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Nov
21
2012

Five Players That Make Bad Teams Bearable

Joe Healy has a few players to enjoy if you find yourself watching bad NBA teams this season.

Not every night can be a banner night in the NBA. For every night that features a doubleheader of Grizzlies/Thunder and Heat/Clippers, there is a night where the only game on is a snoozer between Eastern Conference doormats.

But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can take away from being stuck watching games between these lesser teams. In a lot of cases, these teams have players that are well on their way to being superstars in the league. In other cases, there are players on these teams that are already superstars, but they are overlooked because of where they play.

For me, the following players are the ones I want to watch for if I must watch their respective teams play.

Kyrie Irving- Cleveland Cavaliers

When Irving was drafted first overall by the Cavs a couple of years ago, there were a lot of people down on him. They said that he was simply the best player in a really weak draft class. They said that he was an injury risk given that he had missed most all of his one season at Duke due to injury. And because he had missed so much time in that one season, they said that we really knew nothing about him.

After one season, all of that talk just seems silly. Actually, I will admit that the injury rap might stick as he did miss 15 games last season, but okay, most of that talk seems silly.

Speaking of silly, the numbers he has put up in his young career are just that. He has averaged 19.3 points, 5.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. That assist number might seem a bit low for a point guard, but consider who he is playing with. I don’t think I would pass the ball much if I played on the Cavaliers either. That number is going to go up when the talent around him gets better.

The shooting percentages are what really impress me, though. For his career, he has made 46.9% of his shots from the field, 40.5% from behind the three point line and 86.3% from the free throw line. Those percentages are Steve Nash-esque.

Few and far between are point guards that can set up the offense, distribute the ball, create his own shot and make a shot from anywhere on the floor. The fact that Irving can do all of those things extraordinarily well is what makes him so special.

Anthony Davis – New Orleans Hornets

Anthony Davis is truly a rare breed and I’m not talking about his combination of size, skill and athleticism. I’m also not talking about his fantastic unibrow that has become the stuff of legend.

I’m talking about the fact that he’s a lottery pick that might be even better than advertised. In the sports world we live in where we know about these players when they are in high school, that’s really, really rare.

At Kentucky, Davis showed us a lot. He rebounded the ball really well, protected the rim on the defensive end and looked really impressive finishing off alley-oops. Based on that alone, he was well worth the top overall pick in the draft.

In just a handful of games in the NBA, though, Davis has shown a whole other side to his game. He has shown that he can be the type of player a team runs plays for. I don’t know that I saw UK feed the ball to Davis with his back to the basket one time last season. I’m exaggerating, but you catch my drift. This season, the Hornets gave the ball to Davis in the post with his back to the basket on the first play of the season. And that wasn’t just for show. It was because they honestly want to run the offense through their rookie big man.

We were told that Davis was going to be more Tyson Chandler than Tim Duncan, but he has shown otherwise in his short time in the league. The player we were thinking would be the best defensive big man in the league in pretty short order might end up being much more than that.

Brandon Jennings- Milwaukee Bucks

Following the career of Brandon Jennings has been one wild ride. First, there was his unprecedented decision to forgo playing college basketball. Instead, he went overseas and played one season in Italy. After failing to impress in Italy, many were down on him as he entered the 2009 NBA Draft.

Once in the NBA, he wasted little time in showing what he could do, as he came just a rebound and an assist shy of a triple-double in his debut and he put up 55 points in a game just two weeks into the season. The problem with Jennings, though, is that we haven’t seen a ton of improvement out of him since he came into the league. He does one thing really well and that’s score. Nothing else about his game jumps off the page.

And that’s precisely why he should be so much fun to watch this season.

If Brandon Jennings is going to go from really talented complementary player to star in the league, he is going to have to take another step. From what we have seen in early-season play, he may be breaking through. He field goal percentage is up, as are his assists and steals.

And what timing on his part. Jennings is set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

DeMarcus Cousins- Sacramento Kings

When DeMarcus Cousins is on the court, he makes just about everyone involved nervous. Opposing fans, players and coaches are on edge because the man can really dominate a game. His own fans, teammates and coaches are equally nervous, though, because you never know what Cousins is going to do next.

Right or wrong, Cousins was a player labeled as having maturity issues coming out of Kentucky. He was said to be moody and brooding. Interestingly enough, others wanted to use the fact that he didn’t have a driver’s license as evidence that he was immature.

Then there is the thought that Cousins had a big role in getting then-Kings head coach Paul Westphal fired last season.

Most recently, Cousins was suspended for confronting former NBA player and current broadcaster Sean Elliott at Elliott’s broadcast position after a game.

Even with all of that, you can’t blame the Kings for hitching their wagon to this guy. He is the kind of post player you can build a franchise around if he can put it all together. That’s a big if, but it’s that “if” that makes you want to watch him in action.

DeMar DeRozan- Toronto Raptors

Unlike the other guys on this list, DeRozan isn’t thought of as a possible up-and-coming superstar. For whatever reason, the Raptors have insisted on paying him like one, though.

Just before the deadline to extend the contracts of the players taken in the 2009 draft, the Raptors signed DeRozan to a four-year, $40 million extension.

One thing is clear. When that contract is up, it’s going to either be looked at as a colossal failure or a huge bargain. I can’t see it ending any other way. The wide spectrum of outcomes for his career is why I’m so interested to see him this season.

If DeRozan continues to be the player he has been so far in his career, the Raptors will regret the deal. He’s exclusively a scorer like Jennings, but unlike Jennings, he isn’t a prolific enough scorer to survive in the league on that skill alone.

To his credit, he is showing signs of real improving. So far this season, his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers are up. And it’s not like it’s out of the question that he could still be growing as a player. He is just 21 years old and with his dunk contest-type athleticism, I’m certainly not going to bet against him.

Joseph Healy writes for The Fan Manifesto. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_On_Sports. You can follow the entire Fan Man team here.

 

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