As I continue to watch the great improvement of players like Kevin Durant, Monta Ellis and Brandon Roy, my eyes tend to focus on the players that – although maybe putting up numbers – are still playing below the standards they should be setting. That’s why they have made my Top 10 disappointments list for the first half of the season. I am becoming increasingly disturbed with all the excuses that come from players’ mouths about why they are struggling.
I will admit that the athletes that grace our NBA courts today are better overall athletes compared to players 15 years ago, but in the same sense they are probably the softest and most mentally timid I have ever seen.
The league has relaxed the rules to a point that if you can actually put the ball on the floor two times, an average player becomes pretty good offensively. Still they complain when a player makes contact. Don’t they realize we had to play through hand checking from end to end? Don’t they realize there was a time a defender could put two hands in your back on the post? Don’t they realize when you drove the lane players would take you out without the threat of a flagrant foul or ejection?
If Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley played in today’s game with these rules, only two current players would be still getting superstar attention: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Why? Because they are physically and mentally tougher than anyone in the game.
Young players like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, etcetera, would be very good players… But would trail behind the players I listed. My word to players in today’s game is to toughen up both mentally and physically. And, most importantly, stop complaining.
If I hear one more coach or announcer complain about a team playing back-to-back games or four times in five nights, I am going to scream. If those great players listed above did not have to play three games in three nights or six games in seven days back then, what kind of numbers would they have had? I sometimes think the players today think NBA players have always flown charters, had equipment managers to wash their uniforms and carry them. Most importantly, I assume they think teams provided meals before and after games.
What David Stern should do every year for two months is take away the charters and make them fly commercial, force players to wash their own uniforms and play three games in three nights in three different time zones. I would bet that the appreciation would return immediately for how good this league has become and the part they play in it.
I picked these players as my mid-season disappointing Top 10 for various reasons. Most of them have very good stats, but could be playing much better and hopefully they will turn it around for the sake of their teams in the second half of the season.
10. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
I know he has been injured over the last few years, but so have Kobe Bryant and Amare Stoudemire. He seems to have aged five years since last season. He went 0-10 against OKC the other day and I would not have ever imagined a player that gets to the basket like Ginobili would have that kind of night. 40 percent from the field is horrible for a scorer like Ginobili, so you would hope he improves dramatically in the second half and gets back in rhythm.
9. Mehmet Okur, Utah
This guy is a classic underachiever. Okur has everything a complete player needs except the toughness to top it off. He can post up, shoot from anywhere on the court and pass the ball, but yet Jerry Sloan never knows what he’s going to get from Okur. No way should he be shooting 42 percent from the field with his all-around game. I know they are trying to trade Carlos Boozer and that could be the wrong move if Okur does not become a more consistent player.
8. Vince Carter, Orlando
This is not all Vince Carter’s fault. Why would a team that made the Finals a year ago allow a player to come in and take a team-leading 15 shots per game while he is shooting a terrible 39 percent from the field? Carter is doing what he has always done. He should have been instructed by the most dominant player on the team, Dwight Howard, that he wants the ball and Carter could have made it happen. Carter is streaky and when healthy will explode, but the Magic will not repeat as Eastern champs if Carter is taking most of the shots.
7. Dwight Howard, Orlando
He’ the only superstar on this list. And that’s because he’s too nice. Howard is averaging 10 free-throw attempts a game while attempting 9 shots. Yes, I know that equates to more attempts than it really shows. But here is the problem… Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson are shooting terrible from the field. Howard has to demand the ball more and convince those three that their percentage and confidence will rise accordingly. He will get them to the bonus early in quarters and thus soften the defensive pressure on his jump shooters. Every scorer knows the way to consistent shooting is getting to the line and Howard is the highway to getting them there.
6. Derrick Rose, Chicago
The last Rookie of the Year has not excelled in terms of leadership in the fashion I expected. He should be averaging much more than 6 assists a game even if running mate Ben Gordon is not there. Defensively, he has not improved either. Just one steal per game. I admit the Bulls are in a little turmoil lately, but this should not be affecting Rose, who has the ability to become one of the top point guards in the league for many years to come. I expect Rose to take off in the second half and one signal is his ability to score consistently in the fourth quarter when his team needs him most.
5. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee
The Australian center is putting up very good numbers, but a No. 1 pick should be a star. He has excellent footwork and a high IQ on the court, but it seems like he is satisfied with just being OK. I saw him miss a game-tying layup from point-blank range against the Suns last week. He tried a finger roll instead of emphatically tearing the rim down. I like Brandon Jennings, but do you think Hakeem Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal in their prime would allow a rookie to jack up three-point shots with 15 seconds on the shot clock.
4. Elton Brand, Philadelphia
I honestly thought Brand would make an easy adjustment from Achilles surgery because he plays well below the rim, but he looks slow and mechanical. He has had some solid games and has sent messages that he can get it done on some nights, but not at the consistent level coach Eddie Jordan would like. I think we should wait a while before we solidify that Brand will not get back to an All-Star level, but the window is slowly closing.
3. Ben Gordon, Detroit
Detroit has not had a good run when it comes to acquiring players lately. Gordon is a fabulous offensive talent, but I just questioned where he would fit on a team with a plethora of swingmen. He needs to be the center of attention in a halfcourt game, but they have Richard Hamilton, Rodney Stuckey and a fireball in Will Bynum. I would not be surprised to see Gordon somewhere else next season.
2. Caron Butler, Washington
A few years ago this was one of my favorite players, but something has happened and I don’t like it. I see a player that had a good body looking overweight and out of shape. He is not as explosive as he once was and most importantly I don’t see the hungry and dirty approach to the game in terms of a physical presence. He is shooting 42 percent from the field and that has to come up, but only if he loses a few pounds and works on his conditioning.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland
He is No. 1 because I think he should be an All-Star every year if he wanted to. He plays the game too soft and seems to back further and further away from the basket the more physical it gets. He has a decent post game and excellent mid-range shot, but does not know how to mix it up. This will be a major problem as we enter the second half of the season. Juwan Howard will not be able to continue to log big-time minutes as the season winds towards the playoffs. Aldridge should be a better field-goal percentage shooter – similar to Amare Stoudemire. But the most surprising stat is he is a terrible shot blocker. The Blazers have lost two centers and now it’s time for Aldridge to get tougher and play like he is capable of or they will struggle to make the playoffs.