9 NBA Players Poised to Have Big Bounce-Back Seasons in 2014-15
The typical NBA career entails a fairly predictable trajectory: years of steady improvement—peppered, perhaps, with the occasional leap in talent tiers—followed by inevitable decline.
Sometimes, however, a proven or otherwise promising player is beset by an off year or two. Be the culprit coaching, chemistry or sheer rotational politics, such statistical dips are less a hint of an inevitable regression and more an indication of a freakish fluke in an otherwise solid resume.
Last season was, of course, no exception.
So which NBA players have the best shot at rebounding from a year or two of flat-lined productivity and starting anew up the NBA ladder?
We have nine of them specifically in mind. And no, one of them isn’t Darko Milicic.
To qualify for this here list, players must have logged a minimum of 20 games last season (sorry, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant) and have been full-time starters, or, at the very least, proven sixth or seventh men with plenty o' playing time beneath their belts.
Quick, click through before your computer gets too excited and catches fire!
All we said was these players were poised for a bounce-back year, not that their teams would be any good.
As this summer’s sole amnesty victim, Carlos Boozer, who was eventually swooped up by the moribund Los Angeles Lakers, is currently carrying a shoulder chip the size of a tectonic plate. Emboldened by the bright lights of Tinseltown, Boozer will be hell-bent on showing everyone he has plenty of production left in the tank.
At 32 years old (he turns 33 in November), Boozer wouldn’t seem like an obvious choice for a mid-career renaissance: He's been declining slowly but steadily over the past few years, and his defense is utterly beyond redemption.
Still, you’d be surprised by what a change of scenery can do for a player.
No one on this list personifies the old adage “wrong place, wrong time” better than Omer Asik.
After a pair of breakout seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Asik inked a lucrative three-year deal with the Houston Rockets, complete with a third-year “poison pill” that paid the Turkish 7-footer a whopping (and probably unjustifiable) $15 million.
But then the Rockets decided to go out and get a dude named Dwight Howard. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Not surprisingly, this made Asik something of an afterthought.
After a year of somewhat acrimonious relations with the Houston front office, Asik was finally dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans on June 25. The cost: a single first-round pick and some cash. That’s it.
Asik would probably just as soon forget his second go-round with the Rockets. As a Pelican, however, Asik will be plugged in as the immediate starter alongside rising superstar (and rim-protecting savant in his own right) Anthony Davis.
After a year of riding the pine behind one of the game’s best, expect Asik—who’s in a contract year, remember—to unleash all manner of holy hell on opposing offenses.
Let us begin our discussion of the bounce-back potential of one Josh Smith with one, rather large, caveat: if the Detroit Pistons formally renounce—or outright trade—Greg Monroe.
Between Smith, Monroe and third-year sensation Andre Drummond, Detroit boasted arguably the most ill-fitting frontcourts in all the NBA. That it was also one of the most talented (on paper, anyway) seems, at this point, irrelevant.
Placed at his more natural power forward position, Smith would be far less apt to drift along the perimeter, which, we assure you, first-year coach (and new team president) Stan Van Gundy will want to see very little of.
Smith is simply too talented and too versatile to let last year’s hiccup become the new normal.
You know the old saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats”? The Golden State Warriors offense should’ve done just that to the year-two production of Harrison Barnes.
Except, you know, it didn’t.
At 6’8” and with athleticism for days, Barnes has all the tools to be an NBA force—even an All-Star, if the breaks broke his way. Instead, the North Carolina product’s second year turned into one big crisis of confidence, punctuated by a somewhat alarming drop in shooting efficiency.
Can first-year head coach Steve Kerr help right Barnes’ wayward ship? Finding minutes at a 3 already occupied by Andre Iguodala could be tricky. Even if his near-future destiny is as a sixth-man extraordinaire, Barnes has a chance to bolster a bench that saw something of a drop with the loss of Jarrett Jack last summer.
If Barnes has a legitimate NBA leap in him, it has to be summoned this season.
After inking a multiyear contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks two summers ago, Ersan Ilyasova seemed certain to grow into a paragon of the game’s growing emphasis on floor-stretching power forwards.
Instead, after one mostly on-par campaign, Ilyasova took a statistical nosedive—most jarringly on the three-point front.
With Jason Kidd now manning the ship, the Bucks should enjoy improved play from the point guard position. That, in turn, should make life a little easier on Ilyasova. Whether that point guard ends up being Kendall Marshall, Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters or someone else entirely, we shall see.
Can Ilyasova reclaim his hold on a full-time starting position, particularly with young guns like Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson waiting in the wings? Even if he ends up being a luxury sixth man, Ilyasova has the skill set to author a compelling comeback story.
Now, one could make the argument that Jeremy Lin’s past two seasons with the Houston Rockets paint as clear a picture as necessary as to the point guard’s NBA potential.
At the same time, it’s impossible not to wonder what a change of scenery—to bright city lights not unlike those that helped make him famous in the first place—might do not only for his confidence, but for his production.
Like Asik, Lin was brought to the Rockets on a back-loaded contract. Like Asik, the fourth-year guard ended up getting unloaded for next to nothing.
And, like his former teammate, it’s Lin’s starting slot to lose.
Just how good can Lin be with big-time minutes? As good as he's ever been, says Bleacher Report's David Murphy:
Last season, Lin regressed, starting just 33 of 71 games with his assists average dropping to 4.1 per game.
He’s a better player than that.
Lin burst into the national spotlight during one incandescent winter season in New York—playing with a level of confidence and maturity that belayed his lack of experience. He may not have been drafted into the NBA, but he showed he belonged there nonetheless.
In Los Angeles he’ll start a new chapter, playing with a new sense of belonging, welcomed by fans and benefiting from the presence of veteran stars who have much to share.
With Steve Nash’s long-term health an ongoing concern and little in the way of legitimate starting options behind him, Lin will have as good a chance as he’s ever had to stake out a permanent niche. Doing so, though, requires he recapture the magic of Linsanity.
One year after taking home the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award, J.R. Smith emerged as the quintessential microcosm of the New York Knicks’ disastrous 2013-14 season.
To his credit, Smith admitted as much in a recent interview on ESPN's First Take (via Newsday's Will Salmon):
"I was playing like a person who didn't want to be there, not looking as focused as a person who should be in the situations we were in, Smith said. "I believe it was the worst year I've had in the NBA, including my rookie year."
Of course, it didn’t help that "Earl" spent much of the slate’s early weeks recovering from offseason knee surgery. In fact, his late-season surge serves as solid testament to that very fact.
Still, heading into the offseason under New York’s new, Phil Jackson-led regime, it was unclear what role, if any, Smith might play going forward.
So long as he remains clad in the orange and blue, though, Smith’s place stands to be a pivotal one for a team desperate to find its way back into the postseason. Under new head coach Derek Fisher’s triangle offense, Smith will have as good an opportunity as he's ever had to showcase his sneaky versatile game.
If there was ever a player whose near-max contract was more a reflection of future potential than past production, it’s the Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward.
After inking a four-year, $63 million offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets on July 9, the Jazz—desperate to retain their supposed face of the franchise—quickly matched, setting Hayward up for critiques aplenty in the years to come.
Perhaps more than any other player on this list, though, Hayward’s productive drop was more a byproduct of his team’s overall lack of talent than it was any clear-cut indication as to the former Butler standout’s NBA prospects.
Quin Snyder’s space-centric offense should give Hayward much more room to operate—not just as a spot-up shooter, but as a playmaker as well.
Only time will tell whether Hayward’s contract was a good gamble for the Jazz. All the same, if they didn’t feel Hayward had a year-five leap in him, would they have matched in the first place?
Was there anyone who bore a bigger brunt of criticism than the Indiana Pacers’ stalwart center?
Not that the slings and arrows were unwarranted: Hibbert’s slump was so severe that you half expected a new term to be invented to describe it.
It’s unknown whether or not Hibbert’s confidence can be fully resurrected. But with Paul George’s injury and Lance Stephenson’s surprising departure casting very real doubt on the Pacers’ short-term prospects, someone’s going to have to do the bulk of the statistical lifting.
Here’s what we know: At 7’2”, Hibbert possesses a skill set unique to players of his imposing size. And at just 27 years old, the former Georgetown University standout still has some room left to grow.
Of all the players on this list, Hibbert stands to be perhaps the biggest question mark. Whether or not he can answer it will go as far as any other single factor in determining whether or not Indiana rebounds—spiritually and psychologically, if not wins-wise—from last year’s disastrous finish.
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