The case of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is peculiar, one where a former No. 1 pick languished, then found a career rebirth. And then, today, he was traded to Kansas City because Colin Kaepernick took his job with an out-of-nowhere run in December and January. In NBA terms, the only player eligible for such a career twist would be former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani — though he still hasn’t found the career rebirth part yet. The whole supplanted-by-a-younger star part though, now that’s not hard to find. Smith is just the latest in a long line of history seeing a person whose role is initially complementary become the whole star. Smith’s downfall halfway through this past NFL season was injury, but sometimes having your job taken doesn’t require you to be absent.
An All-Alex Smith team in the NBA could, for instance, include:
5. Jose Calderon
Replaced by: Kyle Lowry
Even after Lowry’s outstanding play faltered halfway through, Calderon’s improvement increased his trade value, and the hole he left in Toronto was nothing Lowry couldn’t fill. It isn’t the case of a young, budding star taking the veteran’s job because Lowry is an established talent, and yet he made Calderon unnecessary.
4. Eric Maynor
Replaced by: Reggie Jackson
Being the backup point guard for Oklahoma City isn’t a bad gig to have. It’s Maynor who can sympathize most with Smith, because his knee injury in the first month of the 2011-12 season kept him out of both a Finals run and made him dispensable when 1) Russell Westbrook proved he’s tireless and incredibly durable and 2) Reggie Jackson flashed incredible athleticism in the summer. Neither is as good a defender as Maynor, but Jackson could fill it. Maynor got traded to Portland last week.
3. Kris Humphries
Could be replaced by: Reggie Evans
An offseason acquisition, Evans isn’t young and can’t do anything but rebound, averaging just 4 shot attempts per 36 minutes of playing time. But Humphries’ skillset doesn’t go much beyond also being the gifted rebounder Evans is (if you don’t count FootLocker commercials), either, making his $12 million per year through 2013-14 an expensive redundancy.
2. Paul Millsap/Al Jefferson
Could be replaced by: Derrick Favors
They all are excellent scorers in the post and rebounders. All are aggressive, rugged big men. Favors is just younger.
This leads us to No. 1 — Indiana’s Danny Granger. Granger isn’t a former top pick who went astray like Smith. The All-Star hasn’t averaged fewer than 19.6 points per 36 minutes since 2007, and even with just-OK 44 percent shooting over his career, he’s a 38 percent guy from three. He’s not elite, but he’s very good. But even very good players get injured, and he had the misfortune of having Paul George, 22, as his small forward/shooting guard backup. Granger’s story may not match up with Smith’s as a carbon copy, but George’s ascension to 2013 All-Star is as close to the Colin Kaepernick story as you will find in the NBA. Both were long on athleticism out of overlooked Mountain West universities and short on exposure to show it off in their pro careers. Ever since injuries beget their starting roles, they’ve exploded into superstars. I’ve been high on George’s potential all season, and there is a legitimate shot that just like the 49ers, Indiana could reach the NBA Finals with its young star as a leader. Oh, and also helped by the harassing, league-best defense he guides by guarding every opponent’s best player. Such a defense has proven 2-0 against the Heat already and Miami’s 6.5 offensive rebounds per game in its two losses to Indiana this season are the fewest by an Indiana opponent all season.
The 29-year-old Granger’s contract ends in July 2014 with Indiana, and jumps by a million dollars to $14 million next season. Given that Granger has returned from his injury in the last week and now has the possibility of three more months (depending on Indiana’s playoff run) to show prospective teams his skills haven’t diminished, he could attract attention as a valuable trade chip this summer.
Unlike anyone else on the All-Alex Smith Team, and unlike any successor in the NBA this season, George doesn’t replace Granger’s skills admirably as much as he changes the ceiling on this Indiana team with his playmaking offense and defense. He is an All-Star on both ends while Granger is excellent, though on just one — his guarding LeBron last postseason was because of his 6-10, long-armed body type more than his ability to consistently check James. Smith and Granger are steady and will win you games but are predictable in the ways they accomplish it. George is the lone tentpole holding up Indiana’s otherwise lifeless offense this season, and gives it a fighting chance against Miami in a seven-game series.
What do you think?
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGreif.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.