That is Ben Handlogten. I don’t blame you if you don’t know who he is. No offense to the man, but he was never much of an NBA player. He played only 38 games in two seasons with the Utah Jazz and the most significant impact he’s had on the league is being part of the deal that has resulted in this year’s New York Knicks draft pick being in Utah’s possession. For some of us, though, he was more than that – he was the official player of The Links! Back when Lang Whitaker‘s online column was published daily, we loyal readers would hear about everything Handlogten-related whenever anything Handlogten-related actually occurred. In fact, I’m certain that if something Handlogten-related happened tomorrow, Lang would be right on it. If he had turned out to be a success story, we all would have felt like a part of it. With that in mind, I’ve chosen the official team of Outside The NBA, henceforth known as the All-OTN Team. You’re going to hear about these guys all the time if you keep up with this site, as I’m going to be starting a daily recap feature which will include a section on ‘em. They are not scrubs like Handlogten; rather, they’re role players who I’m confident will pan out but still have plenty of room for improvement. The rules I stuck to: only one rookie, no two players from the same team, no starters, and no one who made Kelly Dwyer’s top 30 for his position in the Yahoo! Sports 2009 NBA Preview Magazine. Also, to qualify, I have to really, really enjoy watching the player and be confident that you will like him too. Let’s get to it.
Point Guard: Will Bynum
Will Bynum began his college career at Arizona, but transferred to Georgia Tech halfway through his second year because he wanted to be closer to his diabetes-suffering mother in Atlanta. I first saw him at G-Tech, where he was an explosive, if wild, scorer on a team that made it to the Final Four, where he hit a game-winner to send his team to the championship game. It’s been a shaky road for Will since then, as he went undrafted and spent most of the 2005-2006 season playing for the NBA D-League’s Roanoke Dazzle (where he won Rookie of the Year) and all of the following two playing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Determined, the diminutive (5’11.5 with shoes, in pre-draft measurements) guard worked on his game overseas enough to be noticed by Joe Dumars of the Pistons, and, in 2008-2009, was added to Detroit’s roster.
Once Bynum finally cracked the guard rotation in the last two months of the season, it didn’t take long for Pistons fans to warm up to him. There were no expectations at all and he out-produced both Rodney Stuckey and Allen Iverson on a per-minute basis. This year, he’s playing twice as many minutes and he is producing at a slightly better rate, still clearly superior to Stuckey’s production. It’s led to interesting discussions about what John Kuester should do with his guard rotation. I don’t particularly care who starts in Detroit, but I do want Bynum to get his minutes, even when Rip Hamilton returns to the team. He’s too good to sit on the bench, too exciting to limit, too damn fun to root for to ignore. If you don’t like little guys with speed, strength, and the ability to finish over men much taller, I don’t know what to tell you. The man is fearless and there’s no one else on this Pistons roster who compares in terms of entertainment value, nevermind the fact that he’s been such a great contributor. The only somewhat acceptable excuse for NOT liking this guy is being a Bobcats fan .
I almost cut him from this list because of the “role player” requirement – guys on this list shouldn’t really have scoring outbursts like he sometimes has and they shouldn’t be a go-to guy at the end of games like he sometimes is. The problem? Rip Hamilton is going to come back and Dumars seems committed to Rodney Stuckey as the team’s long-term point guard. I haven’t even mentioned Ben Gordon’s name yet. Until a move is made to balance Detroit’s roster, Bynum will unfortunately remain a complementary player. It’ll be fun to watch him work his ass off to break out of that role, though.
Telling quote: “The one guy that just epitomizes everything… The work ethic, the dedication, the personality… Never, ever a negative word. Never, ever an attitude. First one to practice, always the last one. Fearless when he’s on the court. He’s special to me because this little guy, he has the biggest heart of all the guys on this team… So, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him.” – Joe Dumars
Shooting Guard*: Shannon Brown
I didn’t know if Shannon Brown was going to make it in the NBA. Trust me, I hoped he would. I really hoped he would. I’m a Michigan State fan and, during his tenure there, nothing excited me more than him soaring towards the basket and dunking on someone. There were holes in his game, though, holes that would make the leap (heh) to the NBA a difficult one. The issue is a positional one – he is not much of a distributor or a floor general, so playing point guard seemed to be out, and he lacks the height and outside shooting ability to be a traditional shooting guard. After two seasons with Cleveland and (briefly) Chicago characterized by a big slew of DNP-CD’s, I vowed to keep my eye on Brown with Charlotte but had all but given up my hopes of him becoming a rotation player.
Things changed in 2008-2009, though. He showed some flashes with Charlotte, enough for the Lakers to ask for him to be included in the Vladimir Radmanovic deal. It took a while for him to crack Phil Jackson’s rotation, but when he did he made an impact. With Derek Fisher’s age and inability to stay in front of anyone, and Jordan Farmar’s sophomore slump, Brown’s aggressiveness and athleticism stood out. In the triangle offense, he didn’t have to be a traditional point guard, but he could bring the ball up the court just fine and he could guard the other team’s 1 better than anyone else on the roster. This led to some meaningful minutes in playoff games, something which even the most optimistic Brown supporter couldn’t have predicted when he started the season in Charlotte. In this young 2009-2010 season, he is averaging more minutes than he ever has previously and he has become an internet sensation because of his dunks.
Oh, his dunks. They’re ridiculous. Unfathomable. It looks like there are rockets in his calves, the way he explodes off the floor. There have been some great little-man dunkers, but few of them dunk with the power he does. I could go on about how I like his persistence, his attitude, and his demeanour on the court (I do), but you know he’s on this list because of the dunks. And the blocks. He brings freakish athleticism and it doesn’t make you any less of a basketball purist to enjoy it. I’ve never watched anyone who has made me look forward to blowouts like him. Every time I’ve watched his amazing team make an opposing squad look like a minor league club, Brown has done something special. And Twitter has just about exploded. I’m barely even surprised anymore, although you wouldn’t know it by the way I scream and jump whenever he pulls something new out of his bag of tricks. Like this, a dunk from one step inside the free-throw line the other night. There’s almost nothing I want this year more than to see Shannon participate in the dunk contest. And luckily, he is totally up for it. Hell yes. Anyway, Shannon Brown is better seen than talked about, so watch these 10 minutes of insanity if you haven’t already.
Telling quote: He jumps higher than me, he jumps higher than Michael. We’re just 6’6, this guy is, you know, 6’1, barely. His leaping ability is through the roof… You should see what he does in practice.” – Kobe Bryant
*Yes, I know – both of these guys are combo guards. I put Shannon at the 2 because he’s a bit taller, that’s it.
Small Forward: Jared Dudley
The first time you watch Jared Dudley, you probably won’t fall in love with his game. This is what makes him a bit different from the others players on this fake team. Every other guy here has an energy that’s channeled in an obvious, highlight-producing way. Dudley, though, flies under the radar. He still has that energy, believe me, but it’s used to do the little things. All of them. If you pay attention to him for a few games, you’ll find yourself watching him like you watch Shane Battier, appreciating the way he makes hard cuts, moves into open spaces, and contests shots. You keep watching him and you’ll completely understand why Alvin Gentry called him “a coach’s dream”. If you’re me, you’ll get into a big argument with your friends when you refer to him as “fantastic” and they laugh at you. And then you’ll feel vindicated when he goes 5-6 behind the arc a couple of days later.
If you want to understand Jared Dudley, you absolutely have to read this piece by Will Cantrell of Bright Side of the Sun. Here, you’ll find that Gentry quote and you’ll learn essentially everything you need to know about him – he is a relentless worker and a heady player and, thus, a perfect role player. He improved significantly every year at Boston College until he was the ACC Player of the Year in his senior season. In the NBA, he’s repeated this pattern, adding to and refining his game each year and becoming more consistent. The most obvious improvement is his three-point shooting – he shot 22% in his rookie campaign, 39.2% in his sophomore season, and is at 45.8% so far this season, which puts him at 13th in the league. No doubt that some of the credit has to go to Steve Nash for getting him good looks, but he would not be making good on them if not for all the work he put in during the summer. For me, glue guys who play good defense and hit big shots are inherently fun to root for, but if this isn’t enough for you, I suggest you follow him on Twitter. Jared posts videos from the locker room and takes pictures of his teammates sleeping. I know you’re on board now.
Telling Quote: “Playing with Jared Dudley is awesome, I love it. He is definitely that guy you want on your team – he’s never going to complain, he’s always going to have energy. He’s our hype man. He’s our guy who’s diving on the ground, he’s hitting open shots, he’s always in the right place… Jared Dudley’s IQ might be some of the highest that we’ve ever seen. And for him he’s constantly working and he’s constantly out there enjoying his job and understanding what his job is and using his athleticism, using his talent to the fullest.” – Channing Frye (You have to watch the video to really get it. Look at his reaction when Steve Smith mentions Dudley’s name. These are not empty compliments that he would give to any teammate – he is genuinely excited, just talking about what Jared does for his team. You’d think he was talking about Steve Nash, with the way he says playing with him is “awesome”. This is why Dudley made my team.)
Power Forward: Amir Johnson
I have to start this with his entry in the glossary of FreeDarko Presents… The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, which was written at some point during the 2007-2008 season:
Spirited Pistons youngster who was the last high school player picked before the age limit took effect. Some see him as karmic redemption for Darko, since Johnson – picked 56th overall in 2005 – is only a few easy steps from stardom.
It’s been a little while now and Amir Johnson still is not a star. In fact, he’s so not a star that this past summer Detroit traded him to Milwaukee for cap relief and Milwaukee in turn flipped him to Toronto for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic. I think this was all a bit daft. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances (Detroit’s frontcourt logjam after signing Charlie Villanueva and Milwaukee’s after signing Hakim Warrick), but you really shouldn’t give up on a guy like Amir at his age. Despite this being his fifth year in the NBA, he is only 22 years old, or a year and a half younger than Pacers rookie Tyler Hansbrough. When you have a guy who put up a 17.5 PER at the age of 20, you should probably hang onto him. Even if he follows that up with a bit of a down-year on a dysfunctional team after a contract extension. Especially if your team needs what he brings to the table.
I should really stop complaining, though, because I am a Raptors fan and now I get to watch him grow up here. I was ecstatic when the trade was reported out of nowhere and his play this season has done nothing to temper my enthusiasm. I love the way he runs the floor, blocks shots, sets picks, crashes the boards, and scores inside. I love the energy he brings off the bench and I love his hustle. Over the next few years, I’m excited to see him fine-tune his game, cut down the silly fouls, and get closer and closer to realizing his full potential. I must admit I’ve seen some troubling things from my Raptors this season, but each and every game I look forward to the bench mob coming in and Amir Johnson is the #1 reason why. If you’re going to call me crazy, know that I’m not the only who’s been seduced by his potential – check out Exhibit A (Detroit) and Exhibit B (Toronto).
Telling Quote #1: “I think he makes everybody accountable because he gives such an honest effort on every possession. He runs the floor hard, he doesn’t quit on any plays, and we’ve seen him get a couple blocks late because of that.” – Jay Triano
Telling Quote #2: “If Amir Johnson is going to keep playing like this, he’s going to turn Joe Dumars into an alcoholic. By the way Joey D, it’s time to sidle up to the bar and have one of everything. Amir Johnson is the big man off the bench that the Raps have been lacking for the better part of this decade. He hustles. He defends. He scores. He rebounds. Hell, he even makes a very nice fruit tart with wild berries and exotically grown kiwis.” – Zach Harper
Center: Serge Ibaka
There is no way in hell I can tell Serge Ibaka’s story better than Chris Silva has here. Here is a bit of the introduction, but PLEASE go read the whole thing.
Consider this: in the past four years, he has lived through a civil war, been separated from his family, moved to Spain, learned a new language and culture, been drafted into the NBA and moved to Oklahoma City.
All by the age of 19.
Read that piece, yeah? Good. So now you’re a huge fan of his and you’re pulling for him to become a star, but you might not have seen him play yet. So, let’s talk about how he plays. Well, everything positive I said about Amir Johnson applies here: he protects the paint, runs the floor hard, crashes the boards, and can score around the basket. He makes his presence known. Plus, he has a jump shot! And, again, he’s only 19. The potential here is ludicrous. Already, there’s a lot to love about how he plays on both ends of the court. Imagine him in five years. Can’t wait.
Telling Quote #1: “He’s got pretty good instincts and with his length and athleticism, he could be a very quality defender. But it’s about communication, trust and hard work on the defensive end. What’s encouraging is that it’s pretty evident that Ibaka’s got the hard work part down. And that’s the only part you can’t teach.” – Royce Young
Telling Quote #2: “The guy’s learning curve must be through the roof. You can literally see him recognizing the need for adaptation and then quickly adjusting his game as needed.” – J.G.
Telling Quote #3: “It’s that humility that we really like about him. And he wants the challenge of continuing to try to get better and he’s excited about that. It’s a big undertaking for someone that age to come over at 19 years old and tackle these things. So it’s going to take some time. It’s going to take support from the organization, the fans and everyone involved to continue to understand what he’s trying to do, and ultimately let him be who he is.” – Sam Presti (You should have read this already. I told you to read the Chris Silva piece.)
Telling Quote #4: “I played (against the Lakers) because the team needed me, and the coach needed me. So for me it was very important to play well. Maybe next game I play five minutes or zero minutes. For me, that is no problem. For me, the (goal) is to focus every day and work hard every day. That’s very important for me and when my time comes to be prepared.” – Serge Ibaka
Telling Quote #5: Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka is your favorite player, it’s been that way for weeks, and you don’t even know it yet. Give it time.” – Kelly Dwyer