With the NBA season less than 24 hours away, here are five players to keep an eye on this season. (Players are in no specific order)
1. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder – He had a solid regular season and followed that up with a great postseason run. He averaged 13 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 3.6 apg in 17 games off the bench. Head coach Scott Brooks called Harden “the best passer on the team.” He averaged 31.6 minutes per game off the bench and, at times, was the most effective player for the Thunder. He will start the season coming off the bench and is a preseason candidate for Sixth-Man of the Year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he started by season’s end.
2. Toney Douglas, New York Knicks – Douglas is now the main point guard in New York, for the time being. The Knicks waived Chauncey Billups to make enough salary room to add Tyson Chandler, leaving Douglas as the only point guard on the roster. The Knicks added Baron Davis, but he is out 8-12 weeks with a back injury. Douglas had a solid regular season, averaging 10 ppg, but shot just 41% from the field. However, he managed to hit 37% of his three-pointers. Half of his field goals were three-pointers. He played more like a shooting guard instead of a point guard. With him in the starting lineup, he will need to distribute the ball to Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, but when left open, Mike D’Antoni expects him to knock down shots.
3. Lamar Odom, Dallas Mavericks – Normally, veterans are not on any watch-list, but I feel like Odom is going to play with something to prove this season. He felt betrayed that the Lakers tried to trade him for Chris Paul, but in the end, the Lakers did trade him (for two second-round picks). Now he is on the defending-NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, where his role will not change. He will be the first player off the bench and will play crunch-time minutes alongside Dirk Nowitzki. Odom will have a big say in whether or not the Mavericks make it back to the NBA Finals.
4. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz – I will say this right now: Derrick Favors is the future of the Utah Jazz. The Jazz has made room for Favors to play significant minutes this season. They traded away forward/center Mehmet Okur to the New Jersey Nets this past week because their front-court is too crowded. The Jazz still has Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap and Enes Kanter. Favors is a power forward by trade, but he has the size and athleticism to play some center as well. The kid is 6’10 and 248 lbs of pure athleticism and muscle. Now, he needs to improve his low-post game and refine his skills, but I see this kid having a very, very bright future and I feel that future will start this season.
5. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves – Rubio is the “forgotten” man in all of this. Minnesota drafted the Spanish-phenom two years ago with the 5th pick in the 2009 draft. There were reports that the Rubio never wanted to come to Minnesota because the franchise is disgraceful and the weather is cold. Since his announcement that he will play in Minnesota, and his long-awaited arrival, Rubio has been nothing but grateful, happy, and excited to get the season started. He knows it will be a challenge but he feel like he can compete with the best point guards in the NBA. He might already have the best vision in the league with some of the passes he has thrown in the preseason, but that’s only preseason. The real test comes Monday, when Rubio faces Russell Westbrook. Let’s see if he is up to the task.