With just five players on the court at all times for each team, perhaps the toughest thing to predict will be how a player will handle a huge increase in minutes. As the 2013–2014 season approaches, both fans of specific teams and fantasy basketball owners are trying to determine who might be ready to turn the corner. According to statistics, new teammates and a better opportunity, here are three players ready to make a leap.
No one has ever doubted that Andre Drummond is one of the most gifted basketball talents to come along in quite some time, but there were some intangible question marks surrounding the rookie last season. Fantasy basketball owners were scared off by his perceptions about his work ethic, his toughness and his lack of a shooting touch. He still can’t make free throws, but his value in limited action last season was superb. If the Pistons really want to make the playoffs, Drummond will have to play more than 20 minutes a game. If he can keep up his 21.6 PER with more minutes, it could be a great sophomore season for the big man.
Butler is the perfect example of the new age 3 and D type of player ever NBA team is looking for. He can knock down the 3-point shot (especially from the corner), and he is an excellent defender at multiple positions. He and Luol Deng can be matchup nightmares for opposing teams, especially as they play together more often in 2013–2014. Year two he made a pretty big leap, but now that he will likely start the majority of the games this season, he could be ready to fully emerge as a true talent.
Most people have already counted out the Phoenix Suns this season, and on paper, they appear to just not have enough talent for the playoffs. However, one bright spot for them heading into the season is their new point guard Eric Bledsoe. After being stuck in the shadows of Chris Paul in Los Angeles, the athletic point guard gets a chance to play some major minutes for a rebuilding club. He is coming off an extremely efficient season, despite hovering around just 20 minutes a game. Expect outstanding offensive and defensive numbers out of him in fantasy basketball this season.
Detroit’s best two players last year were young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. The reports of the deal suggest that Smith will likely start alongside those two players, with guards Brandon Knight and the recently drafted Kentavious-Caldwell Pope rounding out the Pistons’ starting unit. Drummond and Greg Monroe are both players who want to operate close to the basket, and Josh Smith, when he’s at his best, is a player who operates near the basket. Josh’s problem, and the biggest problem with this signing, is that Josh Smith does not love to operate near the basket. What Josh Smith really loves are jump shots. But sadly for Josh, jump shots do not love him back. Josh fancies himself more of a swing man than his size and skill-set would suggest is wise.
Unfortunately for the Pistons, and fans who would like to see J-Smoove reach his peak effectiveness, playing Smith alongside Monroe and Drummond will do nothing to dissuade him from floating more and more around the perimeter, likely tempting him to take more and more of the jumpers that, try as he might, Josh just can’t make. In a vacuum, Smith is worth right around what the Pistons have committed to him over the next 4 years. But Smith will not be playing in a vacuum, he will be playing with Monroe and Drummond and barring a, likely unwise, trade of one of their young, promising, cheap (!) big men, the Pistons figure to have serious spacing issues for their foreseeable future. Piston’s President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars has created a mess for himself when there were likely much more prudent options available. He’s improved the overall talent of his club, there’s no doubting that, but it’s hard to see how that translates to winning more games when the talent now fits together so poorly. It could be that Dumars just believes in grabbing talent when it’s available for a team that was so bad last season, but I can’t help but thinking patience should have won the day here. Ah well. As a Bulls loyalist I say, you take those jumpers, Josh Smith. You take them as much as your heart desires.