When we see a player with extraordinary talent and abilities, we tend to assume that the player will be able to perform at a great level, regardless of wherever and whenever they play. We also tend to assume that such players will be able to keep increasing their output if they receive the (perceived) motivation of max contract money and the designated number 1 option in a franchise.
However, it always doesn’t work out that way. Player roles and a team’s gameplans can sometime have a significant impact on how a player performs. Sometimes, a player’s abilities don’t turn out to be as great as expected. Some players are just not suited for the role of the player who can carry an entire franchise on his back. Kind of like Willem Dafoe, an amazing actor, but he is at his best in supporting roles (3 Oscar nominations in that category), not leading roles. Today, we are going to talk about three such players. Keep in mind, these are three very good players who will excel on any team as long as they have a secondary or tertiary role. However, their current role of the franchise player isn’t ideal for them or the team.
1. Blake Griffin
After getting traded to the Detroit Pistons, Blake Griffin quickly assumed the role of the most important player on the roster of the Motor City team. During the 25 games he played with the team last season, Griffin scored 125 more points, took 114 more shots and dished out 46 more assists than anyone else on the team.
New Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey wants to increase the burden of responsibilities on Griffin: “We’re going to empower him to expand his game, a lot like DeMar DeRozan in Toronto. Expand his game out to the three-point line, have some point-forward responsibilities with the basketball out on the floor bringing it down. Because he’s more than just a back-down, post-up player.”
Even though Blake Griffin has shown good playmaking abilities and has developed a moderately reliable mid range jumper since his jumpshot-free, high flying initial years in the league, he is at his best when he is playing a supporting role.
During Griffin’s time with the Los Angeles Clippers, the team always performed better in the net rating category with Chris Paul, rather than Blake Griffin. The 2014-15 NBA season was the last time Griffin cracked the Top 10 in scoring. Top 5 is something he has never even come close to doing. While his career average of 4.3 assists per game is impressive for someone his size and playing his position, it’s hardly indicative of someone who can run an entire offence.
The only fathomable reason that coach Casey might want Griffin to take up an enhanced role in Detroit, is a lack of other good options on the team. While that might help Griffin with padding up his individual stats, it’s highly unlikely to have any major impact on the fortunes of the team, and they can be expected to do nothing more than fight for an eighth seed in the playoffs at best.
The fact that Griffin is turning 30 next year, compounds on the futility of Casey’s decision. A player whose game is governed by his athletic prowess, can hardly be expected to get better with age.
2. Kevin Love
For four seasons, Kevin Love was one of the best players in the NBA who had a tertiary role on the team. His long range shooting stretched the floor and opened up a lot of room for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to operate in the paint. After Kyrie Irving was traded and LeBron James left via free agency, Kevin Love has been catapulted to the franchise player role.
That role isn’t something brand new for him. Until he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Love was the undisputed number 1 option for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He stacked up double doubles and even had a 30 points and 30 rebounds game. During the 2013-14 season with the Timberwolves, Love averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. However, since that season, Love hasn’t averaged more than 20 points or 15 shots per game. So, expecting him to suddenly run an entire offence through his game is slightly unrealistic. However, a lack of options (unless rookie Colin Sexton turns out to be a revelation) has ensured Love’s role as the focal point of the Cavaliers’ offence.
According to an Eastern Conference scout: “He’s not a max player. He’s not a franchise player; he’s probably the third guy on a really good playoff team.”
Kevin Love isn’t helped by his lack of athleticism and defensive prowess either. His stellar 3 point shooting (41.5 percent last season) gives him great value but it’s most effective when someone is feeding him the ball at the 3 point line. Asking him to generate offence for the entire team is a tall task and most likely to fail.
3. Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker is quickly rising up the ranks of the ‘Greatest Charlotte Hornets Players Ever’ list. Keep in mind, these are the Hornets, not the Lakers. So climbing that list is more akin to a weekend hike rather than scaling Mt. Everest. Regardless, the franchise record books are getting filled up with his exploits and the gap between Walker and his teammates is immense. He takes at least five more shots per game than any other member of the current Hornets roster.
Even though Walker has made multiple All Star teams during his seven year stint with the Hornets, the team has only made the playoffs twice. His lack of a stellar supporting cast deserves some of the blame as well. However, a franchise calibre player should be able to take his team to the playoffs more than twice in seven years, especially in the inferior Western Conference.
As a score-first point guard who is quite ineffective off the ball, Walker has never finished top-15 in scoring. He is also a high volume, inefficient shooter with career averages of 41.5 percent from the field, 35.8 percent from the three point line and 83.4 percent from the free throw line. He is also not very effective in late-game situations (only 37.7 percent shooting in clutch scenarios).
Walker and his impressive offensive arsenal can be deadly as the second option on a very good team. However, as the number 1 option on a team, he is mainly going to put up gaudy but inefficient numbers.