Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Updated: February 16, 3:48 PM ET
Two Lakers, two Rockets make All-Quasar Team
By Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine
Had a little more static on your cellphone recently or unexplained interruptions in your satelllite dish reception? Blame it on the cosmic dust raised by the selection of the sixth annual All-Quasar team -- recognition for players who fall short of NBA All-Star lumination but nonetheless have been essential in their team's success this season.
Quasar, for those who don't regularly hobnob with Neil deGrasse Tyson, is scientific shorthand for quasi-stellar, celestial matter that sometimes resembles a star but is, in fact, not. For those looking for a deeper basketball definition, there isn't one.
The committee is Jerry Westian in its go-by-feel approach, preferring observation over statistics. The 12-member board is almost psychotic in its distrust of increases in points and assists as a measure of improvement, aware of how grossly misleading that can be. Numbers also can't account for such vital elements as a player's personality or his IQ in relation to the rest of his team.
As one anonymous committee member said when caught leaving the selection conference to get a bowl of minestrone: "I can't describe a Quasar, but I know one when I see one."
There are, of course, a few rudiment ground rules for Quasar eligibility. They are:
1. A candidate's team must have a winning record at the start of All-Star Week. (That's why Matt Barnes, Kevin Martin and David Lee, for example, don't qualify.)
2. A candidate can't have been an All-Star or have much chance of ever being one. (Caron Butler, an '06 All-Quasar, is the first in the award's history to defy the selection committee's projection. The selection committee harbors no bad feelings over this and will not demand Butler return his Quasar swag or certificate. Butler's precedent, however, has prompted the committee to be more precautious, which is a big reason why Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince or Luol Deng were not selected.)
3. Special consideration is given to players who have washed out elsewhere or have rehabilitated a career spinning sideways. (Quasars being, of course, intergalactic first cousins to black holes. Just ask Neil.)
The telescope, please:
Luke Walton, Lakers
A team's big pieces just aren't the same without the glue that holds them together, which is why the Lakers are 3-6 without Luke after having stayed comfortably above .500 during the injury absences of both Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom.
Walton's 3-point shooting and underappreciated game around the basket have produced career highs in every category, but it's his off-the-ball movement and floor vision that make him such a perfect fit for coach Phil Jackson's triangle.
Shane Battier, Rockets
The "great-defender" tag he acquired thanks to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski picking him over Bruce Bowen as Team USA's stopper is wildly overblown, but his IQ, effort and career-high 3-point shooting (41.9) are a big reason the Rockets have been so steady in a season of injury upheaval.
A career-best assist/turnover ratio (1.5) reflects the perfect combination of role (he was asked to do too much in Memphis) and decision-making. Also one of a handful of NBA players who actually might know what a Quasar is.
Morris Peterson, Raptors
Mo Pete has managed the rare feat of earning credit from Quasar Rule No. 3 based on what has transpired this season alone. After arriving to camp out of shape and losing his starting job to Fred Jones, Mo Pete got fit and has been indispensable in the clutch, scoring more in the fourth quarter (5.6) than in the first three quarters combined (5.1).
That's not from taking more shots, either, but increasing his accuracy; in the fourth quarter he shoots 58 percent overall and 52.6 percent from 3-point range, a good 10 percent or better than what he shoots in the first three quarters.
Matt Harpring, Jazz
If there is a modern-day equivalent to Jazz coach and legendary hard-ass Jerry Sloan, Harpring is it. Despite microfracture surgery twice on the same knee that leaves his right knee a puffy balloon after every game, his D is vastly underrated and no one is more adept at creating and burying mid-range jumpers. The knee problems have cost him his starting spot and forced myriad adjustments in his game, but he's done just that, proving there always will be a place in the league for an iron-willed student of the game.
Andres Nocioni, Bulls
At the top of the list for ticking off opponents with his combination of physicality and flopping, but don't sleep on his skills. He accepts the beating that comes with being a small four, and never stops chasing or harassing when asked to guard much quicker 3s -- and he does it all without complaint (ahem, Shawn Marion), whether he's starting or coming off the bench.
The example he sets for a largely young squad is invaluable. This would be his third straight Quasar selection if the Bulls had not had a losing record at this time last year.
Brendan Haywood, Wizards
Laugh if you want, but Etan Thomas' -- and many analysts' -- favorite punching bag, has the team's best plus-minus ratio and the Wizards are 10-2 when he starts.
As easy as it is to rag on Haywood's offensive game, he's deceptively agile and his rim protection and rebounding separate the Wizards from all the other Phoenix Suns-wannabes. He's shooting a career-high 58.3 percent from the floor and grabbing a career-high seven rebounds a night. It takes a special kind of big to play thankless D when all the shots are being taken elsewhere. Already has six double-doubles, one short of his single-season career high.
Luther Head, Rockets
Amid the Rockets' switch from playing through Yao Ming to running around Tracy McGrady, one constant has been Head playing tenacious D and drilling huge fourth-quarter shots, particularly from long range (as his 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc versus 43 percent inside it attests). That he shoots in the clutch as well as he does is especially remarkable considering the weird wrist-turn hitch in his stroke.
Brent Barry, Spurs
If there's been one positive element in an otherwise strangely disappointing season so far in San Antonio, it's Barry shooting with the aggression and accuracy that prompted the Spurs to sign him three years ago. Overall, he's making better than 50 percent for only the second time in his career while nailing a ridiculous 47.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Ronny Turiaf, Lakers
Edges out teammate Maurice Evans with the awwww factor due to his remarkable recovery from heart surgery, along with the animated energy he brings, which the Lakers simply don't get from anyone else on the squad.
Anderson Varejao, Cavs
Brings the same sort of intensity on the boards and emotional exuberance as Turiaf, provides the same pain-in-the-ass quotient as Nocioni. Drew Gooden starts at power forward for Cleveland, but Varejao is more frequently part of the all-important finishing lineup.
Committee influenced by seeing him put up 12 rebounds and 12 points while fueling a dramatic comeback on the road against the Warriors, a pivotal victory on a 3-4 road trip, a 1-6 trip for the Cavs last season.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.