Finding the Next Young Diamond in the Rough Among Available NBA Free Agents
Sometimes, the book on a young player is written and closed a little too quickly.
Not all players fail right away because they don't have the skills. Maybe enough patience wasn't exercised by the coaching staff, or maybe there wasn't enough of an opportunity given. There are so many different factors that influence a player's development, it's often hard to peg down one reason why it didn't work.
Take Los Angeles Lakers guard Xavier Henry, for example. After failing to make any impact for the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets, Henry looked like he was out of the league for good.
But now in Mike D'Antoni's spread out, uptempo offense, driving lanes are suddenly open and Henry can use his great size and strength to draw fouls and get to the rim.
Yes, Henry needs to show that his touch from outside isn't a fluke, but this is an offense that suits him much better than the incredibly slow-paced play of his former teams.
Henry's pedigree and natural ability made him worth a shot, and the risk looks to be panning out early for the Lakers. In the right system with the right opportunity, the following free agents might be able to have similar success.
Sometimes, it's not a player's skill level that keeps him off a roster. Or his character. Sometimes, it has very little to do with him at all.
Malcolm Thomas absolutely earned his spot with the Chicago Bulls in summer league, averaging 11 points and 15 rebounds a game while setting a single-game record for rebounds (22).
Thomas is absolutely the type of glass cleaner the Bulls could have used as a fourth or fifth big man off the bench, but because Chicago is over the luxury tax, Thomas and his soon-to-be guaranteed contract had to be let go. You get the impression that this was more about money than anything else.
That said, it's a little surprising that Thomas hasn't landed anywhere yet. It's easy to see the San Diego State grad having a career similar to Reggie Evans, where he blooms late but demands playing time thanks to his hustle and effort.
Thomas is a specialist, but he has a chance to be one of the elite rebounders in the league if given the chance. He's openly available to sign now and could find his way onto a roster once the injury bug starts to hit around the league.
It's hard to say that Kendall Marshall was put in a good position to succeed in Phoenix.
Marshall's main strengths coming out of North Carolina were finding shooters and playing in transition. The Phoenix Suns, however, didn't have any perimeter shooters and couldn't get enough stops to play fast.
Throw in the fact that 702 minutes is hardly enough time for a point guard to get settled, and it's a little surprising that Marshall has been discarded so quickly.
With higher quality teammates and the trust of a coaching staff, Marshall might be able to recapture some of that promise he showed in college. His jumper needs a ton of work, but Marshall could have a similar career to a guy like Jamaal Tinsley; a player that could never shoot but could run a team very well.
The point guard position is deep across the league, but perhaps some time in much faster, free-flowing D-League would serve Marshall well.
Remember when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told his team in the huddle that he "wanted some nasty"? Ivan Johnson is the personification of that kind of nasty.
Johnson isn't exactly young at 29 years old, and he isn't exactly a free agent since he's playing in China for the first half of the year. However, once the CBA season ends overseas, Johnson will be available to help a team make a late playoff push. He should be one of the most highly sought-after mid-season pickups in the league.
Johnson's career PER of 15.1 and per 36 minute averages of almost 15 points and 9 rebounds are really solid, and he's exactly the type of player who thrives on the game getting more physical. If a team is looking for an enforcer, it doesn't get much better than Johnson. He's tough as nails and more skilled than he gets credit for.
Rodrigue Beaubois was supposed to get a look from a few teams this offseason, but a wrist injury derailed those plans. He's on the outside looking in to start the season, but Beaubois has always been a high-risk, high-reward type of player.
Just 25 years old, Beaubois is a former first round pick that suffered a rare fate, as he continually declined after an extremely promising rookie season. Once his jumper abandoned him, Rick Carlisle understandably cast him to the bench.
Beaubois isn't really a point guard or a shooting guard, but he's a very good athlete that just needs to rediscover his shot. The natural ability is there, and with consistent minutes, perhaps Beaubois could rebound in the NBA.
It's not very often you see a 40.7 percent career three-point shooter out of a job, but that's the case with Daniel Gibson.
Unfortunate timing appears to have kept Gibson from landing a job, as he shot a career-low 34 percent from behind the arc in a contract-year with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season.
Gibson is a specialist, but with teams relying more and more on floor spacing and perimeter shooting, his specialty is certainly in demand. Shooters of his caliber are very rarely available, regardless of position or what they bring to the table defensively.
If he's healthy and committed, Gibson could be a sneaky pickup for a team in need of shooting.
Overseas Scorers for Next Year
While it may be a little too late to find a diamond in the rough with rosters already filled this year, that doesn't mean we can't keep an eye on a few candidates for next season.
Bo McCalebb has become a star for Macedonia's national team and has racked up MVP awards in Italy and Serbia the last few years. Everywhere McCalebb goes, he scores at a high rate with incredible efficiency for a guard that is barely six feet tall.
McCalebb has expressed little desire to ride the bench in the NBA, but a young rebuilding team should give him a look. In Eurobasket and other tournaments against NBA competition, he's routinely been one of the best players. The guy can flat out score.
Josh Selby is another big-time scorer who could break through at some point. The former Kansas Jayhawk and 2012 co-MVP of summer league might not have a true position, but he's scored pretty well in stops in the D-League and now could follow a similar path to Tracy McGrady playing in China this season.
If Selby performs well enough in China, he could be a postseason addition this year for a team in need of guard depth. More likely, though, Selby will land back in the NBA next year.
Bobby Brown was tied with the New York Knicks and a few other teams this offseason, but the depth of the point guard spot around the league hurt him.
Brown has some significant NBA experience, and now he's hot on the radar after a breakout season in Italy last year. If he keeps up his great scoring and distributing in China, he could be back in the NBA next year. He's improved a great deal overseas.
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