The average NBA career is about 4.5 years, leaving many players with the same question - how to stick around for as long as possible? And the answer is obvious. One has to consistently improve their game.
The game of the NBA has evolved from an old-school to a 3-point era with changes in every aspect. Big men are required to shoot from behind the arc to create more space for offense. More forwards have become playmakers and defend from one to five. And guards are asked to play different roles and develop various skills.
To stay, youngsters should constantly learn and progress, and veterans should make an adjustment based on their role changes and ages. Here are 10 players who might be better next season.
10. Anthony Davis
Games Played: 40
Last Season’s Stats: 23.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.3 BPG
Anthony Davis is universally considered a top-five talent in the NBA, and he demonstrated this by taking the purple and gold back to the crown in 2020. The past two years, however, have been torturing for all the Lakers fans due to Davis’ constant injuries and most frustrating thing - his seemingly-missing desire for greatness, which is even more apparent when he played alongside 37-year-old LeBron James.
Last season was a historic failure in everyone’s eyes. Not only didn’t the Lakers make the playoffs, but also Davis’ stats dropped to its career low, including the second-lowest 3-point percentage (18.6%), the fourth-lowest average points per game (23.2), the lowest free throw percentage (71.3%) and steals per game (1.2).
But it’s never too late to change. Coming up in October, the 29-year-old has the chance to redefine his game and showcase his ability to the world. In addition, Lakers’ new head coach Darvin Ham and James have agreed to run the offense through Davis, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes.
No one would question Davis’ talent and ability. There are, however, two crucial things for him to bring the team back to that title contender tier: stay healthy and motivated.
9. Victor Oladipo
Games Played: 8
Last Season’s Stats: 12.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Eight - that’s how many regular season games Victor Oladipo played in the 2021-22 season. Oladipo has been fighting against injuries since he suffered from a ruptured quad tendon when he was with the Pacers in 2019.
Oladipo was selected second overall by the Orlando Magic in 2013 and is known for his defense and athleticism. During his Indiana years, he became an All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive team player, 2017-18 Steal Champion and Most Improved Player of the Year.
In the second year with the Miami Heat, Oladipo eventually had the chance to prove that he is still a solid player. Averaging 10.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.3 steals per game in only 24.5 minutes, he became head coach Erik Spoelstra’s most reliable person coming off the bench during the playoffs.
Oladipo has agreed to a two-year contract with the Heat this Summer. With the departure of P. J. Tucker, Oladipo is expected to play a bigger role for the team next season as long as he can stay healthy on the court.
8. Evan Mobley
Games Played: 69
Last Season’s Stats: 15.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG
The former USC Trojan has probably turned himself into the most valuable young big man prospect in the NBA after his rookie season. Forward Evan Mobley displayed his talent on both ends of the floor from day one, especially his defense.
In the 3-point era, the Cleveland Cavaliers played an old-school style of three 7-footers, surprisingly having an excellent start last year. Even though they fell short at the end of the regular season due to injuries, the young core of Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and Mobley has widely been considered one of the most promising ones.
It’s so rare for any rookie to make a place in the Defensive Player of Year conversation. Mobley, however, is one of those. With the addition of more experience and skills, he is expected to compete closely for or even win the award in the next decade.
In addition, Mobley is the most likely big man to carry the offensive responsibility for the Cavaliers and he is supposed to do so because of Allen’s lack of individual offensive skills. Therefore, as long as he improves his long-range shots, it’s only a matter of time for him to post more than 20 points a game.
7. Bam Adebayo
Games Played: 56
Last Season’s Stats: 19.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG
The 25-year-old is another Miami Heat player who is expected to keep growing his game next season. Center Bam Adebayo is one of the four players who averaged at least 19.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game alongside last season’s top three MVP finalists, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Adebayo was selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Starting from his second season, Adebayo has been considered one of the key pieces of the team. He has become a onetime NBA All-Star and three-time All-Defensive Team player.
The Heat have lost some role players during the break, which means Adebayo needs to take more responsibility on both ends in the future, especially offensively. He is expected to add more skills and contribute more points, and most importantly, be more aggressive both mentally and physically.
6. Klay Thompson
Games Played: 32
Last Season’s Stats: 20.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG
The four-time NBA champion will be stronger next season. And here’s why.
After missing two-year of professional basketball, Klay Thompson has officially been back in 2022 as he threw down a poster dunk over two players in his first game against the Cavaliers. However, he struggled on the court after two major injuries, knee and Achilles.
38.5% might be excellent for any other shooter, but it is not for one of the all-time best to do it. For the first time in his career, Thomson’s 3-point percentage has dropped below 40%. Considering his 9.3 attempts per game, Thomson still displayed great efficiency from behind the arc.
But again, he is Klay Thompson. Injuries might take away part of his bounce and speed, but not his shooting. Thompson will find his rhythm once he plays enough minutes. And the most important thing is that the Golden State Warriors have enough depth to help Thompson regain his game.
5. James Harden
Games Played: 65
Last Season’s Stats: 22.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 10.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG
James Harden has been constantly criticized due to his disappointing behavior during his last playoff series against the Heat. That’s why many believe that he doesn’t deserve a super-max contract anymore.
However, what Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers did this offseason might be clutch to their blueprint. Harden voluntarily took a pay cut of more than $14 million only to help the team sign more solid role players, including P.J. Tucker and Danuel House.
The 76ers sacrificed a lot of depth when they traded for Harden last season, and now he is giving it back to the team, which will add so much room to make mistakes.
There’s one most important thing - the return of ‘MVP Harden.’ For a player who is known for his ball-handling, losing the speed in the first step of separation is troublesome. However, injuries were the main reason. It is optimistic that Harden will be more dangerous, once he is healthy and in shape.
4. Anfernee Simons
Games Played: 57
Last Season’s Stats: 17.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.9 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.1 BPG
The 23-year-old just had a breakout season with the team’s All-Star guard Damian Lillard out, averaging 17.3 points per game, which is almost a 10-point improvement. Such promising behavior has successfully secured Anfernee Simons a four-year $100 million extension.
Simons was selected 24th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2018 NBA draft, and he was the third high school player since 2015 to be drafted in the NBA. At such a young age, he showed his explosive steps and excellent shooting. In his fourth year, Simons can make 3.1 threes per game on 40.5% shooting.
Next season, Simons is expected to be the starting shooting guard alongside Lillard, who will create tons of open-shot opportunities for his teammates. Also, head coach Chauncey Billups will add more minutes to this uprising guard. It would not be a surprise if Simons makes another big jump.
3. Cade Cunningham
Games Played: 64
Last Season’s Stats: 17.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Guard Cade Cunningham was drafted first overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2021 NBA draft for a reason. Even though he was absent at the beginning of last season due to injury, when Cunningham was back, he immediately proved why the team made the right choice.
Cunningham is one of only three active players to average at least 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists as a rookie alongside LeBron James and Luka Doncic. The 6-foot-6 guard is an extraordinary playmaker because of his vision and high basketball IQ. Also, he has a variety of offensive skills to attract defense and create easy buckets for his teammates.
The Pistons were widely praised for their operation this Summer, particularly in the latest draft, where they selected two more young prospects, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. However, this wouldn’t slow down the development of Cunningham because those two rookies aren’t ball-dominant players.
Compared to players in his class, like Cavaliers’ Mobley and Toronto Raptors’ Scottie Barnes, Cunningham is the only one who can take whatever shot he wants. Just like early career James and Doncic, the freedom Cunningham has on the court will force him to grow rapidly.
2. Anthony Edwards
Games Played: 72
Last Season’s Stats: 21.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Second-year Anthony Edwards has told the world through his astonishing behavior that he is the best player in his class. He led the Minnesota Timberwolves back to the playoffs and had an impressive first round against the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 25.2 points per game.
The former No. 1 overall pick’s most valuable quality is his confidence. Recently, Edwards has said he will become the new face of the league after LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The young guard has drawn a large amount of attention on and off the court.
The Timberwolves conducted the biggest trade this Summer so far, adding All-Star center Rudy Gobert. With a core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Gobert, and Edwards, the team is expected to make a deeper playoff run next season. Also, the 21-year-old has a great chance to compete for the Most Improved Player award and become a first-time All-Star.
1. Russell Westbrook
Games Played: 78
Last Season’s Stats: 18.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Who is the player at the lowest point of his career? It would be crazy if that answer is not Russell Westbrook.
The former MVP was harshly criticized due to his disastrous behavior on both ends. The Lakers were considered one of the favorites to win it all before last season, but the core of James, Davis, and Westbrook didn’t work out. Conflicted play styles between the big 3, injuries as well as unbalanced roster construction eventually ruined their season.
Westbrook had the lowest steals per game (1.0) and the third-lowest average points per game (18.5) last season. More apparently, his efficiency on finishes over the rim dropped significantly, missing tons of easy layups and dunks, which became one of his main issues.
The 33-year-old, however, is still one of the most athletic guards in the league, and his field goal shooting (44.4%) was around his career average, which indicates that he is still capable of playing at a high level. It’s essential for Westbrook and the Lakers to work it out, setting up suitable plays for him next season. He still got it.