Tuesday September 8th, 2015

When the 2015–16 NBA season rolls around, new head coaches like Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City), Fred Hoiberg (Chicago) and others will look to make a promising first impression. Incoming rookies like Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves) and D’Angelo Russell (Lakers) will likewise aim to make a splash and, of course, players entering contract years will try and play their way into lucrative new contracts next summer.

Former MVP Kevin Durant and three-time champion Dwyane Wade are both entering contract years, but they’re not facing as much pressure to perform as many of their peers. Instead, that distinction falls on a variety of players looking to bounce back to form or take their game to the next level in time for what’s sure to be another lucrative off-season.

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Roy Hibbert, Lakers

After Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird communicated that he wanted the team to get “faster” and “smaller” moving forward, it became abundantly clear that Indy was going to move on from skyscraping center Roy Hibbert.

A two-time All-Star, Hibbert’s production (and confidence) has tailed off significantly in recent years. He remains an elite rim protector—he held opponents to 42.6% shooting at the rim last season, per NBA.com—but his offense is still limited, as he made only 44.6% of his shots in 76 starts for Indiana.

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Now he’ll get a fresh start with the Los Angeles Lakers. The change of scenery could help, but Hibbert’s tendency to be hard on himself and fall into funks when he’s not performing may not match well with Kobe Bryant’s intensity and leadership qualities.

If, however, Hibbert is able to bounce back as a game-changing defensive force while making closer to 50% of his field goals, GMs around the NBA will justifiably look to add him via free agency next summer. It’s safe to assume he won’t make anywhere close to $15.5 million in a season again, though, as he’s due to make this year in Lakerland.

Rajon Rondo, Kings

Following an uninspired tenure with the Dallas Mavericks, Rajon Rondo entered free agency with few suitors vying for his services. His poor attitude, strained relationship with Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle, and negative impact on the Dallas offense didn’t exactly hint of great things to come.

Nevertheless, the Sacramento Kings opted to roll the dice and bring the four-time All-Star on board. His one-year, $10 million deal raised plenty of eyebrows, but Rondo has no shortage of confidence.

The ornery floor general said that the “Sky’s the limit,” and, “I’m excited that everybody’s doubting us,” when asked about the team’s potential, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. If the former champion can somehow get the Kings competitive after years of mediocrity, the critics will no doubt eat their words.

He’s talking a big game, but Rondo will first have to separate himself from incumbent point guard Darren Collison if he’s going to raise his free agent stock before next summer.

Joakim Noah, Bulls

Joakim Noah hobbled through an injury-riddled campaign a season ago, and the results were less than stellar.

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He converted a career-low 44.5% of his field goals, scored just 7.2 points per game, and grabbed 9.6 rebounds per game (both the lowest output since his second year in the pros). He also made a career-worst 60.3% of free throws and saw his PER drop to a decidedly mediocre 15.3—again, the lowest mark of Noah’s illustrious NBA career.

Perhaps it was to be expected that Noah’s numbers would regress following Chicago’s addition of veteran big man Pau Gasol. The Spaniard is a far better offensive option who also snatched up a fair amount of the team’s rebounds—two factors helping to overshadow Noah. However, it was still quite clear that the eccentric center was not his usual self.

The former Florida Gator will be 31 years old by season’s end. In theory, he’ll still have plenty of basketball left in him. That being said, his next contract will be defined largely by his performance in 2015–16 following the worst season of his career.

Bradley Beal, Wizards

The Washington Wizards' talented two-guard Bradley Beal is entering his pivotal fourth NBA season. It also happens to be a contract year. The 22-year-old is already one of the best outside shooters in the game, but he could be due for a max contract next summer if he experiences a breakout—a la Jimmy Butler last season.

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Beal upped his scoring output to 23.4 points per game in 10 postseason contests last season. Posting that kind of production throughout an 82-game grind may not be feasible, but the former No. 3 overall pick is still a guy to watch closely. Many pundits believe that he’ll earn his first All-Star nod in 2016.

If the contracts handed out to guys like DeMarre Carroll and Danny Green are any indication, Beal is set for a big pay raise unless he regresses in a big way. An All-Star-caliber breakout, though, would work wonders for his next contract.

More from Ben Leibowitz:

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Re-Picking the Historically Awful 2000 NBA Draft

PointAfter is part of the Graphiq network, a data aggregation and visualization website that’s collected all the information about Bradley Beal and Rajon Rondo and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join Graphiq to discover contextually-rich data visualizations spanning NBA players, NBA teams and thousands of other topics.

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