Monday, October 25, 2010

10 NBA Veterans I'm Curious To See in 2010-11

OK, here are ten players I'm curious to see in the upcoming 2010-11 NBA season. I'm qualifying things in a couple ways - just veterans here, as I'm basically curious to see how every rookie fares in the league. And, also, this is a non-Heat list, as, duh, of course I'm curious to see how everything comes together basketball-wise with the three Miami Super Friends.

Derrick Rose, Chicago
For all of his immense physical gifts, as an impossible combination of size, speed, and strength at the point, there is still plenty of room for improvement in Rose's game at age 22. Rose averaged 20.8 points and 6.0 assists (18.7 PER) in 2009-10, impressive numbers for a second-year player. However, Rose makes things challenging by only really scoring by 2's, as he can't hit 3's (16 made threes on .267 in '09-10) or draw 1's (4.3 FTA per game). Further, he is not considered to be a good defensive player and even his assist rate trails far behind the Nash-Paul-Williams-Rondo leaders.

Rose's free-throw rate actually did improve quite a bit last season, if you consider that he averaged 4.7 FTA per game from Dec. 1 on (remember that he was fighting a bum ankle early last year), up from 3.1 FTA as a rookie. He claims to have been working on his three-point shot this summer, but I haven't seen evidence of it - Rose hit just 5-18 (.278) at the shorter line in FIBA Worlds, and even had to be benched for being an ineffective floor-spacer, and made just .238 in the preseason.

Despite all of the room for growth in his offensive arsenal, what I'm especially curious to see from Rose in 2010-11 is his defense. Can a union with defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau vastly improve Rose's defense? With his physical ability, there's no reason that Rose shouldn't be one of the best defensive point guards in the game. Becoming a disruptive defender would be a huge step in helping Rose become a truly elite point guard, rather than just a potential one.

Monta Ellis, Golden State
For all of the chaos that took place in Oakland in 2009-10, one of the most depressing developments for me was that Ellis, one of my favorite players to watch a couple years ago, became the poster child for inefficiency and misleading statistics. Sure, Monta's 25.5 points per game smashed his career-high, and ranked him 6th in the league, his name listed up with the superstars of the game in the leaders. But it was all a mirage, as Ellis's numbers were inflated by playing an absurd number of minutes (41.4 per game) at an absurd pace, leaving him with an absurd volume of shots (22.0 FGA's per game).

Looking at the Ellis player comment in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 reminded me that it has not always been this way. The stat that jumped out at me was Ellis's two-point field goal percentage. In 2007-08, it had been .544, a solid number, before plummeting all the way to .470 in 2009-10. Despite being an improved three-point shooter (.338 in '09-10, up from .231 in '07-08) with significantly more attempts from downtown, Monta's effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) has still, somewhat amazingly, dropped substantially.

But that look back at '07-08 was a reminder that Monta has efficiency in him. Here is a comparison of his shooting numbers:
         FG%    3P%   eFG%     TS%
'07-08 .531 .231 .536 .580
'09-10 .449 .338 .476 .517
Monta has efficiency in him. Now that the Don Nelson Circus has relocated back to Maui, can Monta regain some sanity and efficiency in his game? Man, I sure hope so, but the preseason numbers are not promising. Ellis's FG% was even lower at .438, and new coach Keith Smart inexplicably played Ellis 53 minutes and 44 minutes in preseason games last week. Please come back to earth, Monta, I miss you, man.

Nicolas Batum, Portland
After a season in which Portland won 50 games despite losing 300+ man games to injury, those who have run statistical projections, such as John Hollinger and Kevin Pelton, are quite high on the Blazers' chances in 2010-11. Yet, in all the talk of the Blazers as potential contenders in the West, a key name in the team's rosy projections - Nic Batum - is rarely mentioned.

After missing half the season with a shoulder injury, Batum was a vastly improved player in the 37 games he did play in his second season:
         MIN   FG%    3P%    TS%    PTS    PER
'08-09 18.4 .446 .369 .555 5.4 12.9
'09-10 24.8 .519 .409 .646 10.1 17.3
After taking such a big jump from age 20 to 21, can Batum continue on this trajectory at just 22, or was his '09-10 improvement something of a mirage due to the relatively small sample of total minutes played? For all the talk of whether Brandon Roy and Andre Miller can co-exist, and what Greg Oden might be able to contribute, and what Wesley Matthews can bring to the table, I think Batum will be a key underrated figure in determining Portland's fortunes in '10-11. I'm curious to see if we have about the same guy as last year... or if Nic Batum is actually a potential star in the making.

Jordan Farmar, New Jersey
In 2007-08, it seemed as if the Lakers had scored a steal with the 26th pick of the 2006 Draft in Farmar. In that year, Farmar posted a solid 15.4 PER as a 21-year-old in his second season, and appeared to be the heir to L.A.'s starting point guard position. However, Farmar regressed sharply and surprisingly in the following two years, failing to a PER of 9.9 in 2008-09 and 12.3 in 2009-10. Notably, his assist rate plummeted in 2009-10 - Farmar averaged just 1.5 assists in 18 minutes per game, down from 2.7 in 20.6 minutes in 2007-08.

Farmar seemed to fall out of favor with Phil Jackson in L.A., and now that he gets a fresh start in Jersey, I'm curious to see what we have here: is it the young player filled with promise from '07-08, or the barely replacement-level player we've seen since?

With the athletic Farmar still turning just 24 in late November, I tend to think he has a chance to blossom anew in Newark. His preseason numbers have been a mixed bag - FG% down at .407, but assists up at 3.3 in 21.9 minutes.

While I do believe that Steve Blake is a better fit than Farmar for the triangle offense, and for the Lakers in 2010-11, Blake also has limited upside at age 30. As the Lakers presumably enter the post-Phil Jackson era in 2011-12, I wonder if they'll wish they still had Farmar - I tend to think that his next five seasons will be significantly better than Blake's. We should start to get a sense of whether this will be the case based on how Farmar performs this season - it's a pivotal year for him.

Yi Jianlian, Washington
I'd never been much of a fan of Yi. On the night he was drafted, I asked how you say "El Busto" in Mandarin. I've been watching Yi with the Chinese national team since 2004, when he was just 28 years old (c'mon, give me a rim shot for that one), and he had always struck me as an exceedingly passive player.

The guy I saw at the FIBA World Championship was a different player. Yi averaged a 20-10 on 50% FG shooting in the Worlds, and it was how he did it that was especially impressive. He was smart and versatile as he operated from the mid- and low-post, either employing a variety of post moves, or facing up to take advantage of his soft shooting touch from the mid-range.

As much as anything, Yi was shockingly assertive. He was especially impressive with 26 points and 14 rebounds against Greece, as Yi was able to hold his post position well even against the rugged Greek big men down low. For the first time, I became a believer that Yi could be a quality NBA rotation player. Now he needs to do it in the NBA, and do it consistently. I'm curious to see if he can do so.

Michael Beasley, Minnesota
As with Farmar, Beasley gets a chance to press the reset button on his career at a young age, with a fresh start in Minnesota at just age 21. Beasley has scored 14.3 points per game in 27.3 minutes per game in his first two seasons. When his game is on, it's quite difficult to stop Beasley from scoring.

However, Beasley's 2009-10 season was worse than his rookie year, as his scoring rate and PER dropped, and he was particularly dreadful in the playoffs. Beasley has the talent to be an efficient 20 ppg scorer in the league - possibly even 25 ppg - with a scoring game nearly as smooth as Melo's.

I want to see that guy. He should be the go-to guy on the wing in Minny, and he's filled it up in the preseason, with 13.8 points in 21 minutes, though on just .394 FG%. Beasley doesn't even turn 22 until January, so there's still plenty of time for his career to develop, but I'm starting to get antsy to see him become a premier scorer on a consistent basis.

Tony Parker, San Antonio
OK, so I'm little bit curious to see what Parker does this season - if he can fully recapture his jets after an injury-plagued year - and I'm more curious to see what happens to Parker this season. With all of the talk about where guys like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul are going to end up, Parker is a quietly fascinating player this year.

Parker will turn 29 in mid-May as his contract expires and he heads into unrestricted free agency. Players like Parker, whose game is based primarily on speed, do not tend to age well. I can't possibly see the Spurs committing to another five years with Parker, for example. But, with Duncan and Ginobili aging, do they let him walk for nothing, or try to trade him at the deadline to recoup some assets? As long as the Spurs are in something approaching contention, I can't see them dealing Parker at the deadline. Letting Parker walk would leave a huge hole at point guard in '11-12 that I'm not sure George Hill will be able to fill. With the championship window still cracked open ever so slightly in 2010-11, I'm not sure the Spurs have another choice. We'll see.

Trevor Ariza, New Orleans
Quite simply, who is Trevor Ariza? Is he the 15.5 PER guy from the Lakers championship season of '08-09, the guy who shot the lights out during the 2009 Playoffs, or the miserably inefficient Rocket who shot just .394 in '09-10?

I'm guessing that he gets back closer to that '08-09 guy at age 25 with the Hornets, though his .397 preseason FG% is a cause for concern. Mostly, we're just curious to see if Ariza can get out on the fast break with Chris Paul - if so, New Orleans has a chance to become one of the most exciting teams to watch on NBA League Pass this season.

Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers
Stephen Curry is far better known as a player than Gordon, who has been buried in obscurity as a Clipper after a single NCAA season plagued by injury and tumult at Indiana. Yet, this summer with the U.S. national team, Gordon reminded us that he is a player of similar promise as Curry, and even nine months younger, to boot.

Gordon played almost twice as many minutes as Curry in the World Championships, and had several explosive scoring outings over the summer as a whole, even though he was certainly inconsistent (Gordon made just 3-16 FG in the final three knockout games).

Still, Gordon, who turns 22 on Christmas, scored 17 ppg in 36 mpg last year, and is still a player on the rise. Can Gordon build on his summer in the relative spotlight, and establish that he and Blake Griffin are one of the top young duos in basketball? Well, I'm curious to find out.

Anthony Randolph, New York
Statistical projections by Hollinger and Pelton absolutely love Randolph this season. Hollinger projects him at 23.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per 40 minutes, for a 21.5 PER. Pelton's comparable players at a similar age include Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith.

Though he played in just 33 games, Randolph's per-minute production in '09-10 at age 20 was fairly startling, as he averaged 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 22.7 minutes per game (18.7 PER), though of course there were significant inconsistencies even in that small sample size.

Randolph is something of a freak of nature as a versatile 6-10, 205 player. Can he put it together consistently in age 21? If he does - and especially if he does so in Mike D'Antoni's system - Randolph could quickly become one of the most fun players to watch in the entire league.


At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent choices and a fine article, but I do have one bone to pick. Why do you (and many other writers) find Ariza so confusing? Isn't it readily apparent that last year the Rockets needed him to create lots of shots last year, and that this just isn't something he can do efficiently? If he had had to take that many shots for LA in 09, I'm sure his TS% would have taken a similar dive.

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article - you reminded me of several players I had all but given up on (Farmar, Randolph) that may have break out seasons for new teams.

Well, not Farmar, but Randolph at least...

At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

T Parker for Calderon at the deadline!

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Lydia said...

Thanks so much for the post, pretty helpful information.

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