NBA AM: Players Who ‘Need’ To Breakout
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Guys That Need To Break Out: Yesterday in this space we talked about some guys that were in a position to breakout this season, and while some took the concept of breaking out to mean becoming All-Stars, breaking out in this context is simply proving that you belong in the NBA and that the possible hype surrounding a particular player is justified.
Yesterday’s group was more about guys that look like they will get a real chance to prove they belong. On the flipside there are a few guys that desperately need to prove they belong in a significant way this season or they could find their teams moving on. Here are a couple of those guys:
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: There is no questioning that the clock is ticking ever so loudly on Kidd-Gilchrist. He was the second overall pick in 2012 and it’s getting close to the time where he’ll need to be paid and frankly his stats and production have left a lot to be desired. Last season Kidd-Gilchrist averaged nine points and 5.8 rebounds per game. That was good enough for seventh best on the team. Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t in danger of falling out of the league, but there were rumors about the Bobcats gauging his trade value and if the ceiling doesn’t come up dramatically this year Kidd-Gilchrist could find his Bobcat team moving on. The Bobcats have said repeatedly that they feel like new head coach Steve Clifford and newly hired shooting coach Mark Price could help Kidd-Gilchrist improve as a scorer. Kidd-Gilchrist shot 45.8 percent from the field last year and attempted nine three pointers all season. NBA teams expect a lot more production from the small forward spot and this is the year Kidd-Gilchrist needs to prove he belongs.
Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks: There is no doubting that Shumpert has capitalized on the New York hype machine. From his flamboyant style, to the high top fade, Shumpert has become something of a Knicks’ icon. The problem is on the floor he isn’t nearly as consistent as the squareness of his hair. Last season Shumpert scored 6.8 points per game on 39.6 percent shooting from the field with just 1.3 assist per contest. Shumpert had one of the worst PER’s in the regular season for a Knick player that logged more than 20 minutes. Add in the fact that the Knicks spent their first round pick on Tim Hardaway Jr, a very similar player to Shumpert, and it’s clear that the clock is ticking for him. To be fair to Shumpert, he did have a rough go of it after tearing his ACL a year ago, but with a full offseason to focus on his game and his shooting, Shumpert has been told he’ll have a real chance to play, especially with incumbent two guard Smith on the shelf due to knee surgery. The Knicks have had suitors call about Shumpert in trade talks, if he can’t bring his game and consistency up this season he may find himself elsewhere, especially with a free agent payday on the horizon. The Knicks desperately need another player to step up this season and the spotlight is clearly on Shumpert to either rise to challenge or be replaced.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz: The Utah Jazz have put all their chips on Favors and Kanter, and while both have put up solid numbers as reserve players for the Jazz, this year both will see substantially more minutes and focus. Of the two, Favors looks like he has the most “star potential” dropping in 48.2 percent of his shots and grabbing 7.1 rebounds in 23.2 minute per game last season, when you apply his numbers to a per-36 minutes model he would have averaged 14.6 points and 11.4 rebounds a game last year. So the bar will be set fairly high for Favors. It is a bar he can and likely will clear, just in time for his rookie scale contract extension. Like Favors, Kanter’s per-36 numbers from last season are impressive, 16.9 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. The problem with the level of expectation associated with both Kanter and Favors is what happens if they fail to reach the hype? Both players look poised to have break-out season as bona fide starters and the Jazz have clearly positioned both to have an opportunity. It’s one both players need to capitalize on. Neither player is in jeopardy, but both need the hype to become substance this season if they want the paydays both are expected to command.
Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors: This is a big season for Gay. He has long been paid like a superstar and this season Toronto needs him to play like one. If last night is any indication, Gay is headed in the right direction as he kicked in 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting in 23 minutes. The Gay situation is tenuous for a couple of reasons: The Raptors need Gay to have an All-Star caliber year, and for Gay’s part he needs that too as he has the option to hit free agency in July. Unfortunately for Gay he has never really produced to the level of his hype and certainly not to the level of his paycheck. For the 2013-14 season, Gay is the 14th highest paid player in the NBA, yet logged a 15.66 PER which ranked him 125th in the NBA last season. For Gay to continue to command All-Star money, especially in his next deal, he’s going to have to show All-Star ability this season. For a future in Toronto he’ll need to prove that he can be more than an 18 point per game scorer, he needs to lead them to the postseason. Achieving both could pay off for both the Raptors and Gay; failing to achieve could signal big change in Toronto and a much lower market value for Gay if he opts out of his contract.
Michael Beasley, Miami HEAT: To say former second overall pick is on his last leg is may be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s clear that the once coveted gem of the 2008 NBA Draft is now in serious jeopardy of being on the outside looking in. The HEAT scooped Beasley up after he was released by the Phoenix Suns and while it seems the HEAT are once again committed to Beasley, he has a non-guaranteed deal on a team that’s not going to tolerate a lot of nonsense. For his part, Beasley has been solid in HEAT camp and has played the role asked of him. He routinely comments about the support structure that’s in place for him in Miami with so many proven veterans to lean on. Everything is set up for Beasley to repair some of the luster on his once promising star, however if he stumbles he could be gone as quickly as he arrived. If there is anyone in the NBA that needs their situation to work its Beasley; he is still super talented and multi-tooled. If the HEAT veterans can reach Beasley at any real level not only could the HEAT have found a gem in cast-off bin, but Beasley could find more interest in his services after winning at a high level.
Jan Vesley, Washington Wizards: Historically the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft has been hit or miss. In Vesely’s case he seems more like a miss than a hit, and if he can’t find some NBA game this season he is likely outside looking in. Vesely is averaging 3.6 points and 3.4 rebounds on his career and logged just 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds last season, a season that saw him log more zeros in the points column than anything else. Last season Vesely scored in double figures just twice all season. The Wizards view themselves as a playoff team and for Vesely to have a shot this year he is going to have to bring his game up significantly. It’s hard to imagine that the Wizards wouldn’t pick up Vesely’s option year on his rookie scale contract, but with a PER of 7.65 last season, his money could be spent in a lot of other places if he can’t find his groove this year in Washington.
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Some Kobe Thoughts: A YouTube video of Laker guard Kobe Bryant surfaced this week from a sit down Bryant did in China. In the roundtable discussion Bryant was candid about his current Achilles injury and said he has days where he doubts his ability to return, but uses that a fuel to keep pushing.
“As I sit here with you now, I’m telling you now I’ll come back 100 percent,” Bryant said. “But I don’t know if I’m sure. I have moments and days where I doubt myself.”
The history of athletes and Achilles tears is not a promising one, especially in basketball. Few players have ever returned to pre-injury form after an Achilles tear, especially not one with Bryant’s miles as a player.
“The people who say they will never come back from this injury, to me, that says if they had this injury, they would quit,” Bryant said. “That’s what it means to me. If they sit here and look at me and say I can’t do it, that means if it happened to you, you wouldn’t do it. I have to show them just as much as I show people who support me that this can be done and I can come back from this. By me coming back, it shows the people who doubt me to reconsider what’s possible.”
Bryant who has in the last year taken to social media in a big way, responds to his critics with cryptic tweets and Instagram images.
For Bryant he says returning from this kind of injury is a new challenge for him.
“That’s the exciting part of the challenge,” Bryant said. “That’s when I realize this is a great opportunity to come out and show everybody this is how you bounce back and respond to a challenge.”
The LA Lakers have logged two preseason games and are expected to be without Bryant at least until the start of the regular season if not longer.
Bryant left the Lakers recently to receive Orthokine treatment in Germany and is expected back with the team soon.
Norris Cole Not Worried About Rumors: Miami HEAT guard Norris Cole was as surprised as anyone to hear that his team had been “gauging his trade value”.
For what it’s worth a HEAT source say there really is nothing to the report other than what was classified as typical “due diligence” around training camp, where teams try and shake lose players that may or may not fit.
Cole was asked about the rumors yesterday and said he’s just focused on training camp.
“I can’t control that,” Cole said to Shandel Richardson if the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “The only thing I can do is control what I can control and that’s to make sure I’m in the best shape, make sure I’m ready to perform and make sure when I get out there I show what I can do. Anything else, I can’t control that, so I don’t worry my mind about that.”
“I’m comfortable with the guys, with the coaching staff, with the team,” Cole added. “This is all I know. I’m blessed to be in this position.”
Cole said he has been working to improve and gain more of a role and that will come from a comfort level with everyone involved.
“I think just understanding my spots on the court where I can be effective within our offense and continuing defensively to do what I do but bring my offense along with my defense,” Cole said. “Playing consistent minutes will play a factor getting into rhythm and knowing who I’m playing with as far as the rotation is concerned.”
The HEAT currently have 20 players on their training camp roster including seven players on non-guaranteed deals.
Cole is still on his rookie contract and scheduled to earn $1.12 million this season. The HEAT have a team option for next year worth $2.03 million before having to worry about free agency and someone setting a real market price for Cole.
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