With the return of the NBA on Tuesday night, we are reintroduced to the drama, the excitement, the game-making plays, and the influx of gifs on Twitter. There’s a lot to look forward to this season, and a lot of new uniforms being worn. Can LeBron James hold down the kingdom for the land again? Or will the Warriors bite back with their Legion of Doom-esque lineup?
As a subplot to the whole scenery that is the playoff picture of the NBA, here we’re going to take a look at a few individuals who will exceed expectations, and few who will dash their fans’ dreams in the toilet. Each moment on the court lends itself to have your name be immortalized as either an Allen Iverson, or a Tyron Lue. Are you the one stepping over? Or the one getting stepped on? Who you are in the NBA is totally up to you, because basketball is a combination of individual effort in a team aspect.
15 Joel Embiid - BOOM
The prophecy has been fulfilled and every 76ers fan on the face of this planet lies in wait for Joel Embiid to hit the court. There’s no telling what the ceiling is for this young man, and he is on this list for the sheer fact that the NBA may not be ready for the size and skill he brings to the table. From what we saw in the preseason he should be able to stretch the floor with his shooting touch, but he will also be able to devastate the rim when he’s close to the basket.
Embiid very well could be the Rookie of the Year, being that this technically qualifies as his first season of professional basketball. The only concern that comes to mind is that the front court will be a tad crowded, given that the 76ers roster has Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric at the moment. Nevertheless Embiid may prove to be the most talented out of any of these highly accaimled prospects, he will prove a formidable matchup for every big in the association.
Trust in the process? “I am the process”, he told Sports Illustrated. Trust in Joel Embiid.
14 J.R. Smith - BUST
It kills me to say this, but there is almost no chance JR has improved his game; in fact we saw his peak and it wasn’t that high. I mean he might’ve been high, that’s about it though. He got a big time pay check, for low time production. He must be really good for team morale when you look at how little he’s added to his game in the twelve years of NBA basketball he’s played. That or he is that entertaining, maybe he’s selling more tickets and jerseys than we know of.
There are many players that provide what JR provides though, I hate to hate on him, but he’s an obvious target being such a public figure. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to smoke with the guy, but I can’t say he’s getting any better than what we’ve already seen. Questionable shot taking, great athleticism, not so great defense at times, and most of all on court antics that make you wonder what you just witnessed.
13 Damian Lillard - BOOM
What more can Dame do to get some respect in this league? It is a guard’s game nowadays, and in a stacked Western Conference with players like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and Mike Conely, it seems like people forget about Lillard. Here’s what he didn’t forget though, being snubbed for All-Star selection in the 2015-16 season.
Expect revenge to be swift and flashy, in a fashion on Dame can conjure. There’s not any one player who can stop him, the quickness, agility of John Wall combined with a serious touch from long range; not to mention the capability to dunk on any and all unsuspecting defenders. He is a premier point-guard, and he will top his career-high in scoring from last year. You don’t need me to tell you, his game will speak for itself. Just sit back and enjoy the show.
12 Danny Green - BUST
This one definitely hurts too, not nearly as much as he hurt my fantasy last year though. Danny Green is a good player, don’t mistake what I’m saying. However after a very lackluster season this past year, things aren’t looking up for the shooter in San Antonio. There will be a bounce back, but the ceiling has lowered on this once promising young wing. There are too many other shooters out there now, and the face of the league can change so quickly; you need a skill set that differentiates yourself, Green doesn’t have skills you can’t find anywhere else. Granted he is still a solid defender, he still has value, he just doesn’t have what it takes to break through the cusp.
At best he’s a starter on a bad team, or a back-up on a good team. No more need to save face, last season was a glaring blemish on his career. There aren’t any two ways around it, Green has a lot to prove to his coaches and to himself.
11 Steven Adams - BOOM
We all know there’s a hell of a lot more room in Oklahoma City this season, but who will fill the void? Granted Russell Westbrook will very likely vie for MVP voting again, still there leaves a ton of question marks about the OKC front court. Enes Kanter? Ersan Ilyasova? Not quite, I’m thinking Steven Funaki Adams. There will be a major uptick in minutes, and with that a major uptick in production for the third year player out of New Zealand. At only twenty-three, we can expect Adams to do what he does best: hustle. He will get up and down the court to play solid defense, as well as fill the lane and show off his new-found prowess around the rim.
Not only did OKC lose Durant to Golden State, but Serge Ibaka also signed to play in Orlando, leaving the Thunder without their defensive anchor. Adams is their guy whether they like it or not. The seven-footer will likely knock on the door of the double-double often this season. His averages won’t be ridiculously high, however his production will prove invaluable to a team now just hoping to squeeze back into the playoff picture.
10 Brandon Knight - BUST
The Suns are not going to be good this season, they could be the worst team in the NBA if the Brooklyn Nets weren’t a team. Partly because their talent has reached their potential, and they’re not very good either. I’m singling out Brandon Knight in the same way as the previous two BUST players on this list, you can find plenty of other Brandon Knights for half the cost. His stats have been sufficient to this point in his career, but with little to no help on the offensive end the task of scoring should prove that much harder for Knight when defenses are keying in on him.
Eric Bledsoe doesn’t make plays for his teammates often either, and when both of your best players don’t open up for whoever else is on the floor then you’re going to have some issues. Knight will have a hard time out doing himself, don’t expect much in the way of improvement, if any at all.
9 Brandon Jennings - BOOM
The New York Knicks are a brand new team this season, and Brandon Jennings is one of many new faces to the roster. What he did in the preseason has established him as a leader for the second unit, and as a playmaker on the offensive end for this Knicks team. There is potential for Jennings to make a run at 6th man of the year a la J.R. Smith in 2013, he certainly has the skill set to do so. Being that he is twenty-seven years old, with seven years under his belt, Jennings is arguably in the prime of his career. New York fans are hoping he can revitalize a bench that proved dismal last season by bringing energy and shooting.
Surrounded by some talent will also bring out the best in Jennings as a passer, and his defensive skill set should not be overlooked; this is someone who has averaged over a steal a game before. If he does prove to be the sparkplug that the Knicks so desperately need, then this season will be a notable one in his career.
8 Jeremy Lin - BUST
Linsanity is over, and the mysticism surrounding Lin has gone with the wind. There will be very little to look for in Brooklyn this season, even less considering Jeremy Lin is their starting point guard. A boom or bust type player, leaning further and further to the side of bust with each season that passes. When you think about how little Brook Lopez plays on a yearly basis, it’s hard to say who the best player on this team is. If it is Lin, then that is a scary thought.
He can and will put up stats every now and again, but fully expect the trend of peaks and valleys to be the theme of Lin’s season. No one else can score like him on that, but then again he can’t score at a high level. Sometimes it’s good to be a slightly bigger fish than the one’s in the small pond. Is that how the expression goes? No? Well, point is Lin will underwhelm in this NBA season be warned.
7 Al Horford - BOOM
It would be hard for Al Horford to excel any more than he already does, he has made himself into such an all-around player in his time with Atlanta. The trend should continue with this Boston Celtic’s team he is now a part of, the expectations are high but that’s when Horford delivers. Between his passing, his shooting, his post-up, his defense, and his overall IQ, we’re looking at someone who is ready to lead Brad Stevens’ Celtics to the top of the Atlantic division.
Here’s another player, in the prime of his career, linking up with a new team in hopes of toppling LeBron’s empire in the Eastern Conference. Horford was the marquee in Atlanta when the Hawks finished first in the Conference back in 2015, and he can do it again with a team that’s potentially better than that.
Al is the kind of guy who raises his level of play to the competition around him, it would be interesting to see a rematch against the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals after being swept in 2015 with Atlanta. No reason to get that far ahead of myself, however we’re talking about a two-time NCAA champion; he is ready for the big stage and at the very least they could give LeBron a run for his money.
6 Derrick Williams - BUST
Derrick Williams made an impact as a bench player on the New York Knicks last season, still proving to be one of the most disappointing draft picks in recent history. Now he will have another chance to prove how far under the bar of expectations he can fall. Good for a few dunks here and there, Williams has found his place in the NBA and it’s not on the court. Riding the pine in New York was a good place for him, and it will be a good place for him in sunny Miami.
At least he’ll be able to hit the beach in his spare time, although it’s not going to help support the gaping holes in his game. Compared to his peers, Williams has fallen into obscurity; a sad but true fact that sometimes talent doesn’t translate to the association. Peaking before you hit the draft day stage is never a good thing.
5 Dennis Schroder - BOOM
If there’s a lot more room in Oklahoma City, then there’s just as much in Atlanta at the moment. The Hawks also lost two pivotal players in their starting rotation: Jeff Teague and Al Horford. Lucky for them, last year Dennis Schroder appeared to raise his level of play so much so that now he has earned the starting position at point guard for the Hawks this season. He will be the floor commander, and he will find ways to score the basketball with a longer rotation coming his way. Schroder is an undersized, scrappy player, but he gets the job done on both ends of the floor; and with Dwight Howard there to anchor his defense, there is no doubt he will look to push off of defensive rebounds.
Schroder’s stats have increased each of the three years he has played in the NBA, this year will be no different. You can expect an increase in almost every category, especially points per game. He won’t be an all-star, but he’s on his way there to the cusp of stardom. If Isiah Thomas can drop twenty per game, the door is open for just about anyone to raise their level of play tremendously as a guard.
4 Omer Asik - BUST
The chance to be an impact player has come and gone for Omer Asik. Both he and Terrence Jones will enjoy another season where neither player proves to be as good as they could have. Next to Anthony Davis it’s hard to imagine Asik stuffing the stat sheet. Essentially Davis is a vacuum for points, rebounds, blocks, steals, and pretty much everything else. That’s not to say that other plays can’t achieve around him, but don’t assume it’ll be Asik to do so.
With only six years in the league, Omer is already thirty years old. His prime is right now, and it isn’t looking exceptional. No doubt the Pelicans can use his minutes, they’re going to need all the help they can get. Asik is like a steam engine though, compared to the V8s that are the new and improved stretch bigs taking the league by storm.
3 Myles Turner - BOOM
It may be a guard’s league, but the talented young big men of today’s NBA are ready to make an impact. This year’s Pacer team has promise, but no one more so than upstart Myles Turner. Turner has grown his game from the inside out, and proves to be the diverse scoring and defensive option Indiana needs in the tighter Eastern Conference. He is lean and strong, ready to run the floor better than just about any other big he will face in 2016. That and he can stretch the floor with his much improved shooting ability, a necessity for all players in today’s inside out play style.
With some veteran guidance from recently acquired Big Al Jefferson, a master of the dying art of post-up offense, and All-Star Paul George, Turner is in good hands. Given enough playing time, he will be a stud for the Pacers day in and day out.
2 Jose Calderon - BUST
Jose Calderon is on his last legs. A once crafty shooter, ball handler, and playmaker, is now an over-the-hill backup on a very young Lakers team. There isn’t much of a chance for him to see minutes on this team, and even if he did there isn’t much of a chance for him to do anything but pull up for the occasional three or pass it to the wing or the post. The time for dynamic plays is over, Calderon doesn’t have the speed or skill like that of a Manu Ginobli or Tony Parker who define the optimal progression for back court play in the NBA.
The Lakers are going to showcase their young talent all day every day, and that means a small role for Calderon to do his thing. He’s there for veteran presence, similarly to Sasha Vujacic; and we all know what he’s capable of today - not much.
Feel the need to disagree? Has this list been proven so severely wrong with how the NBA season has played out? Then let me know in the comments below.
1 Rodney Hood - BOOM
Back to the back court, Rodney Hood stands as the Utah Jazz's only option outside of Joe Johnson for consistent scoring and volume shooting. George Hill should be able to facilitate for the 6’8 shooting guard, but expect him to be making plays until Gordon Hayward returns towards December. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Hood improves in each of his stat categories - points, assists, rebounds, it’s all there for the taking.
There is depth on this Jazz team, but their other guards lack the talent and skill that Hood has already brought to the table early in his career. Especially considering his size, which creates a nice matchup for him against other players who will be diminutive compared to him. He has a lot of room to grow as a player, this year is as good as any to put the league on notice. Rodney Hood can compete in today’s game, and now it’s time for him to prove that he can excel.