One player to watch for each NBA team
With the NBA season underway and each team still believing they have a shot, let’s look
at one key player to watch this year for each squad.
Atlanta Hawks: Taurean Prince, SF
Entering his third year, Prince is looking to build off a solid sophomore campaign that saw him put up 14.1 PPG, 2.5 APG and 4.7 RPG. He has all the makings to become a top-half wing in the league, combining wiry athleticism with great shooting ability. With a more talented team building around him, Prince should (and already has) experience a blossoming in his third season.
Brooklyn Nets: Jarrett Allen, C
It’s hard to pick just one from this Nets team, but Allen became the first player since Tim Duncan in 2003 to register a double-double and four blocks in each of his first two games of the season. He made highlights last year for some amazing blocks, but his rapid growth on the offensive end has people thinking he could develop into a franchise center.
Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward, SF
After making his first All-Star team in 2016, Hayward missed all of 2017 with that horrific ankle injury. A healthy and productive season from him would give Boston a full squad of stars and easily push them into the top seed in the East.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker, PG The only star on a middling Charlotte team, Walker is entering his contract year and looking to get paid. He has the ability to explode at any time and drag his team to a victory, and without any real improvements around him it will be more of the same this season. Should he perform, he’s in for a big payday.
Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen, PF
I know he’s out for awhile, but this guy is too good to ignore. He came into the Draft as a Porzingis-lookalike, and his first season confirmed that perception. Now, after putting on some muscle and having a great training camp, it’s time for Markkanen to step into a leadership role for this talented young Bulls team.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Rodney Hood, SG
After developing into a scoring machine in Utah, Hood was forced to take a back seat to LeBron James in Cleveland after being trade mid-last season. Now with James out of the picture, Hood can slide back into his scoring role, popping off screens for threes and using his handles to find his shot in the midrange. Add in that extra craftiness that all southpaws seem to have and a decimated roster and you get a special player itching to put up 20 a game.
Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, PF
C’mon. The guy’s the most talented EuroLeague player ever to come across The Pond and he’s teaming up with a young, athletic squad in Dallas. He and Dennis Smith Jr. should complement each other perfectly, and Doncic’s passing ability will keep DeAndre Jordan on posters everywhere.
Denver Nuggets: Paul Millsap, PF
After signing the big contract with Denver a year ago, Millsap was limited to 38 games this past season due to injuries so this year will (hopefully) be his first full one in a Nuggets uniform. Millsap, while undersized, is a do-it-all power forward with All-Star ability, something Denver has been looking for. With him healthy, these mountain men could make a strong push in the West.
Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson, PG Jackson has always had the talent, but his leadership and drive have come into question more often than not, as has his health. With a developing Detroit squad that features the scariest frontcourt in the league and ever-improving wings, it’s time for Jackson to step up and lead this team to the Playoffs.
Golden State Warriors: Damian Jones, C
With Boogie Cousins out at least until December (according to reports), the recent G-League graduate will have to hold down the fort at center. The knock on Jones has always been his bulk (he is listed at 7 foot, 245 pounds) but the early season has seen him hold his own on the blocks. If Jones can provide rebounding ability and some alley-oops on the other end, the Warriors will be just fine.
Houston Rockets: James Ennis, SF With Carmelo Anthony seemingly stuck in the power forward position for the remainder of his career, it’s up to Ennis to replace to invaluable Trevor Ariza. Without offense or defense at the small forward position for the Rockets, Ennis will have to do it all (or at least stay out of the way of James Harden and Chris Paul).
Indiana Pacers: Tyreke Evans, SG
I think I know who’s gonna win Sixth Man of the Year. Evans has been a stat-sheet stuffer his entire career, and though he will see the court slightly less this season, he’ll be playing as the head of the Pacers’ second unit. Pairing with Domantas Sabonis has been a win so far, and with all the talent Evans has you have to believe he’s only going to improve as the season progresses.
Los Angeles Clippers: Shai Gilgeous Alexander, PG
Patrick Beverly is starting for now, but don’t be surprised if Gilgeous Alexander takes over the starting PG role soon. He’s one of the most talented rookies from this year’s class, and he’s already shown he can play at the NBA level with solid performances in tandem with his benchmates in L.A. Gilgeous Alexander has a bright future as the point guard for the Clippers, so this is already an important developmental year.
Los Angeles Lakers: Josh Hart, SG
Hart has been turning heads since the start of training camp, and he turned even more with his great opening night performance. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is just a one-year filler at shooting guard, and much like Gilgeous Alexander I would expect Hart to leapfrog his way into the starting role soon.
Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF
Already the most talented guy on a blah Memphis roster, Jackson Jr. looks primed to make a run at Rookie of the Year. He’s super athletic, a great shot blocker and three point shooter, and runs a high motor. He should get his share of minutes this year, so watch out for some dominant performances (like his last game).
Miami Heat: Josh Richardson, SF
He signed his contract extension and everyone got pushed out of shape, but Richardson has shown flashes over the past few seasons. His great athleticism makes him a threat to get into the lane every possession, and his shooting prowess has allowed him to let it fly from deep. With the Heat looking for wings to step up, Richardson fits perfectly, and he’s already off to a spectacular start this year.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler, SF
He’s had all the controversy possible leading into his contract year, so now it’s time for Butler to let his game do the talking. His leadership and relationships with the younger members of the team is still a huge question mark, but there’s no doubt he can ball.
Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton, SF He finally eclipsed 20 points per game last season, and Middleton appears to still be trending up. He’s always had the talent, but his confidence finally caught up last year, and with new head coach Mike Budenholzer encouraging his small forward to take more threes, we could see an even higher point total this season from the crafty two-way player.
New Orleans Pelicans: Julius Randle, PF He’s still not starting which baffles me, but Randle has proven he can be just as effective off the bench. A double-double threat any time he touches the court, Randle’s improved offensive efficiency has him primed to be one of the most valuable bench players in the league for an up-and-coming Pelicans team.
New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, SF Knox has basically already taken over the starting job, and he’s playing just like he did in college. His slippiness and mid range ability speak to high-volume scoring while his overall athleticism allows him to do almost anything on the court. With Porzingis out, Knox could develop into the number one option for New York.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Terrance Ferguson, SG
With incumbent shooting guard Andre Roberson out for at least the next two months, the burden falls upon second year guard. Ferguson has showcased freakish athleticism, but he has yet to channel it into much production. With a huge hole at the two spot, the Thunder will need someone to step up and help them improve off last year, and Ferguson has that ability.
Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac, SF Though he’s only in his second year, time may be running out on Isaac. Though he has tremendous defensive upside, Isaac looks lost on offense and is not gelling with his other young teammates. If he can find his grove, he can be like Kevin Durant without the shooting, but a slow start will reduce his minutes.
Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, PG Another second year player seemingly on the outs, Fultz worked hard to revamp his shot this offseason and has looked much more comfortable so far. We all know he has that slippery ability to slither into the lane and he has capitalized on it at times, but more aggressiveness will be required for Fultz to reach his number one overall pick potential.
Phoenix Suns: Trevor Ariza, SF He’s only on a one year deal, but Ariza has the ability to have a huge impact on these young Suns players. With his combination of shooting, driving, passing and defense, as well as his 14 years in the league, Ariza can mentor these desert dudes into how to play the game the right way. It may not show up in the standings this year, but look out for the future in Phoenix.
Portland Trail Blazers: Zach Collins, C
Collins is listed as the backup center right now, but his agility and scoring ability should get him more looks at the four, especially with the Blazers’ best option there being Al-Farouq Aminu. Collins has also improved vastly as a defender, using his large wingspan to swat shots with ease. He could very well turn into Portland’s starting power forward.
San Antonio Spurs: Demar Derozan, SG Now playing as the only starting-level guard in San Antonio, Derozan will have his chance to silence anyone doubting his star status. LaMarcus Aldridge will always be there, but it will really be up to Derozan to lead and carry this team. Maybe Pop can teach him some defense…
Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox
This kid is special, and on a pretty lame-duck roster as the point guard he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot. Fox played way above his age last year, and he looks even better now. Watch out.
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard, SF
The man’s looking for a max deal, and due to his injury it’s gonna take another MVP-caliber year to grab that contract.
Utah Jazz: Joe Ingles, SF We all laughed at Ingles. We continued laughing when he erupted last season. No one’s laughing anymore. He may not look the part, but Ingles just has a knack for getting open. Oh, and he can shoot like nobody’s business. After averaging 11.5 points last year, it’s safe to say he’s going to set a new career mark.
Washington Wizards: Jeff Green, PF Green was brought over this offseason and has a chance to make a big impact on this Wizards team. Washington has been looking for a sturdy wing for years now, and Green (with some time) can fill that void. He’s been trending down, but so have his minutes, so more minutes should equal more production for Green.