The recent revival of Indiana Hoosier basketball under Tom Crean has led to an influx of Hoosier alums making it to the NBA.
With training camps having kicked off and the preseason beginning, seven Hoosiers are currently signed to deals ranging from training camp invites to newly-signed big-money deals.
The likelihood of all seven players making their respective Opening Night rosters is slim as the situations lying ahead of each player vary widely from fighting for a roster spot to fighting for a starting spot.
Let’s take a look at each of the Hoosiers are their respective outlooks as they head into the season.
Nick Zeisloft, Indiana Pacers, partially-guaranteed deal
To the surprise of some (read: everyone), Nick Zeisloft landed a training camp deal with the Indiana Pacers despite not even playing in the NBA Summer League.
Zeisloft’s skill set is well known and one-dimension. He’s a shooter who, on his day, is one of the best around. He’s also someone who can’t do much else on the court, struggles with athleticism and defense, and likely would only see playing time in spurts off the bench.
The other issue working against Zeisloft is that the Pacers have 15 guaranteed contracts with only 15 roster spots available, maximum, on opening night. Essentially, Zeisloft would have to play well enough to not warrant the Pacers cutting another player and going into the season with dead money on the books.
In the end, Zeisloft will likely end up being one of the first cuts from the Pacers and will get a chance to either go overseas or play in the NBA D-League.
Yogi Ferrell, Brooklyn Nets, partially-guaranteed deal
While Ferrell’s contract is the same as Zeisloft, making it easy to cut him during preseason, his situation is much different.
See, the Nets suck. Like really suck. And it looks like Yogi knows what’s in store for him this season.
Ferrell played well enough with the Nets during the Summer League to earn the partially-guaranteed deal and did so despite struggling to hit shots from the field and beyond the arc.
Fortunately for him, as previously mentioned, the Nets are going to be very bad this year. After being thoroughly decimated by former GM Billy King, the Nets are void of assets.
The path to Ferrell making the Opening Night roster is a little clearer than the Zeisloft’s. Ferrell will likely enter training camp as the fourth-string point guard, but the Nets do have 16 guaranteed contracts as is, meaning Ferrell’s fight will be an uphill one.
Troy Williams, Memphis Grizzlies, partially-guaranteed deal
Of the three undrafted Hoosiers from last season’s team, Williams might have the best shot at making the team. Ahead of him on the Grizzlies’ depth chart as we enter the season at small forward are new signee Chandler Parsons and journeyman and fringe player James Ennis.
Williams will be battling D.J. Stephens for a spot on the roster, among potential other players. The Griz only have 14 guaranteed contracts, leaving up one spot for a host of undrafted players to fight for.
Troy’s knack to sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things was on display in the Summer League where he started slow before finishing strong. The strong finish is what Williams will need to build on to make the roster and could be a sign of him becoming more comfortable with the NBA game as he went. Playing on a roster with plenty of talent, Williams did a good job with the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League team of being a role player who slashed, rebounded and finished at the rim.
The good news for Troy is that the Grizzlies, for whatever reason, don’t value outside shooting like other teams do. With players like Tony Allen, Tony Wroten and 39-year old Vince Carter on the roster, there’s a clear path for Williams to make the team should he be able to defend and contribute enough offensively.
Noah Vonleh, Portland Trailblazers, third year of rookie deal
The often-forgotten Indiana alumni in the NBA, Vonleh has had an interesting career so far. After being drafted ninth overall by the Charlotte Hornets in a loaded draft class, Vonleh has securely been in the shadows for much of his NBA career.
Vonleh was dealt to Portland ahead of last season where his career hardly took off to start. While he saw more consistent playing time, especially down the stretch of the season, Vonleh played just 12 minutes in the playoffs with seven of those minutes coming in the first game of the playoffs.
The outlook isn’t any brighter for Vonleh this season as the Blazers brought in Festus Ezeli in the off-season, pushing him further down the depth chart. Vonleh has a team option for next season that the Blazers will have to make a decision on. Given how relatively cheap the deal is ($3.5 million), the Blazers will likely pick it up.
However, barring a huge breakthrough, Vonleh is going to be stuck behind Ezeli, Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard, the latter the recipient of a 4 year, $41-million deal, signaling his important to the team going forward.
Vonleh is a near-certain lock for the roster, but will likely be relegated to spot appearances unless something drastic changes.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets, fourth year of rookie deal
After being unceremoniously booed on draft night by a dumb fanbase, Cody Zeller has more than carved out a nice with Charlotte, resulting in a starting role for much of last season. Zeller started a pair of games in the playoffs and still played 20.7 minutes in the games he didn’t start in.
Zeller still had a strong finish to last season, averaging 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds on 59% field goal shooting over the final 29 games of the regular season. The Hornets appear ready to give him the starting role of the future after letting Al Jefferson walk in the summer.
Heading into the season, Zeller is pencilled in as the starter at center with Roy Hibbert signed as a back-up during the off-season. The Hornets are likely still a playoff team with the loss of Jeremy Lin and Jefferson mitigated by the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and arrival of Marco Belinelli.
Zeller’s versatility to play both inside and outside as well as at the forward or center position will continue to lead him to more minutes. He’s the perfect type of big man in the current NBA with an ability to stretch the defense while still compete down low, as seen by his heat map last season.
Most importantly for Zeller and his future, this season is the final year under contract for Zeller before hitting the open market as a restricted free agent this summer. Zeller has likely already secured a significant payday, but could really cash in with a strong season and the rising salary cap.
Victor Oladipo, Oklahoma City Thunder, fourth year of rookie deal
Certainly no Indiana alum has been in headlines more than Victor Oladipo this summer. Oladipo was part of the biggest trade of the summer, being dealt to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka. Days later, Kevin Durant joined a Warriors side that blew a 3-1 lead in last year’s Finals with the unanimous MVP (people forget that), further changing Oladipo’s role.
Oladipo was badly managed by the Orlando Magic, who played him at point guard for much of his rookie season before drafting a point guard who can’t shoot in Elfrid Payton to put alongside him the next summer.
The result in Orlando was Oladipo becoming the scapegoat at times, being yanked around in and out of the starting line-up last season as he saw his numbers dip across the board.
Now in Oklahoma City, Oladipo’s role is a defined one. He’s likely the second option on offense to Westbrook and won’t be asked to do as much for the offense this season. Oladipo’s usage percentage, which spiked at 25 percent last year, will likely take a drastic drop this year and that should only be a good thing for Vic.
If used by Billy Donovan correctly, Westbrook and Oladipo could create havoc defensively while overwhelming teams with athleticism offensively. The two already appear to be hitting things off way better than anyone expected.
Oladipo on Russell Westbrook singing to him: "Some days at night I can't sleep, and I just call him, and he sings me to sleep."— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) September 24, 2016
Westbrook’s multi-year extension means he will be around for multiple years. And while Oladipo is a restricted free agent this upcoming summer, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder would let him walk after losing Durant last summer and void of much other talent.
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets, first year of 4-year/$53 million deal
If you had to guess, without looking, how much would you say Eric Gordon is set to earn in his career? $80 million? $90 million?
With his latest contract this summer, Gordon is will earn upwards of $120 million in his NBA career despite only playing more than 62 games once in his NBA career (and that came in his rookie season!)
Gordon, however, is set to join his third team of his career after signing a big-money deal with the Rockets this summer, and there’s reason to be optimistic moving forward.
First, the Rockets under newly-hired Mike D’Antoni, are going to score a lot. A whole lot. D’Antoni’s offenses are known for being up-tempo and fast-paced and his defenses are known for often not existing.
This is good news for Gordon, whose ability to spot up and hit jumpers while also attacking the rim should be a perfect fit in MDA’s offense.
Secondly, D’Antoni already announced during media day on Monday that James Harden was now the team’s starting point guard, which is essentially a formality. Harden’s usage rate of 32.5 percent was third-highest in the league last year behind only Steph Curry and DeMarcus Cousins. Moving him to point guard means the team no longer has to pretend Patrick Beverly is the team’s point guard.
That move also very well could mean a spot for Eric Gordon in the starting line-up, assuming the Rockets don’t consider Beverly a shooting guard now. Gordon, who has had usage percentages of just 19.8 percent and 20.3 percent the last two seasons, can succeed without the ball in his hands.
Last season, Gordon had an effective field goal percentage of 51.4 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, something he will have plenty of this season playing alongside Harden, who is known for driving and kicking.
For Gordon, this will likely represent his best chance to succeed since being traded from the Los Angeles Clippers. After spending five rather unceremonious years in New Orleans, a fresh start is likely only going to benefit Gordon, especially one in an offense he can flourish in.