The 2011-2012 NBA season is coming at us very fast and thanks to my NBA League Pass, I have seen a ton of games already. With nearly a third of the season completed already, I have made a list of some players who get the job done, yet, we almost never hear their names. The superstars get all the attention in this league but these are some players that bring a lot of value to their teams without any recognition. Almost every team has one of those players but here is a list of a few that have stood out to me thus far this season:
LaMarcus Aldridge (Blazers)
Anderson Varejao (Cavs)
Andre Miller (Nuggets)
Mike Conley, Jr (Grizzlies)
David Lee (Warriors)
Danilo Gallinari (Nuggets)
Udonis Haslem (Heat)
Luis Scola (Rockets)
Eric Gordon (Hornets)
Emeka Okafor (Hornets)
Jose Calderon (Raptors)
LaMarcus Aldridge has been a consistent solid contributor for the Blazers for several years now. He is now the leader of a good Portland team that lost Brandon Roy (their prior leader for the past few years) due to an injury retirement before the season. Aldridge is a solid scorer (amongst the top 10 in the NBA), good rebounder, good defender, shoots a high percentage from the field, and has good range on his shot. He plays in the Western Conference which is loaded at forwards and has thus prevented him from being an All-Star to this point in his career. This is something that should change this year as he is very deserving of his first All-Star nod and should be considered an elite power forward. Along with that, his improvement each year should help lead this deep Portland team to a longer playoff run this year. Aldridge is not considered to be a superstar but that may change soon as his production is definitely deserving of recognition.
Anderson Varejao represents the true definiton of a blue-collar worker. If you look at his statistics you will see that he is a very good rebounder (11 per game) but outside of that you will not see anything else that states his value. However, if you watch the impact he has on games, you will clearly see all of the things he does that do not show up in a box score. He hustles, defends very well, scores points when needed, he seems to always have a knack for getting to the ball first, and most of all he does a great job disrupting the games of his opponents with his physicality, toughness, and size. Big men typically do not have their best games against Varejao and know that they are in store for a tough night when going up against him. He has a Dennis Rodman-like aspect to his game. He just does a good job of taking opposing players out of their games. Along with all of these attributes, Varejao is a good teammate and well-respected by his coaches. He brings a lot of value to his team, that does lack talent, by playing hard and not taking plays off. That attitude becomes infectious and spreads over to his teammates and has helped the Cavs win more games this year than many of us expected. Varejao is a hard worker who does all the dirty work for his team, I think his teammates and other players in the league respect what he brings to the table, however, fans probably recognize him more for his wild hair than his game. He is definitely a player that every single team in the league would love to have on their roster.
Andre Miller is one of the top game managers in the NBA. Even at this point in his career he is a very effective point guard in this league. He is one of the most accurate passers and seems to always make winning plays throughout games. It is sad they he can never get comfortable in one place for too long, as it seems like changes uniform on an annual basis. Miller can score when needed, defends pretty well, but best of all he knows how to get other players the ball in their "sweet spots" on the court. He gets the most out of his teammates by making sure they get the ball where they are comfortable getting it. That is what makes a point guard effective in this league. Miller does this well as he has won with every team he has played for yet he gets very little recognition for his impact on games. I hope Miller finds a place where he can get comfortable and possibly compete for a championship before his career is over. He has been underappreciated for virtually his entire career and he deserves more credit for what he brings to the table.
Mike Conley, Jr has really improved his game since entering the league a few years back. When I first saw him play as rookie, I thought he had no chance to succeed in this league. However, Conley has improved every facet of his game and looks like one of the brightest young point guards in the NBA. He is currently leading the NBA in steals and is amongst the leaders in assists as well. He has improved his scoring as well as his jumpshot and seems to have solidified his place in the NBA for years to come. Conley seems to be constantly overlooked by the many other young point guards in the league who get most of the attention (Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, Curry, Rubio, etc), but Conley has definitely earned the right to be mentioned among them. The great thing about him is he continues to improve each year and has helped the Grizzlies transform into a perrenial playoff team.
David Lee is a player that we all recognize as a hard worker, good rebounder, and an efficient scorer. Since he left the Knicks, it seems as if he gets no recognition for his production. Playing in a smaller market will have that effect, however, Lee is putting up very similar numbers to what he was in New York. His production has not dropped off and his effort has not changed even after signing a lucrative deal with the Warriors. Lee deserves more recognition and is another one of those players that every team in the league would love to have.
Danilo Gallinari, another former Knick, is a player that may be off of this list by season's end. His game continues to improve with each game and seems to be very comfortable with his role in Denver. He may end up being the team's "go-to scorer" as the season progresses. Gallinari has a very complete game as he has shed his tag of being just a pure shooter. He has good size for the small forward position, attacks the basket well, he has learned how to get to the free throw line and shoots a high percentage from there as well, he can still stretch the defense with his long range shooting, he is a decent defender, and is a very good passer as well. Gallinari also has a certain toughness to his game which many other European players have lacked. His production has helped Denver get off to a good start this season, and if that continues Gallinari will surely get more recognition than he is currently receiveing. George Karl recently stated that he thinks Gallinari could one day be an All-Star in this league and I totally agree. Gallinari is still very young and has a ton of potential. (Side note: As a Knicks fan, I never wanted him included in the Carmelo trade. It was when he was included that I thought the Knicks gave up way too much)
Udonis Haslem is definitely an important part of the Heat's success. Though their "Big 3" gets most of the credit, the team needs Haslem. Haslem's impact on the Heat is similar to Kendrick Perkins value on the Celtics when he played there with Garnett, Pierce, and Allen. After seeing how much the Celtics regretted trading Perkins, hopefully Miami understands Haslem's value on the team. He brings toughness, rebounding, and can score efficiently when given opportunities. He is another blue-collar worker that does his job every night.
Luis Scola brings many intangibles to the table for the Rockets. He does whatever is asked of him. He can be the leading scorer when they need him to be, he always plays hard, rebounds, and is a decent defender. He is also very crafty around the basket which helps him find ways to score when he is overmatched by size. He can also stretch defenses out with his ability to shoot well from the perimeter. His name has come up in trade scenarios throughout the year, yet, he continues to play hard and gets the job done. Scola brings value to his team and his production goes under the radar on a nightly basis.
Eric Gordon is another player who may not be on this list for very long. Multiple injuries have kept him off the court this year but when he plays he is very effective. Gordon has the potential to be one of the best shooting guards in the league. He attacks the basket, has good range on his jumpshot, gets to the free throw line, defends well for his size, and is a good passer as well. Gordon has a complete game. He never received any attention while playing for the Clippers, mostly because the team was always a bottom-feeder during his time there. However, I expect Gordon to take his game to the next level once he is healthy. It will be interesting to see where he ends up after the season as he was unable to get an extension done with the Hornets. New Orleans will probably bring him back but it will be interesting to see if any team comes in with an offer that the Hornets are unable to match. With Kaman already on the block, losing Gordon will sure make the Chris Paul trade look like a failure for the Hornets. Where ever Gordon ends up, I expect him to be an All-Star at some point in the near future.
Emeka Okafor is having a solid year for the Hornets. He is one of the premier shot blockers and rebounders in the NBA. The former rookie of the year gets most of his attention for being "overpaid" and "untradeable" due to the size of his contract. I disagree with those ideas and think Okafor is a respectable player in this league. He is a double-double guy that can also defend well. His offensive game is limited and he is a poor free throw shooter but he still holds a lot of value in a league where defense wins. He helps the Hornets play the style of basketball which head coach Monty Williams has put in place; a defense first mentality. Okafor plays hard and doesn't carry the ego that many high draft picks often have. Okafor plays on a team that does not have much talent due to injuries and the subtraction of Chris Paul. I think Okafor could be a solid contributor on a championship team, similar to Tyson Chandler's role on Dallas last year, if he ever gets the opportunity.
Jose Calderon is another solid point guard that does not get the respect he deserves. Granted, Calderon, is nowhere near superstar status but he does his job as point guard. He does not turnover the ball very much and is amongst the leaders in assists. He is capable of scoring and is very efficient in his shot selection. Like Andre Miller, Calderon does a good job of getting his teammates the ball where they are most effective. The Raptors as a whole are not a very good team right now and that is one of the reasons why Calderon flies under the radar. However, the Raptors have made him available via trade and if he ends up with a contending team, he may serve a valuable role in a title run if given the opportunity.