Stifling defense with quick hands
- Swagger like none other
I mean, you name it, he's got it. But CP3 is still one unhappy camper.
And why is that?
He wants out of New Orleans, and he wants out NOW. The Hornets don't want him to leave, but they REALLY don't want him to walk when his contract is up and get nothing in return. Once Paul gets dealt, which I anticipate will happen some time before the season starts, he will resume his regularly scheduled program of breaking ankles and making the defense look like Swiss cheese.
When Rudy Gay went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, Zach Randolph proved that he could be the Memphis Grizzlies' No. 1 scorer.
Z-Bo led the team with his impeccable footwork, bullying strength in the low post and his ever-so-silky mid-range jay. He's vertically challenged, making it difficult for him to block shots down low, but what he can improve on is his shot from downtown.
Randolph didn't shoot from three very often, resulting in a mere 25 percent from three. However, if he improves his three-point shot to be able to knock it down on a consistent basis, Z-Bo could spread the floor even more for the Grizzlies, making him a threat from almost anywhere on the court.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been a great leader on offense for the Portland Trail Blazers, but it's time for him to take the next step on the defensive end.
He's been sort of a combo forward on defense, averaging 1.2 blocks and one steal per game, but in 39.6 minutes, LA needs to bat away a few more shots. Of course, it's not such an easy task when you play alongside a premier defender like Marcus Camby, but a little bit more effort on defense is not too much to ask for.
With no set scorer for the Denver Nuggets, Wilson Chandler will most definitely have to begin shouldering much of the load. Easily the best currently signed Nugget, Chandler needs to increase his scoring to keep his team afloat.
Whether it's taking more shots or getting to the line more often, Chandler needs to find a way to put more points on the board. At 12.5 points per game, he's putting up role player's numbers in a starter's minutes. He's got to change that.
Dwight Howard might be the best center in the NBA, but even the best can get better. A supreme defensive presence, Howard has nothing to work on in his defense aside from avoiding foul trouble. However, on offense, there are a few minor things he could improve on.
Howard's developed a mini-jump hook and a rather basic post game, but it's time for Patrick Ewing to teach him a few more tricks of the trade. He needs to work on his footwork on the block so that he can add an up-and-under and a few fakes and pivots to his post game.
In addition, adding a 10-15-foot jump shot couldn't hurt at all, either. I've seen him hit a few bank shots throughout the season. If Superman could add these things to his game, he would be the most unstoppable player in the NBA by far.
Kevin Durant has led the NBA two years in a row in scoring, but we've seen—especially in the playoffs—that the beast becomes dormant after he hasn't touched the ball in a few possessions.
Russell Westbrook tends to get a bit carried away in his own attempts to outshine KD, but Durant must learn when to grab him by the throat and demand the basketball. He is the leader of the Oklahoma City Thunder and must learn when to ask for the ball, and when to take it.
Defenders begin guarding Rajon Rondo at the foul line. If that's not an indication that they're not worried about his jumper, then I don't know what is.
Rondo's got every aspect of being a prototypical point guard down pat except for having a respectable jumper. He's got crafty ball handling skills coupled with great awareness, speed and precise passing. Once he develops some type of a jumper, he'll be a nightmare for defenses.
There's absolutely no question that Kobe Bryant takes some shots that would get any other player subbed out in a heartbeat.
And he can do that because 45.1 percent of the time, it's going in. But wouldn't you rather see Kobe lull his opponent to sleep and get a high-percentage shot instead of taking the ever-so-often highly contested shot that seems to be rimming out now more than ever?
The Mamba could send his efficiency through the roof if he simply watched the shots he takes. He's automatic from the high post, and he's one of the best inside scorers the NBA has ever seen. But sometimes, it's those questionable shots that get his teammates cold.
Another thing Kobe could stand to improve on is his three-point percentage. For someone of his stature who attempts so many threes (4.3 attempts per game), shooting 32.3 percent from deep is just not good enough. Sure, a lot of those threes are shots he barely gets off to beat the shot clock, but Kobe's been missing more quality looks from deep lately, and as a die hard Kobe fan, it concerns me.
After losing a game to the Miami Heat, Kobe reportedly stayed in the facility for hours perfecting his craft. If he works on his three-point shot every day the way he practiced after that game, the Black Mamba would easily become one of the best shooters in the NBA.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA Championship and was given the Finals MVP Award. He's never been known as a defender, in any right, but it would be nice to see him pick his blocks per game up from the lackluster 0.6 that it was at last season.
Either way, he's still one of the greatest international players to ever grace an NBA court.
LeBron James averaged 17.8 points per game in the NBA Finals, the biggest stage of them all. If there's any evidence to prove that he choked, that would be it.
I'm not necessarily sure how one can improve on their performance in pressure situations, but "King" James needs to find out what it is and work on it ASAP.
As for Dwyane Wade, he's always been the Miami Heat's star player, but he's never really had a three-point shot to help balance out his vicious inside attack. As a result, the Heat suffer when the defense collapses on Wade while he slashes to the hole.
D-Wade shot 30.6 percent from downtown last season. If he can pick that number up, he'll force the defense to guard up on him where he'll easily blow by the staunchest of defenders.
Okay, the San Antonio Spurs are an aging team, so let's not drag this process out.
Tim Duncan: Stamina
- Duncan only played 28.6 minutes per game last season, yet still managed to average 13.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. If he can condition himself to play a solid 35-38 minutes per game, could you imagine what his stats would look like?
Manu Ginobili: Three-Point Percentage
- Ginobili may knock down timely triples for the Spurs, but in terms of knocking them down on a consistent basis, he's not so accurate. At 34.9 percent from three, his percentage is at its third lowest in his entire career. Ginobili is an incredible shooter, he just didn't show it so much last season. He should stop taking so many threes off the dribble and set his feet before launching them into the air.
Tony Parker: Turnovers
- The Frenchman has yet to have a season averaging fewer than two turnovers per game. And those numbers almost always increase when the playoffs come around. He needs to work on his ball security more than anything else.
Derrick Rose's turnovers (3.4 per game) are easy to look past when you consider how long he has the ball in his hands. The league's MVP doesn't have a lot to work on, but there are a few minor tweaks he can make to his game.
Rose made a substantial improvement in his three-point shooting last season, skyrocketing from 26.7 to 33.2 percent from downtown. However, as great of an accomplishment as that may be, 33.2 percent is still sub-par compared to the better shooters in the NBA. Rose's accuracy from deep still has room for improvement.
Another area he could improve is his defense. Though he's the best player on the team with the stingiest defense, Rose's on-ball defense looks a bit shaky at times, especially when the ball handler first begins to attack the basket. He, at times, gives up the first step and allows a tiny bit of separation to be created.
But when you finally come to the realization that Derrick Rose is merely approaching his fourth year in the NBA, a chill shivers down your spine and you shudder to think what he could become in the years ahead.