10 NBA Players Entering Make-or-Break 2014-15 Season

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2014

10 NBA Players Entering Make-or-Break 2014-15 Season

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    Even players who once experienced top-10-pick fanfare can find themselves facing a make-or-break season just a few short years after entering the league.

    And for the likes of Evan Turner, Deron Williams and others, the 2014-15 campaign could go down as the one in which they realized that NBA relevance has a short shelf life.

    Each of the players on this list was once a rising star, draft darling, and in the case of one, a former MVP. But injuries, lack of consistency or just inability to grow into the NBA game has stalled all their careers.

    Most are either on one-year deals or the final year of a longer contract in 2014-15. If they don't prove they belong now, they could be on their way out, or at least on the way to a much different role.

    The following slides will show where each of these players were when they entered the league, how they got to where they are now and what they need to do to get back on track.

Derrick Williams, Sacramento Kings

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    Draft: No. 2 pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011

    Specs: 6'8", PF/SF

    Career Stats: 9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 42.4 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $6.3 million in 2014-15, qualifying offer for 2015-16

    It was a stellar sophomore season that catapulted Derrick Williams up the draft boards in 2011.

    After he averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Arizona Wildcats, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg wrote, "Williams has gone from sixth man for an undistinguished Los Angeles-area high school program as a sophomore, to under-the-radar Division I prospect as a senior, to a potential No. 1 NBA draft pick two years later."

    His explosive scoring ability was punctuated by high-flying dunks and a three-point percentage of 56.8 that led experts to believe he could make the transition from college 4 to NBA 3. Sadly, Williams has gone the way of so many combo forwards before him. That transition is easier said than done.

    As you can see above, Williams has struggled mightily to become a threat from the outside, allowing defenses to all but leave him alone out there. And he hasn't compensated for his lack of a perimeter game by doing the energy or hustle things that keep guys like Kenneth Faried on the floor.

    Williams' career offensive rebounding percentage is 5.2, and it's gone down during both his second and third years in the league.

    To become a solid rotation player—one who's worth the $8.3 million qualifying offer the Sacramento Kings can give him next season—Williams will either have to become at least moderately threatening behind the three-point line or use his size and athleticism to start collecting some garbage points and pester opposing bigs on defense.

Evan Turner, Boston Celtics

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    Draft: No. 2 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2010

    Specs: 6'7", SG/SF

    Career Stats: 11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 42.7 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three-point range

    Contract: According to The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, "...the sides joined up Monday after agreeing to a short-term pact, with league sources saying that the Celtics used part of their midlevel exception..."

    Another No. 2 pick, Turner entered the NBA as a versatile swingman who was billed as having the ability to play a number of positions, from point guard to point forward.

    Prior to the 2010 draft, Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress said Turner was, "...arguably the most versatile prospect in this draft."

    Unfortunately, Turner's inability to score effectively, combined with his desire to shoot, has all but negated his versatility.

    Over the last two seasons, Turner has averaged 12.7 field-goal attempts while shooting just 42.2 percent from the field. That inefficiency as a scorer contributed to a career player efficiency rating of 12 and an inability to stay on the floor following a trade to the Indiana Pacers last season.

    After averaging 21.1 minutes while shooting 41.1 percent from the field in 27 appearances with the Pacers, the team decided not to extend him a qualifying offer. That made him an unrestricted free agent and led to the low-risk deal with Boston that could ultimately be Turner's last chance.

    With the Celtics, he could easily fall into the same trap he did as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. There will be shots available, but "volume shooter" should not be Turner's MO.

    He needs to redefine himself as a versatile playmaker and rebounder who will take scoring opportunities when they present themselves, highlight the things he does well and minimize the things that torpedo his effectiveness.

Kendall Marshall, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Draft: No. 13 pick by the Phoenix Suns in 2012

    Specs: 6'4", PG

    Career Stats: 6.1 assists, 5.6 points, 39.6 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $915,243 in 2014-15

    Kendall Marshall is the only player on the list who was drafted outside the top 10, but as you can see, he still made the lottery and entered the league with lottery expectations.

    It was his incredible passing and vision, as well as his classical approach to the point guard position, that got Marshall drafted so high despite limited physical ability. As a senior at North Carolina, he led the nation with 351 assists and was second in assists per game at 9.8.

    But he didn't get much of an opportunity to show off that playmaking ability as a rookie with the Phoenix Suns, as he appeared in just 48 games and averaged 14.6 minutes.

    Just before his second season, Marshall was traded to the Washington Wizards and subsequently waived. He had to wait until December before the Los Angeles Lakers signed him. And on that mess of a roster, he got the chance to play 29 minutes per game and remind everyone why he was drafted so high.

    Marshall averaged 8.8 assists per game (11 per 36 minutes), and his assist percentage of 44.3 was second only to Chris Paul.

    The problem is Marshall's stellar offensive numbers could largely be a product of Mike D'Antoni's uptempo offense, and his defense stood out in a bad way even on a Lakers team that guarded no one. When he was on the floor, L.A.'s opponents averaged 1.7 more points per 100 possessions.

    So on a one-year, minimum-salary deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, Marshall will have to prove at least two things in 2015-16: Can he still dominate a game offensively with his passing in a non-D'Antoni offense? And can he play at least passable defense?

O.J. Mayo, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Draft: No. 3 pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008

    Specs: 6'4", SG

    Career Stats: 14.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 43.3 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $8 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16

    When O.J. Mayo's career kicked off in 2008-09, it looked like he was well on his way to being a solid scoring option for years to come.

    As a rookie, he averaged 18.5 points per game while shooting 38.4 percent from three-point range. Curiously, things have trended downward ever since.

    He may have hit rock bottom last season with the Milwaukee Bucks. Bleacher Report's Alec Nathan summed it up, saying, "A catastrophe during his first season with the Bucks, Mayo tied a career-low by shooting 40.7 percent from the field while posting a career-worst player efficiency rating of 11.2."

    Plenty of critics have pointed to Mayo being out of shape as the cause of his troubles. Even former teammate Rudy Gay entered the discussion. Jonathan Santiago and James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom (h/t Ben Leibowitz of Bleacher Report) relayed Gay's thoughts:

    He’s had a bad season, but he’s still a good player. He’s a little overweight, hasn't played a lot this season, but he’s still O.J. Mayo in there and I've seen him do things like that all the time. So I wasn't surprised at all. He can hit tough shots. He’s a ball player. He can do it. For whatever reason of how he turned out or whatever, gained a little weight, whatever, he’s still a good ball player.

    If Mayo can tap into some motivation and get himself back into shape, he can return to effectiveness, at least as a three-point specialist.

    He experienced a slight uptick in production in 2012-13, when he played for Rick Carlisle. If Jason Kidd can instill a similar level of discipline for Mayo over the last two years of this current deal, he may turn things around.

Jimmer Fredette, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Draft: No. 10 pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2011

    Specs: 6'2", SG/PG

    Career Stats: 6.9 points, 1.5 assists, 41.7 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $920,000 in 2014-15

    Basketball fans around the country surely remember Jimmermania—Jimmer Fredette's National Player of the Year campaign where he averaged 28.9 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range.

    During that 2010-11 season at BYU, Fredette topped 30 points 16 times, 40 points four times and 50 points once. His electrifying scoring ability made him a top-10 in 2011 despite concerns about his position and ability to defend.

    During the three NBA seasons since he was drafted, Fredette has been haunted by those two criticisms. They're largely responsible for his career average of 14.6 minutes and the Chicago Bulls not picking up the team option for the final year of his rookie deal.

    Now, he's essentially on a one-year tryout with the New Orleans Pelicans to prove he can do more than hit threes.

    Fellow sharpshooter Anthony Morrow was in a similar situation with New Orleans last season. He had shot 42.4 percent from three-point range leading up to 2013-14 but still found himself on a $1 million deal with the Pelicans.

    After averaging 8.4 points in 18.8 minutes while shooting 45.1 percent from three-point range last season, Morrow scored a three-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder worth $10 million.

    If Fredette is given a similar opportunity to space the floor for Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans and the other Pelicans who thrive in the paint, he could earn a similar payday. 

Andrea Bargnani, New York Knicks

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    Draft: No. 1 pick by the Toronto Raptors in 2006

    Specs: 7'0", PF/C

    Career Stats: 15.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 43.8 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $11.5 million in 2014-15

    Blame Dirk Nowitzki for teams constantly trying to find the next Dirk Nowitzki. A 7-footer who can stretch the floor and get a few rebounds? Makes sense to want one of those.

    The thing is, he's still very unique. For every Kevin Love, there's a handful of players like Nikoloz Tskitishvili or Andrea Bargnani.

    Bargs made it work to an extent for a few years with the Raptors, who rolled the dice and used a No. 1 overall pick on him. But if things continue on the trajectory we've seen in the last few seasons, it's hard to imagine anyone giving him a big deal after this expiring one ends.

    There are plenty of reasons not to sign Bargnani, but we'll focus on just three.

    First, his rebounding numbers are atrocious for a player his size (7'0", 250 lbs). For his career, he has a rebounding percentage of 9.5 and a rebounding average of 4.9. To put that into perspective, 38 7-footers have logged as many minutes (14,387) as Bargnani in NBA history. His rebounding percentage is dead last in that group.

    Second, Bargnani's really not much of a floor spacer. The one year he shot over 40 percent from three-point range is looking more like an outlier with each passing year. If you take 2008-09 out of the equation, he's shooting 34.4 percent from downtown. And in the last three seasons, he's at just 29.5 percent.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Bargnani is a nightmare on defense. And I mean he's a nightmare for his own team. Analytics be darned on this one, I'll just let this image speak for itself.

    (h/t Deadspin and The Starters)

    That's a pretty serious list, and each item needs a lot of work. If he doesn't show something in 2014-15 with the Knicks, there's a good chance Bargnani could find himself working on a much smaller contract or on his way out of the league altogether.

Anthony Bennett, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Draft: No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013

    Specs: 6'8", PF/SF

    Career Stats: 4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 35.6 percent from the field and 24.5 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $5.6 million in 2014-15, team option for 2015-16

    This one may seem a little hasty, but consider these two factors: Bennett's historically bad rookie season and the fact that whatever team he plays for this season can end his rookie contract by not picking up the option on him next summer.

    And it looks like the team making that decision will be the Minnesota Timberwolves. According to The Associated Press (via Cleveland.com), Minnesota will keep Bennett as part of the Kevin Love trade rather than send him to Philadelphia.

    Of all the No. 1 picks in the history of the NBA draft, not one put up a player efficiency rating as bad as Anthony Bennett's 6.9. And you have to go all the way back to Hot Rod Hundley in 1957-58 for the last one who posted a PER below 10.

    With another year like that, it will be hard for any team to justify keeping Bennett around on a multiyear, multimillion dollar deal.

    Fortunately, it already looks like he's heading in the right direction.

    Bennett was noticeably lighter and more aggressive as he averaged 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

    In his Day 3 grades for ESPN.com, D.J. Foster said:

    His weight is down, but his appetite is up. Bennett looked more interested in hitting the boards (14 rebounds) and running the floor than he was during most of his rookie season, and those are two critical areas of concern for a player who projects to be a nonfactor defensively.

    Defense will be the next step for Bennett after staying in shape and playing aggressively. He may be projected as a "nonfactor" right now, but a commitment to improvement will help prolong his career and correct the narrative established during his rookie season.

Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Draft: No. 5 pick by the Sacramento Kings in 2012

    Specs: 6'9", PF

    Career Stats: 4.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 45.4 percent from the field

    Contract: $3.7 million in 2014-15, team option for 2015-16

    Thomas Robinson spent the first two years of his college career buried on the Kansas bench behind the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus. When he finally got the chance to start as a junior, he exploded for averages of 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds. That led to his selection as the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft.

    Just two years later, Robinson has already suited up for three different teams, failing to earn significant playing time with any of them.

    The primary issue with Robinson is finishing. As a rookie, he shot a below-league-average 45.9 percent within eight feet of the rim, per NBA.com. Last season, that number jumped up to 55.9 percent, but there's still room for improvement.

    If he continues to attack the glass the way he has over his first two years, he'll see plenty of opportunities to score off putbacks. Adding a mid-range game would help as well, making it harder for defenders to play the drive and pack the paint against him.

Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

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    Draft: No. 3 pick by the Utah Jazz in 2005

    Specs: 6'3", PG

    Career Stats: 17.4 points, 8.7 assists, 45.3 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $19.8 million in 2014-15, $21 million in 2015-16, early termination option in 2016-17

    Just a few years ago, the best-point-guard-in-the-league debate only included two names: Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

    Following 2013-14, you'd have a hard time constructing a convincing argument that Williams is even in the top 10 anymore. As is the case with many career downturns, chronic injuries are largely to blame.

    And with a demanding owner like Mikhail Prokhorov at the helm, Williams may need to prove his ankles are sturdy enough to deliver some wins and individual superstar performances if he wants to finish out this contract in Brooklyn.

    Last season, he didn't play quite like the team-leading superstar Prokhorov is shelling out millions to. His averages of 14.3 points and 6.1 assists marked his least productive campaign since 2005-06.

    Looking forward, health is important, but a recent coaching change could help too. Lionel Hollins, who helped develop Mike Conley into a borderline All-Star in Memphis, is now in charge.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    Draft: No. 1 pick by the Chicago Bulls in 2008

    Specs: 6'3", PG

    Career Stats: 20.8 points, 6.8 assists, 46.0 percent from the field and 31.2 percent from three-point range

    Contract: $18.9 million in 2014-15, $20.1 million in 2015-16, $21.3 million in 2016-17

    Anfernee Hardaway. Brandon Roy. Tracy McGrady. Grant Hill The list goes on and on.

    "What could have been" is one of the saddest stories in the NBA, and I think it's safe to say that basketball fans everywhere are hoping Derrick Rose isn't the next chapter.

    Over the last three seasons, Rose has appeared in just 49 regular-season games due to a series of knee injuries. And in his 10 games during the 2013-14 season, he didn't look like the same explosive player who won the MVP in 2011.

    He averaged 15.9 points but shot just 35.4 percent from the field and posted a PER of 9.7.

    A noticeable drop-off in quickness at least partially sapped his efficiency last season. He wasn't able to get by defenders the way he did in the past and therefore struggled to get as many good looks at the rim.

    Whether he can bounce back from that is ultimately up to Rose's knees. Sports medicine continues to rapidly evolve, but there's only so much the body can overcome.

    Early in the Team USA training camp that opened this summer, Rose appeared on his way to doing just that, but ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell (via ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Mike Mazzeo) reported that he's now missing practices due to soreness in his knees. Unfortunately, the issue caused him to sit out Team USA's Wednesday exhibition against the Dominican Republic.

    Hopefully, that's just a precaution or rust, because a full-strength Rose at the height of his powers could go a long way toward making the 2014-15 season for basketball fans everywhere.

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

    Salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com and SheridanHoops.com.

    Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.