The Next Step
Who’s due to break out in 2010-’11?
by Adam Figman | @afigman
As the most hyped summer in recent history winds down, the world’s eyes seem to be on a select group of NBA players: the new Big Three in Miami, Shaq and his old buddies in Boston, the three-peat seeking members of the Lakers, etc. So we figured we’d take a look at a different, slightly more under appreciated group: guys who might quietly be approaching their breakout seasons. They range in age, but all should improve on their previous seasons and could turn your favorite team (or fantasy team) into a real threat.
Goran Dragic: Almost exactly four months ago, in the fourth quarter of the third game of the Suns’ second Playoff series, this Slovenian caught fire in ways most never do. The 6-foot-4 guard scored 23 points in the quarter, shooting 10/13 (5/5 from three) and leading his team to a 14-point victory behind an array of quick-footed drives and pretty spot-ups. Expect Dragic to see an increase of playing time this year, both backing up and playing alongside Steve Nash, whom the 24-year-old could (and will) undoubtedly learn from.
Anthony Randolph: Somehow lost in the hype surrounding the Amar’e-to-New York, LeBron-not-to-New York madness was the fact that the Knicks acquired three former Warriors (Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike) in exchange for the contract of David Lee. Randolph was inconsistent in his two years under Don Nelson, but, with his combination of length and athleticism, he should thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo system. While opponents will likely divide their attention between the Felton/Amar’e pick-and-roll and Danilo Gallinari’s deadly three-point shot, Randolph may sneak up and finally match his long-awaited potential.
Blake Griffin: After missing the entirety of his rookie year with one of those “I hope this doesn’t plague him forever” knee injuries, Blake finally has a clean bill of health and a guaranteed spot as the Clippers’ starting power forward. The former Sooner still has his Rookie of the Year eligibility, and don’t be surprised to see him playing with a chip on his shoulder this season after watching watch his teammates get beat up for the past 12 months.
Wesley Matthews: After going undrafted, the 23-year-old from San Antonio played his way into a five-year, 32-million-dollar deal with the Trail Blazers that some felt he didn’t deserve. But with his new team expected to come back healthy, Wes will play an important role. The squad’s frontcourt should be solid with the return of bigs Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Pryzbilla and the re-signing of the ever-consistent Marcus Camby, and superstar Brandon Roy will lead the backcourt. But with Rudy Fernandez reportedly unhappy and wanting out, it’ll be Matthews’ job to step up on the wing. And, when asked about the notion that he was overpaid, Wes responded: “My answer to that is that I’ll be in the gym.” Good to know.
Kevin Love: Will it be the Great Numbers on a Bad Team Syndrome? Yeah, probably. But with no other effective big men (no, you don’t count, Darko) in sight, and the improvement Kevin’s steadily made the past two years, all signs point to an even better 2010-2011 season.
Omri Casspi: In his rookie year, on a team that only won 25 games, Casspi (along with ROY Tyreke Evans) showed promise, averaging 10 points on 45 percent shooting from the field. The Kings are still young, and probably won’t be much better, but an even stronger season from Casspi is likely, if only because Omri is just 22 and ‘Reke will have to dish to someone.
OJ Mayo: Maybe it’s a result of the limelight that’s shone on him since, well, forever, but people tend to forget that OJ is still only 22. There’s definitely still room for improvement, and reports indicate that he’s looking to improve himself as a ball handler, which should up both his assists numbers and his team’s win tally. The Grizzlies’ roster remained mostly in tact this off-season, and with Zach Randolph in a contract year, expect him to make a strong effort to be on the receiving end of OJ’s dimes.
George Hill: Hill’s role increased largely in ’09-’10, and will continue to do so as the Spurs prepare to move into the future sans Tony Parker. The Indiana native was huge in the first round of the Playoffs this year, averaging 22.3 points, and both his minutes and his stats should see a spike while the Spurs begin the evolution from a veteran team to a younger one.
DeMar Derozan: The former Trojan started his NBA career slowly, averaging only 8.6 points and 2.9 boards in 21.6 minutes a game. But he was effective, shooting 50 field from the field, and explosive, throwing down a series of crowd-pleasing jams and coming thiiiis close from stealing the Slam Dunk Contest from Nate Robinson. DeMar will be the face of the Raptors’ youth movement, which will also include Sonny Weems, Ed Davis, and Joey Dorsey, as the team moves into the post-Bosh era with a bright future.
Brandon Jennings: Yeah, I know. He finished last season as a 1st Team All-Rookie member, dropped 55 in a single game, brought a young team to the playoffs and averaged 15 points and 5 dimes in only his first NBA season. Pretty impressive. But as last season wore on, Jennings numbers’ slipped a little (specifically from the field), marking only a small blemish on an otherwise incredible rookie campaign. Still, with his intro year behind him and the reigns of the Bucks in his hands, an even bigger season should be ahead. GM John Hammond has surrounded Jennings with a solid crew (adding Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts and bringing back John Salmons), which will give him options and demand opposing defenders to give the lefty some space to do his thing.
Honorable Mentions: Lance Stephenson, Danilo Gallinari, Chase Budinger, Rodrigue Beaubois, C.J. Miles