There are certain players in the NBA who go above and beyond what is asked of them. They work tirelessly every game, doing everything. They play both sides of the ball. They are the NBA's most tireless workers.
Point Guard Stephen "What-Ankle?" Curry
Take a guess as to who has played more minutes than anyone in the NBA? I'll give you a hint. He's supposed to only have one good ankle.
Curry is one point shy of David Lee in points scored for the Warriors and is their leading passer, with 6.5 assists per game as well. That's not too shabby for a man who is supposed to have one foot dangling from a loose piece of skin which used to be an ankle.
In a comeback of proportions not seen since Bruce Wayne made the jump in Batman Begins, Curry has been looking like he's never had an ankle issue. He's leading the Warriors to look like....well...warriors! He has them challenging for home court in the first round, and that's without their starting center Andrew Bogut.
Curry's work ethic is visible not only in his effort on the court, but in the effort he took to get back there and remind us of why we were so excited about his future in the first place.
Shooting Guard: Kobe "I'm-not-Getting-too-Old-for-This" Bryant
Coaching Kobe Bryant would be the easiest thing in the world. Just refuse to believe in him.
"Sorry Kobe, I just don't believe that you can be the oldest player ever to score more than 30 points per game."
"OK. But you can't do it having the most efficient shooting year of your career!"
"Oh yeah, but you can't do all that and still break the record you set last year for most minutes per game by a player with at least 15 years in the NBA."
All Bryant does is turn critics' "he-can't" list it into his own "to-do" list. And there are a lot of check marks on that list.
Bryant's work ethic in practice is legendary. His motivation to work in the offseason on the weakest part of his games is historic. His conditioning is monumental.
He's played more minutes than all but five guards in the history of the game, and he's still averaging close to 39 minutes per game. By the time he retires, he stands a good chance to have played more minutes than any guard in history. He's a workhorse.
Small Forward: Luol "Glue-All" Deng
Luol Deng plays so many minutes he has to wear two watches to keep track of them. He burns more calories in a single outing than Michael Phelps does in an entire Olympics. The Most Interesting Man in the World gets tired when he thinks about Deng.
Not only has Deng led the NBA in minute this year and last year, he also led the Olympics in between.
And he did most of this with a torn ligament in his wrist.
He not only plays often, he plays hard, doing everything asked of him. He is one of the top defenders at his position, surrendering an opponent's player efficiency rating of 11.2. He is the Bulls' top scorer while Derrick Rose sits, averaging 17.5 points per game. He sets screens. He cuts. He is the personification of Ubiquity.
Not only that, when he gets his few moments to rest on the bench, he uses them to serve as a hot dog vendor. He writes material for Benny the Bull (the whole popcorn-spilling spiel has Deng written all over it) and he cleans the stadium after games.
And the next time you pick up your ticket and Will Call, pay attention.
Power Forward: LeBron "Kiss-My-Ring" James
One of the great tragedies of The Decision is that LeBron James was seen as taking, "the easy way out." Thus, he then got artificially labeled as being "lazy." Nothing could be further from the truth.
James is one of the hardest workers in the NBA. In fact, since he came into the league, no player has even come within 1,000 minutes of him in terms of playing time. That's work, especially when you consider what James does and how physical he plays.
James sees more fouls than Pepperidge Farms sees fowls. He's gotten more free-throw attempts than anyone in the NBA since he came into the league. Right now, he only needs 229 points and 57 assists to be the 13th player to ever reach 20,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists. If he can accrue that before next season ends (somehow I think he will), he'll be the youngest player to ever do it.
Not only does James do everything on offense, he is also one of, if not the most, versatile defender in the NBA, capable of guarding all five positions.
Furthermore, when it became apparent that he needed to work on his post game to help the Heat get over the hump after the 2010-11 season, he did in the offseason. (And no, this was not the first time he worked on his game in the offseason, contrary to trollvian philosophy.)
Based on Synergy data, he nearly doubled his scoring on post-up plays in 2011-12. When they asked him to move from small forward to power forward, he did.
The fact is James is not only not lazy; he's one of the hardest working players in the NBA and willing to do anything to win—even change teams in spite of ridiculous criticism for it.
Center: Joakim "That-Guy" Noah
Joakim Noah is "that guy." I don't mean in the Charles Barkley sense of having "that guy" on your team that can dominate in the closing stretch of the game. I mean "that guy" in the sense that he's the NBA leader in sentences said of him which end in the words "that guy."
Now, pretty much it's boiled down to two sentences spoken by millions. Those two sentences are either "I hate that guy" or "I love that guy."
That's because Noah plays with so much energy that the Energizer Bunny wants to be Noah when he grows up.
He has so much energy and passion that he gets under the skin of Kevin Garnett!
And everyone knows, if you're getting under Garnett's skin you're doing something right. But the thing about energy-guys is that they're supposed to wear down. They come off the bench and infuse energy for a while.
Or else, they start and play 30 minutes a game.
But you don't play 40 minutes a game if you're an energy-guy. That's impossible!
You certainly don't average double digits in points and rebounds, lead your position in assists, lead one of the best defenses in the NBA and do all that steadily keeping the energy flooding form your body into your teammates like some sort of psychotropic-IV.
You don't unless your name is Joakim Noah anyway. But that's why opponents and their fans always say "I hate that guy," while the Bulls and their fans can't help but smirk and reply, "I love that guy."
All statistics in this article are for games through December 30, 2012.