The season is barely a month old, but this is plenty of time for teams to have determined what is wrong with them. With unguaranteed contracts becoming guaranteed on January 10th, and 10-day contracts becoming available, now is the time to start looking to the free agency market and the D-League for potential call-ups. Over a three-part series of posts, we have taken a comprehensive look at possible candidates, concluding here with the forwards.
Great care is taken not to include players signed elsewhere (e.g. James Singleton and Donte Greene, both signed in China), or who have declared themselves retired (e.g. Corey Maggette and Vladimir Radmanovic, who both retired this offseason). Often times, all players not in the NBA are assumed in the media and the public consciousness to be available to NBA teams, when this is just not the case. The below list therefore deals with unsigned and D-League players only.
Kelenna Azubuike - Initially injured in November 2009, Azubuike did not play again until March 2012, when the Mavericks signed him to a guaranteed deal through 2014 and assigned him to the Texas Legends. There, Azubuike showed some signs, scoring 45 points in 87 minutes, but also looked highly rusty and nothing like the player who once led the D-League in scoring. Dallas then traded him to Cleveland in the Tyler Zeller deal, where the Cavaliers waived him despite his guaranteed deal, and Azubuike has not played since. He is pursuing business interests, yet has never proclaimed retirement - still only 29, Azubuike surely still has a chance of a comeback. And if he should be fit enough to do so, he was sufficiently good pre-injury that the NBA will certainly let him try.
Marqus Blakely - One time Rockets forward Blakely last played in the Philippines, where he averaged 23.9 points, 15.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.2 steals and 2.1 blocks per game. Included in that stint were stat lines of 22 points, 28 rebounds and eight assists, 30 points, 15 rebounds, five steals and four blocks, and a 37-point, 25-rebound outing in which he shot 9-of-26 from the line. Indeed, Blakely averaged nearly 17 free throws a game in the Philippines, but hit only 46% of them. This is the thing that is keeping him out of the league - for all his disruptive athleticism, he cannot consistently hit a shot.
Derrick Byars - The sweet shooting Byars recently attended camp with the Grizzlies, but was an early cut. Now 29. Byars has still only 37 minutes of NBA experience under his belt, and his window for getting more might have closed.
Brian Cook - Cook was a productive role player in his Laker days, but hasn't been effective since 2007. He continues to get NBA looks, but at this point is little more than a stretch four with a huge rebounding disadvantage and a very inconsistent shot.
Marquis Daniels - Turning 33 this month, Daniels's production has tapered off over the last four years, and it is hard to find a role he now fits.
Ricky Davis - Davis is attempting a second comeback via the D-League in the unlikely role of heady veteran. Picked in the sixth round of the draft by the Erie BayHawks, Davis is thus far averaging 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds on 41% three point shooting. So if nothing else, he is the steal of the D-League draft.
Micah Downs - Downs has put it together over the last two seasons and played his way into contention with an all-around game and an athletic 6'9 frame. He started this season with Budivelnyk in the Ukraine, and averaged 10.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks in Euroleague play, but left a fortnight ago and is now available.
Devin Ebanks - Ebanks went to camp with the Mavericks, despite their 15 guaranteed contracts making it highly unlikely he would make the team. After shooting 33% last year and making no noticeable improvement in three years, Ebanks has an awful lot to do in order to meet his Lakers-era Trevor Ariza potential.
Ryan Evans - Wisconsin graduate Evans seems to have developed three point range in the space of a few months. Always a good athlete and defender, Evans shot 8% from three point range last season, and 42% from the line, undermining his strong all-around high IQ game. However, he has shot 15-31 from three in the first six games of his D-League career, a 48% clip, whilst averaging 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. If this shooting sustains, he will find himself in the call-up conversation.
Gary Forbes - After falling out of the NBA last year, Forbes went to China, and averaged 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. The story on him is long since written - he is productive, but not always efficiently.
Gary Flowers - Flowers started the season with Ironi Nes-Ziona but was released before the season began for reasons unknown. Turning 28 in April, he still looks like a potential laden prospect, but cannot now really be.
Lazar Hayward - Hayward's career to date has been split between the NBA and the D-League, very much on the fringes. He appears to be trying to transform his game into that of a shooter with some rebounding and defensive help, a decent idea that he has yet to fully develop. Incidentally, in completely unrelated news, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a "lazar" as 'a poor and diseased person, especially one afflicted by an unpleasant disease such as leprosy.' Potential baby names must always be Googled first.
Darington Hobson - Something of a forgotten man, Hobson has missed big chunks of his three year pro career due to injury, but last year played a good sixth man role for Santa Cruz of the D-League. Averaging 9.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists for the Warriors, Hobson subsequently tried to go to China this season, but did not, and is unsigned. His quirky but effective game is enticing, but he needs some extended run to prove himself first.
Damion James - James is in danger of becoming a perennial D-Leaguer. He went to camp with the Nuggets and had a couple of decent showings, but was never likely to make the roster with all their guaranteed contracts, and returned to the Bakersfield Jam. James's NBA potential is hindered by his offensive game - while not talentless, he is not really a post-up or dribble drive player, nor much of a shooter, thus rendering him somewhat role-less on that end. And while he is a good defensive player at either forward position, he needs to be fundamentally better to overcome the offensive weaknesses.
Othyus Jeffers - After an unsuccessful camp stay with the Jazz, Jeffers is back for his fifth season with the Iowa Energy, and is off to a flying start. Averaging 25.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals, Jeffers has been the best wing player in the D-League so far, one of the best defenders and a scrappy yet effective offensive player. He is deserving of a greater NBA opportunity than he has had to date.
Chris Johnson - Johnson - the swingman from Dayton, not the big man from LSU - was a surprise call-up to the Grizzlies last season, a surprise on account of the limited nature of his game. That game is mostly limited to three point shooting and solid perimeter defense, yet this is fine in a Keith Bogans-style role. There are however candidates arguably better at both facets.
James Johnson - Johnson has more talent than the rest of the list, but doesn't seem to know what he's good at and what he isn't. He is with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League, averaging 17.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.3 blocks and 3.9 turnovers per game. If an NBA team can call him up, and work out an agreement whereby they can fine him every time he takes a shot from outside of 15 feet or attempts any handle outside of a straight line drive, they might have themselves a player. They will also need him to stop chasing the ball defensively, however.
Kevin Jones - Back with the Canton Charge, with whom he spent chunks of last season despite being signed by the Cavaliers, Jones is averaging 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. Contrary to the usual career progression that sees players (particularly undersized fours) taking more and more three pointers as their careers develop, Jones has gone the other way and put the three pointer to bed, attempting only one all season thus far. There's an Anthony Bennett reference to be made here somewhere.
Jason Kapono - Kapono's trip to Europe was not a great success. He shot in the mid 40's from three, but was unhappy with his limited usage and asked to leave. Nine months later, he has yet to sign elsewhere.
D.J. Kennedy - Kennedy went to camp with the Mavericks, who hadn't any space for him, and thus he got cut. He has yet to return to the D-League, yet should land somewhere soon - with his versatile point forward-style game, Kennedy has the talent to the play in the NBA, given a lengthy opportunity.
Marcus Landry - Landry's game has rather become that of a one dimensional three point shooter. That said, hitting them at 43% last year makes this a valued commodity.
C.J. Leslie - Leslie lost out on a roster spot to Chris Smith, and is in the D-League, averaging 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks for the Erie BayHawks. He is one of those players whose perceived talent outweighs his actual talent - Leslie tantalizes with the outline of an inside/outside offensive game and great defensive potential, but he rarely plugs in, wants to play on the perimeter on both ends, and in the end is no more productive than half of this list. Leslie might have more talent than the aforementioned Landry, but at least Landry knows how to use his.
Dominic McGuire - McGuire went to camp with the Jazz after spending last season with three NBA teams, but stuck with none of them. His time in the NBA may be up - still without an offensive game, McGuire's defensive game is less effectiveness than it is reputation by this time. Looking active is not the same as being effective.
Pete Mickeal - Mickeal, who hasn't been in the NBA since 2002-03 and who has never actually played in an NBA game despite numerous contracts, turns 36 in February and on the face of it appears to have no NBA prospects. However, when he left Barcelona this summer, Mickeal supposedly received interest from the Lakers and 76ers. Years of high level play in Europe have not gone unnoticed, and there exists a small chance of a late flourish.
Elijah Millsap - Millsap has seemingly eschewed the D-League and is currently unsigned. His last stint was with the Petron Blaze in the Philippines, where in twenty games he posted one triple double and two quadruple doubles, both of which unfortunately involved turnovers. A defender and slasher, Millsap is tough and plays hard, but not without many mistakes along the way.
Jamario Moon - Still in the D-League waiting for one more call up, Moon is doing his usual Jamario Moony stuff, but additionally averaging a surprising 4.4 assists per game this year.
James Nunnally - Nunnally is a future D-League success story, a man who entered near the bottom of the totem pole, but has played his way into relevance. His strong all-around game earned him a training camp contract with the Suns, and he is now back with the Bakersfield Jam, averaging 17/4/4. With few weaknesses to his game, Nunnally has a chance of cracking the big league.
Sasha Pavlovic - Pavlovic has played ten years in the NBA, and posted 9 seasons of a single digit PER. He is now out of the league. Seems the league finally caught on.
Mickael Pietrus - Pietrus was last seen being brought in by the Raptors to shore up their woeful small forward rotation, and then somehow making it worse. His play has steadily declined for about six years, and he urgently needs a second wind.
Quentin Richardson - Waived by the Raptors despite a guaranteed contract, Q's athleticism has long since left him, and he is now little more than an inefficient volume shooter with occasional nights of rebounding. The Raptors opted to pay him for three seasons despite him never playing a game for them, which is no great endorsement.
K.C. Rivers - Rivers has toured Europe over the last few years, and was in the Euroleague last year with Khimky, one of the best teams in it. Yet he has eschewed that to come back to the D-League and join the Reno Bighorns in a fairly blunt attempt to get a call-up. He might, too - having expanded his game and his range since his college days, and although he is less than the ideal size for his position, he is sufficiently proven in other comparable leagues to merit an NBA call-up as a scorer and shooter.
Quinton Ross - In the two years since he's been in the NBA, Ross has been in the D-League and the French league, albeit for short stints only in both. That one year with the Grizzlies in which he shot 38% from three point range whilst taking more of them that season than in the rest of his NBA career combined is a clear and emphatic outlier, and he remains a defensive wing role player without the jump shot required for the role.
James Southerland - Waived by the Bobcats this week to accommodate Chris Douglas-Roberts - himself set to feature strongly on this list - Southerland was an unlikely candidate to make the team in the first place. His only plus NBA skill is his catch and shoot jump shot, and that is too inconsistent at this point. There are better shooters available.
Lance Thomas - After a few stints with the Hornets, Thomas is out of the league once again, cut in order to accommodate Josh Childress. A defensive role player with scant little offense, his hustle and fundamentals will keep him on the fringes, yet his lack of skills will likely keep him out.
Luke Walton - Last season, Walton got some decent run for the first time in a few years, and averaged the unlikely but pleasant statline of 3 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. However, his passing and headiness are all he has left, at 33, with little offensive talent, and a litany of injuries. Walton insists he has not yet retired, but he was hired last month as a player development coach for the L.A. D-Fenders of the D-League, which sure seems like a transitional move.
Terrence Williams - Since being waived by the Celtics, Williams went to Turkey to play for Turk Telekom Ankara, but left after only two games. He is one of the most talented players on this list, yet has yet to consistently apply any of it.