ESPN Insider please....

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Here it is Predicting the

Here it is

Predicting the future is really tough.

Ask any meteorologist, Wall Street trader or NBA general manager. We can't foresee what injuries will hamstring a team's makeup (see: Rudy Gay's shoulder injury). We can't look into a crystal ball and observe how coaches will use their rotation (see: former Minny coach Kurt Rambis handling Kevin Love). We can tell ourselves to expect the unexpected, but that still doesn't make it any easier to project who will rise and fall in the upcoming NBA season (sooner than later, please).

But the signals are there, and it's our job to uncover them. Scanning through the 181-200 and 201-250 sections of's player rankings, here are three players I expect to take a leap next season, and three players I suspect will see their stock drop.

Let's take a quick look at the prime candidates to make a major move up or down.

Moving up:

No. 190 -- Amir Johnson, PF, Toronto Raptors
Using PER as a measuring stick, Johnson ranked as the 62nd-best player in the NBA last season, ahead of household names such as Joe Johnson, Rajon Rondo and Andre Iguodala. However, the ESPN panel was more bearish about his standing in the league, placing him more than 100 spots behind where he stands in PER.

Why the disparity? One, because he probably still carries the stink of being overpaid last offseason. And two, because PER is a per-minute rating and Johnson happens to be a monster when he plays. Key phrase: when he plays. You see, Johnson fouls a lot. But he's figuring it out. Here's how many times he fouled per 36 minutes in pre- and post-All Star break intervals since the start of 2009-10: 6.8, 5.6, 5.3, 4.4. Progress. At 24, Johnson still has some room to grow, and he's finally learning to keep himself in the game.

No. 205 -- Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers
The rookie might have been ranked in the top 200 if (a) he didn't play in Indianapolis and (b) he had a more memorable name. In all seriousness, there's a lot to like about George's game. He's already one of the game's best young wing defenders, as evidenced by his admirable job handling lightning-quick Derrick Rose in the playoffs last season.

Remember, this kid just turned 21 this summer, but he gave the league MVP fits in his playoff debut. Dedication to that side of the ball is rare at George's age, and he's already an above-average rebounder at his position. Larry Bird might have gone a little overboard in April by declaring George "one of the five best young guys I've been around in all my years in the game," but if George can rediscover his 3-point shot from his Fresno State days, George is a star in the making.

No. 206 -- Jonas Jerebko, F, Detroit Pistons
Detroit decision-maker Joe Dumars has had a rough past few years running the Pistons, but he probably hasn't received enough credit for plucking this Swedish forward at the back end of the 2009 draft. Jerebko's promising career was put on hold when a ruptured Achilles tendon sidelined him for the entire 2010-11 season, but there's good reason to believe he'll rebound in 2011-12.

As a lanky 6-foot-10 forward, Jerebko needed to bulk up his frame if he wanted to thrive in the NBA, and reports say he put on 20 pounds of muscle during his rehabilitation. We still have to wait and see whether he has retained his pre-injury athleticism, but he's an efficient and versatile youngster who can anchor Detroit's future alongside Greg Monroe. There will be plenty of fans sleeping on Jerebko next season, but you would be wise not to include yourself in that group.

Moving down:

No. 189 -- Josh Howard, SF, free agent (Washington Wizards)
Howard's career has come to a screeching halt. Just three seasons ago, Howard followed up an All-Star campaign by averaging 19.9 points and 7.0 rebounds for the playoff-bound Dallas Mavericks in 2008-09. Two surgeries later, he's a shell of his former self, limping through 2010-11 with a putrid 41.6 true shooting percentage -- the fourth-lowest rate among the 360 players with 400 minutes last season.

Although Howard wasn't ever fully healthy last season (he played only 18 games), he didn't exhibit nearly the caliber of quickness and athleticism necessary to keep him hovering around league average. With his Mavericks days fading in the rearview mirror, Howard will be looking for a fresh new start again as a free agent. It's hard to imagine the former Wake Forest standout with a better ranking next time around.

No. 198 -- Joel Przybilla, C, free agent (Charlotte Bobcats)
As unfortunate as it sounds, there's a chance that Przybilla might not even be on this list this time next year. There was talk this past season that Przybilla might hang it up after needing three knee surgeries over the past three years.

His days as an elite shot-blocker and rebounder are behind him, but he can service an NBA team as an effective backup center even if his right knee isn't 100 percent. However, borderline reserve centers saddled with significant injuries don't quite deserve his ranking.

A bulldog off the bench, Bynum registered a 15.2 PER last season, which is just about league average. As a former D-League standout, Bynum has carved out quite the niche as a reserve in Detroit, but there's a reason his days might be numbered there: Brandon Knight.

No. 188 -- Will Bynum, PG, Detroit Pistons

The Pistons' lottery pick from the University of Kentucky will grapple for minutes in the backcourt with Rodney Stuckey (who could return as a restricted free agent), Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton and Bynum. Someone will inevitably get the short end of the stick in Detroit, and undersized Bynum might be the odd one out under new coach Lawrence Frank.

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Paul George is a beast!

Paul George is a beast!

omphalos's picture
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Pistons aren't in that bad

Pistons aren't in that bad shape with Knight, Stuckey, Daye, Jerebko and Monroe forming a pretty solid core. Odds are they'll let Stuckey go, but 4/5 positions more or less intact for the future looks good.

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