March 30, 2009
Athlete (noun): A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.
Athlete (noun): A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.
Playing professional basketball in the NBA and collecting the paychecks and fan adulation that comes with it is a privilege, but sometimes it’s easy to forget these guys are only human. They miss easy layups and obvious defensive assignments. They hear the boos. They don’t enjoy being laid off by their employer.
Yes, they have feelings too, and whether they’d admit it or not, the five NBA vagabonds on this list have taken a hit to their respective egos over the years. They’ve amassed long resumes over their long careers, doing just enough to fit in on one team after another for awhile before being cast off into the recycling bin like last night’s grease-soaked pizza box.
But like that pizza box can (probably) be repurposed into something useful again, so too can these NBA veterans. Some of their contributions have been bigger than others’ this season, but at some point all of them have once again shown why they keep hanging around and finding new homes.
Teams on the rise led by a youthful core such as Hawks’ most always require the services of a wiley, established veteran or two to lean on when times get tough, when opponents are more playoff-tested, when injuries happen. Late last season the Hawks helped address this need with the acquisition of point guard Mike Bibby, and followed it up last summer by inking vagabond vets Maurice Evans and Flip Murray for depth behind Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson.
Evans was given the more substantial commitment (3 years, $7.5 million), but while he’s filled in nicely during Williams’ extended back injury, it’s Murray who’s arguably had the better overall season. Under contract for just one season at $1.5 million, the 29-year-old guard from Shaw is having one of the finest seasons of his career and giving the Hawks consistent scoring and heady play off the bench–always valuable come playoff time. Since January 1, he’s averaged 14 points (48% FG), 2.2 assists, 2.3 boards, 1 steal, and 1.3 triples in just over 26 minutes per.
The Hawks mark the sixth team he’s played for since joining the league in ’02 as a second-round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, and there’s no doubt he’ll try to capitalize on his solid ’09 campaign this summer as an unrestricted free agent and, perhaps, be packing his bags once again.
Six teams in seven years, including three different teams this season alone: that’s Drew Gooden, fourth-overall pick in 2002 draft, in a nutshell. It’s not that the former Kansas Jayhawks star has had a terrible career: the 6-10 forward has career per-game averages of 12 points, 8 boards, and 47% FG. Not too shabby, but essentially just enough to consistently qualify him as semi-attractive trade bait by teams looking to free up room for younger guys they’re more committed to over the long haul.
He’s only signed through the end of this season, but the always veteran-leaning San Antonio Spurs might prove to be a good fit. Or maybe not. The problem is that as Mr. Thell mentioned yesterday, we haven’t yet seen enough of him in Spurs’ black-and-silver to determine whether or not his latest change of address has potential to be an extended one; he’ll likely have a chance to prove his worth in the playoffs, though, and that’s where he will (or won’t) make his impact felt.
For now, just having him on the roster is a bonus for a Spurs team forced to look to guys like Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas, and Matt Bonner behind Tim Duncan. Gooden is a better, more accomplished scorer than all three of those options.
Three more NBA vagabonds making an impact after the break…
We’re now well into the final month of the season and the playoff picture is starting to firm up. With the exception of the wild race in the middle of the standings out East, most cities now know whether their playoff aspirations will materialize or if it’s time to plan for the future. For most teams, what better time is there to let the young kids off the bench and see what they can do against real NBA competition?
Over the last week I’ve been taking some time to name one player from all 30 NBA teams that I want to see more of down the stretch run. In today’s final installment we kick off with the Oklahoma City Thunder and continue through the the NBA’s final team, the woeful Washington Wizards.
As always, reader recommendations are more than welcome. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the first two installments if you haven’t already.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Thabo Sefolosha, SG: It’s no secret that I have a little man crush on this 6-7 Swiss swingman. He just flashes such great two-way potential despite a limited offensive repertoire. The 13th pick from 2006 doesn’t look for his shot, but he plays a heady game and he can get up and down the floor, making him a perfect complement to Kevin Durant. Thabo is a purebred athlete who can earn his keep with defense and energy on a team loaded with young scorers. Since trading for Sefolosha last month the Thunder are 7-6 in games he’s started. In 10 games this month he’s averaging a very versatile, useful 11 points, 5.5 boards, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks on 45% FGs and 91% FTs with just 1.2 TOs. Just 24 years old, Thabo still has plenty of room to grow.
Orlando Magic – Marcin Gortat, C: Orlando was probably the most difficult team to pick a player for this exercise. Despite being a relative newcomer to postseason viability, the roster is surprisingly bereft of underexposed young talent. They have to be regretting the trade of Trevor Ariza for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. I could say I wanted to see more J.J. Redick, but that would be a lie. Earlier in the year I wanted to see more of the versatile Courtney Lee, but he’s since started 30 games. That leaves their second-year man in the middle out of Poland. We haven’t seen much of the 7-footer since he backs up the best center in the league, but in limited minutes he’s been more than serviceable – he put up 20 points, 17 boards and 8 blocks total in his two starts.
Philadelphia 76ers – Marreese Speights, PF: Marreese is very long, an efficient scorer and a solid rebounder with good hands. Speights has been extremely productive in the 15-or-so minutes a game he’s seen this season. People outside of Philly may be shocked to learn that his 21.04 PER ranks in the top 10 of all power forwards or centers in the NBA and first among all rookies. The 6-10 Florida product doesn’t figure to be a superstar, but he could certainly be a solid starting option in the near future given the opportunity.
Phoenix through Washington, after the jump…
Last week I asserted that despite Kobe’s usual magnificence and Dwyane Wade’s remarkable comeback season, LeBron James would shortly be crowned the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Many fans and writers out there agree with me, but then many don’t.
These annual MVP discussions tend to be heated ones. One of our readers, however, made it very clear in his letter dropped in the ETB mailbag that he’s sick of the debate and simply wants to enjoy the rest of the great seasons these three candidates are having without them being clouded by MVP talk. Fair enough. As I said, I’m not a fan of the endless back-and-forth either.
Since this loyal ETB reader–we’ll call him “Mario”–took the time to send such a lengthy response about the 2009 MVP race, I thought I’d publish it here instead of leaving it buried somewhere in the comments.
Check out his plea for MVP perspective in its entirety after the jump:
The 2008 fantasy football season may have ended months ago, but that doesn’t mean the marital problems for Norm Brooks, a St. Louis-based fantasy sports addict, and his wife have stopped along with it. Here’s the latest update from our friends over at Global Sports Fraternity on the strain Norm’s obsession is putting on his marriage.
And there’s also this to consider…
As we wind down the final month of the season it’s a time of great anticipation for the fans of one third of the NBA’s teams that can convince themselves they’re in the title hunt. For the rest of us, it’s waiting to be playoffs spectators and waiting for next year. What better time to let the young kids off the bench and see what they can do against real NBA competition?
Giving young talent a chance is the very slogan and namesake of this blog: The season’s over, empty the bench.
As we embark on this final month, I’m taking time to name one player from all 30 NBA teams that I want to see more of down the stretch run. All the young guns with the potential to be impact players. With the second installment today we kick off with the Indiana Pacers and continue through the New York Knicks.
As always, reader recommendations are more than welcome. Enjoy.
Indiana Pacers – Jarrett Jack, PG: We’ve always been of a fan of Jack here at ETB. He’s got good size for a point, plays physical, has always been a solid defender, shows good court vision, posesses a strong handle and demonstrates good offensive efficiency and decision making. Jack has never gotten a lot of attention in the national media, but he was considered an integral part of the exciting young core in Portland just two years ago.
After finding himself in the Blazers’ doghouse last year he’s quietly having the best season of his career for the Pacers. Jack has come on especially strong of late, averaging 19 points, 4.1 assists, 3.6 boards and 1.5 steals on stellar percentages of 47% from the field and 85% from the line since the All-Star break. It’s going to be fun to see if he can keep it going.
Los Angeles Clippers – DeAndre Jordan, C: After a strong run in mid-January with Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby sidelined we wondered if Jordan might just be the Clippers center of the future. As we concluded then, that assertion is overly optimistic. But there’s no denying that the 7-0, 20-year-old out of Texas A&M has shown flashes this season. He still tries to do too much and makes ridiculously poor decisions at times, but in 11 games as a starter he’s put up 9 points, 9.6 boards and 2.7 blocks while hitting 73% of his field-goals. Let’s give him a few more starts and see what he can do.
Los Angeles Lakers through New York Knicks, after the jump…
Overlooked and unheralded, there’s always a second-round pick who emerges from the draft and by season’s end surpasses many of those rookies taken ahead of him in terms of impact and potential for further growth.
Marc Gasol, Ramon Sessions, and Carl Landry have proven they deserved first-round consideration in ’07; who’s the cream of the crop (so far) from last June’s draft? We’re ready to declare a winner, and it’s not even close.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Miami Heat
Give it up for Mario “Superintendent” Chalmers, the 6-1 point guard from Kansas who slipped, slipped, and kept slipping down the draft board until falling all the way out of the first round and into the lap of the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 34th overall pick.
Shrewd wheeler-and-dealer that he is, however, GM Kevin McHale decided there wasn’t any room for Chalmers and immediately sent him to Miami for a few bucks and two second-rounders.
Expected to just compete for minutes at the point–not win most of them–Chalmers has started all 66 games and counting for one of the most improved teams of the season. And once again McHale has deeply endeared himself to all 284 Timberwolves fans still out there.
Good one, Kev.
Like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s stud rookie PG Russell Westbrook, Chalmers hasn’t shot a high-percentage from the field (42%), but with Dwyane Wade having an MVP-caliber season and shouldering the lion’s share of the Heat’s offense, Chalmers isn’t expected to put up 20 points per at this point. He’s chipping in 1.4 three-pointers a night, however, good for second on the Heat behind long-range specialist Daequan Cook.
His biggest impact, beyond giving the Heat stability at a position that was dubiously occupied by Chris Quinn last year, has been on the defensive end of the floor. He’s averaging 2 steals per game, good for fourth overall in the NBA. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who followed him in college, where he was voted the 2006-07 Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in addition to making the All Big 12 Defensive First Team in both of his final two collegiate seasons.
Chalmers will be heavily tested in the upcoming postseason, where it’s nearly impossible to hide rookies playing big minutes like he is (nearly 32 per). He’s one of the key contributors, however, that has made the Heat’s turnaround and reappearance in the playoffs even possible. Not bad for a guy even Kevin McHale didn’t want.
- DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers – I don’t care if Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, and Zach Randolph are all healthy at the same time for the first time this season (they aren’t, by the way): there’s no reason for the circus act that is the 2008-09 Clippers to not give their raw rookie some burn over the final month of the season. In 11 games as a starter, the 20-year-old seven-footer nearly averaged a double-double with 9.1 points, 9.6 boards, and 2.7 blocks per. That stint included a 20-rebound effort against the Golden State Warriors and 6 blocks against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, F, Milwaukee Bucks – He started the season as a guy few outside of NCAA fanatics had ever heard of, but has steadily turned himself into the Bucks’ best perimeter defender and a multi-category contributor who can do a little bit of everything. Over his past seven games, he’s averaged 10.6 points on 58% FG, 7.3 boards, 1.1 assists, 1 steal, and just under 1 block per.
- Kyle Weaver, G, Oklahoma City Thunder – In and out of the lineup until February (mostly out), the swingman from Washington State has, if anything, proven he’s a nice compliment off the bench behind the Thunder’s nucleus of young, rising stars. He’s recently been replaced in the starting five by trade-deadline acquisition and ETB favorite Thabo Sefolosha; he does a lot of the same things as Thabo, just without as much panache and with a much lower ceiling.
- Thabo Sefolosha Moseys Down to Oklahoma City
- Who is DeAndre Jordan, and Is He the Clippers’ Center of the Future?
- Where’s the Love – Which Rooks Made the Rookie Challenge and Which Should Have
- Russell Westbrook Giveth, and Russell Westbrook Taketh Away
Mario Chalmers Photo Credit: Icon SMI