Five NBA Players Who’ll Make a Leap in 2010

Golden State Warriors forward Anthony RandolphBy: Zachariah Blott

With a slew of free agents holding new contracts, scores of youngsters showing their thing in Vegas and Orlando, and a couple guys being traded, it’s time to look at who is in a position to pick up their production and positive input to their team next season.

For some of them, it’s a matter of a new environment or teammates providing better opportunities. Most of them, though, showed they were starting to get it by the end of last year and should be able to keep it rolling in 09-10.

Anthony Randolph, PF, Golden State Warriors

2008-09: 18 minutes, 8 pts, 6 rebs, 1.2 blocks, 0.7 steals, 46% FG

Why He’ll Improve: There isn’t much I can say here that most NBA fans don’t already know about this guy. Remember how awesome Jermaine O’Neal was for that stretch with Indiana before he became riddled with injuries? Well, Randolph is going to be that guy next year.

He started getting some serious time on the court in March when he averaged 23 minutes a game, and all of a sudden was averaging 9 points (over 50% from the field), 7 boards, and 2 blocks. In April, the Warriors wisely made Randolph the starter, giving him 32 minutes a night in eight games: all he did was put up 15, 10.6, 1 block, 1.5 steals and an assist-TO rate above 1.

Then Randolph blew up the Summer League two weeks ago with 27 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. Those rebounds would have been up around 10 or 11 if he didn’t spend the last game ravaging the Bulls with 42 points, 4 steals and 3 blocks.

He can do everything. Everything. It’s not difficult to see him as the best player from the class of 2008 by as soon as the end of next season.

Prediction: 35 minutes, 18 pts, 11 rebs, 1.5 blocks, 1.5 steals, 50-55% FG

Anthony Randolph Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

2008-09: 31 minutes, 11 pts, 4.3-1.7 assists-TO, 1.1 steals, 44% FG, 41% 3FG

Why He’ll Improve: The super-quick point had a so-so rookie season in 07-08. Conley used his speed to trouble defenders, getting into the lane and making some decent passing decisions, but his shot was as bad as advertised before the 2007 draft. The beginning of his sophomore season looked to be the same, until the Grizzlies signed Lionel Hollins as head coach in January. Memphis picked up the pace and played with confidence. Their youth was still evident, but Conley definitely made great strides.

Here are his pre- and post-All Star Game averages last year: 9 pts became 14.5; 42% FG and 37% 3FG became 46% and 44%; 3.6 assists became 5.6; 2.4 A-TO rate became 2.5; 0.8 steals became 1.7. Conley should turn in even better performances next year because his teammates will give him many opportunities to rack up assists, which enables Conley to select his shots more judiciously. O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol will no longer be rookies, Rudy Gay has always done well in an up-tempo game, and for everything else Zach Randolph is, he can score the ball when it’s in his hands.

If Conley’s doing the smart thing and shooting 1,000-plus jumpers each day this offseason to push his improved shooting numbers even further upwards, his fourth year removed from high school could be a nice one.

Prediction: 36 minutes, 15 points, 7-9 assists, 1.7 steals, 47-49% FG, 45% 3FG

Three more NBA youngsters bound to improve next season after the break…

Greg Oden, C, Portland Trailblazers

2008-09: 21 minutes, 9 pts, 7 rebs, 1.1 blocks, 56% FG, 4 fouls

Why He’ll Improve: Oden had 18 double-doubles in 61 games last season, and he was 1 or 2 rebounds away from 7 more. Did I mention he averaged 21 minutes per game and only 23 in his 39 starts? And that he was coming off microfracture surgery? And that he was a rookie?

In case you didn’t read or see anything about the USA Mini-camp last week, Oden was the dominant defensive player most people remember him being at Ohio State. He owned the paint defensively—blocking shots, intimidating opponents into countless bad shots, rebounding well—because he’s A) starting to get his quickness back 22 months after having knee surgery, and B) he’s becoming a lot more aware of where he needs to be in order to stay out of the foul trouble he was consistently in his rookie year.

With Andre Miller (known for attacking the paint in order to set up lobs to big men) controlling the rock this upcoming year in Portland, an improved understanding of positioning in order to block shots and take charges instead of committing silly fouls, and more time on the floor so that he can continue to average 10.5 rebounds per 30 minutes of burn (that would have ranked Oden in the top-5 last year), Oden could be in for a season that gets the “bust” whispers out of the mouths of some Blazer fans.

Prediction: 27 minutes, 12 – 14 pts, 11 rebs, 1.5 – 2 blocks, 58-60% FG

Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes, F/Cs, Sacramento Kings

2008-09: These two combined for 22.5 pts, 14.5 rebs, 2 blocks, 48% FG

Why They’ll Improve: Thompson and Hawes are both young and both improved significantly over last season even though the Kings really sucked. After the All-Star break, they went for 26, 17, 2, and 50%.

Throw in a hopefully healthy Kevin Martin, an athletic Tyreke Evans who should pass and shoot enough to get the pair some easy layups and boards, and another year of experience for the first- and second-year big men, and these two could be a nice inside presence that could prevent other teams from focusing all their efforts on stopping Martin and Evans.

Prediction: 30 pts, 19 rebs, 2.5 blocks, 55% FG combined

Zachariah Blott is an English teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.


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