Jared Dudley was traded this summer from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Washington Wizards to fill the void that Paul Pierce left. He has a lifetime three-point percentage just under 40 percent and is a perfect fit as a small-ball 4 for almost any team. Once he gets healthy, Dudley should provide the Wizards with a player who can help Bradley Beal and John Wall operate, while providing defense and some rebounding for the team.
Wesley Matthews should be far higher on the list. A high true shooting percentage, incredible three-point shooting and high-level defense helped Portland to one of the best records in the Western Conference until Matthews tore his Achilles last season. Predicting how Matthews will recover from the injury is impossible, but if he’s anything close to what he was last season, he’ll far surpass this tier.
Josh Smith had a terrible start to the season in Detroit. In Houston, however, Smith reverted back to his playmaking ways, albeit while still shooting a significant amount. Smith can always be counted on for his durability, as he’s missed an average of less than three games per season over the past six seasons. Smith may have fallen in love with the long mid-range jump shot in Detroit, but he took significantly less of those shots in Houston. If Smith can continue that trend with the Clippers, they may finally reach the next level in the playoffs.
Thaddeus Young‘s stats don’t look impressive, but Young’s time in Brooklyn was more impressive than they appear at first glance. Young averaged almost 14 points in less than 30 minutes per game with a true shooting percentage of 54 percent. If he’s able to improve his free throw shooting closer to his career average, his true shooting will skyrocket.
Tyreke Evans is similar to Kobe in that he does everything well except score efficiently. His assist percentage is one of the highest among the wings, and his rebound percentage is above average at the position as well. Evans has never been a good shooter, but the last two seasons Evans has had difficulties finishing around the rim, shooting 54 and 56 percent the past two seasons within three feet.
Denver is expected to be a rebuilding team after trading Ty Lawson, but if Danilo Gallinari is able to stay healthy, he may be able to keep the team in competition for a playoff spot. Most of Gallinari’s game revolves around his ability to shoot, and he struggled last season shooting only 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. A full season of health, a better coach and a young, improving supporting cast could be what Gallinari needs to improve on last year.
Manu Ginobili isn’t anywhere near the player he was a few years ago, but he still has a positive impact on the Spurs as the distributor of the second lineup. He’s still an above-average scorer, his passing is still vital in the Spurs’ system and his defense wasn’t a negative last season. With the addition of a high usage player in LaMarcus Aldridge and another year of decline for Ginobili, this may be the last season for Ginobili in the NBA.
DeMar DeRozan has made strides in the NBA, but the majority of his shots have been between 10 feet and the three-point line. In fact, the Raptors take significantly more mid-range jump shots when DeRozan is on the floor compared to when he’s off the floor, according to nbawowy.com. Unfortunately, while DeRozan has improved his ability to create opportunities for his teammates, his defense slipped last season.
Aaron Gordon looked more like the player he was thought to be coming out of Arizona in this year’s Summer League. His shot was smoother, he created shots for his teammates and was active on the defensive end. He still needs to show that he can do those same things against NBA talent, but Gordon has the potential to be a standout player.
James Johnson is a player who doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the names on the list, but he’s always been one of my favorite players in the league. More than 50 percent of his shots come within three feet of the rim, and Johnson converted almost 78 percent of those attempts, per Basketball-Reference.com. Defensively, Johnson was one of the only positive defenders for the Raptors, and he has the size and strength to guard multiple positions.
Avery Bradley has one more season to prove if he’s worth the $32 million contract he signed last summer. He shot almost 40 percent from three two years ago, but that number dropped to 35 percent last season. Even with a 40 percent three-point percentage, Bradley only managed a true shooting percentage of 51, and that number dropped slightly to 50.7 percent this past year. Bradley is known for his defense, but he needs to do more on that end outside of picking up the ball-handler the full length of the court.
Luol Deng was once known as defensive stopper with the ability to produce some on offense. With Miami last season, Deng was an effective offensive player, shooting just under 36 percent from three and nearly 65 percent around the rim. While Deng’s defense has slipped since his time in Chicago, he’s still a key cog in Miami’s starting five.
Rudy Gay maintained a well above-average true shooting percentage while carrying one of the highest usage percentages in the league. Gay has been mocked since his trade from Memphis – and for good reason – but Gay seems to have turned it around since his arrival in Sacramento.
Harrison Barnes is the beneficiary of a great situation. With the attention Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson attract, and the passing ability of fellow starters Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green, Barnes sees his fair share of open shots. To Barnes’s credit, however, he makes a high percentage of those shots. Barnes made over 40 percent of his three-point attempt last season, and an even more impressive 48 percent of his threes from the corner.
Jabari Parker‘s rookie season was cut short due to a torn ACL 25 games into last year, but he showed promise in his short stint. Parker made over 51 percent of his two-point attempts last season and was an impressive rebounder in a small sample. Parker won’t be a good defender in his second season with Milwaukee, but he has an elite defense behind him to make up for his mistakes.
Andrew Wiggins has the potential to be a top player in the NBA for a long time, but he has a long way to go to be ranked with the elite this season. He didn’t have much help in Minnesota last year, but his efficiency was slightly below average, and he didn’t do much else on the offensive end. Wiggins has the tools to be an elite defender, but he got caught in no man’s land last season too often when he wasn’t guarding the ball-handler.
Much is made about Patrick Beverley being the perfect complement to James Harden, but Trevor Ariza was equally important to what the Rockets were able to accomplish last season. He didn’t shoot near the percentages that he did the season before in Washington, but Ariza’s defense allowed Harden to take the easier assignment on defense and still forced defenses to respect his shot, shooting 35 percent from three last season and 42 percent from the corner.
Nikola Mirotic might be the player most likely to break out for the Bulls this season. He showed some flashes as a competent pick-and-roll ball-handler, and his shooting will likely improve this season. Mirotic may benefit the most from new coach Fred Hoiberg‘s run-and-gun style. At Iowa State, Hoiberg loved to shoot threes and push the pace, something that Mirotic could excel at.
Victor Oladipo is another young player with an immense amount of potential, but he’s yet to show enough to be much higher so far in his career. Oladipo is probably an above-average scorer – his true shooting percentage is slightly lower than average but his usage is higher than average – his assist percentage is high but so is his turnover percentage. Like Wiggins, Oladipo was thought to be a better defensive prospect out of college than an offensive one, but he’s yet to show the ability to shut an opponent down on a consistent basis.