Which under the radar players stepped up for their team this week?[caption id="attachment_14948" align="aligncenter" width="558"] Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports[/caption] 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 19The Miami Heat continue to roll through the season with ease, while the rest of the East is a log jam. The race for the final playoff spots in the West is heating up. The Lakers are improving, while the Jazz, Rockets and Warriors are struggling to string wins together. No doubt the highlight of the week was DeAndre’s dunk over Brandon Knight.
JR Smith (NYK)JR Smith is one of the most interesting players in the NBA. Smith has immense talent at his disposal but he just loves to shoot, occasionally to the detriment of his team. He has also been known to get himself in a bit of trouble on and off the court. For now I only want to focus on the good. The 8-year veteran has had an outstanding season coming off the bench for New York and is a contender for the sixth man of the year award. The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging a career high in points (16.6), rebounds (5.1) and assists (2.8). While Carmelo Anthony was out for the majority of the week with a bad knee, Smith showed us he's capable of being a leader for the Knicks outfit. They won three from four this week, with their only loss was being to a red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder by one point. Smith was simply sensational against the Thunder, he dropped 36 points. He almost single-handedly manufactured what would have been an unlikely victory, given Melo was out. Smith was also terrific in wins over the Cavs (18pts-7rb-7as), the Pistons (20pts-4rb-5as) and the Jazz (24pts-6rb-3as). While there is no doubt Smith is having his best season in the NBA, he is shooting at just above 40 per cent from the floor and 35 per cent from deep. I’m sure Knicks fans would love to see him pass up on some of the more difficult attempts he tries to nail. It's nice to know come playoff time, the Knicks have another man who is not afraid to take a clutch shot. Smith has already hit two game-winning shots this season and missed the chance to add a third against the Thunder. You can’t help but get the feeling that if Smith can get hot in the playoffs, these Knicks can challenge any team in the NBA.
OJ Mayo (DAL)With 13 points in an upset win over the Houston Rockets, OJ Mayo had his best game of the season this week. 13 points is nothing to ride home about but Mayo also posted a career high 12 assists. What was even more impressive was that Mayo did not commit a single turnover. He hit big shots in the fourth quarter and nailed three of his four attempts from down town. The 6-foot-4 guard’s shooting efficiency is the best it's ever been. Mayo is shooting a career high 46 per cent from the field and 42 per cent from 3-point range. While turnovers have plagued much of Mayo’s season, the game against Houston may have turned things around. Mayo also burned the Pistons to the tune of 22 points, five rebounds and three assists and capped off a terrific week with an 8 point, 8 rebound and 7 assist effort in a win over the Timberwolves. With Dirk getting closer to retirement, Mavs fans will be hoping Mayo and his more effective game will stick around for the long term.
Nikola Vucevic (ORL)Remember the massive off-season trade that saw Dwight Howard arrive at the Lakers? Who was on the other side in that trade? Obviously Howard, Andrew Bynum and Andre Igoudala were the big names; they were the players that were going to have a positive impact on their new teams. Well, what about Nikola Vucevic? While Bynum has not played a single minute for the 76ers this season Vucevic has been a shining light for the Magic. The second year centre is averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds this season and has been a double-double machine for the struggling Magic. The 7-foot European took it up to the league-leading Miami Heat, posting 25 points and 21 boards as the Magic fell agonisingly short in a 97-96 loss. It was the second time the he has recorded a 20-point and 20-rebound effort against the reigning champs this season. This must be a pleasing sign for Magic fans, knowing that Vucevic brings his A-game for the toughest match ups. Then, in a game which must have made all 76ers fans physically ill, Vucevic had 14 points and 17 rebounds as the Magic beat Philly. It's just his second season in the NBA and his first as a starter. As his offensive game continues to develop with his incredible rebounding ability, Vucevic is going to be a nightmare for the Magic’s Eastern Conference foes. It’s funny to think that with Howard’s uncertainty to stay with the Lakers and Bynum unable to get on the court, Vucevic may just be the one player in the trade who has had the biggest positive impact for his current team.
So that’s it for Week 19 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…