Yesterday, we took a look at the Western Conference players that will help shape their respective teams’ destinies. Today, we look at the East. Remember, the term “success” here is all relative. *cough*Bobcats*cough*.
Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague
Teague had a coming out party of sorts last season when he was given the reins at the starting point guard position, starting all 66 games and posting career-highs across the board. Will he be able to improve on his 12.6 points, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals from a year ago? His continued development and increased scoring opportunities following the trade of Joe Johnsonwill be key to the Hawks remaining in the playoff picture, where they’ll surely lose in the first or second round.
Boston Celtics: Jeff Green
The Celtics just paid Green a lot of money during the offseason after he didn’t play a lick at all last season. It’s an obvious investment for the future, but with Paul Pierce getting old and with retirement rumors having surfaced previously, how Green develops will not only shape the fortunes of the team this season, but for the next few. He likely may not get enough minutes, but if he can show he can produce like his career-highs of 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds, the Celtics will breathe easier. Almost went with Jason Terry here replacing Ray Allen, but Jet should be able to handle it. Avery Bradley was another option. Man, the Celtics are really deep at the guard position now, huh?
Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez
Bropez is the best center in the L that gets zero love. Shaq and his opinions don’t count. Sure he lacks explosion, any concept of interior defense and there’s an issue with his rebounding, but the dude averaged 18.8, 20.4 and 19.2 points the past three years! Granted, last year was injury-plagued and he only threw on the uni for five games, but before that he played every game of his first three seasons. In any case, this is the season that Brook has to shut his critics up and drop 20 and grab at least eight rebounds on the regular. If he can do that, the Nets have a chance to take the division. Yeah, this admitted Nets fan said it.
Charlotte Bobcats: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Is it unfair to put any sort of burden on a rookie? Of course it is, but no one is going to cry for a newly-christened millionaire. After having the worst record percentage-wise last season in the NBA’s history and missing out on Anthony Davis during the NBA Draft Lottery, all eyes will be on Kidd-Gilchrist, the other Kentucky superstar. He probably won’t have as much of an impact as Davis will, but MKG is a versatile player with a high basketball IQ and is likely the “savior” for the team since last year’s rookies, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, showed little in the way of being “that dude.” Kidd-Gilchrist will have a lot of challenges this year, but if he shows that he can overcome them, the Bobcats may actually say, “Anthony Davis who?” Of course, the rest of the league may respond, “You know… that Rookie of the Year guy,” but still.
Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich
Hinrich is back with the Bulls after languishing in relative anonymity with the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks the past two seasons. However, he won’t be in the shadows anymore as the team is relying on him to keep the Bulls afloat until Derrick Rose returns from a torn ACL, whenever that may be. However, Hinrich himself has suffered from physical ailments (thumb and groin), which would be bad for the franchise if he’s not on the floor. Hinrich is more than capable of running the team and his veteran experience is very much needed at this point.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson
The former fourth overall pick had a lot of people scratching their heads at the 2011 NBA Draft and he’ll need to do a lot of things better in order to justify the pick. As a rookie last season he shot horribly from the floor (43.9 percent) and the line (55.2 percent) and the former should be a lot better as a big. Thompson’s per 36 numbers for boards (9.8) and blocks (1.6) are encouraging, and as the starter at the four he’ll have ample chances to live up to the hype.
Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond
Drummond was actually considered the top prospect for the 2012 NBA Draft before the 2011 college basketball season started and the aforementioned Davis went bananas. Even leading up to the draft, Drummond was a possibility for being a top three pick, but the Pistons were relatively lucky to get him at No. 9. He has a ton of potential and could eventually be the greatest running big man in the game, but it will be all about desire for him. Much like fellow UConn alumnus, Rudy Gay, was questioned during the early part of his NBA career, there’s no denying the talent, but the passion is another issue. Can Lawrence Frank keep Drummond engaged?
Indiana Pacers: George Hill
The Pacers basically shuttled former starter Darren Collison away to the Mavs and handed Hill the starting spot at the one, something he’s never been for a full season (he started nine games last season). Will he be able to lead the team toward its continued trend upward or will he fail? The offseason acquisition of D.J. Augustin should do two things: 1) keep Hill honest and let’s him know that someone is ready to take his spot and 2) provide the team with a solid fallback player in case Hill can’t handle his duties.
Miami Heat: Ray Allen
Allen was brought into the Heat fold during the offseason and I’m sure many Boston Celtics fans will boo him when he returns to Boston with the wrong color jersey. Despite turning 37 years old during the summer, Allen can still shoot the damn ball, averaging 45.8 percent from the floor, 45.3 percent behind the trey line and 91.5 percent from the stripe last season. He should open a lot of space for LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the post.
Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova
Was last season’s 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds a fluke for Ilyasova? The Bucks are banking on it being real to the tune of $40 million over the next five seasons. Their backcourt will be solid with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but their four and five spots only have Ilyasova to rely on for offensive punch. If he can at least improve a bit offensively, it’ll be all the better in Bucks country.
New York Knicks: Raymond Felton
Much like Goran Dragic with the Suns, Felton is taking over for a point guard that its team’s fanbase held in high regard, sample size of work notwithstanding. Many may expect Felton to return to his former production with the Knicks — 17.1 points and 9.0 assists in 54 games before being traded for Carmelo Anthony — but that’s almost impossible considering the change in offense and personnel. Add that at some point Jason Kidd might get salty for not playing much and Felton could relatively bomb in his return to the Big Apple. If he can get past Melo’s ball stopping and actually lead this team, it will go a long way towards the Knicks making a nice run.
Orlando Magic: Arron Afflalo
Afflalo is the choice here by default because he was the main “name” player coming back to the Magic when the team traded away Dwight Howard. I’m not really sure what the team was thinking, but they are hoping that Afflalo can be the player that leads them to mediocrity as he’s relatively young (recently turned 27), can shoot, play defense and has solid intangibles. Yeah, I’m writing this and even I’m not buying it.
Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner
We could probably go with Andrew Bynum’s health here, but we’ll go with Turner instead, since his development helped the Sixers move the overpaid and underappreciated Andre Iguodala. Like Iggy, Turner has a versatile skill set that allows him to facilitate an offense (2.8 assists) and board (5.8), which he did in limited minutes (26 minutes) last season. Turner doesn’t have the defensive ability and athleticism of Iguodala, but he’s a better overall shooter and has had the experience of taking a team on his back from his OSU days. If he can step up and be a leader on this Sixer squad, it could mean tons for the organization.
Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas
Finally, Valanciunas is in the NBA. After taking him fifth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft knowing he would stay overseas for a year, the Raptors welcome a true back to the basket center in JV. If he comes as advertised, he should wreak havoc down low and open the lanes for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, while getting open shots for Andrea Bargnani, Landry Fields and Terrence Ross. Valanciunas could have be a game-changer for the team and there are expectations for him to deliver.
Washington Wizards: John Wall
And we end with hitting a wall. Pardon the pun. Or don’t. Either way, it’s hard not to go with Wall here even though he’s a star-caliber player. However, as he goes, this Wizards go. Wall is easily the most talented player on the team, but he will miss NBA action for about a month because of a knee injury and the season won’t really start until he returns.
DV is the founder at Baller Mind Frame and can be reached on Twitter to argue about basketball. Also, if you’d like to challenge him in fantasy basketball, hit him up on Twitter and he’ll hit you with the deets!