Ersan Ilyasova and 5 Players Shouldering the Biggest Burdens for Their Teams

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIJuly 20, 2012

Ersan Ilyasova and 5 Players Shouldering the Biggest Burdens for Their Teams

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    The problem with the new trend of creating "super teams" is that it turns the have-nots into glorified one-man wrecking crews.

    In today's NBA, you're either part of some kind of "Big Three" or you're putting the team on your back every night in an attempt to carry them to respectability.

    Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova is one of the players that represents the latter catagory. Ilyasova does have some help around him in guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings but the five-year, $45 million deal Ilyasova signed to stay in Milwaukee would suggest that this is his team now.

    After all, Ellis can opt out after this season and Jennings has already thrown out hints that he has his eyes on playing in a bigger market when his rookie deal expires. Jennings can become an unrestricted free agent in 2014 if he signs a qualifying offer after next season.

    That would leave the 25-year old Ilyasova as the face of a struggling Bucks franchise. He's coming off a career year in which he averaged 13 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. He also emerged as one of the game's best shooting big men, shooting 45 percent from behind the arc and nearly 50 percent from the field.

    There are other stars who can relate to Ilyasova's status as their franchise's lone bright spot. At the bottom of the NBA's basement, you'll find a few teams with one proven commodity and not much else around them.

    In addition to Ilyasova, here are five other players who have the unfortunate task of being their respective teams' only glimmer of hope.

5. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    As if playing on a rebuilding Cavs team wasn't enough of a load on Kyrie Irving's shoulders, the reigning Rookie of the Year also has the burden of possessing a body that keeps falling apart.

    Injuries hindered Irving's only season at Duke, leading him to playing in only 11 games. In his rookie season, Irving missed 15 games due to a myriad of injuries ranging from shoulder woes to a concussion.

    Irving already got off to a bad start this summer when he broke his right hand after slapping the padding on the wall during practice. Irving underwent surgery on Wednesday and will need two months to recover. He's expected to be ready for the start of the season but this is the latest in a string of unfortunate setbacks for the former Duke Blue Devil.

    When the new season tips off, Irving will once again have to put the team on his shoulders. The 20-year old point guard's supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired.

    Anderson Varajao is getting older and will be coming off a summer spent playing for Brazil in the Olympics. Last year's No. 4 overall pick, Tristan Thompson, is still developing and this year's No. 4 overall pick Dion Waiters is unproven.

    If there's a reason for optimism for Irving, it's the possibility that Lakers center Andrew Bynum might come to Cleveland in a three-team trade that would send Dwight Howard to Los Angeles. A talented big man like Bynum would take some of the pressure off Irving and give the Cavs two young building blocks for the future.

    Irving lead the Cavaliers in scoring last season with 18.5 points per game. He'll have to shoulder more of the scoring load this season with the team's second-leading scorer, Antawn Jamison, now a member of the Lakers.

    The Cavaliers are once again in the position of forcing a young kid to carry them back to relevance. The same thing happened for much of LeBron James' career in Cleveland before he inevitably left for Miami. The potential addition of Bynum is a sign of optimism, however.

    If the deal for Bynum falls through, Irving will have to hope that his fragile body can withstand the weight of carrying a fledgling Cavaliers team yet again.

4. John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards

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    John Wall is another young point guard charged with the task of putting the team on his back. Unlike Irving, however, Wall at least has a respectable supporting cast.

    The team traded for small forward Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor prior to the draft. Both are overpaid but they can still contribute, especially on the defensive end of the court. No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal will join Wall in the backcourt and he has a lot of promise.

    The Wizards also have Brazilian big man, Nene, who will be spending his summer in London at the Olympics.

    None of those guys are "stars", however. The closest thing to a proven player in the starting five is Nene and he's not exactly the kind of guy you want as your second option. If Beal catches on early, that will help Wall out tremendously but that's far from a certainty.

    While Wall has shown flashes of brilliance at times, he's disappointed a bit since entering the league two years ago as the No. 1 overall pick. A large majority of that is due to the lack of talent around him as he's suffered with guys like Nick Young and Andray Blatche as his supporting cast.

    Even with the improvements in the lineup, it still falls upon Wall to take the next step and be the franchise cornerstone the team dreamed he would be. He has great size, speed and athleticism but it's time for him to emerge as one of the game's best point guards.

    He'll benefit from Beal's shooting and having Nene and Okafor on the boards. Ariza could also be a good fit as the beneficiary of Wall's solid passing in transition.

    Regardless, this is John Wall's team and there's a lot of pressure for him to take charge in his third year. He has all the tools to be great and, with a less than ideal supporting cast, he's going to need to put all of them to use to get Washington out of the cellar.

3. Kevin Martin, SG, Houston Rockets

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    The Houston Rockets have pushed all their chips to the table in an effort to make a run at disgruntled Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.

    They gave away forward Chase Budinger and point guard Kyle Lowry in exchange for first-round picks. They used the amnesty clause on Luis Scola in an attempt to clear cap space and they traded shooting guard Courtney Lee to the Boston Celtics.

    That leaves sharpshooter Kevin Martin as the only proven veteran left on the roster. The team signed last year's feel-good story Jeremy Lin to be their new point guard but, with only 35 games under his belt, he's hardly enough to be considered a proven commodity.

    On the bright side for Martin, the Rockets' aggressive rebuilding approach could mean he's the next one out of the door. Martin is due $12.9 million this season in the final year of his contract and he could be dangled in a last-ditch effort to bring D12 to H-Town.

    If Martin stays in Houston this season, his supporting cast is Lin and a slew of rookies. The team had three first-round picks in last month's draft and used them on guard Jeremy Lamb and forwards Royce White and Terrence Jones.

    Lamb could be Martin's inevitable successor and both White and Jones will see playing time with no veteran presence standing in their way as of right now. None of them are respected enough to take a defense's attention off of Martin.

    Martin has been one of the game's best scorers dating back to his time in Sacramento. His scoring dipped from 23.4 points per game in 2010-11 to 17.1 points per game last season. For his career, the former Western Carolina standout averages 18.4 points per game.

    Barring some major changes, those numbers are bound to go up as Martin will be asked to do a brunt of the scoring. The presence of Lin helps alleviate some of the pressure on Martin but it remains to be seen whether Lin can be the player in Houston that he was for a two-month stretch in New York.

    Martin's days in Houston might be numbered but, for right now, he's the best player on an unproven team.  

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had to know that it was going to be a tough transition going from a championship team at Kentucky to a lottery team in the NBA.

    When he was selected by the Charlotte Bobcats with the No. 2 overall pick last month, that transition became significantly tougher.

    Even without a single pro game under his belt, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the best player on a Bobcats team that finished last season with worst winning percentage in league history. The closest MKG comes to a decent second option is forward Tyrus Thomas, who made headlines last season for trying to fight former coach Paul Silas.

    Point guard Kemba Walker, another former collegiate champion, is another potential sidekick for Kidd-Gilchrist but he's going to need to improve on a rookie season where he averaged 12.2 points per game and turned the ball over nearly twice a night.

    MKG gave Bobcat fans a sign of what's to come in his summer league debut. He scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished five assists and made four steals in a win against Sacramento.

    He's going to need to do that on a nightly basis to make this team respectable. MKG is a hustler who has won on every level he's played at so far. He's a great athlete who can be a force on both ends of the court.

    He won't have the luxury of having Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones around him but he will be asked to bring that winning mentality to a floundering franchise. Kidd-Gilchrist has to not only put up big numbers in his rookie season but find a way to emerge as the leader of this team and compel those around him to play better.

    That's a huge burden for a kid who will be only 19 when the season starts.

1. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings

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    The Sacramento Kings are a young team with a lot of promise. They have a good core of rising stars and they could be a perennial playoff team for years to come if things break the right way for them.

    They aren't there yet, however, and the only proven star on the team is unpredictable center DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings have former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans on the roster, but Evans regressed some last season as he struggled to find his role. With Evans due to be a restricted free agent next summer, there's a chance his days in Sacramento are numbered.

    Beyond Evans and Cousins, there is a group of guys who are big on potential but aren't household names. The team drafted Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson last month and he'll make a great partner for Cousins on the interior. The Kings also have young scorer Marcus Thornton and some depth at point guard in Isaiah Thomas and Aaron Brooks.

    The weight still remains on the broad shoulders of Cousins. Cousins' numbers improved last season, averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds with a little over a block per game. The knock on Cousins has always been his maturity.

    He has routinely been in conflict with the coaching staff and reportedly demanded a trade back in January after the team sent him home. Cousins' instability was also the reason he was left off an Olympic team that was in desperate need of some size up front.

    When his head is on straight, Cousins is one of the best centers in the league. As his numbers continue to progress, Cousins could challenge Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard for the crown as the league's top big man.

    In the meantime, he will have to grow up significantly and carry a Kings team that doesn't have an identity beyond being young and full of hope. The addition of Robinson will make life easier for Cousins on the inside, as would trading Evans for a more natural small forward.

    The Kings are a team on the rise but, currently, they are a one-man wrecking crew with a catalyst who is as destructive to himself and his team as he is to those that oppose him.