Great players, it’s been noted, are made in the playoffs. That’s where the legendary NBA stars tend to make a name for themselves by playing big in the big games. But if you’re a good player whose team(s) never makes the playoffs, how do you reach that “great” status?
Every year 16 teams make the playoffs while the remaining 14 teams go home to rest and get ready for the next season.
In honor of those players whose teams didn’t make the postseason last year, here’s a list of the top 10 of them. I call them the “Popeye Awards,” a tribute to former NBA player Popeye Jones who played in the league from 1993-2004 and appeared in 535 games without appearing in a postseason game. The 10 players are listed in alphabetical order.
(Note: A player had to play in 50 or more games in the 2014-15 season to qualify for this list.)
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns: The 6″1′ point guard led the Suns in minutes played, points, assists and steals. His 6.1 assists per game put him in the top 20 in that category, and he had a pair of triple-doubles last season.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: He finished in the top 15 in the league in points, rebounds and blocked shots. The center out of Kentucky posted 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per contest, and he earned a spot in the All-Star Game. In an April game, he became only the fourth player in NBA history to have 20 or more points, 20 or more rebounds, 10 or more assists and five or more blocked shots in a game (he had 24-21-10-6 in the game).
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: The third-year player out of UConn had 13.5 rebounds per contest, good enough for the second spot in that category in the league. He also led the league in offensive boards. His 1.9 blocked shots per game was the ninth-best in the NBA. He has four games in the last two years with 20 points and 20 rebounds, most of any player in that timeframe.
Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings: Another UConn product, the small forward averaged 21.1 points, giving him the 12th spot on the PPG list. He also provided almost six boards per contest and dished out an average of 3.7 assists.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz: A five-year veteran with the Utah Jazz, the former Butler star set a career-high by scoring 19.3 points per game. He also contributed almost five rebounds and about four assists per contest.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets: Lawson broke the Denver single-season record with 720 assists. For the season, the former North Carolina point guard had 9.6 assists per game, good enough for third in the league, and averaged 15.2 points. He was traded this past summer to the Houston Rockets.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic: The point guard out of Indiana had a solid second season in the league with per-game stats of 17.9 points, 4.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds. He had back-to-back 30-point games and a career-high game of 38 points.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: With no more LeBron James and limited time from Chris Bosh, Wade shouldered a lot of the hard work on the court for the Heat last season. He responded with 21.5 points, six boards and five assists per game.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets: Despite missing 18 games due to a torn meniscus, the UConn product (yes, another player from UConn) had a solid season with 17.3 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Considering the Thunder didn’t make the playoffs and Westbrook finished fourth in the MVP balloting, it’d make sense to give the Popeye Award MVP to Westbrook. He finished first in the league in scoring, fifth in assists and second in steals. Of the 12 players who received votes for the 2014-15 MVP, Westbrook was the only player whose team didn’t make the playoffs.
Do you have any other players who should be on this list?