DeAndre Jordan – Will he finally make the All-Star team this year?
Not many players in the NBA have improved on a season-to-season basis as much as the Clippers centre has. Coming in to the league as a second rounder, nobody knew exactly what Jordan could turn into, but they did know the potential was there. It took the Texas A&M product a few years to put it all together, but he has established himself as one of the best and most exciting players the league has to offer. Put a top-10 point guard all-time as his pick-and-roll mate and another top ten current player in the league at the high post, and you have an efficient finisher and offensive rebounding dynamo. Jordan’s elite ability to finish around the rim makes him dangerous in any offensive situation – this is evident in fact that he has ranked in the top six in offensive win shares for four seasons straight. Then on the other side of the court, he is just as effective. He ranks in the top five in defensive rating for current players and has finished in the top three for defensive win shares three seasons running. Most of his defensive effectiveness comes in the form of altering and straight up intimidation. According to Nylon Calculus, player’s attempted 3.5 fewer shots per-36 minutes when Jordan was on the court. That is an astounding stat.
However, with the great finishing ability and elite defensive skills, Jordan’s achilles heel is forever what brings down his value – free throw shooting. It affects everything. Rivers is less likely to play him in clutch situations, thus decreasing his playing time, and his overall impact on the game. Until the Houston native can make his free throws at even a respectable rate, he will always be underrated.
With two All-NBA selections under his belt, and still no all-star games, look for 2017 to be the first year that DeAndre gets his due.
Aaron Gordon – What is his fate in Orlando?
Six months removed from one of the greatest dunk contest performances ever, Gordon is in a position that one shouldn’t envy. Last year’s dunk contest did wonders for the young career of the 21 year-old. It vaulted his celebrity status and placed him in position to further that celebrity with his on-court play, and that’s exactly what he did. Post all-star break, Gordon averaged 12/7.3/2 on 48% shooting, compared to the 7.7/6/1 on 46% that he averaged before it. This play should have solidified his position within the Magic franchise and showed everyone that he was here to stay. He showed out as a dynamic combo forward with good ball skills to pair with his out of this world athleticism. The Arizona alum is indeed a “combo forward” in the analytical sense, but there’s no doubt with the way the NBA is moving, he should play power forward exclusively. Orlando would be smart to take this path with Gordon, but apparently they don’t see it that way and decided to go out and front-load his position with veterans.
The Magic signed Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, and traded for Serge Ibaka – all players that play the same, or similar position to Gordon. To go along with Nikola Vucevic who was already there, Gordon now has a lot of competition for minutes at the big-man positions. All of these moves will force Gordon out to the perimeter to play outside of his natural abilities. The slew of seven-footers is going to limit Gordon’s natural slashing and post-up tendencies.
However, with a competent and elite coach like Frank Vogel, I have confidence that Aaron Gordon could find his way in the Orlando Magic offence, and even if he doesn’t, his future in the league is very, very bright.
Joel Embiid – Can he live up to the potential we keep hearing about?
Joel Embiid takes the cake as the NBA’s current biggest wildcard. There is understandable worry over whether Embiid can live up to his third overall pick credential, but right now the possibilities outweigh the concern. A two-year “career” that has been marred with constant foot injuries, and endless pitchers of Shirley temples, Embiid is finally seemingly in position to play. The now 7’2, 270 pound big man looks like he is the real deal. It is hard not to be excited for what he can do. Coming out of college as a huge kid with a very raw skill set, but almost unmatched potential puts a lot of pressure on a player, and it seemed like that pressure got to him.
Finally getting a good offseason under his belt, twitter videos making people salivate, and finally a roster that has real potential, Embiid is ready and willing to step in and show what he’s made of. A legit seven-footer that can raise above opponents, finish inside, hit jumpers off the dribble, and send opponents shots into the tenth row aren’t easy to come by. The Sixers look like they have that piece in Embiid.
D’Angelo Russell – Will he take the next step without any of the distractions?
A rookie season chocked full of drama, contentious coaching relationships, and distraction, D’Angelo Russell is in position to lead one of the NBA’s great franchises.
The 6’5, 200-pound point guard has the body and skill set to become one of the best point guards in the NBA. There aren’t many players that have his court vision at his size. He is a natural scorer who can mix it up with shooting with deep range, while also being able to break down his defender and get to the rim to finish through contact. This scoring ability gets him into trouble sometimes because he gets tunnel vision and only thinks “score.” And having a coach as incompetent as Byron Scott, those issues that most rookies go through were tough to get through because of the lack of guidance. Scott opted to just sit Russell when he would get into slumps, rather than playing him and helping him work through turmoil. To add to the on-court issues, Scott loved venting to the media bout how incompetent his young players were. Also the ever-annoying parade of Kobe love couldn’t have been worse for the young players of the Lakers. It was basically a wasted season for them, and the franchise, because of the send-off for Bryant. Not saying it wasn’t justified, but it doesn’t aid in the development of the younger guys.
Luke Walton is now the coach however, and things are looking up in Laker land for a young franchise that now features a good mix of youngins like Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, and veterans like Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Walton has already said that Russell will be given the reigns to lead the franchise, good or bad.
Jonas Valanciunas – Will the Lithuanian vault himself to the elite class?
JV is one of the most polished and efficient offensive post players in the league. Using his massive bulk and long arms to score easily on inside opportunities inside, notch put-back points at a high rate from his offensive rebounding skills, and hitting free-throws at a rate that is rare for a man of his size. He is the prototypical European centre. Consistently at the top of the league in field goal percentage and offensive rating it is a wonder that his per-game numbers aren’t higher than they are. He combines a knack for scoring inside with a fantastic ability on the offensive glass. This was never more apparent than it was during the Raptors playoff run last spring. However, just like what happened in the regular season with his hand-injury that forced him to miss 22 games, the same thing happened in the playoffs with his sprained ankle. Valanciunas was averaging 16/12 on 60% shooting before his injury in the second round against the HEAT. He was absolutely carrying Toronto’s offence throughout many games in the first two rounds. He returned form his injury later in the playoffs, but he wasn’t the same.
Three things need to happen for the 24 year-old to take the next step: he needs to avoid injury that keeps him out for long stretches of the season, he needs to become better on the defensive end in regards to shot blocking and avoiding fouls, and the Raptors core of the Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Dwane Casey need to put him in better position to carry the offence when the team is struggling.
Andrew Wiggins – Can he live up to people’s expectations?
There aren’t many players in the NBA with a bigger target on their backs than Andrew Wiggins. The No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft came in carrying LeBron James and Scottie Pippen comparisons and murmurs from NBA heads. He hasn’t quite lived up to those lofty, if not, impossible expectations yet. He hasn’t shown to be a decent rebounder, his play-making has been less than stellar, and his one-on-one defence, which everyone salivated over, has been passable, but not anywhere near the level people thought. It also hasn’t helped that the Wolves have been pretty awful since he arrived in the wake of the Kevin Love trade. However, with all of the bad, there is A LOT of good. He has proven himself to be a more than reliable go-to scorer on a nightly basis, he is a decent enough defender, can score efficiently in the post, and draws fouls at a rate that not many players in the league can. He puts a lot of pressure on the defence, which you don’t often see from a player his age (21).
With the arrival of Tom Thibodeau, the development on Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach Lavine, and another off-season under his belt, look for Wiggins to take yet another step towards stardom. Cutting down on his long-twos, and tendencies to gamble on defence will be key to his further development. Not that it will change with Thibs at the helm, but maybe playing some less minutes will cut down on his wear and tear as well.
Jeremy Lin – After being handed the reigns in Brooklyn, how will he show out?
Best known for the fabulous and career defining period of “Linsanity,” the now seven-year veteran has free control of an NBA team. Brooklyn is not in any position to compete for the next number of years, but that doesn’t mean that Lin can’t prove the type of player he is. Linsanity got him a nice NBA contract with the Houston Rockets where Lin played for two full seasons. After that didn’t work out, he moved to the Lakers to play in Kobe’s ever deteriorating shadow. Then last season happened, which seemingly rejuvenated the career of the Bay Area native. Numbers aside, Lin found basketball to be fun again, and his successful run last year got him a huge deal with the Nets, 35 mil over 3 years.
Lin won’t necessarily make the Nets that much better of a team, but this landscape and opportunity will be good to show just how good Jeremy Lin can be with complete control over an offence. A capable offensive player with passable defensive skills, who brings a personality and cult following in the area, is a signing that made sense for the Nets. Low-risk, high reward is a perfect way to describe it. After winning only 21 games last season, the Nets often found their fans showing up to see the other team play, rather than them. With Lin now leading the charge and a solid big-man in the post in Brook Lopez, maybe the Nets aren’t as worse off as most people think.
Giannis Antetokounmpo – After notching a 100 million dollar deal, what’s in store for the Greek Freak?
There isn’t any player in the NBA today that exudes potential as much as Giannis Antetokounmpo. The legit 6’11 monster has the size to tussle with power forwards, and the skill-set to break down opposing point guards a full foot shorter than him. Antetoukoumpo raised his game in his third season, especially post all-star break. He finally took that potential we’d been drooling over for years and turned it into production. After last year’s all-star break, the Greek native averaged 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. After seeing that last year, you can’t help but be excited for what this player can turn into. Especially since Jason Kidd has stated that he will be the team’s primary playmaker and point guard right off the bat this year.
Placing him at point guard was an interesting move from Kidd and many doubted its possibilities. But when looking at it further, it makes a ton of sense. Having the ball in his hands more will encourage the 21 year-old to attack attack attack as much as he can, and it puts him into position to get a running start and speed advantage. It also takes him off the wing, where he struggles mightily hitting set shots.
His defensive impact still needs to improve, but with his body and athleticism, it’s only a matter of time. Look forward to another step forward this season, and at this point, that prospect is scary.
Steven Adams – With increased responsibility, how will the Kiwi respond?
The budding bromance between him and Enes Kanter is funny, and the vintage mustache is even funnier, but past all of the jokes, we have one of the most promising young players in the NBA. Adams is slowly vaulting himself into a top two-way centre in the big leagues.
Adams is hard-nosed and has a gritty tendency to crash the glass harder than his opponent. He sets solid picks for guys like Russell Westbrook, and formerly Kevin Durant. Then rolls to the rim with reckless abandon. This consistently puts him in the right position to either: catch a pass from the ball-handler and score, or to get an offensive rebound and put the ball back in. He has a natural knack for being in the right place at the right time. Then on the other end of the court, Adams shows his real value. He is strong and can handle contact from just about anyone in the NBA. He takes hits on the chin, in the gut, and groin better than any player in the NBA. You won’t find a more prototypical centre in the NBA on the defensive end. He can body up in the post, or go out to the perimeter and maintain control of whatever guard he got switched on to.
This will be a very interesting year for the 23 year-old. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka on their way out, Adams will be looked at to score a lot more, and to play defence on players that were usually left for Ibaka. He doesn’t have the greatest length and his foot speed still needs work, so seeing how Adams responds to this increased role will really tell the type of player he will become.
Bradley Beal – Can he look past injuries and on-court chemistry issues to live up to his potential?
Just one year ago, Bradley Beal was my favourite shooting guard in the NBA. He represented everything I wanted in a two guard. He combined elite shooting ability literally anywhere on the court, with a knack to make plays for his teammates, and a great knack for locking up the man he was guarding. But now, the jury is still out on Beal and whether or not he can live up to that absolutely massive deal that the Wizards gave him this offseason. No doubt the skill is there, but Beal has now missed a whopping 25% of the games so far in his career. That combined with the apparent turmoil and broken relationship between him and his running mate, John Wall, it doesn’t bode well for much Wizards success this coming season. However, just like previously mentioned Andrew Wiggins, with the negative, there is a ton of positive. Beal can basically carry an offence for stretches. He can create offense out of nothing with his ability to hit shots and pull-ups that not many players can even dream of making. He can also get to the rim because opponents aren’t sure quite how to guard him a lot of the time. His quick release helps him get shots up over bigger defenders, while his quickness and speed gives him the advantage in drive situations as well.
Beal moving forward needs to get his injury tendencies in check, if that’s possible, as well as finding somewhat of an on-court chemistry with John Wall. He has all of the tools, but it’s just a matter of putting them together.
– – –
Follow author: @kahl23