There’s a neglected group of NBA stars who are invaluable to their teams—even if they have no shot at the coveted 2012-13 NBA Most Valuable Player award.
LeBron James isn’t in that discussion.
Here’s to this season's underdogs of extreme talent, the players whose lustrous seasons should not be lost under the beam of brighter superstars.
Tim Duncan isn’t done.
The 36-year-old is a decade removed from his back-to-back MVP seasons of 2001-02 and 2002-03.
But when you study his numbers this season, they aren't too different than they were 10 years ago.
If you average each category per minute, you have:
|Tim Duncan||Min.||Points per min.||Rebounds per min.||Blocks per min.|
When Duncan is on the court, given it's at nine-to-10 minutes less per game, he is just as valuable as he was to the Spurs during his two MVP seasons.
This makes San Antonio incredibly dangerous with an MVP-caliber Duncan, as Gregg Popovich can push him extra minutes in the postseason.
Duncan played 33.1 minutes per game in last season's postseason and 35.3 minutes in the 2011 playoffs.
Though Duncan won't be recognized as an MVP candidate for his per-minute values, it's obvious the Spurs wouldn't have the West's best record without him.
The greatest three-point shooter in the NBA is also the reason the Golden State Warriors will make the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years.
Curry’s value as Golden State’s point guard is as understated as his physique.
Curry’s ability to score comes from his quick footwork and quicker release, and despite not making the All-Star Game with teammate David Lee, he is the team's greatest talent.
The 6’3”, 185-pound scorer is shooting at the second-highest mark in the league from behind the arc (45.5 percent), and he's the leader in three-pointers made (236).
Curry’s ability to get hot, exhibited in his 54-point showing at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks on Feb. 27, could be what carries the Warriors to a potential first-round upset come postseason.
Curry hit 7-of-12 from three-point range in a 39-point performance in Golden State's win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.
@stephencurry30 has been on fire before but this 4Q was sublime. Bogut waved a towel, mock-cooling him down, Jax shaking his head w/smirk.— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) March 31, 2013
Not bad for a kid coming off two surgeries last year on the same right ankle. While there have been some scares, and Curry sat out four games this season because of the ankle, he’s bounced back well each time the ankle has rolled.
The 25-year-old could be a top candidate for Most Improved Player, as he is averaging career highs in points (22.6) and assists (6.8).
The Washington Wizards were 5-28 without their franchise player.
But since John Wall returned on Jan. 12 from a stress injury to his left kneecap, the Wizards have gone 22-18.
How’s that for a difference-maker? That’s like a shooter going from 15 percent to 55 percent.
Wall, who has started in 33 of his 40 games played this season, is averaging 18 points, 7.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals in starts this season.
The former No. 1 overall pick in 2010 is as efficient as he is fluid, and he has raised his shooting to a career-best 44 percent this season. In March, Wall shot 48.4 percent.
Doubt regarding Wall’s ability to lead a franchise whirled in December when former coach Stan Van Gundy told ESPN 980’s The Sports Reporters that Wall wasn’t the type of talent that could lead a team on his own. Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post quoted Van Gundy:
He’s certainly got talent, but I don’t know that even John Wall is a great player to build your franchise around. I don’t know WHO you’re building around, so it’s tough to even think about what the construction of your team is. That’s just a bad basketball team.
Steinberg revisited the subject on March 28 when he quoted Van Gundy, again on ESPN 980, as now saying that he’s on the fence regarding his previous comments. The coach-turned-analyst discussed the Wizards’ turnaround with a healthy Wall:
And if you look at the numbers, they’re the ninth-best team in the league if you compare defensive numbers and offensive numbers — the ninth-best team in the league, fourth-best team in the East since he’s come back. So this is a team that you could project, with John Wall, could be not only a playoff team but be sitting with home-court in the playoffs. And they were the worst team in the league before he came back. Nobody else has done that for a team.
The comment of note in Van Gundy’s latest quote is the mention of Wall’s ability to make Washington a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
It seems rather evident that if Wall were healthy all season, the Wizards would be readying for the postseason.
Derrick Rose hasn't played a single one of the Chicago Bulls' 72 games this season.
And no one would have predicted the Bulls would, at this point, be eight games over .500 and settled into the fifth spot of the Eastern Conference-postseason picture.
That’s because Joakim Noah is having the best season of his career. Noah is averaging 12.1 points and is fourth in the league with 11.4 rebounds, both career highs.
But it's his defense that has become the identity of the Bulls. The Bulls center is a favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Noah is an intentionally obnoxious defender, protecting the interior of a defense that allows the third-least points per game. He's averaging 2.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, but it's the intangible of toughness that adds to Chicago's ability to stifle opponents.
Without Noah, the Bulls would not be in the postseason.
In the same way Joakim Noah has picked up the Chicago Bulls in a season without Derrick Rose, Paul George has picked up the Indiana Pacers without Danny Granger.
George, one of the league's premier athletic wings, is also one of the league's best all-around players.
The 22-year-old's offensive game continues to improve. He's up to 17.8 points per game this season, along with 7.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
A physical freak in the best way, George is the best perimeter defender in the NBA, an underrated value in a league that features so many great scoring wings.
George, a first-time All-Star this season, could be the league's next great superstar.
I switched it all up, just my whole preparation. I come in early, I lift before every game and I get about 300 or 400 shots up prior to the game as well. All of that really came from Kobe Bryant. With him being around Brian Shaw and Brian Shaw being around us and me having a relationship with Brian Shaw and the conversations we have had, that’s how Kobe prepares and gets ready for games. Me, idolizing Kobe growing up in L.A, that’s really how I changed my whole season around.
The torn plantar fascia in the right heel of Ty Lawson is a tremendous blow to the Denver Nuggets.
What was originally thought to be a simple heel strain could now cost the Nuggets all of their hard-earned momentum. That’s just how valuable Lawson is to Denver's success.
Lawson played the first 13 games of the team's 15-game winning streak before sitting with the injured heel. In those 13 games, Lawson averaged 19.7 points on 50.3 percent from the floor and 6.1 assists.
Lawson offered the superb talent for a team that “doesn’t have a superstar.”
While the point guard is going to avoid surgery, this type of injury is debilitating, especially for a player like Lawson who thrives off incredibly quick cuts.
Lawson said he shouldn't have played in the team's 100-99 loss at the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and he scored just 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes. The Nuggets are 3-2 since his last full game on March 19. Each were home wins, against the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets.
The injury could cost the Nuggets a shot at a legitimate postseason run, but it's further proof of how valuable Lawson has been to Denver.
Paul Pierce is the consistent heartbeat of the Boston Celtics. He has played in 72 of the team's 73 games. The franchise is resting on his jump shot without Rajon Rondo and now without Kevin Garnett.
Pierce is averaging a team-high 18.8 points this season, but he was especially valuable in March with 19.9 points, 5.9 assists and 7.3 rebounds.
The likely Hall of Famer isn't the kind of guy to let his team slip backward.
Since Rondo's last game on Jan. 25, Pierce has led the team in scoring (18.8 points), defensive rebounding (7.1) and assists (6.3).
The Celtics are 18-12 since Rondo's injury. Pierce leads the team since that point with a plus-minus of plus-5.1.
The Celtics are currently four games back of the No. 4-seed Brooklyn Nets. Pierce has clearly spurred their momentum.