Which under the radar players stepped up for their team this week?
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Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images[/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.
Who’s going to be this year’s Christmas present to their team? The first eight weeks have seen some unexpected gifts arrive on the doorstep of coaches.
There is no doubt a few teams in the NBA will be hoping the fat man in the red suit might bring them one or two unsung heroes in an effort to improve towards the business end of the season. This week’s group sees two wily vets get some recognition and one young gun just beginning what will hopefully be a very prosperous career in the NBA.
Metta World Peace (LAL)
We all know the story so far for the 2012-13 LA Lakers. They went out and acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the offseason and were touted as favourites for the NBA championship.
How could any team with Kobe, Gasol, Howard and Nash not succeed?
Well, what happened next went something like this: The Lakers got off to a slow start, Nash got injured, they continued to struggle, fired coach Mike Brown, hired Mike D’Antoni, Pau Gasol got injured and the Lakers sat at a lowly 9-14 record.
I think I must have read at least one article a day on what has gone wrong with the Lakers—each pointing to something different.
If there has been one shining like for the Lakers, it has been the play of Metta World Peace.
World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) is used to being in the news for all the wrong reasons. We all remember the “world peace” he dished out in the form of an elbow to the head of James Harden last season.
Then of course there is the brawl in which he was involved as a Pacer when an altercation between players and fans at a Detroit-Indiana match resulted in Artest’s suspension of 86 games,the longest suspension in NBA history for an on-court incident.
Then there is Artest’s music and television career, but the less said about that, the better.
So based on the above information it seems like the words Hero and Metta World Peace are a bit of an oxymoron.
But the truth is, despite all the struggles the Lakers have had on the court, World Peace has been the Lakers’ second-best player in a majority of games this season.
This week further proved how vital the 6-foot-7 forward is to his organisation.
Metta had a career-high 16 rebounds, to go with 19 points, four steals and two blocks in a big win over the 76ers.
The decision was then made by D’Antoni to move World Peace to the bench and have him play in the power forward spot as a back-up to Pau Gasol. Funnily enough World Peace actually played more minutes coming off the bench to score 17 points, seven boards and another four steals, as the Lakers won a thriller over the Charlotte Bobcats.
World Peace again came off the bench to put up a 20-point and 5-rebound effort as the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors in a pulsating overtime game—the Lakers’ best victory so far this season.
While World Peace’s defense is first class, his offensive output and his versatility are going to prove key if the Lakers want to fight their way back up the Western Conference standings.
The Lakers have now won four straight games, and D’Antoni’s decision to move World Peace to the power forward position is an interesting one. Whether he will persist with this remains to be seen, but there is no doubt World Peace will be asked to play a variety of roles ranging from starting as small forward, to coming off the bench, to guarding players of all shapes and sizes on defense.
While his past indiscretions and interesting personality count against him, there is no doubting he is an incredibly talented basketball player. Whatever your opinion on him, he is doing something right to still be performing at such a high level after 13 years in the toughest league on the planet.
Marcus Morris (HOU)
A very astute observer of the NBA said to me during the week that the Western Conference must fear just how good the Houston Rockets are going to be in a couple of years.
Harden, Lin, Parsons, Asik and Patterson are just a few of the young guns the Rockets possess, and they all have enormous upside.
While Harden is the only real “star,” these other guys are stepping up when needed, and the Rockets find themselves right in the mix in the stacked Western Conference.
The Rockets had their best week of the season this week with wins over the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Memphis Grizzlies. What was most impressive was the fact the Rockets averaged an incredible 118 points per game this week and more than 50 per cent from the field in each game.
With Patrick Patterson out indefinitely with a foot injury, Marcus Morris was asked to step up to the plate and start at the power forward position.
Morris, whose brother Markieff plays for the Suns, gladly accepted the challenge.
The second year forward put up 13 points and three rebounds against the Knicks, including nailing two 3’s. Morris then hit another two 3’s to contribute to a 14-point, 5-rebound and 5-assist game against the 76ers.
Then the 6-foot-9 product out of the University of Kansas went one better by nailing three 3’s to help claim 16 points and two blocks in a great game against Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies.
Morris’s shooting was a highlight this week, making 65 per cent of his shots, including an amazing 70 per cent of his 3-point attempts.
His ability to spread the floor and make his opponents come out and guard him was essential as he tried to draw them away from the basket.
With matchups against Carlos Boozer, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Serge Ibaka coming his way in the next week or two, Morris is going to face a tough initiation to his NBA career.
When asked about his approach to the coming match ups, Morris said it was to “fight like hell, try to keep them from posting up and try to keep them off the boards.”
It is this tenacity that sums up the Rockets this season. While Patterson’s injury was a blow, they had a guy ready to step in who knew his role and was able to do the job.
All great teams have the ability to cover injuries to key players, and the Rockets could not afford to drop off given the competitive nature of the standings.
Morris’s efforts this week should not go unnoticed, and I will be watching with a close eye to see he how he performs against the giants on the horizon.
Jamal Crawford (LAC)
The LA Clippers have currently won a staggering 13 games in a row. A stunning run that sees them with the second best record in the league, well over a quarter of the way into the season.
A major reason behind the Clippers’ awesome start to the season is the production from their bench. The Clippers literally have the greatest depth of any side in the NBA, and that is with Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill barely stepping on the court.
If the league was to give out a sixth-man of the year award at this point in the season, Jamal Crawford would be the runaway winner.
Crawford, coming of arguably the worst season of his career last year, has been a god send for the Clippers this year, averaging more than 16 points per game off the bench.
With both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul racking up more than 36 minutes per game last season, Clippers’ coach Vinny Del Negro found that his two stars were struggling physically coming into the playoffs.
Del Negro realised that in order for the Clippers to be a genuine shot at a title, he needed Griffin and Paul fresh come the big dance.
So he went out and grabbed Crawford. The 6-foot-5 guard took the pressure off the Clippers starters. In fact the Clippers bench, led by Crawford, played the entire last quarter in a quite a few games—allowing the starting five to get some much needed rest.
Crawford had a solid week again this week as the Clippers went 4-0. He put up 15 points against the Pistons, 17 points against the Hornets and 22 points against the Suns
The real question is going to be at the business end of the season. The Miami Heat took out the title last year, with almost no depth outside the big three. The Heat will be at it again and possibly the Lakers, assuming they improve as expected. This means we will see some interesting tussles between star power and the complete teams. If the Clippers happen to somehow get to the NBA finals this season and win, it may change how owners go about assembling their teams in the coming years.
So that’s it for Week Eight 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…