Five Players Who Need To Step It Up

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — We’re only approaching 10 games in, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to eyeball some concerning trends that could quickly become disturbing. I’ve pinpointed five players I believe have left something to be desired. Each is an established veteran who entered this season with a new and exciting situation, and high expectations.

1. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Supposedly happy in Houston, Howard’s stats — 18.2 ppg and 14.9 rpg — certainly look All-Star worthy. But take a deeper look. He’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, a mark not seen since his first two seasons in the league — and four percentage points lower than last season when he complained the Lakers didn’t get him the ball in his sweet spots. Yes, he and the Rockets, just 5-4, are adjusting, and this could take time, but Howard has looked awkward on the block and is shooting just 37 percent in the paint, per stats. More discouraging is his free-throw shooting. He said he wanted to shoot between 75 and 80 percent — which was laughable. Instead he’s dragging a career-low 47.9 percent. Teams are already employing the Hack-a-Howard tactic and the Rockets are seeing how frustrating it is to have a big man who can’t make free throws in crunch time. They’ve been awful trying to close out games. And Hack-a-Howard isn’t just a late-game tactic anymore. The Sixers intentionally fouled him late in the first half of Wednesday’s game. Howard’s old club, the severely undermanned Lakers without Kobe Bryant, essentially won their game at Houston because Howard couldn’t make free throws when fouled on purpose.

There’s more. Where is the chiseled, 265-pound Howard’s passion? His passivity against the Lakers was mind-boggling, and running away from Lakers players attempting to intentionally foul him was embarrassing.

VIDEO: Dwight Howard gets the block of the night against the Sixers

2. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

A forgettable start to the season got worse with a stress fracture to his left shin that will sideline McGee indefinitely. A sluggish start might not rank high on the surprise list for many, but if there was ever a time the 7-footer was going to put it together, this seemed it. His new coach Brian Shaw was moving away from George Karl‘s up-tempo, dribble-drive offense to a more traditional, low-post system. McGee spent much of the offseason working on his game, seemingly determined to bury, on the court at least, his goofball reputation. Prior to the start of training camp he told “It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

It didn’t take Shaw long to apply the brakes, trusting McGee to even fewer minutes than Karl. In five starts, McGee averaged 7.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg in 15.8 mpg. He shot 43.6 percent. Denver, 3-4 after starting 1-4, traded Kosta Koufos to Memphis anticipating McGee’s rise. Recovering from the stress fracture only complicates McGee’s path to improvement. He’s in the second year of a $44 million contract, which so far looks like a very expensive mistake by the Nuggets.

VIDEO: JaVale McGee finishes off the alley-oop from Randy Foye

3. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

Evans’ fresh start away from Sacramento dysfunction was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the fifth-year combo guard. The Pelicans hyped the sixth-man role behind Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and it made sense. Evans can score and going against other second units would seem a great idea. An ankle injury slowed him early into the preseason and it’s been slow-going ever since. Evans is averaging a career-low 9.0 ppg and is logging a career-low 24.0 mpg. His shooting has been abysmal, 36.2 percent overall and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. Evans has never truly been a high-volume 3-point shooter and he’s never shot it with considerable accuracy, but really, he could probably make 12.5 percent blindfolded.

This has to concern the Pelicans’ front office if trading Gordon, who always seems to be on the block, is still a consideration later this season. Even Evans’ free-throw percentage is suffering. A 76.4-percent shooter from the stripe over his career, he’s only at 66.7 percent. The team’s overall optimism that sprouted from a successful preseason has been shrouded by a 3-6 start, including Wednesday’s demoralizing loss at previously winless Utah.

VIDEO: Tyreke Evans on the Pelicans’ deep roster

4. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

This is Williams’ second season as the maxed-out point guard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban claims he’s happy to have lost out on two summers ago. Since Williams signed his five-year, $98-million contract to stay with the Nets, he has not produced like a max player, with either injuries or coaching fit being the culprit. Williams is averaging 11.1 ppg — lowest by a long shot since his rookie season) and 7.4 apg. He’s the quarterback of  a team built for instant contention with All-Star (Joe Johnson) and Hall of Fame (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) talent, albeit aging talent outside of center Brook Lopez, yet another All-Star. Williams was again hobbled by an ankle issue during the preseason and he still might be gimpy. Meshing won’t happen overnight, but the level at which the Nets, 2-5, have played (i.e. losing by 21 at Sacramento on Wednesday) should be deeply concerning to Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who will shell out close to $190 million in payroll and luxury tax this season.

If anybody knows how to get Williams going it should be his rookie coach and No. 1 golfing buddy Jason Kidd. Kidd has to figure out how to get Williams in his comfort zone, to allow him to create and use his size to his advantage, while also getting the rest of this cast involved. Maybe then Williams will exude the confident, follow-me persona of a leader that just isn’t there.

VIDEO: tags along on a workout with Deron Williams

5. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

Starting from scratch with playoff-hopeful Toronto, Gay still can’t shake the inefficiency thing. Yes, he’s averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, which look great. But with Gay, as the stat geeks remind, you have to look deeper to see that he’s averaging those 19.7 ppg on 19.8 field-goal attempts. He’s connecting at just a 36.5-percent rate. He is shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a mark bolstered by going 7-for-14 in the last two games, including 4-for-6 Wednesday night to get the Raptors to 4-5 at the expense of his former team, the struggling Memphis Grizzlies. But since he shoots mostly mid-range jumpers, the overall percentage is stark. In an overtime loss at Houston, Gay reached rare inefficient air when he finished with 29 points on 37 shot attempts — 8-for-29 inside the arc; 3-for-8 behind it.

During the offseason Gay had eye surgery to correct a pretty serious vision problem, and, realizing he had to get his shooting percentages up, went to work with his personal trainer for hours each day at his old high school gym in Baltimore. As he put it to “Honestly, I had two bad years of shooting the ball and this last year was really bad, so I just had to go back to the basics. It wasn’t as much my eye sight as it was my form.” Unfortunately for Gay, so far his shooting percentage has only worsened.

VIDEO: Rudy Gay with the assist of the night against the Grizzlies


  1. NerfBallGM says:

    Howard, Griffin, Rondo & Rubio…
    all need to improve their shooting for the NBA to be a better product (c’mon guys, you’re making $ millions)

  2. wuu2 says:

    I hope Asik goes to the LAKERS and RAPES HOUSTON. I’m a turkish NBA fan who’s been watching the game for years now and I watched alot of games of HOUSTON, last year. Asik has been good, really good; he is a BETTER defender than D12. Asik to the LAKERS and the LAKERS to pounch to ROCKETS @playoffs baby

  3. Kamote says:

    Trade DWill for Rondo!!!

  4. Reblogged this on UnSportsMenMic and commented:
    Are we still trying to get Dwight Howard to “step it up”? There is no next level for him he has peaked

  5. Da BNG says:

    Howard has to demand the ball. That is what all big men did. Javale, he just needs to focus. Evans just has to find his niche. D Will has to take charge and just play his game. Rudy Gay just has to drive more often. That’s my opinion.

  6. Floridian says:

    DH is an over rated Kid. Do not expect him to step up because he does not have mentality to do so..

  7. U cant handle the lies! says:

    Until the dwightmare can hit at least 70% of his free throws, he is a late game liability. It is simple as that, damn the 17 rbs if u losing games @ the end. Javelle Mcgee is a joke. D will is gonna get back right, but brook lopez should be traded for asik n lin

  8. NOCHIPSNYC says:

    I think all you Howard hating people are delusional.How can you score when the guards are dominating the ball. he got 5 legitimate touches last night. granted he only hit 1, it still does not take away from the fact that he is not seeing the ball. i think most of you people don’t watch basketball or read stat lines. DH needs to be somewhere that slows the ball down and runs half court offense.

  9. Chris says:

    Last night’s Rockets vs Knicks was the first full Howard game I’ve watched since he left Orlando. Only one game, but he just doesn’t even seem like the same player to me. Not dominant like the old days. Perhaps its just a matter of adjusting to the new team. Maybe the back injury is still an issue. He seems frustrated.

  10. op3 says:

    Respect Dwight howard. until anyone on the rockets gets near his rebounding numbers theres nothing to say! Rebounding is probably the most important stat in hoops, so people saying d12 cant do anything are crazy! the dude is a post presence and he IS a allstar after all + this guy can get boards he has the highest rebound numbers on the rockets until that changes other arguments about his validity on his team are ridiculous.

  11. Jorge Millan says:

    Other bigs have struggled from the line, just see how Shaq did in his time, the difference is simply that while Shaq earned his points the rest of the game, Howard is not. If you are being intentionally fouled and you are not making the free throws, it is bad, but no team can do that forever, but if in addition to that, the only thing you do while in the field (offensively) is just your free-throw production, then THAT is bad. It is clear Howard is impactful on defense.

    The change that Houston needs is a change of attitude in Howard, if he is not responding well, start Asik and have Howard come with the 2nd unit. That will make the “Big Man” wake up to the reality that in this NBA, even stars have to work.

  12. mayo says:


  13. AnnoYouLater says:

    i want to like and praise Dwight but i have to agree he doesnt really improved at all..

  14. Doug says:

    The difference between the “Hack-A-Shaq” and the “Hack-A-Howard” was that Shaq dominated in the paint. Yeah, Shaq was terrible at the charity stripe, but he made up for it by going to basket with a vengeance. I think Dwight needs to have the same mentality and start averaging in the neighborhood of about 25 a game. Howard wants to shoot 75-80 percent? That’s the joke of the night. Try to make it more feasible by aiming for 60%. Dwight Howard is an all-star center that leaves an all-star sized void.

  15. Mike says:

    Don’t see why he needs to step it up, thats just how good he is. What, you want him to step up offensively? using which go-to moves and skills excactly? he has none, unless you count dunking ability and strength of course… Smh on the fact that Kobe said that Dwight was going to be one of the greatest centers of all time, yeah right, go smoke another one bro.

  16. Diwght and Rudy are going to be just fine!

    But Deron Williams is a flop! If I was Mikhail Prokhorov I would trade him for Isaiah Thomas!

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      Yup! Deron Williams is flop! I wouldn’t even put in the top 10 Point Guards in the league right now… Jameer Nelson would be a step up from Deron Williams

  17. Dwight Howard is probably the most inconsistent player I have ever seen.Shaq’s right, you HAVE to average 20+ PPG and 15 + rebounds per game. Dwight is always doing one, or the other. You have to do BOTH to be a DOMINANT center. So far, Love is playing more like a dominant big man, and he’s not always in the paint! COM’ON MAN!

  18. dustydreamnz says:

    Tyreke Evans has been drrreeeaaadddful, his PPG has gone down every season. If it gets much lower this year it might be difficult to continue that trend. Javale McGee’s claim to fame might be Shaqtin’ a Fool after all rather than his NBA play.

  19. NBA Fans says:

    Dwight Howard can not be a franchise player. DH is not a threat to other teams. We thinks DH is super star Player, but he really more like an Average Player. He doesn’t know how to post up. He got charge ever time. He needs to get back to the basic. Must listen to Shaq & Chuck, if DH wants to get better.

  20. HoustonRocks says:

    Howard thinks he can the main focus on any team. that is not how it work. You got to work to earn your spotlight any team. leaving Orlando, no comment, but leaving LA is the worst choice he made.

  21. NBAFans says:

    Howard can not be a franchise player. Howard is an average player. Not a Super Star player. He is not a threat to other teams.

  22. tenby says:

    Please go to the Lakers Mr. Asik and prove houston wrong wholesale!

  23. goinz says:

    seems like Howard becomes a burnden, no matter which team he is playing for. The Rockets would have been better of without this clown. The fact that everything looks like they are going to trade Asik now because he is fed up with the situation makes it even more clear that Howard is a team-chemistry-destroying clown.