Potential is a word used very often in the sports world. Whether it’s looking a high school kid and predicting what he can become or making an excuse for a draft pick that hasn’t panned out, no doubt potential is something important in the game today.
Of course, there are some that live up to the hype (LeBron James) and those who don’t (Darko Milicic, who, lest we forget, was taken ahead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh). I am here to give you five players that have made those who praised them for their ever so great potential look like Harvard Grads. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for their play after this date.
This could be seen as a preview of the Most Improved Player of the Year Award but these are guys who were either high draft picks or had high expectations that are finally fitting the bill.
#1 Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (Key Stats: 28.5ppg, 6.9rpg, 3apg, 1.5spg, 48FG%/31TP%/86FT%) – I’ve been pimping this guy, err, kid, since I saw him workout at the Team USA Basketball Showcase this summer. What a great talent. His season numbers do not reflect the percentages I predicted for him (I said 58/45/90) but take a look at what Durant has averaged in his last eight contests:
33 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal with shooting percentages of 57% from the field, 44% from three and 84% from the line. That’s just one percent off on field goals and threes from I predicted and his free throw percentage is actually 2% worse than his season average of 86%, which is 4% less than what I predicted.
If Durant can keep that up, which I think is very possible and maybe even probable, he would have a great shot at MVP (especially with the way the Thunder are playing behind him) and he could even make an argument to be one of the three best players in the game. Underrated part of these stats: Durant turned 21 years old this season. Unreal that he is doing this much work this early in his career.
Another nice stat to look at: over this eight game stretch, during which the Thunder are 6-2 with the losses coming to the Lakers (the defending champs) and the Bucks (on the road, in overtime), Durant has a true shooting percentage, a stat that combines three point shooting and free throw shooting with regular field goal percentage, of 67%. That number would be good enough to lead the league.
#2 Michael Beasley, Miami Heat (Key Stats: 15.7ppg, 6.7rpg, 1.1apg, .5bpg, 46FG%, 84FT%) – If it wasn’t for the personal issues that he faced this off-season, Beasley would be gathering a lot more National attention. Beasley was the second overall pick in the draft last season behind phenom Derrick Rose and naturally Beasley was held to the astronomical standards that Rose set, especially during his playoff series.
Last season, Beasley was flip-flopping between positions in a reserve role that made it hard for him to develop his game. Some nights he was attacking from the perimeter and others he was a power forward that camped in the post but rarely got as much as a look from his point guards.
This year, B-Easy has made the move to the starting line-up, consistently playing the power forward position as a scorer. Night in and night out, Beasley gets a set number of minutes and then Udonis Haslem comes in and brings a defensive minded game to the floor. Beasley has taken advantage of his additional playing time and touches by being more aggressive offensively and developing into a seemingly long term partner to play along side Dwyane Wade in Miami instead of a trade chip that can bring cap relief in a transaction.
Michael is scoring the basketball at a high rate, taking more shots that last season and getting to the rim much easier than last season. You don’t want to overplay what he has done so far but there are legitimate points you can make in favor of Beasley as the most complete offensive player at the four spot. Who else can put the ball on the floor and blow by defenders as well as hit a mid-range jumpshot as well as the occasional three? Not many, if any.
#3 Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (Key Stats: 16ppg, 7.3 apg, 5rpg, 1spg, 39FG%, 77FT%) – You may be asking yourself how a guy with a shooting percentage below 40% can possibly be making the jump towards NBA super stardom and you certainly have a point. However, it’s the little things that have made Russell a much improved player this season.
It’s one of those things where you have to watch the kid play to understand what he is doing better because the stats don’t tell the whole story. Russell is making much better decisions with the basketball and is picking his spots well. Instead of jacking up shots with the shot clock half way through, Westbrook seems to be deferring to Kevin Durant and waiting to get him a better shot than taking a bad shot himself.
If Westbrook can continue to rack up assists and keep his turnovers to below three a game, this kid could be in the top five point guard discussion (My current top five: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo).
#4 Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (Key Stats: 15ppg, 10rpg, 1.9bpg, 2apg, 50FG%, 58FT%) – Labeled a bust before this season, Bogut has shown some steady improvements in his low post game. Just a couple of days a go, I watched Bogut score on Dwight Howard on three consecutive possessions and saw a complete offensive set of moves. Bogut needs to expand his range like Dwight was, but his spin to the rim and jump hook looks a lot better than Superman’s.
Having a point guard like Brandon Jennings alongside him has really helped Bogut out. Jennings has said many times on Twitter that he thinks Bogut is an all-star and he is certainly trying to help him reach that milestone. Bogut is the sixth best scoring center in basketball to this point in the season and is eighth in rebounding.
#5 Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks (Key Stats: 15.3ppg, 8rpg, 3.5apg, 2.3bpg, 1.6spg, 52FG%, 3 three point attempts, 62FT%) – Smith has finally shed the idea that he is a chucker that throws up wild and impossible shots on every possession from his name and turned into an effective offensive presence that is actually on of the best off-ball defenders in the game.
Smith is putting together a steady set of low-post moves as he makes his transition from small forward to power forward, which puts him in a better position to protect the rim as a shot blocker. Smoove can be found a foot or two inside the arc taking a jumper at times, but he isn’t taking an uncontrollable amount of them anymore.
Josh is still learning how to defend an opposing power forward that wants to post him up (LeBron showed him this last week) but there is not question he is an excellent off-the-ball defensive player. Here’s a stat that shows how Smith has changed his offensive game: 301 of his 376 shot attempts have come from inside 15 feet and 280 of those 301 have come at the rim.
Smith is a perfect example of a character change resulting in a better player on the court, changing his me first mentality to a team first mentality where he is now fine with being a more imposing defensive threat than an offensive gunslinger.