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Thursday, November 8, 2012

SDH's Thirty Players to Watch Out for in the 2013 NBA Season

The 2012/2013 NBA Season is officially underway and it has already seen its share or surprise with one team making a major trade that shook the foundation of the league to another team that was was expected to dominate, but so far has been an absolute embarrassment.  Here is a list of the thirty players that are expected to have a major impact in their their teams and in the league as a whole.  This list does not comprise of the usual suspects such as the big marquee names that most press outlets tend to focus on, but that of the unsung players who usually do not receive the praise and credit that they truly deserve.  These are the sleepers who not only have the potential to break out this season, but also the motivation to surpass all expectations to either redeem themselves or to silence their doubters and critics.

So without any further adieu, here are the Thirty names that YOU should be keeping an eye on.  This is not a list of today's stars, but of the stars of tomorrow and those who have something to prove--the true warriors who truly make this league great; however, it should be mentioned that these are just speculations. As with everything there are no guarantees--some of these guys may rise to the occasion and some may fall--nonetheless it will still be great to see  which ones rise and which ones fall.  So enjoy taking a look at this list and be sure to stay tuned for Slap Dog Hoops for more original and insightful content from the NBA and beyond.


Landry would more than likely start for most NBA team, but he has been assigned to provide support for the Warriors’ star power forward, David Lee.  With his ability to score down low and rebound, Landry gives the Warriors possibly one of the deepest and most dangerous front courts in the league.  If the Warriors manage to make the playoffs at season’s end, place Carl Landry as the unsung hero who helped to get them there and watch him possibly earn the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award for his efforts as well.


He was picked up by Toronto as an insurance policy in case either Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon falls to injury; however, with his rather stellar play during the preseason, John Lucas can prove to be much more.  Lucas showed quite the knack for scoring during the Raptors’ exhibition season and may lead coach Dwane Casey to reconsider his earlier designated role resulting in Calderon, whose contract expires at the end of the season, to leave Toronto sooner than later.


This rookie who hails from North of the American border looked rather impressive in his debut in the Magic’s preseason exhibition games and with Orlando in the midst of rebuilding, he may get the opportunity to raise some eyebrows in the regular season.  With what he has shown in the preseason and provided that he continues to perform the same way in the regular season, Nicholson will certainly be in consideration for mentioning in the NBA All Rookie First Team.


It looked as if Martell Webster’s career in the NBA was as good as done when he was unceremoniously waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves as he was considered by many as a lost cause, but he found new life when the Wizards decided to take a chance on him.  And he has proved himself worthy by posting remarkable shooting and scoring numbers during the preseason as he averaged double figures in scoring while the player he would back up, veteran Trevor Ariza, floundered during much of the Wizard’s exhibition games.  In a short time Webster may possibly find himself bumping veteran Trevor Ariza off as the Wizards’ designated starting small forward.


Butler proved to be rather talented prospect despite not playing at all during his rookie season last season.  After posting an impressive offseason performance during the Summer League and with the departure of veteran swingmen Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, he will have the opportunity to have a breakout season for the Chicago Bulls.  Look for him to make a major impact on the Bulls roster as they struggle to find someone to fill in the huge void of missing the team’s franchise player, Derrick Rose, for a majority of the season


Last season, Johnson was the ultimate glue guy and defensive presence for the Toronto Raptors leading the team in steals and blocked shots while playing limited minutes.  What was his reward for his performance? A one way ticket out as he was traded to Sacramento for nothing more than a future second round pick.  Look for him to play with a huge chip on his shoulder bringing his effort, energy and unselfishness on both side of the court to a team that desperately needs it: a sad dysfunctional Sacramento Kings who struggled on the defensive end and played completely out of sync last season.


Harris’ rookie season was pretty non-descript as he played just over eleven minutes per game, but he showed plenty of potential as he produced rather efficiently in such a short span of time to the tune of about five points and two boards per game.  He showed even more glimpses of potential as he dominated the Summer Leagues and will have the opportunity to have a breakout season this year as he will have the opportunity to start. As the season progresses, Harris may be the Bucks’ “X Factor” that will lift to team up from mediocrity and into playoff contention.


Orlando Magic
He has been just considered an added throw in the mega deal that sent Dwight Howard out of Central Florida and straight to Hollywood; however, there is more to this young big man than meets the eye.  After a rather decent rookie season, Nikola Vucevic comes into a situation where he will get more minutes and has already shown that given the minutes, he can become a valuable contributor for this rebuilding Orlando Magic franchise.  With the opportunity to start, Vucevic may even be poised for a breakout season although it can be agreed that he will never make nearly as much of an impact that Dwight Howard made.

Washington Wizards
Simply put, this kid is an athletic freak who shined rather bright in the waning moments of Washington’s rather dismal regular season averaging close to nine points per game while shooting a blistering .551 from the field in the last month of the regular season.  He may not get as many minutes due Washington’s massive upgrade in the front court during the offseason, but he will certainly be one to look out for in years to come.  During the offseason, Vessely worked on his ball handling skills along with adding range with his perimeter shot and once he has mastered those facets in his game, he will certainly be a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.


This guy had to work hard to get back into the league after being drafted right out of high school to just be cast aside and it seems that his hard word has paid off.  After shining at the end of last season with the one time New Jersey Nets, Green has now joined with the Pacers and will look to continue his streak of production with his new team.  Currently, he is replacing Danny Granger, currently recovering from surgery, on the starting lineup and if his production from the Nets carries over into this season, he mind end up as a permanent replacement on the Pacer’s rotation.


After suffering rookie growing pains last season, Kanter has returned with a completely ripped body and a more assertive attitude.  You could see his new found energy in the preseason as he posted double doubles in points and rebounds during the Jazz’s exhibition schedule. With his marked improvement, the Jazz will find it easier to part ways with the team’s leading scorer Al Jefferson as Kanter looks ready to take the next step as Utah’s big man of the future.  Hopefully, Kanter will get his chance as certainly proved worthy of it thanks to his work ethic during the offseason and his impressive performance in the preseason. 


Bayless will be coming into this season with a rather huge chip on his shoulder as he was unceremoniously discarded by Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo in favor of Kyle Lowry.  Watch him to really be aggressive this season as he looks to show folks in Toronto what a mistake it was to just let him go for nothing.  He will certainly want to prove to not Colangelo, but for fans in Toronto whom did not think much of him that he was a far better choice to be the Raptors point man of the future than Kyle Lowry will ever become.


Fan favorite James Harden is gone and in his place is a much older Kevin Martin to fill in the massive void that Harden will be leaving.  Martin will certainly have plenty of pressure to produce as he will be replacing a potential All Star and arguably one of the top shooting guards in the league in James Harden.  His impact will be most measured at the end of the regular season where everyone will see whether or not the Thunder can make the NBA Finals for the second consecutive time without one of its key players from last season.


The Houston Rockets raised quite a few eyebrows when they signed former Chicago Bulls backup center to a three years contract worth 30$ million with the last year being worth up to 15$ million, but it seems as if they will be the ones laughing.  Although Asik offense has not been impressive thus far, he has proven to be a beast on the boards averaging more than 10 rebounds per game in every game he has played and has proven to be quite the stalwart in the paint defensively as well averaging about 2 blocks per game as well.


Sure, all eyes will be on the first overall pick of the NBA draft, Anthony Davis, but also keep an eye on Greivis Vasquez as he will be running the show as the Hornet’s starting point guard.  If his performances in the preseason and at the start of the regular season are ant indications of the future, this guy could possibly have a breakout season becoming one of the up and coming elite point guards in the NBA.  It may be a bit presumptuous, but given his size and his ability along with his early production, Vasquez might just emerge to become the Latino version of possibly the NBA greatest point guard of all time, Earvin Magic Johnson.


New Orleans Hornets
Talk about players looking to have a breakout season!! Robin Lopez has been pining for an opportunity to show what he is capable of after being poorly utilized in Phoenix for much of his career.  Now on a new team that better suits his playing style, look for Lopez to take it up a notch and have everyone in Phoenix whom considered him a bust choking on crow watching him finally bust out.  Look for Lopez to be a candidate for most Improved Player of the Year and possibly outshine Anthony Davis as the marquee player on this Hornets team as the season progresses. 


Mullens made the most of his opportunity in Charlotte last season by posting moderately solid numbers of 9 points and 6 boards per game.  He will look to build on that success as he will be given a larger role on the team as a regular starter in the team’s rotation this season.  If his performances in the Summer leagues and the preseason are any indications of his future production, Mullens has added the ability shot the three to go along with his solid post play in the paint making him an even more dangerous opponent. 


After being traded from the team that drafted him and then allowed to walk away as a unrestricted free agent, Michael Beasley will have a chance in Phoenix to show that he was worthy of being selected second overall in the 2008 NBA Draft.  He now is on team that is willing to support him in his development and may prove to pay immediate dividends as the regular season continues. In Phoenix, Beasley has a chance to go from NBA lottery bust to future All Star making him a definite player to look out for.


Phoenix Suns
He ended his season spectacularly in Houston averaging 15.0 points and close to 8 assists per game in the waning months of last season and will look to build upon that performance as he returns to the team who originally drafted him in Phoenix.  Although he will be replacing a soon to be Hall of Famer in Steve Nash, look for Dragic to carve his own stellar reputation as the new starting point man for the Suns.  If he starts where he left off in Houston and leads Phoenix back into becoming a force in the post season, the Suns may have another future Hall of Famer and from what he has shown thus far, that may be sooner than later. 


The Wolves’ front office let go of Michael Beasley in favor of him to develop and now with Kevin Love sidelined with a broken wrist, it will be put up or shut up time for Derrick Williams.  He will have to prove that he can do much more than his rather lack luster rookie season after being picked second overall in last year’s NBA Draft and he will certainly have the opportunity to do so as he has replaced Love in the Wolves’ starting five.  Let’s hope that he can live up to the high expectations from both the organization and the fans.


Sullinger will certainly be playing a huge chip on his shoulder after a bogus report concerning his back ruined his chances of being selected in the top five in the draft and almost caused him not to be selected in the first round at all.  If his rather impressive play during the Summer Leagues and the preseason are any indications of his potential production, then Sullinger will be the biggest dark horse in this draft class and a possible All Rookie team selection once the season comes to a close.  By the time the season is over, many GMs will regret passing on Sullinger and take pre-draft camp reports with a grain of salt.


Boston Celtics
After having a career that has ended up to be a disappointment, Darko was expected to disappear from the NBA in obscurity after being waived from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he was blessed with another chance as the Celtics decided to take a chance on this misunderstood big man who has yet to live up to being the guy selected after Lebron James in the 2003 NBA Draft.  He won’t be expected to dominate, but he will have an opportunity to prove himself to be a solid player on a quality veteran team such as the Celtics.  Despite owning the burden of holding the title of draft day bust, Darko has still managed to survive in the league and his courage and resiliency in the face of adversity should be respected nonetheless.


His presence was reviled and scorned in the Nation’s Capital as he was labeled a team cancer that had to be cut off resulting in him being unceremoniously waived under the league’s amnesty provision.  He has now got a second chance for redemption and revenge as he is now signed with a more mature franchise with highly regarded veterans in the Brooklyn Nets.  If Blatche manages to turn his career around in Brooklyn, it will be a huge blow for Wizards fans. Not only will they have to swallow a lot of crow for seeing their one time prized franchise player playing better on another team, but also the fact that their team will still be paying him to do that over the next few years..


He went from being one of league’s most sought after and versatile sixth men and a former NBA Champion with the Lakers to becoming a complete train wreck and team pariah when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks last season.  Now Odom has a chance to redeem himself as he returns to the team that originally drafted him, the Los Angeles Clippers, and has the chance to place alongside two of the NBA's most exciting players in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.  Hopefully he can prove to the world that last season was just an aberration and not a sign of things to come.   


Orlando Magic
When Dwight Howard was forced shut it down last season due to a nagging back injury, the one who is affectionately known as “the Big Baby” immediately filled in Howard’s massive void by becoming the primary offensive option leading the team in both points and rebounds per game.  Now with Howard in his new home in Hollywood, Davis will look to build from his breakout performance last season and possibly become a potential Eastern Conference All Star selection and a candidate for the Most Improved player Award once the season comes to a close.


Utah Jazz
On the surface, He does not look like much in terms of his skill and athleticism, but give Gordon Hayward a thick bushy mustache, add curly blonde hair, inject some swagger into him, and sprinkle a bit of a mean streak and you have got “Larry Bird 2.0.” Similar to Bird, Hayward’s basketball skills and athleticism will not jump out at you, but he is deceptively quick, has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the league, and has exceptional ability to find his teammates to make the extra pass.  Laugh now Celtics fans, but already Hayward has shown signs of becoming a potential star and given the time and touches he will need to develop, he might just become a reincarnation of the Celtic Legend.


Here is another candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player as Philly’s Jrue Holiday, for the first time in his career, will be counted on to orchestrate the Sixers offense thanks to the departure of Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets.  Look for his numbers to take a huge spike up as he will be looked upon by his coach and teammates to not only dish the ball and facilitate the offense, but also to put up big scoring numbers on the scoreboard.   Thus far, he has yet to disappoint as he has posted career highs in scoring (19.3ppg) assists per game (8.7), and shooting a whopping .533 from beyond the arc to start the regular season.


Denver Nuggets
His hard work ethic and tenacity on the boards will certain earn Faried not only the top spot for the league’s leading rebounder at season’s end, but most probably a spot amongst the greatest rebounders in NBA History.  His current rebounding rate per minute (.333) rivals that of some of the league’s best:  Kevin Garnett (.268), Dwight Howard (.273), Tim Duncan (.329), and Kevin Love (.349) to name a few.  Given the chance and proper amount of minutes, Kenneth Faried can potentially be one of the greatest rebounders in the game since Dennis Rodman—of course minus the cross dressing, emotional unpredictability, and bad attitude. 


Forget about Anthony Davis!! This season’s Rookie of the Year Award will go to an unlikely candidate coming out of a small time college basketball program (Weber State) from a little known mid-major Conference (Big Sky).  Through the Summer Leagues, to the preseason up to now, Lillard has shown a poise and leadership that can be matched by very few.  Some may even compare his performance to that of former Rookie of the Year award winners such as Chris Paul (2005), Derrick Rose (2008), and Kyrie Irving (2012); however, unlike those three mentioned, Lillard has never received nearly as much hype as they received before they started their careers.  He is truly in all respects a diamond in the rough that the Portland Trailblazers have been blessed with.

James Harden

Houston Rockets
In a matter of a few hours, the Houston Rockets went from perennial bottom feeder and possible lottery team to an instant playoff contender thanks to the acquisition of James Harden.  Paired along up and comer and potential All Star Jeremy Lin, Harden will comprise potentially the most potent and dangerous back court duo in NBA History.  He has already made his presence felt starting the season with averages of 35 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game and if he continues at this rate will most certainly be mentioned for league MVP as the season progresses.