Though the NBA is built upon the foundation of superstars and their outlandish contracts, it takes several role players who happen to overachieve, or in certain cases improve and develop, to fuel a team when A) the superstar(s) are resting on the bench or B) when they're simply having an off night.
This season the league has seen its fair share of surprises and improvement in player personnel, and here are the most substantial thus far this season:
PG Ramon Sessions
2009 Salary: $722,517
In Milwaukee's recent loss to Detroit, Sessions erupted for 44 points on 13-18 shooting while dishing out 12 assists and collecting five rebounds in 47 minutes of action.
Though the most impressive unadminstered stat was all of his points came on two-point baskets, Sessions did not attempt a three-pointer and has only taken five all season long.
In his short career, Sessions has logged 40 minutes 10 times, and has scored 16 points or more eight times and more than 20 four times. The Bucks are an envious 3-3 this season when he plays at least four 10-minute sessions, while the second-year guard has managed to connect on 42-of-50 free-throws during that stretch.
Milwaukee is also 8-5 when Sessions hands out seven assists or more this season.
He is rapidly developing into one of the best reserves in the league. Next to Redd, Jefferson, and Villanueva, Sessions ranks as their best player and their best trading chip if the Bucks wish to acquire a specific need before the Feb. 19 deadline.
Rookie forward Joe Alexander (eighth overall pick in 2008 NBA Draft) and Sessions were rumored to be headed to Memphis for Mike Conley Jr. (fourth overall in 2007). Talks collapsed and the youngsters are still playing for the current teams.
Lucky for the Bucks, who will continue to grant him extended minutes as starting point guard Luke Ridnour heals from a broken thumb.
SG Roger Mason Jr.
2009 Salary: $3.5 million
In the offseason, the Spurs exercised their mid-level option on Mason. This season he's seventh in the league in three-point shooting and the only player in basketball shooting over 45 percent from long range and over 87 percent from the free throw line.
While filling in for injured guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Mason made the most of it and has scored over 15 points 13 times and more than 20 four times—all while blossoming into the team's clutch three-point shooter—in his first few months with the Spurs.
It's tough for a player to migrate to an entirely different conference and adapt to a new system as fast as Mason has, but the fact it’s been in the notorious Greg Popovich's defense-rived philosophy makes it even more impressive.
Not to mention his decisive threes over the Suns, Lakers, and most recently the Celtics in a nailbiter have provided wins for the Spurs and have allowed them to post a presentable 4-2 record (2-1 vs L.A. and Boston) against those respected teams which will be pivotal towards the end of the season in the form of playoff seeding.
SF Grant Hill
2009 Salary: $1.9 million
Just how important is Hill to Phoenix? The Suns are 32-11 since Hill's arrival when he converts on five-plus shots from the field.
But no stat may loom bigger than this—Grant Hill has played in all 49 games this season. It’s a monument in its own right considering the fact it’s the first time he's been able to accomplish that since his second year in the league, when Grant was a youthful gazelle sprinting up and down the court as a Detroit Piston.
Needless to say, healthy Hill has always been one of the best players in the NBA and he's continued the streak to a lesser extent, as one of the best on his team. The 13-year veteran has two double-doubles this season after racking up only four in 70 games last season despite averaging the lowest minutes of his career.
Hill has reached double-figures 30 times this season and has six 20-plus-point games while shooting 51.6 percent, the second highest mark of his career and the highest since 2004-05 when he and then-rookie Dwight Howard for the Phoenix Suns.
Even at age 36, Hill still shows youthful cuts and an uncanny vertical when converting on layups or dunks around the rim which would be difficult for any other player who suffered through multiple injuries and underwent six surgeries that normally constrict one's quickness and explosiveness, but yet Hill is still displaying a youthful bounce in the desert.
PF Chris Andersen
2009 Salary: $797,581
Andersen boasts the second-highest block-per-48 minutes mark in the entire league—which is remarkable, because he's only playing under 19 minutes per game on a score-abiding Denver Nuggets team who also have a quizzical defensive rotation.
He's blocked 15 shots over his past five games while only averaging 3.4 fouls and a measly 2.46 for the season.
He's also beginning to develop on offense. Seven of his last 14 rebounds have come off the offensive glass and he's shooting 15-28 from the field in his last five contests.
His intensity on defense is unmatched and he's a fixture at the root of most of the Nuggets' fast break opportunities by deferring blocked shots towards his teammate’s paths thereby contributing on both ends of the floor while actually being an impact player on defense.
How golden is he to the Nuggets? The Nuggets are 13-3 when Birdman blocks three shots or more and only 7-8 when Andersen blocks one shot or fewer.
C Paul Millsap
2009 Salary: $797,581
He's stabilized Utah front-line and kept Deron Williams' assist numbers afloat and has continued to enforce the Jazz's representation of one of the most physical teams in the league with his stalwart-toned stature low in the post. He's averaging 15 points, nine rebounds, and a blocked shot while shooting over 55 percent from the field in his first stint as a starter for Jerry Sloan.
He's quickly emerged as Utah's best post presence offensively and defensively and his strong hands and wide frame makes him a monster on the boards. With consistent strong play, the Jazz may be able to let Carlos Boozer inhabit free agency this offseason—and reports have it that Boozer is fond of Miami.
Millsap's string of 19 consecutive double-doubles was the highest the Utah Jazz have witnessed since the likes of Karl Malone who racked at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in 44 straight games during the '90s. He's racked up 24 of them on the year and will continue to notch feats as long as he stays patient and understands his role on the team.
Millsap is a restricted free agent after this season meaning the Jazz can match any offer thrown at him this summer. This is a major advantage for any organization to have when attempting to solidify a certain position for years to come.
While his numbers have declined lately, much can be attributed to the fact he's not used to receiving this amount of significant playing time and he's simply begun to burn out as a result. He's played 30 minutes or more 30 times this season after the Jazz only asked him to play that amount 11 times in his previous two seasons.
The All-Star break will replenish and unquestionably refresh the weary 6'8" power forward. Expect a strong continuation of the first half of the season's performance down the stretch to the playoffs.
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