10 Biggest Unsung Heroes of the 2012-13 NBA Season

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2012

10 Biggest Unsung Heroes of the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    In the NBA's star-crazed culture, many role players are often under-appreciated.

    One or two players might score the majority of points or sell the most tickets, but it takes an effective supporting cast to build a sustainable winning program.

    In the shadows of every NBA superstar, there is an unsung hero who made the team's success possible.

    Whether it's defense, bench scoring or simply all-out hustle, these players are an integral part of their squads' operations.

Luc Mbah a Moute, Bucks F

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    If the Milwaukee Bucks exceed expectations and contend for a playoff spot, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova will earn high praise and loads of attention.

    But their success wouldn't be made possible without the efforts of forward Luc Mbah a Moute.

    The fifth-year pro out of UCLA has turned into one of the best defenders in the NBA, but doesn't get widespread recognition.

    He's a lockdown on-ball defender who has the lateral mobility and length to successfully stop the league's top playmakers. Mbah a Moute can keep quick swingmen in front of him, and he can also contest the shots of power forwards.

    Without him, the Bucks are a pushover defensively.

Marreese Speights, Grizzlies F

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    The Memphis Grizzlies' frontcourt isn't quite as deep as its backcourt, so power forward Marreese Speights is a pivotal figure for them if they want to survive in the west.

    Over the last few years, the Grizzlies have become known as a "tough" team, the kind of club that's exhausting to face in the playoffs. Speights joined Memphis in 2011-12 and fit right in.

    He crashes the boards well and attacks the rim with purpose, and is well-equipped to finish through contact.

    When Zac Randolph or Marc Gasol need a breather, it's nice for Lionel Hollins to know that he has a punisher like Speights to bring in.

    A full preseason will help Speights solidify his role and give Memphis more production.

Courtney Lee, Celtics G

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    Courtney Lee is just 27 years old, but he's already a journeyman.

    He's on his fifth team in five years, but don't let that fool you. He has the athleticism and shooting consistency to enhance Boston's offensive outlook as it moves forward without Ray Allen.

    Lee is 44 percent from the field and 39 percent from distance in his career, so he will stretch defenses and work extremely well with Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett.

    Paul Pierce and Jason Terry will end up handling the ball more and taking more shots from the wing, but that's fine. Lee moves well without the ball, is explosive in the open floor and gives Doc Rivers more guard depth than he's ever had.

    When the Celtics face teams like New York, Miami or Brooklyn in the playoffs, Rivers will be glad he has Lee.

Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons F

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    One of the most dangerous weapons in basketball is a big forward who can run the floor, and the Detroit Pistons have such a weapon in Jonas Jerebko.

    The Swedish forward is a fantastic talent for the Detroit Pistons in transition.

    He knows that Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight will feed him the rock if he fills the lane, and he out-runs most other 6'10" forwards.

    Jerebko isn't just a fast-break dunker, however. He can also keep defenses honest with his outside shooting.

    Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight make this team tick, but Jerebko has the kind of hustle to help them take the next step in the Central Division in 2012-13.

Patty Mills, Spurs G

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    Pretty much every player on the San Antonio Spurs is an unsung hero, but Patty Mills is poised to be an under-the-radar playmaker in 2012-13.

    The Australian dynamo's ball-handling and shooting skills allow him to get off a shot in almost any situation, and his penetration skills constantly set up opportunities for his teammates.

    After two seasons of scant playing time in Portland, he finally got some decent playing time in San Antonio. In 2011-12, Mills shot 49 percent from the field and 43 from three-land, and dropped 10.3 points in just 16.3 minutes per game.

    Gregg Popovich will continue to increase Mills' court time as he becomes more proficient at running his system.

Spencer Hawes, 76ers PF/C

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    The addition of Andrew Bynum and development of Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner has Philadelphia 76ers fans excited, but Spencer Hawes will be a vital component in 2012-13.

    Doug Collins hopes Hawes can transition to power forward to make room for Bynum at center, and Hawes should be up to the task.

    He's one of the most efficient big men in the Eastern Conference. His outside shooting, rebounding and passing skills earned him an 18.1 PER in 2011-12. On the other end of the floor, his efforts resulted in a defensive rating of 97, one of the top 10 ratings in the NBA.

    Hawes will aid Bynum in the paint while also keeping the Sixers' offense flowing smoothly. His versatility won't dominate headlines or blow up Twitter, but it will keep Philly afloat in the Atlantic Division.

Greivis Vasquez, Hornets G

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    The brightest lights in the Big Easy will shine on rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, along with a healthy Eric Gordon.

    New Orleans might not realize yet how much it needs Greivis Vasquez this season, and he may never get widespread accolades for his 2012-13 exploits.

    Gordon and Rivers will be handling the ball and doing a lot of facilitating, but Vasquez is the only one on the squad with true point guard abilities.

    The Hornets' progress largely depends on how effectively he can distribute the ball between shooters like Gordon, Rivers and Ryan Anderson. Vasquez isn't an elite athlete, but his court vision and passing ambition make him a game-changing playmaker.

    His all-out effort on both sides of the ball should earn him more respect than he'll get.

Josh Harrellson, Heat C

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    No matter what happens to the Miami Heat in 2012-13, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will absorb all the glory or all the shame.

    If the Heat repeat as champions, which is a distinct possibility, don't forget the handiwork of Josh Harrellson, who will undoubtedly strengthen Miami's frontcourt.

    Harrellson can contribute in every phase of the game. His rebounding, post defense and nice outside jump shot will take some pressure off fellow bigs Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony.

    Miami is still trying to find its ideal lineup and rotation, and Harrellson could make Erik Spoelstra's life a lot easier. If the Heat can get 15 productive minutes per game from him, especially in the postseason, it would tremendously help the championship cause.

Matt Barnes, Clippers F

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    Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the return of Lamar Odom will draw most of the attention throughout the Clippers' 2012-13 campaign.

    The attention is well-deserved, but hopefully Clips fans realize that Matt Barnes is the role player that could help them legitimately compete with the Thunder, Spurs and Lakers.

    Barnes has the savvy, physical tools and defensive prowess to boost Los Angeles' stock. Both he and Grant Hill will take this team's defense and decision-making to the next level.

    The Clippers were in the upper half of the NBA in scoring offense and points allowed in 2011-12, but when they ran into disciplined units, Chris Paul seemed to be the only competitor. The addition of Barnes and Hill will help address that problem.

Kendrick Perkins, Thunder C

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    Although he's widely recognized for his winning ways in Boston and Oklahoma City, Kendrick Perkins is still an unsung hero because he doesn't get much fanfare compared to the Big Four Thunder stars.

    Perkins does most of the dirty work, including fouling and trash-talking, that his teammates can't afford to do.

    He draws the ire of opposing players, and in doing so, he distracts them from their task of defeating the talented OKC crew.

    Not to mention he plays terrific physical defense in the paint and has an increasingly-dependable mid-range jumper.

    Perkins averages exactly 6.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game over his career, which is unimpressive. But there's a reason he's been a starting center in three NBA Finals.