Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
8. Who are the top 10 small forwards in the league?
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat (2009-10 averages: 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 50.3 field-goal percentage, 33.3 three-point percentage in 76 games): Even if his scoring numbers slightly decrease, don't be shocked if "King James" averages a triple-double as a Magic Johnson-Oscar Robertson hybrid in his new place of residence and confirms his status as the NBA's best player in retaliation for the continued backlash he's endured.
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (2009-10 averages: 30.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 47.6 field-goal percentage, 36.5 three-point percentage in 82 games): Still 21, Durant might not be quite ready to take over the crown as the league's top dog, but his exploits in the World Championships demonstrate he's the game's best pure scorer and the Thunder could be prepared to take the next step.
3. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets (2009-10 averages: 28.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 45.8 field-goal percentage, 31.6 three-point percentage in 69 games): A byproduct of Anthony's statuses as an upcoming free agent and reported relocation desires will be increased scrutiny and a judgment on whether he's fit to lead a team to the promised land -- regardless of what city he's in.
4. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (2009-10 averages: 18.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 47.2 field-goal percentage, 41.4 three-point percentage in 71 games): Pierce is no longer dominant on a nightly basis, but "The Truth" still capable of taking over individual games and serving as the front man for an aging Boston band's last few tours.
5. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte Bobcats (2009-10 averages: 18.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 48.4 field-goal percentage, 37.1 three-point percentage in 76 games): Never the prettiest player, under the tutelage of Larry Brown, the relentless Wallace has rounded out his game, upgraded his perception around the league and led the Bobcats to their first-ever postseason appearance.
6. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers (2009-10 averages: 24.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 42.8 field-goal percentage, 36.1 three-point percentage in 62 games): Considered to be on the cusp of elite the season before last, a disappointing campaign put the onus on Granger to improve -- defense and shot selection, in particular -- especially after a humbling national-team experience.
7. Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies (2009-10 averages: 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 46.6 field-goal percentage, 32.7 three-point percentage in 80 games): Armed with a hefty contract extension that raised eyebrows around the league, Gay, coming off a productive summer with USA Basketball, will be expected to take his game -- and team -- to the next level.
8. Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls (2009-10 averages: 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 46.6 field-goal percentage, 38.6 three-point percentage in 70 games): Taking more of a background role on a team capable of taking things a step or two further in the postseason might actually help Deng receive much-deserved credit for his quiet and polished game.
9. Caron Butler, Dallas Mavericks (2009-10 averages: 16.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 42.8 field-goal percentage, 29.0 three-point percentage in 74 games): Adjusting to the Mavericks after years of immense freedom in Washington has been a process, but he's still one of the more versatile and dangerous players at his position.
10. Corey Maggette, Milwaukee Bucks (2009-10 averages: 19.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 51.6 field-goal percentage, 26.0 three-point percentage in 70 games): Maggette is one of the league's top gunners, but perhaps the prospect of playing for the Bucks, who have the potential to make a deep playoff run, persuades him to be more team-oriented, while still contributing his scoring prowess.
Next 10 (in alphabetical order):
Ron Artest, Los Angeles Lakers: Artest is no longer the all-around threat he was last decade, but his toughness, lockdown defense, timeliness in the clutch and ability to blend into the team concepts are major reasons the Lakers won the title.
Trevor Ariza, New Orleans Hornets: Ariza wasn't exactly a great fit in Houston, but playing alongside Chris Paul should afford him plenty of easy opportunities to succeed, as his athleticism and defense are attributes the Hornets have long desired.
Wilson Chandler, New York Knicks: Although Chandler often flies under the radar, his athleticism, slashing style and high motor have earned him respect in the Big Apple.
Danilo Gallinari, New York Knicks: While the young Italian needs to round out his game, his uncanny combination of size, deep range and deceiving toughness will continue to be a centerpiece of the Knicks' attempted resurgence.
Richard Jefferson, San Antonio Spurs: Hopefully Jefferson's abysmal debut with the Spurs will be a distant memory with the opportunity to fully adjust and the security of a surprising contract extension.
Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz: The versatile Kirilenko will be forced to produce like the "AK-47" of old if Utah is expected to remain among the West's elite following a summer of player turnover.
Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons: After an injury-riddled season, Prince should return to a semblance of his old form on a more consistent basis, but whether or not he finishes the season in Detroit is a different story.
Hedo Turkoglu, Phoenix Suns: Playing in the freedom of Phoenix's offense -- and with Steve Nash -- should enable Turkoglu to bounce back from a disaster of a season in Toronto.
Terrence Williams, New Jersey Nets: Williams, who started his rookie campaign slow and ended it strong, may actually playing both backcourt positions, but his versatility and athleticism could allow for more favorable mismatches at the three.
Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers: Despite regressing a bit last season, Young has all the tools to thrive in a new system -- and his natural position -- under new Sixers coach Doug Collins.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.