This off-season went by fast. Seems like yesterday we were all debating on whether Lebron would stay in Miami after the decimation at the Alamo. With some players in new places, new coaches, and interesting rookie/sophomore competition, I’m thrilled for this upcoming season; more than I have been for any other season in recent years.
I’ve watched a lot of pre-season games in the past 2 weeks and have been combing over some statistics from last season. There’s a small group of young players who are poised to ascend to that next level in their game.
DeMarcus Cousins – the Sacramento Kings haven’t been good in nearly a decade. Cousins’ erratic behavior has not made him a media darling outside of Sactown. He’s like the Brandon Marshall of the NBA. Cousins is a great defensive presence, ranking in the top 5 last year in rebounds per game. He’s also a solid shooter as a big, improving on his previous career average from 17.9 to 22.7 ppg. Cousins is a certified double-double machine. The problem is he doesn’t play enough minutes to be considered in the elite category. At his position, Cousins plays less minutes than Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, and LaMarcus Aldridge. This year, I’m looking for him to bump up 37-39 minutes. Cousins is a player who can easily be a 25 and 10 guy every year with ample playing time.
Kawhi Leonard – this is a given, but not for the reasons that are obvious. People are expecting the Finals MVP to stay the same because he’s a “product of the Spurs system”. But playing in a contract year, I see Leonard bumping up his activity on the offensive end. We saw in the Finals that he’s more than capable of taking over a game. All summer he worked on his shot with a shooting coach. Last season, he played less minutes per game than the fading vet Shawn Marion and Andre Iguodala. The Spurs are an unselfish team. They won a championship because of it. Although, in order for Leonard to be considered an elite 2 way player, he has to look for his own shot. A confident and healthy Kawhi Leonard is an absolute game-changer in the Western Conference.
Jeremy Lamb – we all know that it’s going to be the Russell Westbrook show in OKC until Kevin Durant returns. But another player who could become a beneficiary is Jeremy Lamb. Unfortunately, Lamb hasn’t been able to show his upside. The Thunder’s backcourt has been consistently crowded at the 1 and 2 position. Until now. Scott Brooks has to take notice that Lamb is a major asset off the bench, especially in the open court. He has the tools to be like Kevin Martin, who he was traded to OKC with when they dealt James Harden to Houston shortly after the 2012 draft. Statistically, Lamb tends to settle for rushed pull up jumpers that rely on assists. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 5 three point attempts, but only getting to the free throw line once. Westbrook isn’t going to be passing the ball much. So Lamb has to attack the rim with more aggressiveness. If he can do that and still knock down his jumpers from 10-16 feet, he’ll be able to show his ability as a capable 6th man on this young team.
Iman Shumpert – you know I had to include a Knicks player. Shump is well-loved because he’s one of the best perimeter defenders right now. The problem is he can’t shoot for shit! This is why, for me, it’s hard to see the Knicks as a legitimate contender because Shump is basically JR Smith without the J. His shooting attempts have steadily decreased since he came into the league as have his points per game. And it’s not for any other reason besides he has terrible form. So why do I think this is Shump’s year to make a leap? Because Phil Jackson will make sure of it. In his scouting breakdown of Knicks players, PJ11 said this about Shump “Iman is an excellent driver but his shooting mechanics are very inconsistent. Sometimes he jumps too high to release his shot and sometimes he doesn’t jump high enough. As a result, he never shoots the same shot twice.” With the triangle offense not heavily reliant on YOLO ball, Shump will have the time to find his shooting stroke by getting to where he’s supposed to be on the floor.
Andre Drummond – At 21, he’s showing flashes of a young, raw Dwight Howard. With the Pistons now having a legitimate coach in Stan Van Gundy, I think Drummond will play much more controlled this year. Drummond is a beast on the boards and almost doubled his number of steals from his rookie year to last season. Drummond is playing behind Greg Monroe, but they are very similar statistically-speaking. Granted, the Pistons don’t have enough complementary pieces around these 2. And there’s also Josh Smith. The positive in Detroit is that Stan Van Gundy was able to wrangle in Dwight Howard. It’s no reason to think he can’t do the same with Drummond. He’ll be the guy who’s quietly averaging a strong 17 and 11 and nobody will notice.
3 out of the 5 players will be sharing playing time. It’s hard to predict how that’ll affect their numbers. Assuming their teams don’t undergo significant changes and they stay healthy, I see these 5 players surpassing expectations.