Having played in all of five games for the San Antonio Spurs, Alonzo Gee netted himself a total of 18 minutes of play. All in all, he made one field goal — a five-footer that came with about six minutes left of an absolute man-handling of the Philadelphia 76ers. Garbage time at its finest.
Fast forward one season and Gee has taken his game from waining minute substitution to starting small forward, boasting an all-around game that has him among the most improved players in the entire NBA. Naturally, Gee’s current role is one of default; initial starter Omri Casspi has struggled all season and the Cavaliers have one of the worst depth charts among all NBA wing positions. But just as Gee wouldn’t let others’ perception deter him from improving, he won’t let reasoning take away from his opportunity. And San Antonio head coach Greg Popovich has taken notice.
“Alonzo is a testament to what hard work can do,” Popovich said in a one-on-one with WFNY. “He has always been one of those before-and-after practice guys — he’s paid his dues. It’s great to see him being able to take advantage of the opportunity provided to him in Cleveland.”
Said opportunity never seemed to present itself in San Antonio where Gee was behind the likes of Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson. Upon being acquired by Cleveland, the roadblocks were no more as the Cavaliers had released Jawad Williams and traded Jamario Moon in the deal which would later net them the first-overall selection. Gee has had the opportunity to not only prove that he is more than an above-the-rim, one-trick pony, but that he is aware of his short-comings and has the desire to improve on them.
From garbage time to a player who Popvich now has to account for when the two teams meet on Tuesday night.
If Alonzo Gee has two predominant characteristics, it would undoubtedly be his springboard athleticism and his all-world shyness. Never one to speak unless spoken to, and never one to drone on about himself, the high-flying Gee may have been one of the team’s biggest benefactors of an extended off-season that sent the former D-Leaguer to Poland of all places. Playing eight games for Asseco Prokom, taking the culture shock in stride, working predominantly on his conditioning, his rebounding and his outside game.
The results have been very evident. Playing in only five additional minutes per game as compared to last season, Gee has improved his scoring and rebounding totals.Though he provided a solid offensive option off of the bench earlier in the 2011-12 season, since becoming a starter, Gee has seen his numbers increase to 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Among those with at least 1000 minutes played, Gee is behind only Kyrie Irving in effective field goal percentage (47.8 percent). The Alabama product is also far and away the team’s leader in steals, totaling 74 on the season; Irving is second on that list with 47.
He’s even opening up a bit more when it comes to pre- and post-game interviews, recently being the subject of an in-depth feature regarding his past, present and future.
In a press conference to discuss the trading of Ramon Sessions and the acquisition of swingman Luke Walton, Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant referred to Gee — in the final year of his rookie contract — as a player who the team would like to have on board as they rebuild toward perennial contention. This would be the first such a mention on record and one that was undoubtedly earned given the willingness and desire that Gee has shown during what was otherwise another up-and-down season.
“He’s always been athletic and has displayed toughness on defense — he’s not afraid to mix it up,” Popovich said of Gee. “But he’s paid his dues, he’s developed a shot and he’s a great teammate that fits in wonderfully for Byron [Scott].”
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images