Tuesday , Dec , 06 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA 5 on Five

By Paul Benedict.

Week of 12/5 – 12/11.

5 Faces to Watch
Theme: Non-Impact Rookies

1. Marvin Williams, F Atlanta
-Anyone who thought Williams was going to be an instant superstar must have missed the NCAA Tournament last year when Marvelous Marvin looked a like kid who still had a good amount of development ahead of him. Williams began the season in the starting lineup for the Hawks, but has since been relegated to bench duty and is now struggling to play a respectable amount of minutes (although he dropped 17 and 11 last night in mop-up duty). Be patient with Marv, Hawks fans (all seven of you– love that joke, never gets old!), your season is just about a wash and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff down the road.

NBA 5 on Five

2. Rashad McCants, G Minnesota
-You’re not going to earn yourself a significant role with a team in your rookie season by getting yourself tossed from a game not even a month into your NBA career. Something tells me Dwane Casey is having Joseph Forte nightmares (another young malcontent from North Carolina that Casey dealt with as an assistant in Seattle) when it comes to coaching McCants. Maybe ‘Shad should dial up his former UNC alum now (wherever the hell he is) as motivation to get his act together.

3. Antoine Wright, G/F New Jersey
-Are you kidding me? The Nets drafted the Texas A&M product for his athleticism and shooting skills in the backcourt, but they have absolutely no use for him with Carter, Jefferson, and McInnis eating up all the minutes at the 2 and 3. Weren’t we all wondering what the hell they were thinking when they made this pick? I suppose Rod Thorn wanted insurance if/when Vince and RJ went down, but wouldn’t the Nets be much better off with say, Hakim Warrick (who’s stuck in a loaded rotation as well)?

4. Arvydas Macijauskas, G New Orleans/Oklahoma City
-A lot of people had Macijauskas pegged as one of the sneakier pick-ups this summer with his deft shooting touch and natural feel for the game, but that hasn’t exactly been the case (he’s played only 18 minutes all season). After the Bees acquired Desmond Mason, Macijauskas was pushed down on Byron Scott’s depth chart so you can’t entirely blame the native of Lithuania for his lack of impact. But c’mon, this guy can’t be that good if he’s not able to beat out Rasual Butler and Bostjan Snackbar for minutes.

5. Andrew Bynum, C LA Lakers
–I understand Bynum isn’t even old enough to buy smokes or ‘Swank’ just yet, but the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar apprentice looks like he’s a loooong ways away from making an impact in this league. Anytime Brent Musburger (who’s as senile as they come) chimes, "It’s quite obvious that Bynum has to actually think about exactly where he’s supposed to be each time down the floor", then you know it’s going to be a long process.

5 Fascinating Factoids
*Theme: +/- numbers as of 12/5 (courtesy of 82games.com)

1. A month into the season now, so I think it’s safe to start taking into consideration the plus/minus numbers from the season thus far. The leader? Tayshaun Prince coming in at +34.5, a significant amount higher than the second-ranked Ron Artest at +27.4. Is it possible that the entire Pistons starting five can make the All-Star Team?

2. Perhaps a changing of the starting point guard in Charlotte wouldn’t be such a dramatic move this early in season. At least not when you consider that Raymond Felton leads (among players in the regular rotation) Charlotte at +11.2 while Brevin Knight appears to be struggling at -9.4. We’ll have to keep an eye on this situation.
3. If only DeSagana Diop could stay out of foul trouble, Avery Johnson would see clearly that he’s the one that should be starting in the middle for the Mavericks. Diop’s +13.8 when he’s on the floor is second to only Dirk Nowitzki for Dallas, while Erick Dampier’s -13.0 is dead-last on the team among the rotational players.

4. We can rip on Yao Ming all we want, but the facts show that the Rockets are a much better team with him on the floor (+21.0, among the tops in the league)– that’s a great deal higher than the next-highest player on Houston, Tracy McGrady coming in at 9.0. I won’t argue that the Rockets need to be carried by Yao, but his presence alone is essential to their success.

5. Who would have guessed before the season that Boris Diaw (+22.9) would not only lead the Suns in +/-, but also rank among the league’s best?! Think about it though– if any of you have watched the Suns somewhat regularly this season, how much better is this team when Diaw is on the floor? He contributes in so many aspects of the game that even the announcers get caught up in saying his name so much. Has the Most Improved Player Award ever been locked up this early in the season?

5 Fretful Thoughts

1. When is LeBron James going to step it up defensively? – Anyone who watched the 4th quarter of the Cleveland/Seattle game on Friday night knows exactly what I’m talking about. On two key possessions down the stretch in which Cleveland desperately needed a stop, the Sonics’ closer ‘Flip’ Murray totally exposed ‘Bron’s lack of a killer instinct on the defensive end in scoring a pair of crucial baskets. And when I say "exposed", we’re talking Pamela Anderson full frontal "exposed". One thing that has always separated the legends from the superstars has been their ability to step it up on both ends in key situations, whether it’s Michael Jordan coming up with a game-saving steal or Tim Duncan forcing an opponent into a bad shot and then ripping down a humongous rebound. The Cavaliers, just like last year, are blowing opportunities to win games because they can’t come up with stops at the end of games. Considering this team feeds off the energy and leadership of LeBron James, it’s really on his shoulders to fix this disappointing trend. .

2. Lawrence Frank might want to start working on his resume – I’ve been a Frank fan ever since he took over for Byron Scott a couple years ago and completely turned around the Nets season. He’s a hardworking coach, a solid Xs and Os guy, and a very likeable personality. That said, his days as head coach of the New Jersey Nets may be in jeopardy if he doesn’t turn the team’s season around quickly. The Nets really lack an identity right now and that’s a huge problem when you have three players who excel in the open floor. I can’t figure out why he doesn’t have the Nets playing at a run ‘n gun pace from start to finish because when they’re forced into playing halfcourt defense, they’re extremely beatable. The clock’s ticking at T-minus 30 days if the Nets don’t show improvement fast.

3. Joe Johnson’s decision-making – Oh, Joe. You could have competed for championships for years to come in Phoenix, but instead you bolted for the money, the opportunity to be the superstar that you most definitely will never become, and the "comfort" of playing closer to home– in an arena that feels like you’re playing on the road. Beyond his questionable off-season decision-making skills, Johnson is having problems deciding what to do on the floor as well. Last season he was one of the league’s most efficient players, shooting at 46.1% clip from the floor, a league-leading 47.8% from beyond the arc and turning the ball over only 1.8 times a game. It’s been different for JJ this season as his efficiency numbers are down across the board (42.6% FGs, 29.8% 3PTs, 3.4 TPG) and worst of all, the Hawks absolutely stink.

4. Andrei Kirilenko may never become the complete package – A couple seasons ago Andrei Kirilenko looked like he was on the verge of developing his unique array of skills into becoming the cornerstone of the Utah Jazz for years to come. Now in the thick of the 2005-06 season, it’s beginning to look as though it may be safe to assume that AK47 is never going to be anything more than a defensive prowess and fantasy stud. Kirilenko has failed to take his game to another level on the offensive end as he struggles with his shooting touch and inability to capitalize on the mismatches he causes for defenders a la Dirk Nowitki and and Kevin Garnett. He showed more assertiveness than I’ve ever seen from him this summer during the Euro Games, but he appears to have lost confidence within Jerry Sloan’s system and I’m not sure he’s going to have an opportunity to work himself into a significant role with Mehmet Okur playing so well and Carlos Boozer expected back in the near future.

5. Orlando’s Ability to Stay Healthy – As if Grant Hill’s health isn’t the most obvious sign of doubt in the NBA, the Orlando Magic have encountered problematic injury issues on a seemingly nightly basis thus far this season. The only two rotational players on the team that have avoided the injury bug have been Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. That means Grant Hill, Steve Francis, Hedo Turkoglu, Keyon Dooling, DeShawn Stevenson, Kelvin Cato, Tony Battie, Stacey Augmon, and Mario Kasun have all either missed time or played hurt at some point so far in this young season. Thankfully for Brian Hill, he’s got the team playing very hard and holding their own with a 7-9 record. But there always seems to be one team cursed by injuries every year– the Magic appear to be that bunch.

5 Fascinating Match-Ups

1. Dallas at Indiana, Tuesday at 7:00 ET on NBA TV
-This will mark Indiana’s first game back at Conseco Fieldhouse since being shocked by the Atlanta Hawks on Black Friday. No doubt they’ll be looking to restore their homecourt pride, but one of the NBA’s top road teams won’t make it easy on them.

2. Atlanta at Denver, Tuesday at 9:00 ET
-This is far from a ‘fascinating matchup’, but let’s just pretend it is since I’ll be attending the game. Out of all the teams the Nuggets can host while I’m visiting Colorado, I draw the f*cking Hawks. Outstanding.

3. Phoenix at Golden State, Wednesday at 10:30 ET
-The Suns bested the Warriors the first time around back in Phoenix, so it’s important that Golden State evens the score as the battle for the Pacific Division lead continues heat up.

4. Detroit at Golden State, Friday at 10:30 ET
-The Pistons walk into this game after a long lay-off, so they better be ready for the frenetic atmosphere at The Arena. If the Warriors can knock off Phoenix on Wednesday, a win over Detroit on Friday would not only take them to 14-6, but also give them a marquee victory that might help shun critics

5. Cleveland at Milwaukee, Saturday at 8:30 ET on NBA TV
-The Cavs and Bucks have probably combined to play more exciting games than any two other teams in the league this season, so this should make for an entertaining basketball game. The Cavs can really use a confidence-boosting road victory– this could be their chance.

 5 Fearless Forecasts

1. What the hell were the Hawks thinking when they passed up on the phenomenal Chris Paul?! While you can attribute some of the Hornets’ surprising success (despite a tumultuous early season schedule) to the emergence of David West and to the impressive coaching job being put forth by Byron Scott, there’s simply no way to measure how essential Chris Paul has been to the Hornets. As if his outstanding numbers aren’t enough (16.9 PPG, 44% FGs, 5.6 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.1 SPG, 2.4 APG), Paul has the Hornets competitive night in and night out, winning games consistently on the road, and beating teams that were pummeling them last season. Quite simply put, he’s having more of an impact on his team than any other player new to his Western Conference team this season, which is why Chris Paul will be a member of the Western Conference All-Star Team if the Hornets are in position to make the Playoffs when the reserves are selected.

2. It’s great that Charlie Villanueva has shunned harsh critics this season by living up to his being selected 7th in the draft and even showing flashes of superstardom for the Raptors. But let’s slow down, Charlie. I’ve watched a lot of the Raptors this season, and I’m not going to lie– Villanueva and Chris Bosh have a nice rapport on the floor and appear to have a bright future ahead of them. Nevertheless, Charlie Villanueva and Chris Bosh will NOT be "the next Tim Duncan and David Robinson" as Charlie proclaimed last week. ‘The Big Fundamental’ and ‘The Admiral’ are once-in-a-generation players who both brought something entirely unique to the NBA. Villanueva and Bosh look as though they may be great player for years to come, but c’mon, to compare yourself to Duncan and Robinson is like guaranteeing that you’ll never live up to expectations.

3. I had this argument with Anthony last week and while I give him credit for making a valiant effort, he’s just not going to be right. Ricky Davis is not going to make the All-Star Team. The Celtics STINK. There’s no way two players from a crappy team are going to the All-Star Game and to be quite honest with you, Paul Pierce might be overlooked if the Celtics continue to stumble. There’s just too many guards and small forwards in the East for everyone that deserves it to make the team. Between Gilbert Arenas, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Steve Francis, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ron Artest, Larry Hughes, LeBron James, and Michael Redd, I’m afraid their just isn’t enough spots to go around. Sorry, Ant.

4. It always happens that there’s one team I severely pick on in this column and in this week’s edition, the New Jersey Nets are the subject of my malaise. You want to know a major reason why the Nets aren’t living up to expectations thus far? Look no further than Jason Kidd, who’s no longer the invincible point guard he once was. The most apparent discrepancy in Kidd’s game since he returned from knee surgery almost a year ago has been on the defensive end where he struggles mightily against quicker guards. Furthermore, Kidd isn’t willing his team to victory like we’ve seen him do so many times throughout his career. So for my prediction— Jason Kidd will never be selected to play in an NBA All-Star Game again. To go along with the decline in his game, there’s a slew of deserving guards in the East. There is just no way I’m taking J-Kidd over Chauncey Billups or Gilbert Arenas with the way the season is going.

5. So many teams entered the 2005-06 season with high aspirations after what once appeared to be exceptional off-seasons, but already squads like Houston, Sacramento, New York, Denver, New Jersey, and the Lakers are searching for answers. Now with December 15th fast approaching, the first date that teams can deal players signed this summer, there is a lot of trade discussion being brewed up in the rumor mill. Expect a lot of activity in the immediate weeks following December 15th with many franchises struggling to intergrate parts and a lot of general managers jobs on the line. Players like Peja Stojakovic, Jalen Rose, Earl Watson, Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, and Al Harrington all could be moved at any precise moment following December 15th up through the trade deadline on March 6th