#NBA2015: Players to Watch Part Three

With the 2014-2015 NBA season beginning in fewer than 10 days, I found it just right to look at some players we should all keep tabs on. There are no-brainers like LeBron, KD, CP3, and James Harden, of course, but there are also many other characters on whom we should put the spotlight. In this first of five parts, we’ll take a look at some key guys for the Clippers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, and Timberwolves.

Two rookies who will struggle through their team's futility, two point guards who
are looking to make the jump, a forward who'll fall short of replacing the
best player in the world, and a center who can push his team to the top. 

DeAndre Jordan (LAC) - DJ had a breakout season in 2013-2014, averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, steals, blcoks, and field goal percentage while also helping the Clippers advance to the second round of the Playoffs. He averaged a double-double for the first time in his career (believe it or not) and, again, shot an eye-popping 68% from the floor! Who does that?! The 6’11 slotman is no longer just a highlight reel factory content on eating Brandon Knight alive for breakfast. As his numbers suggest, he protects the rim, finishes around the basket, and gets repossessions. One might argue he could be an All-Star this season if makes another jump in his game. If he can actually do that, then look for the Clips to make noise even beyond the second round.

Julius Randle (LAL) - The seventh overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft was not even 2 years old when Kobe Bryant got picked by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Lakers in 1996. Now both get to hang on the court as the Purple & Gold’s two biggest attractions. Kobe will probably score in the 20-25 points per game area, while it’s entirely possible Randle will score in the mid-to-late teens. The rookie’s shooting and aggressiveness is still suspect, but his energy and length should make him a significant presence. With Carlos Boozer the only other option at PF, it sure looks like Randle will need a lot of growing up to do.

Mike Conley (MEM) - Conley is coming off his best scoring season as he dropped more than 17 points a game and shot around 45% from the field. Now the playmaker from Ohio State is aspiring to make another jump and possible crack the West All-Stars. That’s a bit of a tall order, of course, given how Chris Paul, Steph Curry, and Russell Westbrook all play in the same conference, but, who knows, right? Conley is a tough cookie. If there’s anybody who can maybe crack that set in the West (outside of Ty Lawson and Goran Dragic), Conley could be it. Needless to say, his production is also going to be key if Memphis hopes to move deep into the Playoffs.

Luol Deng (MIA) -  With LeBron James bolting Miami, Pat Riley wasted no time in reacquiring more talent. Deng, of course, was the biggest coup of the summer for the Heat, who will definitely count on the former Bull and Cavalier to pick up the slack. Deng is no LBJ, of course, but he can do many of the things LBJ does to a pretty good degree. Pretty good defender? Check. Aggressive in attacking the hole? Check. Good midrange game? Check. Best player in the world? Nope. Therein lies the rub. I mean, let’s face it. Deng is great. He was an All-Star in 2012 and 2013. Can he carry this team the way LeBron did? No, but he can be a great third scorer to complement Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Jabari Parker (MIL) - He wasn’t picked first in the 2014 NBA Draft, but Parker has been tagged by many experts as the favorite to be named this season’s Rookie of the Year. In fact, he will probably be Milwaukee’s leading scorer and may eventually end up as the best player from this draft class years from now. Of course, he’ll have to endure a rookie campaign where the Bucks are expected to flounder before he gets to that point. It’ll be a great test of his character and leadership, though, so it cannot all be that bad. Parker for ROY? I can buy that.

Ricky Rubio (MIN) - Without a doubt, Minnesota should be Ricky Rubio’s team to lead. Without Kevin Love to do the heavy lifting, Rubio will have to be the leader of the young and athletic T-Wolves squad. He should click really well right off the bat with young guns Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Zach LaVine, but can he handle added pressure to score more, too? He’s also looking for the Wolves to sign him to a 5-year max deal, so his performance this season should really be one for the books. Having career-highs in FG%, rebounds, and assists last year should help, as well.

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