The most exciting time of the year, at least for fans of the Big 4, is upon us.
Hockey playoffs are in full swing and the major league baseball season is underway. For hoops fans, the long season is finally over and the best 16 teams of the 30-team lot are now battling it out for NBA supremacy.
Many players are competing in their umpteenth post-season, such as LeBron James, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry to name but a few.
There are, however, quite a few players who are on the outside looking in. Some, even, have yet to get an invitation to the Big Dance. For them, it’s a long summer punctuated by possibly watching their some of their brethren go to work deep into spring.
There are 20 readily identified hoopsters, past and present, who have not had their heart rates go up in a post-season contest. Here they are, in no particular order.
20. Devin Booker
Booker has played only three seasons in the NBA and at just 21 years old, he’s got plenty of time to go to the playoffs, either with Phoenix, or someone else. Our vote is on someone else if the last-place Suns don’t get their act together. Booker’s inclusion here stems from an outstanding rookie campaign, where he started 51 of 76 games, averaged 13.8 points and made the NBA All-Rookie Team. He’s since become the Suns best player, having averaged 22.1 points and 3.4 assists in 2016-17 and then 24.9 points and 4.7 assists this season. The shooting guard out of Kentucky has improved greatly in his position’s most critical category, three-pointers. In his rookie year, he was 34.3 percent effective, followed by 36.3 percent in 2016-17 and 38.3 this season. Booker hit on 147 of 384 attempts, which tied him with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Lakers for 57th. And oh yah, there was that 70-point game.
19. Nate Williams
There used to be something called the “NBA Supplemental Hardship Draft”, which, if we were picked in it we’d put a bag over our heads or something. Not so former Utah State swing man Nate Williams, who was taken 1st overall in said draft in 1971. The actual reason for that draft was to take underclassmen, who at the time weren’t eligible, but could claim “hardship” if their class hadn’t graduated yet. So, Williams went in, got picked up by the old Cincinnati Royals and made a pretty good nine-year career out of it. He would play 642 games in the NBA with three different clubs, but not one single post-season contest. In his best season, 1973-74 with the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, who were coached by Bob Cousy and also featured Tiny Archibald and current Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, Williams averaged 15.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals in 82 games. For his career, Williams scored 12.0 PPG, and averaged 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
18. Aaron Gordon
We’re guessing that when Arizona forward Aaron Gordon left the floor after losing to Wisconsin in the 2014 West Regional of the NCAA DI final that it would be his last really meaningful basketball game. Not that making money to play basketball as a first round pick of the Orlando Magic is chopped liver, but Gordon has yet to see the post-season since joining the NBA in 2014. A star for the Wildcats, Gordon was taken fourth overall in 2014 and had a 47 game debut the next season. He’s since improved his game in every statistical category, to the point he had career highs this past season in points (17.6), rebounds (7.9), assists (2.3), steals (1.0) and three point shooting percentage (33.6). The bottom line, though, is that he has played 263 games for the Magic and hasn’t even come close to seeing post-season action. The team finished 25-57 this season, which is identical to the record it sported in Gordon’s freshman campaign.
17. Larry Cannon
Before the merger of the old ABA and NBA, La Salle University’s Larry Cannon was a much sought after shooting guard. The Philadelphia native was an All-American in three seasons and played a huge role in the team’s 23-1 season in 1968-69 (though they were banned from competing in the NCAA championships due to recruiting violations). He was subsequently drafted by both the NBA’s Chicago Bulls (5th overall in 1969) and the Miami Floridians of the ABA. He elected to play in the ABA with the Floridians, a league dominated at the time by future NBA Hall of Famers Spencer Haywood, Rick Barry and Larry Brown (the future coach). By his second season, with the Denver Rockets, he was the team’s top scorer with 26.6 points per game, but it didn’t help get the Rockets to the playoffs. Cannon would end up playing 213 total games, including 19 with his hometown 76ers in his last season, but not one playoff contest.
16. Zach LaVine
Pity emerging talent Zach LaVine. He finally made a comeback to the NBA this season with the Chicago Bulls after having knee surgery, only to watch as the team that traded him, Minnesota, make the playoffs while he didn’t. A one-and-done player in college with UCLA in 2013-14, he, like fellow Pac-12 player Aaron Gordon at Arizona played in the 2014 DI tournament and hasn’t seen a pressure-packed game since. Drafted 13th overall by the Timberwolves in 2014, LaVine started 40 of 77 games and ended up making the All-Rookie Team. In 2016-17, he was having a pretty good season, averaging 18.9 points and shooting 38.7 percent from beyond the arc before the injury bug bit. He was dealt to the Bulls in the Jimmy Butler deal and played in 24 games. In total, he has seen action in 230 NBA games and zero playoff games.
15. George Thompson
Growing up in Brooklyn, George Thompson went from playground and high school sensation to college and ABA-NBA star. Thompson played three years at Marquette and still holds the school record for average points scored at 20.4. He was instrumental in getting the Golden Eagles to the 1969 Elite Eight and that same year was taken in the fifth round of the 1969 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. But, he chose to start his pro career with the Pittsburgh Pipers (later Condors) of the ABA, where he would become a prolific scorer and three-time All-Star. He played 364 games in the ABA before ending his career with Milwaukee in 1974-75, seeing action in 73 games with the Bucks. Had he stuck it out with Boston, he could have won a title with them in 1974, instead of never playing one post-season game.
14. Gary Harris
We don’t think it will be long before Harris, who has played four years in the NBA with Denver, will get to showcase his wares in the post-season. The Nuggets were one game shy of grabbing the eighth seed in the Western Conference this spring and with a nucleus that includes Harris, Nikola Jokic (more on him later), Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap, next year could be the year. For now, though, Harris has played 255 regular season games and zilch in the playoffs. Overall, his stock as a better-than-average shooting guard is rising. On the offensive side of the ball he was good in 2017-18, averaging 17.5 points and 2.9 assists, while shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range. Defensively he had a career high 1.8 steals per game in 67 contests this season, along with 2.6 rebounds. With a fairly fresh and lucrative four-year contract in hand, Harris will be around to see the Nuggets get to the Big Dance after a five-year absence.
13. Nerlens Noel
After being highly regarded coming out of the basketball factory that is the University of Kentucky, PF Nerlens Noel’s career has taken a turn for the surreal. A one-and-done with the Wildcats in 2012-13, Noel was taken 6th overall by the New Orleans Hornets in the 2013 draft, but ended up being swapped to Philadelphia in a trade that saw Jrue Holiday go the other way. Noel was a standout in his first year with the Sixers after sitting out a season due to knee surgery, making the All-Rookie Team in 2014-15. He averaged 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.9 blocks in 75 games. He averaged more points in his second campaign (11.1), but heading into his third season and some more injury trouble, Noel started complaining about the logjam at center in Philly, causing him to be traded, again. He has since been with Dallas, where Noel has been OK, but missed more time to injury and a suspension for violating the anti-doping policy. To date, he has appeared in 223 regular season games, but none in the playoffs.
12. Elfrid Payton
It really is too bad that Elfrid Payton may have to wait a couple of years to finally see action beyond early April. The talented point guard has been a model of consistency since being taken 10th overall by Philadelphia out of Louisiana Lafayette in 2014. The Sixers flipped him right away to the Orlando Magic and with them Payton had a great rookie campaign, averaging 8.9 points. 6.5 assists and 1.7 steals in 83 games, 63 of them starts. The Magic never really went anywhere, despite Payton’s improving play year over year and 44 games into the 2017-18 season, he was traded to an even worse off club, the Phoenix Suns. To date, Payton has started 253 of 300 total NBA regular season games, averaging 11.2 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals. We’re not sure, though, that he’ll ever see a playoff game.
11. John Brisker
In the old ABA, Detroit native John Brisker was a alternatively a superstar and a known hot head. Undrafted out of MAC school Toledo, Brisker soon made his mark with the Pittsburgh Pipers/Condors of the ABA and then the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA. While he piled up the points with Pittsburgh (26.1 average in 205 games) and was a two-time all-star and All-ABA nominee, he was also ejected so many times for fighting and questionable play that he earned the alias “heavyweight champion of the ABA.” He wasn’t quite as prolific a scorer in 126 games with the Sonics in the NBA, but still managed to average 11.9 points per game. Post career, Brisker went to Uganda during the Idi Amin years — some rumors saying as a mercenary — and went missing. It has been speculated that he was executed by firing squad the year Amin was removed from power (1979) and was declared legally dead in 1985.
9. Nikola Jokic
For the Joker, the fact the Denver Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs this season is no giggling matter. The big Serb had to take a back seat on several occasions this season to the soon-to-be-traded Jusuf Nurkic, much to the detriment of a club that was within a game (well maybe two) of making it to the playoffs. As it was, the Nuggets finished at 40-42, one game back of playoff bound Portland (which, at 41-41, held a head-to-head tie breaker in the event both teams went 41-41). Jokic, who made the NBA all-rookie team in 2015-16, had a breakout sophomore campaign. He started 59 of 73 games and averaged 16.7 points per game, up from 10.0 in his rookie season. In just about every offensive and defensive category he improved greatly, putting him among the elite among NBA centers. It won’t be long, we think, before he and the Nuggets — who missed the 2018 playoffs by one game — are in it.
8. Clark Kellogg
Special K has come full circle, now a studio analyst for CBS Sports on college basketball broadcasts. The former Ohio State standout and first round pick (eighth overall) of the Indiana Pacers in 1982 has found a lengthy career as a talking head for NCAA hoops. After being the Big 10 MVP, Kellogg burst onto the NBA scene in 1982-83, making the all-rookie team by scoring 20.1 points per game and adding 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals. Unfortunately, the power forward out of Cleveland played on a pretty horrible Pacers team that finished 20-62. That was a recurring them in his next three seasons, as Indiana never won more than 26 games and finished out of the running. By his fourth season, when Indiana went 26-56, Kellogg’s wonky knees were giving out. In his fifth and last season (1986-87), his injury woes limited him to four games and forced his early retirement. Ironically, the team improved to 41-41 and made it to the post-season.
7. Tom Van Arsdale
In terms of all-time non-playoff participants, Van Arsdale would be the unluckiest. The former three-time all-star and All-Rookie First Team member played in 929 regular season games, but had a donut post-season wise, making him the leader in this category. That’s right, 12 seasons in the NBA, nary an appearance in the playoffs. The Hoosier from Indianapolis and Indiana University grad played for six different teams between 1965-66 and 1976-77, only coming close once. Unfortunately, he was playing for the 1967-68 Detroit Pistons, who would go 40-42 and squeak in, but got traded mid-season to Cincinnati. It was with the old Royals that he would enjoy his greatest personal success, reeling off three straight all-star worthy campaigns from 1969-70 to 1971-72. None of those Royals teams, though, would finish better than 36-46. Interestingly, his twin brother Dick, who Tom played with in Phoenix in 1976-77, made the playoffs on four occasions.
6. Brandon Knight
Coming out of Florida high school hoops as a top 10 recruit, Brandon Knight had his pick of schools, opting for the factory that is the University of Kentucky in 2010. The Miami native played one great season with the Wildcats, earning a nomination for the Bob Cousy award (best point guard in the nation) and helping Kentucky win the SEC and make the final four in 2011. He opted for the draft after his outstanding freshman season and was picked eighth overall by Detroit. He made the All-Rookie First Team in 2011-12, scoring 12.8 points and dishing out 3.8 assists er game. Somehow, he’s never been able to stick with any one team, none of them making the playoffs either. Despite solid stats (15.2 points, 4.3 assists per game, career) Knight has been traded from Detroit, to Milwaukee and now the Phoenix Suns. He has played in 382 games and has yet to display his considerable talents in the playoffs.
5. Popeye Jones
Well, at least one of the Jones family can say they have appeared in the playoffs. Former long-time NBA forward Popeye Jones (that is his real name, not an alias) has a son, Seth, a talented NHL defenceman who has skated in 12 playoff games already. As for the elder, now an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers (who are in the playoffs this year), Popeye never once got a glimpse of the post-season bright lights. He played in 535 career games with six different clubs, none of them good enough to make it to the Big Dance. A reserve during the last part of his career, Jones retired after playing five games with Golden State in 2003-04, finishing with 7.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. The closest any he team he played for to making the playoffs were the 2001-02 Washington Wizards, who fashioned a 37-45 record, good for 10th in the Eastern Conference.
4. Geoff Huston
For much of the first two decades of their existence in the NBA (starting in 1970-71), the Cleveland Cavaliers were pretty much a sad-sack also-ran, making it to the playoffs just seven times in 20 seasons and winning all of one round. To his detriment, point guard Geoff Huston had three pretty good seasons there in the early 1980s, averaging 6.3 assists and 11.0 points for a team that won 66 and lost 180 in that span. A great passer, but fairly poor defender, Huston never played for one team that won more games than it lost in his nine-season, 496-game career. To put a fine point on how unlucky he was, in a game against Golden State in 1982, Huston dished out 27 dimes (tying him with John Stockton for fourth most assists in a game, all-time), yet the Cavaliers could muster only 110 points and win by just four. Cursed, he was.
3. Geoff Petrie
Like that other Geoff (Huston), former two-time all-star and 1971 NBA Rookie of the Year point guard Geoff Petrie toiled for a pretty bad expansion team in Portland. The Trail Blazers debuted during the 1970-71 season, coinciding with Petrie’s freshman season after he was selected eighth overall out of Princeton. An Ivy League standout, Petrie could play the point and swingman, as well as small forward. He set the league on fire for the 29-53 Trail Blazers in 70-71, scoring 24.8 points per game on 44.3 percent field goal shooting, along with dishing out 4.8 assists. He would play 446 of 492 games in six seasons with Portland, none of his teams winning more than 38 games. Before a knee injury derailed his career in 1976, Petrie posted career numbers of 21.8 PPG and 4.6 assists and retired having scored a team record 51 points in a game twice (since broken by Damon Stoudamire, who had 54 in a game during the 2004-05 season).
2. Bob Rule
Before some dude named Kevin Durant came along, former Seattle SuperSonics center Bob Rule held the team rookie record for points per game at 18.1. Rule, who played for Jerry Tarkanian at Riverside (CA) Community College for two years before transferring to Colorado State in 1965, was drafted 19th overall by the expansion Sonics in 1967. The team finished 23-59 that season and along with improved play from Rule, they got better in each of the next three seasons, going 38-44 in 1970-71, narrowly missing out on the post-season. They very well could have made it that year, had Rule not torn his Achilles tendon, limiting him to just four games. The next season, Rule played 16 games for the SuperSonics and then was traded to Philadelphia. Rule would play in 403 total NBA regular season contests, finishing with 17.4 assists, 8.3 rebounds and zero games in the playoffs.
1. DeMarcus Cousins
Boogie, of all players on this list, should not have suffered sevens seasons (and counting) out of the playoffs. Love him, or hate him, the three-time all-star and two-time All-NBA Second Team member should be someone to build around toward a championship. If only he could find a coach he doesn’t openly feud with or that on/off switch for the times he racks up idiotic personal and technical fouls. After debuting in 2010-11 with Sacramento, the all-star center played on Kings teams that won 24, 22, 28, 28, 29 and 33 games until 2015-16. Then 55 games into the 2016-17 season, Cousins was shockingly traded to New Orleans, uniting him in a monster front court with Anthony Davis. That deal, as lopsided as it was, was supposed to push the Pelicans back into the playoffs for the first time since 2014-15. Boogie did his level best in 17 games with Nawlins, scoring 24.4 points and adding 12.5 rebounds, but in the end the Pelicans finished a dismal 34-48 and out of the playoffs. His team made the playoffs this year, but he obviously hasn’t and won’t participate in them.