- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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It is with equal parts wonder and satisfaction that the eighth annual All-Quasar squads are presented.
(For those who've never had the urge to name a pet Copernicus, quasars are scientific shorthand for quasi-stellar celestial matter that sometimes resembles a star but is, in fact, not.)
(For those who traditionally take the time between the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game to do their taxes, the All-Quasar teams are a way to recognize players who have made an indispensable contribution to their team's success but will not be in Phoenix this coming weekend.)
The eighth rendition of the awards has particular significance for a variety of reasons. Now that Pluto has been sent to the D-League, there are eight planets in our solar system, so there's that. And of course you're aware that there are eight kinds of B vitamin, the nutritional equivalent of a quasar.
More than anything, though, it's baffling to think ESPN.com has welcomed this treatise for eight years running without, to my knowledge, making a dime off it.
The qualifications -- for those looking to take legal action over their favorite player's being ignored -- are as follows.
2. A candidate can't have been an All-Star or have much chance of ever being one. (The committee has misjudged this only once so far, selecting Caron Butler as an '06 All-Quasar. Eight years, one underestimation -- you try it.)
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.)
4. Statistical improvement is weighed only in context with its meaning to a player's role. Someone who shoots a high percentage but has never made a momentum-shifting shot or who rebounds well but never takes the ball away from an opponent is merely cosmic dust, not All-Quasar material.
Miss Hubble-licious, the envelope, please:
Luis Scola, Rockets -- Second Galaxy last season, he has been durable, consistent, defensively gritty and decidedly improved -- the antithesis of what the Rockets have been this season. The per-game numbers -- 12 points, eight rebounds -- might seem meager until you factor in that he's the team's fourth offensive option and least athletic starter. No one 6-foot-9 with a 4-inch vertical should be able to grab 18 rebounds in a game, yet he has done it twice this season.
Matt Bonner, Spurs -- Shocked more than a few casual observers with his 23 points and eight rebounds in Sunday's win in Boston, but has ably filled the role of long-range shooting big man left vacant by Robert Horry all season. (Second in the league in 3-point shooting, only PF in top 15.) Can't match Horry's on-ball defensive versatility, but he doesn't brain-cramp on rotations the way Horry did, either. He's also the rare role player whose best performances have been on the road (6 of 7 3s in Utah, a double-double in Chicago.) Bonus points for being only the second player from the Live Free or Die state of New Hampshire in league history.
Trevor Ariza, Lakers -- Jumped in front of, then picked, LeBron James coming at him in the open court with a full head of steam at crunch time, a feat that in itself is worthy of an award for temerarious service. Fact is, he has made a catalog of momentum-changing defensive plays this season, along with a few electric offensive ones that have elicited comparisons to Michael Cooper. That's astonishing praise for someone on his third team in five seasons but a hallmark emergence for an All-Quasar.
Paul Millsap, Jazz -- Selected at the risk of violating Rule No. 2, although Western Conference PF might be the deepest All-Star competition there is. What makes Millsap such a revelation is that he has no discernible go-to post move -- and hence few plays called for him -- yet he delivered a stretch of 16 consecutive double-doubles through late November and early December. He doesn't have Carlos Boozer's all-around game, but he has his approximate numbers through sheer effort. Anything sheer about a player gets extra attention from the committee.
Joel Przybilla, Blazers -- The hard hat on a roster full of feathered chapeaus, you couldn't ask for a better backup for Greg Oden. Some stat-heads have him as the most efficient rebounder in the league. Has accepted his minutes' fluctuating wildly while the team accommodates Oden's up-and-down development, yet still has managed to collect five double-doubles, one more than all last season. Another guy who has improved his free throw shooting (65 percent, career 54 percent) to keep himself on the floor at crunch time if needed.
Roger Mason Jr., Spurs -- Another scrap-heap disciple who suffered a string of indignities -- playing 43 minutes for a 23-win Bulls team, being traded for Rick Brunson, being waived by a 33-win Toronto team, playing overseas -- but is now the starting 2-guard for the dark horse title-contending Spurs. Already has four game-winners to his credit this season and is seventh in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
Aaron Brooks, Rockets -- For all the Rockets' star power, they would not be comfortably over .500 without Scola, Brooks and a host of other unsung contributors. (Carl Landry and Von Wafer earned All-Quasar consideration, too.) Brooks won out over Landry and Wafer because he has been such a momentum changer, particularly in the fourth quarter, despite inconsistent minutes. He somehow has managed to take over for stretches without stepping on a considerable array of toes, from starting point guard Rafer Alston to Ron Artest.
Marvin Williams, Hawks -- Nothing appeals to the All-Quasar selection committee more than a guy who sloughs off being dogged early and quietly builds himself into a reputable player with almost no fanfare. Throw in that he's sustaining concussions and taking postgame IVs for a Hawks team not long on self-sacrifice, and Williams is cosmic dust of the first order. Aside from being an underrated defender and one of the best rebounding SFs in the league (6.5), he went from shooting 10 percent from 3-point range last season to 37.1 percent so far this season.
Anderson Varejao, Cavs -- His holdout last season earned him all sorts of abuse and left him too out of shape to be one of the league's most annoying post defenders. His subsequent resurgence makes him another Rule No. 3 beneficiary. He has all his pestlike qualities back as well as an improved offensive game, most notably a midrange jumper good enough to keep defenders honest; even his free throw percentage is at a career high (64.5). Credit Varejao for the fact the Cavs didn't miss a beat when Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed all but one game in January.
Linas Kleiza, Nuggets -- Slipped from First Galaxy last year because he hasn't had as many dynamic performances but remains a committed defender on a team with precious few and helped cover for Carmelo Anthony's extended injury absence. Gets extra credit for having Denver stiff him at the negotiating table with a one-year extension and not letting it affect his effort level or unselfish play.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.
5hMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo
4dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer