24. Zach LaVine, Bulls
In a previous NBA life, Drummond would have thrived. Which guys rose and fell the furthest from last year? With players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and many more making a sizable impact on the popularity of the sport, the NBA brings an intense level of interest during the regular season, playoffs and drama-filled offseason. If he can prove it this year in a weakened East, perhaps the all-star bid he's previously sought will be within his grasp. It may not be enough to swing that series Cleveland's way, but it is an important role that the Cavaliers have now managed to fill.
By demanding a trade this summer to leave LeBron James, Irving declared to the world that he wants to be the man for a team. And, by trading for him, the Celtics have stated he can be that guy for them. There is no player with more pressure on him entering this season, and it will be fascinating to see if Irving embraces that, or instead is swallowed up by it. How he plays when he comes back will not only have an impact on Cleveland's title chances, but also will determine what his market is in unrestricted free agency next summer.
Horford may not be the kind of player that moves the needle for fans, but his ability to be above average at every facet of the game makes him an extremely valuable player — particularly at center, a place where teams are struggling to find adequate two-way players. His decision to go to Boston also set up the moves the Celtics have made over the past 18 months.
When the Wizards chose to sign Beal to a five-year contract extension last summer, many questioned whether the deal would work out for them. It only took one season for those doubters to be proven wrong.
Now, the goal for Beal is to make the all-star team in the East — and, as it stands now, that's a goal he should attain if he stays healthy. The one thing he's never been able to do, though, is add a three-point shot. If he somehow finds range this year, he could take yet another jump up this list. Playing Love at center, as Cleveland seems to be leaning toward doing full-time, could cause defensive issues, but should turn Love into an offensive juggernaut.
But for as good as they are together offensively, their combined defensive issues leave the Trail Blazers with an intriguing question if the team doesn't take a step forward this season: Can this tandem work long-term? In the short-term, though, it'll be awfully fun to watch them continue to tear up opposing defenses. The Pistons looked like a team on the rise 18 months ago, with their talented young center as the hub. But after a disappointing season for both the team and Drummond, this year could determine the future for both parties.
No, Anthony isn't the same superstar-level player he once was. But at 33, he remains an elite scoring option, and now playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George in Oklahoma City, he has the chance to be far more efficient this year than he was when forced to be a first option. There's little doubt the Knicks will do everything they can to try to put what was a rough few months for them and their young star behind them, but how will he receive that?
And, more importantly, how will he handle all of the attention that's coming to him now that Anthony is gone? Aldridge and the Spurs are now entering the third season of what's become an uneasy partnership between the talented scoring big man and the league's most buttoned-up franchise. Guys like Aldridge are basically players from another era in today's NBA, and how he adjusts to playing center full-time is the latest possible flashpoint here.
Since arriving in the NBA, Walker has kept improving, overcoming his lack of size to become the leader of the Hornets. But despite a terrific season a year ago, and his first all-star appearance, Charlotte missed the playoffs. Now he'll try to both match that performance from last season and turn the Hornets back into something like the win team they were two seasons ago. It seemed like the Suns might trade Bledsoe when they shut him down for the final few weeks of last season.
Instead, Bledsoe is once again back in Phoenix, and with a young team that's seemingly going nowhere soon, he'll remain one of the most speculated players about a potential trade throughout this season. Entering last season, Middleton seemed like he'd miss the entire year after a bad hamstring injury suffered during the preseason.
Instead, he came back around the all-star break and became a big piece of Milwaukee's push to the playoffs and competitive first round series with Toronto. With a full summer of good health and work on his game, can he take another step forward this season? Bradley was traded by Boston as part of some salary cap maneuvering to sign Gordon Hayward this summer.
Detroit brought him in to replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who the team let walk after not offering him a long-term contract. Now Bradley, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, will get a chance to both earn himself a big check and try to reset a Pistons team that desperately needs it. The issues with Howard are well documented.
But those personality issues have overshadowed the fact that he remains an effective player — particularly for a Charlotte team that can pair him with Cody Zeller for 48 minutes of quality center play.
The lack of that after Zeller's injury prevented Charlotte from making the playoffs. After needing to miss part of the regular season last year because of a medical issue involving his wife, Holiday came back and played quite well, eventually earning himself a large contract to re-sign with New Orleans. Now he, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will try to change the narrative around the Pelicans and get them back into the playoffs.
Lopez has toiled in relative obscurity during his career in Brooklyn, but that will no longer be the case after being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason. Now a year from free agency, Lopez will need to stay healthy in order to try to land another big contract when he hits the open market.
And while he isn't a player that logs high minutes anymore, he showed in the playoffs that he's still capable of being hugely effective when it matters most.
Barnes came to Dallas last season needing to prove to people he was more than a bit part of Golden State's run to dominance the prior two years. And, to his credit, he did that, largely living up to the max contract he was given by the Mavericks and showing improvement in many facets of his game. As the Mavericks continue to rebuild, however, they'll be hoping he can keep growing.
By deciding to re-sign Porter after he received a max contract in free agency, Washington committed to paying the luxury tax for the first time under owner Ted Leonsis. Porter needs to return the favor by continuing to improve upon the career year he had last season, when he shot over 43 percent from three-point range. With the "your turn, my turn" era leaving with Dwyane Wade last year, Dragic again began to look more like the player he was in Phoenix.
Now, as the Heat have committed to the core of the team that went in the second half of last season, Miami will be hoping he can perform at an all-star level this season. Gordon's signing last summer was questioned after his myriad injuries in New Orleans. The Clippers decided to remake their team after trading Chris Paul just before free agency by signing Gallinari to play next to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in their frontcourt.
There are questions here — specifically the fit next to Griffin, given both are better as power forwards, and their respective injury issues — but there's no questioning Gallinari's ability to be an impact player when he's available. The Hornets took a hit this preseason when it was announced Batum would miss weeks after tearing a ligament in his elbow. When he returns, Charlotte will be hoping he can help ease the burden on Kemba Walker to be the hub of Charlotte's entire offensive output.
Green is one of the elite "3-and-D" players in the league, and with Kawhi Leonard limited in camp and Tony Parker still rehabbing from offseason surgery, the Spurs will certainly need his shooting to be ready to go right from the start of the season.
There are few players in the NBA more divisive than Wiggins. For some, he's a budding star, a point scorer with loads of athleticism and room to grow. For others, he's an empty calories player, one who puts up hollow stats that don't contribute to winning teams.
With the addition of Jimmy Butler to the core of Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, this is the time -- as he moves toward signing a contract extension -- for Wiggins to show which side of that argument is right.
Crowder should be a very nice fit in Cleveland, slotting next to LeBron James to provide another solid shooter and defender who can take on an opposing wing player instead of The King. His presence will do something that the Cavaliers couldn't do last year — allow James to not have to defend someone like Kevin Durant for 48 minutes in a playoff series. It may not be enough to swing that series Cleveland's way, but it is an important role that the Cavaliers have now managed to fill.
Hill has long been one of the more underrated guards in the league, thanks to his understated game and his ability to both play on and off the ball, shoot well from distance and defend either spot. Now he's been brought to Sacramento to mentor De'Aaron Fox — which could potentially make him a trade candidate later this season if Fox begins to look like he's ready to take over the team. Ibaka re-signed for three years in Toronto, joining up with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to try to keep the best era in Raptors history going for a couple more years.
The interesting question to ponder is whether Ibaka will play primarily as a center, or if he'll line up more often than not next to Jonas Valanciunas. Utah decided to replace George Hill with Rubio, a move that will likely mean the Jazz are a very different team this season. Unlike Hill, Rubio is an iffy shooter who thrives with the ball in his hands, which should require some changes in Coach Quin Snyder's preferred system.
But Rubio is a gifted passer, and he's also a much better defender than many give him credit for. Adams looked like a budding star with the way he pushed around both the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference playoffs in , but he took a step back last season. Now with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on the roster, will he continue to stay in the background, or return to the brute form he showed in the postseason two years ago? Tom Thibodeau seemed set on replacing Ricky Rubio for most of last season, and quickly did so at the start of free agency by trading Rubio to Utah and then signing Teague.
With Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the roster it's unclear how often Teague will have the ball in his hands, but as Thibodeau's hand-picked point guard, he should play plenty of minutes and have a big role.
Whiteside still remains a controversial player within the NBA. He puts up big numbers, and did so again last season, but questions remain about if he can be a reliable long-term fit for a team trying to win. If he can prove it this year in a weakened East, perhaps the all-star bid he's previously sought will be within his grasp.
A perfect fit for the modern NBA, Capela is the defensive anchor of a Houston team that desperately needs one. Still, Drummond is only one season removed from his first All-Star campaign. Fultz was the consensus No. Despite his immense talent and production in college He's not off to a great start, but Fultz has plenty of time to prove he was worthy of his draft spot.
While many still know Russell for his video incident with Nick Young , it's clear he has serious skills on the hardwood. He has been somewhat injury prone throughout his career, and there are attitude concerns, but Nurkic looks like a changed man. He's in shape coming off an injury and a legitimate candidate to win Most Improved Player this season. Porter has increased his points per game, overall field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage in each of his first four seasons.
If Porter keeps improving and spacing the floor for those star guards Porter was in the The big man out of Pitt won't have a point game that will blow fans away, but he just does the little things well. He was among the top 15 players in contested shots per game last season Adams only averaged 7. Adams is a strong defender with size and mobility, and he has slowly added an in-between floater game when he can't get all the way to the basket on offense.
It's hard to say how much higher his ceiling is, but Adams is a guy who helps you win. The former first-rounder is only scratching the surface of what he can do. A capable rim protector, Capela has formed a strong bond with James Harden as the pick-and-roll man, putting up 1. Guess who Houston added this offseason? Someone named Chris Paul who might know something about throwing alley-oops to big men. A kid who wants to play ball and win.
At his core, Ball is simply a point guard who makes everything easier for those around him. There are fair questions about Ball's defense and athleticism, but he should have plenty of time to figure it all out. Just don't ask his dad about it. Hood just made the cut his birthday is Oct. Hood will have a bigger role in the offense with Gordon Hayward gone, and there is reason for optimism. Hood has fought through injury problems and consistency. This is his chance to truly show what he can do. Harris has become a solid all-around player.
He has meshed quickly with Nikola Jokic and benefitted from Jokic's innate passing ability. He also routinely guards the opposing team's strongest guard or wing, a tough task given Denver's team defense is fairly weak. Comments with web links are not permitted.
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