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festar35's picture
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Conventional wisdom suggests

Conventional wisdom suggests that NBA players who suddenly become valuable contributors rather than just potential ones merely flip a switch to begin the change. "The light went on" is a cliche we frequently hear, and it could not be more wrong. How a player takes the next step in terms of production and role is infinitely more complicated than that. It perhaps can be best described like a math formula:

O x P (D) = Production

"O" represents opportunity, which of course translates to minutes played as well as how the player is used. Players alone don't have the say in this part of the equation, as it is their coaches who can dictate much of this. A new coach, or the departure of a teammate, can offer new opportunities for a player.

"The light went on" is a cliche we frequently hear, and it could not be more wrong. How a player takes the next step in production and role is infinitely more complicated than that.

"P" stands for preparation and for perspiration because most opportunities will be blown without both. This is not just for the offseason because, as the season evolves game after game, early success will quickly be forgotten as opponents make adjustments. Therefore, the player must be prepared to adjust, as well.

"D" can be best described as "desperation." I use this term because that is the feeling I get from players who take their work ethic to a new level. There is urgency to their efforts, a desperate attempt to change their playing status from whatever it currently is to something much better. Desperation is what drives players to work harder in the weight room, to choose healthy foods over unhealthy at the dinner table, to take red-eye flights home on summer weekends so they won't miss their Monday morning workout or the last plane out on Friday night so they can attend that day's practice.

That simple formula can be applied to players such as Omer Asik and Kosta Koufos, two big men who will show huge improvements this season in large part because they followed that formula and now will be playing a lot of minutes starting at center. Although some might simply say "the light went on" for them, we know their production will step up this season because it required them to step up their offseason efforts.

Asik and Koufos are not alone. Indeed, there are other players primed to take that next step up and develop into in-rotation studs. And which rotation players look to take that step up into being one of their teams' top players?

Mike Conley | PG | Memphis Grizzlies

All his life, Conley has been the jet who was more comfortable slowing down and getting everyone involved in the game. But on this team, with Rudy Gay as the only athlete in the starting unit who can make plays above the rim, Conley has to look to score if Memphis wants to rise above that "solid playoff team" label to one of true contender.

He is quick enough to kill teams in paint, midrange or floaters, only if he constantly looks to exploit those gifts. If not, teams can pack the paint against the Grizzlies, which helps to neutralize their two bigs  Marc Gasol and Marreese Speights -- inside. Conley also has to look for his 3-point shot more often, as Memphis has few shooters and thus needs him to be a deep threat as often as possible. Conley looks ready to assert himself even more this season, perhaps making a case to be an All-Star reserve.

Jeff Teague | SG | Atlanta Hawks

Teague is the classic example of how a talented prospect can grow into a very productive player once he develops a sense of urgency. He showed us his talent in spurts the past few years, and wowed fans in the Hawks' playoff loss to the Boston Celtics last spring.


But in a matchup Sunday in Oklahoma City, on a night when Kevin Durant nearly had a triple-double and Kevin Martin dropped in 22 points in the first half, the real story was Teague outplaying Russell Westbrook. Teague also had monster dunks over Durant and Serge Ibaka that got even the Oklahoma City home crowd buzzing. Now in his fourth year, Teague seems ready to be among the Eastern Conference's best point guards on a nightly basis. Not having to run the Hawks' offense through Joe Johnson -- now with the Brooklyn Nets -- will make that task much easier.

Kevin Seraphin | C | Washington Wizards

Seraphin ultimately will have to share minutes with veterans such as Emeka Okafor and Nene, and that will create a ceiling for the kind of season he could have without those guys soaking up minutes. But when Seraphin plays, the league will see his unique blend of talents. He's like a bigger version of "Big Baby" Glen Davis in that he's nimble for a big man, with soft hands and a softer shot.

Like a lot of heavy post players, he has created some sweet scoring options that rely on craft and skill rather than athleticism, such as rolling hooks, half hooks (with either hand), and an excellent touch on close and midrange jumpers. Whether paired with Bradley Beal or John Wall (when he returns) in pick-and-pop action or in low-post isolations, Seraphin seems ready to become a steady scoring option.

Glen Davis | PF/C | Orlando Magic

Davis always has been kind of a cross between "glue guy" and a novelty act. He knows how to play and combines a big body with a soft perimeter touch. Now that Orlando needs to replace both Dwight Howard (traded) and Hedo Turkoglu (injured), the Magic have turned to Davis. He has shown in the past that, when given a chance, he can create a lot of shots for himself, but Boston almost never needed that from him.

But Orlando does, which is why he took 47 shots in their first two games, and they came in a variety of ways. Dribble drives, pick and pops, shot fake attack moves, and "bucket hunting" off banging his defender into the paint. Absent some roster moves, we should expect this role for Davis all season.

Brook Lopez | C | Brooklyn Nets

If Brooklyn wants to contend, Lopez has to be the featured guy in its half-court offense. Always a talented scorer, he'll be relied upon nightly to deliver paint scoring and perimeter shooting to better open up the lanes for Deron Williams.

Using him in multiple ball-screen actions possession after possession makes sense, too. But he also has to assert himself on the boards and on defense -- areas he often has ignored in the past. Williams is a tough leader and will bark at Lopez if necessary to give Lopez that sense of urgency. So will his coaching staff. Lopez should make huge strides this year simply because he must, and he has the talent to do so.

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Already in this young NBA

Already in this young NBA season, we're seeing some established players whose games are changing right before our very eyes -- for better or worse. Today, let's examine five of those players and see how our expectations of them should change.

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