It’s an observation we all make constantly. Every team has the seemingly useless center buried deep in the bench. For the 46ish games he makes an appearance, we ridicule his presence (or lack thereof) on the court. Then there’s the one game that challenges everything you’ve ever known about the player. Someone who was once a target of scorn and derision becomes a player deserving of your rabid cheers.
It’s not that these players deserve our attention; it’s that they command it. Sudden bursts of hyper-competent basketball from less-than-competent players are often too much to handle. Their performances are always attached with questions — most often, “HOW?” And if we ever find an answer, it’s too late. We’re already too preoccupied riding their wave of temporal glory.
Their stories aren’t consistent, nor do they in any capacity provide a longterm happy ending. But these are stories worth telling, if only because theyÂ actually happened. Here are our favorites.
What a disaster this game was. The Mavericks started four guards in their starting lineup, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that it wasn’t by choice. Starved of any offensive spark, the team leaned on the unlikely contributions of rookie Cherokee Parks. Parks delivered, both on offense and in unlikely contributions. For one, Parks isn’t much of a three-point shooter. In fact, the four he made in this game makes up half all the three-pointers he’s made his entire career.
Of course, Parks would never come remotely close to this type of performance ever again. (DC)
This performance in Boston, surely an act of revenge against the team that callously left him unprotected in the 1995 expansion draft, was a part of a four-game stretch near the end of the season where he averaged 29.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 44.8 minutes. This improbable series of superb starts boosted his season averages to 7.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.6 minutes a game. Call me crazy, but I think Acie must be the only player in league history to reach 40 points in a single game in April after scoring a total of 35 from December to March.
*It does make the curious claim that he holds five Raptors franchise records, however. (JH)
Nenad Krstic is struggling with foul trouble. Jason Collins is being Jason Collins. Vince Carter was kicked in the same sore achilles tendon that sidelined him weeks before. The Nets were in dire need of a hero. And though the team ultimately came short, Jabari Smithâ€™s performance was more than anyone could ever ask of him.
Smith, who at that point had only scored in double figures three times in his four-year career, was the leading scorer on a Nets team that was still searching for cohesion after their trade for Carter. More notable, he led the team in assists. Smith had twice the amount of assists as Jason Kidd. Think about that for a second. Also, considering the team outside of Smith shot 31.4%, Smithâ€™s six assists is quite the accomplishment.
But if Jabari Smithâ€™s performance teaches us anything, itâ€™s that there are no excuses in the NBA. In post-game interviews, Smith expressed his dissatisfaction with his teammates. “They beat us to a lot of loose balls,” said Smith in an Associated Press recap. “Some of us have to look in the mirror. We have to come together,” he said.
Smith, who was a 12th man for almost all of his career, held his team accountable for their lacking effort. And for one game, he led by example. He didn’t get another NBA season after his 45-game stint with the Nets, but forÂ a night, Smith was a guiding lightÂ when everything went awry. (DC)
Oleksiy Pecherov,Â November 4, 2009
24 pts, 8 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 9-14 fg, 1-4 3pt, 5-5 ft in 34 minutes
“I just canâ€™t fathom how a guy like this, that was guarded by Kevin Garnett, was able to have a game like this.”
- Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub
viaÂ 6-0 No Show: Celtics 92, T’Wolves 90Â | Celtics Hub
All of Oleskiy Pecherovâ€™s starts in the NBA took place in the first eight days of November 2009. In the third start, he had the game of his stateside career, helping a miserable T-Wolves team that would finish with 15 wins come within a couple of baskets of beating a Celtics team that would finish a couple of baskets away from a championship.
This was the second time Pecherov scored over 13 points in an NBA game. It was theÂ only time he scored more than 15. Two nights later, against the Bucks, he played 24 minutes and finished with two points on 1-6 shooting. After another unremarkable game on November 8, Kurt Rambis decided to go with a starting lineup of Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes and Al Jefferson.
On the 13th and 14th of November, 2009, Jefferson had to miss a pair of games after the death of his grandmother. Pecherov came off the bench, behind Nathan Jawai. A lot can change in a week. (JH)
Calvin Booth, November 20, 2001
24 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast, 6-10 fg, 12-12 ft in 29 minutes
Seattle is kind enough to give you a six-year, $34 million dollar contract based on very little. You reward them for their confidence and respect with the best statistical season of your career. Unfortunately if youâ€™re Calvin Booth, that season lasts 15 games. For the rest of the season, you nurse a lingering ankle injury that immobilizes you, and you spend the rest of your days in the NBA trying (and failing) to return Seattleâ€™s favor.
But it wasnâ€™t all bad (almost all of it was, though). 12 games into his first season as a Sonic, Booth gave the team a ray of hope that would invariably be too bright for him to ever duplicate again. In 29 minutes, Booth managed to score 24 points; half of which came from a perfect night at the charity stripe. It would also be half of his total number of free throws taken in his 15-game season (he shot a staggering 95.8% from the line). Along with a career high in points and free throws made and attempted, Booth also had a career-high five assists, just in case his performance wasnâ€™t enough of an anomaly.
So yes, the Sonics made a terrible decision in giving Calvin Booth a six-year contract. But for one game, he made Sonics executives look like geniuses. (DC)
Jake Voskuhl,Â April 6, 2002
20 pts, 6 reb, 8-10 fg, 4-7 ft, 2 PF, 0 TO in 25 minutes
In January of 2009,Â The Point Forward’s Zach Lowe presented the world with a newly coined word:Â Voskuhl.
Voskuhl (voss-cull) noun. When a big man’s combined fouls and turnovers exceed his combined points and rebounds over the course of a game.
viaÂ Word of the Day: Voskuhl | Basketbawful
On this night, his points and rebounds totalled 26. His fouls and turnovers? TWO! This is the closest Voskuhl ever got to escaping his own shadow*
Strangely, Jake did not lead the Sunsâ€™ bench in scoring. That honor belonged to Stephon Marbury, who came off the bench behind Milt Palacio. Marbury was meant to rest a sore ankle, but wound up scoring 23 points in 36 minutes, as the alternative was giving more playing time to Milt Palacio.
*His five fouls and three turnovers killed himÂ here. (JH)
Vladimir Stepania, November 16, 2001
19 pts, 12 reb, 7 blk, 7-14 fg in 45 minutes
The fact that weâ€™re writing this piece proves that a majority of centers get a bad rap. There is an undeniable premium to being tall, and it leads to seven-foot stiffs being drafted high and earning more money than they are worth. But games like this validate it. All of it. Vladimir Stepania (who is blessed with an incredibly great last name) was drafted late in the first round by the Sonics, who have a hit-or-miss-but-mostly-miss history with seven-footers. This one performance validates Robert Swift. It validates Saer Sene. But most of all, it validated Vladimir Stepania.
Stepania played 45 minutes in this game, by far the most heâ€™d ever played in a single NBA game. With Alonzo Mourning and Brian Grant both missing in action, the responsibility of defensive anchor rested on Stepaniaâ€™s shoulders. Iâ€™d say he did a pretty good Zo impression, wouldnâ€™t you? And Stepaniaâ€™s ability to block shots, even to this day, have not eluded him.
[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iUnwC7n-Ks w=480 h=390]
(Skip to :50, or watch the entire thing. Itâ€™s kind of weird.)
He also had the pleasure of playing alongside Tang Hamilton and Sam Mack (pronounced â€˜smack’) in the game. So thereâ€™s that. (DC)
Travis Knight,Â January 24, 1997
16 pts, 15 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl, 1 block, 7-10 fg, 2-4 ft, 0 fouls in 28 minutes
16 points and 15 rebounds are damn fine numbers for marginal rookie center, even if some of them are registered against a fellow marginal rookie center like Todd Fuller. This list, however, isnâ€™t for â€œdamn fine numbers.â€ Itâ€™s for performances that go above and beyond what you could possibly expect from the player in question. Itâ€™s for the time that Travis Knight scored 16 and 15 and did not commit a single foul.
Travis Knight averaged 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes in his rookie season. This would be a career-low. In 2001-2002, he averagedÂ eight fouls per 36 as a member of the Knicks. While other members of the 1996 draft class are still reaching incredible milestones season after season, Knight owns the dubious distinction of fouling out quicker than anyone else in playoff history. In Game 3 of the 1999 Western Conference Semifinals against the Spurs,Â he fouled out in six minutes. 16 points, 15 rebounds, and zero fouls for Travis Knight? Thatâ€™s astonishing. (JH)
Chris Mihm, November 10, 2003
19 pts, 4 reb, 1 stl, 6-13 fg, 0 fouls in 17 minutes
You know, this line actually doesnâ€™t look that grea–holy crap, Chris Mihm did it in 17 minutes!
But really, that isnâ€™t why Mihm is on this list. Hereâ€™s something that should stand out in the list of numbers: zero fouls. Like Knight, Mihm was a notorious fouler. I donâ€™t recall a recent player who destroyed his first quarter momentum with early fouls as consistently as Mihm. If it werenâ€™t for the fouls and the dumb mistakes, he mightâ€™ve carved out a nice career for himself. I remember the dunks with right arm outstretched, his hook shot that had legitimate range out to the free throw line, and his touch on his mid-range jumper. There werenâ€™t many questions offensively.
But the toughness and the IQ wasnâ€™t there on the defensive end. And ultimately as a big, those are the first prerequisites to any form of success — and more importantly, its longevity. Mihm wasnâ€™t able to figure it out. Maybe injuries had something to do with it, maybe not. But it never clicked with him. It couldâ€™ve been different. But it wasnâ€™t. (DC)
Nate Huffman, December 17, 2002
10 pts, 9 reb, 2 ast, 2 blk, 4-7 fg, 2-2 ft in 22 minutes
Despite getting the NBA logo tattooed on his arm in junior college, Nate Huffman only managed seven games in the league. In all but one of these games, he had next to no impact. In all but one of these games, his Raptors lost.
But for one night in Milwaukee, I swear to God, Huffman was an NBA-caliber center who contributed to a win. I watched this game with delight, as Huffman displayed the skills that made him a star for Maccabi Tel-Aviv. It shocks me that he only registered two assists, as I clearly (read: vaguely) remember Raptors color commentator Leo Rautins, not a bad passing big man himself in his day, raving about his high-post dishes.
One month later, Huffmanâ€™s contract was terminated, as Toronto claimed he didnâ€™t disclose his history of knee problems before signing his three-year, $5.2 million contract. Nate responded by successfully suing the team for the remainder of the contract, cementing his legacy next to Garth Joseph and Master P as a weird footnote in Raptors history. I have since named several fantasy teams after him, and am seeking confirmation that somebody wrote to SLAM Magazineâ€™s Trash Talk in 2002 claiming that the U.S. would have medaled at the World Championships if he was on the roster. (JH)
These are only a few of the stories. There are so many more, and so many that have some personal significance that goes beyond statistics (which was the basis of our research). Because nostalgia is powerful. And itâ€™s the force that will compel us to tell the future generations of what should never have happened, but did anyway.
Recall some notable performances that werenâ€™t included? Chime in with a comment below.