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Seven players who need to answer doubters, have big years

Oct 24, 2012, 6:37 PM EDT

John Wall AP

It’s time gentlemen.

Step up or be swept to the side.

There are a lot of players in the NBA who need to answer questions we have about them, but maybe none more than the seven below. These are players who either need to show how good they are to get paid next summer; or they just got the big payday and now need to prove they can live up to it.

These are guys who need to answer the doubters and prove their worth. Seven guys with a lot on the line this season.

1) John Wall (Washington Wizards): When the Wizards drafted Wall No. 1 overall they thought they were getting a franchise anchor, a guy you can build a contender around. But it hasn’t been that way — he was solid as a rookie and good in his sophomore campaign — he scored 16.3 points per game and added 8 assists per contest — but his game hasn’t developed like it needed to. The big issue is he has no jump shot you have to respect— he took 4.4 shots a game from 16 feet out to the arc last season and hit 29 percent of them. He’s not a real threat from three. You go under the pick on him.

Next summer Wall can get an extension to his rookie contract and the Wizards will have to decide what to do.

Wall is going to miss the first month of the season (until around Thanksgiving) due to a stress fracture in his patella. That will give the Wizards pause come next summer. When Wall does return he needs to show he can both play fast and under control, show he has a jump shot opponents have to respect, and show that he can lead. The time for excuses is over — the Wizards have cleaned up the locker room culture and brought in veteran professionals like Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. It’s on Wall now to show what he can do.

2) Al Jefferson (Utah Jazz): How much would you pay to have Al Jefferson to be your center? That’s the question before NBA GMs next summer when Jefferson becomes a free agent — how he plays this season will impact how many zeroes are on future checks. And likely where he plays. Jefferson is solid offensively — you get him the ball on the block and he’s going to score about two thirds of the time, plus he shot 40 percent outside 10 feet last season so you have to respect the shot. He’s not going to draw fouls. He can defend the post pretty well but get him out in the pick-and-roll and he gets destroyed. If he improves that P&R defense his value goes up, and he is just 27. There’s a lot to like and he’s going to get paid. The question is how much? And by whom? Is Utah really going to spend on him?

3) O.J. Mayo (Dallas Mavericks): In Memphis, Mayo could never find a fit with the Grizzlies’ big front line and Rudy Gay. They tried him as a starter, sixth man, lots of roles but nothing clicked. Memphis actually let Mayo walk without getting anything for him (which was a mistake). Mayo’s agent’s phone was not ringing all that often, so Mayo took a contract with a Dallas Mavericks team that needs scoring. Mayo is going to get the chance to work off the ball and show he can catch-and-shoot when Darren Collison has the rock. He’s going to get to run some pick and rolls with Dirk Nowitizki. If he proves he can score and fit in then Mayo can turn down the $4.2 million option he has with Dallas next season and get a bigger payday. But he’s going to have to prove he deserves it.

4) Brook Lopez (Brooklyn Nets): Brook Lopez, max contract. In a summer where a few contracts had you shaking your head, this one was one of the biggies. The Nets got out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes to keep Lopez and max him out. And on offense he’s worth it — Lopez is a gifted scorer who averaged 20.4 points a game two seasons ago. But he lost last season to a case of mono then a foot injury. But the bigger issue is he is not a good rebounder or defender at all. Fellow front line guy Kris Humphries can cover his rebounding woes, but the Nets need him to be a force in the paint on defense to make any real waves this season. Lopez got the max deal, now can he just make the Nets and their fans not regret it.

5) Eric Gordon (New Orleans Hornets): Here’s a guy who has to redeem himself more to his own fan base than anybody else. All New Orleans fans have heard is how he is arguably the best young two guard in the game and how he and Anthony Davis can form the foundation of a contender down the line.

All they’ve seen is a guy injured all but nine games of last season and then all of this preseason. They’ve seen a guy who signed a max offer sheet from Phoenix last summer then publically begged the Hornets not to it. They did anyway. Gordon needs to get on the court and win over the New Orleans fans, because so far he has not come close to living up to the hype since he went East in the Chris Paul trade.

6) Jeff Green (Boston Celtics): It is great to see Jeff Green back on the court. After missing a year due to heart surgery, I think everyone around the league is all happy to see him back and playing again. That doesn’t mean any of us understand the four-year, $36 million contract the Celtics gave him this summer. That was a huge commitment to a guy who didn’t merit it from his play in Oklahoma City (where his numbers were average and his defense unimpressive). For a guy coming off heart surgery.

But Boston is using Green more at the three (he was an undersized four a lot for OKC) and they are going with smaller lineups. In the preseason it seems to have worked — Green has been very impressive and able to show off his athleticism. But that’s the preseason, where you play against makeshift lineups and usually not the other team’s top talent. Green needs to have big a big year and earn a salary nearly double the average NBA player if Boston is going to be a top three seed in the East and threat to Miami. Green will be key for them this season. And the three after that.

7) Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings): There are not enough Jägermeister shots in all of Sacramento to get GM Geoff Petrie drunk enough to offer Evans a contract extension in the next week — Evans is going to be a restricted free agent next summer. And how he plays this season will determine how much he gets paid and where he plays next year.

Evans was a rookie of the year averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, but his game stalled after that. Part of that was injuries, but a bigger part was him never developing a reliable jump shot. As a rookie he slashed to the rim with the best of them, but as his jump shot weakness was game planned for his driving angles disappeared and so did his efficiency. This season Evans must show he can work off the ball, that he has a jump shot and that his game is more than just being a slasher from the wing. Do that and he gets paid (maybe by the Kings, who would still like to pair him with DeMarcus Cousins). Do that and he can start to become the guy we all thought he would be after his rookie season. Don’t and he will not like his options next summer.

  1. evanem19 - Oct 24, 2012 at 7:36 PM

    What about Nic Batum? He just signed a huge deal and it has yet to be seen if he is close to being worth ANY of that money. If he doesnt show signs by the All Star break, Rip City will turn on him.

  2. succulentnipples - Oct 24, 2012 at 8:44 PM


  3. numba1recx19 - Oct 24, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    Rodney Stuckey? This guy has been great and good. This is his year too people.

    • somekat - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      Stuckey was never “great”. He may have been great compared to what you expected from him, but even when he was getting all the press, he was just a good player. He fell off last year, probably to about where people expected him to be. I’m not saying he won’t develope in to a better player, but he’s never been a top 5 player at his position. If you aren’t a top 3, you can’t call a guy “great”

  4. kdn4 - Oct 24, 2012 at 9:46 PM

    Thing about Jeff Green in Seattle/OKC was that he played power forward for most of his minutes. The game hadn’t evolved completely to the small ball lineup yet. So Green was forced to guard the Gasols, Randolphs, KGs, et al. It’s not fair that his defensive numbers are skewed because of this. He’s giving up a few inches and 50 or 60+ pounds to these guys.

    • passerby23 - Oct 25, 2012 at 12:20 AM

      I’ve commented on here many times about how every Jeff Green article written by Kurt Helin includes a slight about how the Celtics overpaid for him. Here’s what annoys me about that:

      a) That was his asking price. Are you going to let him walk for nothing? Have the Perkins trade amount to nothing? You have to give him what others are going to pay him or YOU get nothing.

      b) The kid is still young and developing and a chance to get better. And you have to imagine he’ll only get better playing with that group where they don’t tolerate softness. The Celtics championship window is 1 or 2 years. They desperately need a scorer and athleticism to spell Pierce. So, I ask again, are you going to let that guy walk and quibble about overpaying him?

      c) Your point about him being wrongly used in OKC is a valid one. Ok, but he’s not quick enough to guard 3’s, you say? First of all, we don’t really know that yet. Second of all, he’s looked good so far.

      d) With small ball lineups being so prevalent now, Green might actually be a solid 4 at times going against other tweeners.

      Bottom line is we’ll see if he delivers, but the Celtics paid him what they should have.

    • somekat - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:16 AM

      No different than Thad Young in Philly, who has looked MUCH better at every point of his career (Green missing last year not withstanding)

      I don’t think the money in Green’s deal is as big of a deal as the length. He may of got a 9 mil offer somewhere else, but it would of been a 1 year deal with an option for a 2nd or something like that. No way would it been 4 years

  5. reality1989 - Oct 24, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    I’m sorry but it drives me CRAZY when folks criticize Brooklyn for giving Brook Lopez a max deal. Portland & Charlotte were wating in the wings to offer max deals. So what do you want? Lowball Lopez and risk letting him walk and have no center at all??!! I mean c’mon!! He’s only 24 years old and already can put up 20 ppgs and tremendous upside. Talented 7 footers don’t grow on trees.

    • somekat - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:23 AM

      But you have to look at it long term. Do you want to be a good team, or a real contender? Can you be with Lopez? I don’t think so, you need a strong defender and shot changer in the middle to win the title unless you are stacked otherwise like Miami. But you can’t be stacked otherwise…AND give a max contract to your center. Letting him walk would of been horrible short term, but who knows long term? Will Bynum and Howard of both re-sign? If they do, would they of if they knew Brooklyn was there and could offere a max?
      They are all hypotheticals, but from the outside, it just seems like they settled. I don’t think the question should be “should they of given Lopez a max”, because they had to if they wanted to keep him (like you said). The question should be “Could they keep Williams if they let Lopez walk?”. If they couldn’t have, it makes sense. You don’t want to completely blow up the team you just built, while moving to a new city. But if they could have, Lopez is not the type of player that makes the difference between a ring and none, so a max contract makes no sense to me. Long term, they’d of been better off saving that cap space, and trying to add another star to run with D-Will. Personally, I don’t think Lopez, or Joe Johnson fit the bill

      • reality1989 - Oct 25, 2012 at 12:44 PM

        I honestly think King did a tremendous job putting a competitive team on the floor, given the circumstances. I mean what game changers where really available? There are a million teams throughout the games history that at first glance critics felt had no shot, and were proven wrong. Brooklyn did not have the luxury of “let’s wait and see.” At the end of the day they have to put people in those seats come Nov. 1. If this was Oklahoma or Sacramento they could be patient even when opening a new venue. NOT in New York,where rebuild is a curse word. A couple of second round exits will put their feet on the ground and help to solidify their place within the tri state area. Penny pinching would have lost Williams and disaster was sure to ensue with the worst being having to open the Barclay’s Center with an expansion team. We have to let the season play out before you can say these were the wrong moves. It is all about progress. Also Roy Hibbert was considered just as soft as Lopez is considered. Then the kid strings together a few productive games, now all of a sudden he’s the future of bigs (though I don’t agree), my point being don’t write off Lopez after just 3 years as if he’s some 13 year journey man. He has a good 4-5 years till he even reaches his prime! Why not take a shot ? We all like to play GM in our heads but Billy King is the GM. And we may or may not agree with his decisions on personnel ,but whose to say what we would do would pan out? We don’t have crystal balls so we don’t know if these were the wrong moves as of yet.

  6. tcclark - Oct 24, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    Evan Turner?

    • somekat - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:27 AM

      Add to the obvious stuff the fact that he is switching positions to play the 3 primarily this year, and he may be a bigger question than anyone on here. But considering the position, and play time changes, he should have a bigger chance to up his game than anyone one the list.

      Plus he’s not a FA after this year, so it’s not like he’s up for a payday.

      If I was going to add a sixer, I’d say Holiday (unless he re-up’s this week), since he will be a RFA after the season, and reportedly wants a max deal (which I don’t think he’s proven he’s worth). As a sixers fan, I love his upside, and would hate to let him walk still being only 22 years old, but as a sixers fan, I also know how much giving a good player who isn’t a max deal player, a max deal, can cripple the franchise.

  7. tcclark - Oct 25, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    Al Jefferson’s one of the top 5 centers in the NBA. The guy gets no respect because he’s played in Minnesota and Utah for the majority of his career. He’ll get a max deal somewhere. If Brook Lopez can so will Al Jefferson. He doesn’t really have to do much. He’s been doing pretty much the same stuff his entire career. He’s gonna give you about 20 points 10 boards and 2 blocks a game. What does he have to prove?

    • passerby23 - Oct 25, 2012 at 12:23 AM

      His defense is not going to improve substantially after 9 years in the league. He is what he is. He’s big, strong, can score and rebound. That’s what you get. What might benefit him more than anything is WHO signs him. I think he’d look pretty good in New Orleans next to Anthony Davis swatting shots.

    • albertmn - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:11 AM

      Overall Defense? Draw a few more fouls?

      I don’t get the “no respect” due to a small market thing. While a lot of fans may not know about him (or others in small markets), all of the teams know about everybody, and it don’t affect his deal. I think he deserves slightly under max, but won’t be surprised if some team throws money at him. The GMs and owners can’t help themselves. That’s why they needed the lockout last year.

      • tcclark - Oct 25, 2012 at 4:18 PM

        It’s not so much being in a small market, it’s playing for losing teams. I know Utah is good, but they get lost in the loaded Western Conference. He wasn’t much of a household name even when he was in Boston and he averaged 16 and 10 because they weren’t very good. It was the same thing with Tyson Chandler. People thought he was pretty good, but because he played for a crappy Chicago team, New Orleans, and Charlotte, no one really thought of him as a great center. It wasn’t until he played for Dallas and they won a championship that people began to give him respect. I think it was Kurt who wrote an article wondering how Dallas couldn’t get anything better than Tyson Chandler for Erik Dampier’s non-guaranteed contract. Than he wins a championship and people are going crazy trying to sign him. Players on winning teams look a lot better than players on losing teams. The truth is, Al Jefferson has been consistently good at his position throughout his career, but gets no credit because he teams are never that good.

    • somekat - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:33 AM

      I think he’d be in a competition with Chandler, Bogut, Bargnani, and a few other guys for the 4-9 spots. That’s not saying much, as the the C spot has obviously taken a hit the last 10 years or so. But 1-2 are clearly Howard/Bynum, and 3 is clearly (IMO), M.Gasol.

      I think you can look at my Lopez comment above, I think a lot of it also it true with regards to Jefferon

      • tcclark - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:01 PM

        I’ll give you Chandler. I think they’re really tight though because i think Jefferson’s offense is about as good as Chandler’s Defense and Jefferson’s defense is about as good as Chandler’s offense. I think Bogut has worked hard to improve, especially on defense, but considering he can’t stay healthy and is often inconsistent I think it’s unfair to place him in the same category with a consistent, healthy big man like Jefferson. He’s also much better than Bargnani. He scores more than Bargnani does and Bargnani is only good at scoring. His career high in rebounds is 6 and only averaged a half a block per game last year despite truly being 7 feet tall.

        I also have to disagree with Marc Gasol. He’s been really good the past couple of years and he does so many little things on the court that don’t show up in the box score, but Al Jefferson is a player who’s averaged 20+ points, 10+ rebounds and almost 2 blocks a game multiple times in a season, all while shooting 50% from the field. He was 2nd in scoring for NBA centers last season, 8th in rebounds, 8th in blocks, 11th in field goal percentage, and 1st in turnovers among players that played at least 25 minutes per game. He also had an assist to turnover ration over 2 which is higher than any other center. And that all happened in a relatively down year for him. He hasn’t gotten to the line as much since joining Utah, but he was still 12th among centers in Free Throws made and was second in percentage shooting 77% from the stripe. Gasol has been very good, but statistically hasn’t been as good as Jefferson. Even when looking at advanced statistics Jefferson looks to be ahead. Jefferson had a PER 4 points higher than Gasol last season, had higher rebounding percentages across the board, had a turnover percentage at 5.2 compared to Gasol’s 12.1, and had higher offensive ratings. Gasol had a higher TS%, as well as a higher assist percentage. His defense is clearly better with a higher defensive rating. Gasol gets a lot of respect in the NBA because of his brother and because he’s playing for the new up and coming team. He’s been good, but Jefferson has been playing at a higher level for much longer and has done it consistently. the numbers show it, but media outlets don’t

    • borderline1988 - Oct 25, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      Jefferson doesn’t play any defense whatsoever, and is not a very good passer. So when teams plan around him and double team him, he’s just not that good.

      To me, real stars are ones who are good enough to be effective no matter what the other team plans. I don’t like Kobe, but even when you shut him down, he still can rebound, play good defense, and hit tough shots in the 4th. He’s still a difference maker all over the court. Same with Lebron. Iverson was the epitome of that..everyone knew the Sixers had nothing besides Iverson, but Iverson was still able to make plays, b/c he was that good.

      Jefferson can be shut down by good defensive teams. He’s a great one on one post threat, but otherwise, not that good.
      You’re right that he may still be worth max money (based on what other big men are getting), but he’s not a franchise player in the slightest.

      • tcclark - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:14 PM

        Well that’s just not true. A guy who averages almost 2 blocks a game and has the same defensive rating as “defensive specialist” Kendrick Perkins plays pretty good D. He also averaged 2.2 assists a game which is about the same as Greg Monroe who’s considered by many as a great passer.

        If he could be shut down so easily he would not be as consistent as he is. He was the only option for a while in Minnesota and put up big numbers (22+, 11+ kind of numbers) He’s dones the same stuff for the past 6 years and hasn’t really seen much of a drop in production. He consistently has high PERs (4 seasons over 20 and one at 19 in the past 5 years) and manages to shoot around 50% every season. Guys who can be shut down would be shut down by now.

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