The NBA season can be long and grueling. It’s extremely difficult for a team and its players to perform well night in and night out, especially if they have to play three games on consecutive nights or five games in a week’s time. The constant physical and mental toll can be difficult for these men to handle. Nevertheless, some individuals put up fantastic numbers every time they step on the court. They draw the focus of their opponents, but still manage to affect the outcome of almost every single game. That’s in addition to keeping their bodies healthy for most (or all) of an 82-game campaign.
Unfortunately, some of these special athletes are on the rosters of teams who collectively are not among the league’s elite. As a result, the outstanding efforts of these individuals are not rewarded with a chance to compete for an NBA championship. So while scores of lesser players take the floor in late April, May, and June, these standouts must watch it all on TV like the average fan. All they can do is rest up, rededicate themselves to their craft and hope the 2014-15 campaign is kinder to them.
This list salutes those skilled-yet-unfulfilled players who ruled the courts for the past several months but will not compete in the playoffs. It should be noted that this group is made up of those players who notched impressive performances in 2013-14, not those who may be better players on balance but are also sitting home this postseason. Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Derrick Rose are a few who have a better overall body of work for their careers, but their seasons were truncated due to injuries and their stats reflected that.
Let’s look at ten NBA players who turned in exceptional regular seasons – but who won’t be participating in the 2014 NBA Playoffs:
10. Gerald Green – Phoenix Suns
If any of the playoff teams struggle from the three-point line this year, they may wish that they had Green in their backcourt. The former first round draft pick in 2005 finished fourth in the NBA this season in three-pointers made with 204, and was one of only five to break the double-century mark in that category. And he didn’t just fire blindly at the rim every time he got the ball; Green made two out of every five shots he took from beyond the arc. The seven-year NBA veteran played in every game for the Suns and started more than half of them, notching a 15.8 points-per-game average. And the Houston native has other skills as well: he’s a three-time participant in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
9. Brandon Jennings – Detroit Pistons
Every team wants a solid point guard to run the offense and Jennings can best be described as Mr. Reliable for Detroit. The Compton, California native dished out 609 assists this season (including 16 in the first half in a January game against Phoenix, tying the all-time franchise record set by Isaiah Thomas), good for fifth in the league this season. He was also seventh in assists per game at 7.6, and started all but one of the 80 games he played in this season. Jennings was a first-team All-Rookie in 2009-2010 for the Bucks, and played four seasons in Milwaukee before being signed-and-traded for three players to Detroit last July. In his five-year career, Jennings has missed a grand total of four games.
8. Ty Lawson – Denver Nuggets
If Jennings was The Dependable One in the East, then Lawson earns that title in the West among non-playoff teams. Lawson finished higher on the assists-per-game list than Jennings with 8.8 per game, tying him for second in the NBA with Washington’s John Wall and the Lakers’ Kendall Marshall. But he also scored over twice as much as Marshall at 17.6 per contest, recorded an impressive 23 double-doubles, and may have set a career high in points for a season had he not injured his ankle late in the year. The North Carolina standout is also a career 37.5% three-point shooter.
7. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving was one of the few players in the NBA who finished in the top 20 in points per game (20.8), assists per game (6.1), and free throw percentage (.861). The Duke product has started every one of his 181 career games with the Cavs and has already eclipsed 3,700 points in his three-year career. Oh, and his 31 points and 14 assists earned him the Most Valuable Player in this year’s NBA All-Star Game, marking the first year since 2005 that an All-Star Game MVP won’t be playing in the postseason. This season also saw Irving earn his first-ever triple-double in February and notch his career high in points in April with 44. It’s quite possible that Irving may soon become another talented NBA baller who departs Cleveland for greener pastures.
6. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
It looks like Phoenix has found its next big star. The 27-year old Slovenian notched 20.3 points per contest and shot over 40% from the three-point line this past season, putting him in the top 20 in both categories. With his 50.5% overall field goal percentage, Dragic became only the sixth player in NBA history to join the 20-50-40 club. Dragic has scored more points in the last two seasons than in the four previous seasons combined, and set career highs in scoring three different times in the month of February. The Suns were sorry they ever let Dragic go to Houston, so they signed him as a free agent in 2012 and gave him a four-year, $30 million contract to stay in the Valley of the Sun.
5. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The first big man on this list, Cousins actually was second in defensive rebound percentage, meaning that the Kentucky grad pulled down 30.5% of all possible defensive boards during each game on average. Overall, Cousins was fifth in the NBA at 11.7 rebounds per game, and was also tied for ninth in scoring with Toronto’s DeMar DeRozen at 22.7 points per contest. And his 1.3 blocks per game and 1.5 steals per game were also good enough to put him in the league’s Top 20 for the year. That’s the type of performance that the Kings were hoping for when they signed the 23-year old to a four-year, $62 million contract extension back in September.
4. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
As good on the defensive boards as Cousins was, Drummond was as good if not better on the offensive glass this season. The Pistons’ first-round pick in 2012 finished his sophomore NBA season at the top of the pack in offensive rebounds with 440, which was over 100 more than any other player pulled down. He also led the league in total rebound percent at 22.3, while claiming the runner-up spot in total rebounds per game at 13.2. But Drummond could score as well; his 62.3% field goal percentage was second in the NBA only to the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan. And he also was seventh in blocks for the season with 131. The only downside to the Connecticut alum is that he also led the league in personal fouls with 273.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
A coach loves to have a force in the paint like Davis, who led the entire league in blocks per game at 2.82 per contest. He would have probably led the league in total blocks, but Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka played in 81 games while injuries forced Davis to sit out 15 games this year. Davis’s other major talent was getting to the free throw line; his 440 attempts were good for 11th in the NBA. He also pulled down 673 boards, putting him in the league’s top 20 for the year. Davis also finished fourth in player efficiency rating behind Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and the next guy on this list.
2. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Put simply, nobody was a better scorer/rebounder in the NBA this year than Love. The former UCLA standout was fourth in scoring at 26.1 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.5 per contest. Love was also third in free throws made with 520, tied for eighth in successful treys with 190 and was the only player in the league to have over 500 three-point attempts and take more than 600 free throws. Plus, he became the first player ever to notch 100 three-pointers, 900 rebounds, and 2,000 points in the same season. Even though the 25-year old has a year left on his contract with Minnesota, he’s one of the top names that keeps popping up in trade rumors.
1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
If you throw out Durant, Melo becomes the best scorer in the NBA this season. He did lead the league in minutes per contest at 38.7 (along with Chicago’s Jimmy Butler), which contributed to his amazing 27.4 ppg average. Anthony also shot over 40% from beyond the arc and just shy of 85% from the free throw line, finishing in the top 20 in three-pointers with 167 and sixth overall in free throws made with 459. The 29-year old likely cemented his place in the Hall of Fame by becoming the 50th man (and fifth-youngest ever behind LeBron, Kobe, Air Jordan, and Wilt) to score 19,000 points in the NBA. He also recorded his highest point total in his 11-year career in January when he dropped 62 against Charlotte. No wonder he’s the fifth-highest paid player in the NBA at almost $21.4 million this season.