Courtside: Here Comes the Sun (Again)
By Anthony Peretore
The Recent Buzz Surrounding the NBA
New Faces in New Places
1. Jim Jackson, Phoenix Suns
After refusing to report to New Orleans following his trade from the Rockets, JJ finally got his wish and was shipped to the Pacific-leading Suns last Friday. Jackson did look a bit rusty in his first game with just 2 points and 5 fouls in 17 minutes. But last night in MSG, the former Ohio State Buckeye was on point with the rest of his teammates, totaling 17 points on 6-8 shooting in a 133-118 victory. Seems like a beneficial deal for both parties with the Suns receiving a quality veteran to come off their bench (Walter McCarty’s next) and JJ getting to play for a contender down the stretch.
2. Carlos Arroyo, Detroit Pistons
In one of the more eye-opening deals of the season, the Jazz gave up on their disgruntled point guard and sent him to the World Champs for 63 year-old Elden Campbell and a future first rounder. A few weeks ago, Arroyo allegedly swore at Utah Coach Jerry Sloan and the two were unable to amend their differences. After a spectacular run with his native Puerto Rico in the Olympics, Carlos was expected to have a great season in ‘04-05. Now he’ll be counted on to provide a spark off the rather dismal Pistons’ bench.
3. Tony Allen, Boston Celtics
In a surprising move for both parties, Coach Doc Rivers inserted his rookie into the starting lineup last Saturday with the results far exceeding his expectations. As reported by Steve Bulpett in Tuesday’s Boston Herald, Doc couldn’t have been happier with Allen’s play: “Defensively he was phenomenal in that game. He single-handedly led the charge at the beginning of the game and in the third quarter. He took them out of cuts. They couldn't run their offense. It was pretty cool to watch.” Needless to say, Allen will be starting over both Jiri Welsch and Ricky Davis for the near future, if not the rest of the season. Look for Danny Ainge’s cellphone bill to go up just a bit this month.
4. Ron Artest, Indiana Pacers
That’s right folks, Ronnie’s back practicing with the Pacers but don’t get ahead of yourself, he’s still done for the year. After numerous complaints from Indiana’s front office, the NBA granted Artest permission to practice citing the fact that he is indeed still part of the team. While efforts to reduce the former St. John’s star’s suspension continue, we should assume that Commissioner David Stern will uphold his initial ruling of the season-long ban. It’s too considering what a weak crop of elite teams there are in the Eastern Conference race this season.
Players to Keep an Eye on in Coming Weeks
Go Get ‘Em:
1. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Pierce is actually having one of his more efficient shooting seasons (43.5 FG%) of recent past, but his scoring numbers still remain down. On a Celtics team that is significantly better than their 19-21 record shows, Pierce is undoubtedly primed to carry Boston into the playoffs for a fourth straight year. With more youngsters seeing increases in their playing time, look for them to get the ball to their captain more often down the stretch of games than the veterans have. Over his last five Pierce is averaging: 24.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, a sure sign he is poised for a big second half.
2. Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors
Welcome the next up-and-coming ‘4’ to your fantasy leagues. In the month of January, Bosh has absolutely dominated the competition with averages of 19.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and 2.0 BPG. If the former Georgia Tech star has a few down games, look to quickly make a deal for him. If you’re in a keeper league and have yet to inquire about Bosh, you’re really missing out. He’s a 10-time All-Star in the making. GM Rob Babcock has made it no secret that Bosh is the team’s centerpiece for the future.
3. Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards
With backcourt mate Larry Hughes on the shelf for 4-6 weeks, Arenas should (and already has) put up some rather gaudy numbers. At times he may neglect his teammates and look only for his own shot, but his assist numbers should eventually come around. Since Hughes’ injury, Arenas has put up averages of 32.3 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 1.0 SPG (excluding his dreadful 3 point performance against the Spurs). If you need scoring from your point guard position, Arenas is your man.
4. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
Okay, ready for the real ‘Melo to break out? C’mon now, as long as we’ve known this guy he’s been nothing short of spectacular, so we have to expect him to turn things around. Ankle injuries have nagged him all season, but the former ‘Cuse star should be coming into true form following the All-Star break. Not hearing his name called at the game, especially with it being played on his own home court, will undoubtedly stir up some fire in Anthony. Take a look at last year’s numbers before and after All-Star Weekend:
Pre-All-Star Break: 18.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 41.1 FG%
Post All-Star Break: 24.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 52.0 FG%
Get Rid of ‘Em:
1. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers
With Stephen Jackson slated to return on Wednesday at Boston, it all but assures that Reggie’s minutes will be cut significantly. If there are any decent GFs left in your free-agent crop, go get them now before it’s too late. Miller’s numbers could drop off so dramatically that he may no longer even hold a roster spot in your league. Don’t be that guy that holds onto him until it’s too late. The Knicks’ Trevor Ariza may be a good replacement.
2. Damon Jones, Miami Heat
There has to be someone to blame for Miami’s recent 3-5 skid, right? Coach Stan Van Gundy publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with Jones’ play of late and even went as far to say he may replace him in the starting lineup. PG Keyon Dooling or F Rasual Butler could get the nod if Jones is indeed demoted. I personally think this notion will pass however and once Miami gets back on track, the heat (no pun intended) will gradually come off of Jones. However, just to be safe, try and acquire someone with a bit more job security.
3. Grant Hill, Orlando Magic
MRIs are never good and always extremely bad when they are coupled with Grant Hill. Yes, I know this time the injury is with his wrist, but do you really want to risk anything with this guy? Those of you who did take a gamble in drafting Hill have most definitely gotten your worth. If there is anyone in your league with significant interest in the former Dukey take the safe route and deal him now.
4. Chris Webber, Sacramento Kings
Hmm, yet another random DNP for Webber Tuesday night against the Nets. C-Webb has missed just four games this season, but this should be considered a warning sign for fantasy owners to deal the oft-injured power forward. Remember that Webber missed 59 games last season and 15 the year before. There is no reason to think he isn’t due for a significant stretch in street clothes, so trade him now while his stock is still at its peak.
Worth the Risk:
1. Ron Mercer, New Jersey Nets
Yes, that’s right, Mercer is slated to return some time in the next week or so after resuming practice late last week. With veteran Rodney Buford starting right now and well, being Rodney Buford, it’s feasible to assume Mercer could be getting big minutes by mid-February. Do not be foolish and grab him now, just keep an eye on his return and how he looks in his first three to five games or so.
2. Tony Allen, Boston Celtics
This summer Allen attended Michael Jordan’s basketball camp in Chicago and quickly earned the nickname Ron Artest Jr. The former OK State star was shutting down every man he d’ed up and even managed to throw down some highlight reel dunks. Well, this same type of play has earned Allen the starting 2-guard spot in Doc Rivers rotation and the team seems thrilled about it. With Jiri Welsch and/or Ricky Davis undoubtedly on the trading block, this starting slot should remain Allen’s for the rest of the year (and years to come for that matter).
3. Brent Barry, San Antonio Spurs
Finally the so-called “X-factor” to San Antonio’s championship run is warranting useful minutes in Coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation. In the team’s four games last week, Barry averaged 12.8 PPG and 3.0 APG in 28.0 minutes. I know, not eye-popping numbers, but give him time to shed off the 52 layers of rust he’s accumulated over the past few weeks. With Beno Udrih the type of player seemingly destined for at least one stint on the IL, Barry should be getting 28-30 every night come February.
4. Keith McLeod/Raul Lopez, Utah Jazz
With Arroyo being shipped off to Detroit, the starting point guard spot in Utah is now in the hands of both McLeod and Lopez. Now there is the possibility these guys will spilt time the rest of the season ala Jason Williams and Earl Watson in Memphis, but there seems to be a hint of favoritism on the part of Sloan towards McLeod. If you need a back-up point and are willing to take a bit of a risk, grab McLeod now and maybe Lopez later.
Movin’ on Up
Teams on the rise
1. Chicago Bulls (21-19)
Still don’t believe the Baby Bulls are for real? After their victory over the Nuggets on Tuesday night, Chicago stood at a jaw dropping 12-2 for the month of January. Now granted, they’ve only beaten two teams over .500 during this stretch (Orlando and Detroit), but still, 12-2 is still remarkable especially for this team. This recent run of victories has allowed the Bulls to leapfrog the Pacers into third place in the Central Division, just 3 games back of the Cavaliers for first. While it is a bit early for playoff speculation, da Bulls currently hold the 7 seed in the East and seem poised to make their first postseason appearance since a guy named Jordan was on the roster.
2. Toronto Raptors (18-24)
Do me a favor and go look at the Atlantic Division standings. Now after your stomach settles look again at how the Raptors have progressed since the Vince Carter trade. Since December 17, the Dinosaurs are respectable 10-7, including 9-1 at home. For the season Toronto is a remarkable 15-5 at the Air Canada Centre but a dreadful 3-19 anywhere else. Just two games back of the division-leading Sixers and 3.5 back of the 8th seed in the East, it is not too far-fetched to think this team could squeak into the playoffs. Remember, the team that wins the Atlantic is guaranteed at least a 3 seed which would give the Raptors home court advantage in at least the first round. Amazing.
3. Memphis Grizzles (24-19)
Since Coach Mike Fratello took over for the “ill” Hubie Brown, the Grizzlies have gone 19-9 compared to just 11-13 before his tenure. The main difference has been the team’s ability to shut down their opponents’ offense. Before the coaching change, Memphis was holding their foes to an unimpressive 93.8 PPG. Since “The Czar” took over, that number has plummeted to 80.6 PPG over his first 28 games, an improvement that has helped the team rise to third overall in the NBA at 90.7. The Grizz have climbed all the way up to the 7th seed in the West and have critics once again believing they can do some serious damage come playoff time. The only worry is that some players may get sick of the whole 10-man rotation with egos starting to arise. However, with Fratello steering the boat, there have been no signs of a let down, so we have no reason to expect anything different in the near future.
4. Phoenix Suns (33-10)
Yes I know, the Suns can’t rise too much more when they already own the league’s second best record. But, losing an astonishing six games in a row last week gave fans reason for concern. However, since Steve Nash has returned from his rash of injuries, the Canadian PG has been able to right the ship with the team averaging 123.0 points in their last two. With the addition of Jim Jackson and possibly Walter McCarty in coming days, this Suns team will most definitely be one to reckon with come May and June.
5. Washington Wizards (25-15)
After getting blown out in their first two games without Larry Hughes, the Wizards appear back on track with three straight wins. In wrapping up their western road trip after hearing that Hughes would miss the next 4-6 weeks with a broken thumb, the Wiz were walloped by the Spurs and Mavs 101-73 and 137-120, respectively. Since then, they have defeated the Raptors at home and more impressively, the Pacers and Cavaliers on the road. PG Gilbert Arenas has stepped up in Hughes’ absence averaging (as mentioned above) 32.3 PPG and 4.5 APG over his last four. Once Juan Dixon is able to return from his flu symptoms, look for him to take over where he left off in averaging 18.3 PPG, 4.7 APG and 2.7 steals starting two games for Hughes.
Teams in Big Trouble
1. New York Knicks (17-24)
The Knickerbockers are currently in the midst of a 7-game losing skid and have also dropped 11 of their last 12. To make matters worse, Isiah Thomas replaced the legendary Lenny Wilkens with Herb Williams (of all people) instead of going after someone with experience. I mean Herb Williams? No one took this guy seriously when he played for the Knicks, now he’s their coach? If it’s me, I do my very best to trade the Thomas boys (Tim and Kurt), which is damn near impossible, and start giving big time minutes to Michael Sweetney. Also, keep Trevor Ariza in the starting five (21 points, 11 boards and 2 steals last night in 37 minutes). These two, along with Nazr Mohammed, could provide a formidable frontcourt for New York. With Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford rounding out the first five and Allan Houston, Jerome Williams and whatever they can get back for the Thomas’ off the bench, there would seemingly be no reason this team couldn’t win the Atlantic. Is this so hard to figure out? Maybe Isiah should be calling me? Oh yeah, the Raptors just jumped them in the standings too.
2. Charlotte Bobcats (8-30)
Well, we kind of expected this at the beginning of the year didn’t we? The fact that the ‘Cats are going to break the 10-win mark has to be an achievement in itself. Losers of nine in a row and 15 of their last 16, Charlotte dropped another home game on Tuesday night to the Celtics who had lost their previous 9 on the road. During this string of consecutive defeats, the Bobcats have surrendered 103.8 PPG, while shooting a dreadful 62.3% from the free-throw line. The team currently ranks 29th in the NBA in this category at 66.6%. 11 of their 30 losses have come by 6 points or less. Imagine if they shot better from the line and won those six? We’d be praising this team with a 14-24 record, instead we look forward to the date our team plays these guys, home or away.
3. Golden State Warriors (12-29)
As mentioned before, when the Warriors have managed to start Speedy Claxton, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy Jr. Troy Murphy and Cliff Robinson, the team is a respectable 7-7. However, with the constant influx of injuries on this team, first year Head Coach Mike Montgomery has not been able to remain consistent with this first five. The Warriors are truly cursed and it does no good that a huge chunk of their money is tied up in players like Adonal Foyle. On the bright side they have rusty assets such as Robinson and Dale Davis to deal. Maybe Chris Mullin could get a couple basketballs and a new headband for Derek Fisher in exchange for these two.
4. New Jersey Nets (15-26)
Well, you can’t blame the front office for trying. Upon their trade for Vince Carter, the Nets appeared poised to make a run at the Atlantic crown. Jason Kidd was rounding into form and Richard Jefferson was performing at All-Star levels. Then, RJ announced he would have to have season-ending surgery on his wrist and now trading Kidd is just a matter of time. If it’s me, I deal him to say, Memphis, and get back Earl Watson, Stro Swift and a first rounder. Those two plus VC and Jefferson could form a nice young core for years to come.
5. Portland Trailblazers (16-24)
In a week’s span Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Darius Miles and Zach Randolph all went down with injuries. These three have missed a combined 33 games this season leaving the team with very little hope of making the playoffs. Before Monday’s shocking win over the visiting Spurs, the Blazers had lost their previous 6 games and 10 of their last 11. They were relying on veterans Damon Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel for points every night and even inserted the undrafted James Thomas into their starting lineup. One positive note is the recent play of Joel Przybilla who has averaged 13.0 PPG and 13.5 RPG over his last four. With Randolph perhaps returning on Wednesday, maybe the Blazers can capitalize on their recent win over the Spurs. My guess is probably not.