Five Unsung Heroes of the 2008-09 NBA Season

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2009

Every NBA season features a host of players who have taken huge steps forward in terms of their contributions to their team.

Lost in the midst of the spectacular play of Dwayne Wade, the brilliance of Kobe Bryant, and the all-around dominance of LeBron James, these players have quietly emerged as key contributors for their respective clubs.

Here are a few players that are putting together solid seasons without a great deal of hype.


Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Milwaukee Bucks

Most second round picks never make a meaningful contribution in the NBA, so when one such pick shows himself not only capable of earning significant minutes, but displays the versatility to guard anyone from Chris Paul to Kevin Garnett, that is pretty special.

Mbah a Moute, drafted 37th out of UCLA, has been a pleasant surprise for the Milwaukee Bucks this season, displaying remarkable defensive ability and playing like a polished vet.

While his offensive skills lag behind his defensive prowess at this stage of his career, Mbah a Moute should be a valuable rotation player for the Bucks moving forward as they try to break into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.


Danny Granger - Indiana Pacers

Granger has improved his game in every season of his young career, finally emerging as a borderline superstar in his fourth NBA campaign.

While injuries to his sidekick Mike Dunleavy, Jr. have prevented Indiana from compiling a winning record, that is no fault of Granger's, as he has put up nearly 25 points per game while evolving as an all-around contributor.

While he lacks the elite, superstar potential of a Kobe or LeBron, Granger has proven himself as a leading man to build around in Indiana as they continue to try and re-establish themselves as an elite team post-Reggie Miller.

Several teams are still kicking themselves after Granger slipped all the way to the 17th pick in the 2005 draft. He looks poised to make them pay for years to come as the Pacers' leading man.


Brook Lopez - New Jersey Nets

With the stellar play of point guard Devin Harris and the still-productive Vince Carter dropping his customary 20 points per game, New Jersey's two stars have deservedly received most of the credit for the Nets return to relevancy.

But don't sleep on the contributions of rookie center Lopez. Averaging 13 points and eight rebounds per contest, Lopez is giving the Nets something they have lacked for some time—consistency in the low post.

Lopez, like most rookies, struggled a bit early on, but has improved his stats in each month of the season to give Harris and Carter the inside compliment they need to move forward.

He is an athletic seven-footer whose development will be key to the Nets moving up the Eastern Conference food chain.

If his rookie campaign is a harbinger of things to come, the Nets’ future appears to be bright.


Roger Mason Jr. - San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have turned finding diamonds in the rough into an art form. As the NBA's answer to the New England Patriots, the Spurs have made a living out of plucking complimentary pieces off the league's scrap heap and finding roles for them to succeed in.

Enter Roger Mason Jr. Rescued from the lowly Washington Wizards, Mason emerged as a potent scorer early in the season, with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili both nursing injuries.

Now, with their backcourt at full-strength, Mason has continued to be a solid contributor, averaging 12 points per game and shooting over 43 percent from three-point range.

Most importantly, he has shown a flair for the dramatic, displaying the ability and bravado to take and knock down shots with the game on the line.

Mason hit a memorable game-winning three-pointer to sink the Phoenix Suns on Christmas Day, and also hit a jumper with 10 seconds left to seal an important win over the Los Angeles Lakers in January.

With Robert Horry no longer around to deliver the dagger, perhaps Mason will carve out his own clutch-shot legacy in San Antonio.


Russell Westbrook - Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbrook has received his fair share of pub for some dynamic backcourt play this year for the Oklahoma City Thunder. While the fourth overall pick has hardly come from nowhere, his excellent all-around play deserves recognition.

The former UCLA guard has averaged nearly 16 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game as he has joined fellow young stars Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. While the Thunder continue to struggle in terms of wins and losses, they have definitely found a young nucleus to build around.

Once they find some semblance of an interior game (they should have held onto Tyson Chandler,) they will emerge as a force in the west. And Westbrook will be right in the middle of that surge.