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.

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.