Basketball is a game that is all too often boiled down to raw numbers. Each squad has their leading rebounder, scorer, and assist man and they typically get most of the credit for any successful team. A closer look at real contenders for championships, however, will always uncover one or two "glue guys", those players about whom the stats do very little to demonstrate their value. In his NBL Canada rookie season, Denzell Taylor clearly has put up respectable numbers, with 4.4 points and 5.9 rebounds a game (including 3.2 offensive boards a game, good for second in the league) on almost 54% shooting from the field. However, they don't do justice to the impact he's had on the Moncton Magic's inaugural season.
"(Denzell) was by far the most pleasant surprise coming out of training camp, and has only gotten better as the season has gone on," says Magic coach Joe Salerno. "It's rare that a true rookie coming straight out of college will make such a big impact on a team in this league, so for Denzell to earn a starting spot for the majority of this season and play the minutes that he has says a lot about him."
Denzell is amongst the league leaders in several NON-official stats: charges taken, offensive fouls on screens (NOT a negative, just ask his opponents how they feel about seeing him out of the corner of their eye) and the catch-all category of "hustle plays". When Denzell goes to the offensive glass and that effort forces an opponent to fumble the ball out of bounds, that's not on the stat sheet. When he rotates defensively and challenges a driver into a miss, that's not on the stat sheet either.
"He is the ultimate team player," Salerno continues. "His role this season has been to defend, rebound and screen, certainly not the most glamorous job, but one Zell excels in and he enjoys. He has been an absolute pleasure to work with this season, the first of, hopefully, many more to come." Anyone who listens to the Moncton Magic broadcasts this season knows I'm president of the Denzell Taylor Fan Club, a group whose membership is sure to grow as his career continues.
Terry Thomas is a guy whose game jumps out at you whether you're a straight numbers person or a fan of the guys who do the little things. Score? Check. Sixth in the league at almost 20 per game. Rebound? Check. 12th in the league at over 7 a night. Steals? Why not? 4th in the league at over 1.5. On purely numbers alone, the defending NBL Canada Canadian of the Year stacks up with almost anyone in the league. "He has put together what I believe has been his best season thus far as a pro," says Coach Salerno, his coach for the Island Storm before both migrated to the Magic this season. "There is a reason he is an NBL MVP candidate, a nomination I don't believe many people in this league would argue with. He has gotten better each and every season of the three I have worked with him, and he still has even more potential to uncover."
For a guy who appears quiet and unassuming off the court, Thomas has excelled in the role of emotional leader, whether it's to his teammates on the bench or to the fans at the Coliseum. It's so often a Terry Thomas three, dunk or defensive play that punctuates a big run, leading to the opposing timeout and a trademark primal scream from "T-Time". When Terry starts getting chatty with his own guys, the opposing bench or the crowd, you know he's into it and his teammates usually aren't too far behind. Early in the season, when the Magic were struggling to match their defensive domination on the offensive end, it was the scoring of Thomas who carried them. Since a midseason adjustment that tweaked the lineup, his scoring has dipped, but his focus and play hasn't in the least. He's deferred to others beautifully and become more of a playmaker.
Just like his teammate Mr. Taylor, Thomas also excels in the hustle categories. If "deflections" were a stat, he'd surely be near the top of the list, alongside some of his teammates. His busy hands are a nightmare for his opposing matchups, causing constant disruption to any offense even if it doesn't result in a turnover. "He is a true two way player," praises his coach. "something that has almost become extinct when you look at league's best players. The majority of the time he is asked to defend the opposing team's leader, yet he still produces 20 and 7 on a nightly basis on the offensive side of the ball. I have seen Terry's game mature this season, more so then in my first two years with him. He is making better decisions with the basketball, his shot selection has gotten better, and he is distributing the basketball more. I don't believe we have seen the best of Terry yet, that is still another season or two down the road. People who know the game would agree that could be a pretty scary thought." Maybe for the opposition, but for Magic fans, that's music to their ears. Come back tomorrow fans for more year end player reviews and previews of all your playoff action.
The games start Sunday at 1 pm Atlantic and Monday at 7 pm Atlantic. Come on out to the Coliseum, or catch myself and Scott Squires on the call live from monctonmagic.ca.