Singing for Peja Stojakovic

Not only is today, April 5th, the Hornets' 21st birthday, but it's also Unsung Player Day. To mark the occasion, I've decided to sing about Peja Stojakovic. I tried to learn Peja's favorite Serbian song — you know, the one about the shoe polish — so I could make a music video and post some YouTube on here, but I failed miserably. Hence, I'll proceed with some good old-fashioned words of the non-singing variety…

Peja Stojakovic, doing what he does best

Ah yes, the tall foreign guy. Sometimes bearded, sometimes not. He missed 69 games last season and makes more money than anyone else on the roster, but he's been able to stay healthy and contribute greatly to the Hornets success this season.

The main reason I believe Peja to be unsung is because most folks believe him to be a one-dimensional player. "He just stands behind the three-point line and lets it fly, right?" Not quite. Hornets fans have come to realize that there's a lot more to Peja's game than spot-up shooting.

Little did we know that Stojakovic is no slouch on the defensive end, something Ryan broke down for us expertly last week. A sampling…

When he takes a man, he knows his weaknesses and instead compensates by using his two best defensive assets – anticipation and height. His height allows him to lay off his man just another half step, allowing him to close and still contest the shot, or anticipate and cut off a player trying to get past him by stepping in front of him as he begins his move. Once he closes, Peja's tall enough to contest almost any shot.

Byron Scott obviously has faith in the Serb's defensive capabilities, as evidenced by Peja being assigned to guard guys like LeBron James and Tracy McGrady in recent weeks, and managing to do a damn fine job against them.

But let's get back to the offensive end. Peja's strength is obviously his long-distance shooting, something which stretches the opposing defense and allows David West some extra room to work down low, and some bigger seams for Chris Paul to rip through. That's all good, but what happens when West is in foul trouble, or Chris needs a breather?

Over the course of the season, we've seen Peja become more versatile offensively. Now you see him taking guys off the dribble and getting in the lane, or posting up on the low block and unleashing fadeaways over smaller defenders. Basically, he's creating offense without depending on a D-West double-team, or a drive and kick from CP. Methinks Peja has started to recapture that potent offensive game he displayed in Sacramento a few years back, when he averaged 24ppg and got mentions as an MVP candidate. He's had numerous injuries since then — including the bad back that crippled him last season — and it's taken him a while to build back up the confidence to absorb the contact that comes with a more rounded and aggressive offensive game.

So the defense is solid and the scoring is versatile, but let's get down to the bottom line here. The best thing about Mr. Stojakovic is that he's money in the clutch. He might miss every shot he attempts in the first three quarters, but don't bet against him in the fourth. I'd list all the big shots he's hit this season, but it's literally gotten to the point where there's too many to remember. He just always seem to come through with a dagger when we need him. The Hornets are pretty much unbeatable in close games, and Peja's consistent heroics are a big reason why.

So I salute you, Mr. Stojakovic. Now that the Hornets have locked up a Playoff spot, I look forward to singing your praises on the big stage.

Update:, a Celtics blog, went with David West as their unsung player. Check it out.

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