Finding the Next Jeremy Lin: NBA Benchwarmers with Cult-Hero Potential

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2012

Finding the Next Jeremy Lin: NBA Benchwarmers with Cult-Hero Potential

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    When Jeremy Lin made the transformation from 12th man to superstar in a matter of weeks in the winter of 2012, no one—not even Lin himself—saw it coming. (He admitted as much to GQ.)

    Who's to blame him? Who could realistically expect to go from being one game away from a D-League demotion to a 30-point head-to-head duel against Kobe Bryant in one week's time?

    Lin's monster run with the New York Knicks in the 2011-12 season will live in infamy for the way he rose from absolutely nowhere and took the league by storm. Along with the Miami Heat's championship run, it's one of the most memorable images of the 2011-12 season.

    Who's to say it can't happen again?

    The following players are all who currently average fewer than 20 minutes per game, but with starters' minutes, could take the league by storm and create their own version of Linsanity. Or, if nothing else, they could at least carve out a solid role on a team.

    (All stats and records are current through games played on Nov. 25. Players arranged in alphabetical order.)

Quincy Acy, Toronto Raptors

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    2012-13 minutes per game: 8.0

    Quincy Acy is one of those freakishly athletic rookies who would earn himself a consistent role if he could just figure out which NBA position he's meant to play.

    At 6'7", 225 pounds, Acy has the body of a small forward with the game of a power forward. He tested best of any 2012 rookie in terms of the lane agility drill at the NBA draft combine, and has a monster wingspan spanning nearly 7'3".

    Those unusually long arms and his 11"-wide hands give Acy the ability to catch the ball one-handed and flush it home with ferocity, like he did in Baylor's Sweet 16 game against Xavier in the 2012 NCAA tournament.

    What Acy lacks, however, is a consistent jump shot. That all but disqualifies him from playing as a 3 full-time, especially considering his lack of ball-handling prowess.

    Until he rounds out his offensive game, he's not going to be much of a threat on that side of the court, which should prevent him from earning major minutes.

    When he does find himself open around the basket, however? That's a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight waiting to happen, even in his rookie season.

Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz

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    2012-13 minutes per game: 4.0

    Jeremy Evans has only fallen further out of the Utah Jazz's lineup in each of his three seasons, going from averaging nearly 10 minutes per game his rookie season to four minutes per game in 2012-13.

    The 25-year-old springy forward can dunk home everything in sight, but that's about the limit of his offensive game for the time being.

    Listed at 6'9" and 194 pounds, Evans' height allows him to block shots prolifically for a benchwarmer, but his lack of size makes him an easy target for larger opposing 3's intent on backing him down into the post.

    Until Evans puts on a few more pounds and extends the range on his jump shot a bit, he's unlikely to earn more than the spot minutes he's receiving from the Jazz.

    However, Evans two best talents—blocking shots and dunking—makes him a potential fan favorite, regardless of his other limitations on both ends of the court. 

Perry Jones, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    2012-13 minutes per game: 8.0

    Out of any non-lottery rookie from the 2012 NBA draft, Perry Jones has the chance to become the player that most franchises regret passing on.

    The 6'11", 235-pound Jones entered the league as one of the most athletic and talented rookies in his class, but questions about his motor and late-breaking concerns about his knees caused him to fall all the way to the Oklahoma City Thunder as the No. 28 pick.

    On this stacked Thunder team, Jones has plenty of time to develop at his own pace, without huge expectations from the get-go. He's only played in six of the Thunder's 13 games to date, averaging eight minutes per game, and has only scored six total points.

    While he's yet to make a major contribution in the box score, there's no denying that the talent is there. After heading to the P3 Peak Performance team before the 2012 draft, he began "actually using the potential" he had, he told Sports Illustrated, which should be scary for the NBA front offices that passed on him in the 2012 draft.

    If or when Jones puts his considerable talents to use on a consistent basis for the Thunder, they could have a young, versatile weapon locked up for dirt cheap for the next three or four years.

    That's enough to make anyone a potential cult hero, especially in a place like Oklahoma City.

Jeremy Pargo, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 minutes per game: 21.0

    Of any player on this list, Jeremy Pargo may be the one closest to embracing the role of being the NBA's next Jeremy Lin.

    Pargo went undrafted in 2009, then bounced around Europe for two years before landing with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011-12. He struggled in his short time with the Grizzlies, averaging 2.9 points in 9.6 minutes per game over the course of 44 games, shooting 33.3 percent from the field.

    Memphis traded Pargo to the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer of 2012 with a second-round pick for D.J. Kennedy, and by the looks of the early 2012-13 season, the Grizzlies will quickly grow to regret that decision.

    When Kyrie Irving was knocked out of commission for four weeks by a finger fracture, Pargo stepped right into his role as starting point guard for the Cavaliers.

    In his first game as a starter, he lit up the Philadelphia 76ers to the tune of 28 points, five rebounds and four assists, and scored in double digits in each of his next two games.

    He's a score-first, pass-second point guard—a very poor man's version of Russell Westbrook—and struggles on the defensive end, having allowed opposing point guards to put up a per-48-minute PER of 22.4 against him in 2012-13, according to

    Given what he's done in Irving's absence, Pargo appears to have earned himself a permanent role in the Cavaliers' rotation, albeit one that will shrink once Irving returns.

Robert Sacre, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2012-13 minutes per game: 2.4

    The Sacramento Kings struck pure gold by selecting Isaiah Thomas with the final pick in the 2011 NBA draft, and now, Los Angeles Lakers fans are hoping Robert Sacre, the No. 60 pick in 2012, can follow in his footsteps.

    Despite Dwight Howard still recovering from offseason back surgery and Pau Gasol being recently plagued with bouts of ineffectiveness, Sacre hasn't carved his way into the Lakers' rotation, having only played 17 minutes to date in 2012-13.

    He's only scored one basket and taken two shots in his limited time as a Laker, which makes it difficult to say just how talented he can be on the offensive end as a professional.

    Over his final two years at Gonzaga, Sacre averaged nearly 12 points per game and shot nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line, suggesting that he's not completely clueless offensively.

    Like most young bigs, Sacre has occasionally struggled with foul trouble, including three fouls in seven minutes against the Detroit Pistons. As he plays more and acclimates himself to the NBA, he'll likely improve in terms of cutting down his foul rate, like many of his young frontcourt peers do.

    Listed at 7-foot, 260 pounds, Sacre is living proof of the saying, "You can't teach height." Players that size almost can't help but contribute defensively, and as Sacre grows more comfortable with the Lakers' system, he'll have the potential to spell Howard and Gasol for at least 10-15 minutes per night. 

Greg Smith, Houston Rockets

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    2012-13 minutes per game: 12.9

    Having been blessed with paws the size of a grizzly bear, second-year big man Greg Smith has been carving a name out for himself in the NBA and D-League despite playing limited minutes in the former.

    Smith's hands are a full foot wide, according to DraftExpress, which was "easily the top mark" the site had recorded since the NBA draft combine began tracking hand size.

    Those massive mitts allow him to palm a ball with one hand with freakish ease, which helps explain how he was able to shoot nearly 67 percent from the field and average nearly 17 points per game in a 26-game stint in the D-League during the 2011-12 season.

    Smith hasn't been scoring nearly as frequently in the NBA, averaging only 5.3 points on 3.1 shots per game for the Houston Rockets in 2012-13, but his field-goal percentage (64 percent) has been relatively excellent.

    On the season, he's knocked down 16 of his 25 shot attempts, but has only attempted a single shot from outside the paint, according to Vorped.

    Once Smith cuts down on his fouling—he's averaging 2.6 fouls in only 12.9 minutes per game—he's got the potential to become a valuable contributor to the Rockets' big-man rotation.

Greg Stiemsma, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2012-13 minutes per game: 13.1

    After going undrafted in 2008, Greg Stiemsma burst onto the NBA scene by proving himself a shot-blocking dynamo during his time in the NBA D-League with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

    Stiemsma averaged 8.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in 28 minutes per game for the Skyforce during the 2009-10 season, earning himself the 2010 D-League Defensive Player of the Year award in the process. (He had a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double against the Springfield Armor on Dec. 27, 2009.)

    After a short four-game stint with the Skyforce in the fall of 2011 where he averaged nine points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game, he signed a one-year contract with the Boston Celtics and won over the heart of Beantown almost instantly.

    With most of the Celtics' other big men plagued by injury in 2011-12, Stiemsma provided some much-needed depth behind Kevin Garnett, blocking 1.5 shots in only 13.9 minutes per game.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves signed Stiemsma to a two-year contract worth just over $5 million total in the summer of 2012, yet he's receiving virtually the same amount of playing time as he did in his rookie season with the Celtics.

    Given the plethora of injuries Minnesota has been grappling with in the early portion of the 2012-13 season, it's a bit disconcerting that Stiemsma couldn't carve out a larger role in the Timberwolves' rotation.

    Like Greg Smith in Houston, Stiemsma will need to cut down on his foul rate before earning significantly more playing time.