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Congratulations, Cap'n Ronny

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Ronny Turiaf's feel-good NBA story continues to get even better..

As the San Francisco Chronicle's Janny Hu reports, Don Nelson named Turiaf the Warriors' third captain this past weekend.  The forward joins swingman Stephen Jackson and center Andris Biedrins in sharing the responsibility.

Three and a half years ago, Turiaf's career looked in danger of being over before it began.  Now, he is in fourth NBA season, playing on his first free agent contract (a four-year, $17 million deal that will set him for life) and a captain of his squad.  Quite a chain of events.

Barely a month after the Lakers drafted Turiaf in June 2005, he was diagnosed with an enlarged aortic root that could have been fatal if left alone.  He underwent successful heart surgery that summer, but his basketball future (no doubt a secondary concern at that point) remained unknown.  He was not expected by any means to play for the Lakers during the following season. 

He did exactly that.  Turiaf signed with the Lakers the following January and appeared in 23 games for the that season.  He missed a total of 14 over the two seasons after that.  The former Gonzaga standout wasn't and isn't a star at the NBA level by any means, but he's the type of guy teammates love and opponents hate: a grinder.  Turiaf was a ball of energy for the Lakers, fighting for every loose ball and routinely diving on the floor and jumping out of bounds to earn his team extra possessions.  He fought on every play defensively, and his athleticism allowed him to average more than a block per game with the Lakers despite never playing so much as 20 minutes per game.  He didn't demand the basketball but shot a high percentage (true shooting figures of 53.7, 58.6 and 53.9 percent as a Laker) cleaning up the glass and drifting to open spots for dunks and lay-ins down low. 

For every second that he was in Los Angeles, Turiaf inspired observers simply by how much he seemed to just love playing basketball.  He gave his team everything he had each time out, and his toughness made him a valuable reserve for the Los Angeles team that went to the Finals last season.

This summer, he got his chance at a payday and took his energetic play to Golden State.  It's been an up-and-down start for Turiaf there so far.  He is playing only 15.7 minutes per game and averaging 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per 36 minutes, down from career averages of 12.0 points and 7.8 boards (and his true shooting has fallen below 50 percent).  But he has continued to play each game as though it is his last, and he has made a difference defensively.  Turiaf is holding opposing centers to 45.7 percent effective field goal shooting (though power forwards have been a bit more successful against him), and the Warriors are 4.6 points better per 100 possessions defensively with him on the floor than without him.  That he is blocking 2.1 shots per game in his limited minutes is of note as well.  Turiaf is still getting acclimated to Nellieball, but it's not hard to envision him increasing his production in the wide-open game that the Warriors play, especially given how Turiaf loves to race up and down the floor.

That Don Nelson chose to name him a captain despite the fact that he has started two of the team's 20 games and is playing less than a third of each game speaks volumes about the relatively young (he's 25) Ronny Turiaf's value to the Warriors as a leader on a youthful team.  That Turiaf has managed to get to this point in his NBA career speaks plenty on its own about the man's perseverance and dedication.  Congratulations on the honor, Ronny.

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I didn't see a viable place in the non-humorous story above for the following, but I can't resist throwing it in after the fact.  My favorite part of Turiaf being named a captain comes courtesy of the phrasing he used when chatting about it with the media (boldface mine):

"I can relate to some of the younger guys better because I just got out of college three years ago, I'm still a young guy. I can relate to them in a little bit of a different way because Jax has that superstar status that old vet that's won championships."

Yep, that's Jax as in Stephen Jackson.  The amazing part to me is that despite the fact that he only has one title ring, I'm not actually all that stunned by this characterization (although superstar might be a bit lofty).  A year and a half ago, I never would have imagined people referring to Captain Jax this way.  It's for another day, but he has quite a story in his own right.