With training camps officially underway, here are 10 players who seem primed for a major uptick in their play this season. Some are well-established players who should be even better, while others are youngsters poised for stardom or set to break out as their role increases.
"I expect an MVP-type season from him," said one scout who saw him numerous times up close during the summer. "He looks that good right now. His conditioning is probably better than it has been in three or four years. The Olympics really helped him, and I think he'll get off to a fast start."
Some front-office types and coaches still regard Williams as the best point guard in the game, but he's become far less efficient since being traded from Utah to New Jersey (now Brooklyn) midway through the 2010-11 season and being asked to carry a heavy load for an undermanned team (the Nets were 22-44 last season). Though Williams averaged a career-high 21 points per game last season, his career-low 40.7 percent shooting from the field was tied for the worst mark among full-time starting point guards. The addition of Joe Johnson, retention of small forward Gerald Wallace and return of center Brook Lopez (who played only five games last season because of injury and was re-signed in July) will allow Williams to be a point guard again as opposed to a lead scorer.
"In Tyreke's case, you can make X [amount of money] now, but if you want to make X-plus, then certain things have to happen," the Kings' basketball president said last week.
The 2009-10 Rookie of the Year isn't expected to get a new deal before the Oct. 31 deadline for '09 first-round picks to sign extensions, with Petrie saying "it's not something that's on the front burner." As such, Evans, 23, will try this season to recapture some of that old magic with the hopes of landing a huge deal as a restricted free agent next summer.
Make no mistake, Evans and his camp see him as a max player. That's laughable now (which, to be fair, they realize), but all it would take is one sensational year to make the chuckling stop and reposition Evans as one of the game's best young stars.
Sacramento coach Keith Smart ended the Evans point guard project last season and began using him off the ball. Evans
"I'm real confident that Tyreke is going to come in as the best prepared and best conditioned for this season -- better than any season since he's been here," Petrie said. "He wants to be in the conversation of an All-Star-caliber player. He's had to continue to try to address things in his game, [like his] conditioning. He's put in a summer of real commitment in those areas, and I think he's coming in with some real purpose."
Nonetheless, a source close to Gordon insists that the entire saga is no longer a factor and that he will be a professional this season. Beyond all the drama, the fact remains that Gordon -- who averaged 22.3 points in 56 games for the Clippers in 2010-11 -- is a big talent who will have a major chance to shine while leading a young team that includes top pick Anthony Davis.
But here's the part that comes in handy: Andrew Bynum's arrival. By acquiring the former Lakers center as part of the four-team Dwight Howard trade in mid-August, the Sixers gave Holiday an elite post-up player who makes everyone's game easier. Add in the likes of guard Evan Turner, center Spencer Hawes, shooting guard Nick Young and forward Thaddeus Young, and Holiday will have ample opportunity to have a valuable influence on a quality young team.
It's entirely possible that Mayo could return to the production levels of his first two seasons (18.5 and 17.5 points per game, respectively) as opposed to his last two (11.3 and 12.6 points with diminished minutes). And considering Carlisle no longer has Jason Terry to rely on for wing scoring after the former Sixth Man Award winner signed with Boston, Mayo could be on the verge of a renaissance.
The long-range specialist's game should get even easier now that Bogut is expected to finally join the Warriors on the floor. The center, a capable passer and low-post scoring threat, was recovering from an ankle injury last season and should be ready for the regular season.
Irving last season joined Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Alvan Adams, Grant Hill and Tyreke Evans as the only rookies to average at least 18 points, five assists and one steal while shooting 45 percent or better. He also dealt with significant injuries to himself (15 games missed) and several teammates in what was an inconsistent year for the Cavs. If he can stay healthy and mesh with No. 4 pick Dion Waiters in the backcourt, then Irving may take his game to the next level.