NBA’s Top 25 Mid-Major Players
NBA's Top 25 Mid-Major Players
Before I started researching all the mid-major players currently in the NBA, I honestly thought the talent pool would be deep and refreshing.
Instead, what I found is that there are only 69 mid-major alumni in the entire league, two teams (Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards) don't have any on their roster, and only three of the 24 All-Stars last weekend fit the criteria.
While the big names are few and far between, the no-names are plentiful. I follow both the college and professional games pretty closely, yet there were still 5-6 guys I'd never even heard of before now. Perhaps they're on 10-day contracts or the son of the general manager? They could have some dirt on the owner; who knows? What legitimately surprised me was that I really had to struggle to find the guys who could make a Top 25 list possible.
What it says about the mid-major schools is profound. We consistently see schools such as Gonzaga, Wichita State, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler and Xavier succeed on the collegiate level year in and year out. However, are they doing so because they have legitimate talent on their rosters or is it because their players stay in school longer? Or is it because they're older and more mature on a basketball level? Do they come without the baggage the highly-recruited superstars carry with them? Do they take to coaching better?
Regardless, the numbers prove it very rarely translates to the big leagues. To a lover of the underdog, like myself, that's a bit disheartening.
All-NBA Mid-Major Fifth Team
Anthony Bennett, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers - This year's No. 1 overall pick out of UNLV has obviously been a disaster thus far. However, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here since injuries have been the primary cause of his poor start, and he's put up two double-doubles in his last four games.
J.J. Barea, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves - One of the best scorers in the country while at Northeastern, Barea was an important player on the Dallas Mavericks' NBA title team and had some incredible moments when given the opportunity to be a starter.
Derek Fisher, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder - I'll be honest, this is a career award for the one-time overlooked lefty out of Arkansas-Little Rock. Given his current game, he doesn't make this list, but he was a starter on FIVE championship teams. That counts for something. Actually, that counts for a lot.
Jason Thompson, PF, Sacramento Kings - We start to take a drastic downturn at this point. After posting over 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds at Rider, Thompson has averaged 10.5 points and 7.1 boards in six years in the league.
Patty Mills, PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs - Mills was a terrific scorer for the St. Mary's Gaels of the West Coast Conference, but the Aussie has struggled to find his footing in the NBA until this season. Thanks to Tony Parker being out of the lineup recently, Mills has once again showed the league how well he can light it up, averaging 21.0 points over his last seven games.
All-NBA Mid-Major Fourth Team
Ramon Sessions, PG, Milwaukee Bucks - The former star for the Nevada Wolfpack has been a journeyman, making six different stops in his seven NBA seasons and once again being traded from Charlotte to Milwaukee this week. However, he's been a solid backup in the league, peaking at 13.1 points during the 2010-11 season in Cleveland.
Rodney Stuckey, PG, Detroit Pistons - Eastern Washington can claim Stuckey as one of their all-time greatest players after he averaged more than 24 points a game in both his seasons with the Eagles. He's gone on to score 13.4 points a game in his seven seasons in the NBA, all with the Pistons.
Danny Granger, SF, Philadelphia 76ers - Granger was a revelation coming out of New Mexico, almost immediately taking over as the star on what was an average Pacers team at the time. However, his injuries have officially caught up with him, relegating him to a backup role then a subsequent trade to Philly this week. I hate to see guys on the downside of their careers, especially at such a young age, but that's where we find Granger now.
Courtney Lee, PG/SG, Memphis Grizzlies - He's never been a superstar, but he's been one of the better defenders in the league for years now. This former Hilltopper out of Western Kentucky has also been essential in the Grizzlies' resurgence this season.
Norris Cole, PG, Miami Heat - One of the more underrated players in college basketball while at Cleveland State, Cole averaged 21.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.2 steals his senior season as his Vikings won 27 games. His reward? Being drafted by the Heat and immediately winning two straight NBA titles as the team's well-respected backup point guard.
All-NBA Mid-Major Third Team
Steve Nash, PG, Los Angeles Lakers - The two-time NBA MVP first became a national sensation when he led his Santa Clara Broncos to a first-round upset of the No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Injuries have crushed him the last two seasons, but he's currently the oldest player in the NBA (40) and likely has one more season in him before retiring and waiting his turn to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Jameer Nelson, PG, Orlando Magic - There wasn't a better college team in the country when Nelson and Delonte West were doing their thing for St. Joseph's, entering the 2004 NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. Nelson went on to be named the John Wooden Award winner as college hoop's best player, and both players have had above average NBA careers since then. Jameer was an All-Star in 2009 when he helped lead the Magic to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Lakers in five games.
George Hill, PG, Indiana Pacers - One of the most fun college names to say, IUPUI (oo-ee-poo-ee), claims Hill as their most-prized NBA alumnus. After being a backup to Tony Parker in San Antonio, he's graduated to be the starting point guard on what many people now consider to be the best team in the league.
Kyle Korver, SG, Atlanta Hawks - Korver has officially obliterated the all-time NBA record for consecutive games with a three-pointer. As of Feb. 21, the streak is at 122 games and counting, besting the old record of 89 by Dana Barros. Korver had a good shooting education, playing his college ball at Creighton, a team that currently boasts the best player/shooter/scorer in the nation in Doug McDermott.
Larry Sanders, C, Milwaukee Bucks - The former Ram from Virginia Commonwealth started his NBA career slowly but shocked the world last season when he blossomed to score 9.8 points, grab 9.5 boards, block 2.8 shots and shoot 51 percent from the floor. He's been injured most of this year, but we've now seen the goods. He'll be back.
All-NBA Mid-Major Second Team
Jeremy Lin, PG, Houston Rockets - There was no such thing as Linsanity when Jeremy was the star for Harvard's Ivy League-winning teams. He was cut by a couple NBA organizations before captivating the nation last year in Madison Square Garden. He's capitalized on that to sign a big contract and be a strong player on a surging Rockets team that's looking to do big things in this year's playoffs.
Kevin Martin, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves - Hardly anybody knew who Martin was coming out of Western Carolina, but they figured it out quickly. By his third season in the league, Martin was a consistent 20-point scorer, averaging 20.0 or more six times in a seven-year span for the Kings and Rockets before being traded to the Thunder last season and signing this year with the Timberwolves. He's had to play second-fiddle to Kevin Durant and Kevin Love but still put up 14.0 points in 2013 and 19.0 thus far in 2014.
Shawn Marion, SF, Dallas Mavericks - One of the most versatile players the NBA has seen in the last 15 years, Marion was dynamic for UNLV, and he's been the same for the Suns and Mavs, twice leading the NBA in steals and winning a title with Dallas in 2011.
David West, PF, Indiana Pacers - There's nothing fancy about West's game. He dominated the paint during his college career at Xavier, and he's been doing the same for the Hornets and Pacers now for 11 years.
Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets - Faried could be the most dominant rebounder college basketball's seen in the last 20 years. His amateur career peaked when he lifted Morehead State to an amazing first-round upset of Louisville in the 2011 NCAA Tourney. He hasn't missed a beat in the pros, using his endless motor and amazing leaping ability to put up 8.3 boards a game in just average minutes his first two years in the league.
All-NBA Mid-Major First Team
Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors - Here's where things get good. Curry captured the hearts of millions of people while draining 30-foot jumpers and almost single-handedly leading his Davidson Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2008. It was one of the best Cinderella runs of all time. He's now draining shots with even more moxie for the Warriors, finally breaking through and making his first All-Star Game this year in the process. Consider that his first of many.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers - This year's All-Star Game was Lillard's coming out party as well, participating in all five events the weekend put on. He's almost been as good in the NBA as he was while twice being named Big Sky Player of the Year at Weber State. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year.
Paul George, SG, Indiana Pacers - No offense to Curry or Lillard, but George is my current choice for Mid-Major NBA MVP. He's widely considered the most well-rounded player in the league behind LeBron James and should be in the top three in this year's MVP voting. He wasn't even that big of a deal while at Fresno State, but, boy, has he blossomed. He'll be a household name soon enough if he isn't already.
Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz - Hayward was the best player on what could be one of the best stories in college basketball in decades. His Butler Bulldogs made back-to-back national championship appearances, which no mid-major team had done since UNLV in 1989 and 1990. He's now found footing in the NBA as well where he's currently the best player on a young Jazz team that could surprise some people in coming years.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs - San Diego State wasn't a factor in the national picture until Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Jamaal Franklin got together and led the Aztecs to a 34-3 record and a trip to the Sweet 16 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. He was a steal for the Spurs with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2012 draft and was a fixture in the team's starting lineup all the way through their seven-game 2013 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat.