Tuesday, December 14, 2004

5 on Five 12/13-12/19

5 on Five

Week of 12/13-12/19
By Paul Benedict

5 Faces to Watch
Theme: NBDL Stars Looking For NBA Roster Spots

1. Brandin Knight, PG, Asheville Altitude
-Knight was a stud at the University of Pittsburgh, known for his defensive prowess and grittiness on the court. Scouts assumed that Brandin's below average perimeter game and lack of size would keep him from becoming an NBA-level talent, and since he didn't quite have the playmaking ability of his brother Brevin, they weren't even willing to give him a shot. Now in his second season with Asheville, Brandin has taken up the starting role formerly held by NBA players Eddie Gill and Jason Hart and is beginning to show scouts what he's capable of with averages of 8.8 PPG, 5.6 APG, and 1.7 SPG. The NBA isn't exactly loaded with mature, defensive-minded point guards, so I'd expect Knight to get a shot at some point during the season.

2. Ricky Minard, SG, Columbus Riverdragons
-Minard was drafted 48th overall by the Kings in the 2004 draft, but was never offered a contract and signed with Columbus during the summer. It doesn't look like it will be too long before the former Morehead St. standout is given an opportunity in the NBA as his numbers (21.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.6 SPG) showcase the kind of talent he has. At just 6-4, the general consensus was that size and inexperience against quality opponents would keep him from having any impact in the league, but if his first season playing professional basketball is any indication, he could end up being a real find for any team that signs him.

3. Darius Rice, SF, Florida Flame
-Rice could have been a lottery pick had he bolted from Miami (Fla.) after a superb freshman campaign; instead he opted to stay in school and saw his stock drop in each of the past 3 years. Despite being 6-9 with some above-average athletic ability, Rice proved to be a one-dimensional perimeter shooter that earned the "soft" label with his timidness at getting to the basket and hitting the boards. He's reportedly worked very hard in the off-season to round out his game and despite narrowly missing out on a contract offer from the Nets during the preseason, his sights are set on the NBA and his play thus far in the NBDL (16.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.2 APG) indicates that a call may be moments away.

4. Rodney Bias, PF, Huntsville Flight
-Meet the NBDL's version of Ben Wallace. Bias never played basketball at a big-time university (he signed with Alabame after 2 years of junior college, but never qualified academically and returned to Shelton St.), but that never stopped him from being a menace on the boards. Bias is ripping down a mind-boggling 15.5 RPG in just barely over 30 MPG and also ranks 5th in the league in blocks (1.5 BPG). On Saturday night, Bias had compiled a double-double...BY THE END OF THE 1ST QUARTER (he ended up breaking his own NBDL record with 24 rebounds). If a team out there is looking for some help on the glass (Nets, Raptors?), Bias would be a wise pick-up.

5. James Thomas, PF, Roanoke Dazzle
-We all know Thomas from his days as an absolute defensive and rebounding maniac a la Jerome Williams during his Longhorn days in Texas. He averaged a double-double at the Portsmouth Invitational this Spring, but wasn't taken in the Draft and didn't get a shot with an NBA team until the Spurs invited him to training camp. While his play impressed the San Antonio brass, they didn't have a roster spot to offer him and now Thomas is doing his thing for the Dazzle, averaging 12.4 PPG and 15.0 RPG through 8 games. If guys like Brian Cardinal, Ryan Bowen, and Jerome Williams can find willing teams in the NBA, there's no reason JT shouldn't be able to.

5 Fascinating Factoids

1. Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds to single-handedly beat the Spurs on Thursday. Like you didn't already know that. But did you know that if TMac were to maintain that pace for 48 minutes that he'd score 1070 points? Thaaaat's gotta be some kind of record.

2. In games that Andre Miller dishes out 7 or more assists, the point guard is averaging 18.6 PPG and Denver is 7-0. When Miller fails to drop 7 dimes, he averages only 11.2 PPG and the team is just 5-8. This simply proves that the Nuggets are a much better team when Miller has the ball in his hands, allowing him to create for his teammates and score on his own. Let's take this a step further--Carmelo Anthony has not taken 20 shots in any game that Miller has 7 assists, yet in games when he doesn't record 7, Melo has taken 20 shots 7 times. Denver's record is 2-5 in these games. The message is loud and clear--KEEP THE BALL IN ANDRE MILLER'S HANDS AND LET MELO PLAY OFF THE BALL (maybe I can get Bdzelik fired with this information).

3. A few weeks ago I discussed Danny Fortson's unprecedented ability to commit fouls (now at 13.2 PFP48M), but I didn't mention that the guys ranking #2 and #3 in this same category are fellow Sonics Nick Collison (11.6 PFP48M) and Jerome James (11.3 PFP48M). Shawn Bradley is the only other player in the NBA to average even 9 PFP48M (damn that's one tough acronym), so it's obviously no coincidence that Nate McMillan is employing his frontcourt players to smack around opponents and get in their heads--a brilliant strategy considering that teams have feasted on the soft frontcourts of Seattle in recent years. What a coaching job by Nate McMillan thus far, can you believe he still hasn't been offered a extension?

The Sonics have finally found a use for Jerome James.

4. Damon Jones promised us big things this season and we knew the Miami PG could shoot, but the 3-point exhibition being displayed by Jones this season is just nasty. He's now 1st in the league in 3PTM and 4th in 3PT%, and more importantly, the Heat are 6-0 when he drains 4 3PTs, 12-3 when he sinks at least 3, and just 2-4 when he makes less than 3. For a team that needs perimeter shooting perhaps more than anyone else, Jones has been a Godsend with his trusty shot and is allowing Stan Van Gundy to play Wade at the 2 more and for the Heat to win more ball games.

5. ESPN had a poll last week asking who was to blame for the recent Karl Malone/ Kobe Bryant squabble. Amazingly enough, the results from the poll showed that 2/3rds of voters felt that Bryant was more at fault than the Mailman. Now I'm as big a Kobe-hater as there is out there, but he was not out of line with his comments about not worrying when Malone was going to return because he felt good about the teammates he's got right now. He probably should have kept his mouth shut, but I don't think his comments were necessarily inappropriate. And as far as the whole situation between Malone and Vanessa, it's hard to blame a guy who's going by what his wife says to him and defending her word. However, I also think personal issues like these shouldn't be even talked about members of the media or the public; there's just no way for us to really know what happened and regardless, it's absolutely none of our business. In light of this whole situation, I just find it extremely amusing that the general public widely perceives Kobe to be the chief perpetrator. Has there ever been a superstar in any sport that was so detested?

5 Fretful Thoughts

1. Cleveland is off to a very impressive start to the season at 13-8, but there's still some concerns about whether this team has what it takes to be a factor through the spring. The biggest question mark surfacing around the Cavs is their team defense. In 13 wins, Cleveland is outscoring its opponents at an average of 99.6 to 86.3; in 8 losses, they're scoring 91.4, but giving up 105.5. The 8-point disparity in points scored between wins and losses is about average, but the 19 point spread in points allowed is tough to swallow. It's quite apparent that when the Cavs play good defense, they have a shot at beating just about anyone (see 73 points allowed at Denver), but when they allow opponents to torch them (see 113 points allowed at Chicago), they're also capable of losing to even the worst of teams.

2. The Suns are off to a remarkable start to the season, especially when considering that the team won a mere 29 games a season ago. Free agent acquisitions Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson, despite their lofty contracts, have proved to be bargains for what they've added to this club. But we all have to remember that basketball played in November and December means practically nothing. Sure their outstanding record will likely ensure that they reach the playoffs and stand a good chance at playing for a high seed, but as we've seen in the past, the teams that go on to do damage come playoff time are the teams that peak in March and April. Playoff-tested clubs like the Spurs, Kings, and Timberwolves know what it takes to play through 82 games and still save their best for the playoffs. The Suns have an experienced Steve Nash, but for a team that relies almost entirely on its starting five, it has to be a little worrisome that the other 4 starters have played just a combined 31 playoff games in their entire careers. And I won't even begin to discuss how a high-energy team like Phoenix will manage to sustain this kind of play for 60 more regular season games plus the playoffs when each of their starters is playing at least 37 MPG.

3. In each of Golden State's last four losses, they have either led or been tied heading into the 4th quarter against teams with winning records (Minnesota, Lakers, Phoenix, Orlando). In the NBA, it's a team's play in the 4th quarter than often determines whether or not they're a quality team. Right now, Golden State cannot be considered a decent team when considering their overall record of 6-14, and that they're 6-3 against sub .500 teams and 0-11 verse teams better than .500. But they have shown the ability to play with even the best of teams and to take care of the lower tier of teams. If they're to take that step up to being a solid team, Mike Montgomery needs to figure out how to finish off games against more talented clubs, especially considering that the majority of their games are against the talent-rich West.

4. The Washington Wizards have established themselves as a legitimate playoff-contender in the East thanks to their 12-7 start, but Gilbert Arenas has to start doing a better job on the defensive end if this team is to remain in the playoff hunt for the entirety of the regular season. Let's look at the performances of opponents' starting PGs when the Wizards lose:

Damon Jones: 12 PTS, 6 REB, 9 AST, 1 TO
Andre Miller: 34 PTS, 8 REB, 8 AST, 2 TO
Allen Iverson: 28 PTS, 5 REB, 13 AST, 0 TO
Jason Terry: 13 PTS, 0 REB, 11 AST, 1 TO
Jeff McInnis: 13 PTS, 3 REB, 11 AST, 0 TO
Dwayne Wade (2x): 29.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 10.5 APG, 5.5 TOPG
Total Average: 22.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 10.4 APG, 2.1 TOPG

What amazes me the most from these numbers is not the 22.7 PPG or the 10.4 APG, but the fact that Arenas has forced merely 4 turnovers in the 5 losses in which Dwayne Wade wasn't involved (like I said before, the Heat are a much better team with Jones running the show and Wade playing the 2). Point guards are expected to not only create on the offensive end, but also to make plays on defense, and until Arenas can do this consistently, the Wiz will struggle against capable point guards.

5. I have to admit that upon the Cavs drafting LeBron James, I thought that DaJuan Wagner would be a perfect compliment to LBJ at the 2. Paul Silas started LeBron at the point for 20 some games last season, but the team took off after they shifted him to the two to make room for Jeff McInnis, not DaJuan Wagner who's experiment at the 1 failed miserably the prior season. Wagner, now in his third season after being drafted 6th overall by Cleveland in 2002, has proved to be a bust since bursting out with some eye-popping scoring displays his rookie season. At 6-2, he's just too small to create his own shot and contain his opponent on the defensive end. Add in the fact that he's playing under considerable pressure and thus forcing up some grotesque shots, and Wagner has settled firmly in Paul Silas' doghouse. The Cavs took him off the injured list Monday and are expected to give him some run to showcase his ability to other teams. It's certainly in the interest of both parties for a trade to take place, though you have to wonder how much teams will be willing to offer for an undersized 2 who's career FG% is below 37%.

5 Fantastic Matchups

1. New Orleans at Charlotte, Tuesday @ 7:00
-The Hornets make their triumphant return to the city of Charlotte for the first time since moving to New Orleans. Right. Both these teams stink (though it's hard not to feel sorry for the infirmary-crammed Hornets and the expansion Bobcats), so this game has absolutely no real implications. However, it'll be interesting to see what kind of reception the Hornets get from the Charlotte fans. I'm going out on a limb and guessing that it won't be very good, but you really can't blame the holdovers (Davis, Brown, Nailon, Magliore, Wesley, Lynch).

2. Cleveland at Detroit, Thursday @ 8:00
-LeBron had easily the most impressive performance of the season the first time these teams met (until TMac started scoring at the rate of 1070 PPG) in Cleveland by busting out for 43 points on national television--a statement game if you will. This time LBJ takes his show to Detroit where the Pistons will surely be thinking retribution.

3. Phoenix at Seattle, Friday @ 10:00
-ESPN really lucked out with scheduling this doozy (unlike last week's gut-wrenching Bulls/Sixers debacle), featuring the two teams with the best records in the NBA (notice I didn't say, "the NBA's two best teams"). Phoenix has been dynamite on the road (9-1) but is just 1-2 against the best of the West, while Seattle beats the crap out of anyone not named the Celtics--can't wait for this one.

4. Washington at Phoenix, Saturday @ 9:00
-I usually don't like to put the same team on this list twice, but given that the Suns will be duking it out with the Sonics the night before in Seattle, I think a game against the defenseless Wiz in the Desert the following night will be just what Phoenix is looking for. I fully expect this game to be a throwback to the high-scoring days of the 80's as the #1 and #4 scoring teams in the league play with an over/under of at least 220 (I'd still take the over).

5. New Jersey vs. Toronto, Sunday @ 3:00
-Ok, ok...you're probably thinking to yourself, "what the HELL is this game doing up here?!", BUT...this game features the Red-Headed showdown of Brian Scalabrine vs. Matt Bonner, the only two readheads in the NBA. Screw the Orlando/ Miami showdown the same day, I'm 'firing' up this baby!

5 Fearless Forecasts

1. Josh Smith is going to be a fixture in the Atlanta starting lineup for the remainder of the season. The rookie who played for the same AAU team as Dwight Howard and Randolph Morris has been getting big crunch-time minutes as of late, and is a major reason why the Hawks suddenly look like a real NBA team. In the Hawks' last 4 games in which they're an astounding 2-2, Smith is averaging 10.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG (3.8 ORPG), 2.0 RPG and is shooting 55% from the floor in just 24 MPG. Ironically, Smith is stealing minutes from Josh Childress, the SF who was taken ahead of him in this year's draft. Apparently Smith really was too good to pass up.

2. The Hornets are done, we all know that. They've been been finished since Baron went down after 5 losses to begin the season and so it was no wonder the team went ahead and traded Darrell Armstrong away. I'd be shocked if GM Allan Bristow doesn't completely clean house and so it's just a matter of time before P.J. Brown is donning another uniform. A hard-nosed defender with some quality playoff experience, Brown will likely receive the pursuit of many suitors as the trade deadline approaches. And assuming that both sides will be looking for a relocation, it probably won't take too much to get him.

3. I've heard the Timberwolves and Spurs rumors, but I really believe that Karl Malone will be sporting a Miami Heat jersey very soon. Seriously though, as if the Kobe/Shaq saga couldn't be more dramatic, we now have Malone (a guy Kobe referred to as "big brother") at ends with Kobe making it 3 Hall-of-Famers that Kobe has driven out of L.A. I don't care that the Mailman might hesitate at playing in the Eastern Conference or that he may worry about the Heat's chances at a championship, it just makes way too much sense for him to join forces with Shaq and tarnish the star's image further. I mean with the way this Shaq/Kobe drama has played out, couldn't you just see Karl suiting up for his 1st game of the season on Christmas Day against Kobe and the Lakers?

4. Larry Hughes will continue to lead the NBA in steals through the end of the season, but he will not be named to either of the All-Defensive Teams. Eddie Jordan has employed an up-tempo game in Washington where he has his guards often playing off the ball, looking for any chance to swipe a pass or break to the wings on a rebound. Hughes, who has consistently been embarassed on defense throughout his career when asked to man-up in key situations, has excelled in Jordan's system and will continue to be a cunning thief on defense if it means leading the league in steals and using the title to garner him a big contract in the off-season. He'll hurt the team eventually, but he'll remain a great fantasy play.

5. Philadelphia will not make the playoffs. Ok, maybe this isn't quite fearless, so allow me to rephrase my prediction: Philadelphia will not come close to making the playoffs. This team stinks, plain and simple. 0-7 against the West, 2-8 on the road, just 2 wins against winning teams (both at home mind you)--it's clear...the Sixers are not a good basketball team. They are young, their star player isn't good enough to carry a weak supporting cast, they can't score, and their defense is more inconsistent than Christina Aguilera's attractiveness. Jim O'Brien should not take the fall for this team--it's about time Billy King did.


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