Posted: Tuesday June 7, 2005 5:09PM; Updated: Wednesday June 8, 2005 2:12PM
Bruce Bowen. Seattle's Ray Allen accused him of playing "sissy basketball," Dallas' Michael Finley labeled him a coward and New Jersey's Vince Carter blasted him for unsportsmanlike tactics. Indeed, Bowen, an undrafted small forward who began his career in the CBA, is just as capable of getting under a high scorer's skin as defending him.
Coaches seemingly beg to differ with the perception that Bowen is a dirty player, naming him to the All-Defensive first team in back-to-back seasons. Bowen's work was on display in the conference finals when he helped hold Shawn Marion to 7.8 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting after the Suns' All-Star forward had averaged 22.5 points on 50.8 percent shooting in the first two rounds.
Though hardly a scorer, Bowen is a dangerous spot-up 3-point shooter, especially from the corners. Bowen led the league in long-range percentage in '02-03, when he shot better from beyond the arc (44.1 percent) than the free-throw line (40.4 percent).
Chauncey Billups. Known as Mr. Big Shot, Billups was small potatoes early in his career. Seeing him take command of close playoff games in the fourth quarter -- or collecting 30 assists against three turnovers as he did in the last five games of the Eastern Conference finals -- it's hard to fathom the '04 Finals MVP was traded three times in a 3 ½-year span after the Boston Celtics selected him third in the '97 draft.
Billups has developed into a reliable 3-point shooter, an ever-improving defender (Parker's quickness will challenge him) and a near-unflappable presence with the game on the line. All of which makes him quite a bargain at $5.5 million this season, slightly more than the NBA's average salary.
Rasheed Wallace. To commemorate last season's title, he supplied teammates and Pistons officials with gold-plated belts that read World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion. A fitting choice because the 6-11 power forward offers the kind of bluster (occasionally guaranteeing victories, as he did after scoring two points in a Game 5 loss to Miami) and shenanigans (bickering with referees and criticizing them through the media) that Vince McMahon would appreciate.
That said, his teammates swear by him, and Wallace has the talent, if not always the inclination, to dominate on both ends of the court. At his best, Wallace scores from 3-point range, in the post and anywhere in between, and uses his length to help Ben Wallace patrol the paint on defense.
Richard Hamilton. Longtime Pacers star Reggie Miller referred to the Pistons' leading scorer as Mini Me because Hamilton approximates Miller's ability to move without the ball and create space for a jump shot. Hamilton, however, rarely fires from 3-point range (1.27 attempts per game in his six-year career) like the recently retired Miller did so often, instead getting many of his points with what is widely recognized as the league's best mid-range repertoire.
Provided they match up, the Hamilton-Ginobili shooting guard clash looks intriguing because both are indefatigable players capable of scoring in bunches and beating a path to the foul line (the versatile Tayshaun Prince, another Pistons player to watch, might defend Ginobili at times). Like his Spurs counterpart, Hamilton enters the Finals in a groove, having averaged 21.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting in the first three rounds.
Ben Wallace. His newfound interest in expanding his shooting range is nice and all, but the Pistons pay the 6-9 strongman to rebound, anchor their stout defense, collect garbage points and rev up the Palace crowd with end-to-end hustle.
Like the Spurs' Bowen, Wallace blossomed into a defensive menace after being overlooked in the draft. In fact, Wallace is the only undrafted player to start an All-Star Game (he attended Virgina Union, the same Division II school that produced another rugged rebounder and defender, Charles Oakley). Although his rebounding and block averages declined in '04-05, Wallace still won his third Defensive Player of the Year award in the last four seasons.