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1 Bold Prediction for Every Top NBA Star Before 2014-15 Season

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

1 Bold Prediction for Every Top NBA Star Before 2014-15 Season

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    Get ready to hit "Ctrl+B," or "Command+B" if you're using a Mac.

    It's time to get bold. 

    Remaining realistic is important, as it would be nice if at least some of these predictions came true at the end of the season, so don't expect anything too crazy.

    Tim Duncan, no matter how stellar his resume may be, is not going to win the scoring title. Dirk Nowitzki isn't about to earn Defensive Player of the Year. Kobe Bryant won't average 40 points per game and decide he wants to retire at the end of the season after adding to his championship collections. 

    Those would all be bold predictions, sure. They'd also be stupid. 

    Let's strive for intelligence even while going beyond the realm of normal predictions. 

    So, what do I mean by top stars? 

    Don't make the mistake of thinking that the 25 players presented over the course of this article are the best 25 in the NBA. That's not the case in any way, shape or form. These are simply the top "stars," the players who appeal most to fans while putting up remarkable numbers and inspiring jersey sales. Each of the 25 featured players can make the needle move and spark endless debate among NBA fans while helping fill up stadiums with fans eager to watch him ply his trade. 

    And every one of them is going to help me go 25-of-25 on these bold predictions for the 2014-15 season. 

LaMarcus Aldridge: Shoots 50 Percent

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    LaMarcus Aldridge has made half his shots from the field before, but only in three of his eight NBA seasons, neither of which have occurred since Damian Lillard joined the squad. 

    So, what's going to change? 

    Well, a lot will need to happen, seeing as Aldridge was at 50 percent or better in only 27 of his 69 appearances during the 2013-14 campaign. But his field-goal percentage of 45.8 percent is also misleadingly low, driven down by a few outlier performances. 

    If you take out the anomalies—which subjectively appear to be his best night (12-of-16 against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 8) and five horrific outings that don't fall in line with the rest of the percentage progression—things look a lot better. In fact, with those six appearances no longer factoring into his shooting numbers, Aldridge would boast a field-goal percentage of 47.1 percent. 

    That's already a significant improvement. 

    Plus, he should continue gaining comfort in his featured role, and the increased depth in the frontcourt should keep him fresher throughout the season. If he has spring in his legs at the end of the season, especially without serving as such a top option because the Portland bench can actually score, 50 percent can happen. 

Carmelo Anthony: Tops 30 Points Per Game

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    How did Carmelo Anthony follow up his scoring title in 2012-13? By averaging "only" 27.4 points per game last season. 

    However, it's tough to compare this upcoming season to the previous one. 

    No longer is Melo going to be playing under the supervision of Mike Woodson. Instead, he'll be coached by Derek Fisher—and, by extension, Phil Jackson—while running a triangle offense that will help create even easier looks for him. He'll spend more time in the post, where he's virtually unstoppable, and he'll continue serving as the unquestioned top option in Madison Square Garden. 

    Anthony has never topped 29 points per game before, much less broken past the 30-point benchmark, but the offense that Fish will run is conducive to high-scoring exploits. 

    Kobe Bryant averaged 30 points per game while running the triangle. So did Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O'Neal got tantalizingly close. 

    Now it's Melo's turn. 

Kobe Bryant: Averages 20 and 5

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    Remember, we can be bold while still being realistic. 

    These numbers—20 points and five assists per game—may be lower than some might expect, but it's important to stay at least slightly grounded in the realm of actual possibilities. Think about who we're dealing with. 

    While Kobe Bryant has defied expectations throughout his career, he's now a soon-to-be 36-year-old shooting guard coming off an Achilles rupture and a knee injury bad enough to knock him out for the season only six games into his return.

    He might seem superhuman, but human health is still his kryptonite. 

    On top of that, the Mamba is surrounded by a lackluster supporting cast that isn't going to draw enough defensive attention for him to serve as a competitor for the league-wide scoring crown. 

    Twenty and five is bold enough. 

DeMarcus Cousins: Single-Digit Techs

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    DeMarcus Cousins is finally going to screw his head on straight. 

    During the 2013-14 season, three players amassed 16 technical fouls during the regular season. Unsurprisingly, Boogie headlined the list, joined by Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. According to ESPN.com's database, it was the second year in a row he led the league and the third he finished in at least second place. 

    So, why the change? 

    Cousins is participating in training camp and hoping to earn an invite to the Team USA squad, where Mike Krzyzewski won't tolerate his outbursts. He's being forced to mature at a quicker pace, and that should carry over to the NBA season, during which he should finally be able to act as a leader. 

    Nearly 24 years old, Boogie has been around the block a few times, and the Sacramento Kings finally seem to have some stability, both on the sidelines and in the front office. The pieces are coming together, and this should be the year everything clicks in his head. 

Stephen Curry: 1st Three-Peat in 3-Point Title

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    Predicting that Stephen Curry will lead the league in three-pointers isn't exactly bold. 

    Except that it is. 

    The baby-faced sharpshooter sparking the Golden State Warriors has been the league's best shooter for a while now (apologies, Kyle Korver), and that's not going to change with Steve Kerr helping him become an even better perimeter marksman and overall player. Given his ability to splash in triples on and off the ball, it doesn't seem strange to think he'll hold onto his crown for one more season (at the very least). 

    However, no one in NBA history has ever three-peated in the race for the three-point title. Not a single player. 

    Ray Allen earned back-to-back No. 1 finishes in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Dan Majerle (1993 and '94), Vernon Maxwell ('91 and '92), Michael Adams ('89 and '90), Larry Bird ('87 and '86) and Darrell Griffith ('84 and '85) all join him in that club. 

    But every time, there's either a new dominant shooter set to emerge, an injury or some other reason for a failed three-point attempt.

    Until now. 

    Curry is just that good. 

Anthony Davis: Top 5 in MVP Voting Without Making the Playoffs

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    It's a two-for-one prediction. 

    Let's start off with the less bold of the two—the New Orleans Pelicans will not make the playoffs. 

    Even though the team is finally set to be healthy and will feature a ridiculously talented starting five of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik, the Western Conference is just too strong.

    Can the Pellies really beat out multiple teams among the group that includes the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets? 

    In order to make the postseason, having a better record than three of those squads is necessary. Good luck with that. 

    The bolder part, though, involves Davis finishing with a top-five spot on the MVP ballot, something I went into far more detail on here

    Let's just all agree not to doubt the power of The Brow. A year after averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game while leading the league in blocks, there's no telling what he can do. He's bigger, taller, stronger and more skilled after an offseason of work, and the league is about to become his personal plaything.

    "I know how good [Davis] is going to be," Kevin Durant told NBA.com's Jim Eichenhofer after a Team USA practice in Las Vegas. "I know how good he is now, but I know how good he’s going to be. He’s an MVP-caliber player. So he’s next. He’s next in line—a guy that has grown so much in just a year."

    Get ready, NBA. 

Tim Duncan: Parties Like It's 1999

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Quick, tell me which season came earlier in Tim Duncan's career, only by looking at these per-36-minute numbers, percentages and advanced metrics: 

     PointsReboundsAssistsBlocksFG%PER
    Season X18.712.03.72.349.021.3
    Season Y19.910.52.22.349.523.2

    Good luck differentiating between those two. 

    Season X came this past year, while Season Y features numbers from the 1998-99 campaign. That's how eerily similar Duncan's stats have been throughout his legendary career.

    And why should it be any different going forward? 

    Even if Duncan loses more of his athleticism and durability, he'll just compensate for it with increasingly intelligent play. Plus, Gregg Popovich is a master at keeping him fresh for the inevitable deep playoff run. There's just no reason to doubt his ability to keep putting up impressive per-minute numbers. 

    Why is this bold then? Duncan is going to turn 39 during the 2014-15 season. 

    That's why. 

    Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Kevin Durant: Back-to-Back Seasons with 30 Points Per Game

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    I'm not entirely sure how to be bold when talking about Kevin Durant. 

    Sure, I could predict something crazy, like him averaging 40 points per game and shooting 60 percent from the field. But that would be stupid. He's not going to do that, especially with Russell Westbrook set to suit up next to him throughout the 2014-15 campaign. 

    Forecasting KD to average 30 points per game for the second season in a row should be bold enough, seeing as Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan are the last three scoring studs to do so. Think how rare an accomplishment that is if the club members are so few and far between. 

    Durant belongs in that club. 

    Coming off a season where he put up 32 points per contest while posting some of the most efficient shooting numbers we've seen from a featured option in a long time, there's no reason for him to do anything less. Westbrook's return complicates things, but Durant will be 26 at the start of the season and—scarily enough—is only getting better. 

Paul George: Wins Defensive Player of the Year

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    It's been a long, long time since a wing player (or a perimeter player, for that matter) put his hands on the Defensive Player of the Year trophy. 

    Metta World Peace—Ron Artest at the time—was the last to do so, earning the award in 2004. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Gary Payton in 1996. And before that, Michael Jordan in 1988. 

    But Paul George could break the decade-long spell. 

    He has the ability to keep improving, given his youth and physical tools, and he's already pretty darn good on the defensive end of the court. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Indiana Pacers scored 4.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when George was on the court, and 82games.com shows that he held shooting guards and small forwards to respective player efficiency ratings of 8.3 and 14.1.

    During the 2014 voting, George finished third among non-bigs, trailing only LeBron James (set to go to a team that will struggle on defense) and Andre Iguodala (aging). He was seventh overall.

    If the Pacers remain as elite as they were in 2013-14 after replacing Lance Stephenson with Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles, George will get even more credit.

    That could be enough to get the job done.  

Blake Griffin: Makes 50 Triples

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    Blake Griffin made a dozen of his 44 three-point attempts during the 2013-14 season, good for a new career high that broke past the seven shots he sent through the net during his rookie go-round with the Los Angeles Clippers. 

    There isn't much statistical evidence pointing toward a giant leap, but we've seen bigs make the jump out of the blue before. Though Griffin didn't rack up the triples at the end of the season and he went only 1-of-7 from beyond the arc during the postseason, he's capable of expanding his game. 

    His mid-range work has gotten better as his career has progressed, and he's spent more time spotting up in the corners and waiting for kick-outs. As dangerous as he got on those 15-foot jumpers under one year of Doc Rivers' tutelage, you shouldn't doubt the ability to make jumpers from even farther away. 

    Even though Griffin has been around for a while, he's still only 25 years old. He's not even in his prime yet, and he boasts a tireless work ethic that has allowed him to improve consistently over the past few seasons. 

James Harden: Becomes a Leader

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    "Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets," James Harden told  of The Philippine Star, refusing to acknowledge the significance of losing Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. "The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We've lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we'll be fine next season."

    That's not how a leader talks. 

    Fortunately, there's been a significant amount of backlash after Harden's statement—especially when paired with similar words from Dwight Howard—and that should help the bearded 2-guard figure out this whole leadership thing. He has the talent and personality necessary to win over a locker room, but he can't do that without first giving sincere credit to the rest of the roster. 

    Just as functioning as a No. 1 option takes time, so too does learning how to become the player everyone looks to. Championship teams typically feature star players who work the hardest and simultaneously take the time to set examples for everyone else. 

    After early exits in the playoffs, negative repercussions from thoughts that weren't fleshed out before leaving his mouth and the constant backlash from his lack of defensive efforts, Harden has enough ammo that he can figure out the necessity of public and private leadership. 

Dwight Howard: 60 Percent from the Stripe

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    This isn't as crazy as you might think. 

    Even if Dwight Howard hasn't knocked down 60 percent of his free-throw attempts since his rookie season with the Orlando Magic, he's starting to get close once more, just as he was during the prime of his career while calling Florida home.

    D12 hit 54.7 percent of his looks at the charity stripe in 2013-14, and he got better toward the end of the season. Not only did he make 60.4 percent of his attempts during his final 24 appearances for the Houston Rockets during the regular season, but he connected at a 62.5 percent clip during the postseason. 

    Free throws are largely based on confidence, and Howard should have more than ever heading into his second season with the Rockets. There's plenty of evidence he fares well during practice without the eager eyes of millions upon him, and now it's time for him to take that success to live action. 

Kyrie Irving: Defense Matters

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    Kyrie Irving has the ability to be a standout defender, even if he's been a huge liability on that end of the court throughout his young career. 

    Prone to ball-watching when his man doesn't have possession, easily blown by when he plays flat-footed defense and just offering lackadaisical effort more often than not, Irving has been one of the worst point-preventing point guards in the NBA. But that should immediately change with LeBron James motivating him and helping the Cleveland Cavaliers competing for a top seed in the Eastern Conference. 

    Will he be dominant? No, but he'll be serviceable.

    As Tom Reed wrote for the Northeast Ohio Media Group, a group of former NBA coaches expects James to help the young guns—and potentially Kevin Love, if he's acquired—make strides on the less glamorous end of the court: 

    James announced his decision to return to Cleveland on Friday and the former coaches think he will bring a defensive mentality to a team that's struggled in that area since his 2010 departure.

    'I think James will have a real impact on Kyrie Irving and Love – if he goes there,' said Van Gundy, an ESPN analyst. 'You need a real commitment to defense if you're going to win (a title). I think James knew that from his time in Cleveland and he certainly knew it from his time in Miami. He will bring that experience and defensive mindset back to Cleveland.'

    Irving has the tools; he's just never had the motivation. 

    It's hard to find a better driving force than a four-time MVP breathing down your neck each and every night, especially with a won't-take-anything-less-than-the-best type of coach on the sidelines. If Irving slacks off, he'll have multiple people calling him out this season, as opposed to giving him a free pass in the past. 

LeBron James: Career High in Triple-Doubles

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    It's been a while since LeBron James racked up the triple-doubles. 

    During his entire tenure with the Miami Heat, the two-time champion recorded such a statistical feat only nine times, including just once during the 2013-14 season. 

    That doesn't exactly offer much hope that he'll go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers and immediately break his single-season record—seven, during the 2007-08 campaign. However, David Blatt's offense should help him out with that quest. 

    Scoring in double figures each and every game is nearly a given, but the modified Princeton offense, as well as the impressive off-ball threats he'll be playing with, should help out with the assists and the rebounds. He'll be spending more time on the blocks, and he's always been able to rack up dimes like he's robbing a bank that specializes in coinage as its primary means of currency. 

    During the 2013-14 season, he had seven games with double-digit assists, and he broke past 10 rebounds on six separate occasions. 

    But James will no longer be playing somnambulant basketball. He'll be motivated to set an example, and that—combined with his positioning in the Blatt system—should bode well for his non-scoring numbers. 

Damian Lillard: Starts to Get the Whole Defense Thing

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    Damian Lillard still can't handle pick-and-rolls against NBA point guards. Each time he runs into a screen, it effectively serves as a brick wall, completely stopping him in his tracks so that he can act dazed while points are put on the boards. 

    In fact, Synergy Sports (subscription required) shows that he allowed opponents to score 0.87 points per possession against him when operating as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, ranking him No. 181 among all qualified players. 

    Not good. Not good at all. 

    The Weber State product actually tries on the defensive end, but he just hasn't found too much success at this stage of his young NBA career. Perhaps that's because there's been no depth to keep him fresh while the Portland Trail Blazers rely on him for plenty of offense, or perhaps it's because he's still adjusting from the transition between low-level college ball and work in the Association.

    Either way, there seems to be some belief that Lillard is due for improvement. 

    "I think he's an outstanding young guard in the NBA," Jerry Colangelo, Team USA's managing director, told CSNNW.com's Chris Haynes about Lillard while the point guard was training in Las Vegas. "He's got great strength. He can really shoot the ball. I believe he's a good defender and can get much better. He's a winner. I think he's off to an amazing start to his career in the NBA."

    Here's betting Colangelo is correct. 

Kevin Love: Plays a Game for the Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Despite all the trade rumors swirling around Kevin Love, he's going to be on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into opening night of the 2014-15 campaign. 

    Every discussion is at an impasse, and the 'Wolves have shown no indication that they're willing to budge in the negotiations. They're essentially forcing the involved teams to make concessions, and they aren't going to do that until they get truly desperate. 

    What's the downside to Minnesota hanging onto him for a little while longer, especially if doing so increases the return the team gets in the eventual trade? He'll still be moved by the end of the season, and the team isn't going to be highly competitive without Love—not right away, at least—thereby rendering training camp and preseason distractions fairly irrelevant. 

    There won't be any quick resolution here. Not with the Golden State Warriors failing to involve Klay Thompson in trade talks and the 'Wolves management inexplicably valuing the 2-guard over Andrew Wiggins and the rest of the package that could be coming over from the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

    Don't expect the rumors to go away anytime soon, though. 

Kyle Lowry: No Post-Contract Decline

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    Kyle Lowry has even more money in the bank. 

    Fresh off signing a four-year, $48 million deal to remain with the Toronto Raptors, the talented point guard could easily do what he's been known for throughout his career—stop playing as hard until his next contract year, clash with coaches and managements and fail to exert himself as quality locker-room presence for his younger teammates. 

    We're trained to expect that from the 28-year-old floor general. 

    Except he turned over a new leaf during the 2013-14 campaign. Sure, it was a contract year, but the passion was evident. He clicked with his teammates, he respected both Dwane Casey and Masai Ujiri, played at 100 percent each and every night and constantly fought through various aches and pains. He was a changed man. 

    Zach Lowe elaborates for Grantland: 

    The Raptors had heard the stories about Lowry's 'attitude,' and most of those stories are true. 'If you're around people you don’t get along with, you don't like, it's awkward,' Patterson said. 'In Houston, maybe there was somebody he didn't like. That ruined the relationship. I've never seen any signs of that with him and [Dwane] Casey.'

    Added Vasquez: 'He's always the first guy in the locker room and the last guy out. That's professionalism. When I have my own team to run someday, I'm going to have flashbacks to all the winning plays he made here.'

    Lowry seemed like a different person this season. He still raised his voice in practice more than most guys would, but the tone was different, and Casey was able to reach Lowry with patient and constructive criticism.

    That should carry over, even with the money in the bank, thereby shattering his prior reputation once and for all. 

Dirk Nowitzki: 50/40/90 with 20 Points Per Game

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    Dirk Nowitzki was so, so close to joining the 50/40/90 club (again) during his 2013-14 season. 

    The Dallas Mavericks 7-footer drained 49.7 percent of his shots from the field, connected on 39.8 percent of his looks from beyond the arc and hit 89.9 percent of his attempts at the charity stripe. To put that in perspective, he'd have qualified if he'd gotten a shooter's roll on four more attempts from anywhere on the court, hit one more from beyond the arc and missed just one less free-throw attempt.

    Chances are, he missed a few heaves at the end of the shot clock and intentionally drew iron on a charity shot at the end of a close game, though I haven't reviewed tape of each and every Dallas game to confirm that unsubstantiated claim.  

    So, why is this bold? Not too much improvement is needed. 

    But it's still improvement, however slight, that needs to come from a player who will turn 37 during the 2015 playoffs. And he has to do that while playing with new pieces like Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons, rather than his old bunch of familiar counterparts. 

    On top of that, the chances are good he'll score right around 20 points per game once more. Of the 12 qualified 50/40/90 seasons, only four have seen a player hit or exceed that number. 

Tony Parker: Refuses to Decline

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    Take a look at how many qualified guards have posted plus-18 PERs at certain ages, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The site classifies players based on their age when the calendar flips to February of the season in question: 

    • Age 27: 50 players
    • Age 28: 39 players
    • Age 29: 38 players
    • Age 30: 29 players
    • Age 31: 26 players
    • Age 32: 19 players
    • Age 33: 14 players

    Now, the percent decreases for each age jump: 

    • From 27 to 28: 22.0 percent
    • From 28 to 29: 2.6 percent
    • From 29 to 30: 23.7 percent
    • From 30 to 31: 10.3 percent
    • From 31 to 32: 26.9 percent
    • From 32 to 33: 26.3 percent

    On Feb. 1, 2015, Tony Parker will still be 32, though he'll turn 33 in March. That means he's qualifying for the penultimate line of that last bulleted list, which just happens to be the largest percent decrease. 

    Most guards simply don't last this long, with 31 serving as the tipping point, and Parker already showed signs of decline during the 2013-14 campaign. However, those shouldn't continue, allowing the French point guard to qualify for the age-32 group during the coming season and lower the percentage decrease for future players. 

    Gregg Popovich's systems will see to that, as will the depth of talent on the San Antonio Spurs roster. 

Chris Paul: Defends His Per-Game Crowns

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    During the 2013-14 season, Chris Paul led the league in both assists and steals per game. 

    For the former, he paced the Association by racking up 10.7 dimes during the average contest, a number that actually went down as the season progressed. No one else in the NBA managed to top 8.8, a number achieved by John Wall and Ty Lawson, though Rajon Rondo was at 9.8 assists per game without suiting up enough to qualify. 

    Wall is going to get quite close, but CP3 still has the luxury of playing with the most talent around him. Rondo might not play as heavy minutes in a crowded backcourt rotation, and the lack of shooters on the Boston Celtics roster won't allow him to push past Paul, who can still throw alley-oops to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. 

    As for steals, Paul is the undisputed king. 

    He led the league with 2.5 per game, beating out Ricky Rubio (2.3) and Thaddeus Young (2.1). Nobody else topped a pair per contest. While the Minnesota Timberwolves point guard has been quite close in consecutive years, Paul is still the man to beat until the stats say otherwise. 

    He's won the thievery title four times in a row, and he has six titles in the past seven seasons, missing out only during a 2009-10 campaign in which he played just 45 games. 

    Paul is the sole player in NBA history to four-peat. Next year, he'll be the first to five-peat. 

Rajon Rondo: Averages 6 Rebounds Per Game

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    There are going to be a lot of missed shots in Boston this season, but Rajon Rondo will be able to create quite a few extra possessions for the Celtics while ending opponents' trips down the court with successful defensive boards. 

    He's one of the best rebounding point guards in the league (Michael Carter-Williams and Russell Westbrook won't let me say the best), and he'll prove that by joining MCW, Jason Kidd and Steve Francis as the only 1-guards to top six rebounds per game since the turn of the century.

    It's telling that he's improved his per-36-minute figures each of the past four seasons. 

    In 2010-11, he pulled down 4.2 rebounds over that allotted time. In 2011-12, that jumped to 4.7. The 2012-13 season saw Rondo record 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, and he produced a career-best 5.9 after returning from his torn ACL last season. 

    He's getting smarter as he gets older. 

Derrick Rose: Steers Chicago to No. 1 Seed

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    USA TODAY Sports

    I have no idea what to expect from Derrick Rose during his latest return from a major injury. Neither should you, despite whatever positive news you've heard coming out of Las Vegas during the Team USA training camp. 

    Frankly, Rose can't know just how effective he'll be in 2014-15, no matter how confident he acts prior to the start of the season. He's a complete unknown. 

    However, the Bulls aren't. Even if Rose isn't an MVP-caliber point guard, as he was prior to the initial ACL tear that seems so long ago, and plays at just a slightly above-average level, Chicago is primed to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

    The young pieces—Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell—are only going to get better, the new additions—Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Pau Gasol—will make huge impacts and the Joakim Noah-led defense should be just as dominant as ever. 

    Amidst the storm of uncertainty in the Eastern Conference, Chicago, led by D-Rose, should reign supreme. And even if he isn't physically able to dominate games, he'll still be a mental leader. 

Dwyane Wade: Still an Elite Shooting Guard

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    Even though it's Chris Bosh earning the most money on the Miami Heat and Luol Deng drawing headlines as the new arrival, South Beach still belongs to Dwyane Wade

    It's amazing this actually needs to be said, much less that it can qualify as at least somewhat bold, but Wade is still one of the best shooting guards in the league. 

    Sure, he needed help from LeBron James, took plenty of maintenance days throughout the 2013-14 season and was staggeringly ineffective during the tail end of the postseason, but the rumors of his quick and sudden demise are quite overblown. Wade is coming off a season in which he averaged 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. 

    His PER, according to Basketball-Reference.com, was 22.0, one of the elite marks in the league, especially among high-usage players, and he earned 5.5 win shares, which equated to 0.149 per 48 minutes. Among the 89 players who spent enough time on the court to break past five win shares, only 38 earned more per 48 minutes than Wade.

    He may be flawed and need some rest every once in a while, but he's still got game. Without LeBron taking touches away from him, he'll be more ready to prove that than ever.  

John Wall: 20 and 10

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    As the Washington Wizards improve around John Wall, he's more likely than ever to rack up a dollar's worth of dimes during the average game. During the 2013-14 season, which resulted in his first All-Star appearance, he hit double figures on 32 separate occasions and was at eight or more in 53 of his 82 trips onto the court for the Wiz. 

    Now that he's playing alongside Paul Pierce (who will do a convincing Trevor Ariza impression on offense), should receive better contributions from Bradley Beal inside the arc and gets to play with a more talented set of backups, the assists should pile up even more frequently. 

    And how about the scoring? 

    Wall averaged 19.3 points per game in 2013-14, and he hit the 20-point mark in exactly half of his games. As his perimeter jumper continues to get stronger, his overall scoring should improve, just as it has each of the past two seasons. 

    Averaging 20 points and 10 assists per game is quite difficult, but Wall is primed to join the ultra-exclusive club. 

Russell Westbrook: Takes the Point Guard Crown

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    It's hard to accept this as fact, but Russell Westbrook won't turn 26 until the 2014-15 season is already underway. Even though he's been around for what seems like forever, the dynamic point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder is still moving toward his athletic prime. 

    And though last season finally broke that trend, as knee injuries knocked the floor general out of the lineup on multiple occasions, he's consistently improved throughout his NBA career. He's been more careful with the ball, increased the effectiveness of his passes and become a more effective player, even if he still struggles with his shot selection. 

    Who's perfect, though? 

    Expect the trend of improvement to resume when Westbrook is fully healthy and raring to go in 2014-15. He's coming off a postseason in which he terrorized opponents to the tune of 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game with a 24.9 PER, all while playing solid defense. 

    Chris Paul has held the point guard crown for a while now, but the 29-year-old won't retain the title forever, especially without Darren Collison helping to keep him fresh in 2014-15. This is the year a new player ascends to the top of the rankings, and it's Westbrook who has the two-way upside necessary to make that happen. 

     

    Too bold? Too safe? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook. 

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