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NBA Players Making the Most of Their New Roles

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2015

NBA Players Making the Most of Their New Roles

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    In the NBA there are a lot of players who are dead-set in the roles they play, and when they go outside of their normalized roles, they have a tendency to regress or just flat-out fall apart without warning.

    This year we've got a team that has been built around taking players and giving them completely new roles, and they've seen some mixed results.

    The Houston Rockets have taken James Harden and made him a number one option, put a lot of chickens in Jeremy Lin's basket, turned Omer Asik into their starting center and given Chandler Parsons a vote of confidence at small forward.

    So far they've seen Lin struggle to be the point guard this team needs, while the other three seem to be working out well.

    Houston isn't the only team experimenting with guys in new roles, however, as a handful of players throughout the league are playing a different game than they played last season.

    Some have done well, others—well they haven't.

    Let's take a look at some of the guys who have looked the best in their new roles this season and see whether or not they'll continue to succeed on into the rest of the season.

Omer Asik

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    One of the first guys we've talked about is Omer Asik, someone who looked promising coming off the bench for the Chicago Bulls in his first two years in the league before the Houston Rockets decided to take a chance and offer him a poison pill contract.

    Their investment has surely paid off after the early portion of the schedule. 

    Asik is one of the league's top rebounders, pulling down 11.5 boards per game in just 31 minutes. On top of that, he's averaging right around a block and a steal per game.

    He's the basis of Houston's defense, that is when they decide to play any, and he's really like a completely different player on the defensive end of the floor compared to the offensive.

    On offense he's remarkably bumbling and unsure of what he's doing, but defensively he continues to prove to be a confident, competent player in the post.

    The offensive aspect of his game is certainly coming along as James Harden is resorting to forcing the ball into his hands at times. Sometimes it ends well, other times it doesn't, but he's getting better.

Thaddeus Young

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    A lot of people looked at Thaddeus Young last season and thought he would be a big breakout player for the 76ers. 

    As Elton Brand's backup, vacillating between being a big guy in small lineups and a smallish guy in big lineups, he never really took off, stagnating rather than exploding.

    Now that he's become the full-time starting power forward for the 76ers, however, Young has come into his own, completely improving in almost every aspect of his game compared to a season ago, while also helping the Sixers stay afloat without Andrew Bynum.

    Defensively he's improved mightily, using his athleticism to his advantage and continuing to show that he's capable of keeping up with some of the best power forwards in the league.

    Offensively he's scoring more points on just a few more shots compared to a season ago, which of course means he's shooting a better percentage from the field. Plus, he's made a sizable improvement in the rebounding department.

Jamal Crawford

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    It's not a role that Jamal Crawford is unfamiliar with, and it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that a former SIxth Man of the Year Award winner is having a terrific season as the sixth man on a very good team.

    For the Los Angeles Clippers, Crawford has been downright brilliant.

    After being forced to start for the Portland Trail Blazers, even taking over the point guard duties at times, and shooting an atrocious 38 percent, Crawford is relishing the chance to play where we all know he can play.

    He's come off the bench 19 times for the Clippers this year, and in that time he's improved to 45 percent shooting from the field, 38 percent from the three-point line (compared to 30 percent last season), and averaged 18 points per game.

    One of the most impressive things about Crawford is that he's averaging nearly four more points per game this season compared to last, but he's doing it while shooting an average of just one more shot in every game.

    Part of me continues to believe that he's going to fall off sooner or later, but I know deep down that he's going to keep it up because he's such a weird player.

James Harden

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    It's hard to imagine any other player in the NBA going from being a sixth man to a star player the following year, but that's exactly what James Harden has done.

    He's not going to go from winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award last season to winning the MVP Award this year, but the Most Improved Player Award is possibly in play.

    As the number one option for a Rockets team with sometimes sparse offensive weapons, his percentages have predictably dropped. However, he's been able to handle the change in responsibility in stride, and the Rockets are looking like a pretty good team, despite their ups and downs.

    The bearded baller is averaging nearly 25 points per game to go along with 5.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds, numbers that are downright Kobe-ish.

    If he's able to get that scoring efficiency up in the near future then this Rockets team could be very dangerous.

O.J. Mayo

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    Nobody is surprised that O.J. Mayo is scoring 21 points per game. Everybody is surprised that he's doing it while shooting 48 percent.

    In fact, you could possibly make the argument that Mayo has been more important (as far as scoring goes) to the Dallas Mavericks than James Harden has been to the Houston Rockets.

    He's sitting steady at just under four rebounds and four assists per game, but he could completely ignore rebounding and passing the ball altogether and we would all continue to be thoroughly amazed at what he's doing.

    Mayo isn't only shooting 48 percent, he's leading the league at 52.3 percent from the three-point line. 

    As a guy who shot just 36 percent from the three-point line last season you've got to expect some sort of regression to the mean, but for now, ride the tide and keep jacking up shots. 

Ray Allen

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    Ray Allen is shooting more than two fewer shots this season compared to last, yet he's scoring just 1.4 fewer points per game.

    In other words, he's filled the role of the ridiculously efficient scorer the Miami Heat always needed coming off the bench.

    He's not going to come out and beat guys off the dribble, but he knows when to pick his spots on three-pointers, he can come off of screens incredibly fast at his age, and you still can't give him too much of a crease, lest he burn you with a floater in the lane.

    Allen is shooting 50.7 percent from the floor and 49.3 percent from the three-point line, both five percent increases compared to last season, giving him an easy look at 13 points per game.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Last year Carmelo Anthony played 53 percent of the team's minutes at small forward, this year that number is down to six percent. Instead he's picking up 57 percent of the team's power forward minutes, compared to 19 percent a season ago.

    He's also an MVP candidate.

    Anthony is using his deceptive speed and obviously strong frame to either get around bigger, slower power forwards, or body-up smaller power forwards, and it's all worked magnificently so far this season.

    'Melo is doing enough of the power forward stuff, rebounding seven shots per game and ratcheting up his defensive intensity, that he doesn't have to be incredible offensively to make up for anything lost from not having a "real" power forward on the floor.

    Of course, he's also been incredible offensively, so there's a lot to be said there.

    Anthony is shooting 46 percent from the field to go along with nearly 44 percent from the three-point line, allowing him to put up 26.4 points per game.

    In other words, he's dominating.

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