By: Zachariah Blott
By the end of most NBA players’ first seasons, they’re starting to get a handle on the speed and rigorous grind of the game and are able to contribute much more meaningfully than they did back in November. You’re seeing that this year with rookies like Stephen Curry and Taj Gibson.
By the end of their second seasons, players are usually able to show new skills and maturity on the court, carving out a more defined role that benefits their squad, such as Russell Westbrook. And by April of their third year, players should know what it takes to remain in the league, loosely displaying the type of results they’ll likely produce for the remainder of their careers.
Sometimes you get a Steve Nash who through increased playing time and the perfect team situation gives fans something unexpected down the road, but usually who a player is at the end of their third year is a pretty good indication of who they’ll be throughout their career. That being said, which of this season’s third-year players are showing something positive that teams can plan on building around?
I’ve looked at all the guys from the 2007 draft, and I’ve grouped the noteworthy ones based on what we can reasonably expect from the rest of their careers. Also, within each group, I placed the players in order of desirability (so Durant then Horford).**
Kevin Durant (#2 pick) – He’s arguably the most efficient lead scorer in the NBA, thanks in part to shooting free throws at a considerably better rate (90% to 77%) than LeBron James, his only real competition. Durant’s rebounding is finally looking respectable (7.6 per), and his defensive focus took a humongous leap forward this season. How committed he stays to keeping his defense at its current level is yet to be seen, but right now he’s looking like a much more complete package than he did 12 months ago.
Al Horford (#3) – Horford is not only taking more shots for the Hawks, he’s also connecting on a higher percentage (56%), always a great sign of true improvement. His rebounding and shot blocking have remained consistently good for the past two seasons (9.7 and 1.1 per), and his defense isn’t bad. Horford busts his tail and has a team-first attitude, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t get better.
Joakim Noah (#9) – Noah’s a high-energy big man who can pull down 10+ boards for years to come and is a great defender. His offense is limited, but he knows his limitations and doesn’t force the action. He’s the ultimate knows-his-role center.
Jeff Green (#5) – Just like in college, Green does it all and has shown consistency doing so. He’s a good post defender, he scores both inside and outside, and he’s a decent passer for his size. None of his stats pop out at you (15 points and 6 rebounds per, 46% FG), but he’s the unheralded glue guy whose improvement conveniently mirrors the Thunder’s.
Aaron Brooks (#26) – This speedy PG can fill it up from outside (39% 3FG, 20 points per), but he’s shown a little too much me-first in his offense and he turns it over too often (2.9 per). Brooks’ game is still developing, so you may see some new wrinkles in it in the next few years.
Carl Landry (#31) – Landry bangs and hustles and smarts his way to everything he gets. His scoring role has expanded significantly this year (17 points per, compared to 9 last year), and his shooting percentage has remained high (54%). Undersized for a PF, he is what he is underneath the hoop (6 rebounds, 0.8 blocks per), but he’s always taking the intelligent angle and position.
Sizing up the rest of the notable players from the 2007 NBA Draft after the break…
Thaddeus Young (#12) – Young has plateaued more than most of these guys, but he’s still really young. He can score driving or shooting (14 points per, 35% from 3), uses his length and quickness to be a decent defender, and he snags about 5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per. Young can do a lot, but his deficiencies (ball handling, inside play, overall decision-making) are more glaring than Green’s at this point.
Arron Afflalo (#27) – The Nuggets’ starting SG is a great wing defender who is finally getting his due as a shutdown-kinda guy. His offense is barely ever mentioned, but he hits open jumpers with ease (43% 3FG), and his ball handling numbers have improved (1.7-0.9 A-TO). Afflalo’s a smart all-around player who deservedly is starting for a great club (again proving that Joe Dumars has perhaps lost his touch).
Rodney Stuckey (#15) – Stuckey took on a bigger scoring role this year for Detroit (17 points per) and showed streaky dominance at times, but his shooting percentages are still pretty bad (41% FG, 23% 3FG). He’s obviously athletic with the ball, but he doesn’t convert his drives to the hoop like he should. Either his rebounding (4 per), play-making (5 assists per), or defense needs to take another leap forward to make him a more complete player.
Mike Conley (#4) – Has developed a good outside jumper (40% 3FG) and is a decent distributor, but he still depends on his blazing speed, which hurts his ability to really up his game.
Jared Dudley (#22) – Outstanding outside shooter (46% 3FG) who is smart and hard-working, but he’s too small to be a great PF and too slow to be a great SF.
Spencer Hawes (#10) – Can do a little of everything you want from a center (10 points, 6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks in 26 minutes per), and he’s also a good passer out of the paint.
Corey Brewer (#7) – Brewer’s length and speed make him a good defender; his offense is developing, but it will never be a strength.
Wilson Chandler (#23) – Nice set of abilities and attributes allows him to play the 2, 3, or 4, but he doesn’t have any one skill that stands out and makes him special.
Ramon Sessions (#56) – Sessions is an intelligent floor general, but he needs more time to develop his complete game (only played 17 games as a rookie, 21 minutes per this year).
Yi Jianlian (#6) – His rebounding is coming around (7 per), but he’s too in love with his outside jumper to ever be the scorer people thought he could be.
Marco Belinelli (#18) – Natural scorer with a nose for steals; okay passing skill for a SG, but can’t rebound worth a lick (1.5 in 17 minutes per).
Glen Davis (#35) – Banging big man who can play some defense and has a nice little mid-range jumper.
Nick Young (#16) – Sweet shooter (40% 3FG) and adequate defender, but he hasn’t shown that he can be a complete SG.
**I did not put Greg Oden within this continuum because he’s only played one season’s worth of games and his injury possibilities make him far too difficult to rank. If Oden is never hurt again, he could be at the top of the list; if he continues the path he’s on, he’ll be one of NBA history’s biggest what-ifs.
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.