Life in the NBA is tough. No matter how good you were in college or in Europe or on the And 1 Mixtape Tour, it all counts for nothing. You have to prove yourself all over again. And that’s hard when you’ve got a world of expectation on your shoulders. Maybe you’re the freak who jumped straight from high school to the big league, raw as hell but with potential that leaves scouts frothing at the mouth. Maybe you were the superstar of the Argentinean league used to being showered with praise and adoring fans, with a post-game ritual that involved nailing the four hottest South American women who happened to be watching that night. Or maybe you’re the College Senior who’s lead his team to the pinnacle of the NCAA, sprawled across every second sports magazine in the country through March and April. Either way, when you step into the NBA, it’s a reality check. Your vertical leap, your past accolades, your track record with European ladies – no one gives a shit. We need you to step up and play. Or else we’ll be pissed at you.

Some players of course, do live up to that hype. They’re the rarities. Your Lebron James of the league. Your Dwight Howards. Your Kevin Durants. But for everyone of those, there are at least ten more complete spuds who have left fans cursing their GMs in frustration. These aren’t necessarily your #1 draft pick busts (though in some cases, they are). These are your run-of-the-mill role players. Your speedy point guard who is supposed to bring energy off the bench, whom you soon after realise is really fast but can’t actually pass while moving. Your 6-10 shooter who you’ve had incubating in Europe for two years, only to find that in America his shooting ability mysteriously disappears. Your seven-foot monster who is supposed to bring size and interior defense, but instead just ends up co-producing posters three times a week. These are the players us fans hung our hopes on when they first suited up for our team. The answer to our problems, the missing link in our championship aspirations. But we can only hold up hope for so long, and some times you just have to face the facts: I doubt this player is ever going to prove himself in the NBA.

Here at NBAMate, we love the underdog, the little “Aussie battler” (to use a colloquial term). So we thought, instead of turning our backs on the players who have tried so hard to fulfill our expectations and failed, why not celebrate them instead? In the spirit of Thomas the Apostle and Isiah Thomas, the most doubted NBA figure of the modern era, we proudly present the inaugural Doubting Thomas Award. An award to recognise the achievements of those who have achieved so little. An award to celebrate those players who have frustrated us beyond belief, yet leave us with a tinge of hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll turn it around soon. Because let’s face it, no matter how many chances you’ve blown, there’s always the chance you won’t fuck up the next one.

To help with this award I’ve called on some of my fellow bloggers and friends from around the Interweb, who each picked their own special candidate for the Doubting Thomas Award. Each month we’ll be doing a power-ranking style update on these guys, tracking their highs and lows (mostly lows), and keeping an eye on whether this, the 2009-2010 season, is the year they finally prove the doubters wrong. The winning player at the end of the season will get their face in the NBAMate banner, and I also plan to send a giant gold “T” in the mail to their respective ball club.

Here is your illustrious line up for the inaugural Doubting Thomas Award.

Danilo Gallinari, New York Knicks
by Tizzle – NBAMate’s resident Knicks fan
Boooooooo!!!!! The usual sound of a New York draft pick was no different when we picked Danilo Gallinari last season fresh out of Italy. There was a cloud of mystery surrounding him, and then he played one summer league game and the concerns multiplied. Ever faithful fans are now witnessing what Walsh and D’Antoni saw in him, and he is in the process of proving many haters and doubting Thomas’ wrong. Bad back? Weak body? Just a jump shooter? Used to the Euro system and not American players? Playing for Knicks? All signs point to bust, except the signs he has given us on the court.

Patrick O’Bryant , Toronto Raptors
by Loscy – Loscy Celtics Blog
Yes yes, I am an absolute sucker for players that used to dress in Celtic green. Patrick O’Bryant made a cameo for the Celtics in the 2008-2009 season and was seen as a possible asset coming off the bench with length, defense, and youth: three things the Celtics bench desperately needed to defend their title from 2008. So what if he POB had absolutely nothing in his offensive repertoire and couldn’t even keep in front of a glass door on defense? So what if POB was constantly hurt? So what if he was the first lottery pick to be sent into the D-League in his inaugural season? So what if his then coach/GM at Golden State (Donnie boy!) told POB that he wasn’t getting any better at all and that he was a long-term project and a disappointment? So what if Golden State could have had Rajon Rondo or Kyle Lowry or Paul Milsap or Sergio Rodriguez or even Shannon Brown? So what if he was picked up by the Celtics and then shipped to Toronto for a measly future second round draft pick? I’m pulling for you big guy. Why? Mainly because Don Nelson is a meathead of a coach/GM/person and since he hated you, I therefore have to atomically root for you. Let’s dedicate ourselves to good solid defense in the paint, crashing the boards, and finishing on second chances. This Bud’s for you, #13.

Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns
by Paul – Two Sides of the Hoop
A lot has been said about Channing Frye. A lot of good and a lot of bad. After toiling through some rather disappointing times in NYC and Portland, Channing has a chance to shine in the Valley of the Sun. With a frontcourt featuring the retarded stunt-doubles of Brook Lopez, Blake Griffin and the even more retarded stunt-double of Jason Collins… this kid has at least a chance. Hell, the Suns even have a guy who looks like the Vigo painting in Ghostbusters in Louis Amundson. No matter how you look at it, if Channing Frye can’t get it together in Phoenix, he’s screwed. So… who you gonna call?

Roko Ukic, Milwaukee Bucks
by Romy – Hip Hoop Junkies
Roko Ukic was one of my favourite players in Toronto solely based on name alone.  The Croatian couldn’t convince Bryan Colangelo that he was a viable backup for Jose Calderon, so he shipped him off to Milwaukee.  Now he’s in even a worse position, buried on the bench behind Luke Ridnour and Mr. 55-point rookie, Brandon Jennings.  He’s averaging 4 minutes of playing time at a whopping 1.0 point per game. Come on Roko, show Mr. Jennings what you got!

“FREE ROKO, FREE ROKO, FREE ROKO!”

Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
by Anton – The Sport Count
We know one thing about Corey Brewer: he sure can’t shoot the ball. The rest is a mystery. He has all the trademarks of a classic draft flop: consistently terrible decision-making; a horrible stroke; a bunch of college teammates ready to make him look relatively wretched (Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Marreese Speights). But, like so many long-armed and youthful ballers, he has upside. He’s sporadically effective on the defensive end (averaging 2.3 steals per game). He’s a surprisingly reasonable passer. And, with his agility and quickness, he can hit the boards. But can those glimpses of promise ever be realised?

Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
by Chucko – The Frustrated Suns Fan
Goran Dragic, drafted by Phoenix at great cost in the summer of 2008, was met with anything but a friendly atmosphere on arrival in the NBA. Hollinger went straight for his stats book saying, “His translated Euroleague stats from last year are terrible.. it projects to 10.1 points and 5.6 assists per 40 minutes, 44.0% shooting, and a 8.38 PER, the average NBA PER is 15.0. Yikes…Hardly seems worth all that trouble.” David Thorpe was similarly glowing with praise: “I’ve not had a single scout tell me that he can play. Not one. They love him, but scouts I trust say he’s not good.”

Dragic did his best to live up to his negative hype, shooting a dismal 39.3% for the field, and with 16.7% of his possessions resulting in a turnover it seemed that Goran had been watching Steve Nash during training camp, without realising how much skill it takes to pass the basketball like he does. Watching Goran handle the ball was like watching one of those TAC adds – you know how it’s going to end, and it’s not going to be pretty, but you just can’t look away. Whenever the ball came near him, Goran had all the nerves of Steve Urkel. It’s no wonder we started calling him Goran Tragic.

Marco Belinelli, Toronto Raptors
by Mookie – A Stern Warning
“Marco Belinelli è il più grande giocatore di basket in Italia!” Translated: Marco Belinelli is the greatest basketball player in all of Italy! Whilst it’s not entirely true… or even close (with Andrea Bargnani currently holding that mantel) but he has the ability to be that player. All you need to do is remember back to the 2007 Summer League, where Belinelli introduced himself in a blaze of glory, with 37 points, ultimately going on to average 22.8ppg in SL play. However he didn’t get a legit run in Golden State during the regular season and after two part-seasons in the Bay Area, was traded to Toronto in the Summer of 2009. This is his season to prove himself as a real NBA commodity!

Chris Quinn, Miami Heat
by Jobba – NBAMate’s resident draft expert
I had to go with Chris Quinn. For the simple reason that anyone who dresses like a 1920′s Chicago mobster for their NBA.com profile picture deserves some cred. Plus, anyone whose played the NBA2k series knows that Chris Quinn is a quality baller.

Actual NBA.com profile photo. WTF.

JJ Redick, Orlando Magic
by Ryan – Two Sides of the Hoop
No list of doubted players would be complete without J.J. Reddick. On June 26th, 2006 J.J. Reddick was announced as the most hated athlete in America by CBS. It’s not surprising as the highest scoring player in Duke Blue Devils history. No team in North American sports polarises quite like the Blue Devils, and J.J. was the poster child. It only continued once he moved to the NBA with his inclusion in the 2006 USA Olympic team.  The next insult happened as the nation took great pride in his humiliating start to his NBA career as he struggled to get court time on an Orlando team with no real wing depth. That changed in the 2009 season and especially the playoffs as he defended Ray Allen tooth and nail and more than held his own, putting to bed his greatest downfall: his ability to get points at one end and give them back quicker at the opposite end. But to make matters worse, Reddick has decided to create his own “rap super group” which will no doubt draw laughter. I can’t wait for it to come out, as I’m pretty sure he’ll be a talent, and everyone loves a good sideshow. The main point for mine though, is that J.J. is a legit NBA player and this could be the year he starts to establish himself as such. I’m rooting for J.J. even though I’m a Tar Heels fan. Okay, now I feel dirty.

Kwame Brown, Detroit Pistons
by Robd – NBAMate Captain
Kwame Brown is so used to being scorned and doubted that he has a phobia of toilets with flush/half-flush buttons for fear of making the wrong decision. A lot of this probably stems from being bullied by MJ in his early Washington days, where reportedly at one point during training MJ ripped the rookie so hard that Kwame almost broke down and cried. Things looked on the up for Kwame when he moved to LA, where he had the super-friendly easy-going Kobe Bryant to look after him. Soon however, Kobe came to the same realisation as MJ: Kwame Brown is kind of retarded.

Kwame had a third lease of life in Detroit, who having lost one offensively-challenged center (Big Ben) decided they needed a similar replacement. The problem is, Kwame is not just offensively-challenged – he’s also defensively-challenged. This lead to the bizarre situation that when Ben Wallace came back as an even more offensively-challenged 42-year old man, he was still given the starting nod over Kwame who is supposedly in his prime (though I’m struggling to find evidence of this). Can Kwame prove that he deserves that starting spot ahead of Grandpa Wallace? Is this the season he proves MJ, Kobe and everyone else wrong for ever doubting him? Is this the season he learns to catch? Probably not, but it will be interesting as hell watching him try.

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What an exclusive list of players that is. If after reading that you feel the urge to ram your head through your PC monitor, then don’t stress – that is the typical reaction of having to visualize these guys on a basketball court. It’s also quite a broad mix of talent. Some of these players find themselves within the regular rotation – or *gasp* even the starting line ups – for their respective teams. Others seem destined to be warming the bench, praying that a teammate of theirs will be severely injured so they can finally get some decent minutes. Whatever their situation, one thing is clear: the only way is up. So tune in for the first Doubting Thomas Rankings, near the end of the month, to see how they’re faring on their road to redemption.


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