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Breakout NBA Players To Watch In 2014-15

Which players will take the next step in 2014-15? A look at who’s expected to become an impact player or step into stardom.

Jabari Davis



As we eagerly await the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, it is time to take a look at some players who are expected to take the next step in their career. We’ll have plenty of features and spotlights on the rookie class along the way, but today we’ll preview some of the guys that should either transition from being role players to impact players, or from being developing players into bona fide stars. There are plenty of guys who could show signs of significant improvement, but here are the players who could see the most drastic jumps in terms of productivity.

Honorable Mention:

Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics – Heading into his third season with the Celtics, Sullinger is definitely ready for the next step. The 6’9 PF/C saw many of his season averages (13.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG) nearly double in his sophomore campaign, as he actually started 44 games for Boston in 2013-14. Although he’s seen as a big man who can spread the court, he could certainly stand to continue improving from beyond the arc (26.9 percent), especially if he’s going to continue taking nearly three per game as he did last season. If Sullinger can work his way into Brad Stevens’ starting lineup once again, he could see his productivity spike even more.

Cory Joseph, San Antonio Spurs – Unlike some coaches, Gregg Popovich is someone who can be relied upon to develop his younger role players. Joseph actually started 19 games for the Spurs last season, and played very well when extended minutes were available. With Patty Mills reportedly out of commission until January due to post-Finals surgery to repair a torn right rotator cuff, Joseph will likely be the player Popovich uses to spell Tony Parker as the former Finals MVP heads into his 14th season.

Ed Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Davis may be far from a household name, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the young man cannot produce. After playing sparingly during his time in Memphis, the 25-year-old is looking to once again turn heads with the rebuilding Lakers as he once did as a member of the Raptors early in his career. Projected starting center Jordan Hill has never averaged more than 20.8 MPG and has been hit by the unfortunate injury bug often throughout his five NBA seasons, so Davis could find himself as a vital cog in Byron Scott’s rotation just so long as he defends and rebounds.

C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers – McCollum missed over half of his rookie season due to injury, but if his Summer League performance was any indication as to whether he was fully recovered and ready to take on the league, let’s just say the Blazers should expect big things out of their 22-year-old reserve shooting guard. His continued progression could be just what the Blazers need, as additional productivity off the bench was precisely what was missing from last year’s exciting run. McCollum has the type of game and ability that should give a player like starter Wes Matthews plenty of motivation to maintain his positive play.

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors – Some expected Valanciunas to have a breakout year last season, and while he posted a very serviceable 11.3 PPG and 8.8 RPG, 2013-14 was all about the progress of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Although those two players are expected to continue to produce for the Raptors, finding more balance by featuring Valanciunas could lead to another successful season for the Raptors in what should be an improved Eastern Conference.

#10 – Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

You may think the additions of players like LeBron James, Kevin Love (allegedly) and Mike Miller would make Waiters fall by the wayside, but that isn’t necessarily the case. To be clear, although he isn’t likely to average the 14.2 shot attempts per game that he fired off in 2013-14, Waiters could find himself as the “forgotten man,” receiving far less attention from the opposing team on many nights. Not only should this significantly increase his efficiency, but playing alongside the talent and leadership he is now surrounded by should help Waiters accelerate his development across the board.

#9 – Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets

Jones (12.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG) was a bit of a surprise for the Rockets throughout several impressive stretches last season, as he grew accustomed to playing next to Dwight Howard quite well in his second year in the league. Even though he isn’t the prototypical stretch-four that Howard prefers, Jones does have a bit of range as well as all-around game. The former Kentucky Wildcat seems primed and ready for yet another year of progress as he settles into what should be his second full season as a starter.

#8 – George Hill, Indiana Pacers

Any team that loses its top two players over a stretch of 20 days – which Indiana did when Lance Stephenson left for the Hornets via free agency and Paul George was lost to that horrendous leg injury – is going to need to find players to at least fill some of the productivity void. Alongside what they can only hope is a rejuvenated Roy Hibbert and newly acquired C.J. Miles, Hill should have plenty of opportunities to shine as the team’s primary ball-handler and playmaker. Hill’s always been a ‘steady’ player, but look for his numbers to increase with the added opportunities.

#7 – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Antetokounmpo may not even be done growing (physically), but he’s already known as the “Greek Freak” due to his incredible size (6’11) and length (7’3 wingspan) while being listed as a shooting guard. He’s still adding mass while working on his overall strength, but Antetokounmpo should really benefit from the addition of small forward Jabari Parker. Parker is already somewhat of a polished scorer for someone just 19 years old as he enters the league, and Antetokounmpo should benefit from both his presence on the court and from the ability to work and develop their respective games together.

#6 – Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

Oladipo may not have won last year’s Rookie of the Year award, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t very impressive (13.8 PPG, 4.1 APG, 4.1 RPG) in his first season at this level. There may still be questions as to whether Oladipo is truly a point guard or if he may ultimately be best suited at the shooting guard position, but no one questions whether he’ll be a productive player at whichever position Jacque Vaughn decides to pencil him into. With Elfrid Payton in the mix for Orlando, Oladipo may move back to two-guard. As a principle member of what is developing into an impressive, young and athletic core, Oladipo could be an all-out fantasy beast for those of you that participate in a league.

#5 – Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Just because it is rumored that Drummond will likely be one of the final cuts from Team USA’s roster, that doesn’t mean he isn’t ready for the limelight in his own right. His overall numbers and productivity were stunted by a very crowded frontcourt in Detroit last season, but that didn’t stop him from averaging a double-double (13.5 PPG, 13.1 RPG) all while shooting 62.3 percent from the field. We expect new coach and team president Stan Van Gundy to find a way to feature him this year as the primary post option. Don’t expect a repeat of Drummond only attempting 9.5 shots per night with Van Gundy’s preferred ‘four out, one in’ system.

#4 – Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder

The chief complaint about Scott Brooks has been what is described as an over-reliance upon the incredible exploits of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to provide, direct and influence the offense. Another criticism of Brooks has been regarding his development of the younger players on his roster. Jackson is the answer to both of those concerns, as the 24-year-old combo guard definitely rose to the occasion (13.1 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.9 RPG) and stepped into the challenges of either filling in for an injured Westbrook or providing the playmaking spark they needed off the bench similar to the role a young James Harden once provided. Whether Brooks decides to play him next to Durant and Westbrook or stagger his resources throughout the game, we should expect Jackson to take yet another step forward this season.

#3 – Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

Outside of the work he’s done with Team USA as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup Tournament, last we saw of Beal he was routinely impressing the basketball-loving masses with a very strong sophomore effort for the Wizards. Coming off a year that saw the 21-year-old average 17.1 PPG on 40.2 percent from deep, Beal is already in a position to step into the forefront as one of the league’s best shooting guards and the young man is just getting started. Beside a backcourt mate in John Wall who is already coming into the year with extra motivation, watch out for Beal and their Wizards in 2014.

#2 – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

When you’ve already won the NBA Finals MVP trophy, there aren’t many goals left that you can strive to achieve. Don’t tell Kawhi Leonard that, as the three-year player reportedly didn’t even take the allotted time he was given to enjoy the Larry O’Brien trophy while it was in his possession for a few days, opting to leave it in his condo so that he could continue working out. Dedication and focus of that nature could perhaps be attributed to the rampant professionalism the Spurs are known for, but Leonard truly is just a different type of guy. Leonard is a coach’s dream as a young player with an evolving skill-set and great attitude, with none of the excess stuff that generally detracts from progress.

#1 – Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Having written about the high expectations we have for Davis at length in the past, this selection should come as no surprise. While Leonard may be a dream, Davis is just about every opposing coach’s (and player’s) worst nightmare as we look at the not too distant future for the all-world, 6’10 power forward. While Davis is certain to be everyone’s flavor of the week by the time we reach the All-Star break in February, be sure to pay close attention to all of the ways he impacts the game along the way. The 20.8 PPG, 10 RPG and 2.8 BPG don’t begin to define just how much of an impact Davis can have on the game, as the versatile big can literally do a bit of everything on both sides of the court. That, in itself, seems like more and more of a rarity these days. In a league that seems to focus disproportionately toward the offensive end, Davis not only has the footwork, range and developing post-game, but tends to do his most impressive work on the defensive end as both a rim-protector and weakside defender. His small market Pelicans only have 10 scheduled nationally televised games in 2014-15, so be sure you don’t miss the NBA’s next great big man as he develops right before your eyes.




NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers



After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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Fixing The Detroit Pistons

David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.

David Yapkowitz



We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.

They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.

What Is Working

Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.

If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.

The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.

They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.

What Needs To Change

Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.

Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.

The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.

Focus Area: The Draft

To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.

The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.

Focus Area: Free Agency

The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.

Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.

In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.

It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.

The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.

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Fixing The Chicago Bulls

Spencer Davies says the Bulls have a long way to go, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all they can ask for.

Spencer Davies



Next up on Basketball Insiders’ “fixing” series is a stop in the Windy City.

In spite of the criticisms over last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it feels like the Chicago Bulls at least have a sense of direction. Many members of the media—including this one—expected them to finish dead last in the NBA, yet they have 23 wins, with seven other teams worse off.

Obviously, the goal for the organization this season was to establish an identity and see what they had with their new cornerstone pieces. To a good extent, there’s optimism regarding those players because of the potential they’ve shown.

There’s still a good chunk of the year left, but the Bulls are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 15 games to go.

What Is Working

If it weren’t for the spectacular seasons by Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, Chicago stretch big man Lauri Markkanen might be the Rookie of the Year. Even with some second-half struggles, the entire body of work is impressive.

The 7-foot Finnish forward continues to stay aggressive with a high usage and great mentality in snatching up those boards. It’s normal for a first-year player to go through those ups and downs. Add in a back injury that’s been bothering him as of late and the slump make a little more sense. Markkanen has shown the skill and consistent effort that it takes to be a mainstay in this league.

Bobby Portis is another member of the frontcourt who’s made a noticeable impact off the Bulls’ bench. In his third year, you can see the confidence continue to grow as a versatile offensive threat with a ton of touches. He’s taken a responsibility upon himself to lead the second unit and the proof is in the pudding. According to Cleaning The Glass, the team is a net plus-11.5 per 100 possessions with him on the court.

Second-year swingman Denzel Valentine has filled the stat sheet in multiple games as one of the most unselfish players on the roster. David Nwaba’s role from the beginning was to be a defensive menace and he’s come through for the majority of the year. Even two-way contract rookie Antonio Blakeney has shown flashes as a volume scorer in stretches.

Recently, Chicago has given a couple of cast-offs opportunities to display their skills. In 10 games, Cameron Payne looks as comfortable as he has in quite some time coming off a major foot injury. Noah Vonleh has been an effective late addition playing next to Portis and filling in for Markkanen. Let’s not forget that these two were lottery picks and are still in their early 20s.

What Needs To Change

Looking at what Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine have done, it’s been a mixed bag. With that being said, there’s clearly untapped potential between the both of them.

Dunn proved in very little time that the narrative of him being a lost cause was far from the truth. Hoiberg’s trust in him to be Chicago’s floor general has gone a long way. He’s been in attack mode with the ball in his hands, has seen his outside game get better and has been bothersome with his length defensively. It hasn’t resulted in wins, but remember—it’s this group’s first season together.

As for LaVine, it’s difficult to judge where a player is using a 23-game sample size. Yes, it’s a good amount of playing time, but let’s not forget he’s coming off a devastating left ACL tear. His defense has been subpar, but the bounce seems to still be there. The jumper is on and off, but he hasn’t been bashful at all. Starting the year off fresh in 2018-19 will benefit him.

Speaking of next season, the goal for the front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson should be simple—get younger. Currently, Robin Lopez is the highest paid player on the Bulls and he’ll have one year left on his deal going into the summer. The same applies to Justin Holiday. These are two veterans who could contribute on teams ready to win now, and it would be logical to part ways considering the direction the franchise is going.

Focus Area: The Draft

Due to the Nikola Mirotic trade on February 1st, Chicago acquired a first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. That gives them two chances to add to their young talent pool in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.

Typically you’d go with the best player available when you’re slotted in the top ten, but the Bulls should feel good about their backcourt and the power forward position. What they really are lacking are reliable shooters and perimeter defenders, as well as a player with a bulldog mentality.

Chicago doesn’t get to the free throw nearly enough and they don’t convert looks that they should. Considering a true wing is amiss, it’d be the ideal scenario for Michael Porter Jr. to fall right into their lap. The Missouri freshman just returned after missing basically the entire season with a back injury. He was a top name coming into the class because of his size and could be a steal with the eighth selection.

If Porter Jr. doesn’t make it to them, Miles Bridges would make for a heck of a consolation prize. Unlike Porter, he has a more muscular frame at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds that allows him to bully the opposition. There’s a relentless nature and fearlessness about him that will translate to the next level.

Using that Pelicans pick, the Bulls would be happy to see Duke sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. fall to them in the early-to-mid 20s, but that seems more unlikely with Anthony Davis continuing to carry New Orleans to new heights. If they end up selecting towards to the back end of the first round, Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier could end up being a good fit as well.

Focus Area: Free Agency

Entering the summer, Chicago doesn’t have too many decisions to make on the contract front.

The trade exception from the Butler deal expires on June 22nd. If it’s not used by then, the amount will be renounced if the team goes under the salary cap. The deadline to present Noah Vonleh and David Nwaba a qualifying offer is June 29th.

Everybody’s going to keep an eye on LaVine because of restricted free agency, but the Bulls have indicated they prefer him to be a part of their core. They’ll in all likelihood look to bring him back on a long-term contract. If he doesn’t approve of the terms, he can always choose to play on his qualifying offer and bet on himself.

Chicago has to decide whether or not to guarantee Paul Zipser’s $1.5 million salary for next season by July 18th. The extension deadline for Payne, Portis, and Grant is the day before the first day of the 2018 campaign and team option deadlines for Dunn and Markannen come on Halloween.

There probably won’t be too much activity on the Bulls’ part regarding free agency. The focus will lay on improving their young core and getting guys who are just getting on the upswing in the pros. There are talents out there who fit the bill. It just all depends on what comes from the draft.

All in all, Chicago has a long way to go to get back into the postseason conversation, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all you can ask for.

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