Which under the radar player stepped up for his 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 13As we commence the second half of the season, the health of players is becoming a crucial factor. We look for key players such as Andrew Bogut and Derrick Rose to return from injury, while Celtics fans are currently mourning the loss of Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL. Injuries will play a major factor down the stretch, and team depth will be tested. While injuries can cripple a team, they also give some lesser known players a chance to step up and make a name for themselves going forward.
Tristan Thompson (CLE)I had high hopes for Tristan Thompson entering this season. I loved what he did as a rookie, and I even drafted him in my NBA fantasy league. I thought he would be a genuine double-double guy. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. Thompson looked out of place to start the season; he barely averaged eight points and seven rebounds. He just couldn’t get comfortable. So, of course I released him from my fantasy league, Anderson Varejao goes down with injury, my biggest rival Action Jackson Cracker Factory acquires Thompson, and Thompson plays like a man possessed. But this is not the forum to vent about my failings as a fantasy coach. Since Varejao’s injury the Canadian native has recaptured the form that made him one of the most promising rookies in the NBA last season. In his last 10 games, the 6-foot-9 power forward is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds, and the Cavs are starting to get hot. Cleveland won all three of its games this week, defeating the Celtics, Bucks and Raptors. Thompson continued his outstanding form, averaging over 17 points and two blocks and shot more than 50 per cent from the field. Thompson’s post moves are developing nicely, and it gives the Cavs another weapon offensively. His work with former Cavalier Zydrunas Ilgauskas really seems to be paying dividends. This may just because he has to play against the 7-foot-3 giant in practise every day. But the Cavaliers have some great young pieces at their disposal. We all know Kyrie Irving may well be the best point guard in the league in a year or two, and Dion Waiters’ game seems to complement Irving’s perfectly. So the Cavs are going to be a serious contender in a year or two. With another high pick in the next draft, plus the continued development of their current young stars, the Cavs are going to be feared in the East. On that note, can you imagine if the Cavs do what I believe they can, and we see Cleveland take on LeBron in the Eastern Conference finals in a few years’ time?
Kyle Korver (ATL)Kyle Korver is doing a great job helping Hawks fans forget about Lou Williams. Williams went down with an ACL injury last week in what was a massive blow for Atlanta fans. But the Hawks have moved on, and one man who has stepped up has been Kyle Korver. The 6-foot-7 utility is a 3-point specialist, and that attribute was on display this week. The Ashton Kutcher lookalike hit 3-6 from deep in the Hawks’ win over the struggling Timberwolves. This earned Korver a spot in the starting line-up against the Bobcats, and Korver responded to the extra responsibility nailing 5-6 from downtown. Korver continued his red hot shooting against the Celtics, pouring in a career high eight 3-pointers from only 12 attempts. This continued Korver’s streak to 37 straight games with at least one 3-pointer made, the longest active streak in the NBA. Korver’s ability to shoot the 3-ball accurately should not come as a surprise. Back when Korver was with the Utah Jazz in 2009-10, he set the record for all-time 3-points shooting percentage in a single season, finishing the season with an incredible 53.6 per cent. The Hawks are going to need Korver to continue to play at a high level if they want to compete for a top four seeding come playoff time.
Ersan Ilyasova (MIL)Ersan Ilyasova is back. After having a breakout campaign last season, which resulted in career high averages in points (13) and rebounds (8.8), Ilyasova got off to a disappointing start to the season. But the 6-foot-10 forward is getting back to his best of late. In his last five games. Ersan is averaging a HUGE 21.2 points and 10.8 rebounds. Milwaukee is 7-3 in their last 10 games, and they went 2-1 this week with wins over the 76ers and the strong Golden State Warriors. Ilyasova is a major reason behind the Bucks success of late; he seems to be the Bucks’ barometer. When he is playing well, Milwaukee is hard to stop. The 76ers felt his full wrath begin the week. Ersan burned Philly with a 27-point and 16-rebound performance that included two 3’s and three steals. He then followed that up with a 30-point performance that included 5-6 from deep in a narrow loss against the in-form Cavaliers. Ilyasova then finished the week with an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double against the feisty Golden State Warriors. But could Ilyasova’s return to form come at a better time? The Bucks currently sit as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They now have a very nice 5.5 game barrier over the ninth-seeded 76ers, while they are separated by that same margin (5.5 games) from the top seed in the East. As long as the Bucks continue to win their games against opponents with a worse record, they will make the playoffs. If they can steal a few wins over higher ranked opponents, they could even sneak into a higher seed and avoid the Heat and Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. With Ilyasova playing at his best, the Bucks are a sure bet to make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So that’s it for Week Thirteen 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: The Associated Press