of SI.com compiles a team
of players who need to show improvement during the 2012-13 season. Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum and guard Wesley Matthews make the list, as does former Blazers guard Raymond Felton.
Nicolas Batum/Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers. Portland is paying more than $18 million combined to Batum and Matthews in each of the next two seasons, which is too much based on their respective records of NBA play — and enough to take Portland out of big-name free agency chases in each of the next two summers as things stand now (once you factor in likely team options and future picks). Both are solid role players, but neither has progressed much at creating offense with the ball — something that has left an enormous burden on LaMarcus Aldridge and could place one upon Damian Lillard immediately. Matthews’ shooting percentage on close shots fell off dramatically as he tried to go it alone more last season. Almost all available statistics paint Batum as a minus on defense despite his general look as a long-armed menace capable of guarding four positions, though the lineup jumbling Gerald Wallace’s acquisition and departure forced probably had something to do with those numbers. Regardless: If Portland wants to keep Aldridge happy, it’s time for something more than tiny incremental progress from these two.
Raymond Felton, New York Knicks. The Knicks won’t make the jump from second-tier contender to something more unless the cap-clogging Carmelo Anthony/Tyson Chandler/Amar’e Stoudemire trio meshes better (especially on offense) than it did in a lockout-compressed 2011-12 campaign of tiresome drama and nagging injuries. In that regard, it’s tempting to dismiss the rest of the roster as semi-irrelevant to the team’s big-picture fate. But a decent point guard can help the meshing process along, both by running the offense when Anthony permits and doing so well enough to allow for the re-organization of the team’s rotation and offensive sets in optimal ways. The Knicks signed Jason Kidd to do some of this, but Kidd’s game is already in severe decline as he approaches his 40th birthday. Felton’s ability to work a drive-and-kick game on the pick-and-roll could be a huge asset, but he has to be in shape and cut out the laughably frustrating late-game turnovers that defined a miserable year in Portland.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter