Thanksgiving-inspired All-Grateful Team
The NBA’s most-coveted and discussed honors — All-Star, All-NBA, MVP, etc. — are dominated by a very small percentage of the players who make up the league’s 450 roster spots and tend to show up over and over again.
All 10 players voted in by fans to start the 2013 All-Star Game were previously All-Stars, and eight of those 10 were 2012 All-Star starters. There’s a very good chance that eight of 2013′s 10 will be selected as starters again in 2014. Of the 24 total players initially selected for the 2013 All-Star team, only six were first-timers, and that number was actually greater than we’ve become accustomed to seeing in recent years. What’s more, 14 of the 15 players that were selected to the three 2013 All-NBA teams were already recognized 2013 All-Stars.
You get the picture. It’s time to spread the wealth and recognition around a little bit. SI.com will try to highlight some of the NBA’s overlooked characters and compelling stories in a weekly round-up dubbed “The Point Forward All-Stars.”
The Point Forward All-Stars will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, SI.com presents the All-Grateful team, comprised of five players who will be savoring their turkey a little more than usual this year.
The Point Forward’s All-Grateful Team
Keith Bogans, Celtics – Grateful for: Large amounts of money
A unanimous selection to the First Team, Bogans was immediately voted captain by his fellow All-Grateful team members in hopes that he would pick up the dinner tab. There’s been a running joke that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, caught up in a drug/sex/whatever scandal, has the perfect job now that he’s been stripped of his authority but still receives his salary. Free money, no work. Sounds perfect, right?
Almost. Ford’s got it pretty good, but he has nothing on Bogans, who combines a sky-high dollar/work ratio with a life free of paparazzi and political enemies. As ShamSports.com painstakingly detailed in July, Bogans is receiving $5.1 million guaranteed this season because the Celtics and Nets needed to pay someone to make their giant blockbuster trade involving Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce legal under NBA rules. For comparison’s sake, that’s roughly the same salary as guys like Anthony Davis, Lou Williams, J.J. Hickson and Martell Webster.
Now that we’re a month into the season, how exactly is that investment paying off for Boston? So far, Bogans, 33, has yet to score for the rebuilding Celtics, and his only box score contributions have been one steal and one missed three-pointer in 15 minutes of action. He’s reportedly staying busy by running on a treadmill while he watches MarShon Brooks play one-on-one with an assistant coach and by using that fabled “veteran voice” to help guide his younger teammates.
The $5.1 million isn’t just a lot of money for doing very little, it’s also way too much for being Bogans. During the first 10 years of his career, Bogans averaged just $1.4 million in salary, and he had never previously earned more than $2.6 million in a season. Let the gravy flow this week, Mr. Bogans, and safe travels to your holiday festivities. Remember, a diamond-encrusted golden parachute isn’t an ideal mode of transportation during winter weather.
Kevin Martin, Timberwolves — Grateful for: Making the right decision
For those who enjoy a little self-reflection with their cranberry sauce, Martin is the paragon this year. Did anyone make a better call in free agency than Martin, who cashed out with a 4-year, $27.8 million contract with the Timberwolves, and former coach Rick Adelman, rather than re-signing with the Thunder or looking elsewhere.
We’re still firmly in the small sample size honeymoon period, but the fit between player, coach and team has played out even better than expected. Martin is averaged 22.5 points and shooting a scorching 45.8 percent from deep, slotting in perfectly as a starting two guard and the outside scoring complement to alpha dog Kevin Love. The Timberwolves ranked dead last in three-point percentage last season; Martin’s arrival has helped push their ranking in that category up to 23rd, which is slightly more respectable. Even more than the floor-spacing and his off-ball movement has been his reliability: Minnesota just couldn’t seem to find a solid fit at the position in recent years, and Martin’s ability to play 35 minutes a night has been huge in helping the Timberwolves field a starting lineup that enjoys nice chemistry and has produced a plus-3.5 net rating.
To summarize, Martin received: a handsome, long-term deal; a fun band of teammates; an enhanced role as a go-to guy rather than a Sixth Man; and a coach in Adelman who has helped him put up his best numbers since 2011. The only missing ingredient is the winning, as the Timberwolves are back to .500 after a two-game losing streak, but they should be in the postseason discussion all year long. Martin said recently that choosing Minnesota was the “biggest decision” of his career, and his season so far has provided nothing but validation that he made the right call.
Tony Wroten, Sixers — Grateful for: A shot
A good percentage of NBA players will point to the night they were drafted as one of the best moments of their lives. The glow that comes with shaking David Stern’s hand and inking a contract that is guaranteed for two years can fade quickly without the chance for some real playing time. How many first-round picks really want to learn from the sidelines? How many really want to prove themselves (again) in the D-League? How many honestly have Summer League circled on their calendar as the highlight of their year? How many want to be surrounded by judgmental eyes at the holiday dinner table as the proverbial post-college 20-something struggling to find a foothold in the professional world?
Opportunity is all that matters for young players looking to make a name for themselves, and opportunity is exactly what Tony Wroten didn’t have last season. After going one-and-done at the University of Washington, the lefty guard out of Seattle made just 35 appearances for the Grizzlies as a rookie with Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Jerryd Bayless and others above him on the depth chart. His short-term prospects flipped upside down in August when the Grizzlies agreed to hand him off to the Sixers for nothing more than a heavily-protected 2014 second-round pick. Instead of sitting and watching, Wroten would have the chance to learn on the job for one of the league’s most barren rosters.
It took just 11 games for Wroten to play more minutes than he did all of last season. One of those 11 games happened to be a breakout night in a win against the Rockets, as Wroten tallied a triple-double with 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Despite some injuries, rookie Michael Carter-Williams has garnered most of the headlines for a 6-9 Philadelphia team that is among the league’s most pleasant surprises, but Wroten is an interesting story too because there’s so much work to be done. His range is non-existent, he sometimes favors the flashy play over the sound one and he’s only finishing 50 percent of his attempts at the rim this season.
The theme here is grateful, though, and there is no doubt that Wroten would rather have his play dissected than be subjected to a second straight season of DNP-CDs. The quickness and athletic tools that earned him All-Pac-12 First Team honors in 2012 should keep him in Philadelphia’s rotation this year and next, and who knows where that path will wind up taking him?
Michael Beasley, Heat — Grateful for: A
second seventh chance
The No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft has been a regular object of ridicule for The Point Forward over the years thanks to a laundry list of off-court incidents and some truly atrocious play. Last season, Beasley ranked dead last in the NBA when it came to Win Shares; that was fitting given his overwhelmingly negative contributions with the Suns, who bought him out this summer at a considerable expense so that they didn’t have to deal with him anymore.
What’s happened since then has been fairly remarkable. Beasley’s basic stats — 10.3 points, 2.9 rebounds — practically mirrors his numbers from last year, but his efficiency has absolutely skyrocketed thanks to the cozy surroundings offered by the two-time defending Heat. Pat Riley took a minimum salary flier on Beasley this summer, and so far it’s been an unequivocal success: Beasley is shooting 56.5 percent from the field, his PER has doubled from last season (21.6 compared to 10.8) and his net-rating is a whopping plus-13.9. He’s exercised good discipline on his shots — almost half of his attempts are coming in the basket area, and he’s not overindulging in fool-hardy three-pointers — and he’s essentially eliminated the off-court nonsense. (Yes, he did reportedly punch himself in the head during the preseason, but nobody’s perfect.)
With the right support system, a winning culture and a clearly-defined role, Beasley has stabilized a career that seemed like it could be heading for a very early end just a few months ago. He said this week that he feels like he’s “grown a lot” and has a better understanding of the game. That’s good because if things keep up like this, he’ll be playing minutes in the postseason for a team that has the very highest expectations and the greatest degree of scrutiny. Further tests are coming, but Beasley should enjoy his meal at LeBron James’ Ohio home this week, knowing that he’s earned his invitation to the party.
Alex Len, Suns — Grateful for: Obscurity
This time of year, everyone hopes for good health and, unfortunately, that hasn’t been a reality for Len, the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft. The 7-foot-1 Ukrainian center had had multiple ankle surgeries this year and he’s been sidelined with ankle soreness to the point that he’s only appeared in four games so far this season. He’s averaging 1.8 points and 1.8 rebounds, and his entire statistical production in November is equal to approximately one good half for Carter-Williams or Orlando’s Victor Oladipo.
Why should Len be grateful? Because just about no one is talking about him. How often can a seven-footer selected with a top-five pick battle injury issues and contribute next to nothing on a rebuilding team without setting off loud, repeated shouts of “bust” among the national media? Not often, and yet Len has so far remained virtually unscathed.
He’s been shielded by a perfect storm of distracting circumstances. Perhaps most importantly, No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett has dominated all the “bust” talk thanks a horrible start that saw him go just 1-for-21 over his first seven games and general uneven play by his Cavaliers. Next, Len has been disguised by the presence of other injured top-10 players: Otto Porter (No. 3), Nerlens Noel (No. 6), Trey Burke (No. 9) and CJ McCollum (No. 10) have played a combined four games so far this season.
The low bar set by his draft classmates helps a lot, but Len is also benefiting from his Suns teammates, who raced out to a 5-2 start and remain 7-7 even though most analysts projected they would be the West’s weakest team. Phoenix has enjoyed surprisingly productive play from second-year big man Miles Plumlee — who is averaging 10 points and 8.4 rebounds — and coach Jeff Hornacek has his team playing an aggressive, pressuring style that has produced the No. 9 defensive efficiency rating to date. Who is going to complain about an injured center when there’s a capable stand-in and the defense is significantly over-achieving?
Sooner or later, the Suns will need Len to pan out and be a key part of their future. Len can enjoy his anonymity and take solace in the fact that the emphasis is on “later” rather than “sooner” right now.