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NBA AM: Contract-Year Player Watch – Revisited

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Contract-Year Performers to Watch

Back in November, we took a look at 15 players who were on the verge of free agency this summer. Some guys were struggling on the floor to start the season with free agency looming in the near future, while others were putting together some of their best work under the pressure.

Today we take a look at these same guys and how they’re faring headed down the stretch. Did they maintain, improve or decline?

Hassan Whiteside, Center, Miami HEAT
2015-16 Salary: 
$981k
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
15 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 64% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 13.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 61% FG, 54 GP 

The summer of 2016 will be loaded with talented big men and Whiteside’s name will undoubtedly be among the top mentioned. Whiteside has battled numerous injuries throughout the season and is currently coming off the bench for the HEAT, but the center has consistently produced upper tier results for a team leading the Southeast Division.

 

Al Jefferson, Center, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary: 
$13.5 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats:
14.9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, 54% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 12.1 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block, 49% FG, 27 GP

Jefferson entered the season after shedding significant weight to improve his conditioning. However, the veteran has appeared in just 27 contests and is currently working his way back into form while coming off the bench behind Cody Zeller. It is safe to say Jefferson is no longer the franchise changer the Hornets invested in when he first arrived to town, but if healthy he can still be a difference maker on the low block in an ever changing game.

 

Kevin Durant, Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 Salary: 
$20.1 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 50% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 28.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 51% FG, 56 GP

Durant will be this summer’s marquee free agent available. The veteran entered the campaign attempting to shake off the injury woes from a season ago and has delivered the goods, getting better as the season has progressed. The Thunder appear to be a step behind the league leading Golden State Warriors, but potentially facing Durant in a seven-game series is a difficult task for any team.

 

Rajon Rondo, Guard, Sacramento Kings
2015-16 Salary: 
$10 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 42% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 12 assists, 45% FG, 58 GP

Rondo was a huge question mark entering the season based on his tumultuous ending in Dallas. But the veteran has put together a stellar campaign running the show in Sacramento. There were questions on how Rondo would fit in the changing league, being a guard without a consistent three-point shot, but the guard has proven to still be one of the best playmakers in the game today.

 

Andre Drummond, Center, Detroit Pistons
2015-16 Salary: 
$3.2 million
Summer Status: 
Restricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
19.4 points, 19.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 53% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 16.7 points, 15.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 52% FG, 63 GP

Detroit cannot seem to fully get over the hump as a team, but Drummond snagged his first All-Star appearance and appears poised to earn his first rebounding crown at season’s end. The future is bright for the big man who has maintained a high level of play throughout the campaign.

 

Joakim Noah, Center, Chicago Bulls
2015-16 Salary: 
$13.4 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
2.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 32% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 4.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 38% FG, 29 GP

Noah is out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury. But before then, the veteran appeared in just 29 contests and averaged only 22 minutes per game, which is a far cry from his All-Star days. It remains to be seen if Noah is part of the Bulls’ long-term plans, but with the injuries piling up, a move to a bench role and his expected asking price this summer, it’s more than fair to wonder if he’ll return to Chicago.

 

Mike Conley, Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
2015-16 Salary: 
$9.6 million 
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6 assists, 39% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 15.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 42% FG, 56 GP

After a slow start to the campaign, the Grizzlies are once again in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase. With center Marc Gasol out for the rest of the season, Conley takes over the primary scoring role for Memphis down the stretch.

 

Zaza Pachulia, Center, Dallas Mavericks
2015-16 Salary: 
$5.2 million 
Summer Status:
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
9.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 9.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 47% FG, 58 GP

Tough. Hard-nosed. Unselfish. These attributes still apply for the veteran center. Pachulia spent the majority of the campaign averaging a double-double for the Mavericks who were desperately needing an inside presence to emerge.

 

Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 Salary: 
$12 million
Summer Status:
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
16.7 points, 8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 49% FG, 9 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 blocks, 51% FG, 63 GP

Another All-Star campaign for one of the game’s most consistent and steady players.

 

Bradley Beal, Guard, Washington Wizards
2015-16 Salary: 
$5.7 million
Summer Status: 
Restricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
22.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 49% FG, 6 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 45% FG, 41 GP

Beal is oozing with All-Star potential and was off to a breakout campaign before injuries arose – again. So heading into the offseason, the question that continues to hover over Beal is whether the guard can stay healthy. His minutes are currently being managed by the franchise very tightly to keep the young guard healthy.

 

Marvin Williams, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary: 
$7 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
10.7 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block, 46% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 10.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1 block, 44% FG, 61 GP

Williams will always be known as the guy selected before All-Star guard Chris Paul back in 2005, but the veteran has carved out a solid career. The veteran has also been one of Charlotte’s most consistent performers this season while anchoring the club’s power forward position, averaging nearly 30 minutes per night.

 

Joe Johnson, Guard, Miami HEAT
2015-16 Salary: 
$24.9 million (bought out by Brooklyn, league minimum rest of season with Miami)
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
10.3 points, 5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 33% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Miami Only Stats: 14 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 60% FG, 5 GP

Johnson is no longer an elite player capable of carrying a team to the playoffs on his shoulders, but he figures to be an important member of Miami’s rotation once the playoffs begin.

 

Nicolas Batum, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary: 
$13.1 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 42% FG, 52 GP

Batum was hobbled by a variety of injuries last season in Portland, which impacted his production and stock. The veteran also battled injuries earlier this season but heading down the stretch, Batum is clearly showing why the Hornets believe he should be a building block for their future.

 

Eric Gordon, Guard, New Orleans Pelicans
2015-16 Salary: 
$15.5 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
17.7 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 15.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 42% FG, 45 GP

Another year, another season filled with injuries. Gordon is out for the remainder of the season after suffering a finger injury. No doubt Gordon has game, but his next team will have to assume the injury risk for the veteran.


End of the road in New Orleans for Eric Gordon?

Speaking of Gordon, it seems fitting that his tenure in New Orleans may end with the veteran guard watching from the sidelines – in a tailored suit. Gordon is in the final year of his current deal and will enter the summer as an unrestricted free agent for the first time of his career.

The guard was traded to the Pelicans prior to the 2012 campaign, in the Chris Paul blockbuster, after spending his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers where he was emerging as a potential star. But his run in Pelicans has been filled with ups, downs, flashes of potential and injuries. At one point, he even signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns as a restricted free agent and asked New Orleans to let him leave, but the Pelicans matched anyway.

New Orleans officially announced Gordon would miss the remainder of this season after undergoing successful surgery to repair his fractured right ring finger. During Gordon’s five seasons with the Pelicans, the veteran never appeared in more than 64 contests in any campaign and played in just 221 out of a possible 394 games since arriving to town.

While Gordon and the Pelicans’ brass have maintained a public vow to explore a long-term relationship this summer, it is widely expected that the guard will fully explore all of his options.

In 221 contests (five seasons) with the Pelicans, Gordon has averaged 15.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds. In 196 contests (three seasons) with the Clippers, Gordon averaged 18.1 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons