Five overlooked players delivering for playoff teams
Posted: Wednesday March 12, 2008 12:35PM; Updated: Wednesday March 12, 2008 9:44PM
Call them the leading candidates for the NBA's Most Overlooked Player award.
True, the NBA doesn't actually have such an award. (Philosophically, it would be problematic. After all, the player wouldn't be overlooked then, would he?)
But wouldn't it be nice to recognize those players who are quietly getting the job done for playoff teams, but for whatever reason have not received nearly enough spotlight for their efforts? Maybe they happen to be on a team with bigger-name stars. Or maybe they toil in a smaller market, away from the media glare.
We're not talking about players who were merely snubbed for last month's All-Star Game, like Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu, Toronto's Jose Calderon, Golden State's Stephen Jackson or Denver's Marcus Camby. Those guys at least got in the discussion. We're talking about guys who didn't even get mentioned for the All-Star Game.
Here's a look at five guys, all starters for teams in playoff position, who would lead the pack for the MOP (if there were such a thing) this season:
Andre Miller, 76ers
He might be the poster child for the MOP. For a guy with solid NBA credentials (he once averaged 10.9 assists per game), he keeps an amazingly low profile. Part of the problem is that Miller is about as talkative as a sphinx. The other reason is that he has been stuck with mostly middle-of-the-pack teams (Cavaliers, Clippers, Nuggets) throughout his nine-year career.
Still, Miller quietly has had a terrific season in Philadelphia. The 6-foot-2 floor general is averaging a career-high 16.8 points (on a personal-best 49.6 percent shooting) and 6.8 assists while guiding the young Sixers to a better-than-expected 30-34 record and the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference. Andre Iguodala might be Philadelphia's most well-known player, but Miller has been its veteran leader.
Rafer Alston, Rockets
Few players have turned it around in more dramatic fashion. Before the season, Houston fans were ready to take up a collection to buy the errant-shooting journeyman a one-way ticket back to the New York City playgrounds. Rockets management didn't seem any more confident in Alston's ability to pilot an NBA title contender, bringing in veterans Mike James and Steve Francis in the offseason.
But instead of pouting and giving up, Alston kept battling and found a way to stay on the floor. He has been a huge part of the Rockets' incredible 20-game winning streak, averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 assists during that span. Alston will never be in the same class as all those other top Western Conference point guards, but one can't argue with Skip to My Lou's performance of late.
Monta Ellis, Warriors
Is it possible to win the Most Improved Player award two years in a row? OK, so maybe that's a bit of a stretch. But Ellis truly has built on his breakout season of a year ago, even though he remains solidly behind Jackson and Baron Davis on the list of Golden State's most high-profile players.
Ellis is averaging 19.3 points on 53.3 percent shooting, to go with 4.6 boards and 3.7 assists. In 10 games in February, he shot 60.2 percent from the field while averaging 26 points. Only nine guards in NBA history have shot better for an entire month. The 22-year-old shooting guard still needs to work on his defense, but his ability to score has made Bay Area fans almost forget all about Jason Richardson.
Kendrick Perkins, Celtics
Like teammate Rajon Rondo, he has managed to answer most of those preseason questions about his readiness to play alongside the Big Three. The difference for Perkins is that he hasn't received nearly the same attention as Rondo (who also deserves it). Yet it doesn't take away from the fact that the fifth-year center has been a key contributor for the NBA's best team.
Perkins' statistics are modest (7.6 points and 6.2 boards), but he's been a solid defender and presence in the middle all season. He had 10 points and 20 boards in last week's big win over the Pistons, and he recorded six blocks in the first half against the Sixers on Monday night, helping Boston set an early tone en route to another victory. Perkins definitely benefits from all the attention paid to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but the bottom line is that he's held up well and done the job on most nights.
Ronnie Brewer, Jazz
If you polled NBA fans around the country to name Utah's starting shooting guard, a substantial number would draw a blank. Since Jeff Hornacek retired in 2000, it seems the Jazz have been searching for a guy to fill the role. Brewer has done a respectable job this season -- even if few outside Salt Lake City have yet to become aware.
Brewer, the 14th pick in the 2006 draft, isn't yet a great player by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, over the past two months he's lost some of his playing time to Kyle Korver. But he still ranks fourth on the Jazz in scoring (11.9 points, on 54.5 percent shooting), behind Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur. The 6-7 swingman also has provided the Jazz with a much-needed slasher and finisher on the wing, and his defense has been good enough to keep even coach Jerry Sloan reasonably content.