Ten players to watch in the NBA this season
By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The 2004-05 NBA season is approaching
quickly. Many of the top players in the league found or were placed in new
homes during the offseason, while some familiar faces will try and bounce back
from poor showings during last year. There is also a group of players who
became household names with breakout performances during the 2003-04 season.
Which players are going to shine this year? Who is going to have the biggest
impact on his new squad? Which rookie is ready to be a star? Who is ready to
surprise the league? Which player will have a disappointing season? Here’s a
list of 10 players to keep an eye on during the 2004-05 season.
1. STEPHEN JACKSON (INDIANA PACERS) – The 26-year-old Jackson could be just
what the doctor ordered for the Pacers, who acquired the swingman in a sign-
and-trade deal from the Atlanta Hawks for forward Al Harrington in July.
The 6-8 Jackson plays solid defense, is a deadly shooter from anywhere on the
court, and has experienced the thrill of winning a championship as a member of
the 2003 San Antonio Spurs. Last season, Jackson played in 80 games for the
Hawks and averaged career-highs in points (18.0 ppg), rebounds (4.6 rpg),
assists (3.1 apg) and steals (1.78 spg). Jackson, who made 34 percent of his
attempts from three-point range in 2003-04, could be the missing piece to
the puzzle in Indiana.
2. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (MIAMI HEAT) – The most dominant force in the NBA now
calls Miami home. In the biggest trade of the offseason, the Heat acquired
O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for forwards Lamar Odom, Brian
Grant, Caron Butler and a first-round draft pick.
The All-Star center is a man on a mission and he could be primed to have the
best season of his career. The 32-year-old O’Neal, who had spent the past
eight seasons with the Lakers, averaged a career-low 21.5 points and 11.5
rebounds in 67 regular-season games for LA in 2003-04. If Shaq can stay
healthy, the Eastern Conference, which is thin at center, will realize that
there is a new sheriff in town and he resides in the middle for the Heat.
3. KENYON MARTIN (DENVER NUGGETS) – The youthful Nuggets acquired a winner
when they obtained Martin in July from the New Jersey Nets in a sign-and-trade
deal for three future first-round picks. The All-Star power forward averaged
15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds in four seasons with Nets.
Martin will team with Carmelo Anthony to give the Nuggets one of the best
young forward tandems in the league. The 26-year-old Martin brings valuable
experience, intensity, and energy to Denver, which won 43 games last season
and made the playoffs for the first time since 1995. The addition of Martin,
who played in two NBA Finals with the Nets, not only makes the Nuggets
tougher down low but it gives them instant credibility as a serious threat in
the Western Conference.
4. AL HARRINGTON (ATLANTA HAWKS) – Harrington was not going to start ahead of
All-Star forwards Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal in Indiana. He wanted to have
the opportunity to play more minutes and the only way he was going to get that
chance was to be traded. When the Hawks acquired Harrington from the Pacers,
they got a player who has a chip on his shoulder and wants to prove to the
rest of the NBA that he can be one of the top forwards in the league.
Originally selected out of St. Patrick’s High School by Indiana in the first
round (25th pick overall) of the 1998 NBA Draft, Harrington played a career-
high 30.9 minutes per game for the Pacers last season. He appeared in 79
contests in 2003-04 and averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds, which were both
career-highs. In Atlanta, Harrington will start and will have every chance in
the world to showcase his talents for the re-building Hawks. This is a make or
break year for the talented 6-9 forward, who is ready for the challenge.
5. WILLIE GREEN (PHILADELPHIA 76ERS) – Green could be the next player to
become a household name. The Detroit Mercy Product was originally selected in
the second round (41st pick overall) of the 2003 NBA Draft by Seattle, which
traded him to Philadelphia in a draft-night deal. He is expected to start
alongside All-Star Allen Iverson in the 76ers’ backcourt.
During his rookie campaign, Green played in 53 contests for Philadelphia and
averaged 6.9 points in just over 14 minutes of action per game. At the end of
last season, Green played very well and showed that he has the ability to be a
scorer in the league. On April 4, Green scored a career-high 26 points against
Atlanta. The 23-year-old shooting guard will play significant minutes this
season and will get the chance to put his name on the NBA map.
6. BEN GORDON (CHICAGO BULLS) – This guy can flat out play. Gordon, who was
selected out of Connecticut with the third overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft
by Chicago, should be a front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors.
Gordon will get his share of minutes at both guard positions for the lowly
Bulls. He is able to create his own shot and should be able to help improve
Chicago’s perimeter game. The Connecticut product will shine in his rookie
campaign, as his skills are ready to take on the challenge of the next level.
7. JAMEER NELSON (ORLANDO MAGIC) – Orlando acquired Nelson, who was drafted by
Denver with the 20th overall selection in this year’s draft, from the Nuggets
in a trade on draft night. The Portland Trail Blazers decided to pass on
Nelson, who spent four seasons at Saint Joseph’s University, and pick high
school point guard Sebastian Telfair at No. 13, while the Atlanta Hawks, New
Orleans Hornets and Miami Heat all picked high school players with picks
Nelson, who was the Consensus National Player of the Year and was named the
recipient of the inaugural Bob Cousy Point Guard Award in 2003-04, will
compete with Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley for playing time in Orlando. The
Saint Joseph’s product, who averaged 16.8 points, 5.7 assists, 4.6 rebounds.
and 2.05 steals in 125 games in college, is a pure point guard who thinks pass
first and shoot second. Nelson’s maturity and professionalism along with his
desire to succeed will help him prove to the teams that passed on him that
they made a mistake. If he gets the chance
8. MICHAEL REDD (MILWAUKEE BUCKS) – Redd had a breakout season for Milwaukee
in 2003-04. The 25-year-old shooting guard led the Bucks in scoring with a
career-high 21.7 points per game and earned the right to play in his first NBA
All-Star Game. Redd also averaged five rebounds and 2.3 assists while starting
all 82 regular-season games for Milwaukee.
The Ohio State product’s skills are no longer a mystery in NBA circles.
Milwaukee’s opponents will build defensive game plans against stopping the
All-Star guard, which will make Redd’s life a little tougher. The fact is Redd
is ready to be a frequent visitor to NBA All-Star Games. He is a pure shooter
who can score with the best, and at 25-years-old he will continue to get
better. Redd is ready to be mentioned in the same sentence as the other elite
shooting guards in the league.
9. DWYANE WADE (Miami Heat) – The Marquette product had an excellent rookie
season in 2003-04 that was unfortunately overshadowed by the performances of
Cleveland’s LeBron James and Denver’s Carmelo Anthony. Wade, who averaged
16.2 points and 4.5 assists in 61 games for the Heat last season, should
benefit most from the addition of O’Neal.
With the simple presence of Shaq, the floor should open up for the athletic
Wade, who excels in a fast-paced game. Wade is an exciting player to watch and
Miami head coach Stan Van Gundy is expecting big things from his electric
point guard. Miami hopes that they have the next great inside-outside duo in
Wade and Shaq.
10. ERICK DAMPIER (DALLAS MAVERICKS) – Dallas invested a lot of money in
Dampier, who was acquired from the Golden State Warriors in a blockbuster
sign-and-trade deal in August. The 6-11 center will team with All-Star Dirk
Nowitzki and Michael Finley to give Dallas a formidable frontcourt. Did Dallas
get a player who was motivated to have a great year because he had the chance
to become a free agent?
The 29-year-old Dampier is coming off the best season of his eight-year career
with averages of 12.3 points and 12.0 rebounds in 74 games for the Warriors.
He was one of just nine players to average a point-rebound double-double last
season. The Mavericks have been trying to find a force in the middle for
years, and they think they found their man. However, if Dampier got what he
wanted (a big contract), the Mavs may have made a costly mistake that will
haunt them for a long time.