What makes a player a team cancer? In the NBA it can be a black hole or the guy that orchestrates bad team chemistry. He often takes a lot of shots, sometimes all of the shots. This is not always a bad thing (taking the majority of the shots), but it’s dependent on the situation.
Classic NBA examples are Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison, both ball dominant players who scored a lot of points, made All-Star teams and did little to help their teams compete for a championship. The types of players that will occasionally fill a highlight reel on their own, but rarely make the players around them better. Quite simply, they don’t play well with others.
This list is looking at active players only at this moment. Carmelo Anthony could possibly be the best player on a championship team, but playing on the current Knicks squad is toxic for not only Anthony, but the others that are forced to play alongside him. A perfect example of a player hurting the development of the team and just not a good fit.
We will try to cover the gamut, ranging from veterans not ready to let the ball go to classic ball hogs to straight up “chuckers.” Who doesn’t make the list? Mostly guys no longer relevant, players that no longer get enough minutes to screw up a team; that means no Michael Beasley or Vince Carter. Also, you might be surprised to not find Monta Ellis on the list. Yeah, we’re still not sold on this one either, but he does appear to have started a new chapter in Dallas.
Here are the guys that you don’t want to trade for and in some cases will actually pay to have them leave your team. This is the top 15 NBA cancers in the game today.
15. J.R. Smith – Cleveland Cavaliers
J.R. Smith had a good run with the Knicks. He was the “microwave” guy that could get hot and take over a game on his own. He was new and fresh. Everyone loves the new guy who can get points, but when that doesn’t translate it can get ugly fast. Once the Knicks started to fall Smith began forcing more and more shots until eventually you knew he was going to shoot every time the ball got to him. J.R. isn’t the reason the Knicks are awful, but they took a step forward shipping him off to Cleveland. I can’t wait to see the look on LeBron James‘ face when Smith pulls up five feet outside the arc.
14. Brandon Jennings – Detroit Pistons
Ever since being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, Brandon Jennings has had chucker tendencies. The worst thing that happened was Jennings dropping 55 just weeks into his NBA career. After that too often he was firing away instead of looking for the pass. Shoot-first point guards don’t last long and Jennings, although not entirely a lost case, continues to struggle with passing first. Since being traded to Detroit, Jennings has struggled to the point of having to come off the bench. Recently he has regained a starting role, but that will only last so long should the chucking start up again.
13. Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks
Already briefly discussed, but this is a situation where a player is way out of place. Carmelo Anthony should take a lot of shots, but they should still come through the flow of the game and not be forced just because you are Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the team stinks. I hope the Knicks do the right thing and deal Anthony before it’s too late because both are going down if they don’t. I realize Anthony looks good in the orange headband, but he would also look good in Maverick green or Laker purple. He needs to at least get the opportunity to try one on for fit.
12. Rudy Gay – Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay has always been a gunner who has a lot of shot attempts. Part of this has been the poor teams he has played for, but again, like other players on this list, there is a reason Gay is usually discussed each trade deadline. Despite being marketed as a group of superstars, the NBA is still a team game and Rudy Gay does not appear to fully engage in this concept. Any lane with the slightest opening is an opportunity for Gay to slash, pull up or turn the ball over. Gay could be a great “second” guy, but time has shown he should not be a number one option.
11. Kevin Martin – Minnesota Timberwolves
Shooters got to shoot, right? If you are Reggie Miller or Larry Bird or Ray Allen then yes. Kevin Martin has not earned the eternal green light, but that doesn’t stop him from firing the ball most chances he gets. Martin is another “hot streak” shooter that attempts to shoot until he’s hot which often hurts his team. Even the greatest shooters knew when to dish the ball or put in on the floor and drive to the hoop. Sometimes it looks like Martin is playing an entirely different game on the court, sometimes it looks like he is playing H-O-R-S-E.
10. Tyreke Evans – New Orleans Pelicans
He came into the league with Brandon Jennings and both were lauded as future stars in the league. It didn’t take long for Evans shtick to wear on his team in Sacramento. Despite having a natural talent to get to the hoop and both finish and draw fouls, Evans didn’t develop his point guard skills. You could say they got worse. Part of this could be blamed on the Kings, I mean with the Clippers having success in recent years, the Kings are one of the worst franchises, but it was never just the team. Eventually they parted ways. Evans was last seen with the ball in New Orleans.
9. Lance Stephenson – Charlotte Hornets
With Indiana last season, Lance Stephenson’s role was defined. He was a defensive specialist who could score, at least enough to keep the defense honest. He also likes to blow in ears. Naturally, Charlotte felt he was the missing piece so they threw a lot of money at him. Nothing said Stephenson should be “the guy” and now that role has been forced upon him. He has not done well and the ill-fit has ruined any team chemistry the team had last season. This was supposed to be a big year for Michael Jordan and his Charlotte franchise, but instead they have a losing team based around a guy most known for blowing in LeBron’s ear. Can anything salvage this team? Do you hear that? It’s Michael Jordan pondering another comeback!
8. Nick Young – Los Angeles Lakers
Nick Young is a young shooting guard that isn’t so young anymore. In his eighth season, the once promising shooter has become a shoot-first guard that rarely factors into team play. What Young really likes to do is shoot threes and a low percentage. Young has bounced around from team to team, hoping to find a good fit. Right now he is with the Los Angeles Lakers and that’s not a great place for him to be. Someone who has a reputation for shooting too often should not be mentored by Kobe Bryant. Oh wait, Bryant doesn’t have time to mentor; he’s too busy shooting, himself.
7. Joe Johnson – Brooklyn Nets
Can you be clutch as well as a team cancer? If the answer is yes then Joe Johnson is the number one example. When things are going good, Johnson is a great teammate to have; good for 20 a game and always wanting the ball in his hands at the end of the game. The flipside is when he is not surrounded with All-Star talent; instead, reverting back to the black hole he was at times in Atlanta. Case in point, for the past two years Joe Johnson has been a solid contributor for the Brooklyn Nets. This year, the Nets are short on talent (and bodies in general) and Johnson’s field goal attempts have risen while his field goal percentage has dropped. Also, that contract…
6. Stephen Jackson – Free Agent
Where were you when the brawl at The Palace happened? Do you remember Stephen Jackson? Of course you do. He was the one who looked like he was going to kill someone. That was many years ago, but it’s tough to shake that one off. Since, Jackson has bounced around from team to team, sometimes playing with cellar dwellers (Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Hornets) and other times hooking on with championship teams (San Antonio Spurs). What’s interesting is how he doesn’t stay very long anywhere. Question: How long does it take to divide a locker room? Answer: Approximately two years, the average number of years a team will keep Stephen Jackson.
5. Danny Granger – Miami Heat
How do you know when a team is better off without someone? Easy, look at how the team performs once he is injured or gets traded. Danny Granger went from All-Star caliber with Indiana to bench role guy in less than two years. It was clear when he was out that the Pacers were a better team that spread the ball more and played team defense. Two characteristics not tied to Granger’s game. It’s hard to know whether he was going to get franchise money from Indiana, but I’m pretty sure he would have eventually got it from someone. Sometimes scoring isn’t enough…
4. Carlos Boozer – Los Angeles Lakers
There have been times in Carlos Boozer’s career where he was a sure “double double” guy, known for tough defense down low and a good post game. Boozer was a valuable power forward thought to be a missing piece for several teams. The key to this of course is that each trade deadline Boozer was (and is) available. That’s a warning sign. Now Boozer is known as the guy that is never giving the ball back once it’s thrown to him. This is bad news for his current employer, the Los Angeles Lakers. There is a silver lining though and that is since Kobe isn’t passing the ball, Boozer doesn’t get as many opportunities as he’d like.
3. Jordan Crawford – Currently Playing with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association
Sometimes there are chuckers, and then sometimes there are players that refuse to not shoot the ball. Jordan Crawford has never met a shot he doesn’t like. You can throw a double team or triple team and never have to worry about leaving your man because Crawford is still going to shoot it. Sure, there are games where he may single handedly deliver a victory via hot shooting, but they call them “streaks” for a reason. Crawford has to be in the right situation or you will end up with a team standing around watching Crawford fire the ball toward the hoop. Winning and percentages don’t mean anything for guys like Crawford as long as they get their points.
2. Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers
Obviously this has not always been the case and obviously because of Kobe Bryant the Lakers have added championships to their team legacy. However, the current Lakers team, made up of Kobe Bryant and a lot of spare parts is not a good thing for Bryant. Kobe has a lot to offer, but jacking up 30 shots a game and refusing to pass the ball isn’t helping his legacy and sure as hell isn’t helping his team. Here’s a fun idea: watch the Lakers and take a drink each time you witness teamwork. You won’t even catch a buzz. Actually you will end up being the designated driver. Wait, there is nothing fun about that idea.
1. Josh Smith – Houston Rockets
Josh Smith was so bad for his team that the Detroit Pistons paid him $20 million to just go away. Smith is a classic case of promise and talent without the head to match. With Atlanta he was athletic with a flourishing offensive package to go along with being a defensive presence, sometimes. That was always the knock on Smith, he’s never been consistent. You can’t be an NBA starter without being somewhat consistent, especially when receiving gigantic checks. If nothing else, Josh Smith will be known as the NBA player who got the greatest severance package of all time!
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