Monday , Nov , 07 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA 5 on Five

5 Faces to Watch, 5 Fascinating Factoids, 5 Fretful Thoughts, 5 Fascinating Match-Ups, 5 Fearless Forecasts, here is this week’s NBA 5 on Five for week of 11/7 – 11/13.

NBA 5 on Five

5 Faces to Watch
Theme: Players off to Disappointing Starts

1. Travis Outlaw, F Portland
-Outlaw broke into the Blazers’ rotation towards the end of last season showing some serious potential, and followed up with a stellar performance at the VSL causing many to believe he was going to break out under Nate McMillan this season. Unfortunately for Travis, that hasn’t been the case. With Darius Miles off to a solid start and the likes of Sergei Monia, Charles "Spider" Smith, and Ruben Patterson all earning cracks at the rotation, there just hasn’t been ample playing time to go around in Portland. Outlaw has played in only one of the Blazers’ 3 games– 10 garbage time minutes in Portland’s humiliating loss to Denver on Friday. It gets worse– on Saturday he was actually placed on the team’s inactive list before their game against the Hawks. Ouch. Look’s like Outlaw is going to have to work his way out of Nate’s doghouse.

2. Mike Bibby, PG Sacramento
-Bibby rebounded Sunday after playing atrocious basketball in the Kings’ first two games. He reportedly came into camp a little out of shape and has had trouble finding the groove that he finished last season off with. Bibby is going to have to get his act together and be the leader of the Kings if they’re going to reclaim the Pacific Division Crown. For a player who has been a model of consistency, I’d bank on Bibby getting it together soon (and not just because he’s on my fantasy team).

3. Andre Iguodala, G/F Philadelphia
-A quick look at Iggy’s numbers (10.8 PPG, 68.0 FG%, 5.5 RPG, 2.3 SPG) and it doesn’t appear as though he’s gotten off to a slow start. However, the Sixers sit at a disappointing 1-3, (although the mood is a little brighter after Saturday’s upset in Indiana) and Iguodala’s modest play is a major reason why they’re struggling. The Sixers aren’t going to beat anybody with their defense, especially with Samuel Dalembert out for at least another week. Iggy has to establish himself as the team’s third option on offense, a guy that can be relied on for 15-17 PPG if Philly is going to outscore their opponents as they did Saturday night. It’s up to AI and C-Webb to ensure that he gets double-digit shot attempts every night (which he hasn’t yet this season) because right now it doesn’t appear as though Iggy is hoisting as freely as he should be.

4. Kwame Brown, PF LA Lakers
-The Lakers are 2-1 and people are going to let the disappointing play of Kwame slide until the team begins to slip as well. It might not take that long, especially if Kwame doesn’t start righting his wrongs. Through three games, Brown is averaging just 6.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 0.3 BPG, and is committing 3.3 TPG and 4.7 FPG. I’ve watched all three Laker games and I can tell you, Kwame looks like a rookie out there which is somewhat understandable given his unfamiliarity with the triangle offense. Nevertheless, the kid is going to have to grow up quick if he wants to ensure the team’s success.

5. Chris Bosh, PF Toronto
-It’s been a very rough start for Bosh and the Raptors, and the road ahead isn’t going to get any easier. Bosh has had trouble getting off in the team’s first 3 games (14.3 PPG, 39.5 FG%, only 14 FTA), and it’s largely because for the first time ever, he’s been the focus of consistent double and even triple-teams. Without a decent teammate to relieve some pressure in the post, defenses are realizing that they can force Toronto to rely on their so-so outside shooting by doubling Bosh in the post. The Raptors’ star doesn’t quite have a game versatile enough to overcome this (unlike say a KG) and is going to struggle until they get him some help.

5 Fascinating Factoids

1. Though their wins have all come against 0-3 teams, the Washington Wizards have to be feeling pretty good about starting the season 3-0 for the first time since the 1978-79 season. This is a franchise that isn’t used to seeing the green side of .500, and with a considerable amount of personnel changes after last season’s rousing success, they couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick things off this year. It’s possible the Wiz could be welcoming in San Antonio on Saturday with a perfect record on the line.

2. And what about the so-called ‘JV Team’ in Los Angeles? The Clippers are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 1985-86 campaign. Their play is even more surprising when you consider that they’ve won all three games with Shaun Livingston and Corey Maggette both sidelined. I said depth was going to be the Clip Show’s biggest problem, but if they continue to get stellar bench play out of James Singleton, Chris Wilcox, and Daniel Ewing, this team might make the Playoffs for the first time since they glided in with a 36-46 record in ’96-97.
3. Friday marked not only the birthday of my buddy The Marlboro Man, but also that of Lorenzen Wright. I’m always interested to see how guys perform on their birthday. You would think most come out with a little extra confidence, maybe a swagger, and play pretty well. Don’t tell that to ‘Wren who was celebrating the big 3-0. Wright’s line: 34 Mins, 1-4 FG, 3 Pts, 1 Reb, 0 Ast, 0 Blks. Yeesh. Well at least the Grizz picked up their first win in the process. For a class professional like ‘Wren, I’m sure that’s all that mattered anyways.

4. How’s this super early Roland Rating statistic for you? Every player on the Detroit Pistons has a +/- of over +10 thus far with the exception of one. Can you guess who? Darko Milicic, coming in at a healthy -1.7. We’re still waiting, Darko…

5. In just his first two games after missing all of last season due to a spinal injury, T.J. Ford has set career highs in points scored (21 vs NJ), FGA (19 vs NJ), FTM (8 vs PHI), FTA (9 vs PHI), and Assists (14 vs PHI). Ford has been an unbelievable story to start the season. No, Ford has been the story of the season thus far. Not only is Ford just 22 and playing All-Star basketball at a position that requires the most development for young players, he missed all of last season! Some people were concerned with whether Ford would ever play basketball again! And now he’s not only back on the court, he’s not only playing the way that once earned him the Wooden Award at Texas, he’s playing better than anyone has ever seen of him before! Just a truly, truly remarkable story that I hope continues to develop into something that everyone, not just us die-hards, can appreciate.
Like a retarded A.C. Moore security guard, the 76ers haven’t been able to keep anyone from getting into the paint.

5 Fretful Thoughts

1. The 76ers are off to a dreadul start to the season and it’s not going to get any better as long as their defense continues to be morbid. Besides giving up at least 108 points in every game, they’ve also been outrebounded by 10+ boards in each outing of their 1-3 start. And it’s pretty obvious why– their interior defense flat-out sucks. Chris Webber, I mean c’mon. It’s time to give up on the C-Webb of old. He can still be effective offensively, but gets shredded on defense by quicker, more athletic power forwards. Steven Hunter is a gifted shot blocker, but that’s about all he gives you. At 7’0, 240 lbs., Hunter is averaging 35.5 MPG and a measley 4.5 RPG. At least he’s consistent– he’s pulled down exactly 4 or 5 rebounds in each game. That’s just horrible. If you stuck a mannequin the size of Hunter on the court, he could probably pull down as many boards as Hunter has. Everyone’s talking about how much the Sixers are missing Samuel Dalembert, but I think his loss would be much easier to deal with if Billy King hadn’t just given Marc Jackson to New Jersey for nothing. Sixers need help up front badly.

2. If the Warriors are going to do any damage in the West, Mike Montgomery has to put his foot down and get his guys to quit taking so many ill-advised shots. In their win Sunday against the Knicks, the Warriors nearly blew a game they should have won with ease because Baron Davis, Derek Fisher, and Jason Richardson (among others) kept launching errant shots in situations where they could have worked for a better look. They can get away with this against inferior teams like the Knicks, but against better clubs (like Utah on Friday), this is only going to cost them. You can’t just give possessions away, especially when you only feel like playing defense half the time.

3. Can somebody please explain to me why Boris Diaw barely cracked the rotation in Atlanta? He might just be the most versatile bench player in the league which is why he’s a perfect fit in Phoenix. Which raises the question– how in the hell can someone play exceptionally in major minutes for the Suns and be continually looked over in Atlanta? No wonder the Hawks are a complete joke.

4. We’re not even a full week into the season and it already appears as though my MVP pick is taking himself out of the running. Thanks, Tracy. There’s no way T-Mac is going to exert himself at an MVP-like level if he’s already dealing with back issues.

5. There’s not a single player on the Minnesota Timberwolves that can create his own shot besides Kevin Garnett. Wally Z, Jaric, and T-Hud have their moments, but on a consistent basis they cannot be relied upon to get themselves a good look at the basket. This is a serious problem for the Wolves. The Suns can sneak by in a similar scenario because as a point guard, Steve Nash has the quickness and craftiness to create opportunities for his teammates every time down the floor. The Wolves run isolation schemes for KG about 50% of the time, but without dangerous scoring threats around him, opponents can double team him before he even touches the ball and then throw another guy at him when he actually has the ball. It’s impossible to expect anyone to create for their teammates when they’re facing this kind of pressure from defenses. This is exactly why the Wolves lost each of their last 2 games in overtime. In clutch situations, anyone would much rather take KG out and force one of his teammates to beat you. Nobody stepped up in either of the games and so the Wolves found life on the offensive end to be quite difficult.

5 Fascinating Match-Ups

1. Utah at Charlotte, Monday @ 7:30 ET
– Say what?! That’s right folks, the 2-1 Utah Jazz travel to the brand spanking new Charlotte Bobcats Arena to take on the 2-1 Bobcats. By the way– Charlotte Bobcats Arena is the best name they could come up with? Really? Isn’t this the same franchise that named the team after their owner? Ah, no wonder.

2. LA Clippers at Washington, Wednesday @ 7:00 ET
-Chew on this– if the Clippers take the back-end of a home-and-home with Minnesota on Monday, this doozy will feature two undefeated teams. Unbelievable given the histories of these two ‘storied’ franchises.

3. Detroit at Phoenix, Thursday @ 10:30 ET on TNT
– I wonder how true Detroit Pistons faithful are feeling about the Flip Saunders Era at the Palace? This is not the same Pistons team as we saw the last two seasons, and certainly not the type of physical, gritty Pistons teams we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. If you don’t believe me, watch Thursday’s game in the desert. Flip Saunders will be more than willing to let his boys go up and down with Steve Nash and co. They can still lock ’em down, too. Just wait until the 4th Quarter when Detroit takes over by playing good ‘ole ‘Deeee-Troit Basket-Ball!’.

4. Indiana at Milwaukee, Saturday @ 8:30 ET
– Believe it or not, but if you want to talk about huge early season games, this is it right here. The Central appears to be by far the toughest in the East, with very little room for error at the top. Milwaukee will likely enter this game undefeated and with a win can create some surprising space at the top ahead of the Pacers. Of course there’s still Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland to fend off.

5. Golden State at Phoenix, Saturday @ 9:00 ET
– Both of these clubs love to go small, and both love to turn up the pace to ludicrous speed. Every time the Warriors and Suns met up last year, there were triple digits on both side of the score board. If you enjoy track meets, you’ll love this baby.

Everyone already loves #8 and he’s not even starting yet.

5 Fearless Forecasts

1. I’ve had the opportunity to get a good look at just about every team in the league since the season started, some closer than others. One of those teams is the Utah Jazz, who despite losing on Saturday to Phoenix, have looked very impressive. This is a team that’s not going to faulter like last year, but improve as the season goes along. For starters, they’ll get a nice offensive boost from Carlos Boozer when he returns to the lineup. Boozer is the only real back-to-the-basket threat on this team and he should allow the team to space the floor more and be a demon to opponents on the offensive boards. Kirilenko has also been a little rusty on the offensive side, but look for him to benefit more from Boozer’s presence than anyone. AK47 is at his best when he’s slashing to the hoop and he’s often had to shift down to the 4 in Boozer’s stead. But the real reason Utah is going to hold up– Deron Williams. He’s not flashy and he’s not going to be a stud on your fantasy team, but this guy gets the job done. A sound defender, great passer, surprisingly good shooter, and perhaps most importantly, a confident and composed floor general, Williams is a perfect fit to play the point for Utah. Sloan received sporadic play from his point guards last year, so all he’s hoping for is someone that can run the team consistently and steadily– Williams will be that guy and that’s why Deron Williams will win Rookie of the Year and the Jazz will finish above .500.

2. You want a fearless prediction? Here goes– if the 76ers continue to falter, there’s (finally) going to be some serious changes in Philadelphia. Owner Ed Snider has entrusted the team with Billy King for quite awhile now with little to show for it. That hasn’t bothered Snider too much because the Sixers have at least been a Playoff-caliber club since the turn of the millenium, and he’s fine with that as long as his Flyers (who he also owns and cherishes more) are competing annually for titles. But if his NBA teams spirals downward and makes him look bad, there’s going to be dramatic changes. The first to go will be Billy King, who’s never met a player he didn’t want to overpay. Snider is not going to be happy about putting all this money into the Sixers this summer and not seeing any results. That falls on King. And then folks, prepare yourselves because we could very well be looking at the end of an era for Sixers basketball. Billy King has now for a decade believed that you could build a team around Allen Iverson. Most GMs will tell you that it’s just not possible. One of those GMs could very well be the 76ers’ new GM and that could be AI’s ticket out of Philadelphia. You heard it hear first– if the 76ers are struggling to stay in Playoff contention by New Year’s, then GM Billy King will be out of a job and Allen Iverson will be shipped to a different team by the trade deadline. Of course, where he goes is anyone’s guess.

3.Anyone notice how good the Pistons look? Last year they couldn’t blow out the Teikyo Post JV Team largely because Larry Brown wanted the team to stay within themselves and to stick to the halfcourt game. Flip Saunders has introduced a phonebook’s worth of new offensive schemes to the Pistons’ attack and is actually utilizing all of the team’s weapons. Thus they’re straight up man-handling opponents. It’ll be interesting to see how this style plays out come postseason time, but for now look out because the Pistons to are going to continue on this torrential pace and win 60+ games.

4. One aspect of the Amare Stoudemire injury that not many people have been talking about is the schedule the Suns face before their star’s expected return. After last night’s loss, Phoenix sits at 2-2, but with 10 of their next 12 at America West Arena. They then play 7 of their final 13 games before 2006 against teams that missed the Playoffs a year ago. If the Suns can win 16 or 17 of these 23, then they should position themselves well enough to not only stay in the thick of the Western Conference Playoff hunt, but quite possibly to sit atop the Pacific Division. It gets better. In the 23 games after the New Year leading up to the All-Star Break, the Suns play only three on the road against Western Playoff teams from a year ago. If Amare can get back and healthy right after the All-Star Break, the Suns should be just fine and ready to take on their biggest tests at the end of the season, which is why I’m predicting the Phoenix Suns to win the Pacific Division and land the Conference’s #2 seed.

5. There’s four winless teams left after Sunday. The New York Knicks set forth on a 9 day, 6 game West Coast trip starting on Wednesday. They’ll win the first one in Portland, but might have problems winning another after that. The Orlando Magic have been in every game they’ve played so far, but haven’t been able to come away with a win. They should pick up their first win at home next Sunday against a Cleveland team that still sucks on the road. The Toronto Raptors have looked as bad as anyone in their first three games and will probably have trouble defending home court this week in games at Air Canada against the Cavs, Jazz, and Sonics. Look for them to pick up their first W in the back-end of a home-and-home with Philly on the 16th– the one team that is as pathetic defensively upfront as they are. Guess that leaves the Atlanta Hawks, who play 7 of their 11 remaining games in Novemeber against teams that reached the Playoffs last year. I’m pegging November 27th, a home game vs a Portland team they narrowly lost to Saturday night as the game that the Hawks can finally chalk a win up for. That means the Atlanta Hawks will be the last team to win a game.