The NBA is a fraternity. In this group of millionaire athletes respect is the ultimate currency. Here is my lineup of guys who are not only talented but have earned mad props for the way they play the game night in and night out…..
PG - Kirk Hinrich (Atlanta Hawks)
The New-Age Jerry Sloan (the player, not the coach)…tough and gritty at just 6’4″. Though drafted 7th overall in 2003 he has always played (and practiced) like an undrafted journeyman. He guards the best perimeter player on the opposition despite a size difference. He is a true leader and selfless guy. When the Chicago Bulls drafted Derrick Rose he quietly assumed a bench role and mentored the young phenom. Then, with the Washington Wizards last season, he played a similar role behind John Wall. He often finished ballgames at the 2-spot despite this “reserve” role. ‘Captain Kirk’ will mix it up with anyone and stand up for his teammates at the blink of an eye. He knows the game plan inside out (both offensively and defensively)…..he’s a coaches dream.
SG – Wesley Matthews Jr. (Portland Trailblazers)
What can you say about an undrafted player who makes a team in training camp, signs a 5-yr $34 million contract, and just continues to get better as a player? RESPECT. When the Blazers snatched Wes away from the Utah Jazz last summer with a ridiculously front-loaded deal it smelled like a bad move financially. We’ve seen it before, a guy gets a huge payday and you never hear from him again. Well, Matthews probably didn’t even cash his first big check that summer for a few days because he was so busy in the gym. The guy is a gym-rat and it shows in everything he does. Last season, Wes showed Nate McMillan that his offense is just as good as his all-around game. The presence of Matthews is a major reason why Paul Allen will likely waive Brandon Roy with the amnesty clause.
SF – Caron Butler (Dallas Mavericks)
aka - ‘Tough Juice’
When Caron injured his knee in front of friends and family in Milwaukee last season, he refused a stretcher or any help from teammates. He walked off the court under his own power despite his kneecap leaning to the side like Dr. Dre in a lowrider. Butler mas made the All-Star game twice yet still plays with a chip on his shoulder. While many guys start living off jumpers in year 3 or 4 of their careers Caron is still bruising his way to the rim every night. After ten years and numerous knee injuries this warrants respect. Even more impressive is that he was able to leave behind his former life. At age 11 Butler was a dealing drugs in Racine, Wisconsin. He learned to play basketball soon after while at a detention center and never looked back…mad props CB. There’s a reason Mark Cuban has all but assured Mavs fans that Caron will be resigned as soon as the Lockout ends.
PF – Tyler Hansbrough (Indiana Pacers)
‘Psycho T’ has to be one of the top 5 nicknames in the NBA today. How often does a college stud who led a team to a national championship play as hard and relentlessly as Hansbrough? He didn’t grow up in the inner city nor a troubled household, but yet he attacks the game of basketball like a rabid dog. He outplayed Carlos Boozer for stretches in the first round of the playoffs last season and his defense was better than Booze’s for sure. And how about that jumper…he rarely missed from the top of the key. While the Pacers are planning on making a strong push for free agent PF David West, they’d be better served to let TB shine and continue his improvement. For the money spent he’s a way better deal.
C – Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls)
Technically, Noah is European but he plays like he’s from “MARS”. He often decides the outcomes of games while barely scoring a single point. His defense, rebounding, and passion on both ends will get him into an All-Star game one day soon. He is all about his teammates and winning. In an age where players are afraid of beef Noah has stood up to bullies like Kevin Garnett. Joakim doesn’t give out hall passes…if an opponent is disrespecting him or his team he’s ‘pulling their card’. Noah would be a horrible politician because he’s just too damn real. Lucky for us he’s on League Pass every night and not CSPAN.
6th Man: Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs)
Manu Ginobili is featured here in a role that he made famous for years. One of the best players on the Spurs during their championship runs he rarely started a game. Greg Popovich preferred his enigmatic play to change games…no, dominate games from the late 1st quarter on. Manu is a fearless guy that doesn’t get caught up in the nonsense of the pro game. When was the last time he got into an altercation despite constantly being provoked into one? He isn’t as insecure as a lot of other “stars”…he just puts his head down and plays ball. Sure he complains to the refs some, but what talented player doesn’t? He once caught a bat with his bare hands at the SBC Center. That tells you everything you need to know about the Balla’ of Bahia Blanca.