5 on Five
By Paul Benedict
5 Faces to Watch
Theme: Slow-Starters Rising
1. Chris Kaman, C Los Angeles Clippers
Kaman started the season on the injured list, so it’s understandable why the big fella with the worst haircut in the NBA got off to a rugged start (November/December: 3.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG in 18.5 MPG). But since the ball dropped on 2005 (and Chris Wilcox went out with a leg injury), Kaman has shown that he has what it takes to be a legitimate center in the L (12.o PPG, 7.8 RPG in 29.4 MPG). With 4 of the Clips’ next 5 at home before taking off for the East Coast on a 20 day, 9 game swing, it’s not a bad time for Kaman to really make a statement and help keep the Clippers’ fading playoff hopes alive.
2. Chucky Atkins, PG Los Angeles Lakers
Everyone talked about how Lamar Odom and Caron Butler needed to step up their play in the wake of Kobe Bryant’t absence in order for the Lakers to stay afloat in the Western Conference. Nobody expected the 30 year- old Atkins to assume a major role for the Lakers, and perhaps he’s the reason why the club is 3-1 since Kobe went down. In the last 4 games, Chucky is going off for 22.3 PPG on 49.3 FG%, 6.8 APG, and 3 3PTPG. With Kobe still at least a week away from returning, the Lakers can definitely use this kind of play from Atkins.
3. Tracy McGrady, SF Houston Rockets
It took McGrady the month of November before he became comfortable in his new surroundings (20.2 PPG, 40.7 FG%, 27.9 3PT%, 5.1 RPG, 5.4 APG), and since then the slinger’s game has kicked in and the Rockets are showing signs of taking off. Since the beginning of December, T-Mac is averaging 28.1 PPG, shooting 44% from the floor–36% from beyond the arc, pulling down 6.8 RPG, dishing out 5.7 APG, and most importantly– Houston is 16-9.
4. Morris Peterson, SF Toronto Raptors
Vince Carter’s trade to New Jersey really opened the door for Mo Pete, but nobody expected this kind of production from the former Michigan State Spartan. Over his last 10 games, Peterson is averaging 19.0 PPG, on 47.3% shooting overall, 47.4% from 3-point land, nailing 2.7 3s a game, and also grabbing 5.5 RPG, and dealing out 2.8 APG. Vince Carter’s numbers as a Raptor this season–15.9 PPG, 41.1 FG%, 32.2 3PT%, 1.0 3PTPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.1 APG. And people wonder why the Raptors are 10-8 in the post-Vince Carter era when they were just 8-16 before the trade?
5. Kenny Thomas, PF Philadelphia 76ers
Thomas got off to a rough start to the season, even losing his starter’s spot at one point as Jim O’Brien juggled with the Sixers’ rotation. But since OB has settled down with his lineup shuffling and Thomas has seen consistent minutes, the power forward has been in a nice groove. Over the last 11 games, KT is averaging 16.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 49.3 FG%, and an impressive 89.7% (35-39) from the line. With Thomas and AI always a sure thing for the Sixers, look for the club to pick up its play as Samuel Dalembert and Andre Iguodala continue to improve on the offensive end.
5 Fascinating Factoids
1. The Toronto Raptors are 11-2 when Chris Bosh attempts 14+ field goals and just 4-15 when he takes less than 11 shots in a game. This makes it a little more understandable as to why GM Rob Babcock is building his franchise around the 2nd-year stud. Bosh still has some work to do as far as becoming more assertive as the team’s go-to-guy, but these numbers just go to show that the Raps’ future looks like its in good hands.
2. 82games.com came out with another fascinating statistical list this past week–foul drawing by player. The stats themselves aren’t too surprising–Danny Fortson is far and away the leader (36% of his shots he’s fouled on) and that’s his game–offensive rebound, draw the defense, pump fake, get hacked, free throws. Other guys at the top that aren’t too shocking–Sweetney, Shaq, Amare. The highest ranked backcourt players are Corey Maggette and Dwyane Wade who are known for taking it to the hole with authority. At the bottom end of the list is mostly guards with the exception of one mildly surprising name–Kurt Thomas (2.6%). Now I understand that most of Kurt’s shots are 18- footers off of Marbury penetration, but regardless, you’re telling me a PF that plays about 37 MPG, averages awfully close to a double-double (11.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG), and shoots a shade below 80% from the line (79.5%) HAS TAKEN JUST 44 FREE THROWS ALL SEASON?! Why doesn’t Isiah bring in Charles Oakley to coach these guys?
3. Speaking of Danny Fortson, there’s nobody in the NBA that the leads the league in as many categories as he does. Aside from topping the L in fouls drawn per player, he’s also the league leader in total fouls (167) , fouls per game (4.6), fouls per 48 minutes (11.9), flagrant fouls (3), technical fouls (14), and tied for first in ejections (2). Somebody has to come up with a nickname for this guy–please send in suggestions.
4. Can anyone guess who the NBA’s team leader in FG% defense is? Spurs? Nope, they’re 2nd at 41.4%. Detroit? 8th–43.4%. Indiana? Eww, no way– 18th at 44.8%. Hmm–Houston? 3rd at 42.3%. Give up? THE CHICAGO FREAKING BULLS ARE #1 IN FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE DEFENSE AT 41.0%! Wow. The Bulls actually finished 12th a season ago, not too shabby for a team that finished with 23 wins. What’s so interesting about this statistic is that people constantly criticize younger guys for coming into the league not knowing how to play defense, yet the Chicago Bulls (Average Age: 25) are getting the job done with a starting center who can’t rebound or block shots (Eddy Curry), a point guard that everyone thought was a lock for lottery-bust because he wouldn’t be quick enough to guard opposing points (Kirk Hinrich), and 4 rookies who aren’t supposed to play solid defense in the NBA for a couple of years (Gordon, Deng, Duhon, and Nocioni). Of course a great deal of credit goes to Marcus Camby, Jr. (Tyson Chandler) and the host of veterans who seem to be playing for their lives (Davis, Piatkowski, Griffin, and Harrington). Man, in any other year Scott Skiles would be getting a tremendous amount of attention for Coach of the Year.
5. I was checking out ESPN’s RPI rankings for the NBA, and one glaring statistic stood out to me–the Cleveland Cavaliers have played (according to a computer) the easiest schedule in the league (.469, next lowest .478-New York, highest .534-Denver). Now the Cavs still sit atop the Central Division standings, but keep in mind that only two teams have played less home games and the only decent Western team the Cavs haven’t played yet is Dallas. Wait, what? My point is that computer rankings are useless and a total waste of my time.
5 Fretful Thoughts
1. After surprising many pundits by playing some competitive basketball early on and even winning 7 games before Christmas, the Charlotte Bobcats are discovering that gutsy efforts and hard work can only get you so far in this league. Now losers in 14 of their last 15, it’s starting to look like Bernie Bickerstaff will be sitting front right at the NBA Draft Lottery. Now obviously to finish with the worst record in the NBA isn’t such a terrible thing for the Bobcats–but when you consider how weak this year’s draft looks, it’s not exactly a blessing.
2. The Boston Celtics have now lost 9 straight games on the road, the last three at Toronto, New Jersey, and Atlanta. In all 9 of these losses, they’ve allowed over 100 points and they’ve dropped 7 of these by 8 or more points. Yet miraculously, the Celtics are just a half game back of the 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead. Luckily for the Cs, they travel to Charlotte on Tuesday to take on the Bobcats–now if they can’t pull this one out, I’m terribly frightened that Anthony might fly out to Chicago on January 29th and go Jeff Gillooly on the Bulls roster to ensure his Celtics end this skid.
3. The latest in the Darko Milicic debacle–the Detroit Pistons acquire Carlos Arroyo for some backcourt depth in exchange for Elden Campbell and a future first-round pick. At first glance, it seems that the move would also push Darko up on the depth chart. And now with the Jazz wasting no time in waiving Elden Campbell, despite their frontline including Curtis Borchardt and Jarron Collins, Elden Campbell is ripe for the picking–and the Pistons are reportedly on their knees hoping and praying that the 36 year-old is available for them. In the pantheon of ‘spitting your drink out of your mouth’ moments, this is right up there with Joe Dumars drafting Darko ahead of Carmelo Anthony.
4. The Denver Nuggets just can’t seem to avoid the injury bug and aside from Mr. Injury-Prone himself, Marcus Camby, it seems they’ve just been having a tremendous amount of bad fortune this season. It began with Voshon Lenard’s season-ending achilles injury on opening night and since, the Nuggets have entered a game featuring their Big 4 upfront (‘Melo, Martin, Camby, Nene) just 13 times in 40 games. Kiki placed some blame on Jeff Bdzelik, many critics are going after Michael Cooper now, but how can anyone expect the Nuggets to be playing playoff-type basketball when they’re missing a key player about 3 out of every 4 games?
5. A couple weeks ago during a Rockets broadcast on ESPN, Jm Gray reported that according to Houston’s Strength & Conditioning Coach, Yao Ming’s body fat is down by 5% and his conditioning is up 20% from a year ago. Yeah, ok. If this is true, then that 7-5 Chinese guy playing for the Rockets last year wasn’t Yao Ming. Have you seen him this year? I indulge you to watch Yao the next time the Rockets are on–he can’t stay on the court for more than 5 minutes at a time without wheezing, bending over to catch his breathe, being the last player to make it down court on every single possession, getting burned at least a handful of times on defense, causing ill-advised fouls because he’s slower laterally on defense than a brick, or tossing up a 22-foot baby hook because he’s too exhausted to muscle for position on the block. I’m not saying it’s entirely Yao’s fault–the guy hasn’t had a vacation from basketball in years, and, well he is 7-5 and that just can’t be easy on the body. But Jeff Van Gundy needs to evaluate this situation. Maybe give Yao some time on the injured list, maybe bring his minutes down to 30 a game, I don’t know. I do know that Yao brings very little to the table when he’s as out of breathe as a fat stoner walking up a flight of stairs.
5 Fantastic Matchups
1. Boston at Charlotte, Tuesday at 7:00
Just a terrible game–the Celtics have lost 9 straight road games and the Bobcats have dropped 14 of 15 overall. I highly recommend you avoid watching this basketball game unless you want to see an abomination of a basketball game. But for me–I’m going to be all eyes for the sheer satisfaction of watching my partner Anthony pull a Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” after they lose their 10th in a row away from the Fleet Center.
2. Lakers at Clippers, Wednesday at 10:30
The Clippers have suffered a string of tough losses recently, but this is one they HAVE to win, especially when considering that the Lakers, who still apparently own Staples, will be without Kobe Bryant. Now if I’m Elton Brand or Corey Maggette, playing for a franchise that’s lucky to have one must-win game a season, I am not letting my team lose this behemoth of a battle.
3. Detroit at Indiana, Thursday at 7:00–TNT
The last time these teams met, it was the first rematch post-“Malice in the Palce”. The next time they play, it will be the first time they face off in Detroit post-“Motor City Melee”. So while this game doesn’t quite carry the presidence of the other two, it’s still Pistons/Pacers and you have to watch.
4. Sacramento at San Antonio, Thursday at 9:30–TNT
After getting completely humiliated in their own house on Sunday night, the Kings have got to show us something in this one if they want anyone to take them seriously as a contender. Luckily for them that game was only on locally, all eyes will be watching this one.
5. Cleveland at New York, Friday at 7:00–ESPN
On January 8, ABC kicked off its 2005 NBA coverage in Cleveland with a good ‘ole butt-kicking as the Cavs absolutely man-handled the Knicks. With the Knicks now losing their head coach as well as 6 straight games and only a date with the Suns before this nationally-televised game, well…gulp.
5 Fearless Forecasts
1. It seems to be everyone’s favorite topic of conversation–who is going to be sent packing by the February 24th trade deadline? Truth is, many of the names you hear being discussed probably will end up staying put, but allow me to clue you in on some guys whose names you aren’t hearing that could easily have a new zip code within the next month: Tim Thomas, Derek Anderson, Jeff McInnis, Marko Jaric, Earl Watson, Bonzi Wells, Rodney Rogers, Damon Stoudamire, Jerome James, Vladamir Radmanovic, Juan Dixon, and Kwame Brown.
2. The Minnesota Timberwolves will make the playoffs–as an 8 seed. It’s time for people to face up to the fact that the ‘Wolves are simply not that good. They don’t spread the ball well enough on offense, they rely too much on their perimeter shooting, and their defense is among the worst in the entire league. Luckily, they have Kevin Garnett, who will force a trade to the Hawks before he lets his team miss the playoffs. But one player can only take you so far in this league and when you have guys surrounding him that just don’t complement his game well enough, then you run into some trouble. I still think Cassell, when healthy, is an ideal point guard for KG because he runs the pick- and-roll as well as any floor general in the league. At the 2/3, the ‘Wolves need a sharpshooter who can comfortably guard the perimeter (because Sammy can’t) and look to distribute the ball some–Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson, Latrell Sprewell, and Trenton Hassell–none of them fit this bill and so now you can understand why there’s been whispers that the team is considering trading for Eddie Jones, who I still don’t think gains you much. If I’m Kevin McHale, I’m either ready to unload anyone on my roster not named Kevin Garnett for Michael Redd to try and salvage this season, or crossing my fingers that the Sonics continue to blow it with Ray Allen and maxing him out this summer. Garnett and Allen? Would that not instantly put the Wolves up there with anyone?!
3. I haven’t gotten the chance to see many college basketball games this season, but I did check out the UConn/Pitt game Saturday night and kept a close eye on Chris Taft who’s being lauded by many as the potential #1 pick in this year’s draft. Are you kidding me? Chris Taft will not be the #1 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. He reminded me a lot of Chris Wilcox with less explosiveness, but tougher on defense. If he goes first, I mean yikes–is the draft class this year that bad? One guy I do like, and always have, is Chevon Troutman who had a monster game (29 and 12). I’ve been hearing that there’s a better chance he’ll be picked higher in this year’s NFL Draft than in the NBA Draft given the success of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. He’s big, but lean, very agile, has awesome hands, and is a gifted athlete. Chevy could end up being a great tight end, but I can also see him creating a niche for himself in the NBA a la Jerome Williams or Brian Cardinal–definitely a name to track in the future.
4. There’s been all this talk about who will and who won’t make the All- Star game and obviously that’s a great debate every year and this season is certainly no exception. But how about the Rookie/Sophomore game? Believe it or not, there’s a bunch of guys that in any other year would make either of these squads, but with the plethora of productive young players the past two seasons, a bunch of deserving names will likely be stuck at home during All-Star Weekend. So allow me to initiate the topic right here, and remember–9 guys to a team. The 2005 Rookie Team: Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng, Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor, Josh Smith, Beno Udrih, Andres Nocioni, and Al Jefferson. The 2005 Sophomore Team: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, Chris Kaman, and Luke Ridnour. Apologies to Nenad Kristic, Tony Allen, Chris Duhon, Matt Bonner, and Anderson Varejao for the rooks, and Marquis Daniels, Jarvis Hayes, Kyle Korver, Mike Sweetney, and Maurice Williams for the sophs.
5. Don’t get your hopes up Knick fans, Phil Jackson is not going to coach the New York Knicks. C’mon now, does the Zen Master really want to get involved with that mess of a team? The Knicks are at least a few years away from being elgible to contend, with their slew of hefty contracts and a franchise player that is a far cry from a franchise- level player. I really believe that Jackson admitting he would listen to the Knicks if they offered him the position is just a way of him saying that he does miss the game and will indeed coach again. But for him to take a project position–no. You’re confusing him with Larry Brown. Jackson will pick the right job when it comes along–if I had to pick three locations I could see him ending up at in the next couple years, I would say Minnesota, Miami, and Cleveland.
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