5 on Five (Special Edition)
With the Lakers struggling and Kobe not trusting any of his teammates, it's just a matter of time before he starts pointing fingers.
5 on Five (Special Edition)
Week of 11/28 - 12/4
By Paul Benedict
We're now 4 weeks into the season and so it's time for me to throw you a curveball. With this week's version of 5 on Five, I'm going to mix things up a little bit. Instead of the usual breakdown of five topics in the same five specified categories, let's take a look at what we know so far after observing this first month of play. And since 5 x Five comes out to 25, here's 25 things we now know about this NBA season that we might not have before the season kicked off on November 1st.
1. Kobe Bryant still does not trust any of his teammates.
--Kobe is firing up 29.2 shots per game, which is four more than the NBA's other notorious Allen Iverson who comes in at #2, and 9 more than the league's third most frequent shooter, Gilbert Arenas at 20.4 And if you've watched Kobe play at all this season, he's taking at least 5-10 ill-advised shots per game. The question is-- can you really blame him with an even worse supporting cast this year?
2. Dwight Howard is not going to let us down.
--Subtract Wednesday's game against Washington in which he got into foul trouble, and Howard is posting jaw-dropping numbers of 17.3 PPG, 17.0 RPG, and 2.0 BPG over his last 6...and he's not even 20 yet. Furthermore, he's the catalyst behind the undermanned Magic's respectable 6-6 record.
3. The Dallas Mavericks are not taking a step back.
--Sometimes we overlook the importance of continuity by getting caught up in the potential improvements we assume teams will make simply by adding productive 'names' to their roster. The Mavericks are the prime counterexample to this train of thought, just as they were last year, by seemingly using their cohesion and experience to fend off clubs still learning how to put it all together.
4. The Toronto Raptors loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv was no fluke.
--The Raps currently hold the NBA's worst record at 1-13 after coming off an excruciating West Coast trip that saw them blow three consecutive games in the 4th Quarter. Sam Mitchell has his guys playing hard night in, night out, but they really are that bad and it's not going to get any better assuming he starts giving the younger guys more burn.
5. Isiah Thomas might make for a horrible GM, but he sure as hell can draft well.
--Larry Brown hates to hand over hefty minutes to younger, inexperienced players, but there's simply no way he's going to deny Trevor Ariza, Channing Frye, Nate Robinson, and possibly even David Lee of considerable playing time given the way that they have contributed to the Knicks thus far. I've taken plenty of shots at Isiah, but I'm not afraid to admit that he apparently has a keen eye for young talent.
6. TNT still blows ESPN out of the building with their NBA television coverage.
--More on this to come in an upcoming article, but for now, just take a critical approach to this week's Thursday night TNT doubleheader and Friday's ESPN doubleheader. Somebody needs to tackle this topic and I believe it will make for better discussion if you guys are well-prepared.
7. The San Antonio Spurs are not a 70-win basketball team.
--They're a fantastic ball club, but Gregg Popovich is going to continue to monitor his players' minutes, take it slow with his players recovering from injuries, and save the majority of his intensity for when the Spurs really need it. 70 wins over 5+ months don't win you a championship, but 16 wins over the final 2 months always will-- Pop knows this as well as anybody.
8. The Bobcats are further along than almost anyone could have imagined.
--A 5-9 record does not exactly jump out at you, but consider this-- the Bobcats are one unimaginable 4th Quarter choke, one Brevin Knight floater, and one Brian Scalabrine screen away from being an 8-6 team. Furthermore, they're 4-4 when their newly-annointed best player Gerald Wallace is in the lineup. And to take things one step further-- Charlotte has beaten 4 teams that were in the Playoffs a year ago; the 9-4 Clippers have defeated only 2.
9. Brian Hill can actually coach...
--...contrary to what Penny Hardaway once told everybody. The Magic are giving up 88.5 PPG (lowest in the NBA) compared to 101.8 last season (28th in the NBA) and allowing opponents to shoot only 43.0% from the floor (7th in NBA). Though Orlando stands at a modest 6-6, Hill deserves a lot of credit for keeping the team competitive thanks to their defense, and things should only improve with Dwight Howard developing at an exponential pace and Grant Hill due to return shortly.
10. Chris Paul is going to be a superstar.
--Who would have guessed the Hornets would sit at 6-6 after trading away their All-Star center? I don't think fellow newcomers Kirk Snyder, Rasual Butler, and Arvydas Macijauskas have that much to do with NO/OKC's either. And if you want to credit the success of the team to David West, you better look at Chris Paul first because there might not be another player in the league right now who's benefitting more from the play of his point guard than West.
11. Physical halfcourt basketball no longer defines the Eastern Conference.
--Take a closer look at the 15 teams in the East. Count the clubs that prefer a slower-paced, halfcourt game. Right now, I see 4-- New York, Indiana, Chicago, and Orlando (I'll give you Detroit if you really want it). The game is changing my friends, and we're the ones who are going to benefit the most.
12. Yao Ming is never going to be an effective 35+ MPG player.
--As I just mentioned, NBA basketball has changed and no longer can a 7'6" guy keep up with the pace for 3/4 of a game. The Rockets are 3-11 right now partially because Tracy McGrady has been sidelined, but also due to Yao's inability to play like a star for the amount necessary to carry a team to victory. The time is now for Jeff Van Gundy to turn the pace up significantly and to play his best athletes major minutes (Swift, Anderson, Head), to sit his aging veterans considerably (Howard, Wesley, Barry), and to get the very best out of Yao in short spurts that will likely come out to 25-30 minutes per game.
13. It's time for Jim Gray to shut his mouth.
--Does anyone actually like this guy? Sometimes I'm so shocked ESPN is able to capture his stand-ups with that huge f*cking head of his. Did you ever notice that he ALWAYS sneaks in 3 questions during halftime interviews, exactly one more than any other sideline reporter? Or that he HAS to interview at least two or three celebrities or executives during each game, even if they have don't have anything significant to say or add nothing substantial to the telecast? It's downright maddening, and I think it's time for him to be placed on the inactive list.
14. Lawrence Frank's job is not secure.
--Jason Kidd and Vince Carter aren't getting any better, and Richard Jefferson is really starting to come into his own, so the time is now for the Nets if they're going to cause any sort of damage in the Eastern Conference. I'm not sure anyone had them going too far from the outset of the season, but we all kept them on the radar because they might have been a trade away from being considered a serious contender. That's not the case with the way they've played. When did they all forget how to play defense? Nobody to blame a lax defensive effort on but the coach.
15. That Boris Diaw guy can really play.
--Contrary to Anthony's mind-boggling belief, Diaw is not only the 3rd best player on this year's team right now, he's also more valuable to the Suns than the guy they decided not to spend 70 million on and swapped him for with the Hawks. His play might not jump out at you, but take consideration of what Diaw has brought to Phoenix-- the ability to step in and play any position, to pass the ball better than anyone on the team that's not the reigning MVP, and to defend big guys, little guys, and make plays on the defensive end. Diaw is really one of a kind player who is worthy of your attention if you haven't taken a look at his play yet.
16. Bonzi Wells knows it's a contract year.
--How else do you explain 14.1 PPG (highest since 2002-03), 8.5 RPG (previous high 6.0 in 2001-02), 3.0 APG (highest since 2002-03), and 1.9 SPG (career-high)?
17. Jerry West has not lost his mind.
--There was hardly a person out there who wasn't at least a little skeptical about what The Logo had done with the Grizz this offseason, exchanging youth and talent for experience and maturity. Now looking back it seems pretty clear that West decided it was time to build the team around Gasol, reward some supporting players from the past few years with more playing time, and to build team chemistry with the hope that the Grizzlies would be able to persevere when the odds were against them. So far, so good.
18. Marcus Camby is an All-Star when healthy.
--16.9 PPG (2nd among centers) on 56.3% FGs (6th in NBA), 13.9 RPG (1st in NBA), 1.5 SPG (2nd among centers), 3.3 BPG (3rd in NBA)-- need I say more?
19. Mark Blount is a complete moron.
--Blount has been a consistent offensive threat thus far for the Celtics this season (13.6 PPG, 53.0% FGs), but he still is clueless when it comes to contributing on the defensive end of the court (3.6 RPG in 30.3 MPG) and that is where the Celtics have been having their biggest problems. So what does Blount do? He opens his mouth on multiple occasions to the media, bitching about his role in the offense. And how does Doc Rivers respond to his starting center's actions? Be benching him on Friday...for the entire game. Big-ups, Doc.
20. Ron Artest is still completely and utterly insane.
--Anyone get a look at his new haircut? He's got "Tru Warrior" shaved into the back of his head. Yikes. But in the words of Happy Gilmore, "At least he hasn't punched anyone."
21. The Golden State Warriors are for real.
--What has impressed me most about this team so far has been their ability to pull it together in crucial situations down the stretch. The Warriors are 4-2 in games decided by 5 or less points which is impressive considering only two players in their rotation have any experience playing in important games. Golden State has also played some rather stingy defense (93.2 PPG, 29.4% Opp. 3-PT FGs-- tops in the league), a concern coming into the season. With an easy stretch at home coming up, look for the Warriors to position themselves well to stay in the thick of the Playoff race for the duration of the season.
22. The Cleveland Cavaliers still have their problems on the road.
--While an exciting win in Philadelphia was a step in the right direction, the Cavs looked like a D-League team as they took a beating from the Pacers on Thanksgiving night. If there's one thing we know heading into every NBA season, it's that no team can be considered a contender until they learn how to win big games on the road. A 3-game West Coast trip beginning on Friday in Seattle and continuing on Saturday at Staples against the Clippers and Tuesday at Sacramento could be very telling of where LeBron's team is headed.
23. Carlos Boozer has some bad karma.
--After stabbing a blind man in the back last summer when he reneged his verbal promise to re-sign with the Cavaliers, instead accepting a more lucrative offer to play with Utah, we all knew Boozer was due for some serious repercussions. Now between having missed 45 games since the beginning of last season and being despised by the entire state of Utah, including the organization, Boozer finds himself the topic of many trade discussions. My question is-- if Boozer is traded, is he back to even-par in karma? Or should he prepare for another tumultuous stint with his new team?
24. The Detroit Pistons are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
--I don't care if Shaq comes back 100% and Ron Artest stays on the court the entire season, the Eastern Conference Title is still Detroit's to lose. With a more potent offensive attack, a starting five that only continues to play better together, and a steadily improving bench, the Pistons are better than they have been the last two seasons and right now appear to be the team with the best shot at knocking off the Spurs.
25. The San Antonio Spurs are still the team to beat in the Western Conference (but maybe not by as much as we initially thought).
--Both the Mavericks and Suns seem poised to give the Spurs a legitimate run in the Playoffs, although nobody in their right mind would bet on an upset with the way things stand right now. The Mavs are going to have to take the Southwest Division and secure homecourt throughout to have a real chance at knocking off the Spurs. They could also help themselves by acquiring another big body to help them match up better with San Antonio's superior frontline. Phoenix needs Amare Stoudemire to return to the lineup at 100% and for the current roster to continue to develop chemistry and to remain healthy. If Dallas and Phoenix play their cards right and run into a little bit of luck, the Western Conference Playoffs could be interesting. I still wouldn't bet on this though.