NBA Sunday: Players Poised To Breakthrough
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For some, it means going from an end of the bench towel waver to earning minutes as a serviceable role player. For others, it means making the transition from a rotational player into a team’s foundation of the future.
The 2014 campaign offers plenty of scenarios to watch in this regard. Let’s take a look at some guys poised to breakthrough in their own right using the following criteria:
1. Not entering their respective rookie season
2. Three seasons or less of NBA experience
3. Averaged less than 25 minutes per game in 2013
John Jenkins – Atlanta Hawks – Shooting Guard
2012-13: 6.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, 38% three-point shooting, 14.8 minutes, 2 starts
Jenkins has lost over ten pounds since the end of last season and is intent on playing a bigger role for the restructuring Atlanta Hawks. The former Vanderbilt University standout averaged 18 points and 4.4 rebounds during Summer League (Las Vegas) play, although he did struggle with his shot. Jenkins figures to have a chance to play extended minutes as the team waits for veteran guard Lou Williams to return from a torn ACL.
Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons – Center
2012-13: 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 61% field goal shooting, 20.7 minutes, 10 starts
Drummond has the luxury of being in a frontcourt that includes two very promising players in Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. If Drummond can stay out of foul trouble (4.2 fouls per 36 minutes) and improve his free throw shooting (37% on 2.7 attempts per game) he will see much more floor time and in turn his production should steadily improve.
Tobias Harris – Orlando Magic – Small Forward
2012-13: 11 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 46% field goal shooting, 23.6 minutes, 34 starts
Hard to believe Harris was buried so far deep in the rotation in Milwaukee, but after arriving in Orlando via trade in February the young wing quickly put the league on notice. Harris averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Magic in 27 contests. There’s no reason to believe Harris won’t continue to improve this season.
Jeremy Lamb – Oklahoma City Thunder – Shooting Guard
2012-13: 3.1 points, 0.8 rebounds, 35% field goal shooting, 6.4 minutes per game
Part of Oklahoma City’s offensive attack the past few seasons have included a high scoring guard off the bench (i.e. James Harden and Kevin Martin). Both of those previous options are now playing for other franchises, which opens the door for Lamb to enter the rotation. Lamb spent the majority of his rookie season in the D-League in 2013 (averaging 21 points, five rebounds and three assists), but continued to show promise during Summer League (Orlando).
Jonas Valanciunas – Toronto Raptors – Center
2012-13: 8.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 56% field goal shooting, 23.9 minutes, 57 starts
There is serious talk of the Raptors earning a postseason berth for the first time since the 2008 campaign. A big portion of this optimism is due to the presence of Valanciunas and the hope he can make a large sophomoric jump. All signs point to this being a strong possibility as the center took home Most Valuable Players honors during Summer League (Las Vegas). Valanciunas has hit the weight room with a vengeance since the end of last season and Toronto is hoping his summer momentum continues into the 2013-14 campaign.
Eric Bledsoe – Phoenix Suns – Point Guard
2012-13: 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 45% field goal shooting, 20.4 minutes, 12 starts
Bledsoe was traded to Phoenix this summer and should thrive with the opportunity to play more minutes. Bledsoe started 12 games last season when All-Star point guard Chris Paul succumbed to the injury bug and averaged 14.2 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in the process. The Suns are in clear rebuilding mode, but Bledsoe figures to be one of their building blocks of the future.
Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz – Power Forward
2012-13: 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 48% field goal shooting, 23.2 minutes, 8 starts
Gone are veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Enter Favors as the new face of the Jazz’s frontcourt. Since entering the league Favors has been labeled as a potential All-Star, but he’s also had to play behind much more established guys. That won’t be the case this season as Favors will have every opportunity to live up to the billing.
Iman Shumpert – New York Knicks – Shooting Guard
2012-13: 6.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 40% field goal shooting, 22.1 minutes, 45 starts
The Knicks may be forced to start the season without reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith who underwent two knee surgeries earlier this summer. If Smith isn’t ready to go early on Shumpert figures to be the recipient of a larger role offensively.
John Henson – Milwaukee Bucks – Power Forward
2012-13: 6.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 48% field goal shooting, 13.1 minutes, 9 starts
The Bucks’ frontcourt is a bit crowded at the moment, but Henson figures to get a strong look from new head coach Larry Drew. Henson put up a strong Summer League stat line of 14.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3 blocks per game but also averaged five turnovers in the process.
Austin Rivers – New Orleans Pelicans – Shooting Guard
2012-13: 6.2 points, 2.1 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 37% field goal shooting, 23.2 minutes, 26 starts
To say Rivers had a disappointing rookie season would be a huge understatement. Part of Rivers’ struggles was the team’s experiment of converting him to point guard. With All-Star guard Jrue Holiday now in the fold Rivers should be able to focus more on attacking offensively. Rivers had a strong Summer League showing, averaging 18.2 points on 49 percent shooting, but most importantly seemed much more comfortable in the team’s offensive.
Wesley Johnson – Los Angeles Lakers – Small Forward
2012-13: 8.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 41% field goal shooting, 19.1 minutes, 21 starts
Johnson was the No. 4 overall pick of the 2010 draft but has yet to carve out his niche at the pro level. The three-year veteran signed with the Lakers this summer in free agency and the move may benefit his career. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has a long track record of getting maximum production out of guys like Johnson in his offensive system. This could be Johnson’s last shot.
Thomas Robinson – Portland Trail Blazers – Power Forward
2012-13: 4.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 43% field goal shooting, 15.1 minutes, 0 starts
Robinson had a rookie campaign he is itching to forget. The former University of Kansas standout was drafted by the Sacramento Kings and then traded at the deadline to the Houston Rockets. The forward was then traded to Portland this summer as Houston was clearing cap space to sign All-Star center Dwight Howard. Robinson admitted to HOOPSWORLD during Summer League that the trades did play on his psyche, but he should receive an opportunity with the Blazers.
Carmelo Anthony Endorses Andrea Bargnani Trade: The New York Knicks acquired former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors this summer. The Knicks are hoping Bargnani will thrive in a lesser role with the Knicks than he was entrusted in Toronto where he spent most of his tenure as the lead scoring option.
Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony fully endorses the move and believes the Knicks got a steal in the deal.
“I hate to lose [Steve] Novak and [Marcus] Camby,” Anthony said according to Marcus Henry of Newsday. “But when you get someone like [Bargnani] in return, it’s kind of a win-win situation.”
Bargnani endured an injury plagued campaign in 2013, but boasts career averages of 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds on 36 percent shooting from three-point range.
HOOPSWORLD 2013 NBA Summer League Coverage
Looking for in-depth 2013 NBA Summer League coverage? The HOOPSWORLD team was on the ground for both Orlando and Las Vegas sessions.
You can find interviews with up and coming prospects, current players, coaches and league executives HERE