NBA Can-I-Testify Team: 10 Players Rising from the Ashes of Last Season
For most NBA players, the journey is often filled with more ups than downs. This sentiment generally holds true for those who aren’t of the All-Star billing, as their role on a team generally alters over the course of a season.
As each season begins, every player is labeled with certain expectations of what they will bring to a team. Whether those labels be tagged by the players themselves, coaches, front-office members of the club or just good-old over-zealous fans. The success and failure of a player's’ season are often gauged on the pre-conception of what others feel they should have done.
This is a theme that repeats itself year-in and year-out. Thus often creating scenarios where players are perceived as having breakout or down years. More often than not it favors the latter of the two.
And so is the case this 2010-11 NBA season, as so many players are playing at levels that were not forecasted prior to the season beginning.
There are several handfuls of players who are bouncing back from careers that appeared to be headed down a rocky road and others who are becoming staple points on teams where they weren’t perceived to be anything but roster fill-ins.
Only a little over two weeks into the season, it remains to be seen just how well these stories will play out. However, if only just for now, these players need to be recognized for their efforts.
So enjoy the slideshow and feel free to leave a comment.
10. Francisco Garcia
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Francisco Garcia is one of the most versatile reserve wingmen in all the NBA. He has the ability to play positions 1-3 at a starter-like level, yet still he remains an virtual unknown to the general public.
The 23rd overall pick in the 2005 draft is coming off a season in which injuries limited him to only 25 games. That and the emergence of last season rookie stud, Omri Casspi, all but placed Garcia on the back-burner as the team set its site on going younger and longer.
After averaging just eight points last season, Garcia has already had four games of 17 or more points in just 11 games. Not bad for a player seated in a reserve position.
Numbers don’t tell the real story of how important Garcia is to his organization and his teammates. He’s considered to be the team’s leader and was vital in the development of Tyreke Evans and Casspi last season.
He started the season shooting 50 percent or better in five of his first six games. Garcia is also averaging more points than Casspi, who is the starter at the small forward position for the Sacramento Kings.
It remains to be seen if Garcia will regain the position he once held in the Kings organization just two seasons ago. What is evident, however, is Garcia is back to being the player that peaked in 2008-09.
9. Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. was the third overall pick in the 2002 draft. It would take him seven seasons before he would finally live up to his pre-draft expectations.
His seventh season saw him average a career best 19 points per game, six points better than his previous career best of 13 points per game.
However, his happy story was headed for a nightmarish end.
Dunleavy would suffer injuries that would limit him to only 18 games the following season, making it the first time in his career that he would fail to play more than 75 games.
To cope with the stress, the then 28-year-old would turn to alcohol. The results were career-altering.
After averaging 19 and 15 points in his initial two seasons, Dunleavy would see his per game average dip to the second lowest in his career.
His 10 point per game average in the 67 games he played weren’t what the Pacers envisioned when they traded for his $9 million-plus a year deal.
Dunleavy entered the season slotted to play behind second-year swingman Brandon Rush. However, Dunleavy reported to camp in great shape and played well throughout the preseason. That coupled with an injury to Rush vaulted him into the starting lineup.
Dunleavy has bounced back nicely. He’s averaging 15 points thus far this year and most of his numbers are better than his career averages.
He looks to have regained his focus and at the age of 30, he appears poised to take his career down the right path.
8. Darrell Arthur
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Darrell Arthur is a third-year forward for the Memphis Grizzlies. He only played 32 games last season due to a pectoral injury.
The 22-year-old wasn’t expected to do much this season, as he is the backup to All-Star power forward Zach Randolph. However, nagging injuries from the preseason would force Randolph to miss the first five games of the season.
The injuries would trust Arthur into the Grizzlies lineup. Arthur would make the most of his new-found opportunity as a starter.
As a starter, Arthur raised his field goal percentage from the 43 percent of last season to 53 percent as a starter. He raised his point per game totals to 14 points, up from the five points he averaged last season. Though it is only over a five-game stretch, it shows how much growth the young man has made.
Currently Arthur is averaging 10 points in 23 minutes of play and is maintaining a field goal percentage of 52 percent, while also averaging five rebounds per contest.
Arthur appears poised for a stellar season, one in which that may spark a trade in the Memphis organization. Hopefully, the results will be one that yields more playing time for the third-year forward from Kansa University.
7. James Jones
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
James Jones arrived in Miami two seasons ago with the hopes of spreading the floor for Dwyane Wade. He was coming off a season in which he shot 44 percent from deep.
Jones would shoot a respectable 34 percent from deep in his first season, but he would only play in 40 games as he struggled with a nagging wrist injury that required surgery.
The following season he connected on 41 percent from deep, but again had his season shortened substantially because of his wrist injury.
The result would lead to the Miami Heat releasing him this offseason as they looked for a more dependable outside shooter. However, with the team capped out and in need of quality players, the Heat would bring Jones back.
Luckily for the Heat they did, as Jones is shooting a career best 46 percent from the field, up four percentage points from his previous career best. He’s also shooting a career best of 47 percent from long-range, up three percentage points from his previous career best.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Mike Miller returns from his injury in mid-January. If James Jones is still averaging three three-point field goals per game, it’ll be hard justifying sitting him down.
6. Marco Belinelli
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Marco Bellinelli is a player that very few NBA fans are probably aware of. He was drafted three seasons ago by the Golden State Warriors with the 18th overall pick in the 2007 draft.
He was drafted with the thought that he would one day start alongside Monta Ellis. However, after two injury-plagued seasons in his first two years prevented him from ever developing into the player the Warriors had hoped.
He would be traded to the Toronto Raptors last season after showing promise the previous season were he averaged nine points on 44 percent shooting from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range.
The Raptors had hoped that Bellinelli would win the starting shooting guard spot and provide them with another dynamic scorer to pair with Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu. That would never happen however as Bellinelli was beaten out by then-rookie DeMar DeRozan.
Bellinelli would play in 66 games for the Raptors with one start. His numbers also fell off from the year prior, as he would shoot 41 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep. The Raptors were not pleased with his efforts and traded him to the New Orleans Hornets.
Expected to sit behind Marcus Thornton who had an unbelievable rookie season, Bellinelli did the unexpected and wrestled the job from the sophomore super-sub of a year ago. Now Bellinelli is having a career year for the New Orleans Hornets.
His per game numbers are improved in every statistical category not named steals and assists. He is one of the biggest reasons the Hornets are currently 10-1 on their season. This poor man’s version of Manu Ginobili appears as if he’s just going to continue to improve as the year goes on.
His 13 point per game average on 48 percent shooting and 43 percent from deep in only 28 minutes per game is reason enough to applaud his effort and hope that he continues to shine this season.
5. Sonny Weems
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Clearance "Sonny” Weems is a former Chicago Bulls draft pick of the 2008 draft class. He was traded to the Denver Nuggets who then traded him to the Toronto Raptors.
Based on his current production rate, the former second-rounder is proving why it’s probably better to be patient than presume what a player will be.
Weems struggled finding his way as a rookie, but was mostly buried behind Carmelo Anthony and current teammate Linas Kleiza. Last season he struggled to solidify a more prominent role with the Raptors even though he clearly displayed that he was easily a top-five player on their team.
This season he hasn’t had that problem.
Weems came off the bench for the first seven games of his season, he’s since started five consecutive games.
After averaging just seven points per game last season, Weems is currently averaging 14 points on the season. The total is good for second on the team. He’s also shot 50 percent or better in 10 of his 12 games.
Weems appears to have wrestled the starting small forward position away from Kleiza and made it his own. He also appears poised to make a serious play for most improved player.
4. Daniel Gibson
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Daniel Gibson may appear to have been around for ages, he hasn’t though. Such is often the case for any player that has the fortunes of being a rookie contributor on a team that makes it all the way to the NBA Finals.
In reality, the former second-rounder is only in his fifth season and is just 24 years old.
After having a promising showing in his rookie season, especially the playoffs, Gibson was viewed as the future at the point position for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He didn’t disappoint even though he didn’t become the full-time starter. He upped his rookie average of five points per game to 10 per game in his sophomore season. He also shot a blistering 44 percent from three-point range.
The following two seasons wouldn’t bode well for Gibson, though, the Cavaliers brought in All-Star Mo Williams to man the position. Gibson would struggle with his role and finding quality minutes due to injuries and a stacked roster.
Last season, his point per game average dipped to for the second consecutive season. This season he’s raised his six-point per game average of last season to 14 points per game. He’s also averaging a career-best four assist per game. He’s doing all this while playing less than 30 minutes per game and playing as a reserve player.
It’s unclear if he can maintain his current pace for an entire 82 games, but it’s clear that Gibson is finally making the most of his abilities.
3. Elton Brand
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The 31-year-old Elton Brand was written off as a poster child for bad NBA contracts. After playing only eight games in 2007-08 with the Clippers, Brand signed a five-year deal with the 76ers.
The deal was set to pay Brand more than $15 million per season. The past two seasons Brand has averaged less than 14 points and shot below 50 percent from the floor, so it’s safe to say he hasn’t lived up to his contract.
Well, this season Brand appears to have regained his confidence and some of his dominance. He’s averaging 16 points per game and shooting 51 percent from the floor. He’s also rebounding again, grabbing eight per game. He’s also averaging two steals per game and a block.
Don’t be surprised if you see Orlando Magic packaging a group of players for the former All-Star power forward.
2. Richard Jefferson
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
After last season, many wondered if Richard Jefferson was on the down-end of a very respectable career. He averaged the fewest points of his career since his rookie season. Keep in mind he was only 29 years old last season.
His 12 points per game average weren’t what the Spurs were hoping for when they made the move to bring him to San Antonio. He was expected to be a top-three scorer on the team but finished as the teams fifth-leading scorer, behind second-year guard George Hill.
His defense also faltered. It appeared to many that he had allowed his offensive short-comings to effect his other obligations on the court.
After the season, the Spurs flirted with the idea of going elsewhere. Luckily for them, they chose not to.
Jefferson is currently averaging more points than legendary center Tim Duncan. He’s also shooting 53 percent from the filed, also better than that of Duncan.
It appears that Jefferson has found a home to finish out his career, only time will prove if that is indeed the case.
1. Michael Beasley
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
For the past two seasons Michael Beasley has been the most criticized young player in all the NBA. Very few have had kind words to express towards Beasley.
Being the second overall selection in the 2008 draft, the bar was set high for Beasley. And in many peoples' eyes, he failed to live up to his lofty expectations.
Beasley averaged 14 and 15 points in his first two seasons, both of which were good for second on a team that made the playoff. But that meant little to the Miami Heat organization, and so they would trade him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for two second-rounders.
This season, Beasley is averaging nearly 23 points in less than 33 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 49 percent from the field and 48 percent from deep. He’s also adding six rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block per game.
Beasley is currently on a six-game tear in which he’s scored 25 or more points. He’s also scored 15 or more in all but two of his game, one in which he left due to an injury.
He’s become a leader on and off the court for the 'Wolves. He’s also looking like a lock for an All-Star selection this season.
Here’s to hoping the fans make it happen.