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During the history of the NBA there has been an abundance of “What if” players. These are players who teased us with their greatness but for different reasons did not live up to their potential. For some players it was injuries, others made bad decisions and unfortunately some passed away way too early.
Unfortunately, Jabari Parker looks like he may become a “what if” player. Parker just recently tore the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) in his left knee for the second time in three years. The former second overall pick out of Duke University was finally starting to live up to his high draft selection. Parker was having a career year before the injury, averaging 20.1 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game shooting 49% from the field, and 37% from three point range. Jabari is only 21 years old, so he has plenty of time to recover, live up to his potential as a player and hopefully avoid the designation of the “what if” guy.
I will name my starting lineup of “what if” players. For this list, I decided to stick to players who have already retired or that are out of the NBA. I picked one player from each position, which made this a very tough list to make.
Center: Bill Walton
At the center position, I could have went a lot of different directions because there is a history of big men not living up to their potential due to injuries. Yao Ming, Greg Oden, and Brad Daugherty are just a few names on that list. I choose Bill Walton because his skill-set was so incredible. Walton could score with either hand, had an array of post moves, was an elite defender and possibly the best passing big man of all time. During the 1976-77 season he led the Portland Trailblazers to a championship while averaging 18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.2 blocks per game. The very next season, he averaged 19 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.5 blocks a game. Walton won the MVP award that season but suffered a very serious foot injury. He never recovered and could not make it back to an All-Star game. Walton did win another championship with Boston Celtics as a role player later in his career.
Just like the center position, there are several power forwards whose careers did not pan out the way they should have due to injuries. Antonio McDyess and Danny Manning are a few that come to mind. I ultimately picked Ralph Sampson because of the potential dynasty that was lost in Houston with his injuries. Sampson at 7’4″, played power forward alongside center Hakeem Olajuwon. Sampson got selected to the All-Star Game each of the first four seasons of his career. During those years, he averaged 19.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. He was one of the main reasons the Rockets made it to the 1986 NBA Finals. Sampson suffered from several back and leg issues during those first four seasonsand never making it back to being an all-star caliber player.
At the small forward spot, it came down to Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. I went back and forth on this decision and ultimately picked Hill because he was a better all-around player than McGrady. Hill came into the league and dominated right away. He was actually the first rookie of any of the four major sports to lead his league in All-Star votes. Hill was “Mr. Do It All” with the Pistons for the first six years of his career. During that time, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. He was selected to five All-NBA teams and six All-Star teams. Hill suffered a major ankle injury right before he left the Pistons to go to the Orlando Magic. The mistake was, he tried to come back too quickly and never quite recovered. Hill made one more All-Star Game in Orlando and later on became a good role player on some very successful Phoenix Suns teams. You just can’t help but think about how good he could have been.
Picking the shooting guard for this team was tough as well. I went with the eye test on this one. I could have picked Drazen Petrovic, the sharp shooter who sadly passed away at the age of 28. I decided to go with one of my favorite players while he played, Brandon Roy. Roy came into the NBA and played well right away winning Rookie of the Year. He steadily improved over the next few years getting selected to three All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams. Roy averaged 20 points and five assists a game while shooting 47% from the field during his first four seasons. Roy could score in a plethora of ways from slashing to the rim, pulling up for the mid-range jumper or shooting three-pointers. Roy suffers from a knee disorder where the wear and tear of the NBA is just too much for his knees to handle. After his fourth season, that disorder really started to show as Roy could no longer stay on the court. Roy was forced to retire at 28 years old.
There are no shortage of options to pick from at the point guard position. You can go with former Duke star Jay Williams or current players like Derrick Rose and Shaun Livingston. I decided to go with Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway because he could have been one of the greatest point guards of all-time. Hardaway had an excellent start to his career. During his first four seasons, he averaged 19.7 points, 6.6 assists, and 2.0 steals per game, while shooting 49% from the field. Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal helped lead the Orlando Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals beating Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls on the way there. Penny was the top point guard in the league with three All-Star selections, three All-NBA selections, and the hottest shoe and commercial at Nike. Just like everyone else on this list, injuries were his downfall. He started suffering knee injury after knee injury. Hardaway had a long career but was never “the man” again. It would have been great to see him injury-free in his prime, it would have been something special.
All of these players were special talents who should be remembered for the time when they were at their best.
I want to thank you for reading this article. Please let me know what you think of it by commenting down low and also tell me who is in your all-time “What if” starting five.