As training camp approaches soon, Basketball Insiders will continue to prepare you for the upcoming NBA season.
This week, we’re dropping a division-by-division series that will take a look at those players who could potentially be sleepers or ready for a breakout in their respective roles.
We’re getting it started with a glimpse of six guys in the Central Division who fit the bill.
Rashad Vaughn – Milwaukee Bucks
It’s been a difficult first couple years in Vaughn’s stay with Milwaukee.
Touted as a pure scorer out of UNLV, he hasn’t come close to finding his niche in Jason Kidd’s rotation. Year three will be the make or break for Vaughan, who needs a breakout campaign to prove he belongs at this level. He’s coming off of a decent summer league showing, so we’ll see if that translates into anything with true competition.
Boban Marjanovic – Detroit Pistons
When Aron Baynes departed for the Boston Celtics in free agency, it opened a giant door for a giant man.
Stan Van Gundy has voiced his support for Marjanovic many times in the past. The difficulty with keeping the towering Serbian center revolves around the league’s direction with small ball, but he won’t allow that to completely restrict how he utilizes him.
Marjanovic’s sheer size and presence in the paint should turn out to be a huge advantage in the Pistons second unit. He’s started games in San Antonio in the past and displayed what he can do with an opportunity.
Glenn Robinson III – Indiana Pacers
It was a disappointing 2016-17 for Indiana with so much hype surrounding the team, but for Robinson III it was a step forward individually. On a poor defensive squad, he stood out.
Robinson’s length and pressure make it difficult for opponents to maneuver around him. As far as production goes, he has gradually improved with each year. His true shooting jumped to 56.4 percent from 50.8 percent the previous season. He’s gotten more aggressive and received more playing time as well.
With C.J. Miles out of the picture as the sixth man, Robinson will assume an even greater role off the bench.
Lauri Markkanen – Chicago Bulls
Zach LaVine is accompanied with a question mark due to a severe knee injury. Kris Dunn is an unknown in his own right, with only a horribly underwhelming rookie year to show for his career thus far. It could entirely be up to Markkanen to make the Jimmy Butler trade at least somewhat justifiable.
Surely there will be a lot of eyes on the rookie big man as the Bulls move into a new era of basketball. We’ve seen what he can do at the college level. He’s a great shooter with size and offers versatility at both ends of the floor.
The comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki are going way too far for somebody without a lick of real pro experience, but it would be surprising if Markkanen didn’t impress in his debut season.
Cory Joseph – Indiana Pacers
Darren Collison may be the starting point guard in Indiana coming into the season, but that job is anything but secure. Depending on the Pacers’ position in the standings, as well as who is outplaying whom, Joseph could be the floor general for Nate McMillan sooner rather than later.
For essentially nothing, Kevin Pritchard landed the former Toronto Raptors backup to instill some young but experienced talent into his roster. Joseph hasn’t had his chance to really show what he’s made of. However, he has played under two great basketball minds in Gregg Popovich and Dwane Casey.
In addition, Joseph has been the student of Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry. Similar to quarterbacks in the NFL, learning from these proven veteran greats will serve him well once it’s his time. That very well might be as soon as this year.
As a starter last year while Lowry was injured, Joseph averaged 11.2 points and five assists over 21 games. The one other time he started before that was against Brooklyn, where he exploded for 33 points on 15-of-22 from the field.
J.R. Smith – Cleveland Cavaliers
After proving his worth as a dangerous three-point threat and improved on-ball defender, Smith cemented himself as a vital member of the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship ball club. His efforts earned him a four-year, $57 million contract to stay with LeBron James and company.
Unfortunately for the man they call Swish, the first season of that deal did not go so swimmingly. He missed a good portion of training camp and it showed on the floor. He was not there conditioning-wise, and the rust with his jump shot was obvious.
An ankle injury bothered Smith in mid-November and affected him on both ends of the floor. He got back to form early the next month, but then bad luck struck again quickly on December 20. While attempting to strip the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo, he hurt his thumb and would be sidelined for three months with a fracture.
Smith was inserted back into the Cavaliers rotation right before springtime in order to get re-acclimated for another playoff run. In the postseason itself, he actually shot the ball extremely well (50 percent from deep), but was still a little hesitant to let it go at times—less than five three-point attempts per game, to be specific.
If any one factor got Smith to this point in his career, it’s confidence. He’s never bashful, and that won’t happen again. There’s a lot of pressure to live up to a hefty payday, but now with the inaugural year of the deal and setbacks out of the way, he can get back to doing what he does best.
There’s a lot worth paying attention to in the Central. Because of the offseason, new roles are open and opportunities are presenting themselves to players to take advantage of.
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