Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Bandwagon: Lou Amundson, Ultimate Hustle Player

The Bandwagon is a regular feature spotlighting NBA players who are not stars in the typical sense of the word, but deserve to have a following nonetheless. Today, jump on the Bandwagon for Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Lou Amundson.

Lou Amundson fights for a rebound against the Pacers. (nba.com)

Lou Amundson's track has led him through the D-League and five other franchises before finding a place in the Minnesota Timberwolves' deep front court. His NBA career has been filled with 10-day contracts, battles for playing time and, most of all, hustle.

Aside from standing 6'9", there is not much about Amundson that says he is a professional athlete in the world's most competitive basketball league. He looks like a strong-jawed softie topped with long blonde hair that's often pulled into a ponytail. For goodness' sake, he unwinds by playing acoustic guitar and rides a bicycle to work (an idea that a much more well-known competitor borrows from time to time).

Actually considering him a "softie" would be a mistake, however. Now in his eighth year in the Association, Amundson's defined his game with relentlessness and energy that have made him a valuable asset off the bench in all of his stops, perhaps most notably with the Phoenix Suns.

Over the course of 155 games with the desert troupe, Amundson found a niche with one of the best second units of the late 2000s. He found minutes primarily at the power forward position although he did occasionally play as a stretch-center — and put up the best numbers of his career.

Putting the statistics of a role player of Amundson's caliber into text undermines their worth in the context of a team. He averaged 4.5 points, four rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game during those two years in an average of 14.3 minutes per night. By no means are those Earth-shattering figures, but they do quantify Amundson's performance by standard basketball means. His advanced stats (an above average offensive rating both seasons, grabbing nearly 15 percent of available offensive rebounds in 2008-09, .118 WS/48 in 2009-10) get a little closer to showing the actual impact that Amundson's intangibles had on the Suns as a whole.

2008-09 PHO 13.3 .530 .536 14.9 15.3 15.1 3.7 1.5 4.6 15.1 108 109 0.8 1.0 1.8 .082
2009-10 PHO 14.4 .562 .551 13.1 19.9 16.7 3.7 1.0 4.4 14.6 113 107 1.5 1.3 2.9 .118
Career 12.6 .497 .494 13.9 17.8 15.9 3.4 1.4 4.4 15.4 103 106 1.8 4.5 6.3 .078
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/17/2012.

Even those, though, fail to justify his play. The one thing that Amundson absolutely never did in Phoenix — and never seems to do, ever — is give up on a play. Heard of playing through the whistle? This guy does it. Looking for a player who doesn't pause to congratulate himself? Throw some attention Amundson's way.

He's blue collar, and that may turn some people off of him. He's not a triple-double threat. There's very little flash to Amundson's game because he grinds in the post. In his most visible years (those in Phoenix), he played on Steve Nash's team. His collective efforts there earned him a roster spot with the Golden State Warriors in 2010-11, where he played all seven of his career starts. Again, though, the Bay Area storyline was elsewhere, centering around tension between Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis in the back court, eventually resolved and replaced when Ellis was traded to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut. Golden State acquired David Lee the same summer Amundson arrived, and the starter naturally garnered more attention than the back-up.

To point: "Lou Amundson's team" is not a viable tagline in the NBA. It's downright irrational to think that will ever be the designation for an entire basketball franchise.

But you know what? Amundson is fully aware of that fact, and it does not bother him. Shortly before this season began, Amundson said as much to Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press:

"I don't see being a role player as a negative thing. There's maybe a handful of stars in the league, and everybody else is a role player. I see myself as a basketball player, first and foremost, somebody who cares about winning and wants to be competitive."

(Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire)
There are only a handful of players in the NBA who will be so earnest as to say they have no qualms being a grace note in his team's anthem. The confidence needed to be an athlete at the highest level of a sport rarely allows for such honesty. T-Wolves head coach Rick Adelman knows Amundson's time in the NBA's little brother league shaped the forward's attitude. As he told NBA.com:

"The guy has worked his tail off. [He] knows what it’s like not to be playing and not to be on a team, so he does have kind of an attitude. He has an understanding of what it takes, and nothing’s been given to him. He’s hungry."

A coach would be remiss not to highlight his players' good sides, but knowing how Amundson has worked emphasize that word his way from a non-power conference school in college (UNLV) through undrafted status to All-NBA D-League First Team and D-League Rookie of the Year honors as a member of the Colorado 14ers (now the Texas Legends). After parlaying that success into a series of short contracts, Amundson proved himself as a valuable member of the Suns' bench and went to the Western Conference Finals in his final season with the franchise. His latest playoff appearance came last year as a member of the Indiana Pacers, who were defeated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Miami Heat's LeBron James Show.

Based solely on the talents of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves were supposed to be a fringe playoff team this season, and they may still be. He is only played 87 minutes in 10 games this season, but the fact that Timberwolves management sought out Amundson while revamping their roster to become a competitor in the West says something about his character.

Amundson's humble attitude belies his tenacity on the court. Each time he steps on the hardwood, Amundson seems to believe it will be his last. That's how he plays, at least, and isn't that the kind of player that is essential to basketball at its purest?

At the very least, that's the kind of player that can anchor a bench, and Amundson isn't asking for any more than that.

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