By: Mike Moreau
With NBA veterans beginning their pre-season preparation over these next few weeks, here are five players in the Eastern Conference who could be preparing to have their breakout seasons in the NBA and their stat lines from 2007-08:
Tyrus Thomas: 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 18 minutes
One of the great tragedies of the Bulls dysfunctional nightmare last season was the wasted year of development of forward Tyrus Thomas. One of the most physically gifted players in the NBA, if anyone had the right to demand more playing time, it was Thomas.
Why? Because Thomas played more than 34 minutes in only seven games last season. And in those seven games, six of which were against playoff teams, these were his numbers:
19.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 59% FG shooting. Those are All-Star numbers.
The Bulls record in those games? 5-2.
With Chicago showing him no love, the Bulls got what they deserved. Thomas did not. For a player who would be the first at the morning practice, only to find the lights off and no one home in the Berto Center, the Bulls new staff and their newly demonstrated commitment to player development is a gift from above. Thomas has made a significant commitment to his offseason improvement, as well.
With an improved jump shot, more versatility around the basket and a new outlook and energy, expect more minutes, more big numbers and more production from Thomas - and more wins for the Bulls.
Wilson Chandler: 7.3 Points, 2.6 Rebounds, 19 minutes
If anyone in New York should have been doing cartwheels when Mike D'Antoni was hired as head coach, it should have been Chandler. Another player with great potential caught in a seismic disaster in New York, Chandler was buried on the bench most of the year until the Knicks finally figured out that their players were bad, their coaching staff was worse, and their season was lost.
Once Chandler got some consistent run his production spoke for itself, averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds in March, then upping those numbers in April to 12.0 points and 5.6 rebounds on 48% shooting. He put together five straight double figure scoring games in March, and added four straight in April.
During one stretch in April, he had 23 points and 8 rebounds against Orlando, 19 and 9 vs. Detroit, and 18 and 8 against Atlanta - while shooting 57%.
Chandler is an Amare Stoudamire/Boris Diaw/Grant Hill hybrid, possessing some of what each of those players can do. This makes him a perfect fit for D'Antoni's uptempo style because Chandler can face up, shoot the one- and two-dribble jump shot, and is a strong and aggressive finisher at the rim. Even the sorry Knicks through him lobs last year.
Expect to see Chandler running, slashing, finishing in the open floor and playing a significant role in the Knicks' resurgence.
Louis Williams: 11.5 points, 3.2 assists, 23 minutes
Williams has seen his scoring average go from 1.9 to 4.3 to 11.4 in his three NBA seasons, and his spark off the bench last season played a significant role in the Sixers run for the playoffs and their challenge of the Pistons in the first round. He averaged 12.2 points in the Detroit series, but struggled from three-point range as the Sixers had absolutely no inside offensive presence.
Those days are over with the addition of Elton Brand, and expect Williams - who shot 35.9% from three last year - to get more open looks and shoot a better percentage for the NBA's worst three-point shooting team.
Add to that his dribble penetration game and ability to play both guard positions and Williams will be a perfect perimeter compliment to Brand. Expect more minutes, more shots, and more production from him as the Sixers contend in the East.
Jose Calderon: 11.2 Points, 8.3 Assists, 30 minutes
A point guard who shoots over 50% from the field, 43% from three, 90% from the foul line, and dishes for this many assists should not be sharing time with anyone. Calderon's playing only 24 minutes per game was a major factor in the Raptors losing the the Magic in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
With the departure of T.J. Ford and the addition of Jermaine O'Neal, Calderon will now run this team by himself and may very well find himself running the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
When Calderon got major minutes he had major production, averaging 14.9 points and 10.5 assists when he received 38 minutes a game in February. He penetrates, creates for himself and others, finishes in the lane and shoots the three.
He's a quicker, faster and better shooting Jason Kidd, and he's as good as anyone in the league coming off the ballscreen. Calderon's three-point shooting ability will be even more of a weapon with O'Neal providing some inside scoring.
He just needs minutes and the ball in his hands, and with Ford gone, it's now Calderon's show. Prepare for an entertaining one.
Rodney Stuckey: 7.8 Points, 2.8 Assists, 19 minutes
In some ways, Stuckey began his breakout during last year's playoffs, starting for an injured Chauncey Billups. Stuckey's minutes, scoring, and assists went up, and his team won. The Pistons didn't miss a beat.
He averaged 14.0 points per game in April as the Pistons began preparing for Stuckey's larger role in the future. He is a big, physical guard who can play and defend both the point and the wing, and although his field goal percentage hovered around 40% he shot an excellent 81% from the foul line.
He already gets to the foul line a lot, averaging 6.1 free throw attempts when he played major minutes in the last few weeks of the season, and shot 51-58 from the foul line in the playoffs. He doesn't take many threes, but expect that percentage to increase and his field goal percentage to rise as decision making and shot selection improve.
Keep in mind Stuckey had an outstanding preseason last year, then missed the first two months of the schedule (25 games) with a broken hand. WIth a full training camp and exhibition season under his belt, expect Stuckey to grab more minutes from Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, increasing his production and keeping them fresher for the playoff run. When there is a literal changing of the guard in Detroit, he could be an All-Star.
Tomorrow: Western Conference