For these early contributors, an introduction is necessary
Rookies Nicolas Batum (Blazers) and Luc Mbah A Moute (Bucks) are starting
The Spurs are getting a long look at newcomers George Hill and Anthony Tolliver
C.J. Watson and DeMarcus Nelson are sharing time at point guard for the Warriors
For NBA fans, it happens every season at this time. You tune into a game only to see some unfamiliar figure out there on the floor among your favorite stars. "Who is that guy?" you utter to yourself. In some cases, the mystery man isn't even a former NCAA tournament one-game wonder or international prospect of much renown.
We're here to help. Here's a quick rundown on five (well, actually, six) "unknowns" around the league getting an early chance to shine a bit:
Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers. The 6-foot-8 forward from France was actually a first-round pick of the Rockets (No. 25 overall) in the 2008 draft, then shipped to the Blazers in a three-team deal that also included the Grizzlies. A long-armed wing player with raw offensive skills, the 19-year-old won over coach Nate McMillan in training camp with his strong defense. Partly as a result, and partly because McMillan needed the more offensively skilled Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez on his second unit, Batum has moved into the starting lineup at small forward in place of the injured Martell Webster. Batum, who wears No. 88, had a 12-point, two-steal performance in a victory against the Spurs.
Luc Mbah A Moute, Bucks. One of the early surprises in the rookie class, the second-round pick from Cameroon (by way of UCLA) has played his way past lottery pick Joe Alexander, another Milwaukee forward. The 6-8 Moute is averaging 9.1 points (on 53.4 percent shooting) and 6.3 rebounds in 27.8 minutes. He earned his first start of the season in Wednesday's win over San Antonio, replacing Charlie Villanueva at power forward and finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds. Even no-nonsense Bucks coach Scott Skiles has been impressed. "We knew he was NBA-ready defensively, and we felt he had an improving offensive game," Skiles said. "He's doing a lot of good things."
George Hill, Spurs. The Spurs raised a few eyebrows around the NBA when they selected this little-known guard from IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis) with the No. 26 pick in last June's draft (after reportedly missing out on their first choice, Batum). With Tony Parker injured, Hill is starting to see significant playing time at the point along with veteran Jacque Vaughn. Hill has started the last two games, including a victory against the Knicks on Tuesday, when he wound up with 12 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes. If the 6-2 scorer can make the jump from an obscure school to a contributing role with Tim Duncan & Co., it would be another coup for the Spurs' well-regarded scouting staff.
C.J. Watson and DeMarcus Nelson, Warriors. Watson bounced around Europe and the D-League for two seasons before hooking on with the Warriors last January. Nelson is an undrafted training-camp invitee who didn't even start at point guard at Duke. But thanks to Baron Davis' sudden departure, Monta Ellis' absence and Marcus Williams' taking up residence in Don Nelson's doghouse, the two longshots are getting a golden opportunity in Golden State. The 6-2 Watson, a speedy scoring type who played his college ball at Tennessee, is averaging 7.1 points and 3.5 assists in 24.4 minutes. The 6-4 Nelson, a defensive specialist, is averaging 5.9 points and 1.4 assists in 16.3 minutes while starting five of the first seven games (with one DNP-CD).
Anthony Tolliver, Spurs. The 6-9 forward/center from Creighton via the D-League, signed as an undrafted free agent, has been likened to Robert Horry for his long-range shooting eye. He has played in the Spurs' last three games, averaging 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in 23.3 minutes. Tolliver might not continue to log that kind of PT for San Antonio, but he has a lot of folks in the Alamo City rooting for him. He lost his 56-year-old mother to a heart attack last month - on the very same day that he learned he had made the Spurs roster.