Twenty players were chosen to appear in the first-ever bj-league All-Star Game on Jan. 27, and for each of them the day will be special.
This showcase event in Okinawa will be a fun-filled day for the fans, too. It will put smiles on kids’ faces, lots of new photos on cell phone cameras and, oh yeah, memories from the game itself: the slick passes, the powerful dunks, the smooth jump shots — all will be remembered beyond the final buzzer.
It’s the notion here, though, that 20 players weren’t enough for the All-Star Game. Two others — Sendai 89ers forward Ryan Blackwell and Oita HeatDevils guard/forward Mikey Marshall — are having All-Star-caliber seasons, putting up numbers that are noteworthy in any league.
Here’s my suggestion: Expand the All-Star teams to 11 per squad. Put Blackwell on the East squad and Marshall on the West team in keeping with assigned breakdown of teams.
This much is certain: Both are doing too many things well to be left without a game to play on Jan. 27.
Let’s start with Blackwell. He is scoring 21.1 points per game. He’s scored in double digits in 13 of Sendai’s 16 games (he missed two due to an injury and came back to score 31 on Dec. 16 against the Saitama Broncos in Kasukabe, Saitama Pref., an instant reminder of his importance to the 89ers) and attempted 10 or more field-goal attempts in 13 contests. Indeed, these are signs of a guy who is a major contributor.
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And he’s not just taking lots of shots; he’s making them with regularity. Blackwell’s 43.8 percent from 3-point range and 57.1 (104 of 182) from inside the arc are marks of a proficient shooter, a true craftsman on the hardwood.
His aggressive play earns him trips to the foul line, too. He’s taken six or more free throws in eight games. He’s made 66 of 85 foul shots (77.6 percent), hardly a figure that speaks of lackadaisical, ho-hum play. It speaks of a guy working overtime to get chances to go the charity stripe.
Other statistics support this notion. Blackwell has grabbed 135 rebounds to date. Six times he has pulled down 10 or more. On seven other occasions, he’s had six, seven, eight or nine boards.
With the ball in his hands, Blackwell is a capable playmaker as well. He’s dished out 47 assists, getting three or more in 10 games.
Two other defensive stats underscore Blackwell’s all-around effectiveness: blocks and steals. He has swatted a shot (or two) in five games. He’s been credited with 18 steals, including five in the Nov. 9 game, and picked up at least one in nine games.
What’s more, after scoring a season-low two points on Nov. 11, he came back in the next game and put 14 on the board. That got him rollin’. He followed that up with games of 32, 28, 23, 19, 30 and 26 points.
Again: Blackwell is too good to be on holiday on Jan. 27.
And you should say the same thing about Marshall.
Marshall, a 25-year-old who played college ball at Texas Tech for Bob Knight (the man currently tied for No. 1 atop the Division I college coaching victories list with Dean Smith), has also had a banner season from Day One.
In the HeatDevils’ season opener, Marshall had a 13-point, 14-rebound, six-assist, three-steal outing. He’s done more of the same ever since.
Marshall is averaging 14.4 points per game and scored 10 or more 13 times.
He’s no slouch on the boards, either. Marshall has had double-digit efforts in rebounds in eight games this season, including a season-best 17 on Dec. 17 on a day when his shot wasn’t falling (1-for-7), which is a reminder that a player can contribute in more ways than one during any given game.
In addition, Marshall is Oita’s most accomplished passer. He has 63 assists this season. Those passes have been there game after game — four or more assists for Mikey in nine games.
In other words, the way Marshall threads the needle on passes is comforting to his teammates, gives them one less thing to worry about during the 40-minute clashes on the court. They know he’ll get them the ball at the right time.
Defensively, Marshall is one of the bj-league’s top performers. His athleticism and precise timing create big plays.
To wit: Marshall’s made two or more steals in nine games, and seven times he has three or more takeaways.
His long arms have caused fits for opposing shooters, too. He has a block or more in nine games.
Pick a category — any category — and you will find big imprints left by Blackwell and Marshall this season for their respective teams. Glance at 16 games worth of statistics and you will be reminded these two guys are superb all-around players.
They should be All-Stars.