Last week I gave you my thoughts eight players who need to be better than they were last season. Today I present to you six more, but in a bit of a different context. Last Friday’s post, which included players such as Jimmer Fredette, Tyreke Evans, and Lance Stephenson, emphasized necessary improvement in a pretty individualistic sense. I included a lot of guys who really need to pick it up for the sake of their respective careers, not so much for the sake of their teams. This post will focus more on players whose individual improvement figures to be crucial in the development of notable teams AND careers (with one obvious exception that belongs in the first post).
Andrew Bynum: During what would become his farewell tour with the Lakers, Andrew Bynum was able to participate 91 percent of the time (and that includes the first four games of the season, from which he was suspended). In addition to his health, career-best efforts in scoring and rebounding helped Bynum earn second team All-NBA honors and make his first All-Star appearance. Posting averages close to 19 points and 12 rebounds, the 24-year-old was often pretty dominant. In April, he grabbed 30 rebounds against Tim Duncan and the Spurs, and in the Lakers’ playoff opener he posted a triple-double. For the most part, he was outstanding.
For the most part. In the latter stages of the season, Bynum’s focus seemed to waver. In March, he launched an ill-advised three-pointer during the third quarter of a close game against the Golden State Warriors. Immediately benched by coach Mike Brown, Bynum laughed it up on the sideline before refusing to participate in team huddles for the remainder of the evening. He was fined by the team for his actions. In the first round of the playoffs, Bynum’s attitude came into question once again. After having called closeout games “kind of easy,” Bynum and the Lakers lost two straight contests to the Nuggets, causing their series with Denver to drag on for seven games. The Lakers still advanced, but Bynum’s impact lessened. You may recall the game in which he was vastly outplayed by JaVale McGee, and his struggles against Oklahoma City (he made fewer than half of his shots in the second round).
Now, Bynum is expected to lead the Philadelphia 76ers. Except he’s injured again, and his lack of a haircut comes across less a tribute to Julius Erving and more a tribute to not giving a f@ck. With no more Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol to pick up the slack, his approach must change. A repeat of last season, All-Star appearance and all, will no longer be enough.
DeAndre Jordan: He may have blocked a shot or two, but DeAndre Jordan was hardly the defensive presence the Clippers had hoped he’d become last season. While a lack of understanding and discipline can be attributed to his struggles, too much of the problem was rooted in his work ethic. Reggie Evans simply played with more vigor than Jordan, and that’s not acceptable. This preseason, Jordan has shown signs of a turnaround. He’s grabbing rebounds at an impressive rate of over 9 per game, swatting shots all over the place, and he’s even scoring in double figures. His confidence on the right block has been a huge surprise… he’s actually connected on over 57% of his non-dunk shots, a true testament to the improvement of his touch and refinement of his jump hook. Even still, the frequent touches in the post probably won’t carry over into November, so DJ needs to embrace his role and focus on the defensive end. Having allowed the aforementioned Evans to sign with the Nets, the Clippers are really depending on him this year.
Paul George: Since he came into the league two seasons ago, Paul George has steadily gotten better. He showed promise as a rookie, averaging about 8 points, 4 rebounds, and a steal in 20 minutes per game. In his second season, George saw a significant increase in both minutes and shot attempts. He delivered improved numbers across the board as he displayed a reliable three-point shot and moved into the top 10 in steals. Having proven himself a contributor at both ends of the floor, the Pacers will now look for George to blossom into a multifaceted force of borderline All-star caliber. I believe the Pacers have soured on Danny Granger a little bit; his involvement has been trending downward since George was drafted, and a significant improvement from George could be his ticket out of town. This would ultimately land George in his natural small forward position, which would free up the two spot for Gerald Green (it’s comical to consider how ridiculous all of this would’ve seemed in 2010).
Ed Davis: In ’11/12, his second NBA season, Ed Davis played, scored, and rebounded less than he had as a rookie. Having been selected in the lottery and placed into a rebuilding situation, his slow development has disappointed Raptor fans. There are minutes to be had in the front court, so why isn’t Ed Davis taking them?
That was last year. This year, Jonas Valanciunas has been added into the mix, making it all the more crucial for Ed Davis to prove his worth right damn now. If he’s unable to do so, Davis could be headed for free agency without the proper statistics with which to make an expensive case.
Amare Stoudemire: STAT has three more years left at max money. He will be paid in full whether his play warrants it or not. Still, having been given the choice, I think he’d rather help the Knicks get back on the right track than become involved in yet another expensive New York failure. Stoudemire is likely going to miss the first few weeks of the season, so there will be not a moment to waste once he’s made his return. Anything short of a top-four finish and second-round appearance will sorely disappoint starving Knickerbocker loyals.
Raymond Felton: I’d probably give Raymond Felton a stronger endorsement than your average NBA enthusiast. That’s not to say I consider him an All-Star, but it is to say that I consider his dreadful stint with the Blazers an anomaly. Felton himself will tell you he was out of shape while in Portland, and I think he’s ready to be his old self in ’12/13. He needs to be in order to dodge the scrutiny associated with being Jeremy Lin’s successor (and also, more importantly, to help the Knicks win some games).