Each season, a few stories emerge in the basketball world that you can’t help but feel good about. Even non-Knick fans were mesmerized last season by “Linsanity” and the subsequent positive effects felt by the NBA. The story gained so much publicity that the Knicks became regulars on ESPN, TNT, ABC, and NBATV, even though they were never a legitimate contender. There have been no stories this season that rival the Jeremy Lin saga, but there are a few feel good stories that are flying under the radar.
Jimmy Butler, SF, Chicago Bulls
When Luol Deng aggravated his hamstring on January 18, the Bulls and their fans were fearful that he was a piece they just couldn’t replace. Without Derrick Rose, Deng had become the creator and offensive focal point. With him out, they turned to Butler. Over the next nine games, six starts for Butler, the Bulls would go 6-3. He put up averages of 15.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.2 APG over that span and his defense on Kobe Bryant on January 21st was so good that teammates were chanting “Kobe Stopper! Kobe Stopper!” at Butler in the locker room post-game. The Bulls barely skip a beat when they can bring in Butler and Taj Gibson for Deng and Boozer. They’ll need Jimmy-B at his best come playoff time, especially if Derrick Rose doesn’t play this season.
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Dallas Mavericks
At 36 years old, Vinsanity is back! Well…sort of. Gone is the Vince revered as the best dunker ever. Instead, the Mavs have gotten boring and effective Vince. The best thing about boring Vince is his ability to chuck less, score with efficiency, and play a little defense. He has been so good that Dallas shot down all trade offers that included him. His career rejuvenation has been a pleasant surprise for a player who never quite lived up to his massive expectations.
Tim Duncan, PF-C, San Antonio Spurs
Joey Crawford’s favorite player is ageless. His season has been unbelievably believable in the sense that we all continue to be amazed but shouldn’t be. He does this every year but this year has been even more incredible. Duncan ranks 3rd in the NBA averaging 2.8 blocks a contest despite having a 2.8″ vertical, a mark that is his 3rd best in 16 NBA seasons. He is also shooting 81% from the line, 18% higher than his career average! With Duncan aging like a fine wine, it’s hard guess when he will call it a career. Let’s just enjoy his continued greatness while we can.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats
After last season, many NBA fans and analysts didn’t know what to make of Kemba Walker. He struggled with his shot and decision-making despite getting chance after chance to improve. The poor kid is surrounded by some incredibly weak talent in Charlotte but this year he has shown glimpses of what we all thought he’d be. All of his stats have seen positive gains sans his turnovers, which is to be expected when you handle the ball as much as he has had to this year. Walker is averaging twice as many steals as he did last year, a sign that the game is slowing down a bit for him. I saw someone tweet, “Is Kemba Walker an All-Star in three years?” Just the fact that you have to consider it shows he has made strides in his game.
Earl Clark, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
One of the brightest spots in this entire Lakers season has been the play of Earl Clark. The fourth year man out of Louisville has had trouble finding playing time since entering the league but when D’Antoni called on him early this season, Clark answered the call. He played so well, so soon that D’Antoni began starting him over Pau Gasol. Many criticized the coaching move to start Clark over Gasol saying things like, “when your system works better starting Earl Clark over Pau Gasol, it’s time for a new system.” The truth is, Clark was playing much better than Gasol regardless of fit. Clark plays faster, works harder, and can defend multiple positions well. His play has definitely gained him a nice contract this offseason. Seeing Clark seize his opportunity is the reason we have the term late bloomer and he is the best of these five feel good stories this NBA season.
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