10 Players to watch next year

Published: March 8, 2011

Looks like Hornets fans werent the only ones who recongnized Thorton’s potential


We’re getting to the stretch run and pretty soon all of our focus will be on the main players on the contending teams, as playoff positioning and award races dominate the conversation.


Before we hit that point, we have time to look at some players toiling in relative obscurity who could make a major impact next season. I’m not talking about the John Walls and DeMarcus Cousinses of the league. I mean players who are relative unknown but have started to turn the corner for what are in most cases lesser teams.


I call this my All-2012 team, first because I’m trying to stay optimistic that there will be an actual season next season but mostly because what these players are doing right now is a harbinger (there’s that word again) of potentially greater productivity a year from now. All of these guys are young, only one or two are well-known and most of them don’t even start, but each has played well enough of late to raise my expectations for their respective futures.


So, my All-2012 team:





Tyler Hansbrough, Pacers
Hansbrough did virtually nothing the first two months and briefly fell out of the Pacers’ rotation entirely, but lately his play has been more encouraging.

One thing new Indiana coach Frank Vogel did was give Hansbrough a consistent role, playing him about half the game off the bench at power forward. That strategy has allowed Hansbrough to play more freely on offense, and he’s averaging nearly a point every two minutes on the season and proving adept at drawing fouls. But to be a long-term starter, he needs to raise his shooting percentage from 43.0 percent.





Christian Eyenga, Cavaliers
This is more a subjective call than a stats-based one, but “Skyenga” can fly and needs to only add experience to become, at the very least, a quality defensive player. He didn’t see any game action until January but has taken over the starting small forward role.

While his offensive game is a work in progress, his quickness and elevation defensively put him in stark contrast to most of his teammates. Eyenga’s dunks get the attention right now, but it’s his defensive potential that bodes best for his future.





Paul George, Pacers
If there is one reason to watch the Pacers this year, it’s this guy. While the Griffin-Wall-Cousins rookie trio still hogs all the attention, it’s become increasingly clear that George was flat-out stolen at No. 10 by Indiana. A long, silky finisher who looks as if he could easily ramp up to the go-to scorer role, George is shooting 56.7 percent on 2-pointers.

His main shortcoming has been that he has taken a ton of 3-pointers and struggles to make them. That talent should develop in time, as his shooting stroke looks solid, and if it does the 20-year-old will be nigh unguardable.





Chase Budinger, Rockets
Budinger’s season stats don’t look too different from his numbers from last season, but that disguises how he’s done it. He looked horrible early in the season but has blown up in recent weeks.


With the trade of Shane Battier, Budinger has taken on a much larger role and been a huge factor in the Rockets’ recent 7-1 surge back into playoff contention. Dropping 17.3 points per game in the stretch while playing as something of a Kevin Martin clone — combining 3-pointers with a high free throw rate, much like his hyper-efficient teammate — Budinger has moved his small forward-of-the-future status into the present.





Gerald Henderson, Bobcats
Larry Brown thought Henderson’s offensive shortcomings were too severe to play him, but since Paul Silas has taken over as coach, Henderson has shown he can score enough to stay on the court for his impressive defense.


Henderson doesn’t space the floor (only two 3-pointers all season), and that’s a problem, but he still contributes somewhat as a finisher in transition and in the half court. Last night’s 20-point game against the Clippers was his third in the past eight games. At that rate, he can play a major role as a defensive ace.





J.J. Hickson, Cavaliers
Probably the most encouraging development in a mostly lost season in Cleveland has been the turnaround by Hickson over the past two months. Early in the year, he was barely playable as a low-efficiency robot in the post and an indifferent rebounder at best. Since New Year’s Day, however, a new, more energetic Hickson has emerged.


He has pulled down more than four offensive boards a game since the start of the year, with salutary effects on his free throw opportunities and shooting percentage. Overall, he’s averaging double-figure rebounds in that stretch. While he’s still likely better off in the long term as a 4, rather than as an undersized 5, he is only 22 and has shown Cleveland’s earlier faith in him was not misplaced.





Marcus Thornton, Kings
I don’t know if his future will be with the Kings — Tyreke Evans plays the same position in much the same way and Thornton is a restricted free agent this summer — but he’s established that he has a future someplace.


Buried on the Hornets’ bench despite high production as a rookie and in his rare stints this season, Thornton is averaging 20.3 points per game in his six games with Sacramento. He’s scoring a point every two minutes for his career, something very few players can say, especially ones who are still clawing for playing time. Next season, he should become a hugely effective sixth man.





Toney Douglas, Knicks
Apparently the “defense-optional” memo New York sends everybody never reached Douglas. On a team full of marginal defenders, Douglas’ ferocious D stands out even more, and his role is increasing now with 34-year-old Chauncey Billups unlikely to bear the insane minutes load that Raymond Felton did.


He’s not a natural point guard and he’s a bit small for the 2, but at either spot he guards like crazy (witness the Orlando game last week, when Chris Duhon could barely get the ball across half court against him). Additionally, the Melo trade may benefit him by allowing him to play off the ball and spot up for 3s more, something he does quite well. He already has three 20-point games since the trade and he had only four such games before the trade.





Austin Daye, Pistons
Daye’s recent uptick hasn’t been quite as extreme as that of some other players on this list, but the 22-year-old Detroit forward has nonetheless shown he’s turning the corner. With Tayshaun Prince and Tracy McGrady likely moving on next season, the small forward job appears it will be Daye’s for the taking, and he seems ready to nab it.


He’s earned more minutes as the season has progressed and taken advantage, averaging double figures since the start of February. His frame has filled out a bit, so he’s not quite as freakishly skinny and he can make more stands defensively.


Offensively, meanwhile, his combo of length and shooting ability means he can be effective spotting up or playing over the top of smaller wings.





Rodrigue Beaubois, Mavericks
He’s back and he’s as bouncy as ever, posting back-to-back double-figure games over the weekend, despite playing only 15 minutes in each. The Mavs have even moved him into the starting lineup, something I’d hoped they would have done a year ago.


Still, the backcourt is crowded in Dallas, meaning Beaubois is likely to make a bigger impact next season than this spring, during which his stints are likely to be of the 15- to 20-minute variety. One can’t blame the Mavs — Jason Terry and J.J. Barea are playing great and they can have only so many small guards on the court at once — but Beaubois is the current Mavs’ player most capable of providing a star complement to Dirk Nowitzki a year from now.


Sadly no Hornets


Taken from ESPN by John Hollinger

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.