Proving Ground Update
10. Stephon Marbury: He's the motor that makes the Knicks run and he's got more talent to deal with this year. Can he run the team so the offense runs fluidly? With age catching up with him, this might be the last chance he has to show off his talents and salvage his reputation.
Yeah, Steph didn't do much to salvage the ol' rep. Fair or not, his reputation is down at Stephen Jackson after the Palace fight low. I still think he's going to bounce back and have a solid year next year if he's traded but this year has pretty much ruined him.
9. Andrea Bargnani: The Atlantic Division just got a whole lot tougher so Bargnani needs to step up his game if the Raptors are going to hold onto their division title. Also, with other Class of '06ers looking better by the day, Bargnani needs to prove that he was worth the #1 pick.
Andrea indeed. Bargnani was charmin soft this year and got to watch as Rudy Gay emerged as another guy who Toronto could have had. My man Leon Powe even started to look like more of a threat in the paint than Andrea. Bargnani basically has set himself up for a top 5, if not #1, spot in next year's Proving Ground.
8. Kevin Garnett: He's never had teammates like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen so the excuses are gone. Then again, he has had teammates like Brian Scalabrine, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, and Leon Powe so some of the excuses are still there.
Leon, I'm sorry! KG proved himself beyond a shadow of a doubt in the regular season. The only thing that could put a damper on it is if he somehow choked in the playoffs. Oh, and apologies to Rajon Rondo who also proved himself as a legit starter this season. Tony Allen? Eh. He still makes me nervous whenever he has the ball.
7. Greg Oden: He's coming in billed as the next championship-level big man. Anything less will be a disappointment and it seems like countless people are waiting for him to fail.
Incomplete. Although one story really bothered me. Oden was recently admonished by the Blazers staff for playing two games of pick-up ball at a neighborhood gym. That fact doesn't seem like much but his quote kind of irked me, "I was going to play one, but I lost the first one." He lost the first one? I hope he was in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood Gym or something.
6. Kevin Durant: While Durant went after Oden the pressure is higher because he's basically all the Sonics have got. They dumped Ray Allen and put the mantle of leadership in Durant's hands. He can't just score points, he has to do it effeciently AND rebound in order to match expectations.
Durant didn't live up to the expecations but there was really no way he was going to because the expecations were extreme. His first half of the season was disappointing but he really proved himself in the second half of the season by hitting his shots at a higher clip. Still, his three point numbers were still low (31% in the second half, 28% overall) so he definitely needs to work on that, along with his rebounding and dribble drive. I still see him as a Rashard Lewis-type player (as opposed to a LeBron or even 'Melo) but he'll be one hell of a second star if the Sonics can land Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley.
5. Luol Deng: The Bulls love him but they held onto him instead of dealing for some elite level players. If Deng doesn't emerge as a superstar, the love affair in Chi-town may be over.
And how. The Deng Situation could go down in NBA history as one of the most mismanged off-seasons. Not only did Deng turn down a good deal but the Bulls missed out on some top notch players in order to have to haggle with Luol this offseason. I can't imagine it won't work out for Luol since someone will offer him decent money on potential alone, but the Bulls really screwed the pooch on this one. (How did "screw the pooch" become a phrase? I mean, I don't think I've ever messed up something so badly that I thought, "Man, that mistake was like fucking a dog." It probably should be screwed by the pooch since I can only imagine that's how Chicago fans feel right now.)
4. Andrew Bogut: The #1 pick has been solid but unspectacular and needs to step and show that he was not only worth his #1 slot but also is good enough to man the middle for a legit playoff team. Plus, his new haircut is ridiculous and he is outspoken. You can't be outspoken off the court if you are outplayed on it.
This video says it all about Andrew. He could be a good player (not Chris Paul/Deron Williams good) but it's not like he's on a team that's going to help him reach those heights.
3. Rashard Lewis: Personally, I don't think that there is any way he can truly earn the money he's making but that doesn't mean that the people in Orlando won't be expecting it to happen. Lewis is going to have to emerge as a superstar and lead Orlando to a home berth in the playoffs to live up to the contract he signed.
Luckily for Rashard, Hedo Turkoglu stepped up and helped the Magic become a top team in the East. Rashard did what he does and helped as well but I have a feeling his contract is going to become an issue after next season when Hedo can opt out of his contract and test the waters. I still don't believe there is any way that he deserves the contract that he received.
2. Al Jefferson: Big Al was so upset about hearing his name in trade offers for Allen Iverson last year that he recommitted himself. He improved to a point where he was impressive enough to get traded for Kevin Garnett. Funny how things work. Still, Big Al is the face of the deal that sent the best player in franchise history out of town so he has some huge shoes to fill (not to mention that he bad mouthed once and future teammate Mark Blount after Blount was shipped out of Boston.)
To start off, thank God Billy King is an idiot and turned down Danny Ainge's Everything And the Kitchen Sink deal for Allen Iverson. Big Al stepped up this season. "The Unstoppable", as some have begun to call him, is the centerpiece of the Wolves rebuilding process. He still needs to work on his defense and his passing (hey, even Zach Randolph looked great for a few years) but it seems like Big Al is well on his way to earning that max contract and possibly a second one after that.
1. Andrew Bynum: Jason Kidd. Kevin Garnett. Possibly Pau Gasol. When a team holds onto you instead of dealing for players of that caliber, you better pan out. Especially when the Black Mamba is looming.
I still would have traded him for Kevin Garnett but besides that Bynum has stepped up his game to a point where people are comparing him to Big Al and Laker fans are very happy that they didn't dump him in a Jason Kidd trade. Hopefully the knee injury won't be a recurring issue. Oh, and it also helps when Chris Wallace decides to just fork over Pau Gasol for Javarris Crittenton. I'm VERY high on Crittenton has a prospect but an All-Star for a late first round pick is highway robbery any way you slice it.