Hoosiers In The NBA: Playing On Struggling Teams

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During my previous two seasons of covering former Hoosiers in the NBA, I was rewarded with covering someone who ended up making the NBA playoffs (Cody Zeller and the Charlotte Bobcats in 2013-2014, Eric Gordon and the New Orleans Pelicans in 2014-2015). While the season is only around its midpoint, all four former Hoosiers currently see their teams outside of the playoff picture and trending downward. So for this week, I’m going to go over which Hoosiers have the best chance of seeing the postseason and what each of them can do to help their team:

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

@ Los Angeles Lakers (L 95-91): 14 points (6-9 FG)(1-1 FT), 2 rebounds, assist, block, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 27 minutes.

@ Sacramento (W 109-97): 24 points (9-19 FG), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 43 minutes.

Vs Charlotte (W 109-107): 10 points (4-12 FG), rebound, 2 assists, steal, turnover, 32 minutes.

At the beginning of the season Eric Gordon was thought to have the best shot of making the postseason out of any former Hoosier, and that statement probably still holds true but for a different reason. The expectations heading into this season were that the New Orleans Pelicans were going to make a big jump as Anthony Davis transformed into a MVP-caliber player. Injuries all over the roster have stunted any growth and chemistry as the Pelicans have hobbled to a 13-26 record so far this season, 4.5 games back of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Despite the sizable gap, the Pelicans are far and away the best of the teams fighting for that final spot, that is when New Orleans is healthy. However, Gordon also has another option. With the trade deadline about a month away, teams trying to make a playoff run usually go shopping for an extra veteran who can help the team strengthen a weakness. Usually those teams prefer grabbing players on expiring contracts so they aren’t stuck with the player after this season if they don’t want them. Well not only is Gordon a great three-point shooter (something many playoff teams love to add) but he’s also in the last year of his contract. It will depend upon whether or not the Pelicans are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, but either scenario is a good scenario for Gordon.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

Vs Toronto (L 106-103 OT): 27 points (10-20 FG)(2-2 FT), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 45 minutes.

After years of wait-and-see, the Orlando Magic surprised everyone to start the season as it looked like the rebuild was finally over. Yet a record of 20-19, one game behind the Boston Celtics for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, actually seems like a disappointment. The reason it feels that way is because the Magic , who were 19-13 over the first two months of the season, are only 1-6 since the calendar switched to 2016. It’s not like the Magic aren’t trying to fix things as they have tried all kinds of strategies, some of which include moving Victor Oladipo to the bench and then later making him the starting point guard. It’s hard to discount the only above-.500 NBA team with a Hoosier on it to not be the favorite to make the playoffs but you can get a sense that maybe the early success was the Magic catching everyone off guard and now the Association has caught on and adjusted. The only thing that gives the Magic a really good chance of grabbing a playoff spot is if one of the players takes over as the team’s alpha dog. We’ve seen Oladipo become the Magic’s alpha dog during quite a few games over his career but if he really is the leader of this team, he’s needs to show it on a nightly basis.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

Vs Utah (W 99-85): 4 points (2-7 FG), 5 rebounds, assist, 19 minutes.

@ Brooklyn (W 116-104): 6 points (3-8 FG), 4 rebounds, personal foul, 16 minutes.

@ Philadelphia (L 114-89): 9 points (3-5 FG)(3-4 FT), 5 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 5 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

Just like the Pelicans, Noah Vonleh and the Portland Trail Blazers are very much in the running for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference despite not being a very good team. Yet even though the Trail Blazers are 18-25 and just 1.5 games back of the eighth seed, they seem like the team least likely to make the playoffs. Right from the beginning this season was meant to be a rebuilding year after the team lost key players from their last few playoff teams like Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge. Many of the decisions, including the one to continue to start Vonleh to help him develop, was with the purpose of tanking. Now if the Trail Blazers were in a position to fight for a playoff seed in the 4-6 range that would be worth pursuing, but trying to grab the last seed only to get swept by either the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs would be a waste of a season considering they wouldn’t get a lottery pick in that situation. Vonleh and crew are talented and well-coached enough to make the playoffs but, as their blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers showed, they probably don’t want to go to the playoffs.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Atlanta (W 107-84): 19 points (6-10 FG)(7-8 FT), 10 rebounds, assist, steal, 3 blocks, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 27 minutes.

@ New Orleans (L 109-107): 5 points (2-7 FG)(1-1 FT), 8 rebounds, assist, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 23 minutes.

Vs Milwaukee (L 105-92): 6 points (2-6 FG)(2-2 FT), 2 rebounds, assist, 5 personal fouls, 23 minutes.

The Pelicans aren’t the only team that has seen their progress stunted by injuries. The Charlotte Hornets have also seen their record take a huge hit because of the injury bug. However, injuries have hurt the Hornets far worse when you consider that the team made a lot of personnel changes to speed up the offensive tempo during the offseason. Not only has the team had to change their lineup so many times, but even when the Hornets had their preferred starting five they haven’t been able to generate chemistry. As a result the Hornets are 18-22, 3.5 games out of the eighth seed,  and have lost nine of their last ten. However, like the Pelicans, the Hornets are a very talented team when healthy. Also, the injuries have a silver lining as it has forced extra playing time and more responsibilities for Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky. As a result, Zeller is finally living up to his potential as a franchise starting center and Kaminsky has seen his performance drastically improve over the course of the season. As long as those two continue to improve and other players are able to stay healthy, the Hornets should eventually generate some chemistry and will have a chance to make a late-season playoff push.

Season averages:

Eric Gordon: 15.1ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.7apg, 0.95spg, 0.31bpg, 1.5tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.1% FG, 37.4% 3FG, 88.1% FT, 33.5mpg.

Victor Oladipo: 13.5ppg, 4.9rpg, 4.0apg, 1.30spg, 0.65bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.2fpg, 40.5% FG, 34.5% 3FG, 81.3% FT, 30.0mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 0.5apg, 0.47spg, 0.23bpg, 0.6tpg, 1.9fpg, 39.6% FG, 15.0% 3FG, 83.3% FT, 15.6mpg.

Cody Zeller: 9.0ppg, 6.0rpg, 0.9apg, 0.89spg, 0.71bpg, 0.9tpg, 2.9fpg, 50.4% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 73.4% FT, 24.6mpg.

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