Beyond the Arc
by Ben Fiore
Per Webster Dictionary, the definition of “Backburner” is the condition of being out of active consideration or development —usually used in the phrase on the back burner. In the NBA, we have so many players that are placed on the proverbial backburner. I think that is owed in part to the elite tier of the top 10-15 ballers that overshadow the rest of the NBA limelight. Guys like Steph, Harden, LeBron, Russ and others have a stranglehold of the attention on the NBA. Even though those guys deserve that credit for their talent, that still leaves about another 350 players that go left under the radar. Which to me is insane. That’s like if you only watched 10-15 movies for your entire life, ignoring that there are probably another 350 movies out there you might love and see that are just as great. I call the players that fall into that category backburners. These types of players are guys with tremendous talent that truly don’t get the credit they deserve.
Now I’m not going to list everyone that’s a backburner, but there are two guys who standout to me the most, which are Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry. Both of these dudes have been loyal to their teams and have only played for the same franchise throughout their careers so far. Think about that in terms of value. Kemba is in his 8th NBA season and Lowry is in his 13th. Dirk scenarios where a player stays with one sole team for 20+ years is very rare. For these dudes to stay with their team that long shows that the team sees them as an elite talent, and worth hanging on to. Both have been surrounded by trade rumors for years, because other teams see them as great talents as well, but Charlotte and Toronto won’t let them go because they are stars, and loyal leaders. GM’s want to see “what you can bring to the table” from every guy, and the GM’s of the two teams previously stated, know exactly what they’re getting with Walker and Lowry. These two are the quarterbacks of their teams. As point guards, they set the pace, call plays, and essentially run the court. They both have been superstars in their own right, especially at their position but are constantly passed up for awards.
Kemba Walker was highly sought after in the 2011 NBA Draft, coming out of UCONN as a national champion and MVP. The (at the time) Charlotte Bobcats drafted him 9th overall, and instantly were grooming him to become their franchise as a Bobcat, and then a Hornet once the team regained that name in 2014. Last season, Kemba eclipsed a record of becoming the franchise all time leading scorer. Passing names like Alonzo Mourning, Grant Hill, Muggsy Bougues and others. He did that in just 7 years. Each year his stats increase. From his rookie season to now, Kemba went from 12.1 PPG and 4.4 APG to 26 PPG and 6.3 APG. Kemba has easily been playing his best basketball at 28 years old and continues to impress. Early in the year, he lead the league in scoring at one point. As of now, he sits at 7th in the league in scoring with 26.1 PPG and the previously stated 6.3 APG. Kemba is loved and respected by not only the city of Charlotte and his teammates, but the entire NBA. This guy is known for being a playmaker. He is undoubtedly a true lethal scorer, but I think is an extremely underrated passer. His assists remind me of how Steve Nash used to dish the rock. He hasn’t had as many playoff appearances as Nash, but you can’t necessarily put that all on Kemba. Charlotte has only been to the playoffs twice, both with first round bounces to the LeBron era Heat in 2014 and 2016. Kemba also has never really had a lot of other help around him, considering that his best running mate is arguably the underwhelming Nicholas Batum. This year, the Hornets are (14-13) sitting at 6th in the East. Walker continues to produce, and is the only reason the Hornets stay remotely relevant because players like Malik Monk and Miles Bridges haven’t hit a real stride yet. Michael Jordan has clearly not done the best job with that franchise which is a bit wild considering Jordan was the greatest player of all time. Sorry Kobe and LeBron fans, it’s just a fact don’t @ me. Jordan should thank Kemba for keeping his franchise relevant, and is continuously my dark horse for MVP for that reason year after year.
The Toronto Raptors are perennially the “team that never was” every time the playoffs come around. They are essentially the Cincinnati Bengals of the NBA. A team that could go undefeated in the regular season, and still shit the bed come playoffs. It has always been that way from the Vince Carter era, to the Chris Bosh era, to the now Kyle Lowry era. I also don’t feel that this teams woes are on Lowry’s shoulders either. He is the mainstay of the Raptors and has produced for his whole 13 years with the team. Lowry was drafted 24th overall in the 2006 draft out of Villanova. For about the first 4 years of his tenure, he came off the bench and learned behind some key veterans. In his 4th to 5th season, Lowry really found himself as a player. Lowry is a quick, energetic and tough wrecking ball of a point guard. Toronto loves Kyle Lowry. He and DeMar DeRozan were household names in Canada. Since they’ve split that duo up, Lowry solely owns Toronto. Luckily despite losing his best friend and a key talent, he still gained an equal if not better talent in Kawhi (the Laugh) Leonard. Lowry is someone that everyone outside of Toronto passes over and I really don’t know why. Sure he’s only averaging 14.2 PPG, but is averaging 10.0 APG which is LEADING the league B T dubs. Players like DeRozan, Fred Van Vleet, Siakim and others have all credited Lowry with shaping that team, and making them all better as players. I think that Kyle Lowry is currently the best “on- court player developer” in the league, showing many Jason Kidd like attributes. The Raptors certainly have a playoff plague, like they’re allergic to wins or something, but this year they show more promise than they may have ever shown. They are (23-7) and have the best record in the entire NBA. They lead the East and the whole league for the first time ever in franchise history through the first 30 games. The Raptors have went to the playoffs 7 times in Lowry’s 13 year career, and have made it to the conference finals once, and choked per usual. I believe Lowry has been the low key consistent reason they get back there, and doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a star guard.
Through all of the slept on players in the NBA, it is harder for point guards to gain recognition being in the most competitive position in the league. PG’s like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry dominate talks of point guards because they either have more point production, or better playoff experience. Or in Russ’ case, just being a damn freak of nature. But I don’t think those players are as consistent, or as good of team builders as Kemba and Lowry. These dudes are stars in their own right that carry the entire weight of their franchise on their shoulders, and I hope one day these guys get properly recognized, along with many other players in their realm, if not at least win a championship. But the most notable trait is that they don’t care about the recognition, they just go out and ball. They are sleepers in the league. So the rest of the NBA better watch out, before Walker and Lowry hit their stride and the rest of league gets slept.