In the spirit of my love for grit, grime, and grind, and in true Frank Reynolds fashion, I have created a team of this year’s premier non-scorers. Scoring in the NBA drives draft position, awards, salary, and popularity, but winning basketball comes down to more than individual scoring. Every team requires a trashman or three–someone who makes their mark not with points, but with the smarts and dirty work that Dennis Rodman provided for the Bulls and Bruce Bowen for the Spurs. To honor the trashmen, I created a team of complementary scrap-tastic players from the 2012 season.
The rules are simple: none of the included players have averaged 15+ points per game for this season, in the previous two seasons, or for their careers. In addition, no player can average 15+ points per 36 minutes (this being an update from last year’s team). All displayed stats are for games played through April 18th and are courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
Point Guard: Mike Conley
Backup: Rajon Rondo
Honorable Mention: George Hill, Ricky Rubio, Delonte West, Jeff Teague
Mike Conley gets to man the point on this year’s squad. Compared to the other candidates, Conley doesn’t excel in any single category, bur rather is a jack-of-all-trades point guard. And isn’t that what this team is all about? Trashmen are good at valuing important resources (e.g., the basketball) and sharing it with their comrades. Conley does exactly that: he passes well, protects the ball, and gets steals with the best of them. Rondo is a close second, as he can create for other non-scorers like no other, but Conley’s superior scoring is crucial on a team devoid of other shot-creators. Teague’s emergence deserves a mention, as does Rubio’s rookie campaign, George Hill’s offense, and Delonte West’s versatility.
Shooting Guard: Paul George
Backup: Danny Green
Honorable Mention: Tony Allen, Ronnie Brewer, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee
Second-year Paul George has had a breakout campaign for the upstart Pacers, and along the way he gained YouTube fame with dunks like this and this. But George’s rebounding, shooting, and athletic defense are why he’s the starting SG on Reynolds’s team. Danny Green is my backup; Tony Allen might be the best defender of the bunch, and Avery Bradley’s pestering D has been a major part of the Celtics’ resurgence, but Green is the best outside shooter of the bunch. Moreover, he protects the ball, rebounds, and is an underrated defender, having been tasked with some tough defensive assignments for the Spurs this season. Perennial wing defenders Courtney Lee and Ronnie Brewer deserve consideration, but it’s George leading the way here with Green a backup.
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard
Backup: Matt Barnes
Honorable Mention: Jared Dudley, James Johnson, Marvin Williams, Shawn Marion
The Spurs have a knack for identifying trashmen. Sometimes I wonder if Popovich, despite his millions, is a world class dumpster-diver on the side. Rookie Kawhi Leonard, acquired by trading away fellow trashman George Hill, has blossomed into a dead-eye and first-class ball-hoarder. The majority of pre-draft talk surrounding Kawhi focused on his massive hands, and while such talk usually proves worthless, scouts were onto something in this case; Leonard’s hands help explain his rebounding, ball-theft, and why on offense he doesn’t let his opponents get as much as a sniff of the basketball. Matt Barnes and Shawn Marion are fulfilling their classic trashman duties, and Jared Dudley, Marvin Williams, and James Johnson are playing the best D of their careers, but the rookie Kawhi has won the hearts of underpass-dwellers worldwide.
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka
Backup: Gustavo Ayon
Honorable Mention: Ivan Johnson, Taj Gibson, Trevor Booker, Dante Cunningham
Ibaka is the only repeat starter from last year’s squad. Every ounce of trash-juice running through my veins wanted to award Ayon the starting spot, but Ibaka’s shot-blocking prowess and superior rebounding were too difficult to ignore. Ayon is the backup here and deserves All-Rookie consideration for his quick feet/hands and sound footwork. A minority of fans outside New Orleans know his name, but the 27 year-old rookie would be widely known if he played for the Thunder in place of Ibaka. Another older rookie, 28 year-old Ivan Johnson, gets a shout-out for his crazed hustle and quirky trashman-ways (according to Johnson, he would professionally man an 18-wheeler if not for the NBA). Taj Gibson continued his gritty ways on Chicago’s stifling defensive front line, sophomore Trevor Booker blossomed as Blatche spent too much time dumpster-diving, and Dante Cunningham made the most of his opportunity filling in for an injured Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur.
Center: Tyson Chandler
Backup: Joakim Noah
Honorable Mention: Marc Gasol, Spencer Hawes, Kosta Koufos, Greg Stiemsma
The league’s top two trashmen battle it out for this year’s starting center spot, just as they did last year (where Noah was a starter and Chandler a backup). The tables have turned this year–DPOY-candidate Chandler has led the Knicks to the league’s 4th-best defense. He has also led the league in true shooting for the second straight season, this year posting a 70.9 TS%, which if it holds up, would be the best single-season TS% of all-time! For these reasons, Tyson is this year’s captain and trashman MVP. No one grits the grind as grimily as Tyson. Noah, as per usual, is obnoxiously anchors the interior for the league’s best defense and offensive-rebounding team. And while Marc Gasol got his due as an actual NBA All-Star, three other centers burst onto the scene more subtly: Spencer Hawes and Philly enjoyed a hot start, Greg Stiemsma was the league’s 2nd-best shot blocker, and Kosta Koufos did his best Nene impression in the middle.
Other Notable Trashmen: Omer Asik, Ian Mahinmi, Corey Brewer, Iman Shumpert, Trevor Ariza, Marcus Camby, Amir Johnson, Chris Anderson, Nick Collison, and a handful of others (be careful of players who scored too much in the past when viewing this list, like Nash or Brand).
Disqualifications (too much scoring!): Arron Afflalo, Kenneth Faried, Eran Ilyasova, Kyle Lowry, Brandan Wright, Nikola Pekovic, Iguoadala, Elton Brand, Luol Deng, Gerald Wallace, Roy Hibbert, Thad Young, Tyler Hansbrough, Dejaun Blair, Jarrett Jack, Ramon Sessions, David West, and a handful of others.
Before I retreat to my fortress of mud and scrap-metal, I’ll leave you with two thoughts:
1) Young players find their way onto these lists. Veteran savvy helps, but trashman basketball requires youthful energy. Of the 30 players, I count 5 rookies (Rubio, Leonard, Ayon, I. Johnson, Stiemsma) 3 sophomores (Bradley, George Booker) and 5 third-yeards (Teague, Green, Cunningham, Ibaka, Gibson). Plenty of 4th-years and near misses (Manimal, anyone?) also show that doing the dirty work is not just for the Battiers, Bowens, and Rodmans of the world.
2) In looking at the above teams, certain teams hoard the trashmen the same way the trashmen hoard the ball: The Grizzlies have 4 of the 30 listed players, and the Celtics (3), Hawks (3), and Bulls (3 not counting Asik or Deng) also have an abundance of clean-up guys. The Mavs, Pacers, Spurs, Nuggets, Rockets, Sixers don’t do a bad job when you consider players who just barely missed my list of 30
More importantly, this list (about a third of the league’s teams) comprise the elite teams that don’t feature multiple superstars (e.g., Heat, Thunder, Lakers, Clippers). In contrast, observe the following teams, 15 of the 16 worst teams by SRS: Bobcats, Wizards, Kings, Cavs, Nets, Pistons, Raptors, Hornets, Warriors, Wolves, Bucks, Blazers, Suns, Jazz, Magic. None of those teams do well in the trashman department. While there are definitely third variables driving both winning and trashman production (e.g., coaching), it’s clear that trashmen are necessary ingredients to a winning formula.
Who do you think the best trashmen in the NBA? Who would make Frank Reynolds proud? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and like us on Facebook.