NBA Players with Most to Prove Down Season's Final Stretch
With just a week left in the regular season, every team's motivation is different.
The Miami Heat have been resting their stars for the playoffs, yet they still managed to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers are in a dog fight for their playoff lives, a battle Kobe Bryant, who scored a season-high 47 points while playing 48 minutes last night, is determined to win.
Teams like the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, on the contrary, have little to play for. But some players on even bad teams still have something to prove before their seasons end.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
Andre Drummond, had he stayed healthy and got the minutes he deserved this season, might have been able to challenge Damian Lillard for the Rookie of the Year Award.
He is that good.
But the 19-year-old big man out of the University of Connecticut spent too much time on the sideline—due to both injury and coach Lawrence Frank's whim—to take the league by storm.
In the final days of the season, however, he has the chance to showcase himself as a player who can become the future foundation of the Detroit Pistons.
Last night, in particular, he earned acclaim from Sam Amico of Fox Sports, who tweeted: "Pistons' Andre Drummond 9-10 shooting, 19 pts, 8 rebs with 2:36 to go in 3Q. I'm seeing a future All-Star. Like, maybe next year."
Drummond was perhaps even more impressive in the fourth quarter, knocking down 8-of-14 free throws as the Cleveland Cavaliers used a "Hack-and-Shaq"-style strategy to put him on the line.
In the past, Drummond, a 35.6 percent free-throw shooter this year, says he has tried to avoid getting fouled in such situations, according to David Mayo of Michigan Live.
But now, he is embracing it in hopes of building his confidence.
"At first, I tried to avoid it," he said. "But then I was like, 'There's no point in me avoiding it because they're going to see the fear.' I've just got to build confidence. So that's what I did today. When they fouled me, I was like, 'All right, you know you're going to make these, don't trip.'
"The more and more that they foul me, the more and more I get confident."
Clearly, learning how to make at least half his freebies—something he did last night while knocking down at least one each time he went to the line—is something Drummond needs to learn how to do. If he can continue to do so in the next week, he should be able to enter next season with a world of confidence.
And then he can take over the league.
Why couldn't the Orlando Magic get more for J.J. Redick? Well, in the world of the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, teams aren't willing to give up draft picks for half-season player rentals.
So went the popular refrain anyway.
The Magic must have found it funny.
Because as everyone talked about how little they received in their midseason trade of Redick, they just got to sit back and smile about acquiring Tobias Harris.
Harris has been fantastic in Orlando.
In 24 games, the forward has averaged 16.9 points and 8.8 rebounds in 36 minutes per game. He has shown a knack for finding ways to score, cutting to open spots and taking advantage of opportunities in the slow break.
To his Magic coaches and teammates, he probably has little left to prove.
But to the fans of a rebuilding franchise—not to mention the legions of NBA followers who still don't know his name—he could do wonders by putting an exclamation point on his season through great play in the season's final week.
If he does, he may go from being someone who was seen as a paltry return for Redick, to someone who everyone agrees is an NBA starter
Charles Jenkins is playing for his NBA life. A Hofstra University product who has seen few minutes in the NBA, he is hoping that his career in the league won't end when his contract does this summer.
After getting a little late-season run last season with the Golden State Warriors, he was back to being a permanent bench fixture this year. Then, after getting dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers in February, he found another opportunity.
Minutes have been sparse, but he has tried to prove that he belongs in the league while on the court.
He has convinced his coach, Doug Collins, of at least that fact, according to Kieran Darcy of ESPN, but Jenkins remains someone that the team is unlikely to bring back next year due to a glut of wing players.
"Charles has shown some flashes," Collins said. "Very strong, very good midrange player. Actually had some decent games for us when we first got him. Sort of leveled off a little bit.
"Unfortunately for us he's at a spot where we've got Evan [Turner], we've got Jrue [Holiday],Damien Wilkins has played at a very, very high level. We've got Nick Young, we've got Dorell Wright, we've added Justin Holiday now. So we have sort of a plethora of guys at that position. But he's an NBA player."
He hasn't seen any real game action since March 25. But given Philadelphia's going-nowhere situation, he seems likely to get a few stints in the rotation in the final week.
If he can show some flashes of what helped him average 22.6 points per game as a college senior, he may be able to convince some team—in the NBA, as opposed to Europe—that he is a player worth developing.
When Eric Maynor tore his ACL 15 months ago, he had to know it would be a huge career setback. Here he was playing for the emerging Western Conference power in a breakout season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it all came crashing down.
After his recovery, the team chose to go in a different direction, shipping him to off to the Portland Trail Blazers for some meager financial savings.
The blow to his confidence had to be large.
Since arriving in Portland, however, he has played well in limited time, averaging 11.5 points and 7.1 assists per 36 minutes.
The team may be in a tailspin, but Maynor should still hope he can call this city his new home.
Damian Lillard is the point guard of the future, but Nolan Smith, the team's only other reserve point guard, doesn't seem to be much of a contender for the backup floor general role going forward. It should be Maynor's to lose.
Still, there is a reason that the Thunder chose to go with Derek Fisher over Maynor. He remains an unproven commodity.
In his first 23 games with the Blazers, Maynor has proven something to the organization. But if he wants to remain a factor in its plans going forward, a few more nice games down the stretch can't hurt.
Just when people were starting to doubt John Wall, he came back like Bruce Willis in the third Die Hard. The third-year guard has been a destroyer of souls since the All-Star break.
In March, he dropped 22.1 points and 8.0 assists per game on 48.4 percent shooting. In six April games, he has scored even better, upping that average to 25.0.
Nobody has ever doubted that he could be a high-level point guard in the NBA. But now, he is once again making the world take note that he can be one of the very best players on it.
It isn't just individual stats.
The Washington Wizards are 18-5 at home since Wall's season started on January 12. Since the All-Star break, they are .500 no matter where they play, something the team has accomplished due to stout defense and remarkable 40.7 percent shooting from behind the arc in its last 28 games.
This summer, Wall is eligible for a contract extension.
Until his return from injury, the franchise may have doubted if Wall should be its franchise player. That uncertainty should be gone.
Instead, look for Washington to offer him a large dump truck full of money this summer. And if he plays exceptionally well down the stretch, perhaps he can even convince the team to offer him the highly coveted five-year extension that is reserved for only the most can't-miss young players in the league.