Which under the radar player stepped up for their team this week?The NBA is filled with stars who put up 30 points a night and are rightfully discussed endlessly through all forms of media. But what about the other guys on the team who we don’t know about? The guys who make a substantive yet unrecognised contribution towards helping their teams get the W. To highlight the efforts of these “unsung heroes,” each week I am going to nominate three players who have gone out and got the job done with no fuss. A greater weight will go towards those players who helped their teams have winning weeks, rather than those whose teams went 0-4.
Week 10Week 10 sees the NBA into 2013. For the most part, the 2012 half of the season has gone as expected, albeit with a few minor surprises. There has been no shortage of action with coaches fired, players suspended and big winning and losing streaks. All 32 teams will be looking for to use the New Year as a spring board to a strong second half of the season.
Nicholas Batum (POR)Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce to you the Portland Trailblazers’ best player. Nicholas Batum. That’s right; move over LaMarcus Aldridge. Damien Lillard will have to wait. Nicholas Batum is the man. The Frenchman signed a 4-year deal with the Trailblazers after they matched the offer the Minnesota Timberwolves offered him prior to the season, and he has proven to be more than just a catch and shoot guy who can play defence. He is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. The 6-foot-8 forward is versatility personified. Let me throw some other names at you—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Russel Westbrook. Pretty impressive quartet, hey? So what do these four superstars and Batum have in common? This season they are the only five players in the NBA to average at least 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block per game. If that isn’t enough, in a recent game against the Hornets, Batum became the first player since Andrei Kirilenko in 2006 to record at least five points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and five blocks in one game. Five stars for him. It’s this dynamic ability to “do everything” that makes Batum so special. He is a superb defender, he can shoot 3’s all day long and his passing ability has improved out of sight. Take this week for example. The Blazers had an outstanding week, winning three of four matches, including wins over the Knicks, Grizzlies and Timberwolves. Once again Batum was doing it all. He hit six 3’s against the Knicks to go with six assists. He prevented Rudy Gay from hitting a potential tying shot as time expired, to go with three steals against Memphis. Batum then finished the week where he started, nailing five 3’s and three blocks against the Timberwolves. A look at the standings will tell you that the Blazers have won seven of their last 10, leaving them with an 18-15 record. If the season ended now, the Blazers would be in the playoffs. This is pretty incredible when you look at their roster. JJ Hickson, Aldridge and Lillard are all very good players. But you can’t help but get the feeling Batum is the X-Factor for this Portland team. When he is up and going on both ends, they are going to be tough to beat. Given he is only 24 years of age, Batum has an incredibly exciting future ahead of him. It won’t be long before he is looked upon as one of the genuine stars of the league.
Kemba Walker (CHA)Personally, I think any player who is a part of the Bobcats roster deserves some kind of award. With a bit of luck, they may reclaim their Hornets nickname if New Orleans go ahead with plans to change their name to the Pelicans. A change of fortune may come with a change of name, but for now it appears the Bobcats will remain constantly mediocre. After starting the year 7-5 and raising the hopes of all three people that make up the Bobcats fan group, Charlotte showed their true colours and proceeded to lose 18 straight. Until this week! The Bobcats went 2-1 as they snuck past the Bulls and Pistons to get back on the winners list. The funny thing is, they may have been 3-0 this week had Walker not been benched for the ENTIRE last quarter in the Bobcats’ 2-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. To this point Walker is probably best known for leading the University of Connecticut on an amazing and improbable run to win the NCAA tournament in 2011. Walkers’ efforts in that tournament led to him being selected as the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Ever since then Walker has been handed the near-impossible task of leading the Bobcats back to being a competitive NBA team. Playing point guard for a team with a rather unfortunate lack of talent is not easy, but Walker has been a shining light for the Bobcats so far this season. Averaging 18 points and six assists per game, Walker has been a major contributor in all nine of the Bobcats’ wins and has consistently been their best player. This week the former UConn hero put up 20 points and seven assists, including hitting the game tying shot to force OT in a win over the Pistons. Walker also had 18 points, eight boards, six assists, four steals and two blocks in the Bobcats’ win over the Bulls. Was I a bit harsh towards the Bobcats? Maybe. I do think they have some nice pieces in place for the future. Walker may not be the “perfect” point guard, but he is a great leader and has proven he is a winner. With Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Bobcats have some pieces they can work around. If they can make the most of another early draft pick, they may begin to be competitive just in time claim their old identity back. Until then the Bobcats can hang their hats on the fact that they are the only team along with the Boston Celtics that have an all-time winning record over the Los Angeles Lakers!
Andray Blatche (BKN)Andray Blatche may just be the most disliked man in the NBA. He certainly is in Washington. This week Blatche returned to his old stomping grounds in the nation’s capital with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets. Google the former Washington Wizard’s name, and it’s all negative press. Whether it was being shot at during a carjacking, his involvement in the infamous Gibert Arenas “guns in the locker room” fiasco, badmouthing his former team or even running out of gas on his way home from a game, Blatche has never been far out of the spotlight. But after spending seven seasons with the Wizards, the Nets signed Blatche to a 1-year deal. So far the move has been a complete success for the Nets. Coming off the bench as a back-up centre, Blatche has averaged 11 points, six rebounds, one steal and one block per game. Those who thought his career may be over have been proven dead wrong. After a tumultuous December in which head coach Avery Johnson was given his marching orders, the Nets desperately need to turn things around heading into 2013. Blatche and the Nets responded in a big way this week, going 3-1, including a huge win over the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. The 6-foot-11 centre produced two double-doubles off the bench this week, one against the Kings and once against the Wizards. Blatche was booed every time he possessed the ball in Washington but was able to cop it on the chin and play good basketball. He seemed to thrive playing in such a hostile environment. While no one has ever questioned Andray’s ability, there have always been questions about his maturity. For now he seems to have made the most of this lifeline the Nets have given him. He is maturing and has really taken to his role coming off the bench. While there is no doubt Blatche will play an important role in the Nets’ run to the playoffs, the real questions will come when he is given more responsibility.
So that’s it for Week Ten of Unsung Heroes. Was there someone from your team who you feel deserves a shout out? If you think a player deserves a mention in next week’s edition, leave your comment below to make your voice heard. Photo Credit: Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images