So, I guess he’s not reading this column.
And while that certainly hurts (I loved you, A.I.), it’s not going to stop me from practicing my craft here. We talkin’ ’bout practice. PRAC—TICE. Something that you do to get better. Ah, forget it.
It takes a special type of player to adapt to coming off the bench. Several guys, who we threw under the bus—er—uh, mentioned in our Most Improved Player Rankings column last week, have taken on smaller roles just to stay in the NBA.
Vince Carter, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller…sure, they’re all awful now.
But they keep hanging on.
Because they love the game, and they don’t care if they’re starting or playing 5 minutes a night, looking like that misguided old guy who balls down at the park, who only passes and who you’d get furious if he ever tried to guard you, but you’d also feel bad, so you wouldn’t tool on him too much.
They just want to play the game. And get paid handsomely to do so.
The best example of this might be Tim Duncan, who’s averaging just 8.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season, his 18th in the NBA. He’s got a 17.38 player efficiency rating, which ranks him 78th in the league. He even put up a donut on January 4, illustrating that the Spurs can be great even without him, which would have been almost unfathomable six or seven years ago. Chris Bernucca had much more to say about what that Duncan Donut represented.
Of course, that means nothing to Duncan. All he cares about is winning and being a part of a team–something that Iverson, for all his YouTube greatness, never fully got a handle on.
If it ever comes to it, we’re going to bet Tim Duncan would come off the bench. We’re willing to bet he’d do it right now if it gave the Spurs an infinitesimally better chance of winning a championship.
And that’s what makes Timmy great.
That, and the fact that he would read this column. I think. Probably.
Hit me up, Timmy. We could hang out sometime, maybe play some backgammon?
On to the rankings.
1. Will Barton, G, Nuggets. The 6-6 string bean keeps getting better and better for the Nuggs. He still doesn’t start, but plays big minutes down the stretch, and was key in Denver’s 115-110 win over the Bulls on Friday, notching 18 points. Barton has the skill set to become the next Jamal Crawford (which is high praise for Sixth Men), with a little bit of Gerald Green thrown in. He’ll be throwing down in the Slam Dunk contest next weekend.
2. Darren Collison, G, Kings. Kings fans feel about their team the way your parents felt about you when you really screwed up. They weren’t mad. They didn’t yell. They were just “disappointed.” That’s how I feel about this team–which has so much more talent than its 21-29 record would indicate. Collison is one of those talented players whose skills are wasted on this moribund franchise. He scored 25 points in a LOSS TO THE NETS on Friday. He’s averaging 20 per in his last four games.
3. Enes Kanter, C, Thunder. Why doesn’t this guy start for the Thunder? It’s unclear. His per-36 numbers make him look like an All-Star (20.8 ppg, 13.2 rpg), and more importantly, they dwarf Steven Adams’ (10.4, 9.2), the current starter. I mean, I get it–take one look at Adams and try to tell the dude he’s not doing something. The man is terrifying. He looks like he belongs in The Revenant. Sure, Billy Donovan values Adams’ defense and maybe screen-setting, and he also starts defensive specialist Andre Roberson, who gives them just 4.9 points per game. But still.
4.Victor Oladipo, G, Magic. Right now, OLADIPOOOO!!! (consider it, C-Webb) wouldn’t qualify for the award, because he’s started 25 games and come off the bench for 20 (players have to do the opposite to win). But we wanted to recognize the season Vic is having–especially after he threw in 37 on 13-of-20 shooting in a 117-114 loss at Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. It took huge efforts from KD (37 points) and Russell Westbrook (24 points, 19 rebs, 14 asst) for OKC to pull that game out. It shows how much OLADIPOOOOO!!! and his Magic teammates are improving. This team is going to be legit in the next few years.
5. Omri Casspi, F, Kings. Oh god, we have to talk about the Kings again. All right. Deep breaths. I mean, Casspi deserves this spot–averaging 12.2 points and 6.4 boards in 30 minutes per game, but how can this team have two guys in the top five in the Sixth Man Rankings, arguably the best center in the game (who went for 48 and 56 in back-to-back games), Rajon RONDOOOOO and Rudy Gay, and still be 21-29 and lose TO THE NETS? It’s no wonder George Karl’s seat is on fire right now, with former player and analyst Bobby Jackson insinuating that “he can leave,” on live TV. God save the Kings.