Since the NBA season stretches over 82 games, we’ve stretched the preview into a few parts. In part one we covered which teams to look out for this season, both good and bad.
In today’s preview we have a look at which individual players may dominate, improve and shine this season. In addition to the veteran talent we also preview some rookies that you need to be aware of.
You can always count on the usual suspects in the NBA to consistently play at a high level. The drop off from all-star to 6th man takes some time and none of these players are quite there yet. Look for Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to continue to dominate games for at least the next couple of seasons. Here are some other players to keep an eye on:
Kevin Durant – The consensus break-out, MVP candidate for this season. Durant averaged over 30 ppg last season, taking the Thunder to the playoffs. He followed up that up a gold medal performance in the FIBA World Championships over the summer, a tournament he dominated and was the key to the USA victory. Durant is very modest and plays in a small market, but the NBA needs more superstars like him. Look for him to be in the MVP race all season and look for the Thunder to be on TV more often as a result.
Brook Lopez – The New Jersey Nets have been a terrible team the last few seasons, but with a new Russian billionaire owner, great drafts and free agent signings, the Nets will be respectable this season and it all started with getting Lopez. Taken with the Nets first round pick in 2008, Lopez has blossomed into one of the best rebounders (averaged 8.4 rpg last season) and with the lack of true centers in the NBA at the moment, he creates mismatches against almost every team. Lopez will start to get more attention this season as he continues to develop his scoring touch (18.8 ppg) and turns into an elite big man in the NBA.
Rajon Rondo – The Boston Celtics guard has come into his own and his performances in the past few seasons has vaulted his name into conversations about elite point guards in the NBA. Even though he was left off the USA team that went to the FIBA World Championships, Rondo should still be considered a top point guard. He is quick, a great ball handler and has improved his outside shooting in the last couple of seasons. Rondo is at his best when he gets to the basket and he will have more opportunity to do that this season because he has become the go-to scorer on a team of aging superstars (Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal).
Joakim Noah – Consider Joakim Noah the Ben Wallace of 2010. When the Pistons won the 2004 NBA Championship Ben Wallace was an underappreciated defensive key to their success. Wallace contributed solely on the defensive end with hustle, rebounds, steals and blocked shots. No opponent wanted to challenge Wallace in the middle. After the championship, Wallace became over-valued, signed a big contract with Chicago and although he delivered similar stats, he wasn’t worth the money that the Bulls paid him. This is the path that Noah is travelling right now. He is the high energy and rebound guy for the Bulls (coincidence?) who has been undervalued for the past couple of seasons. Now, the Bulls weren’t willing to part with him in a trade attempt for Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets, so perhaps he is starting to become over-valued. He is a character, similar to what Wallace was, and he will get lots of media attention. He just needs to improve on the offensive end before he can really earn all this attention.
Amar’e Stoudamire – New York’s saviour. When the big three free agents – LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh all spurned the Knicks, they signed one of coach Mike D’Antoni’s former superstars in Amar’e Stoudamire. Stoudamire was one of the few players in the free agent class that will be able to handle the pressure of the New York media. He is a big personality that enjoys the spotlight and that is just what he will get in New York. Although Stoudamire won’t have the privilege of playing with Steve Nash any longer, he will be playing in a system he knows and has excelled at. Stoudamire needs to stay healthy and he will be able to no doubt replicate his 25 ppg performance from two seasons ago and once again put the Knicks into playoff conversations.
Derrick Rose/Russell Westbrook/Tyreke Evans – More young players are starting to take over the reigns in the NBA –Rose in Chicago, Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Evans from the Sacramento Kings – all three are making names for themselves. Rose is the unquestioned leader of the Chicago Bulls, the offence runs through him. The pieces they have around him now, Noah and Carlos Boozer, are there to compliment his game, not take the ball out of his hands. Rose creates shots for himself and will get to the line when he needs to during crunch time.
Westbrook is going into his third season in the NBA and has the good fortune of playing with Durant – it never hurts to have a scorer like Durant on the floor with you. Westbrook averaged 8 assists per game last season and should push that over 10 this season. He is able to pushe the tempo of games, can create his own shot and used the FIBA World Championships to gain big game experience that he will need this season when the Thunder try to make a run at the Lakers in the Western Conference.
Evans has begun to single handedly turn around the fortunes of the Sacramento Kings. Evans plays in a mold similar to Dwayne Wade – a big, fast guard who can score and isn’t afraid to take the ball into the lane when necessary. This year, Evans gets some help in the paint with the addition of 2010 first round draft pick DeMarcus Cousins. Even though you might not see the Kings a lot on TV this season, you should keep a look out for Evans to appear on highlights each and every night.
John Wall – Wall is the first overall pick and one of four University of Kentucky players taken in this year’s draft. He was actually ready last year, but due to the NBA age restrictions he played his one year of college basketball instead of joining the NBA right out of high school. Wall is quick, athletic and has great court vision. He will make the other players around him better and that is exactly what the Wizards need from a first overall pick. Wall will be dancing all the way to the Rookie of the Year award.
DeMarcus Cousins – Cousins joins last year’s rookie of the year award winner Tyreke Evans in Sacramento. Another former University of Kentucky Wildcat, the 5th pick in the draft will have a better chance at making a difference than players taken in front of him because he is playing with Evans. Cousins was a dominant force at 6’11 270 lbs at the college level and although he won’t have the same size advantage in the NBA he should still be very effective.
– Yes, he is still considered a rookie. The 2009 number 1 overall pick was hurt in the pre-season last year and missed the entire season. He is back and ready to take over. Griffin’s best skill while at Oklahoma was his ability to rebound and score in the paint and during this exhibition season he has demonstrated those abilities certainly haven’t gone away. Griffin is a double-double machine and he has the ability to turn the LA Clippers into a playoff team.
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