It seems like these days everybody’s rooting for Steph Curry, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and other bona fide superstars. It’s in the human nature to worship great players and champions. To celebrate their wins and be disappointed after their rare defeats.
But what about less heralded guys around the NBA, without whose contributions efforts of the go-to guys would probably be in vain? It’s been said that great teams have great role players, though „role player“ isn’t the proper word in this situation.
Today we’ll pay some attention to them and try to give deserved credit to their game.
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Boston
One of the shortest players in the NBA is one of the most dynamic also. Listed just 175 cm, Thomas was selected as the 60th pick in 2011, and his game is improving ever since. When you get a 20 ppg scorer with the last pick on draft, it’s like getting jackpot in Vegas. Thrice in a row. Or being called out on a date by Jennifer Lawrence.
Thomas was traded in the middle of the last season from Phoenix to Boston and helped them to secure the playoffs. His numbers in the Celtics jersey: 19.6 ppg, 5.8apg and 2 rpg in 30 minutes of action. Coach Brad Stevens is one of the most talented and intriguing in the league, and so far the connection between the two was perfect. He used Thomas in the right way, emphasizing his strengths and hiding his weaknesses. Isaiah is the best small man in the game, that goes without a question.
SG: Brandon Knight, Phoenix
In the same trade, Thomas went to Boston while Knight joined the Suns. He started with the Bucks and had a borderline All-Star season there, exceeding the expectations. Knight is a definition of a combo guard, somebody who won’t lead the league in assists nor scoring, but he can facilitate team offense if asked to and also can play off the ball as a catch-n-shoot option, using his above average shooting stroke and range to burn the net (38 points against Denver, 37 against Clippers, 30 against Lakers, 27 against Portland).
At the moment, Knight is shooting better than 41% from downtown. Knight is complementary with Bledsoe, Phoenix’ main star and after the season of absence, we are again witnessing the horror known as „Hornacek’s two-headed guard beast.“ Brandon is also known for his eloquence, calmness and savvy, which makes him more than desirable presence in the locker room.
One should not mention DeAndre Jordan in front of Knight.
SF: Marcus Morris, Detroit
One of the Morris twins (considered Sancho to Markieff’s Don Quixote) has become the man of full trust of Stan Van Gundy. He’s a prototype of modern forward who can run, shoot and defend on a decent level. Van Gundy used similar players in Orlando, like Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, even reaching NBA Finals in 2009.
Drummond is supposed to play the Howard’s role, and while it’s too early to consider the Pistons anything more than a potentially playoff team, they are establishing the steady system. Marcus is an important part of that system, despite his shooting slump recently. His shooting touch is respected among the rivals, and he can stretch the floor, which is one of the postulates of Van Gandy’s coaching style. His presence on the court makes life easier for Jackson and Drummond.
PF: Derrick Favors, Utah
D-Favs finally shows why he was the third pick back in 2010. Silently, he developed his talents and became a reliable force on the both ends. Under the new coach Snyder, Favors flourished. Currently, he’s averaging around 16 points, 9 boards and 2 steals with 54% FG shooting. Derrick is a part of one of the last twin towers in the league, known and feared as Favobert.
Since the last season’s All-Star break, the Jazz had the best defense in NBA and finished in a strong fashion. This year they allow the second fewest points per game and Favors looked like the best player on the team. The best part is that Favors is just 24 and still 2 or 3 years away from his prime. If he’s this good now, what to expect in a few years?
C: Zaza Pachulia, Dallas
After the catastrophe with DeAndre Jordan experiment in free agency and departure of Tyson Chandler, the Mavs were forced to seek other solutions on the center position. The options were bleak and slim, but Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle once again showed their vision. The Mavs signed veteran whose name is hard to pronounce for English-speaking people.
Big Zaza is chronically underappreciated as a player, even after 12 seasons in the league (this is his 13th). 13 games into the season, Pachulia is averaging a double-double and looks like a steal of the free agency. More importantly, Zaza defends at an elite level, allowing just 98 points per 100 possessions (per basketball-reference.com), which is better than Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan at the moment. Zaza secured his immortality in 2008 with the ’’Nothing Easy Baby“ interview during the Celtics-Hawks series. Yeah, greater even than Iverson’s ’’Practice“.