After putting together the modified Top-50 list of players from ’08-09, I had about 50 leftovers who just missed the cut. And from that, there could’ve been a whole sub-category titled “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”
Michael Beasley — Before his summer turned into a troubling documentary segment, Beasley was being groomed to shift from power forward to Miami’s full-time starting small forward. If he gets his head together (he’s expected to be out of rehab and ready before training camp), the best form of recovery will be doing what he does best; balling out of control, and putting up the monster NBA season we’ve been expecting from him since he first appeared on the high school scene. As a rookie Beasley put up 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in just over 24 minutes per game, and as he earned more PT over the course of the season, was peaking as a 20-and-10 guy on the regular. With his multi-faceted post game, smooth mid-range and long-range jumper, and ability to handle the ball, he was a problem for a lot of power forwards, and will be the same threat for the League’s small forwards.
Gerald Wallace — One of the best raw talents in the League, Wallace posted a career-high 7.8 rebounds last year, along with 16.6 points and 1.7 steals. While he’s still pretty terrible beyond the arc (29.8% 3PA), he raised his other percentages to 48% from the field and 80% from the line. In other words, “Crash” is learning to take better shots and convert when he gets fouled. After missing the playoffs by just four games in ’09, the Bobcats went into this summer as a realistic postseason pick for 2010. While the Emeka Okafor trade, the Allen Iverson rumors, and the fact that Ray Felton is still unsigned have put a cloud of uncertainty over those predictions, Wallace is the staple who will be at the forefront if Charlotte does make a playoff push. And just imagine how good he’d be if he watched film.
Vince Carter — At the moment, it looks like Stan Van Gundy will keep Rashard Lewis at power forward, start Mickael Pietrus at two-guard, and replace with Hedo with Vince at the three. Earlier this year I wrote that Vince would be the missing piece to a championhip in Orlando, and that was before the rest of the core group gained valuable postseason and NBA Finals experience. All Vince has to do is be Vince, and the Magic won’t miss a beat as a championship contender.
Richard Jefferson — Recent forgettable seasons in Jersey and Milwaukee allowed RJ to fall off the map, but at 29 years old, he’s still a borderline All-Star talent who will shine in San Antonio. The Spurs are a perfect team for Jefferson at this point in his career. He’s not expected to be the second-best or even the third-best player on the team, and with Duncan, Parker and Manu commanding so much attention, RJ will thrive on one-on-one situations, wide-open jump shots and one of the most lethal three-man fast breaks in the game alongside TP and Ginobili. Think Trevor Ariza in L.A., but with more experience and scoring ability.
Rudy Gay — A full year of getting used to playing with O.J. Mayo, some kind of stability on the bench, an extra 20 pounds on his frame, and he’s going into a contract year? Rudy is stepping into the blocks for a Usain Bolt District 9 kind of season.
(Editor’s note: Because they made last season’s Top-10 list, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Hedo Turkoglu, Danny Granger, Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, Ron Artest, Terrence Williams, Caron Butler and Trevor Ariza aren’t eligible for this list.)