David Lee, New York Knicks
At just 6-9 and 240 pounds, David Lee hardly casts the imposing shadow that Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, and many of the NBA’s other elite rebounders do. He’s a curly-haired white guy with little muscle definition and no visible tattoos–if you took a few inches off his height, you’d probably think he was the nice, mild-mannered neighbor from down the street who used to deliver the local paper when he was younger. Looks can be deceiving, though.
Now in his fourth NBA season after being drafted 30th overall in ’05 by the Knicks, Lee has flourished since Zach Randolph was shipped out and has developed into one of the league’s most consistent double-double threats. Back on November 3 we named him one of six players who could be bound for breakout seasons, and he hasn’t disappointed: he’s now scored at least 10 points and pulled down at least 10 boards in 13 of his last 15 games (his 10-point, 1-rebound game on Dec. 10 was cut short by a minor injury).
As many tend to do against the defense-less Golden State Warriors, Lee went absolutely apeshit back on November 29: 37 points, 21 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, and 1 block. Making just $1.7 million this season, there may not be a better bargain in the NBA.
Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz
With All-Star Carlos Boozer missing the last 12 games and counting with a strained quad, the Jazz could have easily gone on a damaging losing skid that they’d be trying to recover from all season long. They’ve instead kept their head above water with a 7-5 record that in large part is credited to the emergence of Paul Millsap, a second-round pick out of Louisiana Tech two summers ago.
Like Lee, Millsap is a bit undersized at 6-8, but makes up for it with relentless hustle and uncanny timing on the boards. Now comes the part where I wow you with Millsap’s insane stats from the past few weeks: since November 24, the man has averaged 17.4 points and 11.8 rebounds. That amounts to a streak of 11 straight double-doubles and counting. Eleven! This from a guy who averaged about 7 points and 5 boards per over his first two seasons.
Granted, he’s gotten more burn lately than he did then, but still–I’m not sure anybody saw this kind of production coming. The best part about this for Utah? He’s just as good of a bargain as Lee is, if not better: he’ll collect just under $800k in this, the last season he’s under contract. Something tells me his asking price next summer has taken a big, big jump.
Four more somewhat unknown double-double machines after the break…
Al Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves
Now, many of you are going to quibble with this selection, not because Big Al isn’t an elite double-double threat, but because he’s a well-known player. I disagree–while everyday NBA followers have been familiar with Jefferson’s low-post prowess for a few seasons now, he still remains somewhat of an unrecognized commodity amongst casual NBA followers (a group which I’d guess probably outnumbers hardcore regulars).
For him to get the recognition he so deserves, it’s going to take an All-Star selection (or two) and/or some exposure to a bigger audience in the postseason. Toiling away in Minnesota on a bad Timberwolves team is never good for one’s star status, but better days could be in store for this franchise if they can continue surrounding their cornerstone with decent talent. Because one thing’s for sure: Jefferson is a bad, bad man on the blocks and is nearly unstoppable.
Drafted straight out of college by the Boston Celtics as the 15th overall pick in the ’04 draft, the 6-10 Jefferson may just boast the most fluid offensive post moves of any big man in the NBA. Opponents try to double-team him, but it’s usually to no avail. If he wants to score the basketball, the thing that most often stops him is himself. He’s averaging 21.9 points and 10.1 boards, and though this is a double-double themed article, the 2 blocked shots/per this season are a very encouraging sign that he’s coming around on the defensive end of the floor too.
Andris Biedrins, Golden State Warriors
That slicked-back hair of his remains one of the few things 22-year-old Andris Biedrins still needs to desperately work on. The guy has simply been on a tear so far in ’08 and is one of the very few players Don Nelson can rely on on a nightly basis to score the basketball, rebound, block shots, and take high-percentage shots. His consistent minutes (32:42/per) are a testament to Nellie’s faith (need?), too, since every other Warrior is jerked around more than the UAW by bitter Southern republicans.
The 6-11 Latvian is averaging 15.1 points, 12.2 boards, 55% FG, 1.2 steals, and 1.7 blocks through Golden State’s first (often miserable) 24 games. He started the season with 10 straight double-doubles, and would have had 12 straight if not for sitting out a close game’s final few minutes on November 18 while stuck on 17 points and 9 boards.
He’s pulled down at least 18 boards four times already, and when he doesn’t go for at least 10 and 10 it’s usually a narrow miss. As he continues to get more comfortable receiving the ball with his back to the basket, we think this kid will be a 20 and 10 guy before too long.
Troy Murphy, Indiana Pacers
It’s a little sad (maybe even depressing) that after eight NBA seasons Troy Murphy is still not widely recognized as the versatile, hard-working talent that he is: think a taller David Lee with three-point range.
Now in his third season with the Pacers, Murphy is currently fifth in the NBA in rebounding with 11.1 and second to just Dwight Howard in defensive boards at 9.2. He’s also averaging 11.6 points and has pulled down at least 10 boards in 13 of the last 15 games. His ability to knock down jumpers and long balls has proven quite handy given T.J. Ford’s ability to get in the lane and dish to open shooters on the wing, and the need for someone who can shoot to take pressure and attention off of burgeoning superstar Danny Granger.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see Murphy dangled as trade bait at some point given his generous contract (3 years and about $33 million, including this season), but for now his contributions are invaluable for this rebuilding franchise.
Luis Scola, Houston Rockets
Alright, so maybe Luis Scola isn’t exactly a double-double machine just yet; he has all the look of a player who’s fast developing into one, though. A ’02 second-round pick by the Spurs who didn’t make the move from Argentina to the NBA until last year, this 28-year-old has been a relatively rock-solid contributor for a team whose stars always seem to be in and out of the lineup with broken feet, gimpy knees, sore vaginas, etc.
Scola is never going to be much of a shot-blocking presence, but he’s pretty tough and like many good rebounders does an excellent job of putting himself in the right spot at the right time. He’s only registered six double-doubles on the season thus far, but just missed out another seven by a few points or boards. It’s a bit of a shame that we’ve only just now gotten to see what he can do at this level when he’s already pushing 30, but the Rockets will surely take what they can get given that he was basically gifted to them by the San Antonio Spurs.
– Six NBA Players Poised for Breakout Seasons
– Counting Down the Five Worst Teams in the Western Conference – ‘Sota Timberwolves
– Sometimes Love Hurts – Minnesota Timberwolves 2008-09 Season Preview
– Quiet Heroics: The NBA’s Best Glue Players
Andris Biedrins Photo Credit: Icon SMI