The Luol Deng Sleeper Of The Week Award

You’ve all heard of Luol Deng right? Of course you have, he’s one of the Chicago Bulls best players. Incredibly reliable, and with a little bit of everything in his locker, not to mention the right attitude when playing the game, Deng is an All-Star talent. Rewind a few years though, and the causal NBA fan certainly would have overlooked him. I know I did. Deng worked very hard at making himself known to the NBA world, people slept on his abilities for a long time. With this in mind, a new award named after the great Deng will be given to players within the league who have talent, but perhaps not enough people have noticed yet. There are also a few criteria that need to be met as well, and they are;

1. Ability: Quite an obvious one really, but no matter what team the player is on, or how many minutes they get in a game, if the show ability within that time, they will be considered.

2. Attitude: Being seen to play the game in the right way, and going about their business both on court and off court in a resepctable and low key manner, like Deng, is essential here.

3. Influence: This catagory goes beyond the numbers, and gives the players credit for helping the team in a way that the statistics won’t tell you about at the end of the night. Think about the influence Kevin Garnett has on his team without even stepping on the court.

4. Potential: Although not very essential, the more upside the player has the better. Of course there is nothing wrong with a 32 year old playing hard and vying for the attention they deserve, they just won’t be around much longer to take the plaudits if they come their way.

With this is mind, let’s look at our first player who can make a strong claim to have the right to win the Luol Deng award.

Jeff Teague

Since coming into the league as the 29th pick of the 2009 NBA draft and going to the Atlanta Hawks, Teague has played it cool and developed under the radar. Of course, having All-Stars like Joe Johnson around to carry the team and take the heat for the failures that have happened helps in that respect.

1. Ability: That breakout series against Chicago for Teague saw him fearlessly take on Derrick Rose and score. His defending wasn’t too bad either, and his all around play was a little unorthodox, think Rajon Rondo lite. That unpredictability factor won’t last forever though, as teams begin to figure him out. The Hawks do seem to believe in his talent though.

2. Attitude: Certainly no media circus surrounds the young man, DaMarcus Cousins he is not in his attitude to the game. Despite being the smallest of fish on the team when first drafted, he has grown at a nice pace, knowing his place the entire time. He has gone from giving the ball to Al Horford and Joe Johnson and getting out of the way, to take that little bit more responsibility, all while doing so in the right manner and without disrupting the team.

3. Influence: A catagory which may hurt Teague a little, he would appear to be one of the lesser outgoing squad members. However, with the likes of Harris, Morrow and Kyle Korver new in the door, and with no real superstar anymore, this year may see the Wake Forest product carry more influence. Although, coming off the bench in his earlier years and raising his game during the playoffs would have rubbed off on his team mates and influenced them in that way.

4. Potential: It is probably a stretch to say the sky is the limit here, but in a middling team in which he has settled well and a starters job, Teague does have the potential to be a hell of a lot better. Playoff basketball is no longer a guarantee though, and that may hamper his development. (Just ask Kevin Love.)

So Jeff Teague is the Luol Deng Sleeper Of The Week Award winner this time out, do you agree with this? Think there are any other players deserving of the award? Next Tuesday will see the next under the radar player shown a little bit of love. I’ll be back with more posts between now and then.


On The Up…

With these being the sleepy days of August in the NBA before training camp begins next month, it’s time to focus in on two teams who will be hoping to quietly improve on last season, and once more try and become relevant in the NBA scene over the next couple of years.

New Orleans Hornets

It is a time of hope in the Big Easy once more, not even one year after the departure of franchise player Chris Paul. Obviously talk of the playoffs is a little premature, but at least they have not taken as many steps backwards as they probably thought they would have in order to improve. The number one pick fell into their lap, and with the acquisition of Anthony Davis with that lottery ball, things immediately changed.

Record Last Season: 21-45   Last in Western Conference

Pros: The number one pick obviously helps, although was it just me or did Davis look very skinny in the Olympics? Certainly he will need to bulk up as he comes up against solid big men on a nightly basis. Holding onto Eric Gordon was a massive boost too, he has got real quality, and despite asking to be allowed to leave, an offer sheet from Houston was matched, and so he remains. The surprise package of last season, and most improved player winner, Ryan Anderson, may turn out to be the best pickup of all. His shooting ability and length will give the team real width. Anderson himself has spoken about getting in the post more to score, and it will be exciting to see how he develops further in this enviroment. This is Anderson’s fourth year in the league, but for a team with a whopping five rookies, as well as four more players in the league two years or less, Anderson may almost be considered a veteran. Robin Lopez is a solid pick-up with NBA experience as well, and has been a consistant performer for Phoenix in the past. There will be no Steve Nash for him out here though. Austin Rivers may excite off the bench too, although it remains to be seen how quickly he will learn to defend in the NBA.

Cons: As mentioned above, this is a very young and inexperienced team, with guard Roger Mason Jr the only real veteran of the group having been in the league for nine years now. Fans will hope the attitude of these youngsters does not echo that of another young team recently broken up, the Washington Wizards, as their “knucklehead” mentality has seen them remain in the doldrums for a couple of years now, even with potential All-Star John Wall on board. It also remains to be seen how Davis will cope with automatically being “The Man” too, remember in his one year at Kentucky he played very unselfishly. Yes he will help on the defensive end right away, but on offense it may take a little while to get there. Workouts next summer with Olajuwon anybody? Quality depth is also an issue, although Lopez and Anderson could walk onto more than half of the teams in the NBA.

Verdict: The only way is up when you were the worst team in the conference last year, but this team didn’t even have to fall as hard as the Bobcats before looking upwards again. It’s no secret that the West has more talented teams than the top heavy East, and talk of the playoffs does seem silly. Hell, this team won’t even break .500, but the potential is now there, as is the more proven quality like Anderson and Lopez. Give it two or three more years, another trade or two, (There is a lot of youth they can package up and send elsewhere for a high quality player.) and of course hope that the curse of injury doesn’t rear it’s ugly head, and you have a team here. Fans of the Hornets should just enjoy the fact that the Chris Paul era can now be consigned to the past and this group can move forward.

Sacramento Kings

Not since the early noughties have the Kings been a team to look out for, and unfortunately this may look set to continue. The mystery surrounding where in America they may call home doesn’t help either, nor does being the definition of a small market team. There is some light trying to shine through the clouds however.

Record Last Season: 22-44    Second from bottom of Western Conference

Pros: The big positive, quite literally, is DaMarcus Cousins. Put simply, he has the ability to play at an All-Star level, and can be easily the best player on this team on any given night. The addition of Thomas Robinson with the fifth pick in this year’s draft would appear to be a good one, and forms a big and intimidating partnership with Cousins. Aaron Brooks is a solid point guard, and this is an area that needs stability on every team. More than that, Brooks is looking for the place to showcase his skill set, and Sacramento will hope that this is the place he does that. Isaiah Thomas (Sadly not THE Isaiah Thomas, how much the Kings would like that.) was one of the surprise packages of last season, and this season can turn into one of the better back-up points guards off the bench. If he improves the way some believe he can, he may even push for a starting role in future. Travis Outlaw can play.

Cons: Where on earth has Tyreke Evans vanished to? From rookie of the year in 2010 to a question mark, most players are meant to build on their rookie success. Not Evans, but if he was rediscover some of his previous form and improve on it, then of course that would be a massive pro to this team. The Jimmer Fredette experiment has so far yielded no results, although it may be a little early to write him off just yet. As of right now though, he has brought very little to this team bar some scoring spurts. Of course for all the positives DaMarcus Cousins brings to the team, his attitude and percieved bad boy image are hurting this franchise. He needs to grow up that little bit more and really become the leader of this team. The bench also looks a little thin on quality, with role players sitting on the bleachers waiting for the call, although Marcus Thornton has his moments.

Verdict: They may have gotten a fraction better, but amazingly the Kings may find themselves at the bottom of the conference at the end of this season. That is nothing against them, their young players are a year older with more experience in the league, it’s just that them teams who finished around them, the Hornets, Warriors and Timberwolves, either improved more than the Kings or are still better than them. Barring a massive downturn from both the Timberwolves and the Trail Blazers, which could possibly happen, the Kings will once more be looking upwards in envy.

M.I.P. In L.A.

The Lakers are back right? They’ve taken the spotlight firmly away from the Clippers once again, and whats more, they’ve done it in style. Dwight Howard is in, Steve Nash too, and suddenly the fanboys are back, having crawled back out from under the computer screen where they’ve hidden since being burnt by the emergence of the Heat.

This is all true, and the Lakers once again seem firmly in position to make another run at a championship, and put Kobe on a par with Jordan on 6 rings, and theoretically make them finally equals. Right? Well that’s a whole other argument. The argument I’m putting forward here is who I believe will be the Lakers most important player next season. There are the obvious candidates, Kobe, Nash and Howard, but I would like to put forward another, Pau Gasol. Now Gasol is by no means an underrated player, Bryant himself has said that the last two titles the Lakers won, in 09 & 10, wouldn’t have been possible without “The Spaniard.” But now, in this new look Lakers lineup, Gasol is now a mere afterthought when compared to the other starters. This is quite unfair, he really is very good, and has come in for a lot of unfair criticism at times over the last few seasons for being “too soft.” He always seemed to be the scapegoat for the Lakers failures, but was never given all of the credit he deserved for all of the Lakers  success. Now I’m not for one second saying he should have his number retired in fifteen years and have it put in the rafters of the Staples Center, there just needs to be more respect for the big man.

This brings me onto my next point, the Olympics this year. Did you see just how well he played in the gold medal game? If you didn’t, the box score in the left hand corner should have read U.S.A Vs Gasol (And for brief pockets of time, Navarro too.) He looked hungry, in the mood, wired into the game. The third quarter in particular will stand out as an all time basketball memory to me, essentially every single offensive play being drawn with Gasol the focal point, and he continually delivered. Then in the fourth, the “soft” Gasol took a blow to the eye from LeBron, and it shook him. He played on though, and really gave his all. Obviously he was the speculation of trade rumors for much of the last season (Or two?) and knowing that the Lakers were actively pursuing Howard and others like Chris Paul before that, willing to use Gasol as trade bait, he truly played in the Olympics like he had a chip on his shoulder. So, off the back of a strong summer, and a decent campaign last year, there is reason for other teams to worry. Nash will certainly get the most out of him offensively. We don’t know how he will play in the Princeton Offense, but I am going to go out on a limb and say quite well. Similarly to Ray Allen in Miami, defenders will be so preoccupied with Kobe, Nash and Howard that Gasol will get more freedom, and I feel he will benefit hugely.

It is for these reasons that I believe this year is a big one for Gasol, and the Lakers too, and that they will go as far as Gasol can bring them. Yes the other three players are better and can influence the game more, but when it’s all said and done, with a more loose and focused Gasol, and with less media attention on him too, this year may be the best of his career, and that really is saying something.

Mario Elie – Ireland’s First Basketball Player

Mario Elie – Ireland’s First Basketball Player.

Mario Elie – Ireland’s First Basketball Player

Few people know the story of Mario Elie in Ireland, and that is a great shame. In fact, I did my thesis on American sports played in Ireland, and Elie made up a solid portion of the ten thousand word effort. Of course he was not the first Irish man to play in the NBA, hell he is not even Irish. But to me he is one of our own.

Born in New York City in 1963, his explosive early career curtailed somewhat, which culminated in him being selected 160th out of 162 people in the 1985 draft. Some of argued he should have been drafted far higher than this however. Elie opted instead to play in Europe, and although he is more well known for playing with the Portuguese side Ovarense Aerosoles, he did spend one season playing for Killester in Ireland. Killester is arguably Ireland’s biggest team, but that is irrelevant, having an eventual three time NBA winner playing at the beginning of his career on these shores was special. I was not even born, but I have interviewed the people who watched him play in the flesh. One gentleman, Kieran Shannon, has only just recently returned from Brooklyn where he was interviewing Elie for an as yet untitled documentary about basketball in Ireland. He also grew up watching him play and this turned him on to basketball. He was also in the stands that day in 1995 when the Rockets, whom Elie played for, defeated one Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic to win the NBA title.

Part of the charm that is Mario Elie is the fact that he won three NBA titles, two with the Rockets in 94 & 95, and again with the Spurs in 99. Of course he was never the focal point of any of these teams, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan respectively would have been, but to know that a champion had begun playing on this small island is exciting. Basketball had it’s moment in the spotlight in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but with the introduction of the one American per team rule, it quickly stagnated. Very few people play the sport anymore in Ireland, and even less care about it. It is however a tight knit community.



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