5 NBA Players I Would Want in My Fox Hole

Ben Wallace

Courtesy of lifeondumars.com

There are so many players who I observe that are insanely selfish (recently retired Corey Maggette), just don’t get it (JaVale McGee), are team cancers (Stephon Marbury…at least in the NBA), aren’t winners (Chris Webber) and will never get it (JR Smith).

Then there are those players who are the very essence of a team…the pulse of a team. These are the players who will do anything for their team. They’ll commit a hard foul to set the tone (Rick Mahorn), will out-rebound an entire team and then beat said team down the court for a dunk (Ben Wallace) and then there are players who will do whatever is humanly possible to get under the skin of the opposing team’s best players.

The players I’m talking about are the ones who set the tone on the playground and don’t back down to anyone, regardless of if they’re giving up 50 pounds and 5 inches. They’re fearless and their singular focus is helping their team win. These guys don’t care about statistics or getting the ball. They thrive on doing the little things and being the glue guys.

With no further ado, I give you my five ultimate NBA foxhole players (to steal a term from Bill Simmons’ lexicon).

John Stockton – Point Guard

John Stockton is as tough as they come. The dude is 6’1” (maybe) and dripping wet, only 175 pounds. Stockton was an unbelievably durable player. During his 19 NBA seasons he missed a grand total of 54 regular season games. The guy was an absolute iron-man and was as tough as nails. He consistently battled bigger point guards in Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, and faster point guards in Isiah Thomas and Kevin Johnson. Then he had to deal with defensive stoppers such as Gary Payton in the latter half of his career. In short, there was no way Stockton was supposed to outlast all of these guys and have the most decorated career of any point guard who played during any of these three era’s (80’s, 90’s & 00’s).

Stockton’s assist record of 15,806 will never be touched. Kidd played 20 seasons at nearly an all-star level throughout all of those years, and recorded almost 4,000 less assists than Stockton, with 12,091. Kidd sits alone in the #2 spot.  Steve Nash sits in the #4 spot, with 10,278 assists and is poised to pass Mark Jackson (#3) in the next few weeks (Jackson has 10,334). Then you have Magic, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Rod Strickland (wow, I forgot about him!) and Andre Miller rounding out the top 10. You get the point, no one is passing John Stockton’s assists record anytime soon. The guy was that prolific during his nearly two-decade long run as the heart and soul of some very good Jazz teams.

Even more incredible…Stockton led his teams to the playoffs in each and every one of the seasons in which he played (he became the full-time starter during the ’87-’88 season). Even during his age 40/41-year-old season, which was his final season, John Stockton led the Jazz to a 47-win season and piloted them to a playoff win in their first round series against the Sacramento Kings.

Several players from that generation believe that Stockton was the best point guard of that generation…over Magic. In many ways, they have a compelling case. Stockton was as good as they come as a ball distributor, was a crunch-time killer (re: Stockton absolutely eviscerating Matt Maloney and the Houston Rockets in the ’97 Western Conference Finals) and became a very good 3-point shooter in the second half of his career.

For his career, Stockton was a 51.5% shooter, 38.4% 3-point shooter and converted nearly 83% of his free throws. He averaged a double-double for his career, at 13.1 PPG and 10.5 APG and never shot below 47% in any year of his career. John Stockton was one of the most prolific point guards of all time and the point guard I would need in my NBA foxhole.

Manu Ginobili – Shooting Guard

When Kobe Bryant calls you a “pain in the ass” to play, you have just gained entrance into my NBA foxhole, no questions asked. Kobe made this declaration last year, prior to his Achilles injury and prior to Ginobili fumbling away San Antonio’s chances of taking the championship in Game 6 (8 turnovers in Game 6…8 people!).

People have short memories and likely many NBA fans remember Ginobili for his costly gaffes in the 2013 Finals. The Spurs have been a model of excellence for the last decade due to the consistent production of four guys: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and their coach Gregg Popovich, for keeping the ship upright and sailing.

Manu has never averaged 20 PPG in a season (19.5 PPG was his career high in ’07-’08), but he is one of the most complete and hyper-kinetic energy wing-players that our league has ever seen. He’s also one of the most gifted passers and has the best court vision of anyone I have seen. I can’t think of anyone who sees the floor as well as Manu does, even before a play develops. He’s a do-it-all energy guy who has averaged 4 or more assists and 4 or more rebounds at five different times in his career.  Outside of his rookie year, he has never averaged less than 10 PPG but never more than 19.5 PPG.

He’s a whirling dervish of energy, which has inevitably led to a variety of ailments that have kept him out a whopping 175 basketball games during his 11+ seasons in the NBA. Ginobili has never played a full 82-game season and has only once played 80 games in a season (during the ’10-’11 season).

Ginboili isn’t durable because he lays his body on the line each and every night he straps on his sneakers. He’s 36 but has the ailments of a 56 year old. I don’t care. If I need one game out of a shooting guard from the last 20 years, Manu Ginobili’s skills combined with his competitiveness are more than enough for me to bring him into my foxhole.

Need more proof? Here’s an 11-minute video of Ginobili making opposing teams look like JV squads.

Robert Horry – Small Forward, even though he’s a PF

It’s hard to know where to begin with Robert Horry. As any basketball fan of the 1990’s and 2000’s knows, Horry’s knack for clutch shots in pivotal moments earned him the nickname “Big Shot Bob.” As opposed to dedicating the next 700 words on Robert Horry’s accomplishments one-by-one from the ’94 season through the ’07 season, I’ll provide you instead with a tidy 3-minute YouTube video of his big shots.

While Robert Horry has never been mistaken for a star, he was an indispensable do-it-all glue-guy for three (mini) dynasties (Houston – ’94 & ’95 titles, LA – ’00, ’01, ’02 titles & San Antonio (’05 & ’07 title).

Here are the three Robert Horry shots that will remain etched in my memory forever.

2005 Finals, Game 5 – Horry nails a 3-pointer in the finals 10 seconds of overtime against the Pistons to turn the series in favor of the Spurs. This would cap an unbelievable game for Horry, who scored all 21 of his points in the final 17 minutes of play, all while shaking off a painful shoulder injury.

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The shot preceding the game-winner was the pump fake, two-dribble and left-handed dunk (and one). These two shots, only 1:15 apart in game-time, sum up Robert Horry. The guy was an absolute warrior.

2002 Western Conference Finals, Game 5 – With under 7 seconds remaining, Kobe missed a runner, Shaq missed the put-back and instead of rebounding the basketball like a normal big should do, Vlade Divac decided to get lazy (ok, he was always lazy) and smacked the ball out to a wide open Robert Horry at the top of the key. Horry accepted the gift that Divac had bequeathed on him and turned it into a game-winning 3-pointer, which turned the series for the Lakers and would prove to be the key play in them capturing their third consecutive championship.

Dennis Rodman – Power Forward

You could not have created a more versatile, do-it-all, fill-in-the-blanks, get into opponents’ heads and lock-down defender, to flank Scottie and Michael during their primes than Dennis Rodman. While Dennis Rodman is only #22 on the all-time rebounds list, the fact is that the Bulls don’t win any of those three titles in their second three-peat without Dennis Rodman. The Pistons also don’t win their back-to-back titles in ’89 and ’90, who deployed Rodman as an enforcer inside, against the likes of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and anyone else who entered his domain.

Rodman was a once in a generation player (Ben Wallace was a close facsimile of Rodman). Only once did Rodman ever score more than 10 PPG in a season. He spent his first seven years with the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, who flanked Rodman with Bill Laimbeer, Rick MaHorn and John Salley at different times during those 7 years. Those teams beat up on the Celtics and Bulls…and Rodman was a central figure in shutting those teams down.

Interestingly, Rodman didn’t crack the 10 RPG plateau until his age-29 season (’90-’91). From that point on, Rodman never dipped below 11 RPG. During a 7-season stretch from ’91-’92 to ’97-98, he never averaged less than 14.9 RPG. To put this in perspective, Kevin Garnett has never averaged more than 13.9 RPG in a season. Rodman had 8 such seasons where he averaged more than 13.9 RPG. Now consider that KG is #10 on the all-time rebounding list (and rising). Charles Barkley’s best rebounding season was his third pro season, when he averaged 14.6 RPG. Barkley never again eclipsed 14 RPG in his career. This goes to show just how dominant Rodman was for nearly a decade-long stretch.

Rodman played with several subpar bigs in Chicago (Luc Longley, Bill Wennington & an 86-year old Robert Parish in ‘97) and was asked regularly to guard (and shut down) the team’s opposing top big man. Rodman routinely gave up 4-5 inches and in some cases 80 lbs. to opposing bigs. In particular, Rodman loved defending Shaq and had a penchant for getting in his head and shutting him down in big games. During the ’96 playoffs, he dominated Shaq, tallying a double-double (with 13 points & 21 rebounds) while confounding Shaq for the entire game. The footage speaks for itself.

Ben Wallace – Center

Ben Wallace’s game was in many ways similar to Dennis Rodman’s game…without one big component, Wallace wasn’t insane.

Like Rodman, Wallace was an incredibly gifted athlete and had an uncanny sense for where balls would bounce off of the rim. Wallace’s athleticism allowed him to beat larger and taller players to the rim, snare the rebound and then enable him to beat the slower, plodding bigs down the floor for transition buckets. This exact scenario played out when the Pistons met the Nets in the 2003 playoffs.

Wallace became a household name on the early to mid 2000’s Pistons teams, who evolved from a scrappy, fun bunch in the early 2000’s to a legitimate contender from ’04 – ’07 (If Rasheed Wallace stays on Robert Horry in the finals seconds of Game 5 in 2005, the Pistons win that game and go up 3 games to 2 games, and have a very distinct possibility of winning their second consecutive title).

Wallace wasn’t nearly the rebounder that Rodman was (Rodman snared 11,954 rebounds over parts of 14 seasons, while Wallace grabbed 10,482 rebounds over parts of 16 seasons). Rodman averaged an incredible 13.1 RPG during his career versus Wallace who pulled down a career average of 9.6 RPG. Where Wallace exceled was in defending the rim. He averaged 2.0 blocks per game (BPG) and for three consecutive seasons (’01-’02 to ‘03’-’04) he averaged 3.0 or more BPG. Rodman was never the rim protector that Wallace was, averaging only 0.6 BPG and never once averaging more than 0.9 BPG.

Nonetheless, I loved the unbridled passion that these two players exuded during their combined 30 years on the NBA hardwood. While Rodman was the slighter of the two players, at only 6’8” and 220 lbs, he made up for this with his ranginess and his re-jumpability on rebounds (credit for “re-jumpability” goes to Jay Bilas). At 6’9” and 240 lbs. Wallace played an undersized center for the Pistons and due to his superior quickness and agility beat slower bigs to rebounds and swatted their shots with regularity.

Rodman and Wallace are two of the most offensively challenged players I have seen to date, but even with their limited offensive skillset, these guys would be the first guys into my foxhole due to their superior defense, rebounding and overall intangibles.

 

What do you think of my choices for my foxhole? Who would you have selected? We would love to hear your thoughts.

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

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