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Third Year Charm

By Rick Kamla, NBA TV

Most quality NBA prospects take three years to fully blossom into the player they are going to be for the rest of their career.

This past season, 10 of the top 30 picks from the 2004 NBA Draft put it all together in their third NBA season, including top pick Dwight Howard, second pick Emeka Okafor, third pick Ben Gordon, seventh pick Luol Deng, ninth pick Andre Iguodala, 11th pick Andris Biedrins, 15th pick Al Jefferson, 17th pick Josh Smith, 26th pick Kevin Martin, and 30th pick Anderson Varejao.

Unfortunately, my outlook for the 2005 draft class in its third NBA season does not bode nearly as well.

With third pick Deron Williams, fourth pick Chris Paul, and 30th pick David Lee already arriving in either their rookie (Paul) or sophomore seasons (Williams, Lee), there are only five cats from the ‘05 draft class who I expect to break out in year three. Here are those players and their stories…

Andrew Bogut – MIL [C]: Ah, the dichotomy of Andrew the Aussie. The first pick of the 2005 draft is enjoyable to watch but annoying to read. Perusing his harsh quotes about his NBA peers brought one phrase to the tips of my lips: shut up and play. (The last time I uttered that adage, Damon Jones was chirping about being the “best shooter in the world”. Huh?)

Bogut is the reincarnation of Vlade Divac—a very skilled big man who helped in a lot of fantasy categories.

The face of Australian Basketball made significant strides from his rookie to sophomore seasons, upping his points from 9.4 to 12.3, his rebounds from 7.0 to 8.8, his assists from 2.3 to 3.0, and his field goal percentage from 53.3 percent to 55.3 percent. The ultra-competitive Bogut gets better with each game because he cares and he’s consistent, bringing the effort and focus every night.

The injury bug cost him 16 DNPs last year, but he played 82 games as a rookie. Bogut proved his warrior status last year when he returned REAL early from a mysterious leg injury at the start of the season. He finished the campaign on the shelf with another injury, but the team was erring on the side of caution with the playoffs out of reach.

The Bucks don’t have great rebounding forwards so it’s likely that Bogut joins the double-double club with a tidy line of 14-10-3.5 with a sparkling field goal percentage in 07-08.

Raymond Felton – CHA [PG,SG]: Speaking of warriors, few young players fight through injury as well as Felton, who is so driven to play that his trainers have had to take away his uniform to keep him off the court. Ray has missed six games in his first two seasons, and I guarantee you he’s had a lot more than six injuries.

Raymond Felton, it's your baby now.
(Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images)

Whereas I do not believe Bogut’s improvements were based solely on increased minutes (from 28.6 to 34.2 for Bogut), that is my assertion with Felton, who actually regressed in field goal shooting (39.1 percent to 38.4 percent) and turnovers (2.3 to 2.9) as an NBA sophomore. Thanks to an additional 6.4 minutes per game last season, Felton upped his points from 11.8 to 14.0, assists from 5.6 to 7.0, rebounds from 3.4 to 3.5, and steals from 1.3 to 1.5.

Felton may have plateaued a year ago, but he shall blossom in year three for a variety of reasons.

First of all, per my theory, he’s right on pace with quality prospects finally realizing their full potential in year three. Felton was rock-solid as a rookie and probably a little ahead of schedule in his development, and then he maintained that level as a sophomore, setting up a major career spike as an NBA junior.

Second, and most importantly, the Bobcats let go of Brevin Knight. (I’m thinking his buy out might have stemmed from something more than just not being a Tar Heel.)

With Knight out of the picture, Felton can focus solely on running the point, instead of juxtaposing between the one and two. His first full season at the wheel for the Bobcats will yield the desired results, giving this draft class three of the nastiest point guards in the league.

Finally, Felton has three major finishers in Okafor, Jason Richardson, and Gerald Wallace, meaning his assists should climb well into the eights, if not higher. I could see a line of 15-4-8 with close to two steals and roughly 1.5 threes per game.

Danny Granger – IND [SF]: What a pick by the Pacers, who stole this ready-made NBA player with the 17th pick. Hard to believe Antoine Wright and Joey Graham were selected before Granger. At 6-9, 230, this streamlined 24-year-old was made to play NBA basketball, and he’s primed to put it all together in year three.

Granger fits my theory to a T. He showed signs as a rookie when he averaged 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in just 22.6 minutes. Then he bounced up to 13.9 ppg a year ago due mainly to a dramatic increase in three-point shooting (32.3 percent to 38.2 percent). Granger went from 0.4 threes per game to 1.3 as a sophomore, and that number shall climb from this Robert Horry clone.

Granger’s career arrow is pointing straight up, with the only remaining question revolving around Jermaine O’Neal’s status with the team.

If JO sticks around, Granger’s line will look like 16-5-2-1-1 with solid percentages and at least 1.5 threes per game. If JO is traded, Granger could explode a la Iguodala following the departures of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber.

Jason Maxiell – DET [SF,PF]: Maxiell’s been buried during the past two seasons, earning just six and 14 minutes of playing time in his rookie and sophomore seasons, respectively. But with Ben Wallace leaving for Chicago last summer and Chris Webber’s status in flux, Maxiell is finally going to get his chance in year three because he’s earned it.

The 26th pick in the ’05 draft started rocking in the 2006 Vegas Summer League, then he simply made plays whenever he got minutes last year (just ask the Cavs about the Eastern Finals), and then he looked downright springy (and much leaner) this past July at the NBA Summer League.

While his career stats may not necessarily show it, Maxiell’s career is clearly on the upswing. After two years of fantasy irrelevance, this 24-year-old stud will be a fantasy factor this year. And don’t underestimate the likelihood that a sweet season sets up Maxiell for a fat extension next summer.

Unless Nazr Mohammed has a stunning preseason, the Pistons will most likely deploy a three-man power rotation of Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, and Maxiell at the four and five. And given the fact that both Sheed and Dyess turn 33 in September, Flip Saunders won’t wear out his top two big men during the regular season. As such, look for Maxiell to come off the bench for 25-30 minutes per game.

To give you an idea of the kind of fantasy player Maxiell might be, he averaged 8.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.0 steals, 57 percent from the field, and 26 minutes in eight starts last year.

After three seconds of extrapolation, I could see a five-cat line of 11-7-0-2.5-1 with a FG percentage close to 60.0 percent. The word you’re looking for is “sleeper.”

Monta Ellis – GSW [PG,SG]: The dude won Most Improved Player because he had the biggest jump in points per game last season (+9.7). It seems like the 40th pick in the 2005 draft put it all together last season, but the best is yet to come…in year three.

Let’s rewind to last season for a second. With Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson, and Al Harrington all looking for theirs (and getting theirs), Monta had to make due with the table scraps for most of the season. He started only 53 of his 77 games and played just 34.3 minutes per game. As such, his numbers were limited to 16.5 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.7 steals.

To give you an idea about his upside—which he realizes this year as J-Rich’s replacement at the 2—Monta averaged 17.7 points, 4.7 assists, and 1.7 steals in 36.7 minutes as a starter. Solid.

Electric Ellis will burst into full bloom as an NBA junior, and I’m not worried about first round pick Marco Belinelli stealing Monta’s starting job or vulturing too many minutes. In Don Nelson’s anything-goes offensive system, Monta should creep towards 20 points, five assists, and two steals per game.

Last year I begged the Warriors to “FREE MONTA!” and it appears my wish has been granted.

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