Which under the radar players 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 12The halfway mark of the season is upon us and the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders. The Blazers and Rockets stumbled while the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder kept rolling. After the up-and-comers have grabbed our attention to start the season, a couple of old heads are showing they can still match it with the best in the league.
Elton Brand (DAL)Raise your hand if you thought Elton Brand was done. If you did you were wrong, but you certainly were not alone. The former NBA Rookie of the Year seemed to take a while to find his feet with the Mavericks, especially with his new role coming off the bench. But as of now Brand seems to have finally found his niche, not only playing defence but scoring at a very efficient rate. As Brand has begun to heat up, so have the Mavs. Dallas has won five of their past six games, including three of four this week. In fact the Mavericks’ only loss this week came by three points in overtime against the Thunder, when Kevin Durant exploded for 52 points. The Mavs’ rise appears to be coming at the right time. While Houston, Minnesota, LA Lakers and Portland are on the slide, the Mavs are beginning to get into a position to compete for a playoff spot. Brand put up double-digit points in all four games this week and also had double-digit rebounds in games against the Rockets and Thunder. To put his improvement in perspective, Brand is still averaging only 7.6 points per game, but his numbers in January have been outstanding. The two-time NBA All-Star has averaged more than10 points and six rebounds in 2013. Not only is Brand playing more minutes, but his pairing with Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki is also working beautifully. With Dirk and Brand on the court, the Mavs are more than four points better offensively and more than 12 points better defensively, compared to when Kaman and Nowitzki are on the court. In fact Brands numbers have been so impressive, don’t be surprised to see him retain his starting spot ahead of Chris Kaman.
Carlos Boozer (CHI)Anger and frustration. Ask any Chicago Bulls fan what they think of Carlos Boozer, and those are the two emotions that always spring to mind. Since joining the Bulls from the Utah Jazz in 2010, Boozer has really struggled to find the kind of form that won him two trips to the NBA All-Star game back in 2007 and 2008. In his prime with the Jazz, Boozer averaged more than 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. Now it appears the 6-foot-9 power forward has begun to wind back the clock. The Bulls had four games this week, in which incredibly three went to overtime, and they went 3-1 in beating the Hawks, Raptors and Celtics before narrowly going down to Memphis. The former Duke product was so impressive that he even won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week nomination. Boozer averaged 23 points per game, including a season-high 36 against the Toronto Raptors. He also led the league in rebounds, pulling in an average of 14.8 boards per game. This is the Carlos Boozer that Bulls fans have been waiting to see light up the court for the past couple of seasons. Rather than being “soft” and seemingly disinterested, Boozer is starting to become aggressive on offence and is actually putting in some effort defensively. He looks to be a far different player to the one that got owned by Tyler Hansbrough in last season’s playoffs. The 31-year-old’s efforts in 2013 are a big reason the Bulls are well above .500 and seem to be a lock for the playoffs. One can’t help but think that if the 10-year veteran can maintain this form and Derrick Rose returns to anywhere near his best, come playoff time, Chicago will be a team no one will want to play. In fact I believe if Boozer can stay hot the Bulls will make the Eastern Conference finals and get a crack at the Miami Heat for a trip to the Finals.
Tiago Splitter (SAS)Spurs fans, I know you are desperately awaiting the arrival of Australian Aron Baynes. In the meantime let’s talk about one of the Spurs’ other valuable, international big man—the Brazilian, Tiago Splitter. Splitter, a former Euroleague star, has really stepped up for the Spurs this season and is becoming one their most valuable players. The 6-foot-11 centre typifies the nature of the Spurs. He is not overly flashy and won’t wow you with athleticism, but he knows his role and is disciplined in executing it. He is solid both on offense and defensive, and his pairing with the great Tim Duncan on the floor is creating havoc for opposition coaches. San Antonio tasted victory in all three of their games this week, defeating the Grizzlies, Spurs and Hawks. Splitter hit double digits in points in all games, shooting at an incredible 77 per cent from the floor. Sparkles, as he is known by his large group of female supporters, also hauled in 25 boards this week. Splitter is really starting to show us why the Spurs grabbed him when they had they chance. He helps the team on both ends of the court and is able to take some pressure of Tim Duncan. This is what is most important for San Antonio; they need Duncan fresh come playoff time. With Splitter stepping up and Baynes’ arrival pending, Duncan can enter the postseason fresh and the Spurs’ big men will look to dominate. So that’s it for Week Twelve 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: Michael Perez/Associated Press