Biggest Disappointments of the season
Rookie/soph top 20 ranking.
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hink way back -- say, four days ago -- and think about what a colossal underachiever Vince Carter was. A perennial disappointment, Carter was killing the Magic with his jumper-settling ways, and making them long for the halcyon days of Hedo Turkoglu
My, how things have changed. Carter ground out a solid 20-point effort Sunday in the Magic's nationally televised win in Boston, and then blew up the next night for a retro-looking 48-point performance in a win over New Orleans. In four February games, he's averaging 26.5 points on 52.8 percent shooting. Suddenly, he seems like the key to the Magic's hopes of making another run to the NBA Finals.
At the very least, he's played his way out of an infamous group -- the league's top disappointments in 2009-10. Had I made this list a week ago, Carter would have been the headliner. Now, he gets the headline for a very different reason. He's been so spectacular the past week that it overrides the four months of subpar play that preceded it.
Carter isn't alone on that list. The Philadelphia 76ers, for instance, may very well go down as one of the league's top disappointments when all is said and done. But their five-game winning streak, combined with the renewed vigor of Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert in the frontcourt, gives them a temporary reprieve from inclusion in this motley crew.
Alas, others have not been so fortunate. In fact, at this point, a couple of these players would have trouble playing their way off the list even with a Carter-esque revival. Let's take a look, then, at the company Carter was keeping until as recently as a week ago -- one man's All-Disappointment team for the first half of the 2009-10 season. As an added benefit, most of these players are in the throes of trade talks. As I mentioned above, Carter no longer leads this list. But another former Net does:
Richard Jefferson, Spurs
I generally like surprising you folks with my lists, but this particularly entry is rapidly treading toward dead-horse territory. In a season in which virtually every small forward who changed teams in the offseason has proven disappointing (Carter, Turkoglu and Trevor Ariza, to name a few), Jefferson has outshone them as one of the offseason's biggest busts.
For starters, his defense has slipped quite a bit from his days in New Jersey. In recent loses to both Portland and the Lakers, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich could be seen showing his frustration after Jefferson blew a rotation on an open 3-point shooter.
San Antonio might be able to live with that if Jefferson could contribute more offensively. He averaged 21.9 points per 40 minutes in Milwaukee last season but is limping along at just 15.6 for the Spurs, with only a slight increase in shooting percentage. In fact, the Spurs have to be particularly disappointed that his 3-point percentage has dipped from 39.7 last season to 34.9. With all the attention Tim Duncan gets, that was one area in which he figured to thrive. And with a $14.2 million cap number and another year left on his deal, his contract has become a huge millstone around the Spurs' necks.
He's at least helped in one respect: Jefferson remains one of the game's most effective minute sponges, playing 49 of 50 games for a creaky San Antonio squad and averaging 31.2 minutes a night. That can't be overstated on a squad for which Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan have spent the season battling assorted ailments. Unfortunately, he just hasn't been anywhere near as productive as the Spurs need him to be to contend.
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The Wizards, individually and collectively
Good golly, what a mess. The Gilbert Arenas fiasco is merely one element, as this season was headed off the rails long before he and Javaris Crittenton engaged in their gun hijinks.
The key number here is 49.4 percent. That's the percentage of Wizards baskets with an assist this season, and it ranks 29th in the league, ahead of only Memphis. The Grizzlies are a good offensive team that happens to run a lot of isolation plays for their best scorers. The Wizards, on the other hand, are just selfish. Too many players -- most notably Arenas, Caron Butler and Nick Young -- have broken the offense to seek their own shots, and as a result, the talented team ranks 22nd in Offensive Efficiency.
But the problems are deeper. Washington's young players are clueless, DeShawn Stevenson and Fabricio Oberto have been several leagues south of worthless, and Randy Foye and Mike Miller have failed to deliver the expected impact when Washington traded for them this offseason. Coach Flip Saunders, who previously worked with harmonious, ball-sharing squads in Minnesota and Detroit, has spent most of the season with various looks of disgust on his face. You half-expect him to come out for a game with "all alone" written on his shoes.
And I already covered this in a column last week, so I won't belabor the point now. But for posterity's sake, any list of disappointments pretty much has to include a team that's 4-47.
The Bobcats are flying high thanks to superior seasons from three perimeter players (Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson) and, as I mentioned Tuesday, the outsized contributions of Nazr Mohammed. As for their projected starting frontcourt of Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw … er, not so much.
Diaw was lights-out after a midseason trade from Phoenix last season. But this season, he's gone back to the soft, passive, out-of-shape Boris who left Suns fans so vexed. He has lost four points off of his per-40-minute scoring rate, shot just 32.5 percent on 3s after nailing 41.9 percent post-trade last season, and slumped to a measly 10.85 player efficiency rating.
However, that is actually better than Chandler, who has made Oklahoma City's doctors look like geniuses by missing half the season with foot and ankle problems. When he's played, his turnover rate has been this-must-be-a-typo bad. But it's no mistake -- 26.5 percent of the possessions he uses have ended in a turnover, leading the league by a wide margin and taking his PER down to a ghastly 9.78.
I'm wondering if Diaw is patient zero in some kind of contagious frontcourt infection. Not only has Chandler's play fallen off, look what happened to Vladimir Radmanovic. Traded to Golden State early in the season, Radmanovic has been brutally awful despite relocating to what's seemingly a friendly environment for his game. V-Rad's normally feathery touch has deserted him. Making only 27.8 percent of his 3s and sporting a miserable 44.9 true shooting percentage, he has fallen out of the rotation for a 13-37 team.
Daequan Cook, Heat
Seriously, what happened to this guy? He won the 3-point contest as a 21-year-old and seemed well on his way to becoming a valuable role player with his long-range shooting and decent athleticism. Just a season later, his invitation to the 3-point contest as defending champ is about the only thing reminding people he's still alive. He's shooting 29.3 percent this season. Yes, 29.3 percent. That's not his mark on 3s, that's overall.
It gets worse. Cook is making just 30.2 percent on his 3-pointers, has earned 17 free throw attempts the entire season and averages just two assists per 40 minutes. Perhaps we should have seen one red flag: He was the league's worst 2-point shooter last season and has redoubled his efforts this time around. Nonetheless, for such a young player to take such a major step backward is shocking.
Mike Bibby, Hawks
Want a little secret? Here's how Boston lost to the Hawks in Atlanta almost two weeks ago: They attacked Bibby right away on defense and got him in foul trouble, limiting to a mere nine minutes. Bad idea. As a result, Jamal Crawford checked in to the game early in both halves and played 39 minutes, savaging the Celtics with 28 points and six assists in a 100-91 Hawks win.
Bibby's acquisition two seasons ago was important for Atlanta in terms of both getting a more vocal locker-room voice (Joe Johnson, as one of his former employers noted to me, "would be perfectly fine not talking for three or four days if it weren't for other people") and getting a steadier game manager at the point.
That said, he has really slipped this season at both ends. Offensively, he's lost more than four points off his 40-minute scoring rate while his field goal and free throw percentages have fallen. He still can't be left open -- he's shooting 38.3 percent from 3 -- but those attempts now comprise half his shots, as he's no longer a threat to drive the lane. Defensively, the backflips the Hawks do to try to hide him have been increasingly tortured and more easily picked apart. At this point, he's a stretch as a starter on a top-four playoff team, but as the only true point guard on Atlanta's roster, he's locked into that role for the foreseeable future.
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Earl Clark, Suns
He's a lottery pick, he played three seasons in college and he plays for a team with a limited bench. Yet, he still can't get on the floor. Ladies and gentleman, I bring you Earl Clark, the early leader in the race of the biggest draft bust of 2009. Clark sports a PER of 6.99 on 37.1 percent shooting in 36 appearances, and increasingly seems to be falling out of favor, playing a total of seven minutes in Phoenix's past three games.
This is a particularly sensitive topic for Suns fans since the draft has been their bugaboo in recent seasons; the Suns have sold picks that became Rudy Fernandez, Nate Robinson and Rajon Rondo while keeping the likes of Alando Tucker, Robin Lopez and Clark. It's the major reason they haven't been able to keep pace with the other elite teams in the West in recent seasons.
Brandon Bass, Magic
You can point to a lot of different suspects in Orlando. Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis all have had their difficulties. But at least they play. Bass signed a four-year, $16 million deal and hasn't been able to get on the court for the Magic, even though his numbers have been pretty decent.
I don't think it's a big secret why -- his defense hasn't been nearly up to snuff on a Magic squad that prides itself on stopping opponents. Every time he gets an opportunity to prove himself he blows a defensive assignment and winds up in Stan Van Gundy's doghouse. Monday night provided a typical show: Bass played a prominent role in the Hornets' 70-point first-half dissection of Orlando and didn't play after the break. For the season, Orlando surrenders 6.7 points more per 100 possessions with him on the court. Orlando might want to throw this Bass back in the water. He seems to fare better as an undersized 5 than as a backup 4.
Brandon Rush, Pacers
It's been a bad year for Brandons apparently (excluding Mr. Jennings in Milwaukee), as an expected second-year breakout from Rush was one reason the Pacers held high hopes entering the season. He played quite well in March and April last season as a rookie, but he's regressed dramatically this season and sports a PER of just 9.54 and is shooting 41.5 percent with terrible supporting numbers. Subjectively, his soft play has left the Pacers exasperated.
Normally, playing that badly would get a player benched. However, Rush leads the team in minutes because Indiana has had so many injuries to its wing players. That, of course, only worsens the damage his disappointing season has done, and while other factors have been important (injuries to Jeff Foster and Danny Granger, T.J. Ford's perplexing tailspin and some bizarre offseason decisions in free agency), Rush's lack of output explains a big chunk of the reason the Pacers languish near the bottom of the East.
James Posey, Hornets
The worst free-agent signing of the 2008 offseason continues to lose value, as evidenced by Carter's 48 points Monday. Posey looks out of shape and unable to contend on defense with elite wing players, and his offensive output -- never a strength even in his prime -- has slumped to a meager 10.3 points per 40 minutes on 38.0 percent shooting. Two-thirds of his shots are 3-pointers but he converts only 34.1 percent, limiting his effectiveness even in his designated role as a floor-spacer. Moreover, he's just not the defensive tiger he was in Boston and Miami, and that's made playing him increasingly untenable.
Current and former Pistons not named Chauncey
Seriously, is any of these guys having a good season? Rasheed Wallace went to Boston and has been a disaster, lobbing up 3s like he's Antoine Walker and puzzling observers with his halfhearted efforts at both ends. For all of Boston's bluster about winning 70 games after Wallace's addition, he could end up being a big reason they fall short of 50.
That makes him a huge disappointment, to be sure, but is he a bigger one than Tayshaun Prince, who suddenly can't stay healthy after not missing a game for the better part of a decade … or Charlie Villanueva, who signed a $40 million free-agent deal but can't even stay on the court because of his defensive shortcomings … or Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell, both of whom are making midlevel money but providing little in return? That's to say nothing of Richard Hamilton or Carlos Delfino, neither of whom is exactly setting the world aflame. Or Darko Milicic, who is having a bad season even by his minimal standards. I hate to pile on here, so let's just call it a bad season for the entire Pistons diaspora save Billups and move on.
J.R. Smith, Nuggets
A phenomenal talent who has been a phenomenal mess this season, Smith found his name in the rumor mill after a particularly selfish stretch left him with the league's worst pure point rating among guards. For a guy who is often asked to run the pick-and-roll to initiate the offense when Chauncey Billups is out of the game, that's a truly disturbing figure.
Smith's shooting has gone south: His normally sweet 3-point stroke is down to 33.3 percent, and his normally stellar true shooting percentage is now a meager 50.7. While he tends to bounce back in the second half of seasons, he has usually heated up by now. This season, not so much: In January, he was worse than ever, shooting just 38.8 percent. The Nuggets were hoping he would be one of the catalysts to their winning the Western Conference. Thus far, he's been more of an impediment.
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When you look at the rosters of the two teams in the Rookie Challenge, there is a noticeable difference: The rookie class is dominated by guards, while the sophomore class features a lot of talented big men.
However, when we combine these two classes, something else jumps out: The stark difference in talent level between the rooks and sophs. It's not a huge surprise since people talked about how talented the 2008 class was and how shallow the 2009 class was prior to each draft.
But take a look at this list and you'll get a better idea. I'm ranking the top rookies and sophs together, based on the value I see in them now and going forward. Here's my top 20:
1. Brook Lopez, Nets
It's almost ironic that the top prize from these past two classes is a starter on possibly the worst team in NBA history. But that's how rare and valuable a franchise center is. Don't let the Nets' record fool you; Lopez is good enough to push a lot of teams into title contention.
Lopez does almost everything well on both sides of the court and has handled the mess in Jersey as well as can be expected. And there is still a lot of room for growth in his game. Over the next few seasons, I see him becoming a special player.
2. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Now that he's healthy again, we are reminded of what sets him apart from most other point guards. In terms of explosiveness and power, he's the LeBron James of his position. He has a great vibe about him, too -- he's happy to dominate the game but just as happy to watch a teammate take over.
As Rose's court vision and jump shot improve, he'll only grow as a weapon for the Bulls. As it stands now, he's already an All-Star who can propel a team into the playoffs.
3. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Gasol probably has less All-Star potential than some of the players listed below him, but no one doubts he can anchor a strong team. His skill set allows a coach to run any number of offensive sets because Gasol can be plugged into so many spots with varied roles.
He's an excellent midrange shooter and a great finisher inside, and he'll be more athletic in the next few years as he learns to utilize his leaner body. On defense, he's a decent shot-blocker who also has an uncanny ability to rack up steals. Teams can spend years waiting to find a talent like Gasol at center.
4. Kevin Love, Timberwolves
One way I like to categorize players is by asking, "Do teammates like to play with him?" For Love, I believe everyone in the league would say yes.
His outlet passes are legendary, so sprinters love when he gets a rebound or takes the ball out after they give up a bucket. He's a great and willing screener, so scorers love using him to get free. And he's added a 3-point shot to his game, so now he helps his teammates by spreading the floor. Not to mention, he's a rebounding machine who can score 20 points in a game when necessary.
5. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
He can't shoot. And he's not a great finisher at the rim, either. But Westbrook still impacts and controls the game on a few levels and has proven to be a key factor in the Thunder's surge. Scary thoughts for the rest of the league.
When a player is as productive as Westbrook is -- despite his youth and underdeveloped skill set -- it's a sign that his intelligence and athleticism are carrying him. As his skills improve, so will his overall impact.
6. Tyreke Evans, Kings
With the Kings sinking back to the bottom of the league (they are 4-20 since the miracle comeback in Chicago), questions are resurfacing about what position Evans should be playing. To me, it's not the appropriate question. Yet.
On a team this bad, he certainly is not hurting the Kings with his ability to score, rebound and be the primary ball handler. If the team ever figures out how to defend the paint and begins to win half its games, then the question of Evans' best position has more meaning. And when that happens and he settles into whatever his permanent spot ends up being, he has the game to shoot up this list.
7. Anthony Randolph, Warriors
Most 20-year-old basketball players in America are playing their sophomore season in college. Randolph, meanwhile, has been a very productive and efficient NBA player. If this list were based purely on upside, he'd be ranked even higher.
Questions still exist about his lack of maturity and whether he's better as a 3 or a 4, but I love the improvement he showed before he got hurt. He's one of the most versatile big men in the game and, if he ever learns to shoot the ball well, could be an All-Star someday.
8. Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
Despite yet another season-ending injury, Oden is still highly regarded as a basketball player because we know what he can do in this league when healthy. He's like Yao Ming, who also has trouble staying healthy but won't be traded anytime soon because he's just impossible to replace.
Oden can rebound, defend and finish in the paint. And he's a great teammate with a good-natured personality. That is a very rare package to find, especially in a 7-foot, 285-pound frame. Had Oden stayed healthy up to this point, he'd be No. 1 or No. 2 on this list.
9. Michael Beasley, Heat
Beasley has settled into his role as a solid scorer and capable rebounder in Miami. But there are those of us who think he could be a high-level scorer in this league if he played in a different system that didn't feature one of the world's best offensive talents.
However, that is not suggesting he'd be better off elsewhere. He is certainly benefiting from learning how to play a more complete game. After all, he has multiple 20-and-10 games this season and has made progress with defense, decision-making and ballhandling. Still, if he does not learn to compete on every possession, his potential decreases substantially.
10. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
I'm not sure which of Mayo's talents is most impressive -- his ability as a deep shooter, his competitiveness or his willingness to play off of Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph on offense when he clearly could be a 20-plus ppg guy. Finding shooters who can defend with toughness and finish at the rim is not easy -- typically two of those three traits is the best a team can do.
Mayo likely won't be the best player on a playoff team, but he's good enough to be the best player in a playoff series. And he might get that chance in April.
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11. DeJuan Blair, Spurs
Blair's free fall to the No. 37 pick may go down as one of the biggest NBA draft blunders ever. Teams just couldn't wrap their arms around his ACL-less knees. For the record, doctors were more concerned with the long-term erosion of his cartilage due to having no ACLs than they were about him to potentially suffer a major injury.
But now that teams see him doing what he has always done on the basketball court -- wreak havoc in the paint -- they realize their mistake. There are 29 other NBA teams that could use Blair as either a starter or an energy guy/rebounder off the bench.
12. Ty Lawson, Nuggets
Lawson, like Blair, is so valuable because he can greatly help his team as a starter or a reserve thanks to his game and maturity level. The same can not be said for every talented player.
Lawson's ability to shoot, distribute and handle the ball makes him extremely difficult to counter because he's just so fast on the court. It also seems likely that he'll be able to handle a slower game, so projecting him to manage the pace in a playoff game is easy.
13. Brandon Jennings, Bucks
Who is the real Brandon Jennings -- the young man who tore up the league in November or the one who has struggled the past two months? I see it like this: If a player can play great for a month, then that is the goal to shoot for down the road, since he showed the ability to reach that level to begin with (as opposed to hoping a player can reach that level without ever seeing him do it).
Jennings has grabbed a lot of attention in basketball circles, so consequently he will be very busy at All-Star Weekend in Dallas. Ironically, though, it's probably the worst thing for him. If any player needs time to catch his breath and re-energize for the second half of the season, it's Jennings.
14. Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies
Even though he has done little thus far, Thabeet has a spot on this list because he can be a game-changing presence on defense. You do the math: Four of the top five defensive teams in the league right now are title contenders, and the other is the league's most improved team (Thunder). Meanwhile, Memphis plays its best defense when Thabeet is on the floor.
His minutes will improve as his offensive game develops, but he does not have to score much to be effective. It's very hard to find a player who can impact the game the way Thabeet has the potential to do.
15. Stephen Curry, Warriors
Curry is the toughest guy for me to gauge. I absolutely love his game and have always believed he could be an excellent point guard. However, I still see him as a bit unproven, simply because of where he is playing -- Golden State is so unlike any other NBA system. Otherwise, he'd be higher on this list.
He appears to be a good playmaker and perhaps can become an excellent one. And, of course, he's a terrific shooter, so he can play in any system and with any players. Imagine him in a Cavs uniform. Or a Heat one. Wow.
16. Marreese Speights, 76ers
Before the 2008 draft, I wrote that the two biggest "upside/downside" guys were Speights and Randolph. In both cases, we're seeing why (although they both appear to have more upside than downside).
Speights is an offensive phenom, kind of like Al Jefferson and Amare Stoudemire in that he can get buckets in a variety of ways in the paint. He's improved as a shooter from 16 feet to 19 feet too. If he rebounded better, he'd be higher on this list. But after a season and a half, it does not appear that this will be an area of strength for him. Still, players who demand a double-team in the post are rare, and Speights could end up being in that category.
17. Danilo Gallinari, Knicks
We all know what a sweet shot he has, but it seems Gallinari is more of a niche player than I'd like such a young guy to be. He's not asked to do much beyond shoot 3s and run, though he mostly just shoots 3s.
It's possible he can do more, and it's also possible he is going to get much better, just as fellow Italian Andrea Bargnani has. But even if he just maintains his current level, he's a valuable player because he's such a good shooter and he's eager to show it.
18. Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves
I watched Flynn get benched the other night in favor of Ramon Sessions even though Flynn was not playing poorly. He responded by being the most animated cheerleader possible, celebrating loudly as his team came back and beat Memphis.
After the game, it was reported that Flynn was asked to go back in but declined out of respect for how well Sessions was playing. That only solidifies my feelings that he would be an incredible option for a team as a sixth man. But in any event, an attitude like that, combined with his dynamic abilities to attack off the dribble and shoot, makes him an important piece to any puzzle.
19. James Harden, Thunder
Had the Thunder not acquired defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha last season, we'd be seeing more of Harden, who can help a team both as a scorer and as an all-around player, which is a rare combination.
Harden is one of the top three passers on this list and, in a few years, should be one of the best defenders on this list, too. Because the team is built around Kevin Durant's talent, we don't always get to see Harden's gifts. But as the Thunder's young core grows together, I expect we'll see Harden's offensive production jump. If you told me that in two seasons he'll be second in scoring, assists and steals in OKC, it would not surprise me at all.
20. Ryan Anderson, Magic
There is ample evidence that a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy exists in the NBA in the form of draft picks. Lottery picks, for example, are given far more chances to succeed than lower picks, even when it appears that should not be the case. Extra chances equal extra opportunities. So players like Anderson, drafted outside the lottery and stuck behind talented veterans, have to fight more to get the same treatment given to a lottery pick like Gallinari, a similar player in most respects. And it may never happen.
But when Anderson started in place of Rashard Lewis early in the season, he was excellent. There are a number of big guys who can shoot, but not nearly as many who can play. Anderson can do both.
------I think its BS THAT ESPN EVEN HAS INSIDER. I WILL TRY TO POST ANY REQUESTS. ------
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Thanks man :applause: appreciate it!
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Any other requests? :cheers:
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Funny he doesnt included amir or afflalo in his current or former pistons section. I guess both of them have been nice pickups for their respective squads.
But Rip and BG do fit the mold and werent mentioned.
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I know your a big Pistons fan, so I thought this would be appropriate to ask you. How have the pistons been this season? Like could you make a small list of who has actually been doing good and who is doing bad? Because CV has good numbers but ESPN says he is a disappointment...then again, it is ESPN...
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really, a short list.
Ben Wallace has been close to excellent for them and certainly much better than expected. He still has some off nights and hes not the defensive presence he once was, but without him this frontcourt would look terrible (of course, maybe kwame would look better with more mins - at least as a defender).
Jonas Jerebko has been an awesome surprise. Works hard and is a very smart player. If they knew he'd be this good, I think they wouldn't have signed CV. IMO he is one of their forward starters for the forseeable future.
Daye has looked good in his very limited minutes.
Chucky atkins has been surprisingly solid for the team. He has played much more than anyone expected and, while he hasnt been helping them win, he hasnt been the reason for their losses either.
Stuckey has been alright this season. Rounding into form and familiarity with the new team, his assists have gone up quite a bit over the last handful of games.
CV. He has had some hot nights, but hes also been sheed jr (0-5 from the 3 pt?). Not a good defender (which we all knew) but I thought he would rebound better than this.
Rip. Missed most of the first half of the season (or so it seems) but has been both efficient and effective in the last couple of weeks. Obviously not a team leader, but he isnt the reason we are losing.
Kwame, Wilcox and Maxiell. While no one expects superstar production out of this frontcourt trio, none of them (other than maxiell in the last handful of games) have done much in regards to playing winning ball. Wilcox is by far the most disappointing of the 3.
Ben Gordon has been awful IMO. Terrible shot selection (same with stuckey) and absolutely shredded on defense. No leadership and not a great passer (which we knew) but he has been running more hot than cold
Tay has been declining significantly the past several years, but this year has been the nail in the coffin (granted, he may turn it around and this may be premature). His D is not there and his wonky offensive game is more ineffective than ever.
Jury still out
Will Bynum and Dajuan Summers.
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I was expecting you to put Prince at the bottom. I thought Rip was doing horrendous, guess I was wrong.
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