By Jesse Cinquini
It’s an ages old proverb uttered within NBA circles: “he may be better off with a change of scenery.” Each year there exists a handful of players whose production appears to be limited by their on-court situation. The reasons for an unsuitable player-team marriage? Well, how much time you got? They can range anywhere from run-of-the-mill depth chart logjams to dramatic, headline-grabbing instances of locker room turmoil. Here are the individuals who would benefit most from skipping town and heading for greener pastures.
Boy is it difficult to make your way up the pecking order in Gregg Popovich’s rotation. There is no better example than the case of Derrick White. White enjoyed a superb playoff run the season prior while filling in for injured starting point guard Dejounte Murray. He averaged 15.1 points and three assists per contest during San Antonio’s seven-game series versus the Denver Nuggets, in just his second season as a pro no less. Not to mention his defense against Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was rock-solid. White held him to 17 points on 23 shot attempts (8-for-23 shooting) in Game 1 of the series.
So what was Derrick rewarded with for his postseason heroics exactly? Not a thing. To a lesser extent, White is in a Terry Rozier with the Celtics-esque situation. Like Rozier, he shined in the playoffs as a starter but was subsequently relegated to a bench role once the team’s preferred floor general returned. White’s minutes per game this season have even taken a slight dip compared to last (25.8 to 24.1). Despite not making headway in the Spurs’ rotation, the 25-year-old managed to remain a steady contributor. He achieved career-highs in points per game (10.4) and points per shot attempt (90th percentile per Cleaning the Glass). Couple that with his all-defensive team level upside, and White is deserving of a starting job elsewhere.
Admittedly, I’ve been high on Simons since his days at IMG Academy. His shooting stroke is a thing of beauty, and at just 20 years old, he hasn’t scratched the surface of his full potential. After an uneventful maiden season with the Blazers for Simons (7.1 minutes per game), the Florida native catapulted himself into an impact player for Portland in 2019-20. It’s the youngster’s poise as a bucket-getter that’s resulted in his playing time skyrocketing as a sophomore.
Simons’ efficiency certainly wasn’t terrific, though. In fact, it was pretty underwhelming (40.2 percent from the field, 33.8 percent from deep). But hey, shouldn’t that have been an expected outcome considering he took more than double the amount of shots per game as a second-year pro? Naysayers can point to Anfernee’s middle-of-the-road accuracy all they want. But with a shooting mechanic that’s poetry in motion, Simons will undoubtedly see the ball fall through with heightened regularity in due time.
Surely by now you’re imploring: “come on, let’s see his jump shot already.” Well here it is, in all its glory. Stemming from an offensive rebound, Simons calmly splashes a 27-footer off the catch with D. J. Augustin in his grill. Now we can dissect what exactly makes Anfernee’s perimeter play exceptional. First off, his release is lightning quick. Secondly, he does not need ample space to fire. Give Simons a mere inch of breathing room and he can let loose without issue. Just ask Zion Williamson.
Simon’s has the capability to thrive as a spot-up shooter on a squad searching for a scoring punch. Unfortunately, he will not be granted an opportunity to fully explode for the Blazers in the near future. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are both all-star guards, so if it’s more touches/minutes Simons seeks, it is time to move on from Portland.
Bamba’s behemoth-like physical tools spawned an immense amount of hype from draft savants in 2018. The Harlem, New York native stands at a towering 7’0″, and his 7’10” wingspan measured at the NBA Draft Combine was the lengthiest ever recorded. During his one-year stint at the University of Texas, Bamba accumulated a staggering 3.7 blocks nightly in 30.2 minutes of play. For perspective this equates to 4.9 blocks per 40 minutes.
Mo was expected to be drafted within the top five, but instead fell to pick number six to the Orlando Magic. Slipping outside his presumed selection range ultimately proved to be detrimental to his pro development. The Magic were already stock full of serviceable frontcourt players. From the get-go, Mo was facing an uphill battle. Competing for time on the court against the likes of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac is a tall task for any NBA player, nevermind a rookie/sophomore.
As a result of Orlando’s logjam at the forward and center positions, Bamba averaged just 15.3 minutes of action over his first two seasons. Despite an overall disheartening dawn to his NBA career, Mo has flashed the wherewithal needed to become an intimidating presence on the defensive end.
Here Bamba’s dexterity and inhuman timing to reject shots are visible. Notice how Mo sticks with Jeff Teague every step of the way as he maneuvers from foul-line range to the rim. Teague tries to stifle the big man with a number of shot fakes, but they prove to be futile. What then transpires is a mini block party, as Bamba denies the former all-star twice in a matter of seconds before a whistle is blown. Sequences such as these provide insight into how Mo was able to average the 14th most swats in the NBA this year in only 14.5 minutes.
If a squad rewards him with 30-ish minutes a game, I’d expect the youngster to rank among the league leaders in blocks. His aptitude in deterring others shot attempts alone warrants consistent run time at the NBA level. But combine that with the fact that Bamba’s an upper-echelon glass cleaner who’s collected 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes as a pro, and it is quite possible a new home is all he needs to evolve into one of the league’s better men in the middle.
When the Brooklyn Nets traded for Prince during the 2019 NBA Draft, it was widely perceived as a brilliant move for the black and white. The fourth-year vet was coming off a productive campaign with the Hawks in which he scored 13.5 points on 39 percent accuracy from deep. Also, Taurean possessed on-ball defensive instincts needed to be pegged a “3 and D” player. Prince appeared to be someone who’d fit seamlessly alongside the dynamic duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant as a floor spacer. However, his first season in Brooklyn was nearly a disaster.
Turns out you can’t be an impactful “3 and D” specialist if the triples aren’t falling. Prince’s once borderline elite three-point clip plummeted to a middle of the road 33.9 percent in 2019-20. His dryspell was not limited to just beyond the arc though. Prince shot an abysmally low 37.6 percent from the field, including just 54 percent at the rim. Taurean’s inability to convert inside correlates with his hurtful tendency to pursue imaginary driving lanes.
Rather than kicking the ball out to Spencer Dinwiddie for an uncontested trey here, Prince opts to fire up a prayer of a layup with Gorgui Dieng and Anthony Tolliver waiting for him at the cup. Consequently, the 26-year-old’s hopeless attempt is rebuffed by Dieng.
Once again Prince forces the drive, this time against Brook Lopez, who has solidified himself as an elite interior deterrant (2.4 blocks per game this season). This sequence is a lesson on why you need to know your personnel. Going at Lopez at the rim is usually not a sensible idea, especially if you don’t shoot well from the paint to begin with. Prince should’ve kicked the rock back outside.
It’s clear that Prince and the Nets would be better off going their separate ways. Taurean needs a fresh start, and Brooklyn a third star, so why not add him in as a sweetener in a trade package for someone like Bradley Beal? Brooklyn might as well maximize on what value Prince has remaining.