- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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Loving the affection-challenged. Giving the dap-less their due. Casting light on the minions who have made their presence felt despite working in the wings.
Introducing the fourth annual All-Quasar Team, a small token of acknowledgement for players who won't be in Denver this weekend but who have been vital cogs in their teams' first-half success. (The swag department has souvenir hats and T-shirts on back order.)
By now -- this being the fourth time around and all -- you should know that Quasar is scientific shorthand for quasi-stellar, celestial matter that sometimes resembles a star but is, in fact, not.
The ground rules, for those quick to squawk I left someone off:
1. Only players on teams with winning records as of the Tuesday before All-Star Weekend are eligible.
2. Only players who have not been on an All-Star team and are likely never to be on one are eligible.
3. Players who washed out elsewhere or have rehabilitated a career spinning sideways get special consideration. (Quasars being, of course, intergalactic first cousins to black holes. For real.)
The envelopes, please:
Bob Sura, Houston Rockets
This year's quintessential Quasar. The Rockets were 6-8 while he recovered from offseason back surgery and have gone 26-13 since then. He's led them in scoring twice, rebounds seven times and assists 15 times, but numbers don't tell the story.
"He gives you all the intangibles," says assistant head coach Tom Thibodeau. "He's a top-of-the-line competitor. His toughness and his attitude have been exactly what this team needed."
Tagged as a loser after playing significant minutes over a stretch of five sub-.500 seasons in Cleveland and Golden State. Then got hardly any minutes for a winning team at the start of last season in Detroit. And then dealt to Atlanta right about this time a year ago as part of the Rasheed Wallace swap. Sura has been for Tracy McGrady what Jason Kidd is for Vince Carter.
Damon Jones, Miami Heat
Third in the league in three-point shooting and third in assist/turnover ratio, he's allowed Miami to post the East's best record despite an up-and-down season from Eddie Jones.
A run-in about defense and shot selection with coach Stan Van Gundy helps explain why Jones is on his ninth team in seven seasons, but it can't be overlooked that the Heat rose when Jones was elevated to starting point guard.
Antonio Daniels, Seattle SuperSonics
A second-time selection. Knocked as a locker-room lawyer who caved under a stern look from his coach or a couple of mistakes earlier in his career, Daniels has matured into coach Nate McMillan's security blanket off the bench.
He has a career-high 4.4-to-1 assist/turnover ratio and is getting to the free-throw line more than ever before, too.
Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks
Terry never shot better than 43 percent in five seasons in Atlanta, and never averaged less than 14 field-goal attempts over the last four seasons. Maybe old dogs can't learn new tricks, but this 27-year-old former loose cannon has transformed himself into a deadly, efficient marksman. He's up to over 51 percent from the floor and nearly 47 percent from the arc, while hoisting double-digit attempts only 16 times in 48 games.
Credit him as a big reason Dallas hasn't felt Steve Nash's absence more.
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio Spurs
Bowen took a paycut to help the Spurs re-up both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili while adding Brent Barry, but he's been more efficient offensively and remains an absolute defensive burr. He single-handedly won a game in New Jersey by baiting a red-hot Vince Carter into getting himself tossed. And he's shooting a career-high 64 percent from the line, an important improvement on a team that collectively struggles taking and making the freely given from 15 feet.
Box scores don't keep track of distractions, but that's the category in which Songaila really excels, annoying the %#!@ out of opponents by making his 6-foot-9, 248-pound presence constantly felt.
Technically an NBA rookie, he was a league MVP in Spain last season and has been on the Argentine national team since '99. He sets a by-whatever-means-necessary tone for the young Bulls.
Brendan Haywood, Washington Wizards
The Wizards' Big Three get most of the attention for Washington's turnaround, but Haywood has been their best big man. He lacks the athleticism and pizzazz of Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, but he is just as essential.
He grabs three-plus offensive rebounds a night, and he blocks shots, which is all the more necessary with the new rules' emphasis that makes dribble penetration a given.
Chris Mihm, Los Angeles Lakers
Mihm is their leading shotblocker and offensive rebounder, and the inspiration for a record number of "He's better than I thought" comments from the Staples Center crowd. His 11 and 14 against Shaq even offered some solace in the two-point loss on Christmas Day. He's a big puppy in the paint, creating both good and bad havoc at times, but with Vlade Divac having missed the entire season and Brian Grant unable to find a niche in the Lakers' system, Mihm has been indispensable.
Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Cleveland Cavaliers
For a 284-pound human square with the perpetual expression of a man who just found a parking ticket on his windshield, Traylor has coach Paul Silas smiling about his frontline rotation.
With the new rules emphasis making penetration to the paint routine, most teams rely on mobile shotblockers to protect the rim; Traylor offers an alternative means by simply eating up ground space and being deceptively agile enough to fill gaps. Five rebounds a game doesn't sound all that impressive, but getting them in less than 18 minutes is exceptional -- and a big reason why the Cavs have the league's third-best rebounding differential.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine and collaborated with Rockets center Yao Ming on "Yao: A Life In Two Worlds," published by Miramax. Click here to send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.
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