7 NBA Players Thriving in Increased Roles

Scott Burns@Follow @ScottInTheBayCorrespondent IIINovember 17, 2012

7 NBA Players Thriving in Increased Roles

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    The NBA season is still young as we are seeing some breakout stars who are not household names.  The biggest reason for these players’ breakouts is the increased minutes their enjoying due to injury or lack of production from the starter.

    The player who received the biggest boost was James Harden, when he was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets.  He has been lighting it up since his arrival with no one to block his production.

    The other six players on this list aren’t really household names.  Yes, they are recognizable, but they aren’t known for their consistent key production.

    Now it is their time to shine and grab hold of this moment.  This is where they can really market themselves the next time they hit free agency.

    Let’s take a closer look at these seven NBA players:

    Stats used in this article were accurate as of November 16,  2012.

James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    James Harden is a no-doubter, as he should be the first person on this list.  The 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year Award winner set the tone for the Thunder’s run to the NBA Finals last season.

    He has exploded with the Rockets by averaging 40.1 minutes per game with his new starting shooting guard position, compared to the 31.4 minutes per game he received last season.

    Harden doesn’t have to compete as much for the ball since the only other well-known star on the Rockets is point guard Jeremy Lin.  As a result, Harden has had three games where he has scored over 30 points.

    Harden has cooled off a bit, but he is still averaging 26.7 PPG, 4.7 APG and 4.8 RPG.  Look for him to continue his dominance with the Rockets, and everyone will be looking forward to when they get their first opportunity versus OKC on Wednesday, November 28. 

E'Twaun Moore, Orlando Magic

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    This year's possible version of Jeremy Lin has now found a home with the Orlando Magic as their temporary starting shooting guard due to groin and hamstring injuries to Jameer Nelson.

    E'Twaun Moore was drafted in the second round by the Boston Celtics and then found himself going to Houston in the Courtney Lee trade.  He was subsequently waived by the Rockets and found a foothold in Orlando.

    Moore has since put up a line of 12.4 PPG, 4.3 APG and 3.5 RPG through eight games.  He has earned 33.8 minutes of playing time per game.

    He has also thrived from behind the arc, where he is shooting a cool 45.2 percent.  He is definitely opening eyes with his play and should be one of the first guys called off the bench when Nelson returns.

    Per an article by Mark Murphy of BostonHerald.com , here is what former coach Doc Rivers said about Moore:

    “E’Twaun on the other hand is playing unbelievably. He was ahead of JaJuan last year and it had nothing to do with individual talent. It had to do with mental makeup. E’Twaun is a smart kid who gets it”

    Look for Moore to find his opportunity with the Magic this season and to start getting a lot more attention, even with the return of Jameer Nelson.

Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Larry Sanders has been waiting for his opportunity since he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 15th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.  He is very athletic and has been known for his shot-blocking ability. 

    However, he has played the last couple of seasons with limited minutes and a lot of inconsistency.  This season, he has matured and is now knocking on Samuel Dalembert’s door in trying to take his starting gig.

    Sanders has continued with his penchant for blocked shots by swatting away 2.3 blocks per game. 

    He has raised his scoring average from 3.6 PPG last season to 10.1 PPG so far this year by shooting 65.2 percent.  He has made most of his shots from the rim to nine feet out.

    Look for Sanders to continue to refine his abilities and improve with a nimble backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis feeding him the ball down low.

J.R. Smith, New York Knicks

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    J.R. Smith is a bench player for the white-hot New York Knicks, but he is their sixth man.  Smith has increased his playing time from 27.6 minutes to 34.1 this season.

    Smith has been a lot more focused this season by staying down and out of the New York party scene, and he has definitely reaped the benefits.

    He has been a scoring machine and very efficient by racking up a 20.84 PER stat in his first seven games.  He is also shooting three-pointers like they are free-throws by hitting 14-of-22 or 63.6 percent.

    Smith has a lot of talent and will continue to produce of the bench, especially on defense with 1.7 steals per game.  He just has to make sure he stays consistent.  So far this season, he has put up a line of 16.7 PPG, 3.0 APG and 5.1 RPG. 

    The longer Smith stays on this path, the better off the Knicks will be in securing a better playoff seed and more playoff games at home.  He will just have to adjust on the fly when Amar’e returns.

Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Clippers are currently Los Angeles’ hottest team, and a big reason for their success is the play of Jamal Crawford.

    Crawford has had some success while bouncing around the NBA with teams like the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Atlanta Hawks.

    However, he has flourished with his role of sixth man on the Clippers, an award that he won back in 2010 with the Atlanta Hawks.   

    The biggest improvement seen in Crawford is his shooting.  So far this season, he is shooting 51.4 percent. Compare that to the rest of his career, where he has never shot over 50 percent for a full season.

    He is currently scoring 20.5 PPG and is maximizing his efficiency on the court with a 24.4 PER.  The longer that Crawford puts up these kinds of numbers, the harder it will be for the Lakers to take back control of Los Angeles.

Al-Farouq Aminu, New Orleans Hornets

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    The New Orleans Hornets had the chance to pick the best player in this year's NBA draft in Anthony Davis, but the surprise of this early season is Al-Farouq Aminu.  Aminu won the starting small forward job in camp and has figured it out during his third season in the league.

    Aminu is clearly benefitting from the absence of Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon, who has been out because of an injury to his right knee.  Aminu has been very aggressive and is playing with the kind of energy that was lacking during his first two seasons in the association.

    Aminu is scoring 12.4 PPG to go along with 8.1 RPG and 2.3 APG.  He is also averaging a block per game.

    Aminu is in a contract year, so he has a lot more motivation seek the higher dollars, whether in New Orleans or in another NBA city.  He was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers with the eighth pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and then shipped in the Chris Paul trade.

O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks

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    O.J. Mayo has revived his career by playing his way into a starting role with the Dallas Mavericks.  Last season, he finished his last year with the Memphis Grizzlies, and it wasn’t spectacular as he didn’t start one game.

    Mayo is now the go-to scorer on his new team as he is putting up 21.5 PPG, 2.9 APG and 3.6 RPG while aging-star Dirk Nowitzki still heals from his knee injury.

    Mayo has also been extremely hot from behind the arc by shooting 58.9 percent in the 10 games the team has played this season.

    He is keeping the Mavs afloat until Dirk returns, by leading the team to a 5-5 record as the Mavericks look to continue their playoff streak since the 2000-01 season.