NBA: 5 Players Experiencing A Mid-Career Renaissance
Through the first month of the 2016-17 NBA season, it’s time to take a look at five veteran players enjoying a mid-career renaissance.
Just over a month into the 2016-17 NBA season, there have been plenty of narratives to keep tabs on.
The Golden State Warriors have rapidly assembled into the juggernaut we thought they’d be, the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs have made sure we didn’t forget about them in the West, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are reminding people that they’re still the defending champs.
At the bottom of the barrel, the Dallas Mavericks and Washington Wizards have vastly underwhelmed, while teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets are pretty much where we expected them to be.
In terms of the actual players, however, there’s been plenty to watch in the first few weeks of the season. From MVP candidates to new rookies to bench players to bargain contracts to players on bloated salaries, there’s been plenty to digest early on.
Today, our interest lies with the veteran players whose careers have been revitalized so far in 2016-17. Only time will tell if these hot starts hold up, but here are five players whose mid-career renaissances deserve more attention than they’ve been getting.
5. Avery Bradley
Avery Bradley is not typically thought of as a veteran player, but since he’s already 26 years old and in his seventh NBA season, he fits the bill for this list — especially when you consider how well he’s been playing for the Boston Celtics.
Averaging career-highs in scoring (17.9 points per game) and rebounding (7.9 rebounds per game), Bradley has more than proven himself as one the league’s best bargain contracts and most underrated two-way players.
The Celtics are 10-7 in the East despite missing Al Horford and Jae Crowder for a combined 18 games, and a big part of the reason has been Bradley’s stifling defense, his superb .470/.409/.731 shooting splits, and his determination to make sure Boston is not overpowered every night on the boards.
At just under eight boards per game, Bradley is pulling down more rebounds here in 2016-17 than any guard not named Russell Westbrook. Rebounding was a key area of concern for a team that brought in a mediocre rebounder like Horford to be its starting center, and Bradley has answered the call by putting in extra effort for that aspect of the game.
The Celtics still rank 23rd in rebounds per game, 25th in opponent rebounds per game and 25th in rebounding percentage, but as the team’s leading rebounder, Bradley has more than done his part, racking up seven double-doubles through 17 games.
As he continues to knock down threes and help improve a defense that has the makings of a top-10 unit, perhaps Bradley will earn more league-wide recognition for his efforts.
4. Lou Williams
Would anyone have predicted that Louis Williams would be the Los Angeles Lakers‘ best player 18 games into the 2016-17 NBA season? Maybe under a head coach who catered to his veterans like Byron Scott, but not under new head coach Luke Walton.
However, unlike Scott, Walton’s management of his veterans hasn’t come at the expense of the obvious youth movement that’s underway in Hollywood.
With D’Angelo Russell being sidelined by a knee injury, however, former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams has been able to live up to his lofty, Drake-enhanced reputation. He’s averaging a team-high/career-high 16.6 points and 3.3 assists per game off the bench.
Even better, Williams has bucked the typical Jamal Crawford Sixth Man stigma, shooting an efficient 46.3 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three-point range — both career-highs.
The Lakers’ future revolves around Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr., but veterans are necessary to provide a positive example for these moldable balls of clay. Lou Will is certainly doing his part in providing Clarkson an image of what an effective sixth man looks like.
At 9-9, the Lakers are vastly exceeding expectations. After averaging 15.3 points per game on far less efficient .408/.344/.830 shooting splits last year in his first season in Los Angeles, Lou Will is enjoying a career year at an optimal time.
3. George Hill
Though George Hill has only been able to suit up for 10 games this season, you could still make the argument — and a strong one at that — that the Utah Jazz won the three-team Jeff Teague trade by bringing Hill to Salt Lake City.
Teague has played better for the Indiana Pacers after a rocky start, but Hill has had an immediate impact during his limited time in Utah, averaging a career-high 21.2 points, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game on .543/.444/.878 shooting splits while also providing his patented hard-nosed defense on the other end.
Compare this to the 14.6 points and 6.8 assists per game Teague is averaging in Indiana and it’s hard to find any category where he fares better than Hill head-to-head, other than games played.
George Hill career stats: 11.4 PPG (45-38-80), 3.3 APG, 3.2 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 28.8 MPG
With the Jazz: 20.9 (55-47-87), 4.2, 3.3, 1.2, 32.7
— David J. Smith (@davidjsmith1232) November 28, 2016
The Jazz are only 10-8 on the season, which would seemingly hurt Hill’s case as one of Utah’s most impactful players. But since the Jazz are 7-3 in the 10 games he’s played — as opposed to 3-5 in the eight-game stretch he missed due to injury — it becomes pretty clear how valuable this team’s new starting point guard is.
Hill has never been more efficient from three-point range, he’s been aggressive on the offensive end and he’s a significant part of Utah’s third-ranked defense. In his ninth NBA season at age 30, it’s been terrific to see this long underrated veteran earn the praise he deserves.
2. Wilson Chandler
The Denver Nuggets still feel like a long shot to make the playoffs in 2017, but Wilson Chandler has undoubtedly been the best player on a decently competitive team thus far. In his ninth NBA season, the 29-year-old wing is quickly making up for lost time after missing the entire 2015-16 campaign with a hip injury.
Averaging a career-high 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game so far, Chandler has been a major offensive weapon whether he’s been coming off the bench or filling in with the starting unit.
Though he’s only shooting 33.9 percent from three-point range, Ill Will has also posted the second-highest field goal percentage of his career at 47.1 percent.
We’re only 15 games into the new season, but Chandler has been on an absolute tear of late. In his last eight games, Chandler is averaging 21.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game on .486/.438/.867 shooting splits, and he’s reached double digits in each of those contests.
The Nuggets may eventually have to trade some of their veterans like Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and possibly Chandler to pave the way for the younger guys, but this red-hot start to the 2016-17 campaign has reminded everyone how valuable a two-way wing like Ill Will can be. Trade him, don’t trade him, either way his recent play is good news for the Nuggets.
1. Kevin Love
Kevin Love will probably never approach the 26-13-4 stat line he averaged in his final season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2013-14 (not with the Cleveland Cavaliers, at least), but he’s having his first All-Star caliber season since he first joined LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Ohio.
In his first season with the team, Love put up a meager (by comparison) 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game on .434/.367/.804 shooting splits, and was injured for most of Cleveland’s run to the Finals. Last season, he averaged 16.0 points and 9.9 boards per game on .419/.360/.822 shooting, and aside from “The Stop” in Game 7, he was virtually a non-factor in the Finals.
— NBA (@NBA) November 24, 2016
That may just be because of the matchup problems the Golden State Warriors create for Love, but one thing is for certain: A more confident Kevin Love in 2016-17 certainly can’t hurt if we’re heading for Cavs vs. Warriors Part III.
So far this season, Love is averaging 22.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game on stellar .454/.430/.865 shooting splits. He had a historic 34-point quarter against Portland, he’s posted 92 points, 29 rebounds and 19 three-pointers over his last three games alone, and he looks more comfortable in the Cavs’ offense than ever.
It’s rare for former superstars to enjoy career renaissances in their ninth seasons, but Love has found a way to do just that early in 2016-17.