5 NBA Players Who Are as Suprisingly Pleasant as a Good Tax Refund
It’s that wonderful time of the year again when we dump our earnings information into Turbo Tax, press “Calculate My Refund”, and wait in giddy anticipation to see how many of our overpaid tax dollars we will get back.
When the number comes back in bold green font followed by a positive number in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, we rejoice and immediately start mentally spending our financial windfall on new iPads, clothes and vacations.
We all know what it feels like to hope for something good, and then it happens.
This same process plays out every year in the NBA when fans look at an unproven or declining player and hope he will be able to contribute, giving their team a pleasant surprise in the form of an unexpected asset.
Here is the list of the NBA’s top five “Good Tax Return Guys”—guys who are providing better-than-expected returns to their teams this year.
5. Andray Blatche—Brooklyn Nets
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The talented but frustrating forward had spent all seven of his professional seasons with the Washington Wizards when his poor shot selection, low basketball IQ and expanding waistline finally came to a head. He played just 26 games last year, averaging 24.1 minutes and 8.5 points and shooting an abysmal 38 percent from the floor.
The Brooklyn Nets took a gamble and signed Blatche as a free agent before this season to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal. He was then unexpectedly given extended minutes early in the season when center Brook Lopez was injured, resulting in Blatche starting seven games. He responded by averaging 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals and shooting 55 percent as a starter.
He has since moved back into a reserve role but remains a surprisingly productive player off the bench.
4. Earl Clark—Los Angeles Lakers
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Before joining the Los Angeles Lakers this season, Earl Clark had spent three unimpressive years with the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic, averaging 3.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 39 percent field goals in his short career.
Now, as a Laker, Earl Clark has taken over All-Star Pau Gasol’s starting spot and has put up some solid numbers and tough defense.
Since Jan. 11, 2013 Clark has played 11 games and averaged 10.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists, while shooting 49 percent from the floor. He looked fantastic in the Lakers’ Jan. 29th win against the New Orleans Hornets when he delivered a 20-point, 12-rebound and four-assist performance.
While Laker fans definitely don’t like the mental and emotional toll this difficult season has taken on Pau Gasol, they have unexpectedly found a legitimate player in Earl Clark.
3. Jimmy Butler—Chicago Bulls
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Jimmy Butler has blossomed in his second NBA season. The 6’7” small forward was selected No. 30 overall in the 2011 NBA draft and played sparingly as a rookie last year, averaging just 8.5 minutes in 42 games.
When Luol Deng went down with an injury this month, Butler filled the void and played very well, starting five games during Deng’s absence and averaging 14.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals.
His impressive play seems to have earned him a permanent spot in the Chicago Bulls’ rotation.
Since Deng’s return two games ago, Butler has gone back to a reserve role, but in those two games he still played nearly 30 minutes per contest and averaged 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds on 15-of-22 shooting.
With Butler blossoming and Derrick Rose's return looming, things are looking up in Chicago.
2. Larry Sanders—Milwaukee Bucks
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After being selected No. 15 in the 2010 NBA draft, Larry Sanders was nearly invisible in his first two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging just 4.0 points and 3.0 rebounds, though he did block a healthy 1.3 shots per game.
But this year Sanders is throwing a block party, and the entire NBA is invited.
In his third NBA season Sanders has emerged as the league’s best shot-blocker, rejecting 3.1 shots per game. He is also pulling down 8.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and shooting an impressive 53.8 percent from the floor.
Bucks Fans have to be thrilled at seeing their young bench player suddenly—and unexpectedly—transform into a Serge Ibaka-type difference-maker in the paint.
1. Nikola Vucevic—Orlando Magic
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The 7'0" Vucevic was drafted No. 15 in the 2011 NBA draft and spent his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers. He showed flashes of potential as a rookie, scoring 5.5 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds in just 15.9 minutes per game.
After one season with the Sixers, Vucevic was traded to the Orlando Magic in the blockbuster deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.
Much to the delight of Magic fans everywhere, Vucevic has emerged as a potentially dominant big man.
Vucevic has started all 45 games in Orlando this season and averaged 11.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 blocks per game, while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor. He is currently fifth in the NBA in rebounding.
Sometimes we hope for good things and they happen—like Nikola Vucevic’s development or a fat tax return.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a vacation to plan.