Miami heat center Isaac Austin isn't the only NBA understudy who, as an emergency replacement for an injured star, has raised his game this season. Here's our list of the subs-turned-starters who have been the most instrumental in keeping their teams afloat.
Charles (Bo) Outlaw, F-C, Orlando Magic. After four years as an effective but obscure backup with the Los Angeles Clippers, the energetic Outlaw signed a two-year, $2.2 million free-agent pact with Orlando last summer that has paid immediate dividends for the Magic, which was 10-6 at week's end. After starting five games in place of shooting guard Penny Hardaway (tendinitis in left knee), the 6'8" Outlaw was averaging 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds through Sunday—compared with career marks of 5.7 points and 4.2 rebounds entering the season—while shooting a league-best 61.2% from the floor.
Kevin Willis, F-C, Houston Rockets. Thrust into the starting lineup because of the ailments of power forward Charles Barkley (groin) and center Hakeem Olajuwon (surgery last week on his left knee to remove a medial plica), the 7-foot Willis, in his 14th season, has shown he hasn't lost the form that made him an All-Star in 1992 for the Atlanta Hawks. With Houston at 8-5 and on a five-game winning streak at week's end, Willis ranked second among the Rockets in scoring (15.1 points) and third in rebounds (8.8), while leading them in field goal percentage (54.7%).
Howard Eisley, G, Utah Jazz. The fourth-year pro has proved himself a worthy potential successor at point guard to perennial All-Star John Stockton, who hasn't played yet because of preseason arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee. With the 9-6 Jazz on a four-game winning streak, Eisley was averaging 11.2 points and 5.7 assists, and his 60.0% marksmanship from three-point range led the league.
Chris Gatling, F-C, New Jersey Nets. In his previous six seasons with four teams, the 6'10" Gatling has preferred to come off the bench. Thrust into a starting role because of an ankle injury to rookie forward Keith Van Horn, Gatling had responded by averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, while helping surprising New Jersey to a 10-5 start, good for a share of first place in the Atlantic Division.