Which under the radar players stepped up for their team this week?
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Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP[/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 7 saw the NBA return to its status quo. The Bobcats, Kings, Pistons and Hornets went a combined 0-16, while the Clippers, Knicks and Thunder all went through undefeated, as well as the surprising Suns, Trailblazers, Pacers and Timberwolves.
Jared Dudley (PHX)
The Phoenix Suns underwent a major restructure this past off-season. The Suns’ best player and basketball general Steve Nash was sent to the LA Lakers, and the Suns were forced to try and push on without the man that has held them together for so long.
With their leader gone, the Suns named Jared Dudley as one of their captains for the 2012-13 season. There were high expectations placed on Dudley entering the season, given his improvement over the last few seasons. So there were a few disappointed Suns fans out there after the first month of the season.
Dudley was off the boil to start the season at the shooting guard position, and his slow first month ended with Dudley being benched by Suns’ coach Alvin Gentry.
The former Boston College star has recently regained his starting role as a small forward and has bounced back in a big way.
Dudley played a massive part in turning the Suns around. Phoenix had a successful week, bouncing back from seven straight losses to collect wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and the Utah Jazz.
Dudley nailed 15 points on 50 per cent shooting to go with season highs in rebounds (9), steals (3) and assists (5) to help lead to Suns to a nail biting last second win over the Grizzlies.
The former ACC Player of the Year then elevated his game to another level with a huge game against the Utah Jazz.
Dudley shot 75 per cent from the floor including 50 per cent from downtown to finish up with a season high 22 points, combined with five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Scoring double digits in seven of the past eight games, including 15 plus points in three of the past four games (which he started at small forward) Dudley is really starting to show his full potential.
His shot is starting to warm up; he is nailing three’s, hustling for balls and is just pestering the living daylights out of the opposition.
The Suns have three winnable games coming up this week against the Kings, Bobcats and Trailblazers so Phoenix have a genuine chance to string together a significant winning streak. If they can start to get hot and build some confidence and momentum, the Suns may find themselves back in the playoff race in the Western Conference before we know it.
JJ Hickson (POR)
JJ Hickson has not had the most typical start to his NBA career. Hickson was a 1st
-round selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers, before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings then waived Hickson, and in March 2012 he was claimed off waivers by the Portland Trailblazers.
This season the North Carolina State product has really started to mature. Playing as an undersized center, Hickson is averaging a double-double (12 points and 10.5 rebounds per game) on the season. This is incredibly impressive given Hickson stands at a lowly (well for an NBA center) 6-foot-9 and has matched up against beasts like Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Kendrick Perkins.
While Hickson resisted playing at the center position for the Cavaliers, he seems to have taken to this role, especially this season where he has started all 22 games.
The Blazers went 3-0 this week and JJ had a massive week. It started with a 16 point and 11 rebound effort, including a perfect 7-7 from the floor in a nice win over the Raptors.
Hickson then played an important role in steering the Blazers to a great win over the dominant San Antonio Spurs. Hickson had 12 points and 12 boards to go with making a big running hook shot down the stretch and grabbing an important offensive rebound between two Spurs late in the game to ensure the Blazers held on for a 98-90 win.
The Blazers final win of the week was a tense 1-point win over the New Orleans Hornets. Hickson accumulated 24 points and 16 rebounds to cap a dominant week for the big man.
While the outstanding play of rookie guard Damian Lillard has grabbed the most headlines for the Blazers this season, Hickson’s consistency has been so important for the young Blazers squad.
Keep an eye out for Hickson’s name to come up in trade rumours over the next part of the season. Hickson is now eligible to be traded and his name has already been linked to teams like the Boston Celtics, who are looking for his consistency and a boost in rebounding.
Whether he stays with the Blazers or ends up elsewhere, there is no doubt that Hickson should continue to be one the best value for money players in the NBA.
DeMar DeRozan (TOR)
A funny thing happened this week; the Toronto Raptors won two games in a row. While this may not sound like much of an achievement, it is the first time the Raptors have won back to back games since April of last season.
That was more than eight months ago.
The Raptors picked up wins against the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets to stay an even 5-5 for the season at home.
A casual NBA fan would probably struggle to name more than three healthy players on the Raptors roster. A quick look at their top scorers over the past week sums up where the Raptors are at this point in time. DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Linas Kleiza and Alan Anderson each led the team in scoring this week.
No household names in that bunch. Well, not yet at least.
DeMar DeRozan has been one shining light for Toronto this season. More famous for his ability to dunk the basketball than anything else, DeRozan is now sporting a pretty well-rounded game.
The former USC product has seemingly become the face of the franchise, which once again probably says a lot about the Raptors struggles of late.
Now in his fourth season in the NBA, DeRozan is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists. He really is starting to grow as a player and is becoming the leader of this team.
In the win against the Mavericks, DeRozan had 14 points, four rebounds and four assists to go with one block. Add to that a 19-point, 7-rebound, 3-assist, 3-steal and 1-block effort in a win over the Rockets, and DeRozan has had a solid week.
It’s his ability to contribute in all areas that has impressed me the most about the 23-year-old. He can score, he can grab rebounds, he racks up assists, plus he can steal—and he blocks brilliantly for a guard.
As DeRozan’s shooting and defence improves, he is going to be an incredibly well-rounded player. With his athleticism and dunking ability, he is going to be one of the most exciting players to watch.
Now, I am not going to say that Toronto is a good side, but they are better than their 6-19 record suggests. They have lost a lot of close matches this season and they need to learn how to close out games.
In a weak Eastern Conference, the difference between making the playoffs and being in the lottery is so slim; dramatic improvement from one player can make a huge difference. The young shooting guard is starting to come to grips with what it takes to be an NBA player. If DeRozan can continue to improve and elevate his game, he will be one of the better players in the league.
So that’s it for Week Seven 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…