Back in November, we took an extended look at some guys who were seizing their opportunity three weeks into the season. As we head into the New Year, we’re going to take another look at a new set of guys making the most of the opportunities presented.
The opportunity could be due to injuries, a new coach, a new offensive system or a change in personnel. But in the NBA, minutes are king and a player’s ability to secure playing time in the nightly rotation always has the potential to lead to a breakthrough type of season – and breakthrough seasons are typically rewarded.
So today, we’ll take a look at a few guys around the league making the most of their opportunity as we head into 2017.
James Johnson, Forward, Miami HEAT
2015-16: 5.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 16.2 minutes per game
2016-17: 10.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 24.4 minutes per game
Johnson has bounced around the league and could be considered a journeyman depending on your standards. Miami hasn’t looked good for the majority of the season and their spot in the standings is currently screaming lottery. However, Johnson’s play has been one of the franchise’s bright spots early on this season.
The team has been besieged by injuries, which has left head coach Erik Spoelstra scrambling to use different combinations seemingly on a night to night basis. But Johnson has been a consistent force for the HEAT this season. Johnson has thrived as a sixth man, as a secondary lead scorer and as a defensive sparkplug off the bench. If you’re talking about seizing the opportunity, Johnson has definitely fit the bill early on.
Malcolm Brogdon, Guard, Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17: 7.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 21.8 minutes per game
Rookies have a tough time carving out minutes in the NBA, unless they come into the league as a ballyhooed lottery pick. Brogdon, a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, is consistently making life harder for Bucks head coach Jason Kidd to freeze him out of the rotation.
The rookie has come on as a consistent producer for the Bucks, especially during the month of December. This month, the rookie guard is shooting over 50 percent from the floor and three-point range while dishing out four assists per game. Milwaukee is still feeling the impact of shooting guard Khris Middleton’s absence, but Brogdon’s ability to produce in both guard spots has been an unexpected surprise for Milwaukee.
Seth Curry, Guard, Dallas Mavericks
2015-16: 6.8 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 15.7 minutes per game
2016-17: 10.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 26.8 minutes per game
We felt the need to add Curry to the latest list as well. It will be nearly impossible for Curry to break out of the shadow cast by his older brother, two-time MVP Stephen Curry. However, the younger Curry continues to carve out a niche role with the Mavericks so far this season.
With the Mavericks surprisingly eyeing the draft lottery, Curry is on his way to a breakout season mostly due to taking advantage of his opportunity. Entering the season, most didn’t project that Curry would be averaging close to 30 minutes per game heading into January. But with veteran guards Deron Williams and J.J. Barea spending a good portion of the season banged up, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle has leaned on Curry much more than expected.
Sam Dekker, Guard, Houston Rockets
2015-16: 0.0 points, 0.3 rebounds, 0.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 2.0 minutes per game
2016-17: 7.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 19.2 minutes per game
Dekker’s numbers won’t jump off the stat sheet, but the former University of Wisconsin standout has carved out a role in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s revamped offensive system and he provides MVP candidate and All-Star guard James Harden an added luxury on the wing. Dekker has made the most of his opportunity after battling injuries to start his NBA career.
November List – Seizing the Opportunity – Update
T.J. Warren: He missed a significant portion of time due to a head injury, but is still in the midst of a career season.
Vince Carter: The veteran’s play has trailed off a bit over the past month, but it was fun to see the future Hall of Famer defy Father Time – albeit briefly.
Mike Muscala: The forward will head into unrestricted free agency next summer as a sleeper target due to his ability to hit the three at 40 percent accuracy.
Harrison Barnes: The forward has silenced many critics who wondered whether he could shoulder the offensive load. Although it hasn’t translated into wins, the Mavericks’ investment is looking smarter by the day.
George Hill: He hasn’t played much since due to an assortment of nagging injuries.
Sean Kilpatrick: He’s still filling the offensive stat sheet for the rebuilding Brooklyn Nets. However, his time may be impacted moving forward with guard Jeremy Lin’s return from injury.
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