Sports Mole's four to watch this season

Sports Mole reveals the four players we believe could take their game to a new level this season.

The start of the new NBA season is now less than a week away, and the speculation over who will impress for their respective franchise has already started.

Below, Sports Mole continues the build up to the tipoff by singling out four players who could take their game to the next level this season.

1. Anthony Davis

Regular watchers of the NBA might be scratching their head at this first selection. After all, most of his supporters will tell you that Davis is already one of the stars of the league. However, the signs are that the 2014-15 campaign could be when Davis goes from exciting youngster to one of the NBA's best players.

Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on prior to a preseason NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 5, 2013 © Getty Images

The 21-year-old displayed maturity beyond his years last season as he averaged 20.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, but the new campaign will be about much more than just statistics. In his third year in the NBA, the challenge for Davis is to prove that he can carry the New Orleans Pelicans forward. Compared to the other players on this list, Davis is miles ahead in terms of his development. However, the expectation levels are also much higher.

The Pelicans were unable to reach the playoffs last season as they finished with a 34-48 record. Without Davis, that record would have been much worse. Davis is another year older and he will certainly show he is an even better player. He must now take centre stage and look to guide the Pelicans into the playoffs. His ability will never be in doubt, but can he dominate night after night to take his team to a new level? If he does, a run at the MVP award may not be out of the question.

2. Jonas Valanciunas

The Lithuanian showed in glimpses last season what he was all about as he started 81 games for the Toronto Raptors. His power and awareness on the court are clearly his biggest strengths, and there was plenty to admire about his form in just his second season in the NBA.

In recent seasons, the effectiveness of the classic 'big man' in the modern game has been the subject of much debate between supporters and experts. Some argue that there is less of a reliance on a physically imposing player in today's NBA. However, Valanciunas can prove this season just how crucial it is to have such a player in possession of vital weapons at both ends of the court.

He's still only 22 and is certain to play a key role for the Raptors for many years to come. There's plenty of buzz around Toronto ahead of the new campaign, and Valanciunas is sure to play a key role in any success they enjoy. If he can stay injury-free, there's a good chance he will be named as an All-Star for the first time.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Antetokounmpo will have to do more this season to prove this selection right as he is with a team who are expected to struggle in the Milwaukee Bucks. However, all of the signs point to the 19-year-old proving his class this season whether the Bucks improve or not.

6.8 PPG and 4.4 RPG are modest stats even for a rookie, but it was Antetokounmpo's energy and offensive skills which excited his growing army of supporters in the previous campaign. He has the ability to get to the free-throw line on a regular basis and his versatility makes him a dream to coach for Jason Kidd. Very few players can match his athletic ability on the court, and his unique style will steal plenty of headlines when the Bucks are winning games.

This season is all about progress for Antetokounmpo, who could be seen as the future of the franchise if he can build on a promising start to life in the NBA.

4. Tim Hardaway Jr

Coming into the NBA as the son of a five-time All-Star is never going to be easy, but Hardaway showed plenty of promise in his first season after being selected by the New York Knicks with the 24th pick of the Draft. Despite starting just one of 81 games in his debut season, the 22-year-old regularly proved his quality to anyone who bothered to watch the Knicks struggle as he averaged 10.2 PPG.

Tim Hardaway Jr. #5 of the New York Knicks in action against the Toronto Raptors in the second half during an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on April. 16, 2014© Getty Images

All of that came in a Knicks side which, in truth, was very poor. Derek Fisher faces a tough test looking to improve the team in his first campaign as a head coach. Hardaway is likely to remain on the bench in the early stages of the season, but he certainly has the ability to increase the number of minutes he is given.

His shooting from three-point range has reportedly improved over the summer, and he has been in very impressive form during New York's pre-season schedule. With every game that passes, Hardaway will gain more valuable experience and there's no reason why he won't finish the season as a key player for the Knicks.

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets watches from the end of the court during a free throw opportunity against the Dallas Mavericks at Toyota Center on November 1, 2013
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