Hustlers who’ve elevated their game.
by Brett Callahan
There comes a time in a hustler’s career where he either stays in his steady role or expands his game to a point that the label no longer seems to do enough justice to his game. He’ll always be a hustler, but most will just focus on the fact that the dude is making things happen in a big way.
It seems to happen overnight when one looks back at it, but there’s a definite progression. David Lee did it a couple years back, Paul Millsap got some big money for showcasing it last season, and a whole wealth of stars who make an impact in the League started out as purely hustlers.
The ‘09-10 season is one of the bigger years in recent league history where hustlers have transitioned closer to that “go-to guy” level. Below is a list of those who’ve reached that next echelon this season, and a few to keep an eye on for next season.
Andrew Bogut – Awful news over the weekend about his many hand, wrist, and elbow injuries that dash any hope of a first-round Milwaukee upset, but that shouldn’t take away from the amazing season Bogut has had. Even if he does kind of look like the silent kid from Little Miss Sunshine, Bogut was the main clog in leading this team to one of the best records since the All-Star break and straight into serious Playoff contention. He’s always rebounded well, but it’s the Aussie’s defense (close to 3 bpg since January), consistency, and overall presence that have taken him to an elite level in the Eastern Conference, joining David Lee and Al Horford as the second-tier centers behind Dwight Howard. Take away a less than stellar December, and Bogut’s numbers go up dramatically. Look for 25-year-old to be a regular in upcoming All-Star games and to lead Milwaukee back to the Playoffs next season, possibly as a top-4 seed.
Carl Landry – People knock Landry for his mediocre rebounding (at a career high 6.5 since coming to Sacramento), but the guy is an absolute beast who’s earned his play from being instant energy every time he steps on the court. He never would have started in Houston, so the move to Sac gives Landry the chance to be the No. 2 aside Tyreke Evans for the foreseeable future for the Kings. He’s proved he’s an efficient scorer, his defense remains steady, and, at 26, he’ll be taking on a leadership role this summer for one of the youngest teams in the League. Officially a legit starter, Landry’s hustling past has molded him into a key member of a Sacramento Kings club that in a couple seasons could mirror what the Oklahoma City Thunder are accomplishing today.
Marc Gasol – Zach Randolph is no doubt the MVP of the Grizz, but Gasol’s play has been the steady force allowing Randolph and the young perimeter trio of Conley, Mayo and Gay to play freely. He entered the League as a wide body who harassed players defensively and did well on the boards. He’s since elevated his play to a near All-Star level (blame his brother for stealing his spot), and has become a smart leader on a young team that should only improve if they can keep their nucleus together. Now if he can just teach some post moves to Thabeet.
Luis Scola – Landry isn’t the only one benefitting from the midseason McGrady trade. When you score 44 points in a game, you kinda shed that whole role player stereotype. Forgive me, but geeze, Luis. Granted Houston is heading to the lottery, but they have set themselves up nicely going forward with Scola, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, and Trevor Ariza. Even if Yao never returns as the Yao of yesteryear, they’ve got the right mojo for years to come. To be as blunt as possible, Scola has been Scola-f***ing opponents left and right. Previously known for hard fouls, sound screens, gritty rebounding and the occasional inside scoring, Scola has manifested into a major low-post threat as well as a dependable mid-range shooter and distributor. He’s the type of player opponents hate to go against, and you get the feeling he likes that.
George Hill – Because of Popovich, probably every Spurs player could be considered a hustler, but it’s hard to deny what Hill has done for his club while Tony Parker dealt with several injuries. Hill came in last season as a tough on-ball defender and a quick and powerful point guard. With the opportunity to play some real minutes, Hill has proven (the way Darren Collison has in New Orleans) he’s capable of leading a team as a starter. That doesn’t happen without some supreme hustle and the mindset to lay it all on the court on every play. Whether he’s hitting threes, dropping dimes, or getting steals and blocks, Hill has done everything in his power to keep the Spurs in the thick of the Playoff hunt. They seem to be playing some of their best basketball yet, right at the perfect time.
Other notable hustlers to raise their game: Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, Corey Brewer, Nicolas Batum, Arron Afflalo
ON THE BRINK: Those who will shine in ’10-11
DeJuan Blair – The steal of the draft, Blair should be a mainstay in the starting lineup within the next couple seasons.
Anthony Randolph – Robbed of what could have been a breakout year by a nasty ankle injury. Hopefully Nellie gives him the chance to redeem himself.
DeMar DeRozan – Despite being part of the worst dunk contest ever, DeRozan has shown heart Toronto and should improve offensively in the offseason. Too bad the Raptors could end up as one of the most dysfunctional teams in the League.
Serge Ibaka – The guy is just fun to watch because when he does things, they’re pretty spectacular. He blocks, he dunks, and he does so with force. If he develops a stronger offensive game, he could be the center for the Thunder in the future.
Wesley Matthews – The Jazz felt comfortable enough with Matthews to trade off Ronnie Brewer to Memphis, and an offseason with DWill and Sloan will only improve an already pretty well-rounded game.