#NBA2015: Players to Watch Part Two

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 Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, and Pacers.

Three forwards and three centers will shape the futures of their
respective franchises this season.

Chandler Parsons (DAL) -  Paying a professional athlete 46 million dollars to play for three years is the working definition of expensive. Doing that to someone who has never been an NBA All-Star that much money is the working definition of overpaying. Still, despite all the doubt and flak, the Dallas Mavericks are trusting Chandler Parsons, and Parsons, for his part, is more motivated than ever to prove he’s worth every cent. His numbers might not (yet) be worthy of All-Star consideration, but he has improved his offensive production every year he’s been in the league, and now that he’ll probably have more possessions than he did last season on a team featuring James Harden and Dwight Howard, Parsons should up his numbers even more. But, again, will it be worth being paid nearly double what Dirk Nowitzki is getting this season? That we’ll have to see.

Kenneth Faried (DEN) - Another guy getting paid is Faried, whose 50-million-dollar, four-year, contract extension validates his jump from merely-athletic power forward to potential franchise cornerstone. If his numbers post-All-Star-Weekend in 2014 are anything to go on (around 19 points and 10 rebounds a game), then we’re bound to see him really break out this season. When one factors in how he blossomed in a Team USA jersey while flying high in #Spain2014, there’s very little doubt that he will be one of the main driving forces of the Nuggets in ’14-’15. Faried’s boundless motor and electrifying energy are worthy facets to build around, especially when Denver plays the likes of Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph, and LaMarcus Aldridge. I don’t think Faried will by anywhere near MVP conversations this season, but if he continues on his upward trajectory, then he might just be a strong candidate for Most Improved and, more importantly, possibly lead the Nuggets back to the Playoffs.

Andre Drummond (DET) - Andre Drummond gained a lot of valuable experience playing for Team USA, Greg Monroe signed back on, and Stan Van Gundy stepped in as Detroit’s head coach. The Pistons are looking to change their collective identity from has-beens to can-bes. It all centers around the young, promising, Dwight-Howard-esque, Drummond, of course. Like the current Houston center who formerly and famously played under SVG, Drummond sucks ass from the free throw line, but, also like Howard, he his an all-world dominant force in the middle. Look at Drummond’s numbers from last season — 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.2 steals, and 62% FG shooting in just over 32 minutes per game. Those are just about the same stats (per minute) that Howard had in his second season, too. See where I’m going with this? Dwight Howard isn’t past his prime yet, but his heir apparent is already here, and his former coach might just take this young giant to even greater heights. I’m not saying Drummond will be an All-Star lock, heck he probably won’t be able to take Detroit to the postseason yet, but we cannot deny the fact he has the makings of being, possibly, the world’s best center in the near future.

David Lee (GSW) - Why talk about a guy Warriors fans felt sad was staying? Why talk about a guy who should’ve been shipped for Kevin Love? Why talk about a guy whose production has plateaued since leaving the Big Apple? Here’s why: Lee is still a vital cog in Golden State’s future, whether it’s because he stays on and puts up nightly 20-10s (yeah, good one), or he gets traded for more bench depth and to allow us to rediscover why we all loved Harrison Barnes in the 2013 Playoffs. Lee will be a tough sell, however, as he’s already 31 years old, and his contract isn’t exactly the cheapest one around (he’ll earn more this year than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson COMBINED). Translation? The team might be better off sticking with Lee and finding a way to use him as a small-ball center, especially if incumbent slotman Andrew Bogut misses significant time again due to recurring injuries.

Dwight Howard (HOU) - IMHO, the most exciting thing Houston fans can look forward to this season is the health of prized center Dwight Howard. If the former Orlando Magic and LA Lakers big guy is to be believed, he’s the healthiest he’s been since sustaining a back injury years ago. He normed 26 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks in the 2014 Playoffs and looks plenty motivated to regain his world-beating form this season. With a more mature James Harden alongside him, a bunch of lockdown defenders less prone to mistakes (Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza come to mind), and some sharp-shooters ready to torch the nylon (hello, Jason Terry and Francisco Garcia), Howard should have a much better year ahead as the Rockets’ man in the middle. He should be an All-Star lock, and, with a little bit of luck, should give Houston a legitimate shot at shooting past the first round come April 2015.

Roy Hibbert (IND) - With no Lance Stephenson and Paul George, it’s pretty obvious that the onus is on Roy Hibbert to emerge as the Pacers’ main man. Indiana lost so much that perhaps even Hibbert’s pre-All-Star numbers last season — 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game — won’t probably be enough to carry this team into the East’s top eight by season’s end. For Frank Vogel’s crew to contend for a postseason slot, Hibbert will need to turn in a career-defining season — maybe put up 16-12-3 a game? Is that too much to ask of a guy who was in the conversation for best center in the league around 2012-2013? Maybe, but given how much has been taken from the Pacers, and how so little is left, there’s just no other way to go. Indiana will only go as far as Hibbert takes them.

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