10 NBA Players Whose Stocks Are on the Rise Entering 2014-15
Certain NBA player stocks are on the rise.
Reconfigure your 401k and IRA portfolios accordingly.
Optimism is available in excess this time of year, during the preseason, before regular-season contests have the opportunity to quash the idealistic bubble in which most fans and teams live. But not all hype is exaggerated or scheduled for imminent debunking. Some of it's for real. A select few player stocks actually are on the up and up.
And that's why you've stumbled upon this listicle thingamabob: To identify those risers.
Superstar appetites won't be placated here. LeBron James' and Stephen Curry's stocks are still soaring, but that's of little concern. Ladder-climbing superstars have been paid their due already. It's time to focus on the less established talents with more room to grow.
There will be one exception, for which no apologies are offered. Other than that, this is a tribute to the average Andys and regular Randys who are looking to make nice with the superstar Steves and outstanding Oscars. Note that these won't be the only risers, just those tracking toward the biggest leaps.
Preseason performances will weigh heavily, as will 2013-14 campaigns. Team systems and projected rotations will matter too. Don't forget Mr. Subjectivity and Ms. Up For Interpretation either. Their fingerprints are all over this.
Clear your schedule. Close the blinds. Erase your web-browsing history. Your how-to on NBA insider trading begins now.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
World, meet our exception. Exception, meet the world. Please don't destroy it.
Anthony Davis is already a superstar. That's a fact. Unlike most superstars, though, he's neither established nor even close to approaching his ceiling, which extends beyond Earth, outside our universe, into parts unknown.
At this rate, Anthony Davis will be eating solar systems by the time he's 25...
...Just how good will the 21-year-old become in Year 3? His FIBA Basketball World Cup performance helped shed some light on this, of course. But free from Team USA's clearly delineated pecking order, back in his natural habitat as the league’s lanky young behemoth—this is where The Unibrow will truly take flight.
As of this sentence, Davis probably isn’t a top-five NBA player. By the end of this one, though, he’ll be that much closer. Take cover while you can; hide the women and children. Davis isn't barreling down the street toward your house—he’s already there.
Objectively speaking, and scarier still, Davis' statistical output makes him a galaxy-gobbler—why, yes, you should be sensing an interstellar theme by now—at only 21 years old.
He became the quickest player in NBA history to reach 2,200 points, 1,100 rebounds and 300 blocks by age 21 in 2013-14. He also finished fourth in player efficiency rating (26.5), and ranked in the top 15 of total win shares (10.4), even though he missed 15 games and played on a lottery-lodging New Orleans Pelicans team.
Individual stocks won't jump any higher than his in 2014-15. After a sensational sophomore season, Davis is primed for cosmic control.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets
For Kenneth Faried, 2014-15 is all about growth and expansion.
While playing for Team USA during the 2014 FIBA World Cup, he was energetic as ever. He parlayed that on-court fervor into rebounds, points and a spot among the team's emotional leaders. There's little doubt his explosion on the global stage helped secure him a four-year extension from the Denver Nuggets.
But there's still much for Faried—who's averaging 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 24.8 minutes through six preseason appearances—to prove entering his fourth year, as Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney reminded us:
His most convincing displays of shot creation came in a late-season burst of post play for a lottery-bound team. Otherwise he's not much of a passer and can't at all space the floor—both impediments to the pursuit of fluid offense. That limited offensive range is especially inconvenient in that Faried also lacks the height and reach to play center. He needs size alongside him for his team to be effective and yet Faried has neither the jumper nor the ball skills to best complement another traditional big.
Part of Faried's individual rise is tied to his noted flaws, but only because he's seemed capable of correcting them. The fast-paced Nuggets offer a perfect situation for him, in that he can survive off rim attacks, putbacks and rebounding alone.
It's his drive and work ethic that lend hope to a forthcoming stock explosion and more polished game. General managers voted him, along with Boris Diaw, the league's best role player ahead of glue guys like Taj Gibson and Kawhi Leonard. Going on 25, there's still more to see from him.
If there's one role player approaching a breakout, it's Denver's inevitable double-double machine and on-court hell-raiser.
Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
Otto Porter is making the most of the Washington Wizards' preseason crusade. Now watch as he makes the most of Bradley Beal's absence.
Count yours truly among those who seriously doubt his production and performance won't taper off during the regular season. But not even the most stubborn skeptics can gloss over Porter's preseason displays.
On the heels of a disappointing rookie campaign, during which injuries limited him to 37 games, Porter leads the Wizards in preseason scoring. He's averaging 13 points on an efficient 48.7 percent shooting.
Impressive still, he's replaced Beal—for now—as Wall's favorite drive-and-kick partner. Helped along by a Curry-cut three-point clip (47.1 percent), he's proved equally dangerous as a spot-up marksman and off-the-dribble aggressor.
Look for him to shoulder most of the scoring load Beal's injury leaves behind. After that, look for him to wreak havoc as a potent small forward who can double as a stretch 4 in small-ball lineups. Then, after that, expect the Wizards' middling offense—16th in efficiency last year—to dabble in elite execution.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Ready or not, here Andre Drummond comes. And he's bringing the exclamation point to your "Whoa!" with him.
Truthfully, Drummond was almost labeled a second exception, or left off this list entirely. Then it became clear neither course of action was fair, because he's on the precipice of going from stardom-bound case study to actual superstar.
Most of that designation can be attributed to his indomitable play. Preseason opponents have served only one purpose; they've been his playtoy. In 31 minutes per game, Drummond is scoring 14.9 points while collecting 11 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. His free-throw shooting (37.2 percent) would drive The Care Bears to tears, but otherwise he's been splendid.
That brings us to Stan Van Gundy, whose lineup experimentation and general direction have done wonders for Drummond's weaknesses (post-ups) without compromising his strengths (athleticism, speed, explosion, etc.).
None of which should come as a surprise. Like ESPN.com's Patrick Hayes explains, refining unfinished bigs is Van Gundy's business:
Stan Van Gundy built his résumé around a freakishly good young center. He’s the coach who helped Howard develop from a raw, athletic dynamo who succeeded because of his otherworldly athletic gifts into the best center in the league, a top-five player with a refined enough offensive game to complement his physical gifts. He’s the coach who took a roster of what, at the time, looked like a collection of ill-fitting parts and molded it into a cohesive offensive and defensive unit that got all the way to the NBA Finals.
Once Van Gundy assembles a deeper cast of actually healthy shooters, Drummond's stock will reach its peak. For now, we'll have to settle for near-world domination.
Ed Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Watching the Los Angeles Lakers will be an unconventional treat this season.
Carlos Boozer wearing purple and gold. Jeremy Lin trying to find a happy medium between Linsanity and irrelevance. Kobe Bryant forever shooting. Flagrant two-pointer-ing.
Ed Davis detonating.
Best known for his per-36 minute exploits while with the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors, Davis is due for more playing time on the weapon-confused Lakers. He's earned it.
In 113 minutes of preseason burn, he's amassed 45 points, 25 rebounds and 14 blocks. That, for the record, is the equivalent of 14.3 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes.
Holy Robert Sacre's pet cow! Especially on defense.
Los Angeles ranked 28th in defensive efficiency and finished 18th in rim protection last year. Neither Jordan Hill nor Boozer addresses those issues. Davis, though, ranked 14th in point-blank prevention among 228 qualified players who contested at least two shots around the iron per game.
These Lakers need what Davis brings, so they're going to use him; and because they're going to use him, his league standing will reach new heights.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Mustache madness is everything.
Steven Adams is having a preseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Through seven appearances, he's averaging 12.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks on 68.4 percent shooting. Whether or not those numbers hold is debatable. His uptick in playing time (25.7 minutes a night), however, is a foregone conclusion.
Binding and gagging Kendrick Perkins to the bench—we hope—is an individual boon by itself. But Adams earns brownie points for his physical defense, evolving offense and end-to-end diligence that is rivaled only by Faried, the Energizer Bunny and pesky telemarketers.
The statistical ramifications of all this are truly intriguing. Both the Thunder's offense and defense were better without Adams last season, but that's subject to change if he's playing among starters. Also, with Kevin Durant out and Adams offensively competent in ways Perkins is not, there's a chance his numbers skyrocket.
A double-double shouldn't be out of the question. He averaged eight points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. Those numbers will be difficult to sustain with more playing time, but Adams has been so impressive over the last few weeks, nonbelievers are tougher to find.
"How many centers in the NBA can score, rebound and defend?," Bleacher Report's Dave Leonardis wrote after a thorough analysis of Adams' 2014-15 ceiling. "Not many. Adams has the chance to be one of those guys this season. If he puts it all together, he will find himself on plenty of top-10 lists this time next year."
Bold words, bolder prediction. It's scary to know it's all true.
Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
Rookie seasons don't get any more puzzling than Trey Burke's introduction to the NBA.
Playing in Tyrone Corbin's slow-paced offense, on a team with mostly incomplete offensive options, Burke struggled. He rarely reached the rim, shot 38 percent from the floor and cyclically took himself out of the offense.
Eventually, after a topsy-turvy stint in the summer league, training camp and preseason rolled around. And Burke went boom.
Through six contests, he's posting 16.5 points, six assists and 3.2 rebounds on 48.1 percent shooting overall. He's also sinking 53.3 percent of his attempts from deep, an encouraging sign after he found the net on only 33 percent of his long balls in 2013-14.
Being surrounded by real, live, floor-spacers—"Enes Kanter is shooting three-pointers" alert—has opened up lanes for Burke and rookie Dante Exum. The former is making the most of it, electing to pursue shots at the iron over contested 20-footers while also positioning himself beyond the arc when one of his teammates wages rim attacks.
This year's version of the Utah Jazz suits Burke. Plain and simple. He's been consistently aggressive and efficient, putting him within striking distance of a sophomore stock surge.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
Jared Sullinger's transition from undersized, plays-below-the-rim power forward to defense-spreading, rebound-wrangling stretch 4 is nearing completion.
Last year wasn't especially pretty for him. Though Sullinger tallied 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, he struggled while acclimating himself to a floor-spacing role he had never played before. He converted just 26.9 percent of his shots from downtown, his shot selection teetering between baffling and boneheaded.
Exhibition excellence cures all, though. Sullinger leads the Boston Celtics in both points (14.9) and rebounds (10.9) while playing just under 26 minutes per game. More encouraging still, his three-point shooting has reached "Um, what's going on here?" status. He's connecting on 50 percent of his bombs, nearly doubling his regular-season success rate.
"The way we move the ball. The way we play together." he said when asked about his improved distance shooting, per Celtics Blog's Jared Weiss. "I'm getting wide open shots out there. So I got time to catch it, spin it, take two steps if I want to and shoot the ball; the way we move the ball so well."
It's only preseason, so make of the Celtics' offensive displays—the team is assisting on 66.2 percent of its made buckets—what you will. But Sullinger has access to playmakers he didn't last year. Rookie Marcus Smart has shown he can collapse defenses, and Rajon Rondo has to get healthy at some point. (Right? Right? You guys?)
One year deep into his positional transformation, Sullinger's third NBA season is shaping up to be the one that lands him in the circle of dependable and productive stretch forwards.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
About those healthy shooters Van Gundy needs...
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is currently rehabbing a sprained left knee, to which we all say: Injuries sminjuries. It also helps that the Detroit Free Press' Vincent Ellis says his knee isn't a long-term concern. And if that doesn't do it for you, Dr. Andre Drummond's prognosis should.
“He’s all right,” Drummond said, via Pistons.com's Keith Langlois. “He’s going to be good.”
Before he went down, Caldwell-Pope was the preseason shooting sage Detroit didn't have last year. He pumped in 46.7 percent of his three-point attempts while averaging 16.7 points on 51.4 percent shooting overall.
Offensive versatility like his will help the Pistons climb out of point-piling mediocrity. In his first real chance to secure stable rotation minutes, he's been constantly on the prowl, torching defenses off the dribble, shredding nets with his shooting.
Following Jodie Meeks' injury, Caldwell-Pope is now indispensable to Van Gundy's space-oriented offense. If the Pistons want to go all Orlando Magic circa 2009-10, they'll need him to play well.
Good thing he was playing and scoring better than expected prior to injury. The quicker he returns, the quicker he begins his ascension through the NBA ranks; the quicker that happens, the quicker Detroit follows suit.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
Tank jobs have bright spots, too.
Seeing Nerlens Noel simply step on the court is a rare victory for the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers. Although he's been, for the most part, adorned in bubble wrap, the early returns are promising.
Four preseason games into his rookie season, Noel is averaging 8.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.5 blocks. His is a well-balanced stat line that should make it easier to watch the fast-paced, loss-compiling Sixers.
Defense is where most of the intrigue lies. Somehow the Sixers didn't rank dead last in defensive efficiency last season, despite fielding novices, journeymen and random patrons. They finished 27th overall, while ranking second to last in rim protection.
Noel's paint-patrolling presence should prove magical for the Sixers' defensive fortitude, potentially rendering them—gulp—a respectable points-preventing unit. The wins his defense helps register may be of concern for the (allegedly) tanking Sixers, but, mostly, it's enough to convince fans he was worth the wait.
Safely making it through training camp and preseason play contributes to his elevating stock. Ultimately, though, Noel's hardwood activity trumps all, his play a reminder of why the Sixers are laboring through a lasting rebuild at all.