Former Top NBA Prospects Entering Make-or-Break 2013-14 Season
It's put-up or shut-up time for a number of former top NBA picks who've struggled early on in their careers.
There just comes a point where teams need to see results. With rookie contracts expiring, general managers have to decide whether a young prospect is worth another investment.
The following players are those who are simply running out of time. For some, one more year of mediocrity could mean a serious financial hit to the wallet. For others, it could mean stressful job hunting next summer.
Wesley Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers
It hasn't been a smooth go for Wesley Johnson, who was only able to secure himself a one-year deal worth the veteran's minimum.
Through three years, he's averaged 7.7 points and 2.8 boards on 40 percent shooting. Johnson appears to have left his shooting stroke at Syracuse, where he knocked down 41 percent of his three-point attempts.
Currently a career 33-percent three-point shooter as a pro, Johnson has struggled to capitalize on his off-ball scoring opportunities. And considering he's not much of a shot-creator, he has to execute as a spot-up threat in the half court and a finisher in transition.
With a stat-enhancing coach like Mike D'Antoni and available minutes in Los Angeles, Johnson should have his shot this year to prove his NBA worth.
If Johnson wants his next contract to resemble one traditionally earned by a No. 4 pick, he'll need to produce on his one-year deal with the Lakers in 2013-14.
Xavier Henry, Los Angeles Lakers
It's been three years now, and Xavier Henry still hasn't made a peep.
With injuries slowing him down, Henry has never played more than 50 games in a season. But even when on the floor, the shots just haven't fallen.
The weird part about that is Henry entered the league with shooting as one of his strengths. He knocked down 1.9 threes a game at a 41 percent clip in one year at Kansas. He also shot 78 percent from the stripe.
In the pros, Henry sports career averages of 28.9 percent shooting from downtown and just 62 percent from the stripe.
He's actually only made 13 three-pointers total over the course of three seasons.
Whether it's defense, rebounding or shot-making, Henry will have a year to showcase the services he offers. Because at this point in his career, we're just not sure what he's even selling.
Cole Adrich, Free Agent
The No. 11 pick in the 2010 NBA draft is currently unemployed after three teams in three years have found him expendable.
Aldrich has recently been working out for the New York Knicks, along with a batch of other players looking to find their way back into the league.
It's tough to tell if Aldrich is fully broken or just needs a chance—he's averaged just 7.9 minutes a game for his career.
Aldrich isn't much of an athlete or offensive presence, so he'll need to somehow convince a team his size could be used in the middle. If he can't find a roster spot with anyone this season, it might be the last time we hear from Aldrich on the NBA front.
Al-Farouq Aminu, New Orleans Pelicans
The thing I love most about the draft is that a small forward like Al-Farouq Aminu could go a few picks before another small forward like Paul George.
While one guy is close to locking up a $90-million extension, the other is playing on a one-year, $3.7-million deal.
Aminu showed signs of life last season when he shot 47.5 percent from the floor and pulled in 7.7 boards a game. And he's off to a good start this summer, contributing some strong minutes for Nigeria during the FIBA Africa Championships.
Looking at Aminu, his issues haven't been related to the physical transition. He's an awesome athlete with tremendous size for his position. But it's tough to contribute offensively as a wing with a three-point stroke under 30 percent.
Aminu has to pick that number up to increase his value to a lineup.
However, he appears to be on the rise, which means expectations will be there. Failing to meet them would be a bad look for his image.
Ekpe Udoh, Milwaukee Bucks
After three years of playing in the NBA, I'm still not sure what Ekpe Udoh brings to the table.
For his career, he's averaging 4.6 points and 3.5 boards on 43 percent shooting in 18 minutes a game. Udoh just hasn't given coaches a reason to use him as anything other than a fresh body.
And while Udoh has struggled to break through, other bigs like Larry Sanders and John Henson easily passed him on the depth chart.
This is it for Udoh, who'll be a free agent next summer. And with a fairly deep frontcourt in Milwaukee, he's not going to get many opportunities this year, so it's important he's ready to roll when they come.
The former No. 6-overall pick in the 2010 draft, Udoh has one season to revive his stock before entering one-year deal territory.
Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
This is more of a make-of-crack year than a make-or-break one for Derrick Williams. Because of his size and athleticism, there's still talent in there that hasn't been tapped into yet.
But with a $6-million club option in 2014-15, Williams will need to show improvement this season if he wants that option picked up.
Williams had some nice moments as an NBA sophomore, particularly on the perimeter, where he raised his three-point percentage from 26 percent to 33 percent.
But overall, Williams has shot just 43 percent from the floor or worse in his first two seasons. That's far too inefficient for a forward with his physical gifts. So far, he's struggled battling the tweener challenge, lacking the skill set of a wing and the interior game of a 4.
Currently a low-percentage scorer, erratic shooter and average rebounder, Williams has to establish some type of specialty or core strength. Because right now it's just athleticism—and athleticism alone won't make a career.
Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards
It's not often you find a guy who played more minutes as a rookie than as a sophomore.
Either way, Jan Vesely hasn't done much of anything through two NBA seasons. However, he did have a productive summer, putting up monster numbers in the European World Championships in Slovenia.
Vesely averaged 17 points and 11 boards, playing with a confidence we haven't seen in his limited action as a Wizard.
He'll now be entering the final guaranteed year of his rookie deal, putting him in a position where he must produce. The only potential problem is whether or not he'll get that opportunity. Washington added Otto Porter Jr., Glen Rice Jr. and Al Harrington to join Trevor Ariza, Nene Hilario, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Emeka Okafor.
Vesely will have to prove that he still has plenty to offer down the road if he wants his $4-million option picked up next summer. It just might be tough given the crowd up front in Washington.
Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings
With the addition of Ben McLemore and Greivis Vasquez, along with the success of Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette is in danger of losing his spot in the rotation.
He's also entering the final guaranteed year of his rookie deal.
A bad season won't kill his career, but it won't help him get off the ground floor, which is where he's been for two straight years. After crushing it as a collegiate scoring machine, Fredette's label now just reads "shooter." And as a 6'2'' combo guard who lacks athleticism, his defensive limitations have negated his offensive strengths.
It would nice to see a few more big games out of Jimmer. Though clearly not starting material, he can still be a guy who provides some firepower off the bench. But he only scored 15 points or more seven times last year. A few more scoring outbursts would improve his reputation as an offensive-minded reserve.
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