Best Case: Knight improves his 3-point shooting to above 42%, which in turn helps him become more effective in the pick-and-roll game by making defenders play up on him more. When running pick-and-rolls, Knight starts to see the passing lanes emerge quicker than he has in past years, which allows him to effectively hit rolling big men for scores around the basket. Knight is also able to reduce his turnovers (from a respectable 2.7 per game last season), a direct consequence of his improved pick-and-roll passing. He becomes a very good on and off-ball defender, using his length (6-3 with a 6-6 wingspan) to pressure opponents and disrupt passing lanes.
Worst Case: Knight’s struggles as a pick-and-roll point guard continue as they did in Detroit. He remains a half second late with his passes, allowing defenses to shift and close passing lanes. There is no reduction in turnovers, his 3-point shooting (36.8% last year) fails to improve and he remains a good-but-not-great defender. Knight assumes the starting point guard duties and is a slightly below average starter, relative to other point guards in the league.
Best Case: Ridnour is the ideal backup point guard, even assuming some shooting guard duties much like he did with the Timberwolves last year. He’s not a complete liability on defense and Larry Drew is able to hide his deficiencies in this area with some creative team defense. He’s able to assume the ball handling responsibilities when Knight is off the court, allowing Gary Neal to float around the perimeter and hunt for open looks. Ridnour exceeds his offensive production from his last season with the Bucks (2009-10), where he averaged 10.4 points and 4 rebounds on 47.8 percent shooting (38.1% from three) with only 1.3 TO per game. He joins the 50-40-90 club for the first time.
Worst Case: Age finally catches up to Ridnour and his defense becomes a complete liability. He’s no longer quick enough to guard point guards and is neither big nor strong enough to defend shooting guards, leading to frequent mismatches. His free fall in 3-point shooting percentage continues (44% in 2010-2011 to 31.1% last year), and he can’t effectively space the floor when playing off the ball because defenders don’t respect his range. He remains the primary backup but his shortcomings eventually give way to more minutes for Ish Smith.
Best Case: Smith’s somewhat promising play at the Las Vegas Summer League carries over into the regular season. He uses his speed to push the ball in transition and makes smart decisions on such plays, leading to easy points. Smith’s quickness allows him to stay in front of matchups on defense; even giving Larry Drew the option to press up-court in short spurts during games. For the first time in his career, he finally shoots above 40 percent from the field.
Worst Case: Smith’s shooting percentage remains abysmal, not even cracking 35 percent. Anything he brings to the team on defense is mitigated by his inefficiency and he loses time to rookie Nate Wolters as the season wears on. For the fourth straight season he is traded, meaning he has played for six teams, putting his potential as a long-term NBA player in doubt.
Best Case: Mayo finally lives up to his potential as a number three overall pick and becomes a star in Milwaukee. He is the unequivocal leader of the team, averaging over 20 points per game for the first time in his career. He remains a very good 3-point shooter and again shoots over 40 percent from behind the line. In crunch time, Mayo assumes some of the point guard duties and is able to create his own shot relatively effectively when the offense gets stagnant. He even starts to attack the basket more often; leading to an increase in the pedestrian 3.0 free throws per game he’s averaged thus far in his career. Larry Drew is able to convince Mayo to give consistent effort on defense, much like Mike Brown did with Lebron James during his years in Cleveland. This sudden impact on the defensive end makes Mayo a complete player and propels him to a 3rd team all-NBA selection.
Worst Case: Mayo starts off playing well, but his production trails off as the season progresses, much like it did last season in Dallas. He remains an okay shooter, but stays complacent, settling for jump shots instead of attacking the basket. His lackluster effort on defense is obvious and other teams exploit this on a nightly basis. He takes the reins during crunch time and tries to play hero ball with poor results.
Best Case: Neal carries over the principles he learned in San Antonio’s system, understanding his role on the team and becoming the go-to option for Drew as the first or second guard off the bench. Much like his first two seasons, Neal shoots around 42 percent from behind the arc and provides adequate spacing for the second unit. His defense is mediocre but is offset by the offensive production he brings to the floor.
Worst Case: It becomes obvious that Neal was a product of Gregg Popovich’s system. He is a complete liability on defense and continues to shoot around the 35 percent mark from three-point territory – as he did last season. Neal, who has always been a gunner, shoots far more often than he should and becomes a black hole on offense. By season’s end, Luke Ridnour is forced to play out of position on a nightly basis due to Neal’s poor play.