Roy Hibbert's pre season started out with a 20 point, 11 rebound, 8 block performance. The 2nd year center out of Georgetown never looked back and dominated in the pre season. Everyone knows the hardest thing to find in the NBA is a quality big man who can demand a double team in the paint. The Indiana Pacers hope to have found their man in Hibbert. He has a real luxury of going under the radar while playing alongside all star Danny Granger. Also, Hibbert's real shortcoming is rebounding. Playing next to Troy Murphy on the frontline will cover that up a little bit, as Murphy is always among the league leaders in rebounding. Everything is set up for Hibbert to have a breakout season, and if Brandon Rush also makes a huge leap forward in his 2nd year than the Pacers could possibly sneak into the 7th or 8th spot in the playoffs, which would be an accomplishment for an East that is really improved.
Brandon Bass - PF Magic
Coach Stan Van Gundy probably realized the makeup of his lineup was going to have a hard time beating any team that features 2 or 3 good big men in a playoff series. So they made the tough decision of letting Toronto overpay for Hedo Turkoglou in free agency. This move allows the Magic to slide Rashard Lewis back to his normal small forward position. This is where Bass comes in. The Magic lineup is built a lot on strength, as Dwight Howard is probably the strongest big man in the game, and Jameer Nelson is a very thick, contact oriented point guard. Brandon Bass sizes up at 6 foot 8 inches and an extremely chiseled 250 pounds. Bass is a talented player, with a strong background dating back to his AAU and High School days. He went on to play at LSU, where some injuries dropped his stock quite a bit. He was selected in the 2nd round by the Hornets. He then moved on to the Dallas Mavericks, where their franchise player Dirk Nowitzki is the power forward. Bass still fought his way into playing time with strong practices, as well as duplicating those efforts on the court during games. He really uses his strength to work on the inside, and has shown a willingness to go to the offensive glass. He averaged almost 2 offensive rebounds a game last season in 19 minutes. Another big factor with Bass is that he is a career 84% foul shooter. If he shows he has the moves to be someone who can get his own buckets on the low block, than he can be the guy to get the ball down low in crunch time. Dwight Howard's free throw short comings really limit his touches down the stretch, so they could possibly lean on Bass at the end of games.
Anthony Randolph - PF Warriors
Any Golden State Warrior fan or NBA cable package subscriber can tell you that last season, anytime Anthony Randolph was on the court you were going to see something that would be on Sportscenter the next day. Randolph brings a tremendous amount of energy and passion to the game, as well as a lot of raw natural ability. He did turn the ball over a lot last season, but he is a 6-10 power forward who is willing to bring the ball up the floor on a fast break. In that regard Lamar Odom would be a good comparison, except the fact that Randolph possesses double the athleticism. It remains to be seen if Randolph's frail frame is going to be able to take the pounding of 35 minutes a night, which is probably the only concern with him. His numbers were off the charts last season, averaging almost 2 blocks a night on only 17.6 minutes. That would translate into a serious threat for the NBA block champion. He is also extremely active on the offensive glass, especially in the put back game. He loves to take the ball right at you at the rim, showing a lot of dunking prowess, even in traffic. Randolph also uses his length and speed to work the passing lanes, and will continue to get better at that, as he learns the game. He was a born in Germany, and than attended LSU for a year. He has the whole world in front of him, and Don Nelson is choosing to bring this kid along slowly. He will probably be on the bench to start the season, but his game will force his way into the lineup for at least 25 minutes a night. If the Warriors pair of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis can coexist and light it up, look for Randolph to join them as the core of this team for many years to come.
Russell Westbrook - PG Thunder
Earlier this pre season, Nenad Kristic commented on the improvements of Russell Westbrook this off season. Kristic said Westbrook is actually looking for him in the pick and pop game, where Kristic excels. Kristic said Westbrook trusts his teammates more now. That is key, because the 2nd year point guard out of UCLA along with Kevin Durant, both have all the talent in the world, but have to understand they will not get anywhere without their teammates. If both of them can stop trying to do everything themselves, they will limit their turnovers and start to open up the floor. Durant has been documented as one of the worst players in the pick and roll game in the league, with Westbrook not far behind. Often they both would just use the screen as a sign to get a shot off or to rush the basket. If they establish their teammates early in games off the picks, than as the game goes on their path to the hoop will not be as congested. If Westbrook can figure it out, which all signs in the pre season point to him making tremendous strides, than he can really thrust himself into the discussion with Derrick Rose, for the next great point guard. Westbrook features great quickness, a real belief in good defense can turn into easy bucks, and the athleticism around the rim of a 2 guard. He also rebounds the ball well for a guard. Westbrook will benefit from the addition of shooting guard James Harden, who if nothing else will keep the defense honest, as the Thunder's previous 2 guards were pretty much non factors. Westbrook looks to shut up his critics this season, who say he is only a shooting guard. Look for a motivated Westbrook to turn some heads this year.