This is the slow time in the NBA off-season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start looking ahead to the 2010-11 season and which players might surprise us. The Slept-on Files will feature some of the players you might have overlooked or written off — and give you reasons why you shouldn’t.
Leandro Barbosa’s File — Career numbers: 7 seasons, 466 games, 25,1 MPG, 12.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, .468 FG%, .398 3P%; 2009-10 numbers: 33 games, 17.9 MPG, 9.5 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 SPG, .425 FG%, .324 3P%
Why he’s being slept on: The 2009-10 season was probably the most challenging one of Leandro Barbosa’s career. He struggled with wrist pain all season, which contributed to his career-lows in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. He had a cyst removed from his wrist in January that caused him to miss eight weeks, resulting in the lowest games and minutes played totals of his seven-season career. If that wasn’t enough, Goran Dragic emerged as Steve Nash’s main backup and the Suns’ point guard of the future with a surprising season that culminated in his star-making performance in Game Three of the Western Conference semifinals — when he scored 23 fourth-quarter points to singlehandedly give Phoenix a 3-0 lead in the series.
The writing was on the wall for Barbosa, and he asked Suns management to trade him after the season. With Hedo Turkoglu feeling similarly dissatisfied with his residence in Toronto, the Raptors and Suns arranged a swap of the two malcontents. Now, the Brazilian blur who was on a “who’s who” team featuring Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill is now surrounded by a “who cares” cast including Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson, Linas Kleiza and DeMar DeRozan. Barbosa will surely get more playing time in Toronto, but he shouldn’t expect to return to the post-season in 2011.
Why he shouldn’t be slept on: Although he’s a seven-year NBA veteran, he’s still just 27 years old and if he’s injury-free next season, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to return to his status as one of the league’s most electrifying scorers off the bench. He won the (admittedly stupid) NBA Sixth Man Award in 2006-07 after he averaged 18.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while coming off the bench in 62 of his 80 games. While his minutes per game have decreased in every season since that award-winning season, he remained extremely productive in the playing time he got — in 2008-09, he averaged a career-high 21 points per 36 minutes.
While most objective observers acknowledge that the 2010-11 Raptors will probably be one of the worst teams in the league, the opportunity for increased playing time and the Raptors’ intent to play a fast-paced style both point to a comeback season for Barbosa. The departure of Chris Bosh significantly depleted the Raptors’ offensive firepower, but a healthy and happy Barbosa is more than capable of filling the nets. And you know he’ll be motivated to perform — he’s got a player option in his contract after next season.
Raptors fans may only be able to enjoy Leandro Barbosa for one season, but if he’s healthy I expect him to be one of the bright spots. Speaking as a Raptors fan myself, I still can’t believe Raptors President/GM Bryan Colangelo was able to turn that fat, overpaid hump Turkoglu into this overlooked gem.