Armstrong: Players taking their game to the next level

Jack Armstrong
3/2/2009 12:28:56 PM
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The month of March has arrived and the playoff races are getting quite interesting to say the least. The Toronto Raptors had better find a higher level of defensive intensity, grit and determination real fast or their chances of pulling off an improbable playoff appearance will fade.

After four full months of NBA hoops, it's fun to look back and reflect on some players that I'm enjoying develop this year across the league. Here are a dozen among many that have caught my eye.  
1. Kevin Durant (Thunder)

The team's record is lousy and most folks don't see this team much but quietly he's putting up huge numbers this season in his second year.  Durant is fourth in the NBA in scoring and he can shoot it and create his own shot at a high level. He's getting stronger and tougher with each month that passes. He's got a chance to be a special player in the league.              

2. Al Harrington (Knicks)

What a great place New York has been for Harrington. He's in wonderful shape playing in Mike D'Antoni's system and he's shooting it well from deep and has very crafty moves in post. A matchup nightmare who has terrific versatility.                

3. Paul Milsap (Jazz)

Carlos WHO??  Milsap filled in beautifully for Carlos Boozer during a long stretch and keep the Jazz afloat with his rebounding, toughness and efficiently in the post. They're team is healthy now and guys like Milsap are the reason that they're now able to make a run because he kept them in striking distance.  He is a very under-rated player who gets lost playing in a small market.                  

4. Louis Scola (Rockets)

No T Mac - NO problem for the Rockets. The team now has better chemistry and a big reason is a dependable guy like Scola. He battles on the boards every night. He is an effective and crafty scorer and a nice compliment to Yao inside. Goes about his business quietly and produces.        

5. Matt Barnes (Suns)

Talk about a steal. He can flat out play. He plays really hard. Has an edge to him. Barnes is skilled and terrific in the up tempo game. A money value player in a league filled with too many guys not matching what they're getting paid to do.                    

6. Nate Robinson (Knicks)

What a year! He's taking it to a WHOLE different level. His confidence is way up (Mike D'Antoni) and he's playing a lot more under control even thought they're playing faster in New York.  “Krypto-Nate” is as entertaining and charismatic a player as we have in game today. A tough dude who balls every night.                    

7. Rajon Rondo (Celtics)

Rondo is very much improved this season. Fourth in league in assists and shooting over 51 per cent. He guards you end line to end line. Great speed and quick's. Has matured in a big way and love the passion he brings and the tone he sets for the men in green.              

8. James Singeleton (Mavs)

Credit the Mavs scouting department for finding this undervalued guy. He has great hops and nose for the ball. Does the dirty work on offensive glass and is a capable scorer around the rim.  Singleton is an energy guy who out-works opponents. 
9. Earl Watson (Thunder)

The very definition of “old school.”  This veteran point guard defends and runs the team. Not flashy but gets the job done. In the off-season he'll be a guy that teams will try to pry from Thunder for his leadership.                   

10.Louis Amundson (Suns)

Un-drafted.  Nobody thought he was good enough. All he does his play harder than other guys. Has nose for ball. Gives you intangible plays-dives, blocks, tips, charges that add up to possessions and wins.               

11. Chris Duhon (Knicks)

I guess I like what Mike D'Antoni has done for three guys on this list (don't forget David Lee!!).  Duhon had a lousy year in Chicago last season, but he is much better this year. Confident shooting the ball and making good decisions at a rapid pace.  Has turned his career around. Good fit for him.                        

12. Ramon Sessions (Bucks)

Has had a nice year for Scott Skiles. Dependable and steady.  Plays with good focus and intensity. Looks to get others going and guards his own spot OK. Very solid role player who competes hard each play. It's amazing that the Bucks are in East playoff race without Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd. Guys like Sessions are a reason why.

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