When Mike Dunleavy, Jr. was drafted third overall by the Golden State Warriors in 2002, he was just beginning the start of five very rough years in the Bay Area.
Dunleavy was called an underachiever and a bust. Still, he was signed to a five-year extension worth $44 million after three less-than-stellar years with Golden State and was tagged as "overpaid" as well.
Adding fuel to the fire, he was constantly booed by Oakland fans. When Don Nelson arrived in Golden State in 2006, he called the player "soft", and Dunleavy found himself at the end of Nelson's bench.
In January of 2007, Dunleavy was traded along with Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu, and Keith McLeod to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Josh Powell.
Dunleavy played 43 games in the rest of the ‘06-‘07 season with the Pacers. While he did improve his game on all fronts, he was still a long way off from being worthy of the number three overall pick. Plus, he hadn't exactly shaken his unflattering nicknames.
Meanwhile, the Warriors seemed to be clear winners of the trade with Jackson and Harrington playing key roles in a first round upset of the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks.
Fast forward nine months and you’ll see that Dunleavy is coming off his second straight game with 36 points—marking the sixth time this season that he has surpassed 30 in a game. In his previous six NBA seasons, he did that a total of five times.
This is also the third time he's netted 36 this year, a number he barely sniffed in minutes, much less points, while in Golden State.
In the most recent 36-point outing, Dunleavy shook the "soft" label for good. He was popped in the mouth in the second quarter, forcing him back to the locker room to get a stitch. He was back in the game within minutes, right on track.
This isn't the first time the "soft, overpaid, bust" has shown toughness this year. It seems like he's bleeding from his mouth or head just about every game, when he's not taking a charge.
This isn't the first time he's torn up the stat sheet this year, either. He's posting career highs in points (18.2), field goal percentage (48 percent), three point percentage (39 percent), assists (3.4), rebounds (5.4), and free throw percentage (84 percent).
With the Pacers in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference and the Warriors battling for a playoff spot in the much tougher West, it is hard to say the Pacers won that trade. However, Dunleavy's emergence as the player he was drafted to be is worth noting.
And while most pundits would have told you Stephen Jackson was the best player changing residences in that deal, at this point it would be hard to argue against the far more effective Dunleavy.
One thing is for sure. Dunleavy has found a home. He is playing with a ton of confidence and it is showing. People may not quite realize it yet, but Mike is an all-star caliber player, and in the weak East, he may even get a chance to show it for one series in the playoffs.