Freelance Friday: The NBA’s Forgotten Lefties

Being left-handed in the game of basketball, along with most other sports, doesn’t come with the same advantage that it does in the baseball world. At least in terms of strategy it doesn’t – but if you ask me, there are few things in this world as aesthetically pleasing as a fundamental left-handed jump shot, and I’m beyond certain CEO Marc would tell you the same thing. Perhaps I’m biased as someone that has a dominant left hand, but something about the quirkiness and funk of a lefty’s game is a thing of beauty, but unfortunately goes underappreciated by the average fan.

In honor of James Harden’s historic 60-point triple-double last week (and another 41 spot on Wednesday), I thought it would be it fitting to shed some light on the presence of left-handers in the NBA, particularly the ones I deem as the “forgotten” lefties of years past. In an extremely talented modern-day league, Harden is unquestionably a top five player, and it’s easy to forget that he’s doing it all in a mirrored fashion. Although he stands out from the rest, Harden’s not the only southpaw making noise in the league. He’s joined by the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Mike Conley, DeAndre Jordan, Goran Dragic, Manu Ginobili, and ‘Bazz’ Muhammad (for the Wolves fans out there, may he R.I.P.) just to name a few. And even before these players’ time, some of the league’s all-time greats in David Robinson, Bill Russell, and Willis Reed made their careers with the off-hand.

While not all lefties have left a Hall-of-Fame mark on the league like the three mentioned above, it’s important that we acknowledge those that impacted the game in other ways. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and remember a few players whose names haven’t landed in a sports conversation for a long long time. Here are a handful of my favorite forgotten lefties:

Nick Van Exel

Slick Nick was a bit of a journeyman but spent the majority of his career with the L.A. Lakers and Denver Nuggets. Coming in at a whopping 6’1”, 190, Van Exel countered his relative lack of size with craft and pizazz, unafraid to pull it from deep or slice through the lane and drop a flashy no-look to Shaq Diesel for a hammer. While that’s all fine and dandy, the greatest part of Nick’s game was his free-throw routine, standing about two feet behind the stripe when he would shoot. Even in a backwards world, I guess some things come too easy for us lefties. Seriously, check it out here.

Cuttino Mobley

Cuttino Mobley AKA ‘the Cat’ was downright nasty in his day. Pairing with Steve ‘The Franchise’ Francis made for a killer backcourt, especially in NBA Live during the early 2000s. I remember playing with Houston and just bombing threes with The Cat, putting up some serious numbers on my brother. Although he retired after 10 seasons in 2008, Mobley joined the Big 3 League last season. Despite looking about as old as time, he’s apparently still getting buckets and rocking double sleeves.

Toni Kukoc

Toni Kukoc was about as ‘white euro player’ as you can get in the NBA – a solid role-playing big man that could do the intangibles and knock down a three when the time was needed. While more prominent in the league today, Toni’s versatile skill set at 6’10” was less common in the late 90’s and 2000’s, helping him lead the Bulls to three consecutive NBA titles (with a little bit of help from a guy they called “MJ”).

Darko Milicic

How could we forget the man that was drafted #2 overall behind Lebron James in one of the greatest draft classes in NBA history? After Lebron went #1 to Cleveland, who would Detroit take next at #2? Melo? Nah. D-Wade? Nope. Chris Bosh? Psh. The seven-foot 18-year old Serbian with blonde highlights in his hair, primed to be the league’s next Dirk? Duh! Huge mistake. Alright, while the other lefties on this list had very solid careers, Darko’s was a far different story, quickly getting labeled as one of the biggest busts in NBA history. But let’s pay some respect to the big man – it wasn’t his fault he was taken #2 overall ahead of three potential Hall of Famers, nor was it his fault that he landed on a team that really didn’t need him (Detroit won the NBA Championship his rookie season, a year after losing in the Eastern Conference Finals). He walked into a flat out terrible situation, but let us not forget that his best year as a pro came with the Wolves in 2010-2011 when his 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game contributed to our 17-65 season. Sad, dark times in Wolves territory.

If you made it this far, here’s one more special tidbit from one of the NBA’s greatest lefties of all time.