Harrison Barnes – At this point, Golden State’s Barnes might be the most well-known Tar Heel in the league, for both good and bad. He’s an electric young player that can play multiple positions, knock down the 3 and fits perfectly within the Warriors’ system. It’ll be an important summer for Barnes, however, after immense struggles in the NBA Playoffs. He recently made the Team USA roster for the upcoming Olympics, but will he still be a Warrior next season? Several teams around the league will still throw the max at him, despite those recent performances, yet Barnes will most likely stay in Northern California (unless Golden State wins the Kevin Durant sweepstakes).
Vince Carter – Vince Carter is still doing Vince Carter things at 39 years old. He was a valuable veteran off the bench for an injury-ravaged Memphis Grizzlies squad this past season, but Carter did show signs of slowing down. With averages of 6.6 points on 38.8% shooting, no one would be surprised if Carter retires after a tremendous career. If he can find himself on a championship contender, that might be enough for Carter to try for another year or two to get that elusive ring.
Raymond Felton – Raymond Felton was a steady presence for the Dallas Mavericks and was instrumental in their one playoff win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has become as reliable as it gets for veteran point guards and, unless the Mavericks hit on their quest for Mike Conley, Felton should be right back contributing heavily for the Mavs.
Danny Green – It was a major letdown of a year for Danny Green, even with all of the San Antonio Spurs’ regular season success. He shot a dreadful 32.2% from 3, the worst since his rookie year. Thankfully, his play and his shooting picked up in the playoffs, and Green will expect to have a bounce back year and retain his position as one of the league’s deadliest shooters, as the Spurs’ guard changes from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Green.
John Henson – John Henson has slowly, but steadily carved out a crucial bench role for the Milwaukee Bucks. He fits their mindset perfectly: extremely long, athletic, and willing to work hard on the defensive end. He averaged a stellar 1.9 blocks per game in just 16.8 minutes on the court, and Henson has asserted himself among the premier shot-blockers in the NBA.
Ty Lawson – What a brutally difficult season for Ty Lawson. It all started with off-the-court issues (multiple DUIs) that bled into his play on the court. Lawson was sent to the Houston Rockets after many successful years with the Denver Nuggets, and many thought it was a sneakily great move by the Rockets. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as Lawson didn’t mesh well with James Harden and the offense. He later found himself with the Indiana Pacers, but did nothing to prove the old Ty Lawson was back. His summer will be all about convincing another team to take a chance on him. Lawson still has the talent to be a good contributor for a team, it’s just a matter of his decision-making.
Marvin Williams – Marvin Williams had a resurgence of sorts as a small-ball power forward for the Charlotte Hornets, shooting a career high 40.2% (152 makes). For a player who struggled to find his place in the league, as well as living up to his high draft position, Williams is now a great fit for the modern NBA: a sweet-shooting big that can still guard other bigs in the post. It may have been a shock a few years ago, but Williams is a vital piece for the Hornets.
Brandan Wright – Brandan Wright, despite all his athleticism and hard work, has found it increasingly difficult to stay on the court the past few seasons. Wright was expected to be an energy guy off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies, but was only able to play in 12 games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. If he can stay healthy, Wright can dunk home anything and play solid defense for the Grizz, and all signs point to him being ready for next season.
Tyler Zeller – Tyler Zeller isn’t the star and game-changer he once was for the Heels, but he’s still proven himself as a reliable bench guy for the Boston Celtics (six points in 12 minutes per game). Nonetheless, Zeller could be a piece in a trade should the Celtics try and go for a superstar.
James Michael McAdoo – James Michael McAdoo mainly saw minutes in the fourth quarter of blowouts for the Golden State Warriors, and contributed some highlight plays and some boneheaded plays (like UNC fans know all too well). He found some surprising minutes in the NBA Finals with Golden State’s other big men struggling mightily. If Festus Ezeli or Harrison Barnes leave in the summer, McAdoo could have a slightly bigger role than he has ever had in the NBA.
Tyler Hansbrough – Tyler Hansbrough was on the end of the Charlotte Hornets’ bench for most of the season. He won’t get much playing time, but his blend of hard work, emotion and determination are still valuable for many teams as an 11th or 12th man.
Wayne Ellington – You probably didn’t see much of Wayne Ellington this year, but he did average 21 minutes a game for the Brooklyn Nets. Sure, the Nets are in shambles and can barely put forth a strong roster each night, yet it’s nice seeing Ellington still shooting. He’ll have another year in Brooklyn and could be later traded for a playoff team in need of bench 3-shooting.
Ed Davis – Ed Davis had a solid year off the bench for the Portland Trailblazers, averaging a stunning 7.4 rebounds a game in just 20.8 minutes. Portland shocked a lot of teams by making the playoffs after losing Aldridge, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews; Davis’ hustle, defense and rebounding as the first backup big was an important part of that.
P.J. Hairston – P.J Hairston has struggled to find consistent minutes in his first two years in the league. He was traded from Charlotte to Memphis and never really seemed comfortable there either. The upcoming season will be big for Hairston, as he tries to solidify a spot in the league as a strong 3-and-D guy off the bench.
Kendall Marshall – Kendall Marshall, too, has found it difficult to earn a rotation spot in the NBA. In only four years, he has already played for four separate teams, the last being the awful Philadelphia 76ers. Marshall still has great passing ability and size for his position, but his outside shooting continues to let him down.
Reggie Bullock – Reggie Bullock was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers and never found any run for them. For the Detroit Pistons this past year, Bullock found the most minutes of his career (11.6 a game) and shot well from beyond the arc (41.5%). If he can be a little more consistent and dynamic, Bullock could potentially even earn more minutes for the Pistons in the upcoming year.
How about the rookies?
Brice Johnson – Last season’s most dangerous big man in college basketball was drafted by the Clippers with the 25th pick to help support DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Doc Rivers typically doesn’t give a lot of minutes to his rookies, but Johnson’s elite athleticism and fiery hustle will be hard to keep sitting on the bench. If he plays smart and continues to show the improvements he made over four years at Chapel Hill, there’s no reason he can’t be the first big off the bench by the end of the season.
Marcus Paige – Truly a wonderful surprise at the end of the draft when Marcus Paige went 55th to the Utah Jazz. Not many predicted Paige being drafted after struggling with his shot in recent years but, clearly, his leadership and personality are a big part of why he’s now in the league. Paige won’t get much playing time, yet he’ll certainly be a great voice in the locker room and a professional willing to do whatever it takes for the good of the team.