by Brett Callahan

This past January brought with it some big news in the NBA that will no doubt set the stage for who makes the playoffs and who enjoys an early spring break. Some teams, like Utah, went on streaks that may help them win home court advantage during postseason play, and others, like New Jersey, went on streaks that are more reminiscent of the ones in your dirty hamper. As the midpoint of the NBA passes us, it’s time to look back at what hustlers made the biggest impact for their squads in the first month of 2010.

Eastern Conference Honorable Mention

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Jarrett Jack – Jack orchestrated the offense for Toronto during a 10-5 month in which he shot over 50 percent from the floor and nearly 50 percent beyond the arc. His tough defense and sound decision making are making Raptor fans ever so slightly forget about Jose Calderon.

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Anderson Varejao – During Cleveland’s rise to the top of the League, Varejao finished close to 9 and 9 off the bench to compliment his array of steals, blocks, and constant hustle plays. The Simpsons recently reached its 20th year in production coinciding with a crazy month of play from Sideshow Andy.

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Joakim Noah – Chicago has gone from “Fire Vinny D” to “Extend Vinny D” in the matter of one month and most of that is due to the inspired play of Noah. He just missed an All-Star selection, averaging 11.7 boards in January while increasing his free throw shooting by nearly 20 percent from the beginning of the year.

Western Conference Honorable Mention

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Arron Afflalo – Afflalo’s entire stat line went way up in January, especially his knack for knocking down the big trey. Denver went 12-3 and his defense and clutch shooting were a big reason why.

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Paul Millsap – This guy should be a starter in the League in the very near future. The rebounds, scoring, efficiency, and lack of complaining, make Millsap a guy that any team in the League would love to have. The LaTech product posted 32, 14, and 7 against Sacramento while filling in for Boozer in his lone starting spot in January.

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Marc Gasol and Juwan Howard: Gasol should be an All-Star over his older brother, and his two blocks, three offensive boards, and nearly 60 percent shooting in January are all the proof I need while watching Gasol push the Iverson-less Grizzlies near the Playoffs.

Howard will be playing in the NBA when Dick Bavetta’s great-grandson starts refereeing, and he’ll still be efficient. Portland remains alive in the Western Conference despite losing both Oden and Joel Przybilla for the season, proving once again that Howard is the consummate professional.

EASTERN CONFERENCE HUSTLER OF THE MONTH

Samuel Dalembert – Philadelphia 76ers
Dalembert went through a horrible month and persevered for his team and native country. The Haitian-born center led NBA efforts to bring relief to earthquake victims by supplying monetary support and physically going over to his homeland to assist those countless individuals in need.

On the court, Dalembert led Philadelphia to its most successful month of the season while having two twenty-rebound and two five-block performances in additAndrei Kirilenkoion to his incredibly proficient shooting.

Dalembert’s Big January: 12.3 REB (3.5 OFF), 2.3 BLK, 1.1 STL, 60.8% FG, 88.5% FT

WESTERN CONFERENCE HUSTLER OF THE MONTH

Andrei Kirilenko – Utah Jazz
The Jazz are 12-1 since reinserting AK47 in the starting lineup. He is playing like the stat machine from years past, doing everything on the floor fantasy owners once expected from the Crushin’ Russian. Kirilenko’s shot blocking, steals, passing, and overall shooting has sparked an incredible hot streak for Utah.

Kirilenko’s Big January: 13.4 PTS, 1.5 STL, 1.4 BLK, 57.3 FG%