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NBA's unsung heroes

With the NBA All-Star game coming up next weekend, I present my list of less-than-obvious game changers, players who have been under the radar this season but have shown themselves to be among the best competitors in the NBA.

Jose Calderon, guard, Toronto: With his team at 19-32, second worst in the Eastern Conference, it is easy to overlook Calderon's accomplishments this season, but he has quietly established himself as one of the league's top point guards.

As of Feb. 5, Calderon is fourth in the league with 8.5 assists per game and boasts a 4.18 assist/turnover ratio, leading all starting point guards in that category (second is Chris Paul, at 3.56.). Though his scoring average is a modest 13.0 points per game, Calderon is clearly one of the most efficient perimeter players in the NBA, with a .499 field goal percentage, a .446 three-point field goal percentage and an astounding .988 mark from the free-throw line.

Jason Kidd, guard, Dallas: With his scoring average at a mere 8.9 points per game, a career low, it is understandable that Kidd, a nine-time All-Star, did not receive a tenth selection this year. His assists average, at 8.3 per game, is down from his career average of 9.2, but by many other measures, Kidd is as good as ever.

Second in the league with 2.2 steals per game, trailing only Paul, Kidd will make a strong case for a tenth career selection to the NBA All-Defensive team, and with 6.4 rebounds per game, Kidd continues to solidify his standing as one of the best rebounding point guards in NBA history. His field goal percentage is at a career-high of .417, and he is matching his career-low with just 2.4 turnovers per game. For a point of comparison, in the 2001-02 season, when Kidd finished second in MVP voting, his assist/turnover ratio was 2.83, compared to 3.40 this season, and he shot just 39.1 percent from the field. While Kidd, who will turn 36 in March, is not as dynamic a playmaker as he used to be, on a team with explosive scorers like Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry, Kidd provides exactly what such a team needs to win: smart, facilitative play on the offensive end, tough rebounding and relentless defense.

Stephen Jackson, guard-forward, Golden State: Following the departure of point guard Baron Davis at the end of last season and an injury to shooting guard Monta Ellis, who has missed all but seven games this season, Jackson has become the primary playmaker for the Warriors, and he currently leads the team in scoring, assists and steals. Jackson is one of the more durable players in the NBA, averaging 39.9 minutes per game, second in the league. Though his team has struggled to a 16-34 record, Jackson has made the most of his minutes, matching his career high with 20.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, while setting new career highs with 6.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

David Lee, center, New York: At 21-27, the Knicks are just two wins shy of their victory total from last season, and Lee has been a major part of their improvement. After mostly coming off the bench for his first three seasons, Lee has become a consistent force in the Knicks' starting lineup. He has established himself as a legitimate scoring threat, averaging 15.9 points per game (up five points from his average last season), including two 30-point games.

Lee has continued to build his reputation as one of the toughest players in the league on the boards, as he is currently fourth in the NBA with 11.7 rebounds per game. His consistency is virtually unmatched - his 37 double-doubles rank second in the NBA, behind only Dwight Howard, who has 38.

Marcus Camby, center, Los Angeles Clippers: Yes, he plays for L.A.'s "B" team, but by the numbers, Camby is one of the best big men in the league. With averages of 13.0 rebounds and 2.48 blocks per game, both second in the NBA behind Howard, Camby actually makes a strong case for the All-Star team but was passed over for players on more competitive teams, like the Suns' Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers' Pau Gasol. Though his team looks weak, Camby is doing his part and will once again be a contender for the Defensive Player of the Year award, which he won two years ago.



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