With the NBA season almost a week old; Here is who I think needs to step up from each team to give their team the best chance to win this year.
Atlanta Hawks- The success for the Hawks this season is all depending on how well their all-star Center Al Horford can perform this year as being the face of the franchise. With the departure of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith in back-to-back seasons, Horford needs to start taking control of this team. In a weak eastern conference and if Horford can dominate throughout the season. Someone who averages 13.7 PPG & 9.6 RPG for his career; Horford needs to average no less than 22 PPG & 12 RPG for the Hawks to make the playoffs.
Boston Celtics- With star Point Guard Rajon Rondo out until possibly the beginning of 2014; Jeff Green needs to show he was worthy of the trade back in 2011. While he is still recovering from his aortic surgery; Which made him miss the entire 2011-2012 season. After playing in 81 of 82 games last year and averaging 12. PPG & 3.9 RPG; Green looks to get back into his perceived all-star this year. Being the main guy with Rondo out, Green needs around 20-23 PPG to even stay above water with Rondo out.
Brooklyn Nets- One of the most veteran and old teams in the NBA will need to have outstanding play by one of their younger players for them to be taken seriously in the eastern conference. That is all depending on Brook Lopez and how he plays for an entire season. Lopez who has been talked about as one of the best young centers in the NBA has his chance to prove that he can play with the big boys for an entire season. With the addition of Kevin Garnett this offseason; Lopez no longer has to be the anchor of the defense, but can play a role in what Garnett will do. Lopez also has to a big factor in the paint offensively for the Nets to show that they can contend for an NBA title. While the team is loaded with all-star talent; Lopez has to average a high double-double for the season to have the Nets taken seriously.
Charlotte Bobcats- On a team that has low expectations once again 3rd year Point Guard Kemba Walker is the key to this team. This is his 2nd straight year of starting in the NBA and just like this UConn days his 3rd year was his best. Bobcats fan should expect a big leap in production compared to his first two years. With other young assets around him I expect to him to become more comfortable in the NBA and make that jump from starting PG to all-star caliber PG.
Chicago Bulls- The easy answer for this team would be the return of Derrick Rose, but I’m going to go in a different direction and that’s with Jimmy Butler. A player who burst onto the scene last playoffs. Butler played in all 82 games last year; Only getting the start in 20 of them, but in the playoffs he started in all 12 games and averaged 40.8 MPG. Butler is a lockdown defender that has also shown he can hit the 3-point shot, and someone with that type of game can really help former MVP PG Derrick Rose. Look for Butler to continue to add from what he did in the playoffs last year into this year.
Cleveland Cavaliers- 3rd year player Tristan Thompson is the player that will make the Cavaliers a possible playoff team. With all-star/on the verge superstar PG Kyrie Irving; The Cavs need that second player that can help carry the load. With the incredible change from his left hand to right hand; Thompson looks at being a double-double machine for the Cavs and even the second leading scorer on the team behind Irving. If Thompson keeps on progressing like he has the first two seasons; Watch out for the Cavaliers to make noise in the eastern conference playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks- With an aging Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis is the main guy on the Mavericks and needs to play at an all-star level for the Mavericks to even have a chance to compete in the very difficult western conference. After opting out of a deal that guaranteed him 11 million, Ellis signed a 3-year deal for just around 8 million per year. With Nowitzki on his final few years and Ellis in his prime; The Mavs need to look at the future and that’s starting this year with Ellis as the main guy. The Mavericks can contend for a low seed in the west if Ellis has a career year in all categories across the board.
Denver Nuggets- After getting rid of Coach of the Year in George Karl and losing arguably their best all-around player in free agency this offseason; The Nuggets should start leaning on the shoulders of 5’11 Point Guard who is entering his 5th year in the league, Ty Lawson. Lawson in my opinion was their best player last year and will be for the future, With the amount of athletic talent around him in JJ Hickson, Kenneth Faired, Javale McGee and others, Lawson should be able to finally get his assists numbers closer to 10 per game and get his scoring to almost 20 per game. With that he would put himself in the conversation of one of the top point guards in the league and most definitely have NBA fans talking about the Nuggets in the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons- After a very busy offseason once again; The Pistons fans and organization hope this one works better than when they brought in both Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. With Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings coming over in offseason moves, the Pistons look at PF/C Greg Monroe who is coming into his 4th NBA season to finally make his mark. Like most NBA big men it takes time to adjust to the NBA game and it appears that Monroe has finally adjusted. Improving his scoring every single season, Monroe looks to break into the 20+ PPG for a season this year. Moving him to the PF position will create matchup problems with most of the NBA. If Monroe is able to average a double-double all season, I think we see Detroit back in the playoffs.
Golden State Warriors- After surprising every last year and making the playoffs last year as a 6th seed. The Warriors look to keep on moving up and becoming an elite team in not only the western conference but in the NBA. They will need a big season from free agent signing Andre Iguodala. After playing one year with the Denver Nuggets; Iguodala signed this past offseason with the Warriors. Playing most of his career in Philadelphia and being the guy; With the Warriors Iguodala on some nights will be the 2nd option and sometimes even the 3rd option. While he isn’t the top guy on the team anymore, if he can return to his playing days like he had in Philadelphia; The Warriors team will be greatly improved from last year. With Steph Curry leading the charge and scoring, Iguodala needs to look at being that defensive leader on the perimeter and possibly another scoring option besides Klay Thompson.
Houston Rockets- After having the biggest signing this past offseason the Houston Rockets look to continue the momentum they had last year with James Harden and have even more success with Dwight Howard now on the team. While those are the 2 superstars on the team; The Rockets need consistent play from Small Forward Chandler Parsons. A player that was not drafted until the 2nd round in the 2011 draft; Parsons has been able to contribute since day one. While he won’t be the 1st or even 2nd option when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. The hustle plays he is able to make, along with ability to play defense will help a team like the Rockets. While the Rockets are a sure lock for the playoffs and even a deep run in the playoffs; Parsons could be the difference between making the semi-finals and conference finals.
Indiana Pacers- Being an elite team in the eastern conference the Pacers have very little to improve on. But if they want to win the east and possibly the NBA Championship, they need consistent play out of SG Lance Stephenson. A player who got his name known by giving LeBron James the choke sign in 2011; Stephenson showed that he belongs on a NBA roster and even can start last year. Being able to play the role player role alongside players like Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West, Stephenson’s game of shooting 3s and playing hard nose defense is what the Pacers need to make it to the next level.
Los Angeles Clippers- Not many teams are as deep as the Clippers, and also don’t have as many athletic big men as they do too. Center DeAndre Jordan needs this season to be a put up year and not a shut up year. A player that is known as affecting the game mainly on defense and only a few times a game on offense when he dunks the ball; Jordan needs to develop some sort of offensive moves. Jordan can become a dominant Center in the NBA if he can get some post moves into his game. The Clippers are for sure a top team in the west and even the NBA, but the need of an inside prescience from Jordan can deliver the Clippers an NBA championship.
Los Angeles Lakers- With Kobe Bryant on the sidelines recovering from achilles surgery; Pau Gasol needs to shut up the doubters and perform like he did when he was the main guy on the Memphis Grizzlies. While the expectations are low, Gasol needs to carry this team for as long as he can with Kobe on the sidelines. Gasol is in his mid 30s, but has a mid range jumper than most big men can’t and won’t be able to defend. Being able to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds while Kobe is out is a must for Gasol and the Lakers to stay competitive in the western conference.
Memphis Grizzlies- After surprisingly trading star SF Rudy Gay during the season most Grizzlies fans wanted to throw in the towel and look forward to next year. But with players like Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol they showed they were better off without him. Now this year they lose head coach Lionel Hollins in the offseason and need starting PG Mike Conley to finally step up. Conley is the player that controls how the Grizzlies will end up this season. While they don’t have that one go to guy down the stretch; Conley can make plays for himself and for others. If Conley call play like a top 10 PG for the entire season, then I see the Grizzlies competing for a low seed in the western conference.
Miami Heat- While they have the best player in the world in LeBron James, the Heat really don’t need anyone else to step up big to be legit NBA title contenders. But they need Dwyane Wade to resurface to his old form or at least to as much as he can. Wade who is 31, but seems to be on the back 9 of his career. Wade needs to be the robin to LeBron’s Batman for them to come close to 3-peating as NBA champions.
Milwaukee Bucks- Losing their 2 star players this offseason the Bucks look to turn a new leaf and that will all ride on the shoulders of free agent signing OJ Mayo. A player who really hasn’t lived up to the hype he was given coming out of high school and even college; Mayo finally gets to start and really be the main factor in a team’s offense. He’s only 25, so he should be just entering the prime of his career which is what Bucks fans want to hear. While the eastern conference is weak the Bucks have a long way to go, but can build upon this season based on how well OJ Mayo plays. While Mayo has never averaged more than 20 points a game in his short NBA career; He needs to start averaging those type of numbers starting this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves- A team with much promise coming into this season needs to start making noise in a deep western conference to convince all-star PF Kevin Love to stay in Minnesota for his entire career. The Timberwolves have brought in talent that can even on the scoring and with that SG Kevin Martin needs to be that 2nd scorer behind Love. Martin who had a down year with the Thunder. Needs to bounce back and return to his form like he had with the Kings and the Rockets. A player who has a very high 3-point percentage and free throw percentage; Martin can easily average 20+ PPG and help relieve some pressure off of Love. Love, Martin and Rubio all have the talent to lead the Timberwolves back into the playoffs, but they need Martin to be that second main guy behind Love.
New Orleans Pelicans- With a name change, new mascot and looking for a new start the Pelicans finally need starting SG Eric Gordon to perform the way they expected him to. Being the main reason Chris Paul was traded to the Clippers was for Eric Gordon. Gordon who has been riddled with injuries and not happy about being in New Orleans. The brand new team can help change that; Only with him playing an entire season healthy. Gordon needs to finally show why he was worth the money he was given last offseason. While the Pelicans have more talent than when Gordon first arrived, he is definitely a big part of how much success they will have this year.
New York Knicks- With the Knicks being on of the elite teams in the east; They only need to improve on somethings to become an elite team in the entire and that beginnings with the health of Amare Stoudemire. A player in his time was a superstar player; Stoudemire is now a shell of his former self. Someone who only had a good half of a season with the Knicks, Stoudemire still has the ability to make a big impact coming off the bench for the Knicks. With the Knicks only having one true threat off the bench with JR Smith; Stoudemire needs to be able to average 13+ PPG to give the Knicks legitimate championship aspirations.
Oklahoma City Thunder- After having a disappointing playoff run last year, mainly due to the Russell Westbrook injury. The Thunder look to have a bounce back year and make it back to the playoffs and they will need PF Serge Ibaka to continue to grow as a NBA player for that to happen. No more can Ibaka be the 4th guy on the scoring side or even on the impact side. With the loss of James Harden last year and Kevin Martin this past offseason; Ibaka needs to be more of an offensive force than he has been in the past. With teams focusing on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Ibaka can start growing as an offensive player and giving the Thunder an inside presence they have badly needed.
Orlando Magic- A team who failed to win the NBA lottery and instead of got the 2nd overall pick; The Magic used that pick on Shooting Guard Victor Oladipo. With them officially being able to restart the rebuild from departing superstar Dwight Howard, the Magic look to start it over with rookie Oladipo. Oladipo looks to continue off of the success he had towards the end of his college career and carry that into the NBA. While the Magic have no real shot of competing in the eastern conference; Fans can hold out hope that a stellar season and even possibly a rookie of the year award won by Oladipo can give them hope for a bright future.
Philadelphia 76ers- The 76ers are in full rebuild mode and that was very apparent this offseason when they traded all-star PG Jrue Holiday for injured rookie Center Nerlens Noel. The 76ers are looking to build from the ground up and they need to finally see 4th year SF Evan Turner lead this team. Being one of the leaders of this team Turner needs to play like he did in his final year in college at Ohio State. Turner along with many other young players are in for a long season in Philly. While much is not expected from them; Turner can still give faith back into the Philly fans based on his year.
Phoenix Suns- Just like the 76ers the Suns are looking to rebuild and already looking towards the future. This offseason saw them trade for up-and-coming guard Eric Bledsoe from the Los Angeles Clippers. Bledsoe is a player that has been able to learn and play behind superstar PG Chris Paul. With the NBA turning into a star and star guard driven league the Suns need Bledsoe to take that next step from being a role player off the bench to being an all-star starting guard for the Suns. Bledsoe needs to lead the team in scoring and either 1st or 2nd in assists. With being ranked that high on his team will lead to the Suns fans having great optimism for the future.
Portland Trail Blazers- A team that has had very bad luck in their recent history, the Blazers look to build with their young team and make the western conference playoffs. In doing so they need SF Nicolas Batum to become that next star player on their team. With all-star LaMarcus Aldridge and up and coming 2nd year player Damian Lillard; Batum has the ability to become that 3rd player this team needs to be successful. A player that has never averaged more than 15 PPG or even 6 RPG for an entire season; Batum needs to step up his averages for the Blazers to have a successful season. While he won’t be the leading scorer or even leading rebounder Batum can bump up his averages to around 18 PPG and 7-9 RPG and the Blazers become a scary team in the west.
Sacramento Kings- A fanbase that for a long time last year didn’t know if the team would still be in Sacramento and hasn’t seen major success since the early 2000s; The Kings look to rebuild…..once again. While DeMarcus Cousins in the star of the team, this team needs rookie SG Ben McLemore to prove that he is better than he has hyped up to be. McLemore who is a player that fell to them in the draft, he needs to come right into the NBA and show that he is a scoring threat in the NBA. While it’s difficult for rookies to average 20 PPG; McLemore needs to be right around this average to give the Kings fans hope for the future. While the season will be long, based on how McLemore performs the fans can have a bright future.
San Antonio Spurs- With a team that has a lot of veteran experience with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs need 3rd year SF Kawhi Leonard to continue build on what has been a very productive first two years in the NBA to have a shot at winning another NBA title. Leonard has proven to be a viable NBA player and in this season he needs to take the next step into a legit NBA small forward. Leonard has the ability to affect the game on the defensive side of the ball and rarely on the offensive side with his 3 point shooting. Being able to develop more of an offensive game can only help his game and the Spurs’ chance at winning a NBA title. While his role will increase and others will decrease; Leonard has to average double digits points and increase his rebounding average.
Toronto Raptors- The raptors made a an interesting trade in the middle of the year last year to acquire all-star SF Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. And Gay needs to be the guy that is the superstar talent on this team for them to compete in the eastern conference. Gay is paid like he is a superstar talent and in the recent years he has proven he is not, but this is the year for him to prove the doubters wrong and put the Raptors back into the playoffs. An entire team that has the ability to make noise in the eastern conference playoffs, but that is all dependent on if Rudy Gay can live up to his contract.
Utah Jazz- After losing the frontcourt duo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap the Jazz look to a new group of young talented players to fill that role. While they aren’t in the top 8 of teams in the west the fans can have fun watching PF Derrick Favors; Who is finally getting his chance to start for them. A player who was acquired in a trade that sent superstar PG Deron Williams to the then New Jersey Nets. Favors have been getting to play a role player part as he sat behind both Jefferson and Millsap the last few years. With them gone Favors can start living up to the expectations he was given coming out of college. While the Jazz have a long way to go to be what they were in the 90s with Karl Malone and John Stockton; Favors ability to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds is what should have the fans filling the arena.
Washington Wizards- A team that had a good amount of success in the early to mid 2000s the Wizards have been stuck in the lottery for a long time now and look to finally get back into the playoffs behind star PG John Wall. While Wall is the star of the team, 2nd year SG Bradley Beal is who needs to make that jump from rookie year to sophomore year for the Wizards to make it back into the playoffs. With Wall running the point and being able to create from himself and others; Beal’s ability to knockdown 3 point shots will help the team greatly. With Wall averaging around 20 points and 10 assists; Beal needs to be not that far behind in points to make the Wizards a low seed playoff team in the eastern conference.
This has been my team by team player impact preview for the rest of the NBA season; Make sure you leave a comment or suggestion if you agree with my player I picked or if you thought of a different player and why for that team let me know.