What's amazing is not just that Lever leads the Nuggets in rebounding—it's that he leads them by so much. Denver's next best rebounder, at 5.2 per game, is 6'10" center Wayne Cooper. Considering Lever's work on the boards, it's not really surprising that he has more triple-doubles this year (12) than anyone in the NBA (Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, by comparison, have 3 and 1. respectively). Without Fat. the mystifyingly bad Nuggets (24-34) might be listing even more precipitously to the land of Spurs and Kings.
The only thing Lever can't do is shoot straight (.437 career. .459 this season), but then, no one on the Nuggets can. Instead they shoot often, and Lever is the guy who distributes the ball, both on the break, where he makes excellent open-court decisions, and in coach Doug Moe's half-court passing offense.
"Fat might be the best ball handler in basketball." says Nuggets assistant Alan Bristow. "If you had to pick a guy to play the role of Marques Haynes, it would be Fat Lever."
Lever must stay on his toes, though, because he has a challenger for underrated honors in Dallas's Derek Harper, another fearless competitor who takes care of the ball and plays tough defense. Harper was recently asked his choice for the league's most underrated player. "Fat Lever," said Harper, who, among other fine qualities, has excellent taste in point guards.
Shooting guard: Dale Ellis, Seattle SuperSonics, 6'7", 205, Tennessee, fourth year.
Career stats: 8.2 points. 0.71 assists, 3.11 rebounds. 0.60 steals.
This season: 24. 2.76. 5.65. 1.5.
Has anyone checked to see if Ellis is glowing in the dark these days? What else could account for the 15-point jump in scoring average that has Ellis on the top 10 list, the largest one-year increase in NBA history? Well, in the immortal words of Dick Vitale.
PT, baby. Honest to goodness, major league, blue-chip, prime-time, no-pine minutes. In Seattle he's a starter. In Dallas he was a sitter. And when he did doff the warm-ups, it was usually as a three-point shootist. "Help him. help the bombardier." Yosarian shouted in Catch-22, and he could have been talking about Ellis. Finally the Mavs did help—by trading him to the Sonics. Ellis responded like a man freed from a prison. "I doubt if even Dale himself thought he'd be this good." said Chambers.
Dallas's Dick Motta may be the only coach in NBA history to improve his team by trading away a 23-point scorer. Part of the reason is that by moving Ellis. Motta relieved a crush of humanity at the big guard-small forward positions. For another reason, see below.