Good Players on Bad Teams We'll Miss During NBA Playoffs

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 19, 2013

Good Players on Bad Teams We'll Miss During NBA Playoffs

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    After 82 games of killer crossovers, bone-rattling blocks, no-look lobs and the finest perimeter performance the league has ever seen, the NBA playoffs are finally here.

    Thanks to its generous selection committee that allows more than half of the franchises to partake in the postseason festivities, the scintillating starpower will shine brightly once again.

    But not every team had its playoff ticket punched, even some clubs employing their own arena-filling talents. In a league where it's all about how many prime-time performers one team can pack into a 12-man roster, some solo acts have been ushered to the audience.

    Whether their lost seasons came by way of injury, bad luck or the lack of a capable supporting cast, these players are all relegated to the recap highlight reels and memory banks until October rolls around.

    They're gone, but certainly not forgotten.

    While media members are salivating over the talent-laden individual matchups lurking around the corner, I can't help but think about some things missing from this year's playoff party.

    Ten somethings, actually.

10. Al Jefferson (Utah Jazz)

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    Notable Numbers: 17.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 49.4 FG%

    Team Record: 43-39

     

    It's tempting to keep Al Jefferson off this list for no other reason than the fact that the Utah Jazz are not a bad team. But the difference between average and awful loses impact at this time of the year (in the Western Conference, at least) considering he'll still be couch-bound during postseason play. 

    He's grossly underappreciated in today's sensationalized media world. But the lack of publicity might not bother the throwback big man.

    One of the last of a dying breed in the NBA, he's a gifted post scorer with silky smooth moves around the basket. When the paint gets too crowded, the former preps-to-pros star can step away from the bucket with a reliable mid-range jumper (he shot 41.4 percent from 15 to 19 feet, via NBA.com).

    But while the NBA misses seeing Big Al's vintage production, Jazz fans are just hoping they haven't seen the last of it. He, along with frontcourt mate Paul Millsap, is an unrestricted free agent.

9. Jrue Holiday (Philadelphia 76ers)

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    Notable Numbers: 17.7 PPG, 8.0 APG, 1.6 SPG

    Team Record: 34-48

     

    Amid the nightmarish Andrew Bynum debut that wasn't, Jrue Holiday quietly assembled the finest season of his four-year career. Well quiet to the casual fans at least, but not to the hoops world that rewarded the former UCLA Bruin with his first All-Star Game selection.

    It's hard to tell which side of the floor he left his biggest impression this season.

    Offensively, he found production anywhere on the floor, strong dribble drives out to the perimeter (36.8 three-point percentage) and everywhere in between. The fact that he registered a career high in assists, the fourth-best average in the NBA, without getting even 15 points per game from any other teammate is remarkable.

    But the defensive end is where Holiday has dazzled basketball junkies. He has the strength and quickness to cut off driving lanes and plugs passing gaps like a ball-hawking safety.

8. DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)

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    Notable Numbers: 17.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.7 APG

    Team Record: 28-54

     

    DeMarcus Cousins is only as good as he lets himself be.

    He must not have been feeling as generous this season as last (18.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game), but he still showed enough to make him well worth the headache.

    Combining quickness, agility and size (6'11", 270 pounds) he has perhaps the most complete set of raw ability of any player manning the low block. He has handles, a jump shot and a dizzying array of post moves.

    The fact that he's now logged three professional seasons and his maturity is still being called into question (he lead the NBA in technical fouls, via ESPN.com) is certainly concerning.

    But those concerns don't need to resonate beyond Sacramento's (or Seattle's) city limits. Fans of the sport can simply soak in all of the benefits that the 22-year-old has to offer.

7. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)

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    Notable Numbers: 19.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, 36.8 3PT%

    Team Record: 33-49

     

    Scouts agreed that the 2012 NBA draft class had just one sure thing in its ranks.

    Given the fact that Rookie of the Year award voting closed sometime around the All-Star break, maybe they were right. Of course, Damian Lillard wasn't the player that they had in mind.

    But the first-year pro wasted no time introducing himself to all the folks who missed his four-year stay at Weber State. His first regular-season outing saw him pouring in 23 points and tossing out 11 assists against the preseason-crowned champion Los Angeles Lakers.

    His debut didn't mark his arrival, though. It only hinted at the greatness lurking beneath the surface.

    He topped that 23-point mark 22 times over the season and finished with double-digit assists in nine games. His coach, Terry Stotts, trusted him enough to make him the first rookie to lead the league in total minutes played (3,167) since Elvin Hayes in 1968-69 (via Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune).

6. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves)

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    Notable Numbers: 18.3 PPG, 14.0 RPG (Love); 7.3 APG, 2.4 SPG (Rubio)

    Team Record: 31-51

     

    For two straight seasons, Minnesota Timberwolves fans have carried enormous expectations into the year thanks to its pair of rising stars, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. And for two straight seasons, they've been left doing medical research to silence the nagging what-if questions running through their heads.

    Love and Rubio couldn't find enough shared court time to keep the Timberwolves from finishing outside of the playoff picture for the ninth straight season.

    But that didn't stop the pair from showcasing their massive potential, either.

    Despite suffering two fractures in the same hand, Love solidified his standing among the premier rebounders. He even tallied respectable scoring numbers considering those injuries greatly impacted his ability to shoot (35.2 field-goal percentage, 21.7 three-point percentage).

    Rubio missed the first month-and-a-half recovering from a torn ACL but recovered well enough to threaten Chris Paul's bid for the fifth steals crown of his career through the year's final game. And those assist numbers were nothing to scoff at with his best scorer, Love, sidelined for 64 games.

5. Rudy Gay (Toronto Raptors)

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    Notable Numbers: 18.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG

    Team Record: 34-48

     

    The new Memphis Grizzlies' regime wasn't convinced that Rudy Gay was worth his heavy financial commitment, at least not if it meant losing either Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph or Mike Conley.

    But the Toronto Raptors were more than happy to facilitate the trade, netting Gay a few weeks prior to the trade deadline.

    Gay arrived north of the border on Feb. 1 and promptly registered five straight 20-point efforts. He played 35 games with Toronto, registering 19.5 points and 6.4 rebounds in his 34.7 minutes per night. The Raptors went .500 (18-18) after the addition, a higher winning percentage than the playoff-bound Milwaukee Bucks.

    He's always a threat to fill a highlight tape on any given night but can torch defenders from beyond the arc (34.3 career three-point percentage) or operating out of the post.

    Grizzlies owners might not miss Gay, but Raptors fans are counting down the days until they can see him again.

4. LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers)

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    Notable Numbers: 21.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 48.4 FG%

    Team Record: 33-48

     

    If the Portland Trail Blazers don't look like your typical lottery-bound team, that's because they shouldn't be one. In terms of depth, Portland's starting five can hang with any other unit in the NBA.

    But depth is also why Aldridge and his teammates earned themselves some unenviable time off. It's hard to pinpoint where things went wrong with Stotts' second unit, probably because most nights the entire bench was invisible.

    For all of the struggles Blazers fans had to endure, though, Aldridge was once again a beaming bright spot. He made his second straight All-Star trip and reminded the league just how dangerous his franchise could become.

    He still floats farther away from the basket than analysts would like (nearly 60 percent of his field-goal attempts came from beyond 10 feet, via NBA.com), but the results are hard to argue with.

    Whether he's frustrating foes with a feathery soft jumper or bullying them on the low block, he's definitely a sight to behold.

3. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)

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    Notable Numbers: 17.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 47.1 FG%

    Team Record: 41-41

     

    Like Jefferson, Dirk Nowitzki didn't suit up for a bad team this year. In fact, if he hadn't been sidelined with a knee injury for the first two months of the season, he could be going over a postseason game plan with Rick Carlisle right now.

    But the Dallas Mavericks fell just outside of the playoff limits, missing the postseason for the first time since Nowitzki's sophomore season of 1999-00.

    He looked a little rusty this year, especially early on in his return, and will turn 35 years old this summer.

    But his game-breaking performances are anything but a thing of the past; they just came about a little less frequently.

    He scored at least 20 points in 19 of his 53 games and topped the 30-point mark on three occasions. If anyone was concerned that his best days were behind him, his 21-point, 20-rebound night against the Timberwolves on Feb. 26 brought a calming effect.

    The postseason doesn't seem the same without Dirk. If Mark Cuban's offseason plans come to fruition, this awkward feeling won't be felt beyond this year.

2. Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)

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    Notable Numbers: 22.5 PPG, 5.9 APG, 39.1 3PT%

    Team Record: 24-58

     

    For Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving, it's always been a matter of quality over quantity.

    His college career lasted all of 11 games at Duke University. But he showed enough during those outings to establish himself at the top of the 2011 NBA draft class, a lofty position he's only strengthened over his first two seasons.

    Injuries have still defined a large chunk of his NBA career, he missed 23 games in 2012-13, but the only thing keeping him from being the most tantalizing up-and-comer is the fact that he may already have arrived.

    The Cavaliers weren't fooling anyone on the offensive end.

    If Irving was on the floor, he was plans A, B and C. With yoyo handles, rainbow floaters and a perimeter stroke that netted him the 2013 three-point contest championship, he systematically tore defenses apart.

    His effort wasn't enough to salvage Byron Scott's job (via Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com), but it may have made Cleveland the most intriguing young team in the league.

1. John Wall (Washington Wizards)

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    Notable Numbers: 18.5 PPG, 7.6 APG, 44.1 FG%

    Team Record: 29-53

     

    If there was ever a season to sulk, a year to favor individual statistics over team performance, 2012-13 was it for Washington Wizards point guard John Wall.

    The playoffs were out of the question before he ever stepped on the floor. He missed the first 33 games of the season with a knee injury, a stretch that saw the Wizards collapse into an abysmal 5-28 record.

    For all the non-math majors out there, that means this Washington team went 24-25 upon his return. And that came with talented rookie marksman Bradley Beal missing 20 of the team's final 24 games.

    This was the Wall that Wizards fans had been sold when the franchise made him the top overall selection of the 2010 draft, maybe even better.

    With his track star explosiveness, critics wondered if this was simply a terrific athlete posing as a basketball player. But seeing Wall masterfully strike the balance between getting his teammates involved and creating his own offense meant that not only was he a basketball star, he's a budding elite floor general.

    With career highs in field-goal percentage, points per-36 minutes (20.4) and assists per-36 minutes (8.4, via Basketball-Reference.com) and a career-low 3.2 turnovers per game, Wall has set up the Wizards for a bright future and himself for a massive pay raise (via Craig Stouffer of the Washington Examiner).