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Who Could be Next Year’s J.R. Smith?

Earlier in the year, pundits were mocking the Cavs for trading for J.R. Smith and his awful contract. Fast-forward to a couple months later and he’s one of the key pieces on an NBA Finals team.

Many players find themselves in J.R. Smith-like situations. All it takes is the right coach or team to turn a disappointing player into a great one. The following is a list of players who I believe are being misused in their current roles and could see a big comeback like J.R. Smith next year:

Jeremy Lin, Los Angeles Lakers

Feb. 11, 2015 - JEREMY LIN (17) shoots a jumper. The Portland Trail Blazers play the Los Angeles Lakers at the Moda Center on February 11, 2015

Jeremy Lin has had a string of disappointing seasons since his Linsanity days in New York, but this past year with the Lakers under Byron Scott was probably his worst. From his blog:

As for me mentally, I felt pretty burnt out coming out of this past season. I felt like I gave great effort to play well, play the right way, and maintain the right perspective despite seeing very little fruit.

How he was Misused: Jeremy Lin is a pick and roll guard. Of the play, he told the Los Angeles Daily News, “That’s who I am. That’s what allowed me to have success in the past. That’s the reason why people are paying me money, to play pick-and-roll.” Scott wanted Lin to go away from pick and roll early in games, thinking that “everybody is stationary and it’s easy to guard.”

Scott had Lin shooting at the rim less (1) and pulled him from the starting lineup, playing him the least amount of minutes since his rookie year. (2) Scott and Lin also disagree on the importance of 3 point shooting. Lin shot the best 3 point percentage of his career (3), but his attempts were down because Scott famously noted his disdain for 3 pointers in the preseason (4). He claimed that he doesn’t believe it wins championships (Note to Scott: All 4 teams in the Conference Finals were in the top 7 in 3PA, while the Lakers were 25th).

How he can succeed: Lin needs a coach that gives him a role like Mike D’Antoni did in New York. Give him the freedom to drive a lot and get to the line a lot. Let him take advantage of the work he’s put in on his 3 and shoot them a lot to open up driving lanes.

Lin is a free agent and it’s likely he will not resign with the Lakers, as it was a terrible fit for both parties last year. He has a very good chance to go to a better opportunity and have a nice year next year.

Channing Frye, Orlando Magic

Jan. 10, 2015 - CHANNING FRYE (8) shoots a jumper. The Portland Trail Blazers play the Orlando Magic at the Moda Center on January 10, 2015

 

Frye opted out of the last year of his contract with the Suns and signed a 4 year, $32M deal with the Orlando Magic last year. He proceeded to have one of the worst years of his career.

How he was Misused: Frye saw a decrease in his minutes (5) mainly because the defensive pairing of Frye and Nik Vucevic was awful all year (6).  Despite the drop in minutes and heavy fan criticism, Frye still did what he was supposed to do as a stretch 4, shooting a lot of 3’s and hitting them at a 39% clip.

How he can Succeed: Frye’s value comes from bringing spacing to teams as a stretch 4. He needs to be paired with a dynamic point guard and other 3 point shooters, like what the Suns did with him. He also needs to be used in pick and roll more, where he remains an extremely efficient scorer (7).

Frye is 31 years old and on the decline, but he still has a very tradeable contract to teams that need 3 point shooting. He’s also getting a fresh start with new coach Scott Skiles, but Skiles is traditionally a defense-first guy and Frye has never been a great defender. A new team might be the best way for Frye to finish his career on a high note.

 

Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls

NBA: OCT 24 Preseason - Timberwolves v Bulls

 

After being drafted 11th, McDermott had a very quiet rookie year. He only played in 36 of the Bulls’ games and averaged just 8.9 minutes in those limited appearances.

How he was Misused: McDermott started off the year very poorly. He played in the first 17 games of Chicago’s season, shooting just 23% on 3’s in about 12 MPG. Soon after that stretch, it was discovered that he had torn the meniscus in his knee and needed surgery.

Post-surgery, he never really cracked coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation. He earned spot minutes here and there, shooting a much better 32% for the rest of the year, but his defense left much to be desired and for Coach Thibs, that was enough to keep him on the bench. He earned 12 DNP-CD’s the rest of the season and playoffs.

How he can Succeed: McDermott is getting a fresh start with new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who he has called a friend in the past. Both were stars at Ames High.

McDermott should see a lot more opportunity in Hoiberg’s offensive system, which values 3 point shooting, spacing, and movement. While McDermott was held out for defensive purposes for much of the year, Hoiberg should give him a much longer rope. Hoiberg also led the league one year in 3 point percentage, so perhaps he can impart some of that wisdom onto McDermott in learning how to adjust to the NBA 3 point line.

 

Lance Stephenson, Charlotte Hornets

Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports

Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports

Stephenson left the Pacers and had one of the worst years of any player in the NBA for the Hornets. He was traded last night to the Clippers, so he will have a chance to start over for Doc Rivers.

How he was Misused: Stephenson was never the go-to guy in his best years in Indiana.

Somehow, he lost all confidence in his jump shot. He was one of the worst 3 point shooters in the league for the Hornets even though he was respectable from 3 in Indiana (8). His shot selection also became a huge problem. He began settling for a heavy diet of long 2’s rather than taking it to the rim like he did earlier in his career (9).

How he can Succeed: Stephenson is only 24 years old. He has shown in Indiana that he has the talent to be a great player in the NBA. As a players’ coach, Doc Rivers is the perfect guy to instill some confidence back into his game.

Rivers prizes two-way players, and Stephenson is capable of being a force on the defensive end. Stephenson can get back to the way he played in Indiana, wreaking havoc on defense and being the main offensive weapon when he plays with weak second units. The Clippers have one of the worst benches in the league, so letting Stephenson lead that unit might be exactly what both he and the Clippers need.

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All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference or NBA Stats

(1) Lin shot 28% of his shots at the rim, down from a 31% career rate

(2) Lin averaged 25.8 MPG, the lowest since his 9.8 MPG as a rookie with the Warriors

(3) Lin shot 37% on 3 pointers (career 35%) on 2.4 attempts/gm (career 2.5 attempts/gm)

(4) From Twitter Account Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com: I asked Lakers coach Byron Scott about his philosophy on 3-pointers. “I don’t believe it wins championships. (It) gets you to the playoffs

(5) Frye played 25 MPG, down from 29 MPG in his 4 previous seasons with the Suns

(6) Frye/Vucevic lineups had a 110.5 DRtg

(7) Frye scores 1.10 PPP on PnR, in the 75th percentile of the league

(8) Stephenson shot 18% on 3’s, down from 33% with the Pacers

(9) Stephenson took 29% of his shots at the rim last year and 27% of his shots from 16ft-3pt line. In his previous year with the Pacers, he took 37% of his shots at the rim and only 13% of his shots from 16ft-3pt line.

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