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Head to Head: Who Has a Big Bounce-Back Year?

Which players will bounce back in a big way next year? Our writers discuss.

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Which NBA players are going to bounce back in a big way in the 2015-16 NBA season? Some of these players are coming off of a rough year, some could use a change of scenery and some are just now getting completely healthy. Cody Taylor, Moke Hamilton and Jesse Blancarte look at three players who could bounce back next season:

Paul George

One player who should be in for a big comeback in 2015-16 is Indiana Pacers forward Paul George. June 1 marked 10 months since George suffered a gruesome leg injury in Las Vegas while training with Team USA.

Many expected George to sit out for the entire 2014-15 season while rehabbing his right leg back to full strength, but he defied all expectations and returned on April 5 after missing 76 games. George played in six games after returning and averaged 8.8 points while playing 15 minutes per game. He scored a season-high 13 points in his debut on 5-0f-12 shooting from the field and converted 3-of-6 shots from three-point range.

He scored 10 points in three outings and eight points in another. But in the Pacers’ regular season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies, George scored just two points and had to be carried off of the court by his teammates after suffering an injury to his left leg. Fortunately, the injury was to the opposite leg he had injured with Team USA and an MRI later revealed he just had a sore left calf.

It’s been nearly two months since the Pacers’ season ended, and George told reporters on Thursday that he’s feeling like he’s old self again.

“I’m dunking on both legs, and if we were in the Finals tonight, I’d be ready for LeBron,” George said before playing in a celebrity softball game in Indianapolis. “I guess I should say I’d be ready for the Warriors.”

George impressed head coach Frank Vogel just hours before the softball game in an hour-long workout that left Vogel feeling confident in his two-time All-Star. Vogel told reporters that he thought George looked really good and is encouraged with what he’s been able to do. George has said that he’s regained his old explosiveness and confidence that he displayed prior to the leg injury.

There’s also positive reviews coming from his offseason workout partners.

His 8.8 points per game last season were well below the career-high 21.7 points per game he averaged the season before his injury, but the time he saw on the court will ultimately help him get back to posting MVP-like numbers. Without George, the Pacers turned in a 38-44 record and were alive in the Eastern Conference playoff chase until the final day of the regular season.

George showed extreme passion in returning to the court last season and figures to be 100 percent for the start of next season. The Pacers are built to feed off of George and his return should only bring the team back into the upper tier of the Eastern Conference.

– Cody Taylor

 

Rajon Rondo

Bounce back player of the year is a projection that could go to any number of players, mainly because of the almost unprecedented amount of injuries we saw this past season. Both Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant would be good candidates, as would the previously mentioned Paul George, but I’m going to go into far left field and take Rajon Rondo.

Rondo’s odometer has slowly climbed over the past few years and now, suddenly, finds himself at 29 years old and considered by some to no longer be a top-flight point guard in the NBA. In some ways, it’s understandable. Rondo has simply not been the same player since he tore his left ACL in January 2013. Typically, when a player spends two-plus years attempting to regain form after suffering a debilitating injury, he seldom regains his full form.

One could make the case that Amar’e Stoudemire and Derrick Rose are examples of those that defied this. As for Rondo, though, I think his issues have had more to do with his unhappiness than anything.

Two years later, we can look back at Rondo’s injury as the final straw that ultimately led to Danny Ainge deciding to blow things up in Boston and begin anew. Six months after Rondo’s injury, Ainge traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets just weeks after Doc Rivers had move on to the Los Angeles Clippers. Overnight, around him, the world had changed.

Rondo would eventually be the lone holdover from the Celtics 2008 championship team and with his impending free agency and Ainge contemplating whether to trade the young superstar, it was easy to understand him not being fully happy in Boston and unwilling to commit to the franchise long term.

Many thought the trade to Dallas would rejuvenate Rondo, but he seemed to have trouble finding chemistry with Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. Rondo was asked to play off the ball for large stretches—something he didn’t have to do much of in Boston. He eventually fell out with Rick Carlisle and his tenure in Dallas seems all but over as we approach July 1.

After an uneventful end in Boston and a disastrous few months in Dallas, Rondo’s value has never been lower. It will be quite interesting to see what kind of attention he attracts on the free agency market, but if there is one thing that Pau Gasol showed us this past season, it is that a player who happily finds himself in a new situation is certainly capable of bouncing back. Gasol’s health may have deteriorated as the season progressed, but his rebirth as an All-Star is all the evidence you need.

Rondo will bounce back, regardless as to where he signs this summer. There is nowhere to go but up, and at just 29 years old, I am in the minority of those that think he still has a lot of tread on his tires.

– Moke Hamilton

 

Lance Stephenson

Last offseason, a lot of people were praising the Charlotte Hornets for signing Lance Stephenson to a $27.4 million contract with a team option in 2016-17 for $9.45 million. Stephenson was coming off a season with the Indiana Pacers in which he averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists, while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 35.2 percent from beyond-the-arc.

Well, things didn’t exactly work out the way the Hornets expected in year one with Stephenson. He only managed to play in 61 games, and his minutes per game dropped from 35.3 to 25.8. His averages also dipped to 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. More significantly, Stephenson’s true shooting percentage dropped from 56.4 percent to 41.9 percent. This was a massive dip in production for a player who is just 24 years old and was coming off of a career year.

An early-season groin injury slowed Stephenson down and he never seemed to make a complete recovery. But injuries don’t fully explain the dip in his production. Stephenson was a bad fit with the Hornets from the start as he is a ball-dominant guard, which doesn’t mesh well with Kemba Walker, who is also ball-dominant. Furthermore, Stephenson was at his best when he attacked the rim, but the volume of his shots suddenly started settling for long two-pointers. His inability to hit three-pointers was another reason he was a bad fit with the Hornets, and made him virtually unplayable at times.

As a result of the poor performance, Stephenson was included in trade talks throughout the season and often was left on the bench, even when healthy. This happened despite having a team-friendly contract and entering the season perceived as the player who would help the Hornets take the next step. Stephenson’s inclusion in trade talks is sure to continue until he starts playing at the level he did with the Indiana Pacers. His stock around the league is currently down, but if just one team thinks he is worth the risk, he will get a fresh start on another team where he is potentially a better fit. If he does, we may see the versatile Stephenson we all got to know just a few seasons ago.

Yes, Stephenson has some personality issues that have also gotten in the way of his on-court production. But, at age 24, he is too talented to be sitting on the bench in favor of guys with a fraction of his talent. Whether he is traded this offseason or starts next year with the Hornets, there is plenty of reason to expect that he will have a bounce back season. He is just too talented and too young to expect otherwise.

– Jesse Blancarte

 Who do you think bounces back next year? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

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