Tuesday, November 02, 2004

5 on Five

5 on Five
Week of 11/1-11/7
By Paul Benedict

5 Faces to Watch

1. Drew Gooden, F, Cleveland Cavaliers
-In the wake of Carlos Boozer’s sudden departure this summer, the Cavaliers regrouped immediately by acquiring the underachieving Gooden from the Magic to fill the void left by Boozer. While not boasting the size or power game of Boozer (15.5PPG, 11.4RPG), Gooden brings a tremendous amount of energy and speed to a team that should flourish in transition as LeBron and co. look to push the ball more this season. Add in the chip on Gooden’s shoulder after being misused and underplayed with the Grizzlies and Magic, and look for Gooden to thrive in Cleveland.

2. Jason Terry, G, Dallas Mavericks
-Plucked from the Hawks by Cuban to run the hi-octane offense previously engineered by Stevie Nash, great expectations will be placed on Terry as he replaces the Dallas ‘fav’ Nash. It won’t be an easy transition as Coach Nellie will look for Terry to shift from a shoot-first point in Hotlanta to a playmaking, defensive-minded court general in Dallas. If Terry struggles early and the Mavs stumble out the gate, look for Nellie to tab ‘Preseason Rookie of the Year’ Devin Harris as the starting point guard.

3. Brad Miller, F/C, Sacramento Kings
-With Vlade Divac off to L.A. to maintain the gigantic hole in the middle left by Shaq, Miller himself will have an important roll to fill as he steps firmly into the 5 hole for the Kings. For once the Kings are lacking in depth, especially upfront where Webber’s health is always a major concern. Miller will have to build upon the all-star status he has developed over the last two seasons, and make the leap to marquee player if the Kings are to remain a Western Conference power.

4. Rasheed Wallace, F, Detroit Pistons
-Rasheed quieted all critics last season as he tempered his explosive personality in being the difference-maker for the World Champion Pistons. Rewarded with a hefty contract by Detroit, ‘Sheed will once again have to convince doubters that the maturity he displayed was not merely a one-act play, but a permanent asset to a team that fed off his fiery energy. But if the ‘Sheed from old surfaces, the Pistons may encounter trouble even with a frontline as punishing as one boasting Wallace & Wallace and the newly acquired, rejuvenated Antonio McDyess.

5. Gary Payton, PG, Boston
Entering the twilight of his career, Payton will look to bounce back after a wretched postseason with the Lakers and a tumultuous off-season highlighted by a DUI charge and a refusal to report to Boston after being traded. After much delay, Payton decided he had a lot to prove to naysayers, and accepted his relocation to a non-contender in Boston. A wise decision by Payton, who needs to jumpstart a Hall-of-Fame career that has suddenly gone south. Leading Doc Rivers’ fast-paced offense, the veteran should enjoy Payton-like success in Boston, and potentially draw trade interest from contenders in February.

5 Fascinating Factoids

1. Eric Musselman won 38 and 37 games in two seasons as head coach of the Warriors, the most wins by any Warriors coach since Don Nelson won 50 in 1994. Mike Montgomery’s transition from college to pro coach will not be meriting appraisal from team officials if they expect Montgomery to come close to achieving the success of Musselman in his first season with the lottery-bound roster he takes over.

2. Sean Elliot '89-'99 (Pre-Transplant)--34.1MPG, .468FG%, 4.5RPG, 2.7APG, 14.9PPG
Sean Elliot '99-'01 (Post-Transplant)--22.8MPG, .416FG%, 3.1RPG, 1.5APG, 7.4PPG

Anyone expecting miracles from Alonzo Mourning just need to look at these numbers from Sean Elliot after his kidney transplant. While Zo’s comeback is still an incredibly courageous story, it’s improbable to expect him to be a major difference-maker in the Nets’ season.

3a. Erick Dampier
(Pre '03-'04)- 17.4MGA, 24.5MPG, .445FG%, 6.4RPG, 1.6BPG, 8.3PPG
(2003-2004)- 8.0MGA, 32.5MPG, .535FG%, 11.9RPG, 1.9BPG, 12.3PPG

3b. Mark Blount
(Pre '03-'04)- 19.0MGA, 15.4MPG, .454FG%, 3.3RPG, 0.9BPG, 3.9PPG
('03-'04)- 0.0 MGA, 29.3MPG, .566FG%, 7.2RPG, 1.3BPG, 10.3PPG

3c. Marcus Camby
(Pre '03-'04)- 27.4MGA, 28.8MPG, .468FG%, 8.0RPG, 2.2BPG, 11.2PPG
('03-'04)- 10.oMGA, 30.0MPG, .477FG%, 10.1RPG, 2.6BPG, 8.6PPG

In case you didn’t know, 2003-2004 was a contract year for each of these big men. Think it’s a coincidence they each had standout seasons? We’ll find out soon enough…(MGA=Missed Games Average Per Year)

4. In his first full season at the Rockets’ helm in 1992-1993, Rudy Tomjanovich became the first head coach ever to take a lottery team and guide them to a division title. Rudy T’s not exactly taking over a lottery team in the Lakers, but many people have them pegged to miss the playoffs in the midst of losing Shaq. Always known as a players coach, look for Rudy T to get the most out of his talent (most importantly Kobe Bryant), en route to challenging the Kings for the Pacific Division title.

5. Jason Terry, Erick Dampier, and Jerry Stackhouse, the three key off-season acquisitions by the Dallas Mavericks, have a combined career winning percentage of .375 (652-1088) and neither Terry nor Dampier has been on a playoff team before. Consider that the Mavs let go of Steve Nash and Eduardo Najera, two gritty win-first players, as well as Antawn Jamison who prospered in his first season as part of a winning team, and replaced these guys with players accustomed to losing atmospheres and lacking in big game experience, and one has to be concerned about how Dallas keeps up with pressure-tested squads like Sacramento and San Antonio in the West.

5 Fantastic Match-ups

1. Houston at Detroit, Tuesday @ 8:00
Opening night, opening game, and it should be a doozy. TMac will have his hands full in his Rockets debut as he travels into Detroit to take on the defending champions.

2. Washington at Charlotte, Thursday @ 7:00.
The NBA rewarded the Bobcats with two winnable games to open what could and should be a long, ugly season with home bouts against the Wizards and Magic. Let’s hope they pull one of these out because otherwise we could be waiting awhile before they notch that first W.

3. Cleveland at Miami, Thursday @ 8:00
Shaq welcomes LeBron into South Beach for the first time. Perfect opportunity for the ‘Daddy’ to make his mark on the Eastern Conference right away.

4. San Antonio at Los Angeles Lakers, Friday @ 10:30
The rematch (sans Shaq).

5. Phoenix at New Jersey, Saturday @ 8:00
Two teams headed in entirely different directions. Outcome could be a good indicatory of how much better the West is than the East.

5 Fretful Thoughts

1. With Stephen Jackson having an outstanding preseason (16.4 PPG in 24 MPG), there’s no question he steps into the starting 2 guard slot with Reggie Miller sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand. But what happens when Reggie comes back and the Pacers are sitting atop the East thanks to Jackson’s 15 PPG and stellar defense?

2. Rashard Lewis is now likely to begin the season on the injured list due to plantar facilitis in his left foot. If Wally Szczerbiak’s battle with plantar facilitis was any indication last season (Missed 54 games), the Sonics may have to prepare to be without their second-leading scorer for a significant chunk of the season.

3. The Kings play 5 out of their first 6 games on the road (Dall, SA, Hou, Sea, Pho) and 13 of their first 17 games against 2003-2004 playoff teams. For a team that’s notorious for charging to the top of the standings in the early going, the Kings are going to have to work awfully hard to set the pace in the Pacific Division early.

4. By bringing aboard Kenyon Martin, the Nuggets will have to relegate budding star Nene to the bench. If Marcus Camby stays healthy (huge ‘if’), then Jeff Bdzelik may have trouble finding adequate playing time for the Brazilian phenom. For a talented, but raw player like Nene, a lack of quality burn could result in a hindrance in his development.

5. When Carlos Arroyo left Thursday’s preseason game against the Knicks with an ankle injury, Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor must have been second-guessing himself for allowing Maurice Williams to sign on with Milwaukee this summer. With backup Raul Lopez already sidelined with what could be a serious knee injury, the Jazz are seriously lacking in depth at point guard and may have to act quickly. What’s John Stockton’s number again?

5 Fearless Forecasts

1. Despite an extremely tough schedule to begin the season which includes a 6 game west coast trip, expect the Raptors to come out swinging. This team is a lot better than people give them credit for, and with Sam Mitchell steering the ship steadily and Vince Carter bouncing back this season, do not be surprised to see the Raptors settle into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

2. Nate McMillan will be the first coach fired this season. The Sonics are simply not talented enough to keep up with the western powers, and McMillan is reportedly on thin ice with management anyways. It would be a shame to see McMillan take the fall because he has done a terrific job with what he has, but to expect him to improve upon last season’s modest win total (37 wins) might be too much to ask.

3. Trevor Ariza will one day prove to be the second-round steal of the 2004 NBA Draft, but that one day will not happen this season. Ariza, the 6’8 forward out of UCLA who dismissed advisors who suggested he stay in school for his sophomore season, finished 3rd on the Knicks in both scoring and rebounding and led the team in steals in the preseason. The problem is Lenny Wilkens will have a difficult time finding minutes for Ariza who sits behind Mike Sweetney and Jerome Williams, both also forwards coming off the bench.

4. High School rookies will continue the trend of making an impact right away. Top pick Dwight Howard will start at power forward for the Magic, and if the preseason is any indication, he could be the frontrunner for ‘Rookie of the Year’; Byron Scott will likely start J.R. Smith with confidence (11.1 PPG, 12 3PM in preseason) in New Orleans as starting shooting guard David Wesley nurses a sore hamstring; Shaun Livingston will play plenty of minutes for the Clippers as oft-injured starter Marko Jaric struggles with a broken thumb; Al Jefferson will be called upon off the bench in Boston where the frontcourt remains thin; and while Josh Smith, Robert Swift, and Sebastian Telfair may struggle to find PT early on, their respective teams are all projected to miss the playoffs and will likely ship their young guns out for battle later in the season.

5. Shaquille O’Neal is going to make a huge impression very quickly. The Heat open the season against four Eastern Conference opponents where Shaq will lay the smack down immediately as he marks his territory in the East. Then Miami hosts Dallas in a game in which Shaq will likely have a little extra for a team that failed to pony up for the big fella this summer in the Shaq trade sweepstakes. After bruising and abusing the Mavs, Shaq takes his crew into San Antonio where he will undoubtedly look to deliver the West’s best a message: the beast is now in the East.


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