What player is key to every NBA franchise for the 2012-2013 season? Which 15 NBA players could beat LeBron James 1-on-1?
The Single Most Important Player On Every NBA Team
With the 2012-13 NBA pre-season underway, there are many and interesting storylines and angles that will keep even the most casual hoops fan intrigued.
Thanks to an off-season that would see the likes of Jeremy Lin, Andre Igudoula, Joe Johnson, Andrew Bynum, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard switch teams, expectations for teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers are raised even higher.
While the 2011-12 season would see LeBron James win his first-ever NBA title, the off-season additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis down in South Beach still make the defending champion Miami Heat the team to beat—and universally hate.
That being said, with the start of the start of the regular season about two weeks away, this slideshow will examine the single most important player on every team.
Various teams have either a quality big man, explosive swingman or a floor general of a point guard, each team has something that another doesn’t have.
Whichever team has the best point guard, best center or best player in the league can—and will be debated—well into June when either a new champion is crowned or the Heat successfully defend their crown.
While some players such as Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams are easy to name as their teams most important player, other players such as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jonas Valanciunas can make the case that they are the future of their respective franchises such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors respectively
Without further adieu, here are the single most important players for each NBA team.
Atlanta Hawks : SF Josh Smith
Perhaps one of the most underrated players in the NBA, Atlanta Hawks small forward, Josh Smith is one the cusp of being an elite player. Smith, 26, would post career bests in points per game (18.8), assists (3.9) and rebounds (9.6)
The 6’9, 225-pound Smith would also average a team-best 1.7 blocks per game.
With ex-teammate Joe Johnson now with the Brooklyn Nets, look for the eight-year veteran to take on more of a leadership role down in Atlanta and emerge into the real leader of the Hawks in 2012-13.
Boston Celtics : PG Rajon Rondo
A wily and slick ball-handler in the mold of former great, Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo may be the the best pure point guard in the NBA not named Chris Paul.
While many critics choose to point out Rondo’s 44.8 percent shooting from the field, there is no denying that with his ability to run an offense, pass and penetrate, Rondo is one of the most unique players in the NBA.
In averaging career highs in points per game (11.9), assists, (11.7) and rebounds (4.8), it was Rondo’s breakout 44-point, 10 assist performance against the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat, that truly put the former Kentucky standout on the NBA map of top-tier point guards.
With former teammate, Ray Allen defecting to the hated Heat, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce another year older, Boston is now truly Rondo’s team.
Brooklyn Nets : PG Deron Williams
Williams, who is often debated with Paul as to who the best true point guard is in the NBA, would lead the Nets in points per game (21.0) and assists (8.7).
After coming close to leaving the Nets for his hometown Dallas Mavericks, Williams would see Brooklyn acquire shooting guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks and re-sign power forward Kris Humphries, giving Brooklyn a legitimate contender.
With Williams running the point in Brooklyn, expect the Nets to not only contend in the East, but for the crown of best team in New York City.
Charlotte Bobcats : SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
A surprise pick by the Charlotte Bobcats, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looks to be the future face of the Bobcats.
Selected second overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, the former Kentucky standout appears to have injected the moribound franchise with a sense of leadership and much-needed athleticism on the wing.
With a revamped lineup that features off-season acquisitions such as veteransRamon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood, expect Kidd-Gilchrist to blossom in the “Queen City”
Chicago Bulls : PG Derrick Rose
If there is any ONE player that could be the thesis of this column, it would be the 2010-11 Most Valuable Player in Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose.
Rose, who would tear his right ACL in a 99-87 playoff victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, would end up missing the rest of the post-season and sit helplessly as the Sixers would upset the top-seeded Bulls.
Currently rehabbing at Athletes Performance out in Los Angeles, Rose is expected to out 8-to-12 months.
With his timetable of return unexpected, former NBA player Tim Hardaway suggested that Rose sit out the entire 2012-13 season instead of risking his career and re-aggravating his injury.
While he or may not decide to sit out the entire 2012-13 season, the absence of Rose shows his value as a player.
Cleveland Cavaliers : PG Kyrie Irving
Fully healed after a off-season right hand injury, Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving is the key to Cleveland emerging into a contender in 2012-13.
The 2011-12 NBA Rookie Of the Year, Irving would lead all rookies in scoring (18.5) and help Cleveland move forward post-Lebron.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers hope to take the next step, look for Irving to be more of a leader and facilitate the offense, which featured free-agent swingman, C.J. Miles, small forward Alonzo Gee, second-year power forward Tristan Thompson and Brazilian center Anderson Varejao.
With rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller expected to contribute form the bench, look for Irving to once again lead the Wine and Gold, and for the Cavaliers to take another step towards becoming a legitimate contender in the East.
Dallas Mavericks : PF Dirk Nowitzki
Perhaps the best European player to ever play in the NBA, Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki has enough offensive firepower to help lead the Mavericks back to the NBA Finals.
The 34-year-old German national led the Mavericks in scoring (21.7) in the 2011-12 regular season, now faces a new challenge in trying to lead a veteran team that would see the likes of Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom leave in free agency.
The key for the Mavericks will be how well they mesh with new teammates such as O.J. Mayo and fellow German center,Chris Kaman.
If Nowitzki is able to replicate his 2010-11 NBA Finals MVP form, look for Dallas to be a contender in the Western Conference once again in 2012-13.
Denver Nuggets : SF/SG Andre Igudoula
Acquired in a four-team blockbuster trade that would send Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers and Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets swingman Andre Igudoula may be one of the most talented and under-appreciated superstars in the NBA today.
A reserve for the United States gold medal basketball team in London, Igudoula is the key reason why many have named the Nuggets one of the top contenders in the Western Conference.
Still young at the age of 28, the 6’6 209-pound former Arizona standout gives the Nuggets athleticism, defense and the ability to attack the rim, Igudoula and the Nuggets are going to be one of the teams to keep an eye on in 2012-13.
Detroit Pistons : PF/C Greg Monroe
Thanks to the selection of former UConn center Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons power forward Greg Monroe may be set for a All-Star like breakout season in 2012-13.
The second-year former Georgetown Hoya would post career highs in points per game (15.4), assists (2.3) and rebounds (9.7), tops on the team.
Monroe would also lead the Pistons in steals with 1.3
With the addition of Drummond along with the veteran presence of small forward Tayshaun Prince and shooting guard Rodney Stuckey, look for Monroe to have another solid year in the Motor City
Golden State Warriors : PG Stephen Curry
If he can find a way to stay healthy.
The third-year player out of Davidson, would miss 40 games due to an ankle injury in 2010-11.
Since being drafted seventh overall by the Warriors has missed a total of 50 games, after missing a total of ten games in his first two NBA seasons.
If Curry to find a way to avoid the injury bug in 2012-13, Golden State will be a dangerous sleeper in the top-heavy West.
Houston Rockets : PG Jeremy Lin
Perhaps the most over-hyped and most marketed athlete in recent memory,Jeremy Lin would parlay playing on the biggest stage in hoops--Madison Square Garden--into a rich multi-year deal by touching down with the Houston Rockets.
The former undrafted free agent from Harvard would go from benchwarmer to overnight sensation and in the process generate media buzz—aptly named “Lin-sanity”—not seen in the Big Apple that has not been seen at MSG since the days of Walt Frazier.
A restricted free agent, New York would decline to match the Rockets offer for the popular point guard due to a provision that would call for the Knicks to play an estimated $15 million luxury tax in the third year of the deal.
Lin would end up signing with Houston—who originally waived him—to a three-year $25.5 million deal.
Back in Houston now, Lin will be counted on to run Houston’s offense as well as provide leadership for a young team that has young talent in Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons and talented rookies in Terrance Jones, Jeremy Lamb and Royce White.
With Lin in the Lone State State, watch for the Rockets to take off in 2012-13.
Indiana Pacers : C Roy Hibbert
With all due respect to Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, but at 7’2 and 280 pounds, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert maybe the best big man in the NBA.
The fourth-year big man out of Georgetown has helped continue the tradition of dominant Hoya centers in the NBA, following in the footsteps of Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo.
Hibbert would take his game to another level in helping lead the underdog Pacers to a near upset of the eventual champion Miami Heat by averaging 12.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
For the 2011-12 regular season, Hibbert averaged a career best 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
If Hibbert can continue to dominate in the paint for the Pacers, Indiana could very well give any team in the east more than they can handle.
Los Angeles Clippers : PG Chris Paul
While many may try to argue that Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams is the best pure point guard in the NBA, Los Angeles Clippers point guard, Chris Paul has more than a legitimate claim to the title.
Paul, who would be acquired by the Clippers from the New Orleans Hornets, firmly established himself as the best point guard in Los Angeles, and in the NBA in helping lead the Clippers from perennial laughing-stock to bonafide contender.
Paul, 27, would average 19.8 points, 9.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds in helping the Clippers become relevant again in the Southern California sports scene.
With a full year in Los Angeles, and a fully healed Chauncey Billups in the backcourt beside him, look for Paul to lead the Clippers deep into the postseason.
Los Angeles Lakers : C Dwight Howard
While it may have be the obvious choice to have “The Black Mamba” in this slot, the recent acquisition of Dwight Howard and the defensive presence he gives the Los Angeles Lakers, makes him more important—not valuable—than Kobe Bryant in this case.
The six-time All Star and three-time NBA Defensive Player Of the Year, the 6’11, 265-pound Howard gives the Lakers some much needed defensive help in the post.
While some may say that former center Andrew Bynum is a better offensive player, Howard is more vital in head coach Mike Brown’s defensive-minded system.
Before going down with a back injury in 2011-12 while a member of the Orlando Magic, Howard would average 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
In Los Angeles, Howard will be counted on to guard the paint and improve the Lakers otherwise-shoddy defense down low. If—and when—he comes back fully healthy, watch for the Lakers to come out of the West.
Memphis Grizzlies : C Marc Gasol
Gasol, 27, would post career highs in points per game (14.6), assists (8.9) and blocks (1.9) in helping lead the Grizzlies to a playoff berth 2011-12.
If the Grizzlies hope to return to the playoffs in 2012-13, Look for the younger Gasol to once again lead the way.
Miami Heat : SF LeBron James
What else can be said about this generation’s most polarizing sports figure, in winning his first title, Miami Heat small forward LeBron James would finally be able to silence his many critics and enter the discussion of one of the all-time best NBA players.
The three-time NBA Most Valuable Player, James would have the 2011-12 season—his second in Miami—in averaging 27.1 points, 6.2 assists and 7.9 rebounds and a 2012 NBA Finals MVP.
Now with a revamped roster that features sharpshooters in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, there is a very good chance that James will have a legitimate chance of winning his second NBA title in June.
Milwaukee Bucks : PG Brandon Jennings
For all the talk of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose, Jennings may be the best point guard that few talk about.
The third-year point guard out of Italy would post career highs in points per game (19.1) and assists (5.5).
Truly one of the best young point guards today, the 6’1, 169-pound Jennings is a sleeper that may very well wake up and take the NBA by storm in 2012-13.
Minnesota Timberwolves : PG Ricky Rubio
While it may be easy to put power forward Kevin Love as Minnesota’s most important player, with the NBA being a point-guard driven league, Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio is the more logical choice.
Another factor is Love inking a four-year $60 million deal with a opt-out clause in his third year, which makes the possibility of him leaving The Twin Cities in 2015 very possible, the main reason why the most important player at this time is Rubio, instead of the gold-medal champion from UCLA.
Rubio, who would be drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009 in the first round from Spain, would come over to the Wolves from Spanish club, F.C. Barcelona and average 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds in his first NBA season in 2010-11.
With early reports that his recovery from a torn ACL and LCL last spring are on schedule for a December return, Love will have to shoulder the offensive load in the post.
Once Rubio is fully healed and healthy, look for the Wolves to emerge as a dangerous sleeper out West.
New Orleans Hornets : C Anthony Davis
The top overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft out of Kentucky, center Anthony Davis, figures to the be the cornerstone of a young—yet dangerous—New Orleans Hornets team that features one of the best backcourts in Eric Gordon and fellow rookie Austin Rivers.
While Davis is still a rookie, he will be counted on to be the face of a franchise that would see Chris Paul leave via trade and center Chris Kaman leave via free agency.
With the off-season pickup of center Robin Lopez from the Phoenix Suns, Davis will have a quality backup and the Hornets will have some much needed depth down low.
In Davis, New Orleans finally has a foundation to build around and a much-need defensive upgrade as well.
New York Knicks : SF Carmelo Anthony
Often overlooked as a MVP candidate, thanks to his stellar performance for Team USA in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony has the perfect platform to enter the 2012-13 discussion for MVP.
While Lebron James and Kevin Durant are considered to be early favorites, Anthony practically willed the Knicks into the playoffs in averaging 29.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in April.
While the Knicks would eventually lose to the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat four games to one, Anthony would average 27.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in the series.
If Anthony can replicate his late-season and Olympic form in 2012-13, not only will the Knicks contend again in the East, but Anthony may claim his first MVP award.
Oklahoma City Thunder : SF Kevin Durant
The youngest scoring champion in NBA history, Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant may be the most gifted player—not named Lebron James—in the league today.
Durant, who would help lead the former Seattle SuperSonics to their third NBA Finals appearance, would fall short to James’ Heat in five games.
With a team loaded with playmakers in Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, it is Durant who is the undisputed leader in OKC.
With an off-season to refocus and bulking up, do not be surprised to see Durant and the Thunder back in the NBA Finals once again.
Orlando Magic : PG Jameer Nelson
Thanks to the departure of former big man in center Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, the onus falls on eight-year veteran point guard Jammer Nelson to become the new leader down in the Magic Kingdom.
The 30-year-old out of St Joseph’s, Nelson is now in charge of running an offense that no longer goes thru Howard on the block, and will focus more on a perimeter-oriented game reliant on outside shooting.
Yes, while Orlando will still shoot the three-pointer, the Magic’s offense will now run thru Nelson with the new main scoring options being Glen Davis on the block and Hedo Turkoglu on the wing.
With the loss of Howard and shift in offensive strategy, look for Nelson to emerge into a real floor general.
Philadelphia 76ers : C Andrew Bynum
In Philadelphia, you have a team that has young talent in the form of Spencer Hawes. Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and newly-acquired shooting guard—who would come over with Bynum—in Jason Richardson.
A gifted offensive player in the post, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010-11.
If Bynum an find a way to avoid the injury bug and play up to his full potential, Philadelphia could make for a very dangerous team in the East.
Phoenix Suns : PG Goran Dragic
A two-time member of the Phoenix Suns from 2008-10 and 2010-2011, point guard Yugoslavian-born Goran Dragic has the unenviable task of replacing local icon in Steve Nash.
Dragic, who would play for the Houston Rockets in 2011-12, averaged a career best in points (11.7), assists (5.3) and rebounds (2.5) in 66 games for the Rockets.
Dragic would ink a four-year $34 million contract as a unrestricted free agent in the offseason in returning to the “Valley Of The Sun”
In Phoenix, he will be expected to lead a team that would see veterans Grant Hill and Robin Lopez leave in free agency, sign Luis Scola, Jermaine O’Neal and Michael Beasley.
In making these moves, Phoenix hopes that it makes Dragic’s job in Phoenix of following in Nash's footsteps much easier.
Portland Trail Blazers : PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Perhaps the most overlooked All-Star caliber player in the NBA, it should be a travesty of how Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge practically goes unnoticed.
The former Texas Longhorn averaged career highs in points(21.7), assists (2.4) and rebounds (8.0) for the Trail Blazers in 2010-11.
For all of his great play and physical ability, the fact that Aldridge was perhaps the most noticeable All-Star snub in last year’s All-Star game, speaks volumes, not only of his play, but the voting process and fan selection as a whole.
Fully motivated and with a young electric point guard in rookie Damian Lillard, look for Aldridge to break through in 2012-13.
Sacramento Kings : SG Marcus Thornton
The third-year power shooting guard out of LSU, Thornton would average career highs in points (18.7), assists (1.9) and rebounds (3.7) in 2011-12. Alongside point guard Isaiah Thomas, Thornton helps form one of the most explosive backcourts in the NBA, as well as one of the most dangerous.
If the Kings are to take the next step in becoming a contender, look for Thornton to develop a more defined leadership role in 2012-13.
San Antonio Spurs : PG Tony Parker
Once considered to be a second fiddle to power forward Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs have become Tony Parker’s team.
One of the fastest and fleetest of all point guards in the NBA, the 30-year-old Frenchman averaged career highs in points (18.3) and assists (7.7)
The 11-year veteran, who was once considered a candidate of 2010-11 NBA MVP, would average 21.5 points during the Spurs playoff run before bowing out to the eventual Western Conference champion, Oklahoma City Thunder.
Thanks to a uncanny ability to pass, shoot and dribble, Parker is the engine in the Spurs machine.
Toronto Raptors : C Jonas Valanciunas
At 6’11 and 240 pounds, Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has the physical tools to play in the NBA, the question that remains is that does he have the mental capacity to adjust to a faster more physical NBA game.
Valanciunas, who would be bought of his contract for Lithuanian club, Lieutuvos Rytas by the Raptors would score two points and two blocks in his NBA debut.
Still young at the age of 20, Valancuinas has the ability to grow and develop into a quality big man, as he has shown an innate ability to block and run out on transition on the open floor.
If Valanciunas can reach his full potential, he has the ability to become the best Toronto center since Chris Bosh.
Utah Jazz : PG Mo Williams
A explosive point guard with a shooting mentality, Utah Jazz point guard Mo Williams shows that you can go home again.
Drafted in the second round in the 2003 NBA Draft out of Alabama, Williams would play for with the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers before being re-acquired via trade by the Jazz.
In 52 games with the Clippers, Williams would average 13.2 points, 3.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds before being dealt back to Utah.
Now back in Salt Lake City, Williams will be counted out to orchestrate an offense that has some talent in it in the form of Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Marvin Williams.
Not afraid to shoot the ball, look for Williams to be more of a distributor and set up open teammates more in 2012-13.
Washington Wizards : PG John Wall
Out a projected eight weeks with a knee injury, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall value only increases as they will have to find a way to survive with the likes of A.J. Price and Shelvin Mack running head coach Randy Pittman’s high tempo up-and-down offense.
Wall, who was expected to from perhaps the most explosive backcourt in the NBA alongside rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal, must now watch helplessly from the bench.
When Wall does return, and depending on where they are in the standings, look for the Wizards to make a run for the post-season in 2012-13.
Conclusion : Point Guards Dominate In the NBA Today.
To conclude, the single most important player in the NBA today is the point guard itself, as evidenced by the 14 point guards highlighted in this slideshow column.
With the league increasingly becoming point-guard driven, the existence of a dominant seven-foot center is almost mute and counter-productive.
While there are talented playmakers such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony, thanks to the development of today’s point guard as an on-the-court coach, point guards are the present and future of the league, just as centers such as Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajawon and Shaquille O’Neal dominated the game.
Make no mistake, swingmen, power forwards and cetners are far from obsolete, but look at it this way:
Which one position handles the ball, passes and distributes on offense the most? the NBA point guard of today, that’s who.
With that being said, with point guards such as Rondo, Rose, Paul and Williams, there is a reason why many more guards will become the single most important player in the NBA.
If fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers did not know what to expect from newly acquired swingman C.J. Miles, his performance in a 97-80 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks may have erased all doubt. Miles, who would get the starting nod at shooting guard over rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters, signed as a free agent formerly of [...]
If first impressions mean anything, it looks like the Cleveland Cavaliers have a dynamic backcourt in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters that will give opposing teams fits for years to come. The Wine squad led by Irving and Waiters looked solid in a 54-44 loss to the Gold Squad led by Omri Casspi and C.J. [...]
Projected Starting Lineup And Record In 2012-13
With the Cleveland Cavaliers set to open their season on October 30th against the Washington Wizards, thanks to a solid draft highlighted by Tyler Zeller, Dion Waiters and free agent pickups such as C.J. Miles from the Utah Jazz, the Cavaliers have a chance to make some noise in what will be a tightly contested race for a playoff spot in the East.
Cleveland, who would finish with a 21-45 record, look to take the next step towards relevance and respect in being competitive and even a possible sleeper in 2012-13.
With the departures of Antwan Jamison, Anthony Parker and Ramon Sessions, Cleveland will now look to young players such as Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee to fill the leadership void.
Going into training camp, there are questions that need to be answered ranging from whether or not Irving will emerge into the next great young point guard to when Anderson Varejao will be moved by the All-Star break, if the Cavs are out of contention by that point.
With injuries to Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and John Wall of the Washington Wizards, Cleveland has a chance to take advantage early and make a strong run towards the post-season.
This slideshow will cover the Cavs’ projected starting line-up that they will most likely use during the 2012-13 season, and also a projected record based on opponents, injuries and other variables.
With that in mind, let’s go!
PG: Kyrie Irving
One of the smoothest ball-handlers in the NBA, the former Duke product has added five pounds of muscle to his 6’3, 192-pound frame to better handle the physical beatings he will endure in his second full season.
Irving, who would lead all rookies in points per game (18.5) en route to winning the 2011-12 NBA Rookie Of The Year Award.
For the Cavaliers to take the next step into contention, Irving will not only have to replicate his brilliant rookie season, but will also have to shoulder more of the leadership role, as he will be the un-disputed floor general in Byron Scott’s offense.
If Irving can find a way to avoid the injury bug and stay healthy, he will establish himself as one of the top five point guards not only in the East, but in the entire NBA.
Projected Stats : 22.4 points per game, 7.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
Projected Depth : Jeremy Pargo, Donald Sloan, Kevin Anderson
SG: Dion Waiters
A slashing, attacking shooting guard in the Dwyane Wade-type of mold, rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters may end up being Cleveland’s version of Oklahoma City Thunder sixth man, James Harden.
Waiters averaged 12.6 points off the bench for the Syracuse Orange in 24.1 minutes, looks to be the high-energy attacking “yang” to Irving’s smooth and polished “yin” in Cleveland’s backcourt.
Early reports out of training camp are that the slimmed down Waiters is not only better than advertised in the 2012 NBA Draft, but has the makings to be a legitimate threat on the wing next to Irving that can help solidify the Cavs backcourt for the next decade.
A streaky shooter at times, Waiters biggest strength is his ability to “rise to the top” and finish at the rim at will.
Something that Cleveland has not had since the days of Ron Harper and LeBron James, a player that can drive and finish at the rim like Waiters will prove to be a refreshing sight in Cleveland.
Projected Stats : 13.1 points per game, 4.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals
Projected Depth : Daniel Gibson, Kelenna Azubuike
SF: Alonzo Gee
Once a former D-League standout, the 6’6 219-pound small forward from Alabama would hit the jackpot in the off-season by inking a three-year $9.8 million deal and staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gee, 25, averaged a career-best 10.6 points, 1.8 assists and 5.1 assists and 29.0 minutes in 31 starts for the Wine and Gold.
In re-signing with Cleveland, the Cavaliers have a plethora at small forward in free-agent signee, C.J. Miles, Luke Walton, Omri Casspi and veteran journeyman Kelenna Azubuike.
Projected as the starter at the three, Gee’s strong asset his his versatility in being able to play either at guard or small forward and his ability to shot from long distance as he would make 32.1 percent from three-point range, and shot 41.2 percent from the field.
Projected Stats : 13.9 points per game, 3.8 assists, 5.7 rebounds
Projected Depth : C.J. Miles, Omri Casspi, Luke Walton
PF: Tristan Thompson
The former fourth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft out of Texas, the Canadian-born Tristan Thompson figures to be a big factor in how far the Cavaliers go in 2012-13.
In 60 games, the 6’9, 227-pound Thompson averaged 8.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks.
Currently projected as the starting power forward ahead of Samardo Samuels and Jon Leuer, Thompson has reportedly added 10-15 pounds of muscle and has been working on a mid-range jumper in the off-season, in a effort to expand his offensive game.
If Thompson is able to improve on his shooting from the field (43.9 percent) and free-throw shooting (55.2 percent) Thompson could be primed for a breakout year.
Projected Stats : 12.1 points per game, 10.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 blocks
Projected Depth : Samardo Samuels, Jon Leuer, Kevin Jones
C: Anderson Varejao
Known as “The Wild Thing” amongst Cavalier fans, Anderson Varejao is a local fan favorite thanks to his high energy, hustle and flair on the basketball court.
Staying on that court is a entirely different matter for the star-crossed Brazilian center.
Since the 2010-11 NBA season, Varejao has played in a combined 56 games and would miss over 40 games with a broken right wrist injury in 2011-12 season.
Before his injury, the 6’11, 260-pound Varejao was having a All-Star worthy season in posting 14 double-doubles and averaging 12.6 points and 11.6 rebounds.
Fully healed, Varejao looks ready to pick up where he left off so abruptly last year and establish himself as one of the best big men in the NBA.
Projected Stats : 14.8 points per game, 11.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 blocks
Projected Depth : Tyler Zeller, Michael Eric, Luke Harangody
Conclusion : Expect Cavs to Contend For 8th Seed
Based on the their off-season pickups and early projected lineup, Cleveland will compete in the East in 2012-13 and challenge for a playoff seed.
Miles, Gee, Leuer and rookie power forward Kevin Jones look to be sleepers and real steals as they will add quality depth to a young team such as Cleveland.
Bench players such as Samuels, Eric, Zeller will provide solid depth at center behind Varejao. Veterans such as Walton and Gibson will provide solid leadership and a steady hand as they have experience in playing in the post-season and NBA Finals.
One thing that many pundits are overlooking is the fact that head coach Byron Scott has helped develop point guards such as Chris Paul in New Orleans and worked with Jason Kidd in New Jersey.
In addition to winning three titles with the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers, has also guided another team to the NBA Finals, as he would lead the New Jersey—now Brooklyn Nets—to two NBA Finals appearances in 2001-02 and 2002-03 against the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
That being said, look for Scott to help mold Irving into the next great young point guard in 2012-13 and thanks to a combination of solid drafting and free-agency moves, look for Cleveland to sneak into the playoffs as a eighth seed.
Projected Record : 42-40 (8th in the East)
With training camp underway, the sight of a fully healed Kyrie Irving and slimmer Dion Waiters has led many to think that both players may give the Cleveland Cavaliers the best young backcourt in the NBA. Irving, who averaged 18.5 points and would win the 2011-12 NBA Rookie Of The Year award, is fully [...]
A fully healed Kyrie Irving, slimmed down Dion Waiters and a revitalized Anderson Varejao were three of the main observations noticed at the Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day. Irving, who is fully recovered from a broken bone in his hand sustained during a Team USA training camp in Las Vegas, is fully fit and has [...]
Five Teams To Keep An Eye On In The Eastern Conference.
With the start of the NBA season three weeks away, there are various teams who—through a combination of free-agency and the 2012 NBA Draft—may make the leap from doormat to contender.
Teams in the Eastern Conference such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers would make marquee acquisitions such as Joe Johnson, Andrew Bynum and Marquis Daniels.
While the Bucks, Sixers and Nets are expected to contend in the East. The five sleeper candidates featured in this slideshow have a combination of youth, talent, hunger and will most likely be under the radar for a majority of the season.
The term “sleeper” has various connations depending on how it is used, while these five teams may—or may not—contend for a playoff seed in the East, due to their upgrades made in the off-season, do not be surprised if these prospective teams have a say in who comes out of the Eastern Conference in 2012-13.
Another element that each team has is a quality backcourt—and/or—a front court that has potential to be both dominant and disruptive, while they may—or may not—be able to match up every night with the “big dogs” of the East in Miami, Brooklyn, Philadelphia or Boston, these teams also possess veteran players who will be able to guide these teams to a playoff birth.
One last trait that these sleepers possess is veteran coaches, with two of the teams having coaches that have taken teams to the NBA Finals. Teams with veteran coaches—and young talent—have the potential to be very dangerous if taken lightly, especially over a 82-game season.
With that in mind, here are the five sleepers to watch in the NBA’s Eastern Conference in 2012-13.
Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45, 4th in the Central)
Cleveland, who would lose veterans in Antwan Jamieson and Ramon Sessions in both free agency and trade, would draft talent on the wing in shooting guard Dion Waiters fourth overall out of Syracuse and trade for the rights to former North Carolina center, Tyler Zeller.
In addition to addressing the wing and front court, the Cavs would add interior depth in claiming Jon Leuer off waivers, sign rookie power forward Kevin Jones, sign free agent swingman C.J. Miles, and provide depth behind Kyrie Irving in Jeremy Pargo.
Led by former “Showtime” point guard and NBA champion, Byron Scott, look for the Cavs to get out on transition more in 2012-13 and with a promising frontcourt of second-year power forward Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee and Brazilian center Anderson Varejao, do not be shocked if the “Wine And Gold” battle for the eighth seed in the East right down to the last day.
Toronto Raptors (23-43, 4th in the Atlantic)
Thanks to the off-season acquisitions of Landry Fields, Kyle Lowry, and the selection of former University Of Washington shooting guard, Terence Ross, the Raptors—along with the fore-mentioned Cavaliers—have a legitimate shot of contending for a playoff spot in the East.
Toronto, who would land Fields form the New York Knicks and Lowry from the Houston Rockets, add to a well-coached high-flying and athletic roster that contains DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.
Perhaps the biggest x-factor for Toronto is a player who did not even play last season : Jona Valanciunas
Valanciunas, who would be drafted fifth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft out of Lithuania, had to wait one year before joining the Raptors due to his contract with Lithuanian basketball club, BC Lietuvos Rytas.
During his time with Rytas, Valanciunas would win various honors such as Lithuania Basketball Player Of The Year, FIBA European Young Player Of The Year and Eurocup Rising Star as he would average 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Valanciunas would also shot 63.4 percent from the field in helping lead Rytas to a third place finish in the Lithuanian Basketball League.
If Valancuinas’ Euro game translates well to the NBA, look for the Raptors to be a very dangerous opponent.
Washington Wizards (20-46, 4th in the Southeast)
If there is any team amongst this list that may have the best starting five at each position, it is the Wizards.
The Wizards—in my opinion—have the best backcourt in point guard John Wall and rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal out of Florida.
Washington also boasts the best frontcourt, which is a combination of veteran grit and championship pedigree in Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
The Wizards depth is probably their biggest strength—and will be tested in Wall’s absences—as they have quality talent in Chris Singleton, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Jan Vesely.
Wall, who will be out for eight weeks due to a patella injury, will most likely go with a backcourt of Crawford and Beal.
Once Wall returns, the potentially deadly backcourt duo of him alongside Beal and Washington’s underrated—yet dominant—front court, will enable the Wizards to challenge for the sixth seed.
Detroit Pistons (25-41, 4th in the Central)
While not as talented as Washington, Toronto and Cleveland, The Detroit Pistons, thanks to the off-season pickups of Corey Maggette, Vyachelsav Kravstov and the solid drafting of Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English, Detroit may be the very definition of “sleeper”
The Pistons have both veteran leadership in Charlie Villanueva, Tayshaun Prince and a veteran coach in Lawrence Frank, who has taken teams to the NBA Finals—much like Cleveland’s Scott.
The key to whether or not the Pistons will make a run in the East is Drummond and whether or not he pans out by living up to his his draft slot or becomes the second coming Hasheem Thabeet.
Blessed with a deep bench that includes Austin Daye, Will Bynum, Jason Maxiell along with Middleton, Villanueva, Kravtsov, Singler and English.
It would be wise to not sleep on the Pistons.
Charlotte Bobcats (7-59, 5th in the Southeast)
Before reading, I am sure that if you have made it to this slide, you are wondering, “How in the heck are the Bobcats a sleeper?” right?
That is a very good question and to answer that, let me first say that last year is last year, and that while the Bobcats would set a NBA record for worst winning percentage (.106), 2011-12 looks much brighter for Charlotte.
In looking at the projected starting lineup for the Bobcats, one can see hope and potential, while this may not translate into wins or a playoff birth, The Bobcats have—perhaps—one of the most underrated backcourts in the NBA in Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon.
Charlotte also boasts a—very—underrated front line that has size, strength and athleticism in second year power forward Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood and No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Consider this : Last years team used 29 different lineups. The most common had :
PG : D.J. Augustin
SG : Gerald Henderson
C : Bismack Biyombo
PF : Tyrus Thomas
SF : Corey Maggette
With head coach Paul Silas being fired and former St John’s assistant Mike Dunlap named new head coach, word out of Charlotte is that Kidd-Gilchrist is already asserting his dominance and new players such as Gordon, Sessions, Haywood and Desagana Diop are making their presence felt.
Based on this and their off-season additions, the Bobcats lineup should look something like this:
PG : Ramon Sessions
SG : Ben Gordon
C : Brendan Haywood
SF : Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
With these new players and coach, Charlotte may make the best case for addition thru subtraction.
One must also consider that with that with the exception of the defending NBA champion, Miami Heat, Joe Johnson going to the Brooklyn Nets and Dwight Howard going to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Southeast Division is perhaps the most wide open division in the NBA.
A team as young and as hungry to redeem itself after a seven win season as the Bobcats makes for a deadly opponent.
While it may be easy to dismiss and snicker at the notion of the Bobcats being a sleeper, Charlotte may not contend for a playoff sport in 2012-13, but if teams are not careful and overlook them as a “easy W”, it could be the Bobcats getting the last laugh in the win column.
Robert D. Cobb is the NBA Network Manager for Rant Media Network, Featured Writer of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Featured Columnist for the Cleveland Browns and Arsenal Gunners.
In addition to covering the NBA, I also cover MLB, NFL, NHL and Champions League soccer news, rumors and opinions, please follow me on Twitter at @RobertCobb_76
Can The Cavs Contend In The East?
With training camp a little over two weeks away, the Cleveland Cavaliers have questions on that need to be answered.
Cleveland, who would finish last in the Central Division with a record of 21-45, would draft shooting guard Dion Waiters fourth overall out of Syracuse in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Cleveland would acquire former North Carolina center Tyler Zeller and veteran swingman Kellenna Azubuike from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for their 24th, 33rd and 34th picks.
The Cavs would sign free agent shooting guard/small forward C.J. Miles formerly of the Utah Jazz, land former Milwaukee Bucks center/power forward Jon Leuer via waivers and rookie free agents in center Michael Eric and power forward Kevin Jones.
While some pundits have the Cavs as a sleeper team that may sneak into the final eighth seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, I respectfully disagree due to the lack of a quality wing player who can complement point guard Kyrie Irving.
I could be wrong—and hopefully so—as the Cavs are on the right track in terms of building a solid playoff contender, but due to the additions of Bradley Beal alongside John Wall for the Washington Wizards, Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry for the Toronto Raptors and Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee, Cleveland is realistically another year away from contention.
That being said, here are the top five questions heading into training camp for the Wine and Gold.
Will Kyrie Irving Emerge Into One Of the NBA’s Best Young Point Guards?
The reigning 2011-12 NBA Rookie of The Year, Irving has a chance to really take his game to the next level in 2012-13, due to the additions of Miles and Waiters on the wing.
Irving, who would lead all rookies in scoring at 18.5 points per game is reportedly fully healed from slapping his hand against an unpadded wall during a Team USA practice and is fully expect to be healthy and ready to go in training camp.
If Irving can duplicate his impressive rookie campaign—and stay fully healthy—in 12-13, look for the Cavs to be a sleeper in the East.
Will PF Tristan Thompson Breakout?
Thompson, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft from Texas, is being counted on for some very big things for the Wine and Gold in 2012-13.
The 6’9, 227-pound second-year power forward/center, selected fourth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft out of Texas, averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 60 games for the Cavaliers.
With former starting forward Antawn Jamison now with the Los Angeles Lakers, there is no reason why Thompson can improve upon his rookie numbers.
Projected as the new starter at the four, the Toronto-born Thompson may lack Jamison’s shooting and offense, but compensates with raw talent and a knack for being a high-motor defender with a knack for shot-blocking.
If Thompson can improve upon his 55.2 percent free-throw shooting and his mind-range shot, Thompson could be a future All-Star in the making.
Is C.J. Miles A Good Fit?
During the off-season, the Cavaliers would sign free-agent swingman, C.J. Miles to a two-year deal and provide both the Cavs with a wing player that can hopefully take some of the scoring load away from Irving.
Miles, 25, would averaged 9.1 points, 1.2 assists, 2.1 rebounds in 20.4 minutes for the Utah Jazz.
Miles would shoot 38.1 percent from the field, 30.7 percent from three-point range and 79.4 percent from the free-throw line in 20.4 minutes during the 2011-12 season.
What Miles’ role in Cleveland is yet to be determined, as he will either start at shooting guard over Waiters and six year veteran, Daniel Gibson or depth at the small forward spot behind Alonzo Gee and Omri Casspi, Miles’ athleticism appear to be a good fit for head coach Byron Scott’s up-tempo style.
If Miles can replicate his 2010-11 campaign in which he would average 12.8 points, 1.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds, this could be one of the best under-the-radar steals in free agency.
Is C Anderson Varejao Trade Bait?
One of the NBA’s top rebounders and “energy” guys, the very-popular—and fan favorite—Brazilian center Anderson Varejao is a player on the verge of All-Star status.
Varejao, 28, averaged a double-double in 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds in 35 games before missing the 2011-12 season with a hand injury.
In the last two years, Varejao has played in 56 games and miss 92 total games due to injury.
If the Cavaliers are out of contention after the All-Star break and a contender needs to add depth and hustle to their bench, do not be surprised if Varejao’s name is mentioned, as the Cavaliers have made it a recent habit of making moves.
Dion Waiters : Is He The Next Dwayne Wade?
When you are mentioned in the same breath as two-time NBA champion and NBA Finals MVP in shooting guard Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, you must be special.
In the case of Waiters, Cavs fans are hoping that Waiter’s game –at the very minimum—touches that proverbial ceiling.
Waiters, 20, would be selected fourth overall out of Syracuse. At Syracuse, Waiters averaged 12.6 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds and would shoot 47.6 percent from the field, 36.3 percent from three-point range and 72.9 percent from the free-throw line.
At 6’4 and 220, Waiters is an aggressive, slashing guard who can create his own shot and has exceptional body control. Like Wade, Waiters is a pure athlete on the open floor as he loves to attack the rim, and is an exceptional ball handler.
While many Cavaliers fans were stunned by the selection of Waiters—considering the fact that he was the sixth man at Syracuse—the pick of Waiters is another example of how Cleveland is following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s blueprint of building a contender through the draft.
Oklahoma City would select Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the first round of the NBA Draft from 2007 thru 2009.
If Waiters does pan out, he can thank Harden in making Cleveland’s pick easier. If not, the selection of Waiters will go down be one of the most head-scratching and maligned draft picks in Cavaliers history.
Robert D. Cobb is the NBA Network Manager for Rant Media Network, Featured Writer of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Featured Columnist for the Cleveland Browns and Arsenal Gunners. In addition to covering the NBA, I also cover MLB, NFL, NHL and Champions League soccer news, rumors and opinions, please follow me on Twitter at @RobertCobb_76
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