When O.J. Mayo told Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix there were times last year where he wasn’t sure he even wanted to play basketball anymore, my eyes opened. I’ll admit that Mayo is and always will be one of my favorite players. His ruthlessness in high school hooked me. Three years into his pro career, I never would’ve guessed that someone had stolen his confidence. But it definitely happened.
One thing you realize when speaking to enough players is that it’s more about the situation than it is the player. Sure, there are times when someone loses motivation, and their game falls off. But take away the very best players in the world, and what do you have left? Dozens of guys who could excel in one system, and flounder in another. Mayo could probably average 20 points a game on Golden State if the two teams ever went through on the rumored Mayo and Thabeet swap for Monta Ellis. But in Memphis, he’s a backup shooter.
Look at Rashard Lewis in Washington. His efficiency actually improved after he was traded from Orlando. His rebounding and assist rates went way up while his money shot stayed pretty fresh. But on a young team with a rookie dominating the ball, how many opportunities was he going to have?
While I still harbor hopes that Juice will one day develop into the All-Star I thought he would be, I’m not naÃ¯ve. Last year he didn’t play like one, didn’t even play like a starter. His minutes dropped by nearly a quarter of the game (down to 26.3) and his true shooting percentage took a nosedive down below 50 percent, way below the league average. Considering the strongest part of his game is his shot-making, that was a major red flag. Most telling perhaps was his turnover rate (down from 13.85 his rookie year to 10.96 last year) and the percentage of his baskets that were assisted (way up to 66%). Once considered a scorer, Mayo turned into a shooter. Memphis banished him to the off-ball corners and wings, and he became a secondary option. While he had less opportunities to turn it over, he also had less opportunities to make plays and expand his game. As a rookie, he looked like a lock to eventually average 21-23 points, 4-5 rebounds and 4-5 assists. Now, he’s admitted he lost his confidence and that last year was one of the hardest of his career.
While Mayo eventually adjusted towards the end of the season, he still has too much talent to be a background singer. He’s not the only one who desperately needs a bounce-back season. As I wrote earlier this summer about players who need to sink or swim this year, hit the jump for nine other NBA pros that could really use the pick-me-up.
Ask Brooks how feeble an NBA career can be. He’d know as well as anyone. In 2008, he was a hungry backup scratching for a few minutes a game. Two years later, he was one of the most dangerous players in the Western Conference, parlaying a big postseason into a 2010 season that saw him average nearly 20 a night and earn the Most Improved Player award. But last year, he fired blanks from nearly everywhere outside of the paint.
Brooks will probably end up back in Phoenix now that they’ve picked up his qualifying offer. The Suns can match any offer he receives, and those figure to be light after the past year.
While there’s little chance that Steve Nash and AB would ever work together in a backcourt (although it could be really exciting), what happens if Nash is traded before the deadline? Brooks could be in line for a major spike in production.
Chances at a bounce-back: 40 percent
A drop in production for a soon-to-be 32-year-old swingman is normal. But the way Salmons went about it was completely odd. His assist rate (22.1) was the highest it’s been since 2007, and his rebounding per minute actually spiked up compared to his first half season in Milwaukee. His floor game was fine, but that wasn’t at all what Milwaukee needed. They needed a scorer and Salmons had been that guy for them during the 2010 playoff race.
If you were one of those unlucky fantasy people who drafted Salmons (like me) expecting to get a solid offensive option, by the end of the year you were hitting yourself for keeping him around. All of his shooting numbers dropped, most alarmingly his field goal percentage (from 47 percent to 41.5). But that’s what happens when you take less shots at the rim then you have in any season since 2007 while shooting more long twos â€“ at 35 percent â€“ than you ever have.
Now that he’s back in Sacramento, can he find his game again? Not likely considering he doesn’t figure to have the ball in his hands that much.
Chances at a bounce-back: 20 percent
The real question is can he bounce back? Will his body let him coming off multiple knee surgeries? Last year in Orlando, Arenas’ game took a complete nosedive. Even as a Wizard to start the year, he still put up 17 a night, albeit with terrible efficiency. But once he moved to Disney World, the floor fell out.
Once perhaps the most dangerous point guard at the basket, Arenas hit only 46% of his shots at the rim. Once a guy who made three baskets from there every game, he was now only getting there barely more than one time a night. While his midrange game stayed somewhat consistent, his outside shot completely fell off. In 49 games with the Magic, he hit less than 30 percent from outside 16 feet. To me, that all spells it out. His legs are gone. There’s no lift. Hopefully an increase in minutes will refocus him, and another fresh summer will get back some of that old Agent Zero. I’m not sure I see it though.
Chances at a bounce-back: 15 percent
There’s one thing I can always count on during every one of my fantasy basketball drafts. One of my last picks will be spent on Biedrins. Ever since he averaged 12/11 with 1.5 blocks in 2009, I’ve taken a chance on him. It hasn’t worked the last two years mainly because of one thing: confidence.
Because he’s such a terrible free throw shooter (at 16 and 32% the last two years, he makes Ben Wallace look good), Biedrins now plays as if someone is constantly telling him “No!” He’s a puppy, trained to obey and then when he gets out on the floor, all he’s doing is looking for someone to tell him “No!”
The only reason he gets minutes is because of his activity and rebounding. What happened last year? His rebound rate was his lowest (17.3) since getting starter’s minutes, and his blocks dipped in half of where they were in 2007.
With a new system, and a healthy ankle, maybe this is the year I’ll get my reward for holding onto him.
Chances at a bounce-back: 50 percent
This is no surprise. Evans’ struggles last year with plantar fasciitis are well-documented. His numbers dropped because he couldn’t get to the rim and finish as often. Instead of taking 8.4 shots at the rim like he did during his rookie season, last year he took just 6.2. Those extra two shots went to the perimeter, where his jump shot made virtually no progress at all.
He may not average 20-5-5 again, but that’ll be more because of the presence of his talented teammates. If he’s healthy, he should remind us again why everyone loved him as a rookie.
Chances at a bounce-back: 75 percent
No doubt some of Miller’s problems stemmed from having to bundle up his hands in wraps because they seemed obsessed with getting hurt (as well as his bum shoulder and the trying saga with his daughter). But you can’t hide when your entire game â€“ shooting and playmaking â€“ falls off a cliff. Back in the day, Miller was a great shooter, a decent ballhandler and a surprisingly good rebounder. Now, he can still rebound (4.5 a game in only 20.5 minutes last year), but his jumper is broken and playing in Miami, he’s done nothing but stand around offensively.
Tell me if this sounds like a shooter: 40 percent from the field, 36 percent from three, 67 percent from the line. Miller barely averaged one assist a game last year, but at least that can be partly attributed to his role: stand around and hit open shots.
Miller has lost his athleticism, and his injuries have combined to limit how much he can contribute. But his J should be the last thing to go. Miami still nearly won it all even with Miller shooting 34 percent (and under 30 from deep) in the playoffs. If he can find that shot again â€“ in his last season in Washington, he made half of his shots and 48 percent of his threes â€“ it’ll go a long way in South Beach.
Chances at a bounce-back: 45 percent
What has happened to Gordon in Detroit is actually pretty similar to what went down last year with Mayo in Memphis: two great shooters who began to play off the ball more as their production and minutes dropped.
With Gordon last year, he forgot about his midrange game. While he finished inside at a higher clip than he ever has, he got there just 1.5 times a night. In Gordon’s final year in Chicago, he averaged 5.5 shots a game from 15 feet and in. Last year, that number was 2.5. Obviously some of that is from a drop in minutes. But just as big of a factor was Gordon’s role opposite Rodney Stuckey and whoever else had the ball in Detroit’s offense: spot up and shoot the jumper.
I wrote on it in the latest issue of Dime, Gordon has the capabilities to be a Jason Terry-type of player. But in an organization as ragged as Detroit, he’s getting caught in the middle of the storm.
Chances at a bounce-back: 35 percent
Have all those years averaging around 40 minutes a night finally caught up to the 30-year-old? Possibly. Last season was his worst since coming to Atlanta. He played less minutes, made less shots at a lower percentage and his overall game took a small step back.
The problem for Johnson was that his shooting came and went. Take away a stretch from January until the end of March, and the swingman was having trouble breaking past 42 percent from the field. In fact, besides the month of January when Johnson went nuts, taking by far the most shots of any month (20 a night) and making by far the most of any month (50 percent), he didn’t play at all like the man we had grown accustomed to seeing.
Next season with Jeff Teague finally breaking into the lineup, Johnson’s numbers should drop again. But that’s expected. As long as he isn’t shooting around 40% for half the season, Atlanta can live with that.
Chances at a bounce-back: 60 percent
It wasn’t long ago that Outlaw was one of the better sixth men in the league coming off the bench and giving Portland over 13 points a night. He was always athletic, but had developed an unblockable one-dribble pull-up jump shot, and seemed poised to take the next step.
Then he lost his place in the Portland rotation, was traded and then eventually signed in New Jersey for $35 million. How many Nets fans are asking for a redo?
Julian Wright. Derrick Brown. Cartier Martin. Anthony Parker. Even Keith Bogans had a higher PER last year than Outlaw (8.82). His rebounding rate and shooting numbers were the lowest they’ve been since he earned nightly minutes in Portland, and while he’s actually been a consistent three-point shooter (from 2008-10, he shot 39 percent from the arc), that part of his game disappeared in New Jersey.
Having Deron Williams didn’t help either. In 12 games with the All-Star, Outlaw shot a hideous 5-32 from deep, shot 39% from the field and averaged 9.3 points while his rebound and assist numbers were even worse.
Outlaw was on the floor for almost 30 minutes a night last year, and the Nets desperately need him to live up to that contract. If anything, at least know he’ll have a shot to improve next year.
Chances at a bounce-back: 40 percent
Which players do you think need a bounce-back season the most?
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.