Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thanks, Dennis!

Ahead of tonight’s huge clash in Orlando between the Magic (34-10) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (35-8), two of the Eastern Conference’s top three teams, former Orlando sharpshooter Dennis Scott was asked for his thoughts on which of the superstars in tonight’s game, LeBron James or Dwight Howard, is the better building block for a franchise. Scott said he’d choose Howard, opting for his intimidation on the inside and the open looks a dominant big man generates for perimeter players, citing his time spent playing with Shaquille O’Neal, including the 1995-96 season when Scott hit a then-NBA record 267 3-pointers (Ray Allen hit 269 in 2005-06). While Scott was very respectful in giving his response, he concluded by saying that “it’s easier finding another LeBron than a Shaq or a Dwight”. Really, Dennis?

To be fair, the argument that Scott was making, that great wing players come along more often than truly dominant big men, is valid, but it erroneously assumes that LeBron James is a “normal” wing player, and not the most difficult matchup in NBA. While Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are every bit as skilled on the court, physically they are not unlike many other players at the same position. LeBron James, on the other hand, with the size of an NFL linebacker and the speed and agility of a wide receiver, is a force of nature. And after hearing Dennis Scott’s slight, as politely as it was delivered, King James will probably be looking to deliver this message- emphatically. Unfortunately for Mickael Pietrus, Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee and any other Magic wing players, it’s going to be a little rough. LeBron’s going to be looking to drop the hammer tonight. Gee, thanks, Dennis!

There’s no doubt that Dwight Howard is the NBA’s best big man, along with LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade and Chris Paul, one of the league’s five best players, a devastating defensive force and at 6’11”, 265 pounds, a ridiculous physical specimen, but there is absolutely nothing on a basketball court that he can do that LeBron, who goes 6’9”, 265 pounds himself (don't believe that 250 lbs talk!), cannot. Also, while Howard must have the ball delivered to him in the post in order to dominate, James constantly has the ball in his hands and is charged with the task of being the catalyst for the Cavs’ success every single night- and he’s delivered spectacularly, creating great scoring opportunities for himself (27.9 ppg, 49% from the floor) and his teammates (7 assists per game).

Frankly, Dennis Scott may have had his argument backwards. While it’s true that great wing players are more common that great big men, it’s safe to say that there have been more players in NBA history in the mold of Dwight Howard than that of LeBron James.

Chalmers Omitted from Rookie Squad- Understandable, But Unfortunate

Michael Beasley deserves to participate in the Rookie-Sophomore Game, but there’s no way he should be the lone Miami Heat rookie present. He’s arguably not even the top choice among Heat rookies. Given the depth at the point guard position in this year’s rookie class, headed by Chicago’s Derrick Rose and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, it’s understandable that another point guard spot wasn’t available for Mario Chalmers- but it’s really unfortunate.

Mario Chalmers has started all but one game this season at the point guard position, averaging just under ten points, five assists and two steals. Adding to the challenge of playing the most difficult position on the floor, Chalmers lines up and plays big minutes alongside a bona fide superstar in the backcourt. As beneficial as it is playing with Dwyane Wade, it cannot be easy, particularly for a rookie point guard. Wade’s a champion, a perennial MVP-candidate, the owner of a Finals MVP award and a gold medal, and coming off an injury-plagued season that saw the Heat win just fifteen games, he’s dying to return to the top of the NBA, so it’s probably safe to assume that he’s not eager to spend several seasons in the midst of a rebuilding process.

Of the NBA’s top three rookie point guards, Chalmers is arguably going to be the most influential this season. While Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder have been near the bottom of the NBA all season, and Rose’s Bulls, while just 2½ game out of a playoff spot, have dropped seven of their last ten games and fallen to thirteenth in the Eastern Conference, the Heat are currently fifth in the East, half a game behind the Atlanta Hawks for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, having won seven of ten games and sport a solid 6-3 division record, highlighted by big back-to-back wins this week over the Hawks and the Orlando Magic. In the midst of “rookie wall” territory, Chalmers playing a significant role, averaging 16 points, 6 assists and two steals in roughly 35 minutes per game.

Again, it’s understandable that Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook were tapped as members of the Rookie squad that will taken on the Sophomores in Phoenix on All-Star Saturday, but it’s not because Mario Chalmers didn’t do enough to warrant the same honor.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Amar'e Still Not Bringin' It

A totally uninspiring performance against the Denver Nuggets on January 15 led to an examination of Amar’e Stoudemire’s status as a franchise player, and whether he’s worthy of the humongous contract he’ll almost inevitably receive following the 2009-10 season. Starting with that game a week ago in Denver, the Phoenix Suns have lost five of six games, with the lone win coming over the increasingly disappointing Am. Ironically, it’s against this backdrop, having produced just one game in this stretch remotely resembling a star-quality performance, that Amar'e Stoudemire was named a Western Conference All-Star starter.

On the surface, Stoudemire’s 31-point game in Toronto on January 18 may have the look of a big outburst, but it doesn’t take much detective work to see that even that performance left much to be desired. Although he put up 31 points on 12-for-20 from the field, Amar’e’s less-than-stellar work on the boards (6 rebounds, matched by Steve Nash, and good for fourth best on the Raptors), combined with a single assist and no blocks or steals is hardly what a team expects from a top-flight big man. How often do Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard fill so few columns on the score sheet? However, compared to his performances in the Suns’ last three games, all losses, Amar’e looked like Wilt Chamberlain in Toronto.

In 30 minutes on the floor in the Suns’ nationally televised Martin Luther King Day matchup with the Boston Celtics, Stoudemire managed just one rebound, four turnovers and four fouls to go along with three points (0-for-7 from the field), as Phoenix was thumped by the Celtics. The game’s 104-87 final score hardly reflects the Celtics’ dominance, as the Suns trailed by thirty points early and often, only cutting the deficit under twenty in garbage time.

Two nights after being humiliated in Boston, the Suns were at Madison Square Garden to take on former coach Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks. The Suns failed to deliver again, falling 114-109 to the Knicks. Stoudemire scored 20 points on 6-for-17 shooting, grabbed just four rebounds, and committed five fouls as he was not only clearly the second best power forward on the floor, as the Knicks’ David Lee dominated the Suns, scoring 25 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, and outscoring Amar’e in the second half, but Stoudemire was not even the best frontcourt player on the Suns, as Shaquille O’Neal put up 21 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots.

And in yet another sub-par showing, the Phoenix Suns simply failed to show up in Charlotte last Friday against the Bobcats, and were humiliated 98-76. The Bobcats jumped ahead early and held led by double-digits for the last two-and-a-half quarters of the game. While this was a comprehensive team defeat, Stoudemire was particularly ineffective, committing six turnovers and making just five of fourteen field goal attempts on his way to just twelve points. On this occasion he was the fourth best frontcourt player on the floor, once again outplayed by Shaq (20 points, 6-10 from the field, 8-12 FT), as well as by both Charlotte forwards, Gerald Wallace (28 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks- what a line!) and former teammate Boris Diaw (26 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals).

Stoudemire is hardly the only member of the Suns who’s failed to bring his “A” game lately, so it’s impossible to lay the team’s poor play entirely on his doorstep. However, given his perceived greatness and his desire to be a team’s primary option, combined with his likely foray into the free agent market following next season, Amar’e Stoudemire should be working harder than anyone on the Phoenix Suns’ to take his game to new level.

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Central Division

With the Atlantic Division in the books, it’s time to look at the All-time Starting Lineups for the Central Division. In these lineups, there were definitely a few absolute gimmes, but also a fair number of surprises- more than was the case in the Atlantic Division. As you read this, I imagine that, whether you agree with me or not, there are at least a couple of guys whose stats will make you stop for a second and think “Damn! He was better than I thought!”

On to the All-time Starting Fives for NBA’s Central Division. Enjoy!


PG- Reggie Theus (18.8 ppg, 47.7% FG, 80.6% FT, 3.4 rpg, 5.6 apg in 441 games)- Less of a pure point guard than Norm Van Lier, but Theus was a better scorer, rebounder and shooter. Also, his assist numbers are comparable to Van Lier’s (5.6 v. 6.9 apg).

SG- Michael Jordan (31.5 ppg, 50.5% FG, 83.8% FT, 6.3 rpg, 5.4 apg in 930 games)- Do you really require an explanation?

SF- Scottie Pippen (17.7 ppg, 48.1% FG, 69.3% FT, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg in 856 games)- Much more than MJ’s sidekick, Pippen is one of the greatest perimeter defenders in league history and was a star in his own right. Could (Should?) have been in the 1994 Finals as the league MVP.

PF- Bob Love (21.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg in 592 games)- Chicago's best inside scorer of the 1970s, playing more games in the frontcourt for the Bulls than anyone except Scottie Pippen. Had he played more games with the franchise, a young Elton Brand, incredibly consistent and once the NBA’s best offensive rebounder and inside scorer, could have had the edge over Love.

C- Artis Gilmore (19.3 ppg, 58.7% FG, 71.2% FT, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.1 bpg in 482 games)- Despite spending his best seasons in the ABA, Gilmore established himself among the NBA’s top centers. Offensively (check out the FG%) and defensively, Gilmore was a force in the middle.


PG- Mark Price (16.4 ppg, 47.9% FG, 90.6% FT, 40.9% 3PT, 7.2 apg, 1.3 spg in 582 games)- Although Andre Miller and Terrell Brandon put up some impressive numbers, Price is the face of the Cavs at the point. One of the most underrated players of his era.

SG- Ron Harper (19.4 ppg, 47.4% FG, 71.3% FT, 4.7 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 228 games)- One of the most athletic and versatile two-guards of the1980s. Not the scorer that World B. Free was, but Harper’s all-around stats earned him this spot.

SF- LeBron James (27.4 ppg, 47% FG, 6.9 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.8 spg in 427 games)- An absolute force of nature. Entered the league at age 18 with greater expectations and hype than any player in recent memory, and LeBron has not disappointed. Maybe the best player in the NBA, LBJ will be an all-timer.

PF- Larry Nance (16.8 ppg, 53% FG, 80.4% FT, 8.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.5 bpg in 433 games)- Blessed with incredible length and a soft touch, both around the basket and from the line. Despite having better statistics, neither Shawn Kemp nor Cliff Robinson was the player that Nance was for the Cavs.

C- Brad Daugherty (19.0 ppg, 53.2% FG, 74.7% FT, 9.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, in 548 games)- The anchor of the best teams in franchise history. Had he stayed healthy, Daugherty would have built a strong Hall of Fame resume. Zydrunas Ilgauskas warranted consideration here, but the decision wasn’t too difficult.


PG- Isiah Thomas (19.2 ppg, 45.2% FG, 75.9% FT, 3.6 rpg, 9.3 apg, 1.9 spg in 979 games)- Even with Chauncey Billups becoming a championship-caliber point guard and the Pistons’ leader, Isiah will always be the face of the franchise. His toughness and clutch play were the catalysts for the Pistons’ championship teams in 1989 and 1990.

SG- Joe Dumars (16.1 ppg, 46% FG, 84.3% FT, 4.5 apg in 1,018 games)- What didn’t Dumars do with the Pistons? Franchise leader in games played, won two titles, named MVP of the 1990 Finals, and the lone likeable member of the Bad Boys. Despite similar stats, Rip Hamilton finished a not-so-close second.

SF- Grant Hill (21.6 ppg, 47.6% FG, 74.6% FT, 7.9 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.6 spg in 435 games)- Remember what a force this guy was? During his six mostly-healthy seasons in Detroit, Grant Hill looked poised to become one of the greatest all-around players of all time.

PF- Bailey Howell (21.1 ppg, 47.6% FG, 77.4% FT, 11.8 rpg, 2.3 apg in 387 games)- A model of consistency in the 1960s. He certainly had competition, but Howell’s performance in five outstanding seasons in Detroit outclassed those of Dave DeBusschere, Happy Hairston and Dennis Rodman.

C- Bob Lanier (22.7 ppg, 50.8% FG, 77.5% FT, 11.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 bpg in 681 games)- A very underrated big man and the best of a solid corps of Pistons’ centers that includes Bill Laimbeer, Ben Wallace and Larry Foust. (By the way, Bill Laimbeer’s stats are a lot better than I was expecting!)


PG- Mark Jackson (8.4 ppg, 43.4% FG, 78.3% FT, 36.2% 3PT, 3.8 rpg, 8.1 apg, 1.1 spg in 405 games)- Despite his limited offensive game, Jackson was an outstanding floor general for Pacers’ in the mid-to-late 1990s. Never made mental errors and always made his teammates better.

SG- Reggie Miller (18.2 ppg, 47.1% FG, 88.8% FT, 39.5% 3PT, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.1 spg in 1,389 games)- An obvious choice. Miller is one of the game’s all-time great shooters, particularly in the clutch, and the face of the Pacers’ franchise.

SF- Detlef Schrempf (17.0 ppg, 51.1% FG, 81.3% FT, 8.6 rpg, 4.1 apg in 354 games)- Before starring with the Sonics, Detlef Schrempf broke out with the Pacers. Schrempf got a run for his money from Chuck Person, but Detlef gets the nod, thanks to a better all-around offensive game, rebounding and passing.

PF- Clark Kellogg (18.9 ppg, 49.7% FG, 75.7% FT, 9.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.5 spg in 260 games)- Before his career was derailed by knee injuries, Kellogg was one of the NBA’s top young forwards. Kellogg’s three healthy seasons in Indiana are as good as any by a Pacers frontcourt player.

C- Jermaine O’Neal (19.0 ppg, 46.4% FG, 70.9% FT, 9.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 2.4 bpg in 403 games)- It’s no surprise to see O’Neal here. It was surprising, however, to find that his toughest statistical competition for this spot was not Rik Smits, but Herb Williams and James Edwards.


PG- Oscar Robertson (16.3 ppg, 46.8% FG, 84.3%FT, 4.9 rpg, 7.5 apg, in 288 games)- Late his career, Robertson reinvented himself as the perfect complement to a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and it won him an NBA title. It is this title that won him a spot in this line-up, as Sam Cassell’s Milwaukee statistics compared very favorably to Robertson’s.

SG- Ray Allen (19.6 ppg, 45.0% FG, 87.9% FT, 40.6% 3PT, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 494 games)- A three-man race between Allen, Michael Redd and Sidney Moncrief. I expected Moncrief to emerge from this group, but Allen’s all-around game compared very favorably. And Redd, a Ray Allen-clone, will one day replace Allen here- just not yet.

SF- Marques Johnson (21.0 ppg, 53% FG, 73.6% FT, 7.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.3 spg in 524 games)- He and Moncrief were the core of the Bucks’ teams that won five straight division titles from 1980-84. Terry Cummings, the man Johnson was traded for, comes in a close second.

PF- Vin Baker (18.3 ppg, 49.4% FG, 63.4% FT, 9.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.3 bpg in 324 games)- Once one of the NBA’s best bigs, Baker was one of the original big men with athleticism and a mid-range jumper, and could also hit the boards very well.

C- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (30.4 ppg, 54.7% FG, 69.5% FT, 15.3 rpg, 4.3 apg in 467 games)- Arguably the greatest player in NBA history, Kareem was an absolute force with the Bucks. Not only statistically dominant, he combined with Oscar Robertson to bring Milwaukee its only title.

Friday, January 23, 2009

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Atlantic Division

There have been countless books, articles and barroom debates aimed at determining the greatest teams and greatest players in NBA history. Another fun exercise along these lines is assembling the greatest starting five or twelve-man NBA roster in history. I have had a lot of fun debating these topics with some knowledgeable (and some not-so-knowledgeable) NBA fans, and I can’t promise that such an article, authored by me, will not make its way onto this site. The problem with these very simple exercises is that they neglect an entire universe of star players whose greatness falls just beyond the scope of the top fifteen or twenty in the game’s history.

So I decided to put together a list of the greatest all-time starting line-up for each NBA franchise, based on the performances of players who suited up in at least 200 games (there was a little bit of wiggle room used here) for that team. I've (mostly) tried to adhere to a strict C, PF, SF, SG, PG line-up, not just 2 guards, 2 forwards and center. Now, I didn’t invent some kind of convoluted, John Hollinger-esque formula to determine these line-ups- I just examined the statistics of players during their tenures with a given team (thanks!) and considered the era in which each played. I used "face of the franchise" status and high points in the team’s history as tie-breaker. A lot of the results are as expected, but some forced me to stare at the numbers in shock and admit that my initial perception had changed.

Rather than go nuts and give you 29 starting fives to consider in one sitting, I will be posting these five at a time, grouped by current NBA division, over the next six days.

I’m going to start today with the Atlantic Division. Have fun reading and debating these, I had fun putting them together! If you think I’m an idiot, don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m very eager to hear your opinions.


PG- Bob Cousy (18.5 ppg, 37.5% FG, 80% FT, 5.2 rpg, 7.6 apg in 917 games)- A no-brainer. Tiny Archibald at the end of his career and a rock-solid DJ in the 80s can’t compare to the quarterback of the Celtics’ dynasty.

SG- Jojo White (18.4 ppg, 44.2% FG, 83.3% FT, 4.3 rpg, 5.1 apg in 717 games)- One of the bridges from Russell to Bird. Compared to Bill Sharman and Sam Jones (really the only competition), ranks 1st or 2nd of the three in every major category.

SF- Larry Bird (24.3 ppg, 49.6% FG, 88.6% FT, 37.6% 3PT, 10 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.7 spg in 897 games)- The greatest Celtic since Russell. Some of Pierce’s and Havlicek’s stats compare, and Hondo’s rings must be considered, but Bird is THE starting SF for the Celtics.

PF- Kevin McHale (17.9 ppg, 55.4% FG, 79.8% FT, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 971 games)- Not a statistical wonder, but the inside force for three championship teams. His dominating low post game made him the #2 option behind Bird, and shot extremely well from both the field and line.

C- Bill Russell (15.1 ppg, 44% FG, 56.1% FT, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg in 963 games)- The ultimate champion. While 11 championships in 13 years is his ultimate statistic, Russell’s career stats also stack up pretty well against most centers in NBA history.


PG- Jason Kidd (14.9 ppg, 39.9% FG, 80.6% FT, 7.1 rpg, 9.0 apg in 455 games)- The catalyst for the Nets’ back-to-back Finals trips. One of the game’s great all-around guards and the franchise leader in rebounds and assists per game among guards.

SG- Vince Carter (24.1 ppg, 44.9% FG, 80.7% FT, 5.8 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.2 spg in 334 games)- Flirted with greatness in Toronto before deciding he wanted out. In 2+ seasons with the Nets, Carter’s put up monster numbers for a team without a great two-guard legacy (despite the efforts of Kerry Kittles and Otis Birdsong).

SF- Derrick Coleman (19.9 ppg, 46.1% FG, 77.0% FT, 10.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.6 bpg in 348 games)- May have been unmotivated and an underachiever, but during his five seasons in New Jersey, DC was a HELL of a player, easily surpassing Van Horn, Jefferson and Bernard King’s first two seasons.

PF- Buck Williams (16.4 ppg, 55% FG, 64.9% FT, 11.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg in 635 games)- A stronger and more productive version of Horace Grant. Sadly, one of the best power forwards of the 1980s spent his best years on a string of atrocious Nets teams.

C- Sam Bowie (12.8 ppg, 43.6% FG, 76.2% FT, 8.2 rpg, 2 apg, 1.6 bpg in 280 games)- When healthy, the “guy picked ahead of Jordan” was actually a decent player. It helps that his competition for this spot was Tim McCormick, Mike Gminski and an aging Darryl Dawkins.


PG- Walt Frazier (19.3 ppg, 49.2% FG, 78.3% FT, 6.1 rpg, 6.3 apg in 759 games)- A great all-around guard. Clyde almost single-handedly won Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. Stephon Marbury’s stats stack up well, but Frazier’s team success gives him an easy victory.

SG- Richie Guerin (20.1 ppg, 41.1% FG, 77.8% FT, 6.4 rpg, 5.3 apg in 516 games)- Bronx-born Guerin led the Knicks in the 1950s. Still owns the highest scoring average among guards in Knicks’ history, along with better rebounding and assist numbers than Houston, Sprewell and Monroe.

SF- Bernard King (26.5 ppg, 54.3% FG, 76.1% FT, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 206 games)- One of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history. His brief time with the Knicks produced some electrifying performances, capped by his 1984 playoff duel against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons.

PF- Dave DeBusschere (16.0 ppg, 43.9% FG, 71.6% FT, 10.7 rpg, 3.1 apg in 435 games)- A vital member of the Knicks’ championship front lines. A tireless worker in the paint and a selfless teammate. Based on impact on the franchise, other Knicks’ PFs (Spencer Haywood and Ken Sears) had no chance.

C- Willis Reed (18.7 ppg, 47.6% FG, 74.7% FT, 12.9 rpg, 1.8 apg in 650 games)- Offensively, Reed falls considerably short of Patrick Ewing. A decided edge on the boards (12.9 rpg v 10.4 for Ewing), along with his leadership and team success earned him this spot.


PG- Maurice Cheeks (12.2 ppg, 52.8% FG, 79% FT, 7.3 apg, 2.3 spg in 853 games)- A solid floor leader and one of the best defensive guards of his era. With Iverson falling into the two-guard category, Cheeks’ only competition was the easily outclassed Eric Snow.

SG- Allen Iverson (28 ppg, 42.1% FG, 77.5% FT, 4.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 682 games)- Not only is Iverson the toughest guard in NBA history, he’s one of its best scorers too. Hal Greer, the Sixers’ next-best two-guard, has a championship ring, but statistically pales in comparison to A.I.

SF- Julius Erving (22.0 ppg, 50.7% FG, 77.7% FT, 6.7 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.5 bpg in 836 games)- This was no gimme. Offensively, Erving has the edge over Billy Cunningham, but not on the boards (6.7 rpg v. 10.1 for Cunningham). It was Erving’s athleticism and revolutionary effect on NBA wing play won him this spot.

PF- Charles Barkley (23.3 ppg, 57.6% FG, 73.3% FT, 11.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg in 610 games)- Statistically, Barkley and George McGinnis are virtually in a dead heat. In the end, Barkley’s physical dominance and longer tenure won out.

C- Wilt Chamberlain (27.6 ppg, 58.3% FG, 45.6% FT, 23.9 rpg, 6.8 apg in 277 games)- It’s sad that after averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, Moses Malone never had a chance to win this spot. Such is the fate of centers pitted against Wilt Chamberlain.


PG- Damon Stoudamire (19.6 ppg, 41.5% FG, 82% FT, 8.8 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 spg in 200 games)- Stoudamire made an immediate impact in Toronto, and is still the PG standard for the Raptors. Jose Calderon can play, but has yet to challenge Stoudamire’s status in this spot.

SG- Vince Carter (23.4 ppg, 44.6% FG, 78.3% FT, 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.3 spg in 403 games)- The first superstar in franchise history, Carter took the Raptors to within a buzzer-beater of the East Finals, the franchise’s highest point to date.

SF- Donyell Marshall (13.8 ppg, 45.7% FG, 75.9% FT, 8.7 rpg, in 131 games)- Not a whole lot to work with here. Marshall’s scoring, rebounding and shooting accuracy gave him the edge over long-time Raptor Morris Peterson. You might surprised to learn that he's still in the NBA.

PF- Chris Bosh (19.4 ppg, 48.8% FG, 79.3% FT, 1.2 bpg in 402 games)- Among the best big men in the Eastern Conference, and still improving. Bosh can do virtually anything on the floor and, at age 23, his game is still developing.

C- Marcus Camby (13.5 ppg, 44.8% FG, 65.4% FT, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.9 bpg in 126 games)- Although he played just 2 seasons in Toronto, Marcus Camby doesn’t have much competition for the #1 center position, with Keon Clark the only one worth considering.

Bynum Breaking Out?

After emerging as a potential force in the paint last season, Andrew Bynum looks ready to dominate. After a string of solid performances, Bynum torched the Clippers for a career-high 42 points, on just 24 field goal attempts, on Wednesday night, and followed up that performance with a rock-solid 23-point effort (on just 12 FG attempts) in a blowout win against the Washington Wizards the following night, tossing in 29 rebounds and four blocked shots in the two games, just for good measure. The most exciting aspect of the back-to-back performances, from the Lakers’ perspective at least, is that Bynum doesn’t seem to be playing over his head.

What’s happened in the last two games is not an anomaly, nor has it been absent all season. It just hasn’t happened with this magnitude or with the consistency that many predicted before the season. However, the last two night have given us a glimpse of what Andrew Bynum is expected to become, and looks to be on his way to becoming. A great set of physical tools, combined with his increased physical maturity, added game experience and the tutelage of a legend have Andrew Bynum on the path toward becoming the latest dominant big man in Lakerland.

A legitimate 7-footer, Bynum has done a fantastic job of adding muscle to his once-skinny frame, becoming noticeably more imposing, now tipping the scales at a solid 285 pounds. This strength allows him to hold his own against virtually any NBA big man, but it’s the set of supplemental skills he’s developed that point to Bynum becoming a special player in the near future. Bynum’s combination of length (he has a 7’3” wingspan), soft hands and athleticism (33” vertical leap) are a rarity in man of his size, and have provided his tutor, Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a full complement of tools with which to work. And that work is paying off, as the skills that Andrew Bynum has developed have Kareem’s fingerprints all over them.

As valuable as Bynum’s size and athleticism may be, what’s now giving him the look of a great big man are his footwork, passing and movement without the ball- hallmarks of Kareem’s dominant career. No longer does Bynum look like “Bambi on ice”, as did in his first two NBA seasons- he’s now identifying the spots on the floor that he wants to get to, getting there, establishing position, and making strong, confident moves once he receives the ball. Rather than allowing him to rely on his considerable, albeit raw, physical assets, Kareem has worked with Bynum, who’s build is very similar to his own, on refining his footwork and always maintaining his balance, which, combined with his ever-improving play without the ball, both on the strong side and the weak side of the floor, have helped Bynum develop a smooth jump hook, a potential go-to move, and to find opening in the paint for easy shots.

Not only has Bynum made great strides with regard to getting his own shot, he’s also improved his passing, both in terms of vision as well as touch. Though he’s not there yet, more than any aspect of his game, Bynum’s passing from the post is reminiscent of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’s widely regarding as one the league’s best-ever passing big men. In an offense so predicated on effective ball movement, Bynum’s ability to find the open man along the sideline, on the perimeter, and cutting down the lane has added another vital dimension to the Lakers offense. With his improved passing, combined with that of Pau Gasol, another excellent passer, the Lakers boast a pair of top-flight passing big men, which keeps defenders honest, and forces far more single-coverage in the post, since neither man has a problem looking over double-teams to find the open man.

After showing flashes of his potential last season, only to be derailed by a dislocated kneecap, Andrew Bynum looks ready to ascend to the next level. While his consistency hasn’t immediately return this season, it’s obvious that Bynum possesses every tool necessary to become a truly dominant big man, and given the way he’s used those tools over the past 48 hours, he seems to be learning how to harness his power.

Less than 18 months ago, Kobe Bryant was livid that GM Mitch Kupchak didn’t send Bynum to New Jersey in exchange for Jason Kidd. It’s probably safe to say that Kobe’s never been happier to be wrong. Few, if any, GMs would even consider that trade today. And who would blame them?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Max Money for Amar'e? Not So Fast...

If, as expected , Amar’e Stoudemire opts out of his contract with the Phoenix Suns following next season, he’ll be one of the most sought-after free agents in the Summer of 2010- probably as much as anyone except LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Stoudemire’s an excellent NBA power forward, but he’s unlikely to justify the max-money contract he’ll inevitably receive. As talented and athletic as he is, and despite being touted as such, not least of all by himself, Amar’e Stoudemire is not a franchise player.

Now in his seventh NBA season, not only has Stoudemire not developed into the statistical wonder that many predicted he’d become, he’s failed to fulfill his stated desire of being “the guy” on a team, particularly on the defensive end. This void was perfectly illustrated in the Suns’ January 15 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets. With Shaquille O’Neal out of the lineup and three key contributors (Jason Richardson, Leandro Barbosa and Matt Barnes) combining to make just thirteen of forty-one field goal attempts, it was crucial, even more than usual, that Amar’e Stoudemire step up his performance. In these moments, the late moments in tight road games, when true franchise players thrive, Amar’e Stoudemire was conspicuous by his absence, attempting just one field goal in the fourth quarter and overtime. In addition to his underwhelming late-game offensive performance, Amar’e managed just eight rebounds, hardly picking up much of the slack in Shaq’s absence, committed five turnovers, and was primarily responsible for an inexcusable defensive breakdown that allowed the Nuggets to seal the win in overtime.

With just over 90 seconds remaining, and Denver with the ball and leading 110-105, Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin set up for a high pick-and-roll, defended by Stoudemire and Steve Nash. As Billups came off of the screen near the top of the key, with Nash following him, obviously not switching on the pick, Amar’e Stoudemire did… nothing. While Amar’e stood with his back to Kenyon Martin, neither looking to neither switch onto nor aggressively trap Billups, K-Mart, who Stoudemire was supposedly guarding, walked down the lane for an uncontested dunk, extending the lead to seven points.

How does something like this happen? It’s one thing to be a sub-par defender, but such a lack of effort and commitment at a critical moment is nothing short of pathetic. The problem is not Stoudemire he made the wrong play, it’s that he chose to make NO play. It was as though he didn’t have a clue as to what he should have been doing. It’s difficult to fathom an above-average professional so comprehensively seizing up at a key moment, let alone a guy that considers himself a franchise player and is in search of a nine-figure financial commitment. What did Amar’e Stoudemire display in that moment, when he opted to do nothing at all in lieu of at least pretending to try, that would convince an NBA franchise to tether it’s long-term future, both on the floor and the salary cap, to him?

Although Amar’e does put up solid numbers, scoring just under 22 points per game, making 55% of his field goals, and grabbing more than 8 rebounds, there’s no aspect of his game that can be classified as dominant. Inside of 20 feet, Stoudemire can do virtually anything on the floor, but he’s never truly defined his style of play, nor has he shown an ability take over games down the stretch, barely cracking the top 50 in 4th quarter scoring, while shooting under 50% from the field and just 64% with a 48-minute +/- rating of -3 in “clutch” situations. While he’s is a gifted athlete and a fantastic player to watch, the reality of the situation is that Amar’e Stoudemire is good-but-not-great, and not a true franchise player.

Compared to Dwight Howard, a legitimate franchise cornerstone, Stoudemire consistently comes up short. Despite greater experience and a far more polished offensive game, Stoudemire’s scoring average is similar to Howard’s (21.8 v. 20.2), but in other aspects of the game, namely on the boards and on the defensive end, Stoudemire’s hard-pressed to compete with Howard. While Howard, a player with similar physical assets, is totally dominant at both ends of the floor, leading the NBA in rebounds and blocks, Stoudemire is 20th in the league on the boards, averaging roughly the same number of rebounds per 48 minutes as teammate Matt Barnes, grabbing as many rebounds as Howard averages (14) just three times all season, and has reach double-digits just once in his last ten games. The situation is similar with blocked shots, where Howard averages 3.2 blocks per game, and Amar’e has yet to produce a single game this season eclipsing Howard’s average, blocking 3 shots in a game three times, and ranks 33rd in the NBA in blocks, with just 1.1 per game.

Any which way you slice it, Amar’e Stoudemire’s perceived value to the Phoenix Suns, or to any team that elects to toss $20 million per year at him, clearly outstrips his intrinsic value. Aside from his atrocious defense play and Marion-esque comments about wanting to be “the man”, his inability to genuinely commit to utilizing his incredible physical gifts to be something more than just another good player should give teams serious pause as they look to deploy precious cap space in the Summer of 2010.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Asking Price for Conley Must Come Down

Rumors of a potential trade between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Milwaukee Bucks that would see the teams swap second-year point guards, have gained momentum in recent days. If it were to go down in its current form, Mike Conley Jr. would be sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Ramon Sessions and rookie forward Joe Alexander, the #8 pick in the 2008 draft and everyone’s favorite headbanger. The trade’s current structure largely results from the fact that salaries must match in order for an NBA trade to work, but it must be said that, purely from a basketball perspective, the price tag attached to Mike Conley seems a bit inflated.

In terms of on-court production, Sessions, the 56th pick in the 2007 draft, is the superior NBA point guard. He stepped in late last season and played phenomenally over the season’s last 17 games, hitting for 20+ points twice and reaching double figures in assists six times, including a spectacular 24-assist performance against the Bulls on April 14. This season, Sessions has shown that those seventeen games were no fluke, playing in 38 games and scoring at a higher clip and shooting the same 44% from the field. His assist numbers have dropped a bit, but one 24-assist game out of seventeen does skew the numbers a bit. Over his 55-game career, Ramon Sessions is averaging 9.7 points, 5.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game.

Mike Conley Jr. on the other hand, the 4th overall selection in the same 2007 draft, is not nearly the same caliber of professional point guard right now, and doesn’t seem to be moving toward becoming a top-tier NBA player, repeatedly losing his starting spot to Kyle Lowry. In his 91 career games in the NBA, Conley has averaged 8.6 points on 41% from the field, 3.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game, with just two 20+ point games and two 10+ assist games- all of them coming last season. And he doesn’t seem to be heading in the right direction. 38 games into this season, Conley is averaging 7.4 points and 3 assists and shooting 42% from the field.

Although Conley sports a much higher salary ($3.6 million v. $722K for Sessions), there is onerfactor that could scare off possible suitors for Ramon Sessions- he’s in line to get paid. Like Gilbert Arenas in 2003, Sessions stands to benefit from falling into the second round of the draft and not receiving a guaranteed 3-year contract (with a team option for a fourth) the likes of which Conley received. While Conley’s contract pays him $3.6 million this season, $3.9 million next season and has a $4.9 million team option for 2010-11, Sessions will receive a contract this summer that’s likely to pay him at least $5 million per season, but this really shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Grizz. Since Sessions isn’t likely to command a huge contract, paying him more than Conley shouldn’t hurt too much, since it will be commensurate with the difference in their play.

While trying to turn a questionable lottery choice into not only an upgrade at the point guard position, as well as trying to poach one of Milwaukee’s lottery picks, is a shrewd move by the Grizzlies, it’s an absurd strategy. Any extra consideration offered by the Bucks should be for the sole purpose of matching salaries. For instance, a package consisting of Ramon Sessions and Tyronne Lue (an expiring contract) is more than fair to Memphis, who should love the prospect of wiping Conley’s contract off the books, auditioning a free-agent-to-be for the remainder of the season for less than $400,000, and receiving $2,250,000 of cap relief from Lue’s expiring deal.

Lakers Visit the Alamo- Some Thoughts

What was Derek Fisher doing?

With the Los Angeles Lakers holding a 111-109 lead over the Spurs in San Antonio, and just 12 seconds remaining in the game, and the Spurs looking to inbound the ball in the frontcourt, Roger Mason popped out into the near corner to receive the inbounds pass from Matt Bonner. As Mason made his run to the corner, Derek Fisher tailed him, in great position to deny Mason a game-tying or game-winning shot. As Bonner’s pass came in along the sideline, Derek Fisher, as intelligent and savvy a player as there is in the NBA, uncharacteristically gambled by lunging for the steal, effectively taking himself out of the play. If only D-Fish had stayed out of the play!

Following the missed steal attempt, the ball got to Mason in the corner, with Fisher now behind him. As inexplicable as his ill-advised defensive was, Fisher’s next move was an even bigger head-scratcher. Now standing behind Mason, and with his own back to him, and Mason going up for a potential game-tying jumper, Derek Fisher backed into Roger Mason, who drained the 20-footer from the corner, and was whistled for a foul which put Mason at the line for the game-winning free throw.

It’s unclear exactly what Fisher was thinking- he may have been slightly disoriented and scrambling to get back into the play. Or he may have known exactly what he was doing, and his plan just didn't work out as he'd hoped. It’s probably safe to assume that he was absolutely livid and desperately looking to atone for his first mental slip-up, and figured that by running into him from behind, he'd give Mason two free throws for the tie, rather than allowing him an unguarded jump shot- a "professional foul". This may not have been the worst move had Mason not hit the jumper when Fisher ran into him. However, as the game ultimately played out, the bottom line Derek Fisher made two critical errors in the dying seconds in San Antonio, with one compounding the other.

A couple of additional thoughts on the Lakers:

With Kobe Bryant’s potential 3-pointer dagger, which capped off a great 8-point, 5-assist 4th quarter, which he classically followed up with the “Sam Cassell dance”, isn’t it becoming slightly ridiculous just how calmly and effortlessly he steps up and buries ridiculously tough shots in huge moments? Each of the past two nights, Kobe has hit a well-guarded 25+ foot 3-pointer, on the road against quality opposition. Other than Michael Jordan, has any NBA player ever conditioned us to expect him to hit every single shot that matters better than Kobe Bryant?

Finally, Josh Powell is a player. After being buried on the Lakers’ bench for the seasons’ first two months, Phil Jackson has had give Powell some consistent minutes with Luke Walton out of the lineup, and Powell is really making the most of them. In his past five games, Powell’s played 78 minutes (after playing just 96 in his first 17 appearances) and made 16 of his 27 field goal attempts (59.3%), including three straight in the final minutes in San Antonio as he and Kobe put on a pick-and-roll clinic (by the way, why was he taken out for the last three minutes?). Additionally, Josh Powell brings toughness and hustle, two qualities that were sorely lacking last June, to this Lakers team. Powell mixes it up in the paint, fights for loose balls and is generally prepared to do any dirty work that is needed. Glad to see Josh playing so well. Hopefully there is a place in the rotation for him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Enough Depth to Live by the 3-Pointer?

Last night in Sacramento, the Orlando Magic went absolutely berserk from the beyond the arc, setting a new NBA record with 23 made 3-pointers, on the way to handing the hometown Kings a 139-107 beating. Two nights after making 14 of 23 attempts in a big road win over the San Antonio Spurs, the Magic knocked down twelve of their eighteen first half 3-point attempts en route to building a 19-point halftime lead, and continued the exhibition after the break, hitting on eleven of their second half attempts as they cruised to the 32-point win.

What’s especially impressive about this record is it was not a result of just one guy having the night of life and hitting ten or twelve 3’s- Orlando’s hot shooting in Sacramento was the result of a balanced outside attack, with nine (nine!) players hitting on a 3, led by Jameer Nelson who made all five of his attempts, four each by J.J. Redick and Keith Bogans and three apiece from Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Watching seemingly every Orlando player light up the Kings from the outside, it became clear that the Magic, who do not seem to receive enough credit for their fantastic 31-8 record, deserve a place alongside the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics in the NBA’s top tier.

Without a doubt, this performance will be very tough to duplicate, but it should be noted that Orlando didn’t abandon their normal style of play on their record night- they were just all hitting their shots. While the Magic’s 37 3-point attempts is an awfully high number, they didn’t come at the expense of Dwight Howard, who led the team with 25 points in just 32 minutes. This is a team that is second in the league in 3-point attempts, averaging roughly 26 per game. And not only do the Magic take a bunch of 3’s, they’re really good at them, making 40.1% of their attempts, just .1% behind the San Antonio Spurs for best in the league, and do not have a real weak link from 3-point range.

Of the eight Magic players averaging at least one 3-point attempt per game, four (Nelson, Courtney Lee, Redick and Lewis) are shooting at least 40%, with the remaining four (Turkoglu, Bogans, Anthony Johnson and Mickael Pietrus) all making at least 35.6% of their attempts. With that kind of depth and consistency, it’s frankly not difficult to see how last night happened, and will 23 makes is a bit much, it’s not difficult to envision a similar performance in the future. Given that this team is getting its 10+ made 3-pointers per game from eight different guys, it’s a good bet that at least a couple of them will hitting their shots every. Plus, with a beast like Dwight Howard in the middle consistently drawing double-teams, clean looks from the outside should be readily available.

It’s been said for years that team that live by the 3, ultimately die by the 3 as well. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard’s dominance in the middle, combined with the deep arsenal of shooters that surround him, it is not unreasonable to think that this is a team that could challenge any other in the league in a seven-game series.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Michael Beasley "Will Survive"

After a disappointing first two months in the NBA, particularly given the great production from this year’s rookie class, not to mention the big impact that rookie point guard Mario Chalmers has had on the Miami Heat, Michael Beasley looks like he’s starting to find his comfort zone in the Association.

As the #2 overall pick in the draft and the summer league’s leading scorer, Beasley began receiving considerable minutes from the beginning of the season, averaging 33.4 minutes in his first ten games, and despite averaging more than 16 points, often looked lost on defense and unable to hit the glass as consistently as he had at Kansas State, where he averaged 12.4 rpg and set the NCAA freshman record for double-doubles with 28. Beasley’s offense-only approach to the game, combined with the statement that he’d never consistently played man-to-man defense before (seriously?), led Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to cut back his minutes, as he saw just an average of just 20 minutes on the floor over his next 20 games (through January 2), scoring just 11 points per game and grabbing as many as eight rebounds just once in that stretch.

As small sample though it might be, in his last five games, with 3 on the road (including the Lakers), Michael Beasley has improved not only his scoring (18 ppg), but has been more aggressive on the boards (7.6 rpg), racking up his first two double-doubles as a pro (vs. San Antonio and @ Sacramento) and while he still has a ways to go, has been more active on the defensive end.

Beasley’s looked particularly impressive in the Heat’s past two games, both on the road (vs. Sacramento and the Lakers), scoring 23 in each outing, on a total of 20-for-35 from the floor (57.1%), and grabbing 10 boards against the Kings.

Looking back at Miami’s visit to Sacramento, Beasley’s performance to start the fourth quarter was a pleasure to watch for two reasons. First, Beasley’s confidence in the quarter was fantastic- he really looked like he though he, and not Dwyane Wade, was best player on the floor, and did not hesitate to step into every open shot he had, as he scored 9 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the first five minutes of the quarter. Second, and maybe more important, he looked relaxed as it was happening. Beasley began the fourth quarter in Sacramento like he was back in college, not backing away from any shot and expecting every good look to fall. To this point, one very candid moment in the midst of this run showed just how at ease Beasley felt. As the game was coming back from a timeout, Sacramento was preparing to take the ball out of bounds in the backcourt, and Beasley was in the frontcourt on defense. The camera was on Beasley for these few seconds, dancing and lip-singing to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, which was playing on the arena’s loudspeaker- and he was genuinely having a good time! Now, this wasn’t some young punk goofing off while doing nothing on the floor, Beasley, who’s known to be light-hearted guy, was enjoying a fantastic stretch on the floor and really enjoying the moment.

I may be way off base here, but it really looked as though Beasley was enjoying one of his first “Hey, I really belong here!” moments, in a close game, on the road. That it was a relatively meaningless January game against a sub-.500 team is not relevant. Going forward, once Beasley’s evolved into an outstanding NBA player, it will be the moments like this, when he began to overcome his growing pains, that will have laid the foundation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

O.J. Mayo- Really Just 35 Games In?

O.J. Mayo may be in his first NBA season, but he is no rookie.

Both his statistics, and the way he goes about compiling them strongly suggest that Mayo entered the NBA with a veteran’s mentality, his eyes fixed on becoming an NBA superstar. Most rookies enter the league with plenty of talent, but needing to develop an NBA-style game- this was not the case with O.J. From Day One, Mayo has exhibited a polished NBA game, with both instincts and moves seldom seen from a first-year player. Not only has he started all but one of his professional games, logging an average of 38 minutes per game, but every step of the way, he’s looked like he belongs.

Particularly on offense, Mayo hit the ground running in the Association, scoring in double figures in each of his first twenty-five games, and has failed to score 10+ points just twice this season, hitting for 20 or more eighteen times (and 30+ four times) in 35 games. Unlike a lot of rookies Mayo has shot the ball well (45.3% from the field, 39.4% on 3’s, 87.9% from the free throw line) on his way to averaging 20.7 ppg as the league’s leading rookie scorer. However, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mayo’s offensive game is how “mature” it is- in an era that has seen the mid-range game suffer, O.J. Mayo ranks near the top of the league, shooting 45.9%, on “2-point jump shots” (outside the key, inside the arc-, leading all rookies and ranking above established stars like Kobe Bryant (45%), Deron Williams (44.8%), Joe Johnson (44.2%) and Brandon Roy (43.7%). But the beauty of O.J. Mayo’s game is about more than just numbers…

It’s the way that baits defenders into fouls, taking the ball down low and sweeping his arms through before going up for a jumper, a la Kobe and Dwyane Wade. It’s the way he’s never out of control when drives to the basket. It’s the way he recognizes when his shot is dropping and looks to take over a game. Late in close games (which the Grizzlies are playing more and more of these days), when Mayo doesn’t bring the ball up the floor, it’s the self-assured way that he demands the ball on the perimeter and thirsts to take every big shot, evidenced by his 5.5 ppg in the fourth quarter and excellent play in the “clutch” (defined by as situations with fewer than 5 minutes remaining and neither team leading by more than 5 points), where he’s averaging 28.9 points per 48 minutes (more than Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Manu Ginobili and Amar’e Stoudemire) and hasn’t missed a single “clutch” free throw all season.

This was on full display on December 27 in San Antonio, as the Grizzlies battled the Spurs through four quarters and two overtime periods before ultimately falling 106-103. With just under nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and Memphis clinging to a two-point lead, Mayo reentered the game, having scored 14 points through three quarters, and proceeded to carry the Grizzlies to the doorstep of a big road win over the NBA’s most savvy veteran squad, hitting a big 3-pointer from the right wing and a pair of long jumpers down the stretch, before draining a huge 3-pointer from the left wing with one minute remaining to put Memphis up, 90-88. A pair of Tony Parker free throws sent the game into overtime, where each team scored nine points (two on a runner from Mayo), sending the game into double OT. In the second overtime period, Memphis fell behind by five points. While this was ultimately too large a deficit to overcome, Mayo did give the Grizz one last chance to steal the game with another big 3-pointer from the left wing with just 1:10 remaining. That final shot gave him 29 points in 52 minutes, 15 coming after the third quarter. Despite the gritty effort, Memphis did go down to the Spurs, but what truly stands out about that game was Mayo’s desire to take every big shot down the stretch, hitting several of them, in one of the NBA’s most hostile environments.

To be sure, O.J. Mayo’s not perfect. Like many young stars, he’s entered the NBA in the prime of his “Superman” phase- so talented and confident that he takes the task of trying to win each game solely onto his own shoulders, and has yet to reach the point where he implicitly trusts his teammates. In some ways, O.J. Mayo is reminiscent of a young Kobe Bryant- a sublimely talented prodigy, groomed to be an NBA superstar, with a singular focus on achieving greatness- but seemingly focusing the early years of his career on his own development. Between now and his seemingly inevitable leap to stardom, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mayo critics echoing those of a young Kobe.

It’s important to note however, that the truly great athletes (not to say that Mayo is there, but he sure looks like a decent starter kit) do take these steps. O.J. Mayo’s greatest advantage over most young players is that he’s already playing the NBA game, just not as a complete NBA player. Right now, O.J. Mayo is a fantastic individual NBA player. Once Mayo learns to trust his teammates, especially in late-game situations, and learns where they like the ball, and the best way to create open shots for them, he will take “the leap”.

Note: Some stats in this article sourced from

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

20 Questions from the Association- New Year’s Edition

Is it just me, or…

Is it kinda sad that the Los Angeles Lakers have more victories (27) than the other three California teams combined (26)?

Thanks to Chauncey Billups, is Kenyon Martin’s massive contract no longer a “total catastrophe”, weighing in now at just “slightly absurd”?

Is it pretty cool that, despite their subpar records, just 6.5 games separate the Eastern Conference’s #6 team and its #14 team?

Will the remainder of January (home games v. Celtics and Hornets, road games v. Lakers, Blazers, Jazz and Magic), without Zydrunas Ilgauskas, going to tell us a lot about the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Has it gotten slightly ridiculous hearing how the Houston Rockets are title contenders "if they can stay healthy”? Face it, they can’t!

Did Paul Gasol produce the greatest-ever open-court play by a seven-footer?

Is this type of box score becoming all to commonplace in Boston?

Just over 30 games into his pro career, does O.J. Mayo already have the look of a veteran NBA star?

Does the Clippers’ $66 million commitment to Zach Randolph, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby for this season and next seem a bit steep?

Does the San Antonio Spurs’ trio of stars look like it will carry them further than the Big Three will carry the Celtics?

With his awesome combination of size, speed and skill, is Danny Granger quietly on his way to becoming a top-10 player?

Will the teams fighting to acquire Shawn Marion’s expiring $17.8 million contract before the NBA trade deadline be disappointed to learn that they have to actually take Shawn Marion the basketball player as well?

Would Nick Collison be a perfect (not to mention perfectly affordable) fit on practically any contending team?

Is Greg Oden looking more and more comfortable in the NBA (even if his numbers don’t show it yet)?

Do Chicago Bulls’ fans probably get nauseous at the sight of Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas?

Is Trevor Ariza deserving of some serious 6th Man of the Year consideration?

Does getting Boris Diaw to play hard and produce in a non-contract year, despite the Bobcats’ terrible record, reestablish Larry Brown as a top-tier coach?

Are there more than a few teams that could benefit from acquiring a productive, veteran point guard with an expiring $10 million contract?

With a much-improved defense and a now-healthy Michael Redd, do the Milwaukee Bucks, now #8 in the East, look like a team on the rise and a potential sleeper down the stretch?

As bad as Elton Brand’s contract already looks, how much more will the Philadelphia 76ers regret it when it’s time to give Thaddeus Young an extension?