Potential is a dangerous word in this game. How many GMs have drafted or thrown big free agent cash at someone solely on the “P” word rather than actual accomplishments? Players often claim that they can be all-stars if given more shots, more minutes and more touches. One guy who is going to get that chance this season is Trevor Ariza, who spent last season basking in Kobe’s, Pau’s and Lamar’s shadows. Over the summer, the Rockets inked up Ariza to a multi-year contract.
With Yao out for the season and the ever-so-uncertainty that seems to cloud Tracy McGrady, Trevor is going to have a chance to showcase the world what he’s really got. But how much potential does Ariza have? He’s always been a ridiculous athlete, but Ariza proved in last season’s playoffs that he can lock down anybody, can hit a spot up three and is not afraid of playing under pressure.
To me, Ariza’s situation is unclear and I can see it going one of two ways: T-Mac (post-Toronto) or Darius Miles (post-Clippers). In their first few seasons in the league, both T-Mac and Miles were considered young, exciting players with infinite amounts of potential. All they needed was to be put on a squad where they’d be “the man”. When McGrady was in Toronto, he was never asked to take over a game or do anything outside of dunk and block shots. But everybody knew that he could one day be special. After he signed for that nine-figure deal in Orlando, he worked his ass off to improve his jumper and handles that offseason. His numbers skyrocketed from 15.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 3.3 apg with the ’99-00 Raptors to 26.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 4.6 apg with the Magic his first season. McGrady went on to be a perennial all-star.
On the flip side, Miles’ career slipped after he got his shot at franchise player. People forget how nice he was with the Clippers. Playing on that exciting ’01-02 Clippers team that had Lamar, Corey Maggette, Quentin Richardson and Elton Brand, D-Miles was dunking on everybody and beating up shots left and right. When the Clippers shipped him off to Cleveland, Miles was expected to be an instant all-star. In LA, he averaged 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and shooting 48 percent from the field. After more minutes with the Cavs, Miles’ stats dropped to 9.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and shooting 41 percent from the field. We all know where Darius’ career went from that point on.
Like T-Mac and Miles in their early years, Ariza has not shown the ability to create his own shot and score at will. Last year, he averaged a solid but modest 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and a career high 1.8 steals. Unlike McGrady, Ariza was not thrown superstar money and is not asked to save the Rockets franchise. But Rick Adelman expects him to step up his offensive game and hold the fort down until Yao and T-Mac are at full strength.
A lot of how his season will go will depend on how much time he is putting in the gym this summer. He told ESPN The Magazine that he has been working extremely hard on his handles and jump shot this offseason and wants to shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc. He has the physical tools to develop into an 18-point per game type of player. But like Odom or Shawn Marion, he will always have to compliment a real superstar.