Every year, there is a group of NBA players who go above and beyond their call of duty, improving their franchise significantly with stellar play. However, these players don’t have to be the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant.
Instead, these athletes are labeled rather “average.” Despite possessing remarkable skill sets, these players aren’t the ones appearing on late-night television shows or billboards. No, these are the ones whose work is often unnoticed by the majority of the NBA community.
These role players have the possibility of being under six-foot, seven-footers, remarkable athletes, highly skilled, veterans or rookies, but in the end, all of them greatly improve their respective team’s chances for victory each night.
Some of these players set to improve their organization are new acquisitions thrown into the perfect scenario. Others are young guns amped for the start of the fresh season, while the last few are expecting a major jump in minutes.
Nonetheless, keep an eye on these guys throughout next season, even when a distraction like James dunking over a multitude of opponents or Kobe hitting a last-second jumper arises.
The search for a formidable center to pair with Dirk Nowitzki has been a long, and often painful, process. From Erick Dampier to Brendan Haywood, the Dallas Mavericks have failed to find a suitable big man for the open position.
However, the one time the team did acquire a talented seven-footer, the result was a championship.
I am, of course, referring to Tyson Chandler and the Mavericks' epic postseason run in 2011.
This past offseason, though, Dallas inked Chris Kaman, a former one-time All-Star, to a one-year, $8 million deal. Kaman, who has experience playing with Nowitzki on the German National Team, is a perfect solution for the roster’s woes.
Kaman may not be an elite defender, but he is a true seven-footer with a solid offensive game. After failing to add Deron Williams in free agency, the Kaman acquisition should be considered a steal for the organization. After all, Kaman averaged 13 points and seven boards for a dismal New Orleans Hornets squad last year.
The Los Angeles Lakers made an array of magnificent moves to bolster their status as a contender. From adding veterans Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison to the mix to winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, many people outside of Los Angeles probably haven’t heard too much about their minor moves that will make a huge impact.
Young sharpshooter Jodie Meeks and swingmen Devin Ebanks will be solid role players off the bench, but the re-signing of Jordan Hill takes the proverbial cake.
Hill excelled in last year’s playoffs, averaging nearly five points and seven rebounds in only 18 minutes per night. His statistics, however, don’t tell the full story, as his best contributions came from hustle plays and his lockdown defense.
Hill, who will most likely start for Howard until he returns from a back injury, will be one of the top players off the pine for a team who struggled in the defense compartment, exactly where the big man specializes.
The New York Knicks, simply put, were horrendous last year on defense. With the exception of Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert, there were no players on the roster who weren’t consistently burned on that specific side of the floor.
To counterattack this pressing issue, the New York Knicks brass decided to acquire Ronnie Brewer, formerly of the Chicago Bulls. With Shumpert likely missing a larger portion of the early season, this signing was one of the most underrated in the entire Association.
With the Eastern Conference on the rise, the Knicks decided to trade in the overrated Jeremy Lin and the limited Landry Fields for Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Brewer. That's not bad.
Additionally, Brewer, who received a one-year deal, will pair up with Shumpert to form one of the best defensive duos in the league. In fact, this tandem will most likely be able to hold their own defensively against the rival Brooklyn’s high-octane scoring punch of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.
The Miami Heat are NBA champions, and therefore, didn’t need to be huge spenders in this year’s free agency. However, the cheap addition of the former Seattle duo of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis was quite impressive.
While Allen is definitely the more popular name in NBA circles, as the marksman will almost certainly see his name in the Hall of Fame, the acquisition of Lewis shouldn’t be cast aside.
The Heat have struggled in the past finding useful big man, and Lewis is a perfect fit for the roster. Not only can the former All-Star spread the floor, allowing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to penetrate at will, but his silky smooth three-point jumper will be heavily utilized.
Much like the Rashard Lewis signing, the Courtney Lee addition was an afterthought in Celtics fans’ heads due to the acquisition of Jason Terry. Over the past few years, though, Terry, who is already 35 years old and entering the twilight of his career, has been a rather weak defender, often taken advantage of by his opponents.
Sure, the combo guard is still a wizard with the ball in his hands, but his small size coupled with his declining athleticism makes him a target for all head coaches.
Lee, on the other hand, is a capable defender with a similar offensive game. He may not be able to penetrate as effectively as his older teammate, but his 6’5” frame will allow him to not be bullied. Lee, who averaged 11 points per night last year for the Rockets, was signed to a four-year, $21.5 million contract this offseason.
Expect Terry to land a majority of the backup guards' minutes, spelling both Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley for the early part of the season. The defensive-minded Doc Rivers, though, will finally come to his senses and relegate Lee to a larger role in the rotation.
This is probably Jimmer’s last certain chance to prove to the NBA community that he deserved to be picked with the 10th selection in the 2011 NBA draft. Sure, Fredette really hasn’t had that much opportunity to blossom in Sacramento’s crowded frontcourt, but in the cutthroat NBA, one must produce to remain relevant.
Fredette, who has struggled on both sides of the ball, has been labeled a volume shooter, a nice term for being an inefficient scorer. The former BYU star shot 38 percent from the field in his rookie season and was routinely beaten off the dribble by opposing guards.
Additionally, his job was made much more difficult when the Kings decided to add former Phoenix Suns point guard Aaron Brooks to the mix.
Simply put, Fredette needs to have a breakout sophomore season to avoid riding the bench for the remainder of his tenure in the NBA. After all, how many professionals do you see starting for the first time in the latter years of their careers? The answer is not many.
I, however, believe Fredette will explode this season, posting averages of 16 points and four assists per night. In the end, this is a prospect who dominated in college, and there is no doubt he could do the same at the next level.
Perry Jones III
The rapid decline of Perry Jones III’s stock was interesting, to say the least. This was a top-five talent, whose often criticized motor and pesky knee problems caused him to slip all the way to the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 28th selection.
The former Baylor star has a unique skill set. At the big-man size of 6’11”, Jones III can dribble the ball and orchestrate the offense like a guard and score in a multitude of ways like a swingman.
Many experts labeled the 20-year-old prospect the next Kevin Durant, ironically his new teammate. Durant has even taken up the position of mentor for the young star. Simply put, we could be looking at a new wave of NBA small forwards, led by Jones III and Durant.
Oklahoma’s bench was rather weak last season, and a prospect like Jones III coming off the bench alongside James Harden should make coach Scott Brooks giddy with excitement.