10.) Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks
After a very negative offseason, the Dallas Mavericks one bright spot was signing Wesley Matthews after his verbal agreement to the team. Matthews is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. Over his entire NBA career, Matthews has never shot less that 38% from the three-point line per ESPN.com. His three-point shot will make an immediate impact on the Mavericks after Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo struggled from behind the arch last season. With Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons also in the Mavericks starting lineup, the Mavericks will be able to spread the floor. With an improving defensive game and a lot of praise from Mark Cuban, Wesley Matthews is going to be a solid contributor for the Mavericks.
9.) Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant is effective when healthy, but the last two seasons he suffered season ending injuries. In 35 games in 2014-2015, Kobe averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game per ESPN.com. If Kobe was healthy all of last season, he would be much higher on my list. The difference between Kobe and other NBA stars is his mentality. He is tough, and hates losing. Kobe is currently on a mission for a sixth ring, but his health and lack of recent talent on the Lakers has prevented him from doing so. He knows what it takes to win, but at 37, he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with teams like the Golden State Warriors. As long as Kobe is playing, he will play his heart out.
8.) Monta Ellis, Indiana Pacers
Monta Ellis excels at one thing, scoring. Now teammates with Paul George, they are set to become a deadly scoring duo in the NBA. Ellis is a much better fit in Indiana than Dallas. He is now next to George Hill instead of Rajon Rondo, so he will have the ball in his hands often. Last season, Ellis dropped 26 points per game in the playoffs when Rondo and Chandler Parsons were out per ESPN.com. Even though the three-point shooting dipped last season, Ellis proved he can still take over a game. Paul George has never played next to as good of a scorer as Monta Ellis. Monta Ellis has never played next to as good of a small forward as Paul George. These two are destined to be great next to each other.
7.) Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Even at the age of 33, Dwyane Wade can drop over 20 points per game. He is a natural hard worker and great teammate, and he makes other players want to play in Miami. Wade is still going to score this season, but with Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow, and Gerald Green, Wade isn’t under a lot of pressure to score on every possession. With 5 NBA Finals appearances under his belt, Wade is capable of leading this team on a playoff run. In a weak Eastern Conference, the Heat have a solid enough roster to let Wade rest. Give credit to Pat Riley for giving Wade another opportunity at an NBA Title.
6.) Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
The NBA is all about improvement, and Victor Oladipo’s game is improving. From his rookie to sophomore season, Oladipo vastly improved his scoring, free throw %, three-point %, field goal %, and minutes per game. I’m sure the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking back and wishing they drafted Oladipo instead of Anthony Bennett with the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Oladipo is currently the #1 scoring option on the on a young and improving Magic team. He has the ability to shoot, drive, and leap for freakish dunks. His game brings all the intangibles a coach wants in a shooting guard. The Magic are on the rise, and so is Victor Oladipo.
5.) DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
DeMar DeRozan is in a tough situation in Toronto. This offseason, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll and extended Jonas Valanciunas, shortening their cap space to give DeRozan an extension. Pending 2016 free agency, DeRozan is going to have to play this season like it’s his last because there is a very good chance it will be in Toronto. DeRozan has been the Raptors #1 scorer for three straight seasons. Their offense has been dominant in recent seasons because of DeRozan, but faded last season when DeRozan was dealing with an ankle injury. Even though he wasn’t 100% healthy, he put up over 20 points per game. If DeRozan is healthy, no one outside of Cleveland will want to face the Raptors in the East.
4.) Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Entering a contract season, Beal will be asking for a large contract come 2016. According to Jared Johnson of BleacherReport.com, Beal and the Wizards are “having trouble coming to an agreement on a contract extension.” If Beal wants a large contract, he needs to prove he can be a reliable scorer. With the Wizards weak at small forward and John Wall’s inconsistency from the three-point line, Beal is the Wizards primary scorer. He plays best in the postseason, where last year he averaged 23.4 points per game per ESPN.com. With a knockdown three-point shot and millions of dollars on the line, Beal is ready to prove to the Wizards he is worth the money he is asking for.
3.) Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Jimmy Butler cemented himself as an NBA star last season. In one season, Butler jumped from averaging 13.1 to 20 points, 28% to 38% from the three-point line, and 40% to 46% from the field per ESPN.com. With Derrick Rose’s constant knee injuries, the Bulls are looking for Butler to be their star. I think Butler is going to thrive with Fred Hoiberg as the Bulls head coach. This is what Hoiberg said in an interview with ESPN’s Nick Friedell,
“We had the second-fastest pace of play in all of college basketball last year,” Hoiberg said. “We like to get out and play with pace and play with spacing. I think we ran more pick and roll than anybody in college basketball. We really like to flow into an offense as opposed to coming down and getting set on every possession.”
Hoiberg’s system is perfect for Jimmy Butler. Chicago is becoming Jimmy Butler’s team.
2.) Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson was named the second member of the “Splash Brothers” because of his ability to score from all over the court. Last season, Klay Thompson made 239 three-point shots per ESPN.com. That placed him second behind Stephen Curry, the other member of the “Splash Brothers.” His offensive game is great, but he also effective on the defensive end. He has the size and speed to cover the one, two, and three. Thompson covers the best guard on opposing teams on a nightly basis. With career highs in points, steals, blocks, assists, free-throw %, free throws made, free throw attempts, three-point %, three-pointers made, three-point attempts, field goal %, field goals made, and field goals attempted per ESPN.com, Thompson’s entire game is improving.
1.) James Harden, Houston Rockets
James Harden is clearly the best shooting guard in the NBA. Harden led the Rockets to the #2 seed in a loaded Western Conference last season with Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley in-and-out of the lineup all season. He was the Rockets scorer and facilitator averaging 27.4 points and 7 assists per game per ESPN.com. Harden brings instant offense. Now his point guard is Ty Lawson. His wish of the Rockets acquiring another playmaker came true. Last season Lawson averaged 9.6 points per game which is Lawson’s career high. Now that Harden doesn’t have to play as a facilitator, his job is to purely score. The Lawson-Harden combo is going to make some noise in the Western Conference.