There are a select few basketball players that jump out of the television screen with their insistence, desire, passion, and grit.
For me, the list includes many Celtics, probably because I choose to overlook the nights when they don’t bring those intangibles.
In many ways, it’s easier to bring the desire to score on any given night. The glory of a 30-point game will always be tempting to the one-dimensional NBA star. Monta Ellis, Jamal Crawford and Corey Maggette will always be ready to shoot the 20-footer, take the ball to the rim, and hit the floor with that itchy trigger on an ill-advised wing 3-pointer.
It’s the defensive energy that often waxes and wanes. The rebounding, the fighting on the floor for a loose ball, or taking a charge. The focus on transition defense that involves pushing through personal exhaustion in the 4th quarter of a 4th game in 5 nights (damn you, schedule-makers!), that makes certain players unique. The sheer willpower that means tipping a rebound three times before gathering it in or deflecting it to a teammate.
My list of the most determined, tenacious, passionate and exciting players in the NBA:
Here’s a great Q&A with Sanders. http://www.sbnation.com/2013/1/14/3874274/larry-sanders-profile-milwaukee-bucks-2012
Only a handful of the players on this list were NBA-bound stars in college. They were able to maintain their desire and intensity on the court because their path to the NBA was unpaved.
Noah and Chandler were dominant college big-men. Kirilenko and Gasol were buzzed about international prospects before entering the NBA. But the rest of these players have essentially carved out their NBA careers through defensive energy, passion, and the ability to make their teammates better by providing a necessary spark that inspires the crowd to get up and breathe life back into the building, whether through collecting offensive rebounds (Chandler, Noah, Faried, Gasol), taking charges, poking away steals (Bradley, Allen, Kirilenko), blocking shots (Sanders, Gasol) , or simply shutting down opposing shooters (Deng, Bradley, Allen, George). These guys not only have the desire, but the understanding of their team’s defensive philosophy as well as their own defensive abilities (quick feet, long arms, instincts).