Rose is entering his third season, right about the point where fans stop talking about former top-5 draft picks’ MVP potential and start focusing on if they can make the All-Star Game – that is if it turns out they aren’t the MVP quality of player.
Most NBA fans like Rose because he’s exciting to watch and increased his scoring by 4 ppg from his rookie season (16.3 to 20.3), but it should be noted that he showed almost no improvement from his first year to his second in nearly every statistical areas. A 48% FG% became 49%, 0.2 threes a game stayed the same (although he was shooting them better near the end of the season), a 6.1-2.4 Assist-Turnover worsened to 5.9-2.7, and his steals dropped from 0.8 to 0.7. He shot the ball more and got to the line 1.2 more times per game; that’s about it. Rose’s biggest improvements during the year occurred when he was starting next to with Kirk Hinrich, but he’s gone, so it now is completely up to Rose to run the backcourt and keep the offense flowing. This is the year we find out if he really is an MVP candidate, especially while Carlos Boozer’s hand heals at the start of the season.
This one should go without saying, but let’s just fill in some details. After playing for seven years and having nothing even close to a championship to show for his “best player of his generation” talents (getting swept 4-0 after getting through the uber-weak East in 2007 doesn’t count as close), he leaves his hometown high and dry for party town to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That’s a pretty big slap in the face to Cleveland, but then he goes on and acts like a dillhole for most of the summer. Miami is now expected to win multiple titles while he’s around, and he’s kinda on a long run of not-so-hot playoff performances. Yeah, the Heat are Wade’s team, but their success is officially linked to LeBron’s legacy from this point forward. He has to turn around the ho-hum performances that kept getting him bounced from title runs each spring. This is his year to finally show he can keep up his greatness into and past May.
Golden State is supposed to be Ellis’ team. He scores a bunch, he’s fast and fun to watch, and he’s quite the ball hawk on defense. Then the team drafted Stephen Curry with the #7 pick last year and it became quickly apparent that the Davidson College SG-turned-PG really was going to start next to Ellis. By the end of the season, Curry nearly overtook Tyreke Evans in the Rookie of the Year race and the Warriors kinda became the youngster’s team. No one is openly saying it, but it’s clear where the buzz is and who has the higher ceiling. The team added some veteran pieces this offseason (David Lee, Charlie Bell, Louis Amundson, Dan Gadzuric), so someone needs to make sure they feel comfortable with their new surroundings and like they’re part of the team. That’s the one thing Ellis can do better than Curry right now. He’s no longer the team’s best player—which is good since they’re trying to win games—but he still needs to be the guy who’s been here for a while and make sure things are smooth since Curry is still not experienced enough to be that guy. If Ellis tries to have some personal rivalry with the Curry hype and attempts to score tons of points to prove he’s still the man, this team will only get worse and the looks from teammates while he’s driving 1-on-3 will be awkwardly comical. But if he resigns himself to being an important cog—just not the most important—in a machine that’s trying to improve, Golden State will be able to stand paying him $44 million over the next four years.
The Thunder have themselves a legit MVP candidate for the next however many years in Kevin Durant. Because of him and the huge jump in Oklahoma City wins last season, fans everywhere are talking about the Thunder as possible Laker dethroners with enough developing talent to take over the West. For that to happen, though, someone needs to step up as a true #2 next to Durant; one man can’t completely lead a team of zero All-Star-caliber teammates to the promised land. Jeff Green does a little of everything and nearly played for Team USA, but he’s not good enough at any one thing to ever be more than a very good role player. James Harden is still feeling his way into the league. Thabo Sefolosha and Cole Aldrich are hard nosed defenders, not Pippen/Wade/Parker-esque second options. Westbrook is the only one who has what it takes to be that guy who can do some taking over of his own when Durant has an off night or needs more help against an overwhelming opponent. He’s not there yet, but bumping his assists from 5.3 to 8.0 per contest (while keeping his turnovers at 3.3) was a big step in the right direction. What he needs to do from here is become a real scoring threat (notice I didn’t say scorer, but scoring threat). That’s tough to do while his shooting percentages from the field and from deep hover between terrible and horrendous (42% FG, 22% 3FG), although he has shown a knack for getting to the free throw line. If he displays an improved jumper and better touch near the basket in 2010-11—his third season—he’ll be hell to handle, making things that much easier for Durant, and that is when the Thunder will step up as true contenders.