This weekend’s summer solstice marked the official start of summer, if you’re into that kind of stuff. For the rest of us however, the dog days began when the NBA season wrapped. In the first week sans basketball, we’ve nearly recovered from the Finals and are now trending towards draft over-analysis. That’s good news for a select group of NBA players— there are a lot guys in the League who had moments, or even a season, that they’d love to forget. These are the players who’ll need a summer push to reach that proverbial next level or an offseason overhaul to reattain a level of greatness that’s no longer secure. Some guys need to up their FG averages, while others simply need to stay healthy. Regardless, each of the following names needs to put in work this summer.
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In last week’s flame-throwing press conference, Pat Riley took up for Wade but did ask the rhetorical question we’ve all been uttering since last year’s Finals: “Does he have to reinvent himself? Absolutely.” At this point in his career, can Dwyane Wade develop a consistent outside shot? Half the league rests on that question, because without a jump shot, what exactly can he contribute—consistently—to a championship squad? Wade, an all-time great, excelled because of his athleticism, overcompensating for being slightly undersized by skying over jokers. Wade was and remains a tremendous finisher, but his lack of bounce and his loss of quickness make him a liability now. He’s still capable of spurts but over the last two seasons, he’s fallen far. The Spurs ended any and all illusions about his future as a slasher. He shot 28% from the 3 last season (an improvement over the last two seasons) and that allowed defenders to sag off of him, disrupting Miami’s offensive flow. If Wade is unable to add an outside shot to his arsenal, the whole team will suffer unless they attract enough FA’s to counter.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the ability become a great defensive wing a la Tony Allen or Kawhi Leonard. At 6’7″, his combination of length, quickness, strength and intelligence predicts that that type of potential. However, as a two-way player he leaves much to be desired. Having made the playoffs this year, the Charlotte Hornets are inching towards relevance once again, with guys like Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson showed up this season in a big way, raising the stakes for next year. The roster still doesn’t get consistent scoring from the wing and MKG, for all his defensive prowess, doesn’t help that on O. He shot 45% from the field this past season—not great—however, Kidd-Gilchirst made ONE three-pointer last season. That’s got to change pronto.
John Wall is arguably the fastest guy in the League. I’m not sure there really is an argument against that, but I’m trying to be democratic. He’s also a deft ball handler, a very good finisher at the rim and an improving passer. His improvement is directly linked to the Washington Wizards’ upswing. A trash bag franchise, since the days of the Agent Zero-Caron Butler-Larry Hughes Big Three, the Wiz are ascending, but Wall still has a ways to go. Biggest weakness? He can’t shoot reliably or judiciously. We need to hear those cliché reports that he’s taking 700 shots a day over the summer, because shooting 43% from the field isn’t cutting it for an All-Star PG, especially since being able to pull up would make his transition game unstoppable.
Blake Griffin took a respectable leap last year, becoming a more versatile scorer and a better rebounder, a leader capable of carrying the team while Chris Paul was injured. Defensively he’s no longer a non-factor, though improvement on that end is still necessary if the Clippers are going to take the step into legit contender status. In order for this to happen, Griffin has to be smarter player and that means avoiding foul trouble. In the postseason he spent way too much time on the pine, and when he did return, couldn’t go full blast for fear of disqualification.4 of 9
Harden averaged 25 points, six assists and nearly five rebounds per game in the just completed 13-’14 campaign. He is the offensive catalyst for one of the highest scoring teams in the league and none of that meant jack once the postseason wrapped. Portland was able to close out in six over Houston simply because the Rockets’ perimeter players couldn’t stop the Blazer guards. Harden especially struggled, scoring failing grades on effort, foot speed, hand speed…you name it. Harden’s D is now an internet joke and regardless of what free agent they’re chasing, if he doesn’t improve opposing guards will still win the scoring battle.5 of 9
Do all of Kyrie Irving’s teammates dislike him or is it just a few of them? One thing’s for sure, the number isn’t zero. Irving, beset all season by injury, rebellious teammates and the Cavs organization itself had a rough ’13-14. As the team’s star, Irving caught all the flak –– some warranted, some unwarranted –– and words like “Marburyesqe” were thrown around. So what does Irving need to get to the next level? The maturity to know how to lead. That includes melding with different personalities. He might consider some summer workouts with teammates to get on the same page.6 of 9
Nobody, and I mean nobody, fell off like Roy Hibbert did in the ’13-’14 season. Coming into the season he was held up as a difference-maker, a true big capable of dominant defensive moments. Through the first half of the year he and the Indiana Pacers were rolling along and then boom, someone or something turned the lights out. His stats this year fell in every category and then the postseason came, where his lethargic body language and listless play became the stuff of legend. Hibbert might need to take a vacation and get his mind right.7 of 9
Kevin Durant just won an MVP Award, so it’s not like his game is full of holes. He’s a rare talent, capable of greatness any moment of any day on any basketball court. However, getting bodied by Chris Paul in the second round and really throughout the postseason pulled the curtain back on his greatest weakness. For all his size and talent, the fact that he can’t score with this back to the basket limits his greatness in a way that it shouldn’t for a guy of his stature. If he wants to return to the Finals, finding a post game should be a priority.8 of 9
Remember when Jennings was a hot-shot prep star who went overseas to play rather than ball for free at Arizona? Remember when he was a highly touted young player with big time potential? Seems like a long time ago for the inconsistent guard who spent last year driving basketball fans nutty with his inconsistent play for the Pistons. We can discuss a lot of thing when it comes to Jennings but really every debate needs to start the same. Jennings shot 37% from the field last year as a starting point guard for a team that only won 29 games in the first year of his $24 million contract.