Tuesday, November 23, 2004

5 on Five

5 on Five

Week of 11/22-11/27
By Paul Benedict

5 Faces to Watch
Theme: Early-Season Disappointments

1. Adonal Foyle, C, Golden State Warriors
-Warriors GM Chris Mullin inexplicably gave the injury-prone backup a monster contract this summer (5 years, $41 million), forcing me to scratch my head so long it started bleeding. What the hell was Mullin thinking? Foyle has turned out to be a huge bust (surprise, surprise!), even to the point of being demoted by Mike Montgomery in favor of 59 year-old Dale Davis. In 6 starts, Foyle was averaging a mere 4.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG (below his career average), and a whooping 3.7 FPG (8.5 FP48M). Since then he's seen just 30 minutes of action in 4 games, including a DNP-CD in the team's 1st victory of the season. Way to go Golden State--no wonder why you always suck!

2. Ben Gordon, G, Chicago Bulls
-After winning the NCAA Championship at UConn and being taken 3rd by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Draft in June, Ben Gordon was on top of the world. Too bad that world came crashing down as soon as the regular season began. After just three games, Gordon was yanked from the starting lineup by Scott Skiles due to a lack of intensity and overall ineffectivness, prompting Coach to say, "He's just not playing well enough all the way around to allow himself to stay on the court." Yikes. Of course Gordon is just a rookie and it takes some players more time to adjust than others; and if his vomit-inducing numbers are any indication (32.5 FG%, 2.0 TPG in 19.4 MPG), it could take Gordon awhile.

3. Tim Thomas, SF, New York Knicks
-I've never been a huge fan of Thomas, but he was very steady for the Knicks last season after coming over from Milwaukee in a trade for Keith Van Horn (15.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 45.2 FG%, 40.6 3PT% in 24 games). This season, however, has been a complete disaster thus far for the Villanova product. Through 9 games, Thomas is scoring just 7.9 PPG on 32.6% shooting and turning the ball over at a career-best rate (4.0 P48M) while playing just 23.8 MPG. Rookie Trevor Ariza has been magnificent playing behind him and is starting to push Thomas for minutes, but Lenny Wilkens has assured the veteran that his starting spot is safe for now. Still, Thomas is running out of chances and with Allan Houston slated to come back soon, could see his minutes slashed even more significantly.

4. Jamaal Magliore, C, New Orleans Hornets
-Magliore was a beast after the All-Star break last season (16.4 PPG, 11.9 RPG), convincing many that his surprise All-Star appearance could be the first of many to come. This season has been a different story for the big fella as Magliore (12.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 44.0 FG%) has failed to maintain the level of play he exhibited in the second half of last season and is a major eason why the team is off to a miserable start (0-8). Byron Scott has to be hoping Magliore can get going a little earlier this season--before his team is out of it by the All-Star break.

5. Lorenzen Wright, C, Memphis Grizzlies
-Wright has steadily held down the center spot for the first team since Hubie Brown took over and incorporated his hockey line rotation system. And despite the developing play of up-and-comer Stromile Swift over the past couple years, Wright has seen no change in his playing time and continues to see his share of crunch-time minutes. That could soon change with Stro swiftly emerging as a go-to guy for the Grizz and Lo off to a rough start to the season (5.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.7 BPG, 33.3 FG%). While Wright will likely stick with the first team throughout the season, his 4th quarter minutes could quickly disappear unless he steps up his play.

5 Fascinating Factoids

Tuesday: Yao Ming and TMac, who had combined for 19 of the teams 24 points in the 3rd quarter, had taken just 2 shots combined with 1:30 left in the 4th, as the Rockets squandered an 11 point lead to the lowly Hawks.

Thursday: Yao and McGrady, after shooting a combined 6-10 in the 3rd to give Houston a cushy 11 point lead, shoot just 2-6 in the 4th as the Rockets blow another double-digit 4th quarter lead to the Knicks.

Saturday: The duo score 15 of the Rockets' 26 4th quarter and overtime points as the Rockets fend off the Clippers 91-86.

Sunday: Yao and TMac score 8 crucial points in the closing minutes as the Rockets win their second straight on the road, 97-93 in Portland.

Notice a trend here? Do you think the Rockets are taking notes on what they have to do in order to pull out these close 4th quarter battles?

2. The Suns have outscored all 10 of their opponents in the second quarter this year and have led at the half of every game. So what's the secret? Coach Mike D'Antoni rarely substitutes more than 2 of his starters out of the game at a time, meaning the Suns always have their studs matching up against opposing teams' subs in the 2nd quarter. So far this strategy has proved very effective with Phoenix sitting pretty at 8-2. In the long run, however, the heavy minutes for the starters and the lack of depth could end up backfiring. Take a look at the starters' MPG: 37.2, 38.8, 36.6, 35.3, 36.5--the only team in the league in which all 5 starters are playing more than 35 MPG. Remember that 4 of the 5 Suns starters battled injuries last year and that this team runs more than anyone else in the league, and we have ourselves a situation to keep an eye on.

3. After blowing a 4th quarter lead on Friday, the Celtics fell to the Spurs for the 14th consecutive time. This is prime evidence of the West's dominance over the East since the Bulls dynasty ended as both teams have been playoff mainstays in their respective conferences since. The Celts just haven't been able to match up to the Spurs' overpowering frontcourt over the years--a trend that is frequent in the East vs. West battles with the the latter's surplus of power forwards and low-post players causing overwhelming matchup problems for the size-deficient East.

4. With all the hoopla surrounding Artest and his rap (music, not criminal) career, it should be mentioned that a fellow NBA player is also rising in the ranks of the hip-hop world. Minnesota's Troy Hudson, whose stage name is T-Hud, will perform tracks from his debut album, "The Stress of Both Worlds" as he puts on a rap concert for fans at the the Timberwolves' Target Center on December 18. Do you think anyone is questioning why 'T-Hud' missed most of last season because of "injury"?

5. So far all of the rookie talk is surrounding Dwight Howard and his impressive start to the season, and nobody seems to be noticing that another power forward coming straight from high school is putting up gaudy numbers---even if Al Jefferson is only playing limited minutes. In 12.8 MPG, the 6-10 Jefferson is averaging 6.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG, and 0.4 TPG while shooting 56.4% from the floor; those numbers come out to 23.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 BPG, and 1.4 TPG per 48 minutes. Outstanding for a kid that many thought wouldn't be ready to make a contribution for at least a year or two. If it wasn't for Raef Lafraentz playing so well to start the season, Jefferson would likely be playing a bigger role for the Celts. If he keeps this up, I'd fully expect him to.

5 Fretful Thoughts

1. My most fretful thought concerning the brawl between the Pistons and the Pacers on Friday night is how the general public responds to this incident. The NBA has already been a subject of scrutiny over players' attitudes, personalities, and roles as professionals, and the publicity surrounding the event emphatically highlighted all of these issues in a very negative light. It's not fair that many observers' will make wrongful judgments about the NBA and its players based on an isolated incident, but it's something we see a lot of in sports and must be overcome in order to ensure the next step for the league is in the right direction. David Stern has always been a dedicated advocator to promoting the NBA as a clean and healthy product, and though he will surely increase his efforts to promoting what's left of the league's positive image, people have to realize that the NBA is a product of itself. Basketball is a city sport, a game that has been played religiously on the streets for years largely because it's an inexpensive sport to play and because its the most easily accessible. It's also become a gateway for poor families to leap out of the projects and a haven for troubled kids to stay away from crime and drugs. These factors all contribute to there being a much larger percentage of professionals coming from tough backgrounds in basketball than with almost every other sport. Take Ron Artest for example: a kid from an abusive, poor home in a rugged urban neighborhood of NYC. This upbringing largely has to do with Artest being a troubled individual today. Should we chastize him for it? No. Should we be more understanding of his personal issues and hope that he can mature into the respectable professional athlete that we all want him to be? Of course. But too many people enjoy lambasting professionals for their mistakes, a result of people's own insecurities. Maybe Artest has screwed up a number of times, but if you're willing to make a judgment on the man without knowing all the facts, then you're screwing up as well.

2. An obvious fretful thought at this point is with the Indiana Pacers and their chances of success now that their team has been decimated due to the recent suspensions. Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson will both come back to the court in mid-January and probably will return to proper form immediately since they will continue to practice with the team and work-out appropriately to stay in game shape. With the season only about halfway done at this point, it also gives the Pacers ample time to regroup and ensure a spot in the playoffs as long as they haven't completely self-destucted in the wake of the players' absences. Artest's loss will easily prove to be the most detrimental, though there stands a good chance that his suspension will be reduced and he will be available to return come playoff time. If the season-long suspension does remain intact, the Pacers can be written off as a title contender. Boasting a winning percentage of .686 with him, and just .467 without him, the Pacers are not equipped to challenge the likes of the Heat and the Pistons without their #2 scorer and top defender. Of course there is a possibility that Larry Bird can ship him to a willing team, but it's unlikely he will be offered anything substantial at this point. The Pacers best bet will be to cross their fingers that an emotionally healed and driven Artest comes back in March and helps the club rebound from this unfortunate event and play some inspiring basketball in the playoffs. It would be a terrific conclusion to an otherwise sad story.

3. One more concern dealing with Friday's brawl: with David Stern coming down extremely hard on the players involved and Billy Hunter about to appeal the hell out of the Commish's suspensions, I'm a little worried that the gap between the two sides concerning the upcoming collective bargaining agreement might become just a little wider. It's enough that the two sides haven't made any progress in about a year, but now with a serious issue at hand that clearly puts the Players Union at odds with the Commisioner, it seems that a deal for the new CBA might have just encountered another hurdle. I can't see the Players Union willing to submit to many of the Owners' demands when they themselves are feeling slighted about their treatment from the Owners. This could get ugly.

4. It's been evident throughout his tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers that Allen Iverson is not capable of carrying the scoring load entirely by himself. In previous seasons when the Sixers had been successful, AI has had reliable compliments to relieve some pressure from the 3-time scoring champ in guys like Larry Hughes, Matt Harpring, Aaron McKie, and Keith Van Horn. Last year the team struggled with Glenn Robinson filling the role, and this season they're struggling immensely with nobody yet stepping up. Kyle Korver has been the most efficient scoring threat outside of Iverson (12.7 PPG, 50.0 FG%, 44.8 3PT%) but can't create his own shot and is a liability on the defensvie end. It might actually make sense for Billy King and Jim O'Brien to consider giving Big Dog another chance to contribute to the club, but their insistence in bringing along their youth makes such a move unlikely. Look for the Sixers to continue to struggle unless someone steps up (Iguodala, Green, Dalembert) or until they acquire another scorer.

5. Vince Carter was benched during the 4th quarter for the 3rd time this season as Coach Sam Mitchell went with Lamond Murray in the Raptors' stunning comeback win over the Spurs. Through 11 games, 'Air Canada' is averaging a career-low 14.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and shooting a career-worst 38.0% from the floor and 68.6% from the stripe. His on-court demeanor and comments since the summer suggest that the 6-time All-Star doesn't care, isn't trying, and desperately wants off of this team. It looked as though Carter was going to get his wish last week when the pieces were in place for a deal that would have shipped him to Portland, but Toronto reportedly balked at the Blazers' offer, likely because other teams made some intruiging last-second pitches. At 5-6 and having played 10 Western Conference opponents already, the Raptors can afford to take their time in trading the disgruntled star as long as the team remains competitive. But there's no question both parties are better off with a divorce and it's only a matter of time before the proceedings take place. Until then, expect more mediocrity from Vince Carter.

5 Fantastic Matchups

1.Seattle at Minnesota, Tuesday @ 8:00
-The Sonics finally saw their remarkable 9-game winning streak come to an end on Sunday when they were spanked by the Celts 101-82 in Boston. After a day to rest, Ray Allen and co. will try to regroup in Minnesota where they have lost 10 of their last 11.

2. New Jersey at Denver, Tuesday @ 9:00
-Kenyon Martin welcomes in his former teammates (what's left of them) to the Pepsi Center and appears ready to unleash a ferocious game upon them (18.7 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.3 SPG, 1.7 BPG in his last 3 games). The Nets begin a 4-game West Coast swing after having been swept convincingly in their 4 game homestand against Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and Washington.

3. Detroit at Cleveland, Wednesday @ 7:00
-Off to a solid start to the season, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers get a chance to make a statement in the East against the defending champs. Without Ben Wallace, the Pistons will surely be vulnerable down low, but it's up to the Cavs' inconsistent frontline of Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.

4. Minnesota at Indiana, Thurdsay @ 8:00
-Last week I began psyching myself up for this Thanksgiving day collision between last year's consolation teams. And then Ron Artest went postal, Stephen Jackson flipped out, and Jermaine O'Neal dropped a teenager---and now I'm having nightmares of David Harrison's post game, Fred Jones' perimeter game, and Austin Croshere's go-to game. Yikes.

5. Sacramento at Lakers, Friday @ 10:30
-This was my favorite rivalry in the NBA up until, well...you know. Even without Shaq and Vlade, this should be an as entertaining game as there has been all season. Keep in mind that with the new division alignment, the Kings/Lakers games are going to have even more at stake from now on.

5 Fearless Forecasts

1. The Clippers will remain competitive throughout the season, but will still miss out on their first postseason bid since 1997. The key factors to consider here are that the team has kept its two best players (Brand and Maggette) together for 3 seasons now, there are a few younger guys (Simmons, Jaric, Wilcox) that appear to be maturing and ready to contribute on a regular basis, and they have an experienced playoff-tested player (Kittles) and an experienced playoff-tested coach (Dunleavy). The talent is certainly there to compete; Brand and Maggette alone will win some games for the Clips and the supporting cast is strong enough to do their part in playing competitive basketball against anyone in the NBA. The team has to stay healthy and confident to maintain their respectable start; an injury to Brand or Maggette will devastate the balance of the team and a losing streak could certainly eliminate any winning atmosphere a team so accustomed to losing may have developed. But the Clippers have a good chance to win 35 games and appear to finally be headed in the right direction.

2. Though the Knicks just took care of them handily in MSG, the Cleveland Cavaliers are suddenly emerging in the East and capable of making a serious run towards the title in just a year, maybe two. The reason behind this is quite simple: LeBron James. At just 19 years old and in only his second year in the league, the King is posting jaw-dropping numbers (25.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 6.1 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 47.8 FG%), but more importantly, leading the rising Cavs to victory consistently. Despite seeing their 6-game win streak come to a halt against the Knicks, LeBron has instilled a winning swagger on his team and has brought out the best in his 3 most important teammates: Jeff McInnis, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Drew Gooden--all playing the best basketball of their careers. If LeBron can continue to rewrite the books on young players' progression and maturity, then Cleveland will undoubtedly continue this upward trend and find themselves in title contention much sooner than anyone anticipated.

3. With Ricky Davis struggling to stay consistent and Jiri Welsch failing to make a splash in his role off the bench, Doc Rivers decided to switch their roles for Sunday's contest against the streaking Sonics. The result? Welsch contributed a respectable 12 points and 8 boards while Davis went off for 25 points on 10-14 shooting as the Celts hammered Seattle 101-82. Rivers felt that Davis was holding himself back as a starter, and encouraged him to do his best Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson impression as the 6th man on Sunday, resulting in Davis having his best game of the season. This move will likely remain permanent, and rightfully so as Ricky Davis will go on to win the 6th Man of the Year Award.

4. The Pistons fans will get what's coming to them. They got exactly what they wanted when Commisioner Stern single-handedly eliminated the Pacers from the Eastern Conference title picture, despite their shrewd and abusive role in the melee. But things have a way of evening out and whether this means a key player going down with an injury, the Heat taking down the Pistons in the Eastern Finals, or even a remarkable run by the Pacers to the Finals, Detroit fans will get their due.

5. Shaun Livingston will continue to battle the injury bug until he develops his slight frame to withstand the rigors of an 82-game schedule and the physical play of the NBA. The 19 year-old point guard went down with a dislocated kneecap during Monday's practice and is expected to miss up to 8 weeks. I can't remember the last time I ever heard of such a serious injury occuring during a team practice--I mean all pratices are non-contact during the season. But Livingston, listed at 6-7 and a generous 175 lbs., is certainly the most likely candidate to suffer such a fate and now his development faces a frustrating setback. I understand the kid is just 19 years old and he hasn't filled out his frame just yet, but for the love of Tayshaun Prince, get Livingston into a weight room ASAP. This will not be the last time this happens so long as a boy is sent into a man's world.


At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too bad that Livingston got injured for so long so soon, because the Gawker has been absolutely Slackjawed every time he's seen the young PG play. His court sense is so good that there's only one way to describe him -- smoooooooooooth -- and don't you dare leave out one of those o's. This dude is the second coming of Anfernee Hardaway, the Orlando Magic version. Assuming Livingston successfully bulks up and recovers from injuries, don't be surprised if he ends up being the guy that replaces Jason Kidd as the league's premier point guard. Not that you'll really know for awhile, since it will be another 5 years before we ever get to see the Clips in a nationally televised game.

At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too bad that Livingston got injured for so long so soon, because the Gawker has been absolutely Slackjawed every time he's seen the young PG play. His court sense is so good that there's only one way to describe him -- smoooooooooooth -- and don't you dare leave out one of those o's. This dude is the second coming of Anfernee Hardaway, the Orlando Magic version. Assuming Livingston successfully bulks up and recovers from injuries, don't be surprised if he ends up being the guy that replaces Jason Kidd as the league's premier point guard. Not that you'll really know for awhile, since it will be another 5 years before we ever get to see the Clips in a nationally televised game.


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