In all this excitement over whether the Heat would tank and set the Bucks up against the Celtics in Round 1, I forgot that yesterday was Unsung Player Day, an annual celebration started in Japan by a crazed Laker fan named Don at his blogsite With Malice. This must also have meant that at some point it was April 14th in Japan.
My Unsung Player Day Bucks honoree is Charlie Bell. Of course. No, he’s not the typical unsung player — he started 39 games for the Bucks this year. But since the acquisition of John Salmons, Charlie’s been relegated to the DNP-garbage time zone by the coach who loves him, fellow Michigan State alum Scott Skiles. (Yes, Charlie was a Flintstone, and with a year 2000 NCAA title on his resume and a “FLINT” tattoo to prove it, I realize I’m pushing the unsung player rules.)
The DNP-garbage time zone: In March CB got 5 DNP’s and played 164 mins in 10 games. Most of the minutes were played when he was rushed back into the lineup after Carlos Delfino went down March 26 against the Heat and missed four games. Prior to that, Charlie had been sitting. The Bucks split those four games and the 6’3″ Bell spent one of them guarding Lebron James in Cleveland (a game the Bucks had in their grasps) while Bucks fans groaned every time Charlie chested James up on D or rose to shoot a three.
It’s the strangest thing. CB’s a defensive specialist who’s been the Bucks’ most consistent 3-baller most of the season (39% until recently) yet he’s the guy in Milwaukee whose misses register with fans the most. That’s saying a lot, as Jerry Stackhouse now fires away for the green and red. …
… This was the season I wrote that “trying to get Bucks fans to appreciate Charlie Bell is like trying to get Republicans to read the health care bill.” I might have even tweeted that.
CB appreciatiation shouldn’t be that difficult. In January, he hounded D-Wade in two games over three days (13-39 shooting, 43 points). Brandon Jennings even called him “a D-Wade stopper” … in public. (I know, I know, it was close to singing Charlie’s praises, but bear with me … there’s more.)
This was during a stretch in Jan.-Feb. (after Michael Redd went down for the season) in which Charlie started at guard with Brandon Jennings, shot 43% from Downtown, mugged every opposing two guard in sight and the Bucks went 8-4. Yet the local media handed the credit to newcomer Stackhouse, who hardly played in many of those games. How such an obvious snub was even possible after the Bucks ran a popular “Charlie Bell Do My Job” promotion last summer, I don’t understand. Milwaukee can be a strange town. But it certainly qualifies Charlie for the ranks of the unsung.
The Bucks had a rough season starting a rookie at point guard while dealing with Michael Redd’s on-again, off-again comeback from knee surgery, all the while trying to work two new forwards (Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova) into the rotation. Andrew Bogut, after a fast start, was injured in November and not fully healthy again until January.
Brandon Jennings exceeded everybody’s expectations in managing all this change — and deserves the ROY for it — but through it all there was steady old Charlie Bell, guarding everybody from Lebron to Kobe to Durant and D-Wade. Overall, the Bucks were 21-18 with CB starting at guard, 19-16 before Salmons arrived — and a few of those losses came as a result of Redd’s experiments in fitting into the lineup.
The evidence is there. It’s irrefutable. The Bucks have won with Charlie, and at a playoff level clip. If nothing else, he’s one of the best 2-spot defenders in the game. Yet the Bucks 22-8 record since Salmons will be what stands in the memories of Bucks fans. Or it will be Brandon Jennings in his rookie year and Andrew Bogut’s All-Pro second half. Or Bogut’s horrific season-ending injury against the Suns.
If fans do think of Charlie, it may well be for one shot — a game winner Kobe Bryant hit over him in OT Dec. 16. It seems there’s probably little doubt that shot’s a tune that’ll be sung somewhere, sometime, probably even right now.