Tip-Off Timer: Few Could Handle Pressure Like Nick Van Exel
Nick Van Exel might be most remembered for his infamous shoving of official Ron Garretson during a game in 1996, while he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, who had selected Van Exel with the 37th pick of the 1993 draft.
It was a momentary bad decision and in many ways it came to define Van Exel, who was ultra-competitive and always played with a chip on his shoulder. But his career apart from that can stand on its own, and when it does, it can measure up to many of the better point guards who came down the pike.
You'd have to consider Van Exel a scoring point guard, but he still could distribute and he knew how to run a team. He was never afraid to take the big shot and when he retired after the 2005-06 season, he had a reputation as one of the game's most clutch performers.
Van Exel played for the Lakers, Denver, Dallas, Golden State, Portland, and San Antonio, and his finest moment as a pro came during the 2002-03 postseason, when he led the Mavericks to the Western Conference finals.
To say Van Exel led the Mavs isn't an overstatement, either. His performance in the second round against the Sacramento Kings was one for the ages, and he pretty much singlehandedly took that series over.
Van Exel averaged 25 points per game in that seven-game series, but that doesn't really tell the half of it. He had 35 or more points in three of those games, including a 40-point outburst in Game 3 in Sacramento.
Van Exel went 14-for-26 from the field that game, which had come on the heels of a 36-point effort in Game 2, where he shot 14-for-19 from the field. In other words, after the Kings had gone into Dallas and taken Game 1, Van Exel went to work and led the Mavericks to two straight wins.
That offseason, Van Exel was traded to the Golden State Warriors, where he would wear the No. 37 jersey for the first time.
Van Exel played one injury-plagued season for the Warriors before he was traded to Portland.
One of the things that set Van Exel apart was his combination of flash and fundamentals. Yes, there was a lot of street to Van Exel's game and he knew how to play with flair. But he still took care of the details.
Van Exel, who played in one All-Star Game in 1998, finished his career with better than a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he never had a season in which he averaged as many as three turnovers per game.