Checking in on our players to watch for each NBA team
Now that the calendar has turned to April, we are at the end of another NBA season. There were surprises and sure-things, ups and downs, resurgent years and regressors. At the beginning of this season, I picked one player to watch for each NBA team, so with 79 games in the rearview mirror let’s take a look back at those players and see how they fared over the course of 2018-2019. Atlanta
Hawks: Taurean Prince, SF
Prince actually got less playing time this season, most likely due to the extreme depth of the Hawks (though that depth is mostly young, unproven players who coach Lloyd Pierce wants to test). In those reduced minutes, Prince was noticeably more efficient as a scorer, but all other areas of his game took a hit. While he still shows potential as a wing who can fill it up, he needs to improve all-around as a player if he wants to become one of the better small forwards in the league.
Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward, SF
What a ride it has been for the former All-Star. A year removed from his horrific ankle injury, I think a lot of people just kind of expected him to return to his elite form, but that was certainly not the case early in the season, and it even earned him a demotion to the bench. However, since moving there, Hayward has played great and been just what Boston has needed; his rebounding and assist numbers are still at his career averages despite playing less minutes, and he has started to look more and more comfortable as the year draws to a close.
Brooklyn Nets: Jarrett Allen, C
The only ding you could really pin on Allen this year was that his free throw percentage fell seven points, but other than that he had a really nice sophomore season and looks primed to continue to develop as one of the league’s exciting young centers. He collected blocks on just about every player in the NBA this year, and both his scoring and rebounding have made him an easy double-double threat.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker, PG
He may be on a bad team and he may not be very efficient when it comes to shooting, but dang is Kemba fun to watch. He’s put up a career-high in PPG this year by a wide margin, and his assist and rebound numbers are near his bests as well. While he’s arguably had his best season to date, one wonders if a team (other than Charlotte) will commit long-term to a point guard entering his age-29 season.
Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen, PF
Can I just say what a year for Lauri Markkanen. Despite being out to start the season and battling injuries throughout, he put up about 19 points and nine rebounds per game (which I would consider good numbers for just about any power forward in the NBA). His shooting has proven itself to be for real, and after adding a little muscle he’s shown he can battle down low. This guy looks like a star, and Minnesota is probably kicking themselves for trading him away.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Rodney Hood, SG
This is an interesting one, because Hood actually plays in Portland now and has done so for the past 25 games after being traded by the Cavs. Overall, his numbers this season are not very impressive, and while some of that can be attributed to a smaller role with the Blazers his stats in Cleveland weren’t eye-opening: 12.2 PPG, 2.5 REB, 2.0 AST. He had his chance to score more with LeBron gone, and while he has shone flashes of that ability he does not take enough shots or play aggressively enough to fill it up.
Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, PF
I think you could call this a successful season for Luka. Heck, he might even win Rookie of the Year, though Trae Young has come on very strong to close the year. Nevertheless, Luka’s game has translated almost perfectly to the NBA, where he uses his size and touch to score while still dishing out assists all over the place. He has already shown himself to be a very capable triple-double player, and he almost reminds me of a European LeBron (without the crap attitude).
Denver Nuggets: Paul Millsap, PF
With the meteoric rise of Nikola Jokic and the all-around improvement of this Denver roster, Millsap has found himself with a much smaller role this season and it has certainly taken a toll on his numbers. He provides great energy and character for this team, but his production is nowhere near what it used to be. They’ll need him to produce in the Playoffs if they want to make a deep run.
Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson, PG After dealing with injuries the past two years, Jackson finally got his first full season since 2015-2016 but the results may not have been what Detroit fans were hoping for. Though he remains a solid defender and vastly improved his three-point shooting, Jackson’s numbers were down and he hasn’t taken over like he used to. He needs to be more aggressive and explosive if Detroit is going to find any success in the Playoffs (or make it for that matter).
Golden State Warriors: Damian Jones, C
After playing just 17 games, Jones tore his left pectoral muscle and has been out ever since. He played okay for the Warriors but was definitely not a starting-caliber center, and this was another disappointing year.
Houston Rockets: James Ennis, SF Another player to have been traded, Ennis is now with the 76ers but recently got injured. While you could say he failed to step up as Houston’s new starting small forward, his stats were in line with his career performance and it was somewhat silly of the Rockets to expect anything more. Thank goodness they have James Harden or else their defensive deficiencies would’ve REALLY shone through....
Indiana Pacers: Tyreke Evans, SG
A disappointing season to say the least, Evans was all over the place this year. It was a real vote of un-confidence when the Pacers went out and got Wesley Matthews to fill in for Victor Oladipo rather than give Evans more playing time, but I can't say I blame them. He has not been consistent both on and off the court as he has been throughout his career, and the result is a subpar season when his team could’ve really used him.
Los Angeles Clippers: Shai Gilgeous Alexander, PG
As predicted, SGA moved into the starting lineup and has not looked back. He’s not playing like a rookie and has actually been crucial to the Clippers’ surprise Playoff run, showing great efficiency as a scorer and using his length to his advantage all over the court. Oh and it doesn't hurt that he can pass.
Los Angeles Lakers: Josh Hart, SG
Despite securing the starting role, Hart’s numbers did not improve in his sophomore season as he shot horrifically from the field. We all know playing with LeBron can be hard, but Hart will have to get used to it if he wants to develop as an NBA player.
Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF
It was a weird season for Jackson. He only played 58 games (he’s been out since mid-February with a quad injury), and while his scoring was great other areas were lacking. He grabbed less than five rebounds per game and averaged almost as many fouls. However, he did showcase all the qualities that made him the fourth overall pick, so he should be in line for a real solid sophomore campaign.
Miami Heat: Josh Richardson, SF
Have a year Josh Richardson. He’s put up a career high in PPG, RPG, APG, 3PM and free throw percentage and has shown he deserves his new contract. He gives the Heat an above-average wing player that can complement just about every type of teammate, and with him around for years to come they have a building block.
Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton, SF His rebounding and assist numbers hit career highs, but due to a decrease of five minutes per game in playing time his PPG fell to 18.1. In addition, his shooting has been much more spotty this year, but he was an All Star for a reason. Middleton continues to improve as an all-around player and is one of the better two-way wings in the game.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler, SF
The most notable player from this list to have been traded, Butler didn't do much to help the Timberwolves this year before forcing his way out. Sure, he played great, but his off-court actions and words far outweighed the positives of his play.
New Orleans Pelicans: Julius Randle, PF I had to double-check his stats because I though they were per-36 minutes. Nope, he just happened to go off for over 21 PPG while throwing in nine rebounds and three assists. Randle quietly developed into one of the best power forwards in the league this season, combining his old traits of hustle and toughness with some improved scoring ability and finesse. Add in his above-average three-point shooting and you get a guy who could be scary good now that he’s a starter.
New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, SF There were both positives and negatives from Knox’s first year, but a lot of those negatives can be attributed to the fact that he is a 19 year-old rookie. He was pretty inefficient on offense and didn’t contribute much on defense, but he is closing out the season strong and showing plenty of room to grow in the coming years.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Terrance Ferguson, SG
You might’ve hoped Ferguson would step up with incumbent shooting guard Andre Roberson out for the start of the year, but it was a quiet season for the second-year guard. Sure, he possesses great athletic ability and a decent shooting stroke, but playing next to two high-usage rate guys in Russell Westbrook and Paul George means he doesn't get many opportunities to contribute.
Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac, SF After a rough first season, Isaac really turned it around this year. He made huge strides on the offensive side of the ball and continues to use his great length and athleticism to contribute all over the floor. He has credited his rise to staying healthy, something that was a big question mark after his ankles bugged him for over a year, and he overall looks much more comfortable on the court.
Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, PG Speaking of Orlando...guess where Markelle Fultz is now? Obviously this year was a major disappointment for Fultz, not only because he appeared in a measly 19 games but because those 19 games were such a struggle. With a lengthy recover and career reset in Orlando, Fultz should finally fill the vacant point guard spot the Magic have had for so long.
Phoenix Suns: Trevor Ariza, SF Though he was traded to Washington, Ariza provided a much-needed role while in Phoenix, serving as a mentor to the younger players (and especially wings) both on and off the court. He took a step down as a scorer and decided to facilitate more, something that I respect and something that helped his teammates. The young Suns wings are ultimately better because of Ariza, and since his trade to Washington he’s been great so expect a healthy amount of suitors this offseason when he hits the open market.
Portland Trail Blazers: Zach Collins, C
Collins hasn’t played much this season, but when he has he’s looked very solid. A big with finesse and scoring ability who can also throw some shots back, he definitely has the talent to play more but may not find the minutes on a Portland team that seems set in its identity (which means playing Al-Farouq Aminu at the four). We’ll see how much he factors into the Playoffs, though, now that starting center Jusuf Nurkic is out for the season.
Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, PG
A terrific second season for Fox, he seems to have already vaulted himself into the top half of PG’s in the NBA. He’s blazing fast, has a nice shooting stroke and runs the offense like a pro. Heck, if you can keep the Kings in the hunt for a Playoff spot you must be some kind of special.
San Antonio Spurs: Demar Derozan, SG San Antonio had the same effect on Derozan that it seems to have on every player: lower point totals, but higher everything else, including being a better teammate (which he was this year thanks to a renewed effort on defense). The only sad thing about Derozan’s season was that he took a huge step back in his three-point shooting development, dropping all the way to 15.9 percent (!!!) on the year. However, he did a great job leading this Spurs team and carrying them through plenty of controversy and struggle to a Playoff spot, proving he can be a team leader.
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard, SF
What a great season for Kawhi. I think it’s safe to say he earned himself a supermax deal … he actually put up career-highs in points and rebounds this season, and he spearheaded that fearsome Toronto defense. He’s so great at quietly leading by example, and he played perfectly alongside Kyle Lowry in the offense. Might this trade actually work out for the Raptors?...
Utah Jazz: Joe Ingles, SF Ingles definitely took a step forward offensively this season, though probably not how we expected. His points did tick up a bit, but the most noticeable difference was his passing. When Ricky Rubio went down I thought the Jazz’s offense would be doomed (what with Donovan Mitchell incapable of running any offense but his own), but Ingles stepped in and hasn't looked back since despite Rubio returning. He’s one of the better wing passers in the game and it has made a big difference for Utah.
Washington Wizards: Jeff Green, PF He had a very solid year, but I think a lot of that was overshadowed by all the Wizards’ drama (and losing). He continues to provide quality minutes at both the three and the four, and he can still do it all. He might not fit with Washington anymore given their recent trades (and the fact that they probably won't compete next year), but he’d be a great addition for any team needing wing help or simply a veteran presence.