The new NBA season kicks off officially on Tuesday with the defending NBA champions Toronto Raptors hosting the Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans before the battle for Los Angeles between the Lakers and Clippers.
More pertinent to Indiana fans, though, is the fact that eight Hoosiers are set to suit up with Romeo Langford being the latest addition to the NBA, joining a host of former Tom Crean players. While none of the incumbent players switched teams this off-season, new roles for many of them could lead to big seasons.
Eric Gordon - Houston Rockets
No former Hoosier is set up more for success than Gordon. After injury-riddled years early in his career, Gordon has flourished in Houston under Mike D’Antoni. Last season, he averaged 16.2 points per game, hit 36 percent of his three-pointers and was vital for a Rockets team that made the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
He was rewarded this off-season with a four-year, $75.6 million extension. Russell Westbrook’s arrival in Houston will change his role to some degree but he’s still expected to start alongside James Harden and Westbrook. Whether that’s a long-term move will likely depend on how poorly the Rockets defend this year but Gordon’s future is secure.
Meanwhile, with the trade for Westbrook, the Rockets will stay relevant and will still be one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Cody Zeller - Charlotte Hornets
Zeller has had an interesting, if not often frustrating, career in the NBA. After playing all 82 games his rookie season, Zeller has played more than 70 games once, more than 60 games three times and has played a combined 82 games in the last two seasons combined.
When he’s on the floor, he’s been a solid big man, averaging 10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds while hitting 55.1 percent of his shots. But, as the old adage goes, the best ability is availability and that’s where he’s struggled.
As for the team surrounding him, Charlotte had a huge roster shakeup this summer as the team’s two best players from last season - Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb - left and were replaced by Terry Rozier. The good news for Zeller is that he is clearly the most talented big man on the roster and, as long as he’s healthy, should see big minutes this season.
If he can stay healthy, Zeller could be an interesting trade target. Charlotte is in a rebuild and Zeller is on a relatively affordable deal with a decent skill set for modern bigs. If the Hornets can get an asset for him, he could be on the move this season.
Victor Oladipo - Indiana Pacers
It was hard to feel anything but devastation for Oladipo last season. As he continued his breakout in Indiana, Oladipo ruptured his quad tendon, a rare injury for NBA players. The timetable for his return is entirely up in the air and when he returns, he’ll be coming back to a drastically different Pacers team.
Indiana saw Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic and Thad Young leave and Malcolm Brogdon, Lamb and T.J. Warren replace them. It’s a more modern roster construction with lots of wings, which will be necessary after the team committed long-term to the less modern front court of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
But in the Eastern Conference the Pacers should be a playoff team with or without Oladipo. Depending on when he returns and what level he is at when he comes back, they could even be a darkhorse Finals contender in a top-heavy conference.
Noah Vonleh - Minnesota Timberwolves
The forgotten - often intentionally - Hoosier, Vonleh has carved out a role in the NBA after years of toiling away on the bench.
This summer, Vonleh joined the Timberwolves on a one-year, $2 million deal to serve as the backup to Karl-Anthony Towns. While he’s in a crowded front court with Gorgui Dieng - who has made $35.8 million in his NBA career with $17.2 million more coming this season - Jordan Bell and Treveon Graham, Vonleh should still see minutes after a strong season with the Knicks last year.
Most encouraging in his development is that Vonleh hit 33.6 percent of his three-pointers with a career-high 46 made from beyond the arc. If he can continue to become a realistic threat, he’ll have an even longer career in the league.
OG Anunoby - Toronto Raptors
The good news for Anunoby is that he’s an NBA champion. The bad news is that, due to an appendectomy, he didn’t feature in a single playoff game. The ring will still slide onto his finger all the same on Tuesday, but he’s set for a much bigger role this season.
With Kawhi Leonard departing for the Clippers, Anunoby will take his starting spot on a Raptor side that will be one of the more interesting ones in the league this year. While having young pieces like Anunoby, Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam, veterans like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are also on the roster, meaning the season could go one of two ways. Either the team excels and contends in the weak East or things go awry and the Raptors start a firesale.
Neither of those should affect Anunoby’s playing time but he’ll need to take a bigger step forward than he did last season. His three-point shooting fell from 37.1 percent his rookie year to 33.2 percent last season. That number will have to return to his rookie form if he is to have a breakout season.
Thomas Bryant - Washington Wizards
Even the most optimistic fans of Bryant, myself included, could not have expected the rise he’s had in such a short time in the NBA. After showing flashes in limited time with the Lakers, Bryant burst onto the scene in Washington last season, averaging 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 33.3 percent from three.
His energetic play style has translated well to the NBA and to his bank account as he signed a three-year, $25 million deal.
He’ll continue to have ample opportunity to succeed as the Wizards will have a strong case to be one of the worst teams in the league this season. After Bradley Beal, Bryant is likely the team’s second-best player which is both a testament to Bryant’s work ethic and an indictment on the Wizards’ roster.
Bryant is an out-and-out starter, though, and it’ll take a lot to supplant him as he’s primed to continue his upward climb this season.
Yogi Ferrell - Sacramento Kings
Ferrell found himself a stable home last year with the Sacramento Kings. The problem is that the Kings are the Kings and his situation became decidedly less stable this summer. The Kings threw money around like wild, adding Corey Joseph, Bogdanovic, Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon to a core that was already rather balanced.
The result is that Ferrell is likely the third-string point guard entering the season and, with the team’s wealth of guards, his path to playing time is hard to find. Barring an injury, Ferrell is likely going to be limited to spot minutes with an inconsistent role.
He largely is who he is at this point, a knockdown three-point shooter who can run offense in spurts but is severely limited by his height.
It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if Ferrell is dealt, especially with the team drafting Kyle Guy as well this spring.
Romeo Langford - Boston Celtics
Langford landing in Boston can be seen as both a positive or a negative. In one regard, their roster is full of young players and wings and the Celtics have developed guards and wings nicely in recent years in Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
But for now, it’s hard to find a path where Langford gets consistent playing time. He’s behind not just Smart, Brown and Tatum but also Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward and potentially even Carsen Edwards, who has not slowed down one bit in the NBA preseason.
Langford, though, was always seen as a long-term prospect with his jumper needing overhauling. It’s not the worst situation for him as he can work on his own game without the pressure of needing to contribute right away. Just don’t expect big minutes from him his rookie season.