Thursday, September 01, 2005

Who's Next?

Who's the next Amare?

By Anthony Peretore

Question, what do players like Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd, Dwyane Wade, and Amare Stoudemire have in common? Sure all five are superstars in the NBA, have millions of dollars, dozens of cars, and beautiful women falling at their feet. But another thing they share is that before they became stars, their projected level of success was very hazy. Don’t believe me? Arenas and Redd were second round picks. Jefferson was traded on Draft day. Wade was regarded as a second tier player behind LeBron, Carmelo, Darko and Bosh. And Amare, overshadowed by Yao, was passed over for players such as Mike Dunleavy Jr., Drew Gooden, Nickoloz Tskitishvili, Dajuan Wagner, and Chris Wilcox. Believe what you want, but these ballers, for the most part, were never regarded as sure thing talents. Nevertheless, each has managed to overcome adversity and work his way to the pinnacle of the sport. Now the interesting question is, heading into the 2005-06 season, which players do we think will be the next to take this same proverbial "leap"? Sure we can expect monster years from guys like Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, and Emeka Okafor. But more difficult to find are those second tier guys and forgotten first-rounders that may be ready to put their stamp on superstardom. Here is my list in reverse order.

6. Eddie Griffin, Minnesota
Before you start laughing or vomiting up your minestrone, think back to Griffin’s Seton Hall days when he graced the covers of every College Basketball magazine before even setting foot on a collegiate court. In his only year with the Pirates, the 6-9 forward averaged 17.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 4.4 BPG, pretty gaudy numbers for a freshman. Stats like that in the Big East usually translate into promising NBA careers—just ask Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Rip Hamilton, Carmelo Anthony, etc. But instead of following the lead of those four guys, Griffin took the Billy Owens/Victor Page/Terry DeHere route and only found success in shitting the NBA bed. However, after dabbling in drug use and thus bouncing around the league for three years, Griffin now finds himself in a rather opportunistic situation in Minnesota. With a new coach willing to let anyone help KG get them back to the Playoffs, Eddie may have his first shot at success without the burden of failure weighing heavily upon him. Kevin McHale and the Wolves saw enough of EG last year to re-sign him this summer and hopefully for both parties, the former #7 pick will begin to live up to his 2001 billing.
Odds: 100-to-1

5. Kwame Brown, LA Lakers
Can a player who was once the number one overall pick in the 2001 Draft really be considered a diamond in the rough? Well now that Washington has officially given up on Brown, I would argue that he could. The Wizards gave him more than a fair opportunity to excel and mature, but last year’s episode in the Playoffs ultimately became the straw that broke the camel’s back (man, I love that expression). Kwame now finds a seat in the same desolate room as the Michael Olowokandis, Joe Smiths, and Pervis Ellisons of the NBA world. The difference is, those guys are finished. Brown on the other hand is heading to LA and about to be whipped into shaped by a man regarded by some as the greatest to ever pace the sidelines. Phil Jackson isn’t going to take the shit that Doug Collins and Eddie Jordan did, he is going to make this kid work. I honestly believe that Phil took a big role in orchestrating this deal because in all honesty, why not take a shot at a former #1, especially when your team is desperate for help in the front court? Imagine if he could get this kid to grow up and start showing the skills that the Wizards saw back in 2001? Well that’s exactly what Jackson is hoping for and over the next year or two we will see if Kwame has what it takes to leave his immaturity behind and develop into the compliment Kobe Bryant desperately needs.
Odds: 50-1

4. Darius Miles, Portland
I put Miles in almost the same class as Griffin—a talented, multi-faceted player who just hasn’t been able to put all the pieces together. From Los Angeles to Cleveland to his current home in Portland, Miles has either been ravaged by injuries or far too tempted by his bong collection. So why the optimism that he can turn it around? With Nate McMillan coming in to help clean up shop, I believe it gives Miles his best chance to play like the 47-12 guy we saw in the final week of the season rather than career 10-5 player we see more often than not. Now sure Travis Outlaw had an outstanding summer and it would be far easier (and perhaps smarter) to throw him on this board, but I honestly feel this is the year Miles finally turns around my fantasy team when I take him in the 6th round.
Odds: 25-to-1

3. Kirk Hinrich, Chicago
Coming out of Kansas, Hinrich looked more like an Olympic swimmer than a guy ready to make an impact as an NBA point guard. But despite his frail frame, his hard work and intelligence on the court quickly prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to realize they were better off with Hinrich running the show than they were with Jamal Crawford. That decision was officially proven successful this past year after the former Jayhawk managed to lead Chicago back to the Playoffs for the first time since Jordan’s departure. Call me naïve, but I think what has thus far been a storybook career for Hinrich will continue on to the next chapter. Rookie gets a shot, rookie plays extremely well, gets handed the reigns in his second year, and becomes an All-Star point guard in his third. Now I really think Kirk is probably one more year away from entering the upper echelon of the PG position, but after looking back and thinking he would absolutely suck at the pro level, nothing would surprise me at this point.
Odds: 15-to-1

2. Ben Gordon, Chicago
As a lifelong UConn fan, count me among those who were skeptical of how good Ben Gordon could be in the NBA. I mean the guy is listed at 6-3, but that’s like Gary Coleman charting in at 5-10. In reality, Gordon’s more like 6-1 and at that height, playing the shooting guard position, I assumed he would run into a flurry of match-up problems. Well if he did, I sure as hell missed it. What I forgot to take into account is that this guy is a gamer, one of those guys who can take a team on his back no matter what the deficit may be and lead them to victory. He did it in the 2004 Big East Tournament Final against Pitt and continued on in guiding the Huskies to their 2nd NCAA Title in five years. While I questioned whether he could perform at that same level in the pros, by snatching up 6th Man of the Year honors and helping lead the Bulls to the Playoffs BG quickly proved his critic(s) wrong. This season I would think that Scottie Skiles would give him more than 24.2 minutes per night and probably a starting slot alongside Hinrich. If that’s the case the sky’s the limit for this kid and we could be watching the league’s next superstar blossom right in front of our very eyes.
Odds: 7-to-1

1. Joe Johnson, Atlanta
Johnson shocked the NBA world several weeks ago in announcing that he wanted out of Phoenix for a chance to run his own team in Atlanta. That’s like going from dating a Playboy Playmate to one of those weirdo chicks with tons of upside (ala Not Another Teen Movie). We all assumed Johnson would just re-up with the Suns and put up even better numbers now that Q was in New York. Well we were wrong and several court dates later, JJ is getting ready to lace them up for the worst, but possibly the most intriguing young team in the league. Think about it, last year Johnson averaged 17.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 3.6 APG on a team with Amare, Shawn Marion, Q, and Steve Nash. Sure they scored 204 PPG, but still, Johnson is now the main guy rather than the fourth fiddle. He attempted a modest 14.4 shots per game a season ago, imagine what he could do with 20+? While his shooting percentages and turnover ratios probably won’t be among the league leaders, his scoring averages certainly should be. Johnson has the potential to be a 23-8-5 type of player next year and barring any long-term injuries, I don’t see any reason why he won’t. Ladies and gentlemen, your new NBA superstar.
Odds: 2-to-1

JJ should be a fantasy stud

Long shots: Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Raja Bell, Josh Howard, and Marquis Daniels

Still a year or two away: Al Jefferson, Shaun Livingston, J.R. Smith, Samuel Dalembert, Sebastian Telfair, Nick Collison

Note: Rookies not considered


At 4:38 PM, Blogger ChrisWoznitza said...

Hi I´m Chris. Greatings from Germany Bottrop !!

At 7:55 PM, Blogger EZ Snappin said...

Just a minor quibble - if Kwame ever reaches Joe Smith's career averages of 11 and 7 I think the Laker's would be more than happy. Yeah, Joe should have been better, but half the league would be happy to have him as is. Nobody ever was happy with Pervis (trust me, I'm a life-long Celtics fan).

I hope Joe Johnson does have a breakout year, but I'm not expecting it. He was the last guy you worried about shutting down out of the Sun's starting five - now he's #1.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

No one is ever happy with an 11 and 7 guys after they went #1 overall. #1 picks are supposed to be superstars, shit, Rick Fox averaged 11 and 7. Kwame needs to step up and I honestly think he could have a 16 and 9 type of year. Opponents' main focus is going to be on Kobe and Odom, which should allow Kwame plenty of opportunities down low. Jackson is not going to take 11 and 7 from this kid, trust me. He needs a kick in the ass, but an encouraging kick in the ass. I don't think MJ, Collins, or Eddie Jordan ever provided that.

As far as Joe Johnson, I agree with you things will be different with him as a #1 option rather than a 4. However, look how miserable the Suns looked without him in the Playoffs. The kid is an all-around player, not an Al Harrington-type who all he does is score. Johnson is going to excel in multiple facets of the game and like I said, I expect 23-8-5 from him. Guess we'll find out soon enough

PS-why the hell do I have to type in this word verification? And if I absolutely need to do this how about giving me a REAL WORD to type in. Unuhyid? What the hell is that?

At 4:46 PM, Blogger EZ Snappin said...

Anthony - as far as that word verification crap it's supposed to cut down on Spambots - which is also why it's not an actual word. Eventually the spambot would enter "zucchini" and the gig would be up.

If Kwame can jump from career averages of 7 and 4 - GOD! 7 and 4, and he's 7 feet tall and he started a good chunk of those games - to 16 and 9 I'd be very impressed. He never was a focus for anyone to stop before, so I don't see Kobe and Lamar opening it up for him anymore than Arenas/Hughes/Jameson. And nobody he's ever played with has passed him the ball with more than 3 on the clock and it's not going to change in LA. We may want to "poo-poo" the 11 & 7 from Joe Smith, but that's almost all-star performance from the power forward position these days.

I'll give you that Joe is better than Al Harrington - I might even give you Kwame over Al because he has legitimate size for his position. But missing Joe was not as great a part of the Suns collapse as it seems. San Antonio dictated to them what they were going to be allowed. They stopped the drive and kick out which was where Joe, Q and Marion were most effective. If you make them play drive and dump and keep it in the paint, you trade 2's for 2's and not for 3's. The Spurs trusted they could be more proficient at scoring 2 than Phoenix. They were right.

Joe will be good, but I don't see him as an all-star on that team. They are going to ask too much of him - create, lead, score, defend - I worry about his body breaking down like Kobe's did last year. And though I hate to say it (I'm a C's fan, can't ever like a Laker) Kobe is a much more experienced and talented player. He'll be the best player on the Hawks for years to come, but I don't think he'll equal Antoine's 20/4/9 (maybe Joe will hit 18/6/5?)Hawk numbers from last year.

PS - "zjzdygn"

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Andy W said...

I like JJ but I am inclined to think all the attention on him should be a problem. He WILL get more touches, but will also be double-teamed!

23-8-5 is TMAC-LBJ territory, don´t see it... plus he´ll have 5 or 6 TO per game, if he plays the point full-time.

At 2:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Kwame Brown have any polished moves down low? Any go to moves? The little bits I have seen him all he tries to do is beat his man with his quick first step/speed and forces a dunk. Can he ever be a reliable low post scorer? If Kwame has a 16 and 9 year he will virtually be a lock for Most Improved Player of the Year and Laker fans will be singing his praises.
First time reader. Really good stuff.

At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

So last season's rookies are not included and next season's as well?

I do agree JJ is likely to have a good season stat wise but I dont think JJ will have that good season. He might have shoot the lights out at Phoenix but the Hawks has no point guard, no post presence meaning he will be double teamed a lot, something he will have to get used to. But the Hawks have to score, and who's better to do it than JJ.

What about Juan Dixon? He certainly is flawed in a way but along with Telfair in Portland he could double his scoring average. He has shown in DC that he can score.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

I like that Juan Dixon call a lot and considered him for this list. The only worry I have is that he won't get enough PT to put up more than average numbers. But if he does some how start receiving starters minutes, I'd put him on pace for a 16-5-5-2.5 steal type of year. Hope you all had a dope weekend. Stay tuned for more articles this week including a brief NFL preview.

At 12:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe Johnson is balling like a superstar right now.


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