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…
Phoenix Suns – Jared Dudley, F: Over the last five games Dudley has gotten his most extensive run of the season, and it’s coincided with a Phoenix 5-game winning streak. That’s no coincidence. Jared provides the hustle, defense and selfless play that team sorely lacks. As I said in an earlier article about Dudley, he can do a lot of things fairly well and he has no glaring weaknesses in his game. At the NBA level he can be a Swiss army knife off the bench who does a little of everything, and with the Suns season in the crapper they shouldn’t flush away this opportunity to get the second-year forward more experience.
Portland Trailblazers – Jerryd Bayless, PG: I understand why Steve Blake starts out in Portland: he’s a polished floor general who gets everybody involved, manages the game and hits his open looks from deep. Still, I wish we could see more of stud-in-waiting Jerryd Bayless. The 2008 NBA Las Vegas Summer League MVP has game. His quickness is out of this world and the kid can finish, making him a scintillating slasher. He can also shoot the ball, and I don’t have a hard time seeing him average 20 points a game in the right situation. His quicks also mean Bayless can be a very good defender on the other end. And who doesn’t want to see a 6-3 dude who can flush it like this…
Sacramento Kings – Jason Thompson, PF: Kings fans know they have something potentially special in the young tandem of power forward Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes. Hawes has put up some big lines sans Brad Miller, but rookie Jason Thompson has looked impressive in his own right. At 6-11 he also has a strong offensive repertoire with decent range and plays with energy on the glass underneath. The biggest thing limiting Thompson’s minutes right now, though, is his consistent foul trouble – he’s averaging a staggering 3.8 per game in just 27 minutes. He needs to learn better patience, positioning, footwork, and discipline so we can all enjoy the rest of his game for more than 25 minutes a night.
San Antonio Spurs – Drew Gooden, PF: San Antonio is another team where it was difficult to single out a player I want to see more of. Rookie George Hill would have been an obvious choice, but I’m not too excited by his game. Instead I’ve chosen 6-year veteran Drew Gooden, one of the few big bodies on this roster with the potential to have a big impact come playoff time. Already a journeyman playing for his sixth team at the age of 27, Gooden is a proven double-double threat when given minutes. The Spurs may need him to step up against teams like Houston, Utah, Portland and LA – it’s time to get him acclimated to their defensive system with more than 10 minutes a night.
Toronto Raptors – Pops Mensah-Bonsu, F: Pops and I were classmates back at GW, so I saw his raw athleticism first-hand in the Colonials’ run to the NCAA tournament. However, even then I didn’t think he could make much of an impact at the NBA level.
He’s actually been productive on both ends in nine games for the Raptors this month though, providing the faintest glimmer of excitement in an otherwise dismal season up North. Pops has clearly been working hard down in the D-League the last two seasons, showing more polish on offense and the glass than I saw at GW. An explosive 6-9 athlete, Whale Killer will be back with the Raps next season – and don’t be shocked to see him as a candidate for the 2010 Dunk Contest.
Utah Jazz – Kyle Korver, SF: With his shirt off. Fighting Sasha Vujacic.
Washington Wizards – JaVale McGee, PF: The 18th-overall pick in this summer’s draft is a freak of nature. The kid can get up like few others, and he’s remarkably long – McGee’s standing reach is 9′ 6.5″ and vertical is 32.5″. I’ve been enamored with the lanky seven-footer since watching him drop 20 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks on the Grizz in Summer League play. It wasn’t just the counting stats though, the guy seemed to be everywhere, finishing a game-high +15 in the +/- column.
Yeah, it was an exhibition game – but the potential and physical skills were undeniable. I wasn’t the only one impressed. Chris Paul was putting McGee in Dwight Howard’s class and even Superman himself was impressed. It’s been a relatively quiet rookie season for McGee, but the jaw-dropping potential hasn’t dimmed in the least. It’s time for the Wiz to showcase their brightest young star.
JaVale McGee Photo Credit: Icon SMI