All-Recalibration Team: Five players who could bolster their reputations in 2014
“The Point Forward All-Stars” will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members.
This week, SI.com welcomes in the New Year with the All-Recalibration Team, a collection of five players that could bolster their reputations in 2014, especially if they enjoy strong postseason performances.
The All-Recalibration Team
The coming of the New Year means a fresh start, new goals and new expectations for all of us, and NBA players are no different. In 2013, a host of teams and players reached new heights: Denver and Memphis enjoyed franchise-best seasons, New York won its first playoff series in more than a decade, Paul George and Stephen Curry emerged as superstars, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert and Larry Sanders drew new-found appreciation for their defensive abilities, and Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler, among others, enjoyed moments in the sun during the playoffs.
Indeed, the postseason will always be home to the biggest boosting and bashing of reputations, the gold standard by which most judgments and comparisons are made. SI.com’s All-Recalibration Team is not a prediction of which players will break out over the next 12 months, a la George or Curry, but rather a group of five players who are uniquely positioned to bolster their reputations and/or improve their personal narrative as their respective teams approach the 2014 playoffs. To date, none of these five players has enjoyed much in the way of postseason success, but all five are presented with new opportunities for achieving that elusive stamp of approval once the 2013-14 season comes to an end.
PG: John Wall, Wizards
You really have to strain to come up with any positive takeaways from the pitiful state of the Eastern Conference, where 12 of the 15 teams are currently at or below .500, and Atlanta, one of the three plus-.500 teams, just lost Al Horford for the season.
Don’t worry, I went through the straining process so you didn’t have to: the upshot to the league’s conference disparity and the two-horse race in the East is that there will be plenty of room for new postseason heroes to emerge from the carnage. Remember, only the seventh and eighth seeds in the East are heading towards first-round slaughterhouses against the Pacers and Heat; that leaves four full seeds of room for newcomers and, no matter what, at least two teams currently facing serious questions will wind up earning trips to the conference finals. As it stands, Toronto, Washington, Charlotte and Detroit could all snap playoff droughts come April, and it’s conceivable that multiple teams from that quartet could advance in the postseason. This is potentially the dawning of a new day.
Wall, Washington’s newly-minted franchise guard, is at the end of the line when it comes to potentially reaping the benefits of this wide open landscape. There was plenty of chuckling shared when he ranked himself as “the best” point guard in the NBA last summer, but Wall’s declaration has looked less and less delusional as this season has played out. Consider: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo are all dealing with knee injuries, Deron Williams and Steve Nash have become afterthoughts, and Kyrie Irving’s Cavaliers are a total mess (again). Meanwhile, Wall is ranked in the top five at his position in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) just as he was last year, his Wizards are currently .500 and are a strong challenger to claim the No. 3 seed, and he will almost certainly earn his first All-Star selection come February. His importance to the Wizards is undisputed: their offense falls off a cliff when he leaves the court (from a 105.7 offensive rating when he’s on to 88.7 when he’s off) and he significantly improves the team’s defensive numbers, too.
No matter what happens this postseason, Wall will still be behind Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry on the point guard pecking order, with Rose, Westbrook and Rondo all getting the benefit of the doubt when it comes to head-to-head comparisons because of their experience and accolades. Still, the bevy of injuries at his position and Wall’s development into a 20-point, 9-assist, 2-steal per night player sets the table for his inclusion in the top-five point guards debate as we move forward. A playoff series victory in the first postseason appearance of his career, at the age of 23, would really elevate his profile, weak East or not.
SG: Monta Ellis, Mavericks
The reshaping of Ellis has been underway for months in Dallas, where he is posting some of his best efficiency numbers in years. Predictably, Rick Carlisle has found a way to coax Ellis towards his strengths (pick-and-roll scoring, plays at the basket) while cutting out the fat (he’s averaging just 2.4 threes per game this season, compared to four per game last season). The ninth-year guard is averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists entering 2014, his 54.1 true shooting percentage is his best mark since 2008, and his 17.9 PER currently ranks in the top 10 at his position.
The player Don Nelson famously called a “selfish little bastard” in a Sports Illustrated interview is now shooting “only” 16.3 shots per game, his fewest since 2008, and his 5.6 free throw attempts per game are the most since since 2010. Put it all together and Ellis would have a legitimate shot at an All-Star spot if he was posting the same numbers in the East, and he’s a legitimate offensive weapon even in the loaded West. Suddently, the “Monta Ellis has it all” sarcastic quips have been put on pause.
For years now, Ellis’ high-volume shooting and unsightly percentages have coincided with lots of losing. Even though he turned 28 in October, Ellis has just 15 playoff games to his name, and he hasn’t won a postseason game since he was a part of the “We Believe” Warriors in 2007. Last year, he played for a Milwaukee team whose postseason existence was both short-lived and a complete joke thanks to Brandon Jennings, who unfortunately decided to predict that the Bucks would beat the Heat in six games. Instead, they were swept out in four consecutive double-digit defeats, and Ellis was held to a mere 14.3 points per game. He smartly found new digs in Dallas a few months later.
The Dirk Nowitzki/Ellis/Jose Calderon triumvirate has powered Dallas to the No. 6 ranked offense to date; the Mavericks (18-13 and in the No. 8 seed currently) are no guarantee to make the playoffs, but if they do they will assume the proverbial “team no one wants to play” tag. In addition to the multi-pronged, super-efficient offense, Dallas boasts an elite coach, the requisite championship experience from Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, and an always aggressive owner in Mark Cuban who might be tempted to do some buying at this year’s trade deadline, given the tight bunching between teams four through eight in the West. A strong showing in the postseason from Ellis would underscore the progress he has made this season, and the discussion around one of the league’s most polarizing players would really shift if he managed to play a key role in helping Dallas pull off a first-round upset.