Posted Oct 6 2010 9:36AM - Updated Oct 11 2010 4:11PM
Nothing endears a player to a coach more than hustle. The willingness to give every last drop of sweat, often compromising well-being and risking livelihood to make a play is the ultimate act of basketball selflessness.
Whether the play in question ultimately leads to a win is immaterial. It's the drive to win that sends Manu Ginobili crashing into a baseline camera and enables Shane Battier to be able to guard someone with double the speed and twice the skills.
"I look at guys that make an impact on the game when they're on the floor," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "Chris Andersen in Denver is a hustle guy. I look at Reggie Evans, just the way he plays. [Eduardo] Najera when he was in his prime. Those are some of the guys that have a tendency to change the game without really scoring, just through plain hustle.
"These are guys that opponents usually hate."
As for coaches ...
"Coaches love them and they're extremely loyal to them," Saunders added. "They become extremely valuable. They become your guys. Playing 82 games, the more guys that you can check off your list because they're going to give you that same effort, the easier it is to coach."
Unfortunately, Andersen, Evans or Najera didn't make our All-Hustle starting five. With respect to Saunders, here's our list:
Not every player owns a signature hustle moment. Rondo has one on his résumé now thanks to some floor burns for the ages.
More than three decades after Dave Cowens made the All-Hustle Hall of Fame, Rondo's history-invoking dive/basket around Orlando's Jason Williams provided one of the defining moments for last season's playoffs.
Rondo covers the court like few around, with little regard for his body and those he takes on. Paul Pierce promised Rondo's playoff gem would live in NBA video lore for at least a Cowens-like three decades.
"It's inspirational," Boston's captain said back in May. "When you see a guy hustling for the ball when he looks like he has no chance to get it, dive on the ball, come up with a huge play, that can spark your team. And that's what it did. It was one of the ultimate hustle plays that you see in basketball."
There is a reason he's affectionately known as El Contusion. Ginobili added Ginosebleed to his nickname tally during the most recent playoffs when he forged ahead with a broken schnoz and didn't miss a game. The butterfly bandage became a must-have facial accessory for Spurs fans.
Ginobili smashes into Shaquille O'Neal without a second thought.
He not only dives to save a ball from going out of bounds, but the flick over his shoulder leads to a basket.
He forces turnovers, triggers breaks and somehow beats everyone down the court. He's the soul of the Spurs.
"He has a willingness to do what it takes to win," Gregg Popovich once said, "and to do it at the highest possible level of intensity, every single minute he steps on the court."
No one is quite sure what Battier does well. He's not a prolific scorer, good shooter or strong rebounder. But no one can put a finger on what he does poorly, either. The Dookie impacts the bottom line like few non-All-Stars can.
"I call him Lego," Houston general manager Daryl Morey told Moneyball author Michael Lewis last year. "When he's on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in."
The Rockets routinely put Battier on the opposition's best scorer, whether it's Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Battier once asked to come off the bench so he could chase Ginobili every time the San Antonio sixth man checked in.
So who led the Cavaliers in plus-minus last season? Hint: He didn't take his talents to South Beach. Cleveland outscored its foes by 11.4 points every 48 minutes Varejao was on the court. LeBron James registered 10.5.
The floppy-haired Brazilian has also led the league in taking charges. He's one of the best around when it comes to pick-and-roll defense and cleaning up loose balls around the rim. New coach Byron Scott knows the rep well.
"Anderson is obviously a guy who's made his living with his hustle and his passion for the game," Scott told Cavaliers.com.
Why didn't the Bulls want to trade a player who averaged 11 points and 11 rebounds last season for Carmelo Anthony? Because Noah's value isn't measured in points. (It is measured in dollars -- $60 million over the next five years.) Noah's relentlessness has already won over new Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau.
"His motor is similar to Kevin Garnett,'' said Thibodeau, a former Boston assistant. ''It's high, high energy. I've never seen him low energy. It doesn't matter if it's the start of practice or the end of a three-hour practice. He's always in motion.
''When I was on the opposing team, he didn't take any plays off, and he's a multiple-effort guy. He'll make four or five efforts on the same play.''
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