Getting to the NBA is no easy feat. It takes years and years of hard work, dedication, sweat and toil with no guarantee of success.
All players have had to overcome obstacles on their journeys to become elite athletes – this season’s All-Star game is a testament to this; Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard and Isiah Thomas are all players who overcame expectations and perceived limitations to rise to the top.
But let’s look away from the bright lights shining upon this year’s All-Stars and instead focus on some of the leagues real grafters, who play with hustle and heart, who prove that will can overcome skill, who specialise in doing the dirty work and overcome their own limitations to positively impact their teams.
The guys who do the intangibles, the things that the NBA can’t track (though they’re close), who do the dirty work and who bring the guts in their team’s quest for glory.
2015-2016 Stats: PTS 6.9 REB 4.7 AST 1
“The Grindfather” is in his twelfth NBA season and is the epitome of a grafter. In a sport designed to give the Offensive team an advantage, he has carved out an impactful career averaging a meagre 8 points per game.
Allen earns his pay on the defensive end of the court, disrupting the rhythm of opponents and ranking in the top twenty for steals.
You won’t see him on a highlight show, but he sets the tone for the Memphis Grizzlies and their “Grit and Grind” style of play with his constant hustle.
2015-2016 Stats: PTS 9.1 REB 3 AST 2.6
Beverly is a pest. An irritant. The type of player you love to have on your team, but hate to play against. In his fourth year, he has developed a reputation for getting under opposing players’ skin (most famously with Russel Westbrook).
Constantly hustling and under-sized at 6-1, he is the polar opposite to back-court partner, James Harden. He will outwork you - point in case has been his reclamation of his starting spot from off-season addition Ty Lawson.
2015-2016 Stats: PTS 8.4 REB 2.5 AST 4.8
Delly burst onto the radar during the 2015 NBA Finals, having stepped into starting Point Guard role following Kyrie Irving’s injury. The Aussie went undrafted in 2013 meaning he has had to graft harder than most to get onto his second NBA contract.
He is another player whose on-court effort draws ire from opponents. A recent LA Times article of 24 anonymous NBA coaches, assistants and players voted Delly the “dirtiest player in the NBA”.
Not particularly quick or athletic, he relies on his toughness and willingness to do the ugly stuff to earn minutes – perhaps born from his Aussie Rules exposure growing up.
2015-2016 Stats: PTS 16 REB 9.5 AST 2
Kidd-Gilchrist is the sting in the Hornet’s tail on defense. The 6-7 forward is an elite level on the ball defender – a trait that is significantly dependent on a player’s effort levels.
Kidd-Gilchrist has just returned from a torn labrum, suffered in the pre-season game last October.
An injury that typically takes six months to recover from, MKG grafted through his recovery process to get back in four months – just in time to help the Hornets make a push for a playoff spot.
2015-2016 Stats: PTS 3.2 REB 3.9 AST 1.6
A bit of twist in this final pick. In his twentieth(!) season KG is well past his prime. Across the board, his stats are almost all at career lows – but this sure-fire Hall of Famer has lost none of his famous competitive passion.
The player once known as “Da Kid” had already begun his NBA career when the Timberwolves’ Rookie sensation Karl-Anthony Towns was born in 1995 and now plays the role of mentor for the youngster.
And what a mentor to have. With no sign of his competitive fire diminishing, KG dives for loose balls, plays incredible defense and remains the consummate professional.
If anyone has earned the right to take a play or two off, it’s the 15 time All-Star, former Defensive Player of the Year, MVP and NBA Champion – but he continues to graft like he’s on a ten-day contract. Pay attention KAT, this is what greatness looks like.