|Ibaka has almost raced ahead of an aging Stoudemire. (Getty Images)|
2012 Stats: 14.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.4 rpg, .486 eFG%, 18.9 PER
Rankings: 36, 44, 72
Possibly the most underrated PG in the league, Lowry saw his shooting percentage dip while his production and efficiency skyrocketed. He suffered an internal infection that forced him to miss the last third of the year. But the bigger problem was his conflict with Kevin McHale, which led to Lowry demanding a trade and being sent to Toronto. Lowry will be the featured player for Toronto and expected to continue his bulldog ways of muscling into the paint. His transition three-point percentage, which has fluctuated wildly for three seasons, is a key to watch.
2012 Stats: 16.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, .548 eFG%, 21.2 PER
Rankings: 60, 46, 44
Anderson was the Magic's best player last season, if you account for Dwight Howard's injury and disruptive effect on the locker room. He was a model of consistency and played himself into a Most Improved Player candidate. He's the rare stretch four who actually rebounds well, and that puts him in rarified air. He heads to New Orleans in a free agency sign-and-trade and won't be faced with the expectations of keeping a team afloat by himself. How he fits with Anthony Davis is a huge question mark, but he should still flourish with the ability to space the floor while defenders are focused on Davis and Eric Gordon. Plus, he escaped the vortex of the Magic collapse.
2012 Stats: 18.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.2 bpg, .449 eFG%, 21.7 PER, 19.8 TRB%
Rankings: 43, 46, 57
Hot head or tough competitor? Malcontent or beast down low? Locker room time bomb or eventual All-Star? DeMarcus Cousins is all of these things and more. The controversial former Kentucky Wildcat has wowed fans with his ability to score and ruggish athleticism, while driving coaches and teammates nuts with his behavior and attitude. A move to Keith Smart as head coach for Sacramento helped considerably, but there continue to be questions about Cousins' consistency of effort. Whether he's going to wind up as yet another player who couldn't keep his emotions in check to cash in on his talent or the next Charles Barkley. Either way, it's going to be fascinating to watch.
2012 Stats: 14.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.0 spg, .479 eFG%, 16.4 PER
Rankings: 65, 39, 42
Danilo Gallinari's evolution has been something of a mystery. He was an outside shooter in New York, then found his perimeter scoring abandon him in Denver as his ability to score off the dribble and draw fouls reached high levels. He was a focus for the Nuggets early on, and an injury limited him just as he was getting started. Still, he factors as one of the key building blocks of Denver's future alongside Andre Iguodala and Ty Lawson. How he fits with Iguodala will be key next season, but nothing is as important as his need to rediscover his outside shooting touch. If he can knock down the jumper, forcing teams to recover on his lanky frame, he's going to have a stellar year.
No. 45: Eric Gordon, SG, Age 23, New Orleans Hornets
2012 Stats: (Played only nine games due to injury.)
Rankings: 67, 45, 33
Gordon was the All-Star centerpiece of the Hornets' trade of Chris Paul, and his injury situation contributed greatly to their fall in the standings. He tried desperately to get out of New Orleans this summer in restricted free agency but found the Hornets matching his max offer. That created an awkward situation he'll have to mend some fences from. Stay healthy and do what he showed he's capable of in L.A., though, and Hornets fans will find themselves forgiving him at break-neck speed.
When healthy, Gordon is one of the league's elite scorers, a master both on and off the ball. His passing is a considerably underrated part of his game that should flourish next to Anthony Davis. But that injury question is more than a small problem. The Hornets have made a huge investment in Gordon. How his ankle responds will determine a lot about how far the Hornets can rebuild from their struggles last year.
2012 Stats: 20.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 43.3 FG%, 30.8 3PT%
Rankings: 41, 56, 47
Monta Ellis remains one of the NBA's most polarizing players. His supports see an elite scorer who can create a shot and get to the rim against anyone. His detractors see an inconsistent one-trick pony who doesn't play as hard defensively as offensively and who comes with some off-court baggage. The Golden State Warriors never really resolved that debate and shipped him to the Milwaukee Bucks for oft-injured center Andrew Bogut. In Milwaukee, Ellis is somewhat awkwardly paired with point guard Brandon Jennings. Neither can shoot from deep, and both are better with the ball. Still, the Bucks went 12-9 with Ellis in the lineup and he topped 30 points four times. Ellis has an early termination option in his contract, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Complicating matters, Jennings is eligible for an extension following his rookie deal, too. Without too many long-term deals already on the books (Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are the three big ones), the Bucks have the ability to retain both Ellis and Jennings. But will they?
2012 Stats: 9.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.7 bpg, .556 eFG%, 19.0 PER, 9.8 BLK%
Rankings: 50, 41, 47
The runner-up to the Defensive Player of the Year and the fourth member of Oklahoma City's Big Four is simultaneously overrated and underrated, both in the league, and here. Ibaka's defense comes with a dazzling array of blocks and showy moments of physical aggression, but comes with a price. When the goaltends aren't putting points on the board for the other guys, his overzealous rotations are leaving his man open for a dunk, often when the primary defender is contesting the layup well enough to prevent a score in the first place. His rebounding is good-to-great, but that doesn't make up for some of his missed rotations and what he lacks in court awareness. All of these things, though, can be fiex and are part of the natural development process. There's every reason to believe, that in a short time, "Iblocka" will be the defender he's made out to be.
In the meantime, people drastically overlook his offensive abilities. When Ibaka hit mid-range jumpers off penetration drives from Durant, Harden or Westbrook, people dismissed them as flukes. In reality, Ibaka has proven to be one of the better mid-range spot-up shooters in the league. He works well in the pick-and-roll and finishes strong on putbacks. In short, Ibaka is much better on offense than he's given credit for, even as he's not nearly the defender he's made out to be. You can easily make an argument either way for him to be higher or loweron our list.
2012 Stats: 17.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.0 bpg, .541 eFG%, 17.7 PER
Rankings: 43, 45, 42
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Stoudemire was 12th on our list last year. Twelfth! But this is what happens when you have the kind of year that he had. A postseason injury gave way to conditioning issues exacerbated by the lockout, leading to a back problem that hampered him the entire year. The offense's redirection to "all-Melo, all the time" severely impacted his effectiveness. Stoudemire not only struggled to work off-ball in that kind of a role but lacked a post-up game to run that was crucial without a pick-and-roll point guard. He showed signs of life with Jeremy Lin during Linsanity, but then Melo returned, and, well, you know.
To make matters worse, Stoudemire's defense did not make the jump that the rest of the Knicks' did. If anything, his lack of mobility made him more of a liability at that end. His rebounding was a major problem both for the team and Tyson Chandler, who was left to do all the work.
All this is before he punched, excuse me, slapped a fire extinguisher.
There's hope that Stoudemire can recover this season, with more time for conditioning, time to heal and with the work he put in with Hakeem Olajuwon on a post game. The addition of Raymond Felton, whom Stoudemire had developed good chemistry with right before Felton was traded in the Melo deal, should also benefit him. But this offense is still going to be ISO-centric, Melo-centric, wing-centric. How Stoudemire fits into that model remains to be seen and is one of the biggest question marks for the Knicks this season.
No. 41: Ty Lawson, PG, Age 24, Denver Nuggets
2012 Stats: 16.4 ppg, 6.6 apg, 1.3 spg, .535 eFG%, 19.4 PER
Ranking: 38, 51, 40
Lawson, like Lowry, is clearly a member of the All-Underrated point guards club. He's one of the absolute fastest point guards in the league, and his ability to get to the rim was a huge reason for Denver's offensive success. A pleasantly surprising development last season was Lawson's ability to play off-ball as a scorer with Andre Miller in a dual point-guard lineup. Lawson's perimeter shooting was on full display against the Lakers and was a huge reason Denver pushed the Lakers to seven games.
This season, Lawson needs to make the leap to outright superstar, and that's going to be tricky with his size. The question will be who helps who more, Lawson helping Andre Iguodala or Iguodala helping Lawson. Either way, Lawson will remain a blur offensively with some badgering ability on-ball defensively and great instincts, a true gem for the Nuggets.
2012 Stats: 15.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 bpg, .521 eFG%, 22.0 PER
Ranking: 42, 36, 51
Monroe has a better-than-decent chance of making the All-Star Game this season. He's shown considerable development in his early seasons, and with a better Pistons club could be primed for a breakout, especially if rookie Andre Drummond can give Detroit a big man to pair with him. Monroe has a nifty lefty hook, a good combination of moves and terrific footwork. Defense is the real question mark with him, but even that showed signs last season.
The biggest plus is his consistency. He manages to make an impact in nearly every game, and even when he doesn't contribute to the scoreboard, it's usually the defense's focus on him that's opening things for the other players. The Pistons are Monroe's team for the foreseeable future.