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Long, Winding Road: Why Tim Frazier has NBA Staying Power

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One of the greatest players in Penn State history, Tim Frazier is proving he belongs in the NBA.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

When the Portland Trailblazers waived Tim Frazier on February 28, there were some who thought it was the end of the road. The backup guard was undrafted out of college, had just turned 25, recorded a 35.8 percent effective field goal percentage and a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, and would cost next-to-nothing to cut. Though he was tight with Blazers star Damian Lillard and could run an offense when called upon, there didn't seem to be a place for Frazier on a playoff-bound squad in the West. Maybe he'd go overseas next season, like former teammate DJ Newbill. Maybe he'd hang around, bouncing between D-League teams and end of bench spots. But what nobody would've forecasted was what he's doing right now, save for maybe his former Portland teammates.

Tim Frazier Portland

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He re-joined the Maine Red Claws, with whom he torched the developmental level last season. In an eight-game stint, Frazier averaged 15 points, 6.8 rebounds, 9.6 assists, and 1.4 steals. He posted a 61 percent two-point field goal percentage, and a much-improved 40 percent three-point percentage. That last number was a key, as it was the best of his career. In college, Frazier shot 31 percent from behind the arc. In the D-League last year, he shot 36.4 percent. In the NBA, his career line was 23.5 percent. An improved deep ball would be huge for Frazier's success.

Shifting gears for a second, it would be a major understatement to call the New Orleans Pelicans snakebitten. It's more like they were swallowed whole by an anaconda. They were totally consumed, barely able to field a full NBA roster. Through yesterday, the Pelicans had lost 339 total games to various ailments this season. This is what their injury report looks like for tonight's season finale. From Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis to Norris Cole and Jrue Holiday and, of course, Eric Gordon, getting a healthy Pelicans squad on the court was the basketball equivalent of trying to get all of Wu-Tang Clan together in one room. Their backcourt was depleted, and a team most predicted would battle in the playoffs this year was close to 20 games under .500.

On March 16, just over two weeks after the Blazers deemed him surplus to requirements, the Pelicans signed Frazier to a 10-day contract. The NBA equivalent of a probationary period, the 10-day contract allows teams to give trials to players they think have upside (or, at least, can fill a roster spot) without a long-term commitment. It's essentially a lottery ticket, and a decision made on small sample size is never going to be perfect. However, plenty of players have taken that chance and run with it. Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Bruce Bowen, Chris Andersen, Gerald Green, and John Starks are great examples of guys who played their way into legitimate NBA careers after someone gave them a chance with a 10-day deal.

The Pelicans had a game to play on March 16, a matchup at the aptly-named Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento against the Kings. Frazier started on the bench, rocking a new #2 jersey. With 4:22 to play in the first quarter, Frazier entered the game for Toney Douglas, and began a breakout. He'd go on to play over 26 minutes, putting up 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists in his first game. He'd earned himself the chance to prove his worth.

From March 16 to 26, with his NBA career hanging in the balance, Frazier played 26.5 minutes per game for the broken-down Pels. He averaged 14.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 0.8 steals per game, shooting 55.6 percent from the field on nine shots per game and 50 percent from three. He shot 91.3 percent from the free throw line, ran the offense, and helped boost Davis and Holiday. In his second game, at home against his old team, Frazier put up 13/3/4 in 26 minutes.

After the game, Jrue Holiday had plenty of praise for his new teammate, who had been talking well-intentioned trash to all of his old teammates. "You've got to love that. You ride with him doing that. Especially a team that he used to be with and everything. Kind of want to show that he's on our side now. Again, I rock with him."

On March 26, the Pelicans extended Frazier's contract through the end of the season. He proceeded to have his worst game in a New Orleans uniform, going 1-for-7 against the lowly Knicks. It didn't matter. He was an NBA player now. He didn't let it slow him down either, and has only seen his minutes increase as the season has worn on. In total for New Orleans, Frazier's line is very impressive.

He's averaged nearly 29 minutes per game, and put up 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.5 steals, with a .516 eFG%. He's shot 44.8 percent from three while taking a career-high two per game. He's looked confident guarding NBA superstars and fellow journeymen, like when he helped keep the Spurs' Tony Parker in check in San Antonio on March 30, on the ball. He's looked even better when creating for teammates and pulling up from three. His jumper, once arguably his biggest weakness, looks as good as it ever has. It's as smooth and strong as any time before or after the achilles injury that sidelined him for a full season a few years ago. When attacking the rim, like he does below, he is creative and fearless.

This bucket with the game on the line against the Bulls recalled his days playing in the Bryce Jordan Center for Pat Chambers, including the fact that his team is now running plays for him. He took a pass from Douglas on the left side of the perimeter, blew by Justin Holiday and Jimmy Butler, put a tear drop up over Bobby Portis, the first-round pick out of Arkansas, and admired it for a second as the ball effortlessly fell through the rim, then got back on defense.

Tonight, the Pelicans will play their final game of the season against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He may not play his basketball in New Orleans next year with their glut of guards, so it may be his last time to shine in that jersey. Frazier will be matched up with some of the best young guards in the NBA, names like Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins. He's not on their level yet, and likely never will be. But nobody can say he doesn't deserve to be on the same court as them. Tim Frazier is a legitimate NBA player, and it's time to start acting accordingly.