Welcome back to NBAHawks everyone! I think you all know the drill by now, but with this edition I'm dropping the tier structure and just running the list top-to-bottom. Also included is a mini-Christmas-Day-NBA-Slate preview, as that's when the NBA season begins in earnest. As always, questions, comments, and suggestions are always welcome in the comments. Let's get to it!
Cole Aldrich - LA Clippers
Cole's playing time... well... it just doesn't exist. That said, when I was able to see the Clippers in Minnesota it was apparent that he fits in well with the bigs on the squad, as he was constantly joking around with or doing some sort of elaborate handshake with DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin. Getting paid a couple million to sit around, train, be a good guy, and travel all over the US doesn't seem like a bad deal, but I can't help but think that Aldrich could make a positive ON-court contribution somewhere in this league.
Cliff Alexander - Portland Trail Blazers
It would appear that nothing in Cliff's post-High School career will ever be easy, as he appeared in a string of 6 games, and then has been inactive since the beginning of December. He is barely 20 and frontcourt minutes for the Blazers are being consumed by Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, and Meyers Leonard, who are all a part of the team's youth movement and/or first-round picks, so it would appear that either injury or personnel deals will be the avenue to opportunity for Alexander.
Darrell Arthur - Denver Nuggets
Arthur seems to have rebounded somewhat from his last two seasons in which he was relatively inefficient as he attempted to add a three-point-shot to his repertoire. This season he's being slightly more selective behind the arc, and things have come together a bit, with Shady hitting 45% from deep. His defensive acumen has allowed Arthur to maintain his value even with some offensive inefficiency, and with the improvement on that front I would not be surprised to see his minutes count climbing from the high teens to the low-mid twenties as the season progresses.
Tarik Black - LA Lakers
I feel like I should allow TJFSports to write on the topic of Tarik Black, but in his absence I'll just say that he's being underutilized or improperly used by a bad coach, and also note that that sentence applies to nearly every potentially-exciting young player on the Lakers roster.
Mario Chalmers - Memphis Grizzlies
Mario and the Grizzlies have not been able to maintain their torrid pace post-trade, but Chalmers has been sitting at his career-average levels of production in Memphis, where he had been struggling mightily in Miami this season. The three pointer still hasn't been there this season, with a sub-30% conversion rate, but his free-throw rate has been spectacular, which solves a ton of efficiency issues.
Nick Collison - Oklahoma City Thunder
This season has been as expected from Collison, as he has recovered some of the FG% efficiency he had lost last season. Some of that recovery is related to Kevin Durant's return, but even more of it is secondary to his almost complete elimination of the 3-pointers he started taking in '14-15. The drop in attempts from range from 60 to being in the low single-digits fits Nick's skill-set much better, and the Thunder no longer need a backup big to attempt to help stretch the floor.
Drew Gooden - Washington Wizards
Gooden has been dealing with a calf strain and back spasms, so he hasn't played at all since the end of November.
Kirk Hinrich - Chicago Bulls
The Bulls may be in turmoil on the personality-clash side of things, but for Kirk things have been relatively "business as usual". Coming from the bench over the past month he has been hot from 3, shooting nearly 50%, and otherwise playing replacement-level minutes while managing to remain outside of the petty sniping in the media between players and coaches in Chicago.
Sasha Kaun - Cleveland Cavaliers
Kaun hasn't really been an entity for the Cavs, so there's very little to say here, though he did go 2 of 3 from the field in 6 minutes in a blowout of the 76ers a few days ago.
Ben McLemore - Sacramento Kings
McLemore has continued to improve his shooting percentages in his 3rd NBA season, but is finding himself seeing fewer minutes and fewer shots as well. His per-36 stats are nearly identical to last season, but his counting stats are seeing a major decline as he has gone from nearly 33 minutes per game to just 22. That said, shooting 50% from 2, 42% from 3, and 78% from the line (which seems surprisingly low all things considered) will usually get one back on the court when maintained for some time.
Marcus Morris - Detroit Pistons
Marcus has started every game this season for the Pistons, and is on pace to easily set a new career high for minutes played. His efficiency from the field is not always optimal as he often is married to the mid-range jumper, but in maintaining a 46% 2pt% and 38% 3pt% in this edition, it's clear that he's helping more than he's harming the offense, even with the odd shot-selection. He continues to produce a random smattering of box score contributions as well, as he adds 5+ rebounds, 2 assists, and nearly a steal per game to go with his 14 points.
Markieff Morris - Phoenix Suns
Markieff has had a very poor season as he publicly demanded a trade in the offseason when his brother was dealt and then found himself benched at times this year. He recently returned to the lineup in a bench role, but has continued to shoot the ball often (and poorly). At this point it's hard to tell whether he's pushing a bit to get back into a larger role in the lineup or if he's going to just go out there and go crazy until he can manage to get himself traded elsewhere. Time will tell.
Kelly Oubre Jr. - Washington Wizards
After being used minimally for the first quarter of the season Oubre has seen a sharp uptick in minutes over the past week, even seeing a couple of starts as the Wizards wings have been dinged by injuries. K.O. has acquitted himself very well in his new role as he has hit 46% from the field and 53% from 3 while adding a few rebounds, an assist, and a steal per game. He still has a tendency to pick up fouls where he really doesn't need to, but his defensive effort is there, and the polish will come with extended playing time against the NBA's best. If Oubre can keep this up, he will be in line for a far larger role in his rookie season even after the regulars return.
Paul Pierce - LA Clippers
PP just hasn't had it so far this year, he's playing bench minutes and not doing much with them most nights. Pierce is going to have to step it up if he wants to see anything more than the minutes he's currently seeing, but this all may be "keep me from getting rusty" time, with a late-season ramp-up as we saw over the past few seasons in Washington.
Thomas Robinson - Brooklyn Nets
T-Rob is shooting 50+% from the field and his per-36 rebounding numbers are still in the mid-teens, but he can't find minutes in Brooklyn to save his life, and has been a scratch the last three games as he has been struggling with illness.
Brandon Rush - Golden State Warriors
Perhaps the most surprising year-to-year turnaround that I've seen in doing this is Brandon Rush's for the Warriors, after being a human victory cigar last year, Rush has seen 11 starts for a team that has one of the best records in NBA history. He's shooting 47% overall and 50% from 3 after shooting just 20% and 11% from each, respectively, last season. His minutes continue to increase, and he's running with those minutes as he's improving his shooting numbers even as he adds shots.
Andrew Wiggins - Minnesota Timberwolves
Wiggins is killing it, but you probably already know that if you watch Sportscenter. He's hitting 47% from 2 and taking nearly 8 free throws per game on his way to 21 points per game in his age-20 season, and that's despite his 3-point shot just not being there at all (25%). For perspective, the list of players who have averaged 20+ points in their age-19 or age-20 seasons consists of: LeBron (x2), Anthony Davis, Shaq, Adrian Dantley, Kevin Durant (x2), Elton Brand, Carmelo (x2), Tyreke Evans, Kyrie Irving, and Andrew Wiggins.
Jeff Withey - Utah Jazz
Jeff Withey has actually been freed somewhat, as he has appeared in 18 of the last 19 games for the Jazz. He's contributing in those limited minutes as well as he hits 54% from the field and contributes 3 rebounds and a block in his 10-ish minutes per game.
CHRISTMAS DAY SLATE
Pelicans v. Heat (11 CT): This one has no relevance to the Jayhawk faithful, but it's got the potential to be an Anthony Davis National TV Game game, so I'd at least tune the dial over to see if he's putting up a 50-20-10 that you want to be able to tell future generations about at some point in your Christmas lunch.
Bulls v. Thunder (1:30 CT): You may see a bit of Hinrich-Collison time here and relive some of the glory days, just don't look too close. What else are you going to do in the afternoon anyway?
Cavaliers v. Warriors (4 CT): This one is the marquee matchup of the day, Bron/Steph/Irving/Brandon Rush. That's all you need.
Spurs v. Rockets (7 CT): You're more than welcome to watch this, but I find the Rockets nearly unwatchable... Maybe this is the time to try to get your new gadgets in working order? Tune in for the last 5 minutes though, as these games are usually close.
Clippers v. Lakers (9:30 CT): This will 100% be a slaughter. It's Kobe's last Christmas game, so if you want to see the swan song this is all you. There's Cole/Pierce potential in this one if the lead goes above 20 for an extended period as a bonus.