- Josh Smith: Before Smith, we had never seen a versatile wing player capable of leading the NBA in blocked shots. This singular factor undoubtedly points to his athleticism, but we assign it so much more. Many people call Smith the "future" of the wing positions, despite his current status as the second-best player on a sub-.500 team. Rarely do scouts, GM's, or fans point to his attitude as a cause for concern. I find that particularly interesting given his on-going feud with his head coach, questioning of team management, and place amongst the league leaders in technical fouls. Rarely do they speak of his apparent apathy for long stretches of games, his streaky (at best) jump shot, or his careless turnovers. But boy, can this guy block shots. But his prowess in that one statistical category makes him far more intriguing than, say, Rudy Gay.
- Dirk Nowitzki: While I won't disagree about his status amongst the game's elite, I think we may have the wrong idea about his value to the Mavericks. Especially early in his career, we had never seen a 7-footer who could stroke from 30 feet. For this, we tabbed him the forefather of a movement that would forever change the NBA. We saw (and see) so much more upside to a frail, 7-footer who can stroke it than a sturdy 6'9er who can bang with the big boys. Why is that? It's quite simple: we had never seen the size/touch combo possessed by Nowitzki but we had seen a plethora of average-sized bangers. For this reason, we ignore the fragility that cost him his matchup with David West, despite the fact West would never be mentioned in the same breath as Dirk. We rarely Dirk's futility as an individual defender or his inability to get offensive position below the high post. We even make excuses for his failure to knock out an 8th seeded team of midgets in the '07 Playoffs. As fans, all of these shortcomings are overlooked the moment he lofts a feathery three-ball.
- Yao Ming: Yao's sheer mass, combined with his ascent from a non-Basketball country, made believers of us all. He would redefine dominance, we said, and lead the Rockets to multiple titles as soon as the Shaq regime came to a close. We scoffed at the notion that Yao would be a perpetual injury risk. We still rarely mention Yao's lack of mobility that has been Houston's achilles heel in the playoffs. Even a 20-game win streak without Yao hasn't convinced us that he is a defensive liability.
Let's be clear: I'm including myself in this group of fans who loves to see the new & shiny traits of an unconventional player on display. A sweeping cartoonish move by Ginobili is far prettier than a Hardaway-esque crossover by Deron Williams, and the Warriors are much more endearing than the Spurs. I really didn't intend for this post to become a Smith or Nowitzki or Yao bashing session. In fact, I love watching all of those guys play. I'm merely making an observation about our love for players who don't conform to the classical interpretations of how to play their positions. In drafting this post, I became aware of one thing: unconventional is sexy.