You already know the storylines and what to expect from the league’s All Star players and potential rookies of the year. Why spend any more time talking about them? Leave that to ESPN. The players assembled on this list, for the most part, are some of the lesser known players in the league. In fact, there are a couple on here that made the cut simply because of wishful thinking as they will likely polish the pine for their given team but that does not discount their talent. Others are players who will soon make a name for themselves in the league as their careers begin to take hold. Two on the list are rookies and the rest have had some, but not many, years experience in the NBA. Agree or disagree you should at least know their names.
Patrick Beverley, PG: Miami Heat
Of all the players on the Heat to watch for this season, well there are really only three and a half (Mike Miller is the half. No offense.), I choose Patrick Beverley. Are you still reading? If so, please, hear me out. So far this preseason, Beverley is not lighting it up per say but he is logging solid minutes while the Triumvirate sits and is averaging 6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and a steal. Not bad. However, when Pat Riley…err, Erik Spoelstra had him log 41 minutes against the Spurs, Beverley dropped a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He added five dimes and three steals all while never committing a turnover. I know, I know, Beverley will see limited minutes (if he sees any during the regular season) as he will be a bench option on a team such as the Heat but that does not mean that he will not make an impact. If Mario Chalmers’ ankle continues to be a concern throughout the season it would be Beverley who would replace him in the starting lineup. Beverley has a strong basketball pedigree and should not be overlooked. Plus, if Karma strikes the Heat, Beverley will be the only one left to play other than Udonis Haslem.
Darren Collison, PG: Indiana Pacers
Collison came to the Pacers in a massive four team trade this summer that has been over shadowed by a four team trade that never happened. The Pacers were the ultimate winner in the trade as they received the point guard they have been looking for during the better part of the previous two years. T.J. Ford just was not cutting it for them. Collison was Chris Paul’s back up in New Orleans last season and had his opportunity to shine when Paul went down with an injury. In 37 starts, Collison averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists. He will be the starter in Indianapolis and if these numbers can translate to the Pacers, a team as equally mediocre as the Hornets, expect Collison to easily enter any top point guard conversation this season.
Dominique Jones, G: Dallas Mavericks
Jones is one of only two rookies to make this list, Beverley is the other. Will he really make an impact on a team such as the Mavericks, though? The Mavs are deep. How deep? Deeper than Sage Francis. Minutes will be in short supply but expect Jones to get his fair share coming off the bench. Unlike the standard Maverick prototype, Jones loves to get into the paint and to the rim and is not content to settle for a jump shot. Subsequently, he will draw plenty of fouls with such aggressive play. His only issue right now is his ability to finish at the rim. During preseason he is only shooting 36 percent. He is a natural scorer, however, and his percentage is sure to climb as he becomes more acclimated to the NBA. He has carved out a niche for himself so far as the team is impressed with his abilities on the defensive end of the floor and as a passer on offense. He is averaging 3.6 assists this preseason. He may see limited minutes but expect him to make every one of them count.
Linas Kleiza, F: Toronto Raptors
In all reality, Kleiza may be the only thing worth watching in Toronto. No offense to Jarrett Jack, Sonny Weems, or DeMar DeRozan (all of whom can Dougie quite well) but we all know that Kleiza has the potential to be “the guy” in America’s hat. Every account and story about Kleiza since his return to the NBA from Greece and his time at the FIBA World Championships is that he is in the best shape of his career. He averaged 19 points on 57.8 percent shooting and 7.1 rebounds per game during the world championships with Lithuania. Since the international game is different from that of the NBA, do not expect these numbers to directly translate but they should be a good ballpark indication of what he is capable of doing night in and night out in Toronto. In limited play during the preseason, Kleiza has averaged 11 points and four rebounds. Expect the Raptors to lean heavily on Kleiza this season as he may turn out to be their main scoring threat, when the Andrea Bargnani experiment crumbles, on a team full of lackluster talent.
Kevin Love, F/C: Minnesota Timberwolves
If you are a frequent visitor to our blog you probably already know how much love we show to Love. Can you blame us? Look, the fact is that Love is going to be one of the best players in the entire league next year but no one is talking about it because their heads are too far up Miami’s ass. Plain and simple: Kevin Love is the best rebounder in the league. What, you do not believe me? You need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid at Dwight Howard’s party. I wrote a piece shortly after the world championships ended and I will direct you to it for a more in depth look at why Kevin Love is a player to watch. Read that article here. Still do not believe me? Then look at all his numbers here.
Wesley Matthews, G: Portland Trailblazers
Matthews is one of the newest members of the Blazers having signed an offer sheet with them this summer worth an estimated $34 million over five years which Utah failed to match. Looking at Matthews’ career numbers one thing strikes you; they are by no means daunting. However, if you have ever seen him play, especially in the playoffs last year, you know why the Blazers wanted him so bad. This kid hustles on every single play that he is on the court. He shredded the Lakers second unit in the playoffs with his tenacity and determination. He is averaging 15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.5 dimes while shooting 48.7 percent on field goals and 40 percent on threes during the preseason. It looks like he has found his place in Portland. Matthew’s will likely be one of the first players off the Blazers’ bench and should take minutes away from the perpetual whiner, Rudy Fernandez. Portland spent the money and they will see results.
JaVale McGee, C: Washington Wizards
John Wall with the alley-oop to JaVale McGee for the flush! Get used to hearing that because it will become common. In fact it will likely appear on Sport Center’s Top 10 Plays regularly throughout the season. We have been fans of McGee for a while here at the Beef and feel that he is a household name of the future. McGee is young and full of talent which it why he edged out Andray Blatche as the only Wizard to appear on this list. Head Coach Flip Saunders has said that McGee needs to improve his rebounding otherwise Hilton Armstrong may get the start over him. This is merely some Phil Jackson-esque head game on the part of Saunders. Everyone knows that McGee will start and that not starting him hurts the team. However, Saunders’ statement must have hit home as McGee pulled down 11 rebounds against Atlanta in the teams’ most recent preseason game to go along with 16 points. These numbers would seem to be what we can expect of McGee this season which will be his first as the starting center. With Wall running the point, McGee’s future looks bright as the two should bourgeon into one of the league better young duos.
C.J. Miles, G/F: Utah Jazz
Miles lost his running mate in Wesley Matthews, in terms of hustle, but that should only help increase the minutes he will see this season. Over the past two seasons, Miles has seen his role on the Jazz increase dramatically (and his basketball card seems like it is in every Upper Deck pack). During the 2008-09 season, he started in all 72 games he appeared in and last season started in 28 of the 63 games in which he played. Yes, his increased time is linked in some way to the injuries of Andrei Kirilenko and his time spent as the Jazz’s sixth man but that certainly has not diminished his value in the eyes of Jerry Sloan. Miles is currently averaging 11.3 points in preseason play and has averaged 9.5 points over the previous two seasons. Expect another increase in production from Miles this season, which will be his sixth, especially as opposing teams will focus on slopping Al Jefferson and Deron Williams which should leave Miles open on many plays. If he plays well, he could easily find himself in the discussion for most improved player. (Plus, Miles is from Dallas so you have to love that.)
Ramon Sessions, G: Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland is a barren wasteland. Few dare to even mention its name anymore. For a time there were fertile fields and flowers blooming, and then a pestilence swept over the land leaving nothing but scorched earth. It will take time to recover but the wounds left may never fully heal. What is left is a shell of what once was. However, do not over look it just yet. Ramon Session, a name that many people have never heard, was acquired by the Cavaliers this summer in a manner that was in stark contrast to how they lost a player. While no one thought much of this trade but it will help the Cavs more than anyone realizes. Byron Scott, Cleveland’s head coach, likes to push the ball up and down the court. He likes a fast paced game. Byron Scott may find that the only way for his team to be competitive is to go small and force the opponents to adjust to him. This bodes well for Sessions. He has already had a double-double this preseason against the Wizards with 10 points and 10 rebounds as well as six assists. He is averaging 12 points, five rebounds, and 4.8 points in the preseason to date. It would not be absurd to think that Sessions could potentially return to the same playing form he showed with the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2008-09 season when he averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 dimes, mostly off the bench.
Marreese Speights, F: Philadelphia 76ers
Of all the players on the 76ers, Speights is the one that no one is talking about. Yet, it may be him that has the best season on the team. Not Jrue Holiday, not Evan Turner, not Lou Williams, but Speights. There are parts of me that want to predict anywhere from 37-40 wins for this team and there are parts of me (much smaller parts) that think they win no more than 29 games. Nonetheless, everything, in my view, hinges on the play of Speights and whether he can stay healthy or not and get the time he deserves. He must prove himself worthy to Doug Collins so that he is not relegated to a bench role behind Thaddeus Young and to do this he must improve his rebounding. OK, honestly, having Speights on this list is a bit of a stretch. He is good though, it is just uncertain if he will actually see the minutes he needs to prove that. Lucky for him, Elton Brand is an injury waiting to happen. If any of the big forwards on the Sixers goes down this season, it will be Speights who will step in to fill the void. When, not if, this happens it will be up to him to convince Collins that he is the player that he has the potential to be.