Picking the NBA's All-Try-Hard Team
“Basketball is only interesting in the last two minutes of the game.” “The regular season doesn’t matter.” “NBA players don’t play defense.”
Those are all stereotypes that have endured in professional basketball. If you watch J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony or most of the Lakers play, you might be tempted to say they are true.
However, true success is not achieved through complacency. It can only be won by hard work and putting in the effort necessary to win day in and day out.
There are those players who give their best effort while making it seem effortless (i.e.: Tim Duncan). Then there are the players who seemingly have only one gear, a high gear. When they are on the court, they are so intense that they look that they took 10 Red Bulls before the game, another five at halftime and another 15 for good measure in crunch time.
They are the ones who are wired all game long and provide energy to their team when things tend to stall. Some of them are superstars, while others have the talent to be starters but come off the bench by design to provide a spark.
Let’s take a look at the NBA’s All-Try-Hard team. The team isn’t a collection of All-Stars, but rather a well-rounded squad of 12 players who give their all on every possession and would make any coach proud.
Starting PG: Rajon Rondo
On an All-Try-Hard team, the point guard is the player who sets the tone.
Rajon Rondo would probably grab the defensive rebound himself, start the fast break and go coast-to-coast for the easy layup.
The Celtics’ point guard is as consistent as they come, ranking first in assists (13.2), second in minutes (38.2), fourth in rebounds (4.5) and eighth in steals (1.92) per game among players at his position this season.
Most importantly, he is a consistent and credible threat to get a triple-double, which is a testament to his versatility.
Starting SG: Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant hates to lose, plain and simple.
Trying hard is all about having the motivation to do so, and Bryant has plenty of incentive to give it his all this season at the age of 34.
Let’s see…He has five rings and is one away from tying Michael Jordan. Plus, his Lakers were unceremoniously eliminated from the playoffs last season by the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
Oh, by the way, there is no way that Kobe doesn’t relish the chance of possibly defeating LeBron James in the NBA Finals matchup everyone dreams of.
Most 34-year-olds would take it easy in the beginning of the long, arduous regular season, but not Kobe.
Bryant is fifth in minutes among all shooting guards with 36.8 per game. Keep in mind that the average age of the other four is 25.7.
All those minutes add up to leading the league in scoring with 27.5 points per game.
As far as Kobe is concerned, he is playing like it's 1999 all over again.
Starting SF: Luol Deng
I could have taken the easy way out and put Kevin Durant or LeBron James at small forward. But this isn’t about putting together a collection of superstars. It’s about recognizing effort as well.
James and Durant certainly try hard, but the game comes so easily to them that it is just amazing to watch them carve up opposing defenses.
Luol Deng has it harder than either of them as he tries to keep the 5-6 Chicago Bulls afloat without an injured Derrick Rose.
Deng leads the Bulls in scoring with 18.2 points per game while being the only player in the league who is averaging at least 40 minutes of playing time.
Deng normally isn’t flashy and won’t wow you with spectacular athletic plays like James or Durant, but he would provide balance to the All-Try-Hard team with his versatility, defensive prowess and ability to stretch the floor with his knack for creating open shots.
Starting PF: Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin was featured in Men’s Health magazine last year, and his playing style can be summed up by the following quote from him:
Energy is something you can control…In everything you do, you are going to face people more talented than you. I set myself apart by bringing more energy than they do.
Griffin also sets himself apart with dunk after monster dunk. It’s like he channels all that energy into posterizing any opponent that gets in his way.
The 23-year-old power forward also leads the Clippers in rebounding with nine boards per game, yet another productive way to help the Clippers lead the Pacific Division with an 8-4 record as of Saturday, November 23.
Starting C: Anderson Varejao
Varejao is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ motor, and the Cavs need him more than ever now that Kyrie Irving is out for a month.
The Brazilian big man gets the nod over Joakim Noah based on his edge in rebounding. Varejao leads the league with 14 boards per game, a monster number however you look at it.
In fact, Varejao has steadily improved in that category since the 2007-08 campaign. He averaged 11.5 rebounds per game last season. So this is no fluke.
Sixth Man: Manu Ginóbili
Manu Ginóbili has been perfecting the role of the sixth man who provides energy off the bench since he got to the NBA in 2002. He is reprising it again with a solid performance this year.
Ginóbili certainly has the talent to be a starter, but he has only started more than 50 games three times in his career.
Ginóbili has never averaged more than 31 minutes per game with the Spurs. But he makes the most of them with his hustle. He is living proof that it's not about starting the game, but finishing it with the ball in your hands.
Manu is the third-most clutch player in the NBA, according to 82games.com, and coach Gregg Popovich has trusted him with the Spurs’ final shot time and time again throughout the past decade.
Who else would you trust down by two with 15 seconds to go on this All-Try-Hard team?
Reserve: Kenneth Faried (SF)
First, his nickname is the “Manimal.” You gotta love that.
Second, this second-year player out of Morehead State has already turned heads as the ultimate hustle guy for the Denver Nuggers.
Faried is fifth in the NBA in rebounds, averaging 11.5 a game.
The 23-year-old small forward has also had his share of monster games. He had 22 points and 12 rebounds in the third game of his career against the Miami Heat. He had 16 points and 16 rebounds against the Houston Rockets four days later, then followed that with 18 points and 17 rebounds against Golden State on November 10th.
Faried is already a fan favorite in Denver. By the end of the season, he could be regarded as a player nobody saw coming who took the league by storm.
Reserve: Russell Westbrook (PG)
James Harden is gone, but the Thunder still rely on Russell Westbrook to complement Durant and take them to a championship.
The main difference between him and Rondo is not effort, but that Rondo’s role for the Celtics is praised, accepted and clearly defined.
Westbrook’s, on the other hand, will seemingly forever be questioned.
Does he shoot too much sometimes? Yes, he does, but he is also a quality point guard who can take your team to the next level.
I would take him over a Baron Davis-style player in my quest for a championship any day.
Reserve: Joakim Noah (Center)
Joakim Noah is the ultimate team player.
His name has been floated in trade rumors time and time again, yet he remains as the heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls, especially now that Derrick Rose is out.
He may be undersized for a center, but Noah is a tireless competitor who will crash the boards and go for every loose ball with an intensity that compensates for any size disadvantage.
Reserve: Udonis Haslem (PF)
Udonis Haslem would have been a starter on this team not too long ago.
He can defend anybody at any time, and the concept of regulating his energy when he is on the court is foreign to him.
There is a reason why LeBron James and Dwyane Wade wanted him to stay so badly when they joined forces on the Heat.
Haslem is 32 years old and his level of play has declined recently, but he still is a reliable option for coach Erik Spoelstra off the bench and recently became the Miami Heat’s all-time rebounding leader.
A fitting honor for an all-time hustle player.
Reserve: Shane Battier (SF)
Pat Riley has always loved to have grinders, players who leave their heart and soul on the court for his team. So is it really any surprise that we have a second Heat player on our All-Try-Hard team?
I didn’t think so.
Battier stands out thanks to his defense. He is capable of frustrating anyone from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Durant with a permanent hand on their face.
The 34-year-old veteran is also known for his timely three-point shooting.
You see, the savviest veterans aren’t the ones with the most talent. They are the ones who maximize the talent they have for the good of the team.
Battier excels at that, and that is why he is on this list.
Reserve: Jason Terry (SG)
Jason Terry had his moment of glory during the 2011 NBA Finals. That was when the “Jet” flew highest and helped take the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA championship.
Terry left Dallas after eight seasons this year and was supposed to be the sixth man on a Boston Celtics that wants to make another run at a championship.
However, Terry has actually performed as a starter in eight of his team’s first 13 games.
Terry played pretty well as part of the starting five in Friday’s impressive 108-100 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring 16 points in 30 minutes.
Count on Terry to eventually come off the bench as the season progresses. He will provide an offensive spark to a team that could use one when the postseason rolls around.