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NBA Rookie Watch 12/2/2013

Week 5 of the NBA season is in the books and where Michael Carter Williams continues on the same path, his team is losing games and other rookies are starting to show signs of improvement. Plus, another rookie that missed the early part of the season is playing now and might just challenge our leader over the course of the next month. There remains lots of room for movement in our Rookie Watch List.

PHI_Carter_Williams_Michael1. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
14 GP, 17 points, 39.3%, 5.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 3.1 steals, PER 18.5

It was just another typical week for Carter-Williams as he scored in double-digits each time out and recorded his fourth double-double of the season in a loss to the Pelicans. The only blemish on this rookie is his team’s 1-5 record since he returned from injury.

Orlando Magic Media Day2. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
16 GP, 11.3 points, 42%, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, PER 12.7

After a huge home-and-home series against the HEAT last week, Oladipo carried the momentum forward averaging 17 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.7 steals and 2 blocked shots in 3 games this week. At this pace, it won’t be long before he will be seriously challenging for top spot on our watch list.

Oladipo had 5 steals in the win over the 76ers on Wednesday and 3 blocks in the loss to the Spurs Friday. Our expectations going forward have just gone way up for this rookie.

Utah Jazz Media Day3. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
6 GP, 11.2 points, 36.6%, 3.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 0.8 steals, PER 13.1

The ninth pick in the draft, Burke played in his first NBA game a week ago Wednesday and in just his second week, he started putting up some starting point guard worthy numbers as helped the Jazz to triple their number of wins this season – the Jazz beat Chicago on Monday and Phoenix on Saturday for wins number 2 and 3.

Burke averaged 15.7 points on the week, scoring 20 points in Phoenix, a very impressive start to his NBA career.

SAC_McLemore_Ben4. Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
15 GP, 8.8 points, 37.1%, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, PER 10.7

McLemore has continued his habit of disappearing after big games, but when he has it going, he has been pretty impressive. After 4 days off, McLemore scored 14 points against the Clippers, but 2 days later, his shot is off and Marcus Thornton quickly took over after McLemore had gone 1-5 from the field. There is lots of potential in this rookie if he can find some consistency.

BKN_Plumlee_Mason5. Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
14 GP, 6.9 points, 68.6%, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks PER 17.9

Plumlee has been taking advantage of his opportunities with the Nets to quietly put up some decent numbers. He may be a lone bright spot in a season marred by injuries and unexpected losses in Brooklyn.

The run-a-way leader among rookies who have attempted over 1 shot per game in field goal percentage, Plumlee had his best shooting game of the season on Friday in Houston going 7-8 from the field for 16 points to go with his 6 rebounds in 28 minutes.

It’s worth noting, Plumlee hasn’t made a shot further than 5 feet from the basket, but he knows his range and has only tried 5 shots further out.

Just missing the cut:

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks

Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

Vitor Faverani, Boston Celtics

Steve Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

It’s a long season that is just getting underway. If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Are The Utah Jazz Too Young To Win?

The Utah Jazz are off to a 0-7 start under Head Coach Tyrone Corbin this season and it starting to look like there will not be any easy nights for this very young and inexperienced team.

Gone from last year’s 43-win squad are veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to make room in the starting lineup for Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Veteran guards Mo Williams and Randy Foye are out to create more time for Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and rookie Trey Burke. The young guys are getting all the minutes they can handle and possibly more.

“They are young and some are growing into the position that they are in,” Corbin said. “I have said to the guys and I’ll continue to say it, we just have to work our way through this. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. This will show a lot about who we are and who you are. How you fight through adversity. How do you come back and compete after getting your butt kicked a little bit the night before. We have to continue to learn those lessons now so we don’t have to get them later on.”

Haywood (age 23) is averaging 35.7 minutes a night, Kanter (age 21) 34.1 minutes, Favors (age 22) 33.9 minutes and Burks (age 22) is averaging 28.4 minutes off the bench. 21-year-old rookie center Rob Gobert is averaging 13.3 minutes. Even undrafted rookie shooting guard Ian Clark (age 22) has averaged 10.4 minutes in 5 games. A very young rotation is expected to get even younger very soon as the Jazz’s ninth overall 2013 draft pick Trey Burke is on the verge of being cleared to return to basketball related activities following right index finger surgery in October. Burke will play big minutes once he’s able.

Being this young puts a lot of pressure on the Jazz players to learn and grow up fast.

“(Hayward) and Enes and Derrick will have the ball in their hands a lot more,” Corbin said. “Burks, we will put the ball in his hands a lot now because of where we are and how the team is built. We look for Gordon at times to facilitate the offense for the other guys and try to help them get easy baskets because of his versatility. Burks, we do the same thing with him to try and help Enes and Derrick out. There is a lot of growing for those young guys and we are putting a lot of pressure on them at this point.”

The Jazz’s top 4 scorers are all under 24-years-old. The team has veterans to help guide the young guys, but everything is focused on improving the up-and-coming talent. This represents a very different situation for Corbin from last season and he has to keep reminding himself about just how young this team really is. He is also has to do a lot more work to get his points across.

“Absolutely (I have to remind myself about their youth),” Corbin said. “Listening to them and talking to them. Seeing how they react to certain situations. Seeing their frustration at times, it is new to them and I have to understand that. We are asking a lot of young guys (to be) in a difficult situation, (but) this is where we are, this is who we are, so we have to make sure we are working and learning our way through it.

“(I am) slowing down everything and repeating a lot of stuff over and over again and trying not to change so much that we are confusing the young guys and give them a chance to get used to things while we try to make adjustments and it’s been a little different. The last two years we have kind of been going through a transition we thought and now you start all over with a younger group, so there is a lot of going back and rehashing and seeing what is best for this group of guys.”

The only positive Corbin has been able to pull out of this inevitable losing streak is the experience being gained by his young core. Until Kanter, Favors, Hayward, possibly Burks and eventually Burke go through enough games to see firsthand what is like to play without the support of last season’s veterans, they won’t learn the hard lessons about what it takes to be an everyday starter in the NBA.

“(The positive is) experience for the young guys, just having them go through it and understanding just how difficult this league is and how important it is to be ready every night and how you have to study and understand your opponent every night you step out there on the floor,” Corbin said. “Even a guy’s name you may not know firsthand, these guys can play, so you have to make sure you are ready for everybody every night in this league.”

The young Jazz players are learning the lesson about just how hard it is to win in the NBA without last year’s veterans to lean on. It isn’t pretty and it’s pretty painful, but the Jazz have a plan. They have acquired 5 additional draft picks over the next 5 drafts. They will have between $20 and $30 million of salary cap space available next summer depending on what they do with Hayward – who they can make a restricted free agent. Plus, they are expected to have a high lottery draft pick of their own to use in what is anticipated to be a very strong draft class in June.

It is fairly obvious this season will not be about the wins and losses in Utah.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Raptors Blowout Jazz 115-91

The Toronto Raptors are the first NBA team since 1974 in play an undefeated and winless opponent on consecutive nights. Somehow the Raptors ended up in this situation wearing their military camo jersey and will take their 1-5 record in this jersey against the 0-6 Jazz. It didn’t matter what the Raptors were wearing tonight, however, as this game turned into a blowout before that half and the Raptors won 115-91.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas started again for Toronto.

Jamaal Tinsley, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter started for the Jazz.

First Quarter 30-16 Raptors

Valancuinas starts out hot scoring in the post on the first possession, hitting an early mid-range jumper, getting the block on Favors and scoring in the post again. The Raptors are up 14-6 early and temporarily let the Jazz back in this game at 14-12, but that was as close as this game was going to get.

Second Quarter 62-36 Raptors

Raptors reserves are playing a squad that is younger and less experienced than they are and start scoring like a group that’s been over matched for the past 2 weeks and have found a team to take their frustrations out on.

Half-time Stats

Gay, Lowry, Hansbrough and Ross have 9 points each. Valanciunas and DeRozan have 8 points each.

Kanter leads all scorers with 10 points. Favors has 8 points.

Third Quarter 91-60

Garbage time comes early in Toronto – really before the half. The Jazz were just too beat up and too tired to compete in their fourth road game in 5 nights.

Fourth Quarter 115-91

Pizza Pizza will have to honor the Raptors food promotion for the first time this season. Acy hits the three, 100-62 Raptors with 10:07 left to play in the fourth quarter.

Game Stats

The Raptors were led by Tyler Hansbrough off the bench with 23 points and 7 rebounds. Hansbrough got to the free throw line 13 times. DeRozan had 18 points in 24 minutes. Valanciunas had 14 points and Gay had 11. Johnson led the Raptors with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. Lowry left the game early after tweaking an ankle, but Coach Casey didn’t make the injury sound too serious in his post game press conference.

The Raptors shot 48.2 percent from the field and out rebounded the Jazz 40-37.

The Jazz were led by Hayward with 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Favors had 17 points and 7 rebounds and Alec Burks came off the bench to score 17 points.

The Jazz shot 44.2 percent from the field which is a marked improvement over what happened in Chicago the night before even if the final score turned out to be just as embarrassing.

Jazz return home to play Denver Monday, New Orleans Wednesday and San Antonio on Friday.

Raptors are on the road versus Houston on Monday and Memphis on Wednesday. They return home to play Chicago Friday and Portland on Sunday.

Be sure to check out our Raptors Box Score and Pregame Report. Yes Pro Bball Report saw this result coming.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Raptors (2-4) vs Jazz (0-6): Pregame Report

There may be no team in the NBA more beatable than the Utah Jazz on Saturday. Playing their fourth road game in 5 nights after having been crushed by the Bulls 97-73 on Friday, the winless 0-6 Jazz have no business expecting to come out of Toronto with a win. The Raptors are coming off their own tough 91-84 road loss to Indiana on Friday, but their 4 games in 5 nights included 2 games at home. Who made up the schedules for these 2 teams anyway?

So far this season, the Jazz can’t score points and they haven’t been able to stop their opponents from scoring either. The Jazz are losing by an average of 11 points per game. Their field goal percentage is atrocious at below 41 percent, but when the record is 0-6, there is really no need to pile on. This young team certainly didn’t need a 4 game 5 night road trip to the Eastern Conference this early in the season.

Gordon Hayward is leading the team in scoring followed by Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Derrick Favors is averaging a double-double. Richard Jefferson, Jamaal Tinsley and former Raptor John Lucas III provide some veteran experience to this very young rotation.

Of course this team has also been hit by injuries. Rookie point guard Trey Burke has a sprained finger and has yet to play a game, but the team should get some idea of his availability by Monday. Andris Biedrins, Jeremy Evans and Marvin Williams are out with various other injuries.

The reality is, when the rookie Burke gets back, a very young rotation will get even younger. This team really is on the ‘Winless For Wiggins’ bandwagon.

While Toronto won 2 early games, in their own current 4 game 5 night adventure, the Raptors have dropped the first 3 games and can’t afford to let this one get away.

The Raptors had been in their games and are only scoring 2 points less than their opposition on average. The team has not been shooting as well as expected, but not so bad as to the level the Jazz has fallen to and the Raptors can play a decent level of defense.

Toronto is led in scoring by Rudy Gay, who had 30 points against the Pacers on Friday, followed by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. The Raptors are not as young as the Jazz. In the starting lineup, only Jonas Valanciunas has less than 4 years of NBA experience.

However, in the Raptors 4 losses, their two top scorers just can’t seem to both play well at the same time.

Against the Hawks, DeRozan scored 31 points, but Gay shot 3-10 for 13 points.
Against the HEAT, DeRozan scored 21 points, but Gay shot 6-23 for 14 points.
Against the Bobcats, Gay scored 20 points, but DeRozan shot 5-16 for 14 points.
Against the Pacers, Gay scored 30 points, but DeRozan shot 2-15 for 6 points.

Toronto lost those 4 games by an average of 6.3 points.

Last season, Toronto lost in triple overtime to the Jazz at home 140-133 and were blown out on the road 131-99. However, that team featured Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, a healthy Marvin Williams and won 43 games. This year’s Jazz team is not expected to do nearly so well.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Ranking The Worst Teams In The NBA

As NBA teams rush towards the start of training camp in about two weeks, certain teams have already made it obvious that ping pong balls in the Draft Lottery will be more important than wins.  Other teams may not be ready to admit it, but it seems fairly obvious they will be joining the battle for the best possible draft pick next June as well.  After all, this may be the most impressive draft class since LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade went in the top five back in 2003.

Our top five teams in the East are the Bulls, HEAT, Nets, Pacers and Knicks and our top five in the West are the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets and Warriors.   Our playoff hopefuls of Pistons, Raptors, Hawks, Wizards, Bucks and Cavaliers in the East and Grizzlies, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Trail Blazers and Pelicans in the West are going to fight it out for the last three playoff spots in their respective conferences and no one in these groups should be expected to obviously tank the season until after their record says this isn’t going to be their year.

Some of the lottery bound teams have just too much talent to reach the bottom while others have been taking steps to ensure they’ll have a chance to compete for dead last.  However, it is organizations that decide to tank and even on really bad teams, the players still want to win.  There are no guarantees that a team’s best laid plans will work in either direction.

 

Too Good To Reach The Bottom

8. Boston Celtics – 41-40 last season, projected 33-49

Boston didn’t have to let Head Coach Doc Rivers out of his contract and trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett if they were going to take steps to ensure a return to the playoffs this season.  The Nets believe Pierce and Garnett make their team a contender and the Nets are right.  However, the Big Three era in Boston was over.  Point guard Rajon Rondo will miss the start of the season and probably a lot more before his rehab is done.  This team will likely be relying on rookie point guard Phil Pressey and a rookie center Kelly Olynyk.  There is little value to the Celtics in watching Boston’s veterans get minutes ahead of Jordan Crawford or MarShon Brooks.  It shouldn’t even surprise anyone if rookie Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani gets minutes ahead of Kris Humphries.

Boston is rebuilding and they have done nothing to hide that fact.  Their new rookie Head Coach Brad Stevens received a long term deal so he wouldn’t have the pressure of trying to win straight away.  The organization has collected six first round draft picks to use or trade over the next three years.  No one should expect the Celtics to be rebuilding for long, but they are rebuilding this season.

The Celtics have too much talent to reach for the bottom, but they can ensure themselves of a top 8 draft pick in June without overt tanking and that is a strategy this organization will be comfortable with.

7. Sacramento Kings – 28-54 last season, projected 32-50

The Kings made some nice additions this summer.  Rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore is an uber-athlete with amazing hops, long reach and three-point shooting range.  Greivis Vasquez is a big point guard with decent scoring ability and a willingness to pass the ball.  Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a solid defender at either forward spot.  However, these positive changes are not going to change anyone’s opinion about the Kings this season.

Center DeMarcus Cousins is the player that could move this team from the lottery to playoff contender and everyone is waiting for him to grow up and do it.  While that is probably not a fair expectation this season, if Cousins finds his maturity and McLemore is as good a rookie as his natural gifts suggest, this might be the last season the Kings can be left out of the playoff conversation for a while.

6. Los Angeles Lakers – 45-37 last season, projected 29-53

The Lakers only made the playoffs last season on a herculean effort from Kobe Bryant to drag a talented dysfunctional team kicking and screaming out of the lottery where their play suggested they deserved to be.  Videos of Bryant running on an anti-gravity treadmill in August only serve as a stark reminder that last year’s savior is not going to be there on opening night October 29th against the Clippers.  Unfortunately, Bryant’s Achilles tendon rehab program isn’t the only question mark on the Lakers’ season.

Pau Gasol is still in Spain rehabbing his knees after having surgery and stem cell injections in May and another big concern is the surgically-repaired plantar fascia tear in his right foot from last season.  Maybe Gasol will be fully recovered for the start of the year and maybe he can get through this season without missing too many games, but at 33-years-old, seeing will be believing.  One could choose to ignore that the 39-year-old Steve Nash has been nursing a bad back for years, but at the end of July, the point guard was still dealing with nerve issues resulting from last season’s fibula fracture.  How well Nash can perform this season is anyone’s guess.

Dwight Howard is gone and for all the complaints, he still led the NBA in rebounding last season and was second on the Lakers in scoring.  Metta World Peace was amnestied and the Lakers best defensive player after Howard was also fifth in scoring.  One would be hard pressed to say any of the off season additions have made the Lakers a better team than last year.

If Bryant comes back early and plays like he did at the end of last season and Gasol and Nash are healthy enough to perform at a high level, then this team will be in the playoffs.  It would take a lot of nerve or purple and gold colored glasses to predict that was going to be the case.

5. Charlotte Bobcats – 21-61 last season, projected 28-54

It was a surprise when the Bobcats signed free agent center Al Jefferson to a 3-year $40.5 million deal, after two seasons of beyond bad, targeting dead last in the NBA had become expected.  This team will at least be more fun to watch this season.

A starting lineup of Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson only averages 23-years-old and while there is plenty of firepower, it will be matched by mistakes at the other end.  This team is still under development, but with the veteran Jefferson to anchor center and put up a few more points, the development process should become a lot more positive and the light at the end of the tunnel will no longer be assumed to be an oncoming train.

The Battle For Last

4. Utah Jazz -43-39 last season, projected 26-56

When the Jazz let Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye leave, took back a boat load of salaries no one wanted for 5 future draft picks, and added two 2013 first round draft picks to this season’s roster, the message was clear.  The Jazz were tired of mediocrity and the rebuild was on.

It was time to see what Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks could do in starting roles and if the rookie Trey Burke could be this team’s point guard of the future, but everything the Jazz did this summer was about the future and wins are going to be tough to come by.

Even if this implausibly young starting lineup exceeds all expectations, this team has almost no depth and will suffer immeasurably if any starter is missing games, but developing this core and adding another top draft pick next season is absolutely the right way to go.

3. Orlando Magic – 20-62 last season, projected 25-57

The Magic have done an exceptionally good job of rebuilding out of the ashes of their Dwightmare.  Just Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson remain from the team that went to the 2009 NBA Finals and 2010 Eastern Conference Finals with Dwight Howard and neither player’s contract is guaranteed past this season.

Last season Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson showed they were part of the future and the second overall 2013 draft pick Victor Oladipo is a potential future All-Star guard.  The rebuilding isn’t done and another high draft pick in 2014 is definitely in the plans, but the Magic are on the right path.  They just might have trouble winning the race to bottom with the young talent they have already collected, but maybe not?

2. Phoenix Suns – 25-57 last season, projected 20-62

The Suns didn’t win a lot of games last season and based on the moves they made this summer, that number is going to drop.  The Suns traded veteran wing Jared Dudley for Eric Bledsoe and flipped Caron Butler for a pair of young prospects from the Bucks.  Luis Scola was traded for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a protected 2014 first round draft pick.  Then the team ended the Michael Beasley experiment.

While Bledsoe is a great asset to pick up, the Suns already have a starting point guard in Goran Dragic and this series of moves alone should help the team compete for dead last.  The clincher was replacing 12-year veteran head coach Alvin Gentry with the rookie Jeff Hornacek.  The coaching move was not unexpected and Hornacek could prove to be the right choice, but as a rookie coach in a tough situation, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him to add any wins to the record this season.  The Suns gave Hornacek a 4-year deal in recognition of the work ahead.

The Suns have some nice young assets on this roster and a few valuable veterans that could be moved before the trade deadline.  New Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough should be busy this season.

1.  Philadelphia 76ers – 34-48 last season, projected 18-64

76ers fans have a facebook page called Winless For Wiggins that references the team’s 1972-1973 season where the 76ers lost 20 games in a row and won a total of just 9.  It is hard not to believe that the goal in Philadephia this season is very different.

 

Of course no team can go winless for an entire season, but the Bobcats did keep their win total to 7 games two years ago, even though that was taking tanking to an unnecessary extreme.  Last place is achievable with double-digit victories.

Veteran Head Coach Doug Collins got this team to overachieve for two of his three seasons in Philadelphia, but he has been replaced by rookie Head Coach Brett Brown who received a 4-year deal.  Everyone knows this rebuild is going to take time.

This roster is young, suspect and ideal for tanking.  Veteran Jason Richardson is unlikely to play this season after knee surgery.  The team dumped All-Star Andre Iguodala for nothing but wishing and hoping last summer and traded All-Star Jrue Holiday for the injured 2013 sixth overall draft pick Nerlens Noel.  The 19-year-old Noel is considered to be a future building block player, but the emphasis on the word future can’t be strong enough.

Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams will be leading this team that still features Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and a cast of suspects.  However, this cast couldn’t hold their season together with Collins coaching and Holiday running the show.  An almost Winless For Wiggins season might just be in the cards.

Risks and Obstacles

The race to the bottom is not an easy one to win.  Your own players are not going to cooperate.  However, by stripping out key players and coaches and then emphasizing the rookies and developing young players, it is possible to make a strong push for last overall.  With all the talent available in the 2014 NBA Draft, a lot of teams will have ping pong balls on the brain around All-Star weekend and this year’s race has the potential to get pretty ugly in the second half.

Who do you think finishes in the bottom 3 in the NBA?  Which one of these teams out tanks the others to win the most ping pong balls?  Can any of these teams be a playoff contender this season?  Let us know in the comments below.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre.  A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.  You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

Five NBA Centers To Watch

Center is traditionally the toughest position in the NBA to fill and teams almost always provide these unusual big men second, third or even fourth chances if need be. This year isn’t any different. Teams have placed their hopes on centers returning from injury and young players hoping to break out, once again giving us a lot of choices to watch this year.

Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers

Just like a car crash on the highway, Andrew Bynum is a center that everyone plays attention to even if he never steps on the court. Bynum is often labeled as the second best center in the NBA today, with the caveat – when he’s healthy.

Good health and Bynum are not terms that have been synonymous over his 8 years in the NBA as the big man has only played in all 82 games once. Last year he missed the entire season with knee problems and he required multiple injections of Synvisc-One to supplement the joint fluid in knees to play in 60 games the season before.   In March, Bynum had dual arthroscopic knee surgeries which explains why the Cavaliers wanted to be able to void the rest his contract on January 10, 2014 if necessary.

Bynum could be the missing piece to a Cavaliers playoff appearance this season, but so could Anderson Varejao if Bynum can’t play or maybe even sophomore Tyler Zeller if both of these veterans aren’t available. It will be worth watching no matter what the outcome.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

The hype surrounding the Pistons Andre Drummond has been building to astounding levels this summer as the rookie center averaged 11.1 points on 67.1 percent shooting, 8.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks over his final 10 games of last season. He followed that up with a very strong summer league performance and some encouraging signs with his summer workout regime. About the only hole in his game has been his appalling free throw shooting.

The issue with Drummond in college was suspect effort and coachability, but that hasn’t been a concern in the NBA. The issue last season was a stress fracture in his fifth lumbar vertebrae that cost him most of February and March. Drummond has answered his critics concerns about his college career, now he’ll need to prove his durability. If he can avoid injury, Drummond is a young center everyone will be watching for a long time.

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

The Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in March, Jonas Valanciunas averaged 11.4 points on 62 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks that month, but unlike Drummond, Valanciunas can hit his free throws and averaged 82.2 percent from the line in March. With more minutes in April, Valanciunas bumped his scoring to 14.9 points per game and the strong play followed him to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas where he was named the MVP.

Valanciunas is in Lithuania with his National Team for the rest of the summer. In his first 7 games with Lithuania, he has averaged 15.1 points on 70.2 percent shooting, 9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and he has been to the free throw line an average of 8.6 times in just 20 minutes per game. His inside play has been dominant at both ends of the court.

Expectations are high for Valanciunas. He has looked noticeably bigger and more aggressive at Summer League and in Lithuania than he did at the end of the NBA regular season and Head Coach Dwane Casey plans on running much of the Raptors half-court offense through him this year.

Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

Andrew Bogut had become a forgotten man as he struggled to overcome his various injuries in Golden State. Bogut had only played in 44 games over the past two seasons and this former double-double machine could only produce at a fraction of what the Warriors where hoping for when they acquired him in March 2012. However, in the playoffs, Bogut came through as a huge defensive force blocking 1.5 shots per game and corralling 30.1 percent of the available defensive boards while he was on the court.

Bogut’s troublesome ankle now appears to be fine and he is on an expiring contract this season, so it’s possible the Warriors try to move him before the trade deadline. However, a healthy Bogut could move this team from pretenders to legitimate Western Conference Finals contenders this season.

Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz

In his second NBA season, Enes Kanter looked like he was ready to start and in the 2 starts he did get, he averaged 20.5 points and 15 rebounds. Al Jefferson is in Charlotte and no one is standing in Kanter’s way now.

Kanter dislocated his shoulder in March and had surgery that caused him to miss NBA Summer League, but that doesn’t seem like much of a concern. The big man from Switzerland averaged 16.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes as a sophomore last year and it looked like he could have held up those averages if he was given the playing time.

The Jazz let their veteran big men go so Kanter and Derrick Favors could take over. Both of these young big men have tremendous upside.

Honorable Mention

It will also be interesting to watch Canadian rookie Kelly Olynyk get his chance to start for the Celtics, whether the Kings DeMarcus Cousins has matured enough to become a superstar player and Greg Oden isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season in Miami, but when/if he is, everyone will want to watch. Sure, we will be watching Dwight Howard as well, but we kind of know what to expect.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

Five NBA Power Forwards To Watch

There have been a number of power forwards impacted by all of the player movement in the NBA this summer. Teams have made their move to compete now or in the future and results are far from certain. At the very least, these changes will be fun to follow and there are a number of power forwards to watch this season.

Andrea Bargnani, New York Knicks

Over his past few seasons, Andrea Bargnani has suffered through multiple calf injuries and elbow tendon injuries and he has only played in 66 games over the past two years. This once 20 point per game stretch-four/five had the worst shooting season of his career last year and many Toronto fans were more than ready to help him pack his bags for New York.

Bargnani’s injuries could easily be attributed to bad luck and shouldn’t be reoccurring, however, the big man couldn’t catch a break this summer as he came down with a respiratory tract infection that cost him all of August and will force him to miss 2013 Eurobasket in September. His conditioning for the Knicks training camp in October is at risk as is some much needed work to rebuild his shooting stroke.

Bargnani is supposed to be the most durable of the Knicks power forwards and while he should be fully recovered in time for the season, the Knicks need a healthy Bargnani to offset the risks associated with relying on Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin. A fresh start in New York could mean a rejuvenated Bargnani who has a big year, but Knicks fans are not likely to cut the big man much slack if he gets off to a slow start no matter what his excuses are.

Omer Asik, Houston Rockets

Everyone in Houston was ecstatic about the Rockets acquisition of All-Star center Dwight Howard this summer, everyone that is except Rockets center Omer Asik. Asik started 82 games at center for Houston last year and averaged a double-double 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds. When Howard was signed, his request to be traded was flatly rejected. It seems the Rockets plan is to play both Howard and Asik together.

Asik isn’t a power forward and suggestions that Howard might shift over to accommodate Asik don’t ring true either, so this creates one of the most interesting power forward situations in the NBA this season.

Asik makes too much and has played too well to just back up Howard. Neither player likes to take a shot more than 5 feet away from the basket, so maybe this is more like a trade watch than anything else, but it will be interesting to see Head Coach Kevin McHale try to make this situation work.

Tyler Hansbrough, Toronto Raptors

Stuck behind All-Star David West in Indiana, Tyler Hansbrough was restricted to showing what he could do in short minutes over the past two seasons and he had little chance of receiving much credit for his accomplishments. This rough and tumble energy guy known for his disruptive play, rebounding and defense shouldn’t be overlooked for his offense.

Hansbrough puts so much pressure on defenders in the paint that he was 5th in the NBA for free throw attempts per minute played last season. This ability to get to the free throw line has allowed Hansbrough to score over 16 points per 36 minutes during his NBA career despite a suspect jump shot.

An ability to draw fouls is a valuable skill, but Hansbrough is often perceived as a player that fouls too much himself. Perceptions can be misleading, however, as Hansbrough has averaged only 4 personal fouls per 36 minutes played in each of the last two seasons. For comparison, that foul rate is considerably lower than fellow Raptors power forward Amir Johnson career average of 5.5.

Hansbrough is a Dwane Casey type of competitor and he is going to get his chance to prove he can keep up the impressive per 36 minute numbers he had with the Pacers as a big minute rotation player in Toronto this season.

Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz

Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are gone and there is literally no one left to take minutes away from Derrick Favors on the Jazz roster this season. Previously restricted to under 24 minutes per game, Favors showed all the signs of becoming a dominant power forward who could average better than 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per games as a starter during the past two years in Utah. The only thing that appeared to be stopping this 22-year-old big man was the veterans eating up minutes ahead of him. Now he is going to get his chance.

Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers

There are not a lot of reasons to watch the 76ers this season and forward Thaddeus Young may be the only bright spot to look at as this team attempts to go winless for Wiggins.

It has seemed someone has always been in Young’s way in Philadelphia and this combo forward was bounced in and out of the starting lineup and between small forward and power forward depending team needs. However, heading into this season with a roster in disarray, the best offensive player the 76ers have left should finally see some stability in how he is used. This team, quite frankly, doesn’t really have anyone else to go to for scoring.

Young doesn’t have a three-point shot, but inside of 20 feet, he is a very effective and athletic scorer and the 76ers will have little choice but to let him put up 15-20 shots a night. It isn’t going to help them win any more games, but Young could have a 20 point 10 rebound season because there isn’t anyone to take the stats away from him.

Honorable Mention

It will also be interesting to watch how Paul Millsap deals with being Josh Smith’s replacement in Atlanta, whether Thomas Robinson can live up to his draft status on his third team in less than a year and if Pau Gasol has anything left in the tank after last season’s foot problems.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

Welcome To NBA Tank Nation

Wiggins presser2The 2014 NBA Draft is one the most anticipated drafts since the Cavaliers took LeBron James in 2003. There are just as many potential superstars available next June. This draft is so enticing that some NBA fan pages are actually promoting going winless next season just to have a chance at a game changing player like Andrew Wiggins – 76ersWinlessFor Wiggins.

The usual suspects expected to tank for Wiggins include Orlando, Charlotte, Phoenix and New Orleans, although there is still time to change their minds and both Charlotte and New Orleans are doing things that will add wins next season. These teams have been overtly joined by Utah, Philadelphia and possibly by the “I think thou dost protest too loudly” Boston Celtics. After Friday’s announcement by Dwight Howard that he’s taking his talents to the great income tax free state of Texas, the Lakers may soon be on this list as well. It’s not too late to join this exclusive club for other NBA franchises and you can believe there are fans of certain teams that are wondering why their club isn’t on board yet.

Reasons for tanking the 2013-2014 season extend beyond the unusually deep and franchise changing draft next summer. July 2014 could see a jaw dropping list of available free agents if certain players opt out of their contracts. It will still be impressive if just the players on expiring deals are there.

Just some of the best players who can decide if they would like to be free agents next summer include:
ETO – early termination option, PO – player option

LeBron James – ETO
Dwyane Wade – ETO
Carmelo Anthony – ETO
Chris Bosh – ETO
Zach Randolph -PO
Rudy Gay – PO
Tim Duncan –PO
Amar’e Stoudemire – ETO
Andrea Bargnani – ETO

Some of the notable players on expiring contracts this season are:

Kobe Bryant
Paul Pierce
Dirk Nowitski
Luol Deng
Paul Gasol
Andrew Bogut
Danny Granger
Ray Allen
Vince Carter
Marcin Gortat
Shawn Marion
Emeka Okafor
Caron Butler
Metta World Peace

Just to tease some teams, there could be some pretty impressive restricted free agents available as well:

DeMarcus Cousins
Paul George
John Wall
Greg Monroe
Derrick Favors
Avery Bradley
Lance Stephenson
Eric Bledsoe
Evan Turner
Larry Sanders
Ekpe Udoh

These lists do not represent every free agent expected to be available in July 2014, that list would just keep going and going and going. Hoopsworld keeps a reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date list of all the possible 2014 NBA free agents. If there ever was a year to clear salary cap space, this is it and those teams that can combine the ability to land a franchise changing rookie with one or more franchise players could be setup for a long run of success.

The teams best set up to go WinLessForWiggins and attack free agency next summer include:

Charlotte Bobcats – ready to go.

Orlando Magic – setup up to do both.

Utah Jazz – joined Tank Nation and cleared the decks for next summer.

Philadelphia 76ers – just need to dump a little more talent and they are there.

Phoenix Suns – ready, but could use a salary dump.

New Orleans Pelicans – recent moves may have taken them out of this race.

Dallas Mavericks – have the potential to join the club.

Detroit Pistons – would find it easy to get on board.

Los Angeles Lakers – tweak the roster and tell Kobe to rehab next season and they can do it too.

Boston Celtics – did half the job, hired a college coach and just need to finish the work they started.

Toronto Raptors – would need to dump a couple of key players to have a shot at tanking.

Sacramento Kings – may not do it on purpose, but wouldn’t find it hard to join.

Washington Wizards – have the potential, but probably too good to tank.

Milwaukee Bucks – will probably have trouble with the tanking aspect.

Should your team go WinlessForWiggins and create salary cap space for the 2014 free agent class? Let us know in the comments below and tell us how you feel about NBA teams joining Tank Nation.

Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre since 2009. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.