Published March 12, 2014
New York, NY – (SportsNetwork.com) - Gerald Green, Matt Barnes and Trevor Ariza have quite a few things in common. None of them is a household name.
They've all been in the NBA for quite some time and played for a whole bunch of teams, but most notably, they've all played a bigger role than expected for their teams this season.
Let's take a closer look at each player:
It's been a long time coming for Green to make his mark in the NBA. The former slam dunk champ (2007), who made the jump from high school to the pros in 2005, began his career with the Boston Celtics, who drafted him 18th overall, and it was followed by stops in Minneapolis, Houston, Russia, China, New Jersey and Indiana, prior to arriving in Phoenix this season, where he's been a big part of the Suns' surprising success.
The 28-year-old Green, who was dealt by the Pacers to the Suns in the offseason, initially came off the bench, backing up Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, but moved into the starting lineup after Bledsoe went down with a knee injury in late December that still has him sidelined.
Prior to Bledsoe's injury, Green was playing just under 27 minutes per game, averaging 13.2 points and 2.9 rebounds, and was shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 77.3 percent from the foul line. During Bledsoe's absence, he's playing nearly 32 minutes per game, averaging 18.1 points and 4.1 rebounds, while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor and 88.7 percent from the line.
Green's offensive numbers have not only been helped by his improved shooting percentages, but his ability to get to the free throw line more. In the 30 games he played before the Suns lost Bledsoe, he got to the line only 53 times, for an average of 1.8 free throw attempts per game. Since Bledsoe has been sidelined, he's nearly doubled his free throw attempts, going to the line 3.5 times per game in 33 games.
In the last three weeks, Green has topped the 30-point mark three times, including a career-high 41-point performance last week in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in which he hit eight 3-pointers and scored 25 points in the third quarter.
"I love the way he's playing right now," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said following Green's huge game. "We knew he could shoot the ball. There's not too many guys that can get on a roll like that. The thing that makes him unique (is) some guys you can get up into and maybe challenge a shot a little harder. But Gerald just jumps over everybody. He's making shots that other guys can't get that high to shoot."
Like Green, Barnes was coming off the bench for a good part of the season for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it didn't take an injury to finally get him into the starting lineup. Coach Doc Rivers finally realized the obvious, that Barnes was simply better than Jared Dudley.
With Barnes as a starter, the Clippers are 17-6 (.739 winning percentage) after going 28-14 (.666 winning percentage) prior to the lineup change. Barnes has always been a solid defender, and is certainly better than Dudley in this area. Plus, he's been an upgrade offensively.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup on Jan. 20, Barnes is averaging 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists, and is shooting 48.3 percent from the floor and 41.1 percent from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, Dudley put up 8.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game as a starter, shooting 45 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from downtown.
Surprisingly, Barnes' name was being mentioned a lot prior to the trading deadline last month. And it seems those trade rumors have actually motivated Barnes because he's really elevated his game in the six games he's played since the deadline passed.
During that span, he's averaged 17.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists, and has been on fire from the floor, shooting 58.8 percent from the field and 51.3 percent from downtown.
"Like I've said, as long as I'm here, while I'm here, I'm going to come out here and do what I can do to help this team," Barnes said. "It has to be on both ends of the floor, and I'm going to continue to do that."
With free agency ahead of him this summer, Ariza picked a great time to have the best season of his career.
The Washington Wizards' small forward has always been noted for his athleticism and defensive prowess, but this season he's stepped up his offensive game, most notably his 3-point shooting.
Ariza, who was a starter on the Los Angeles Lakers' 2009 championship team, is averaging a career-high in points (15.1) and 3-point field goal percentage (43.1 percent).
Over a recent 11-game stretch from Feb. 12 to March 8, he was lights out from downtown, hitting a remarkable 46-of-72 shots, which translates to an amazing 63.9 percent.
"Just shooting the ball a lot. That's all," Ariza said when asked about the reason for his improved shooting. "A lot of reps before practice, during practice, on off days. Getting in the gym and shooting."
During that hot run, in which he averaged just over 20 points per game and scored a career-high 40 in a road win at Philadelphia, Ariza set the Wizards��� franchise record for 3-pointers in a quarter (seven) and a game (10), and became the first player in team history to have two quarters in a season with at least six made 3-pointers without a miss.