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Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013-14 - A Fresh Start

Kobe Bryant’s return from his achilles injury will probably steal most of the headlines this season but there are an intriguing number of other players who missed a lot of games last year too.   Other veterans such as Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash & Pau Gasol missed significant time.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, Anthony Davis & Jonas Valanciunas are just some of the young players who missed a good portion of games with injuries last year.  We all hope to get 82 games out of every player but the reality is that injuries will happen and key players will be lost for long stretches of the year.  As the 2013-14 regular season is rapidly approaching it’s time to celebrate the return of some big name players whose seasons were cut way too short last season.  Below I take a look at look some of the best players who missed at least half of their team’s regular season games during the 2012-13 season and a little of what we’ll be getting back this year.

Andrew Bynum (CLE, 0 games in 2012-13)
At just 25 years old this will be Bynum’s 9th NBA season.  He is already a 2x NBA champion and was 2nd team All-NBA in 2011-12 when he averaged 18.7 pts, 11.8 reb & 1.9 blk.  After 7 years with the Lakers he was shipped to Philly but knee injuries and setbacks kept him off the court all year.  Bynum is averaging just 44 games per year over the last 6 seasons which is why his incentive-laden deal only guarantees him $6 million for this season.  His game took a huge step forward in 2011-12 finishing in the top 5 in FG% & rebounds and 6th in blocked shots.  He had a couple of 20-20 games and also grabbed 30 rebounds in mid-April game against San Antonio.  He had a triple double in the Lakers first playoff game vs. Denver and finished the playoffs with 16.7 pts, 11.1 reb & 3.1 blk over 12 games.  The question marks are everywhere but when healthy, and motivated, Bynum is certainly a force down low.  He has the ability to transform Cleveland from a young group of lottery picks into a playoff team for the first time since LeBron fled to Miami.  It is unknown when he will actually start playing this year but if he finally puts it all together and his knees prove healthy, the Cavaliers could be really good this season and beyond.

Channing Frye (PHX, 0 games in 2012-13)
In one of the feel good stories of the season, Frye announced he had been cleared medically to play again after missing all of last year with an enlarged heart which threatened to end his career.  Frye has been with the Suns since the 2009-10 season when he shot 43.9% from 3-point range and helped Phoenix reach the Western Conference Finals.  A lot has changed since then but for Frye it’s all about being able to play.  He was a starter in his last two healthy season and averaged 12.7 pts & 6.7 reb in 2010-11 & 10.5 pts & 5.9 reb in 2011-12.  While it might be a long year for the Suns as a whole, it’ll certainly feel good to see near 7-footer dragging big men out beyond the arc again.

Derrick Rose (CHI, 0 games in 2012-13)
Rose averaged 25 pts, 7.7 ast & 4.1 reb per game during his 2010-11 MVP season.  He followed that up by taking Chicago to the Eastern Conference finals and putting up 27.1 pts & 7.7 ast in 16 games before the Bulls fell to Miami.  In 2011-12, Rose was limited to just 39 of Chicago’s 66 games before tearing his ACL during a 23-9-9 performance in the playoffs.  His scoring was down slightly to 21.8 per game for the season but he was still playing at an All-Star level.  The ACL injury cost him all of last season, to the ire of most fans, as he watched Chicago once again get bounced from the playoffs by the Heat, this time in the Conference Semis.  Much has been made about Rose’s long recovery time but all that matters now is he is back and the Bulls are once again a legitimate threat to Miami’s attempted 3-peat.  Rose played 20 minutes and scored 13 points against the Pacers in the Bulls opening preseason game and followed that up by sitting out the next 2 games with knee soreness.  But 22 points in 22 minutes vs. Detroit and 32 points in 32 minutes vs. Indy in the last two games put everyone on notice that the former MVP is ready.  While he might not play every back to back early on, Rose appears to back to near full strength with his sights solely set on a NBA title run.

Danny Granger (IND, 5 games in 2012-13)
Granger returns from left knee surgery to a Pacers team that took Miami to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals without him.  In 2011-12 he averaged 18.7 pts after previously scoring 20+ per game in the 3 seasons prior.  In 2008-09, Granger was a top 5 scorer at a 25.8 clip and while he isn’t what he used to be he can certainly be a difference maker for Indy.  It’s Paul George’s team now and it’ll be interesting to see if the Pacers dangle Granger’s $14M expiring contract around the trade deadline.  For now, Granger will likely be the starting 2-guard on an exciting Pacers team looking to take that next step.

Kevin Love (MIN, 18 games in 2012-13)
Love made his mark during the 2010-11 season taking a huge leap forward and winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in the process.  He started all 73 games he played and saw his averages jump from 14.0 to 20.2 points per game & 11.0 to 15.2 rebounds per game.  Those 15.2 rebounds were the most by any player since Ben Wallace averaged 15.4 during the 2002-03 season with the Pistons.  Love followed that up in 2011-12 by jumping his scoring average up to 26.0 points per game while still hauling in 13.3 rebounds per, both good enough for top 5 in the league.  Last year he broke his right hand twice and managed just 18 games to the tune of 18.3 pts & 14.0 reb.  Love enters the year at just 25 years old and with aspirations of taking Minnesota to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.  During the 2010-11 season, Love broke Moses Malone’s modern era record with 53 consecutive double doubles, the most since the ABA/NBA merger in 1976.  He has played 164 games over the last 3 years and has double doubles in 146 of them, or in 89% of his games.  During that time, he also has 15 games of 20 pts & 20 reb, 7 games of 30 pts & 20 reb and even a 31 point/31 rebound performance against the Knicks.  Love was obviously morphing into one of the best players in the league before the injuries last year and could easily work his way back to top 5 status.

Anderson Varejao (CLE, 25 games in 2012-13)
Varejao’s last 81 games have been spread over 3 seasons.  3 years ago his season was cut short by a right ankle injury followed by broken right wrist a year later.  Last season it was discovered that he had a life-threatening blood clot in his left lung and he had to have emergency surgery.  Through 25 games last year Varejao was averaging a league-leading 14.4 rebounds per game.  While injuries have robbed him of his early prime years he is still one of the most fun players to watch on a basketball court.  His energy level is through the roof and he’s one of the best big men at running the floor.  He seems to do multiple things every game to help his team win and a healthy Varejao is a welcome site.

Amar’e Stoudemire (NY, 29 games in 2012-13)
Stoudemire has been limited the last 2 seasons with knee problems.  He played 29 games in a reserve role for the Knicks last year.  He was able to return for the playoff series against Indiana but hardly saw the court and was generally ineffective.  The 6-time All-Star averaged 25.3 pts & 8.2 reb in 2010-11, his first season in New York after signing his $100M dollar deal but has not played up to the level that we had come to expect from him during his time with Phoenix.  He was recently cleared for practice drills and hopes to play on opening night.  He’s vowed to return to form and the Knicks will certainly need him to stay healthy & be productive if they have any hopes of going deeper in the playoffs this season.

Andrew Bogut (GS, 32 games in 2012-13)
Bogut fractured his ankle during the 2011-12 season with the Bucks and missed the remainder of the year.  However, Golden State took a chance on him by trading away Monta Ellis for the injured big man.  Bogut came back for good in late January and helped the Warriors playoff push.  He averaged 7.2 pts, 10.9 reb & 1.5 blk during the playoffs and while he’s not the same player who was drafted first overall once upon a time, he’s still a solid rebounder & excellent defensive player down low.  Just a few days ago he had to leave the Warriors preseason game in Shanghai with back spasms so we’ll see what happens from here.  The Warriors are viewed as a contender this season and a healthy Bogut will go a long way to getting them to that next level.

Glen Davis (ORL, 34 games in 2012-13)
Big Baby was averaging 15.1 pts & 7.2 reb per game before breaking his foot midway through last season.  He was one of the lone bright spots during the first half of a rough Orlando season.  Now after 2 surgeries in 6 months on his left foot Davis himself even said his foot will never be the same again.  The timetable for his return is still unknown and this season is all about the youth movement for the Magic so it’ll be interesting what his role is if and when he returns.  If Davis can return and show that he still has some value he will most likely be dealt for whatever Orlando can secure in return.  Foot injuries for big men are tough and it would be a shame if Davis can’t get back on track after his best season of his career.

Andrea Bargnani (NY, 35 games in 2012-13)
Mulitple right elbow injuries limited Bargnani in Toronto last season, his worst in the last 5 years.  He also missed half of the 2011-12 season with a calf injury.  His time in Toronto was tenuous, to say the least, and new GM Masai Ujiri made the move to dump Bargnani and his contract to the Knicks for spare parts & future 1st round pick.  While he has never lived up to his billing as the 2006 number one overall pick, Bargnani should welcome the fresh start on a playoff team where he won’t be the focus at all.  Everyone knows, as his retractors point out, he’s terrible defensively and his lack of rebounding is what’s bad about him but in New York he should thrive in as a 2nd or 3rd option on the 2nd unit.  3 years ago he was averaging 21.4 pts per game and he enters this year at just 28 years of age so there’s still hope he can become a key cog for the Knicks this season.

Rajon Rondo (BOS, 38 games in 2012-13)
Rondo has made 4 straight All-Star teams and has averaged over 11 assists per game in each of the last 3 seasons.  He’s also made the NBA All-Defensive 1st or 2nd team in 4 consecutive years from 2009-2012.  Rondo tore his ACL midway through last season and his return date is still unknown at this point.  What is known is that when he returns he’ll find a completely different team around him.  Even more, he’ll find his name swirling around trade rumors all year long as the rebuilding Celtics could definitely move him if they look to completely bottom out.  Rondo is a nightly triple-double watch when healthy who will be making great plays on both ends of the court when he does finally come back.

Lou Williams (ATL, 39 games in 2012-13)

The former Sixers combo guard tore his ACL halfway through his first season with the Hawks.  He was averaging 14.1 points per game as one of the best 6th men in the NBA before going down.  His recovery is said to be going well and he recently began practicing with the team again.  Williams is a productive volume scorer with a shoot first mentality who’s best with the ball in his hands.  It’s possible at some point that we will see Williams as the starting 2-guard next to Jeff Teague as Kyle Korver is best suited at small forward and there really aren’t any other starting caliber guards on Atlanta’s roster.  Either way, it will be nice to see Williams attacking the rim again and help his hometown team push for a playoff berth. 

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