January 9, 2008
David West Photo Credit: Larry Smith/Icon SMI
OK, so maybe you’ve heard of them. Outside the relatively small circle of NBA diehards, though, many casual sports fans would scratch their head with indifference if you mentioned these 10 b-ballers whose skills are all-too-often overlooked or flat-out ignored. They’re rarely featured on Sportscenter, they (usually) don’t pen high-profile blogs, and maybe they don’t possess the chiseled good looks of a mass-marketable superstar.
Let’s be honest: many of these players don the jersey of a–brace yourself, dirty words coming–”small-market team,” and that can be a tough straw to draw. The coveted endorsement deals are limited to local businesses with no production budget for their commercials (NBA League Pass subscribers, you know the ones), their stands are often over half empty, and All-Star caliber production still isn’t enough to make headlines. Don’t feel too bad for these gentlemen–after all, they’re still handsomely paid–but their lack of accolades for a job well done is just a shame. Worry not, ye of this underappreciated ilk, your time in the shining ETB spotlight has arrived. There are many other players who deserve mention; this is just ten of them. Feel free to add more in the comments.
(Caveat for the nitpickers: these players are listed in no particular order.)
David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets
Like fellow point guard Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz, Chris Paul is fast becoming a household name (and rightfully so), but outside of him most would struggle to name even two more players in the Hornets’ starting lineup. That’s too bad because this unheralded squad deserves better; in a city still struggling in the aftermath of Katrina, the 23-11 Hornets are routinely beating opponents on their home court in an arena filled to much less than half-capacity. While much of the praise for this team’s success squarely belongs with Paul, fifth-year power forward David West has established himself as a legitimate scorer in the post who also rebounds, shoots a high percentage from the field, and stays out of foul trouble. Transplant the 6-9 West into the Eastern Conference and he’s a shoo-in for the All-Star game. Over his first five seasons, this ’03 first-round pick has increased his per-game averages in points, rebounds, and blocked shots every year, consumating in his finest season yet: 19.4 points, 9.4 boards, 1.3 blocks, and 47% FG on 16 shots/per. That’s pretty darn good.
Chris Kaman, C, Los Angeles Clippers
Currently ranked third overall in both double-doubles (25) and rebounds (14/per), the last remaining member of the Cro-Magnon Clan was recently revealed as the center dead last in All-Star voting in the Western Conference. We understand that he’s not the most attractive man in the world and that his game isn’t much prettier, but it’d be a travesty if the pride of Wyoming, Michigan, didn’t get the recognition he’s earned this season by being named as an All-Star reserve. The sixth pick of the ’03 draft, Kaman’s role with the Clips expanded exponentially when Elton Brand was lost to injury, and he’s responded in kind. Logging nearly 40 minutes a night (8 more than his previous career high), the seven-footer is dropping 18 points and 3 blocks to go with all those boards. Those numbers are making a huge impact for fantasy teams, too: he’s currently ranked fifth amongst centers in Yahoo! scoring.
Al Jefferson, F/C, Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s not easy being Big Al. Drafted straight out of high school by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the ’04 draft, Jefferson spent his first three NBA seasons toiling away for one of the league’s worst teams. Last summer he was then shipped to the T’Wolves, who have now assumed the dubious honor of being the NBA’s most inept through the season’s first 100 days. Don’t mistake his two team’s lack of success as an indictment of Jefferson’s ability to get it done. Understanding that he sported some extra baggage in his belly, the 6-10 Beast on the Blocks dropped 30 lbs prior to the 06/07 season, and ever since he’s been a double-double machine. Between last year in Boston and this year in Minnesota, Jefferson has averaged 18.3 points, 11.6 boards, 1.4 blocks, and 50% from the field which, as you know, are numbers worthy of All-Star consideration. We’re both big fans of Big Al here at ETB, and hope that one day he becomes recognized as much more than “the main guy traded for KG.”
Maurice Williams, PG, Milwaukee Bucks
Williams was clearly ready to offer his services to the highest bidder before the Bucks re-upped him to a six-year, $52 million deal in the offseason. The Miami Heat were thought to have been in the mix; playing alongside Wade and O’Neal, that’s one change of address that would have instantly elevated the cat-quick guard’s profile. Whether he could have helped save that team from themselves is a question that’ll never be answered, so we’ll focus on what this former second-round pick of the Jazz does for Milwaukee. In his second full season of averaging over 35 minutes a night, Williams is the team’s next-best scoring option behind Michael Redd and their top three-point shooter at 38.5%. At 6-1, his lack of size makes him vulnerable to post ups from bigger guards like Chauncey Billups and Jamaal Tinsley, but when healthy he can run the floor with anyone.
Danny Granger, F, Indiana Pacers
A common argument is whether or not the Pacers should trade Jermaine O’Neal or keep building around him, but third-year forward Danny Granger is quickly becoming the guy this franchise should consider it’s more valuable long-term asset regardless of what happens with JO. Like the Hornets’ West, Granger’s production has increased pretty much across the board every season. Compared to his strong sophomore campaign, the 6-9 New Orleans native has seen an uptick in points, boards, three-pointers, assists, and blocks in almost the exact same amount of floor time. Some credit belongs to coach Jim O’Brien’s new system, but this kid was bound to get better anyway… and he’s not done yet. The Atlanta Hawks recently got a first-hand example of what he’s capable of when Granger tied a career-best with 32 points (including 5 three-pointers) to go with 9 boards and 2 steals on January 4.
Danny Granger Photo Credit: Sporting News/ZUMA Press/Icon SMI
Antonio Daniels, PG, Washington Wizards
Are the Wizards a better team with 11-year vet Antonio Daniels running the show than with the injured Gilbert Arenas? No, and Daniels is clearly not the better player, but Washington does have a better record with Daniels in the lineup this season. To be fair to Gilbert, this fact is drawn from the only eight games he’s played in thus far, eight in which he clearly was not himself. Throughout his career, Daniels has consistently been the kind of glue player that every team needs coming off the bench or subbing for sidelined starters. His stats in Arenas’ absence have been solid, if not spectacular: 11.7 points, 6.4 feeds, 4 boards, 1.5 steals, and perhaps most importantly, less than 2 turnovers/per in nearly 36 minutes a night. That the Wizards are sporting a 17-16 record and still realistically chasing the Magic for the Southeast Division crown, without Gilbert, has a lot to do with the steady, solid play of Mr. Daniels.
Gerald Wallace, F, Charlotte Bobcats
Three things instantly become evident nearly every time I turn on a Bobcats home-game broadcast through the magic of NBA League Pass: the high-school production quality make it look overcast with a strong chance of rain inside the arena; the seats are more empty than occupied; and Gerald Wallace is an incredible talent stuck in the mud of a middling franchise. Besides Rashard Lewis, the 6-7 Wallace was arguably the best small forward on the free-agent market last summer, but unlike Lewis he opted to stick around, signing on the dotted line of a six-year, $57 million deal that pays him on par with the Mavericks’ Josh Howard. He and Howard also share the similar talent of filling up box scores: through the season’s first 31 games, Wallace is averaging 20.5 points, 5.5 boards, 3.2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 1 three-pointer. Still just 25-years-old, any possible turnaround in Charlotte will have a lot to do with the continued all-around production from this versatile forward.
Hedo Turkoglu, F, Orlando Magic
Quick: name the Magic’s second-leading scorer. Wrong–it’s not Rashard Lewis but 6-10, Turkish-born Hedo Turkoglu, who’s enjoying a career year and has become Orlando’s de facto go-to guy when the team needs a big bucket in crunch time. I touched on Turkoglu’s emergence in last week’s Front-Row Seat, but failed to mention that his 2.2 three-pointers/per currently ranks sixth in the NBA, ahead of pretty good long-range shooters like Baron Davis, Steve Nash, and Chauncey Billups. I’m going to round this one out with an attempt to invoke the cadence and tone of the excitable Hubie Brown: “you like Turkoglu’s size and his rebounding, and he’s a wonderful threat from the perimeter when defenders collapse on Dwight Howard. Now, understand he’s not a great defender, but that’s not what he’s asked to do, okay. He’s asked to shoot the ball with a high percentage, and he’s doing that very well at this point in the season.”
Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors
Perhaps we should wait for a bigger sample-size of Calderon’s playing time before showering him with the accolades that are bound to come from being listed in this article, but his early returns as a starter are very, very good. With T.J. Ford out of the lineup, Calderon has stepped in and posted a disgusting–in a good way, of course–assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.22 on the season. That’s a stat that doesn’t get enough consideration when it comes to evaluating a player’s worth, especially when talking about point guards playing 35+ minutes a night. To put it into perspective, Chris Paul’s A/T ratio is next best amongst starters… at 4.04. That kind of efficiency, coupled with 13.5 points a night, has made him incredibly valuable in fantasy leagues that count A/T (like the HoopsAddict league). With little to no point-guard depth behind him in Toronto, one could make a strong case for him as the Raptors’ first-half MVP.
John Salmons, G/F, Sacramento Kings
Like Calderon, Salmons has been an early-season saviour for the Kings, who’ve been faced with extended absences of starters Ron Artest, Kevin Martin, and Mike Bibby. Salmons hasn’t run the point, but he’s done damn near everything else as a fill-in starter, taking his offense to where it’s never been before in his six-year career–an average in double digits (16.8)–and logging the kind of heavy minutes usually reserved for the league’s most irreplaceable. But that’s exactly what he is right now for the 13-20 Kings: their best perimeter defender (when Ron-Ron is out), their best shooter (when K-Mart is out), and their most durable as one of only three Kings to suit up in all 33 games. Salmons is featured in one of two articles penned by the ETB Fellowship in HoopsWorld’s upcoming All-Star themed print edition.
- Brandon Roy, G, Portland Trail Blazers (some think he’s too well-known to be here though)
- LaMarcus Aldridge, F/C, Portland Trail Blazers (ditto)
- Steve Blake, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (ETB gadfly Andrew Thell’s pick)
- David Lee, F, New York Knickerbockers
- Monta Ellis, G, Golden State Warriors
- Antawn Jamison, F, Washington Wizards (I’m not sure he falls in this category, but maybe he does)
- Josh Smith, G/F, Atlanta Hawks
- Joe Johnson, G/F, Atlanta Hawks
- Travis Outlaw, F, Portland Trail Blazers
- Andrew Bynum, C, Los Angeles Lakers
- Louis Williams, G, Philadelphia 76ers (totally agree on this guy)
- Kevin Martin, SG, Sacramento Kings
- Kris Humphries, F, Toronto Raptors
- Rudy Gay, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies
- Kelenna Azubuike, G/F, Golden State Warriors
- Francisco Garcia, G/F, Sacramento Kings