Monday, December 12, 2005

5 on Five

It's about time Jeff Van Gundy sees what 'The Stro Show' can bring to the Rockets.


5 on Five
Week of 12/12 - 12/18



By Paul Benedict



5 Faces to Watch
Theme: Players Who Should Be Receiving More Playing Time

1. Al Jefferson, PF Boston
-Doc Rivers finally realized that you can't start a soft frontcourt with Raef LaFrentz and Mark Blount and expect to win more than half your games in the NBA. Now it's time he realizes that the Celtics aren't going anywhere fast this season and he's got to develop his young bigs of Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins if the team wants to work towards something in the future. With the way Baby Al has been playing lately (21.0 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 63.8% FGs, 8.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG over his last 4), it's only a matter of time before he's inserted into the starting lineup and playing 30+ minutes like we all thought he would be before the season.

2. Caron Butler, F Washington
-Eddie Jordan has to settle on a rotation for this team and whatever it is, it needs to include a more prominent role for Caron Butler. Aside from being their third best threat on the offensive end, he's also an underrated defender that can be a Larry Hughes-esque thief if given big minutes. It's time to realize that Jarvis Hayes doesn't quite cut it as the starting 2 and that Antonio Daniels is better off as a 6th man-- give the starting shooting guard spot to Butler already.

3. Eddie Griffin, F Minnesota
-I don't blame Dwane Casey for being hesitant to give Griffin a larger role on the Wolves given the way the team has been playing as of late, but at some point he's going to realize that Griffin's talents are just too good to leave on the bench for more than half the game. Though he's having trouble getting his offensive game going, Griffin is a defensive gem (2nd in BP48M; 6th in RP48M) that still wreeks of star potential. If the Wolves want the 23 year old to continue in his development, Casey is going to have to give him more run.

4. Stromile Swift, PF Houston
-I might be too late on this call as 'The Stro Show' has played more minutes in the last 3 games (24.7 MPG) than he has in any 3-game span this season. And perhaps it's not a coincidence that Swift has been a key contributor (11.0 PPG, 50.0% FGs, 5.0 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 2.0 BPG) in each game-- all Rockets wins. Look for Swift to become more comfortable with the team as his role steadily increases.

5. Andray Blatche, PF Washington
-I got a brief look at Blatche the other night in garbage-time minutes against the Pacers and came away very impressed. He's got great size for a 19 year old at 6'11", 235 lbs., yet he plays more like an oversized 3. I could see instantly why he's been drawing comparisons to Kevin Garnett (even if they are far-fetched at this point). All I've heard out of Washington is that Blatche is drawing raves around the organization for his play-- they really think he's got a bright future in this league. So I'm wondering...with the Wizards really struggling right now and Eddie Jordan constantly tinkering with the rotation, why not throw a few minutes here or there to Blatche, who has played only 22 all season? Especially when you consider their weak frontcourt, it might not be such a bad idea.


5 Fascinating Factoids

1. Gary Payton recorded his 1000th career double-digit scoring game on Friday night, tops among all active players. Although this isn't a jaw-dropping feat, it is yet another milestone in what's been a first ballot Hall of Fame career for 'The Glove'.

2. The Boston Celtics finished with the worst record in the 1996-97 season, thus they had the best odds of landing the #1 overall pick in the 1997 'Tim Duncan' Draft. Unfortunately for 'Gang Green', the balls didn't fall their way in the lottery and so they were stuck with the 4th pick while San Antonio hit the jackpot. Since that day, the Celtics have never beaten the Spurs. Not one time in 17 tries. Unbelievable.

3. In all 7 of Houston's wins this season, Tracy McGrady has scored at least 23 points. Their record when McGrady either hasn't suited up or dropped 23? 0-11. And you thought T-Mac was already out of the MVP race...

4. The Detroit Pistons have now played 100 consecutive regular season games and 48 Playoff games with the same exact starting lineup since acquiring Rasheed Wallace on February 19, 2004. Too often organizations overlook continuity and the importance of developing strong team chemistry in favor of making drastic personnel changes that make teams appear sexier on paper, but if there's ever been an example of how effective stability and cohesion can be , take a look at the 2005-06 Detroit Pistons.

5. Danny Fortson has yet to commit a flagrant foul this season. The notorious thug on Seattle is once again defending his reputation as the dirtiest player in the NBA by leading the league in PFP48M at 14.8, a hefty lead over the next highest at 9.2; he's tied with Rasheed Wallace and Alonzo Mourning in technicals with 5; and his two ejections are more than anyone else. But where are the flagrants? This is a category he usually dominates.


While I still love his chances to be a success in this league, I wouldn't mind seeing Nate Robinson tone down his theatrics just a bit.


5 Fretful Thoughts

1. Can the Charlotte Bobcats shake this funk? After a mildly surprising start to the season, the second-year franchise has begun to do its best impression of Prarie View A&M. The Bobcats have now dropped 7 straight games, 11 on the road, and will face only 2004-05 Playoff teams in each of their next five games. On top of this, Gerald Wallace is really struggling after a dynamic start and now Emeka Okafor may miss some time with a sprained toe. Suddenly, the Bobcats have been thrust into the race for worst record right alongside Toronto and Atlanta.

2. Nobody will consider the Warriors a legitimate threat in the West until they win a big game. So far this season, Golden State's best wins have come at Milwaukee and in Oakland over Chicago. While those are solid victories, neither is going to land the Warriors in the opening SportsCenter tease-- and that's the kind of win this team needs. I understand that in the NBA, more often than not, rising teams will take baby steps on their way to the top, and the Warriors have shown growth as they continue to beat teams they should beat. But for critics, fans, and most importantly the team's sake, they need a victory over a marquee team to show they're ready for primetime. So far they've dropped home contests to San Antonio, Detroit, and Phoenix, and a road game at the Clippers-- a win in any of these games could have gotten them over the hump. They'll host the Rockets Friday on ESPN, so they won't have to wait too long for their next opportunity (although one might not necessarily consider this a 'big win').

3. Nate Robinson isn't as likeable as I once thought he would be. I still love certain things about him-- his small stature, crazy hops, penchant for the dramatic, and aggressive style of play, but he clouds these assets with an abundance of cockiness, a lack of humility, a Jamal Crawford-esque shot selection, and a propensity to always try dazzle rather than simply make the right play. If I were a veteran guard in the NBA and Robinson were sticking me, I'd take it right at him every time and throw him a few cheap shots. Some of the antics I've seen him pull this year are off limits for rookies which is why, as you may have noticed, referees are none too kind to Nate. I am glad to see that Larry Brown likes him and plays him with confidence because if anyone is going to get Robinson to tone down his theatrics, it's LB.

4. If Larry Bird does fulfill Ron Artest's outspoken desire to be traded, the Pacers are not going to get equal value. There's not many players out there who bring what Artest does to the floor and when you couple that with his relatively low salary (2 more years at about $15 million), Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird have quite a pickle on their hands. Should they take on free agents-to-be Peja Stojakovic or Al Harrington? Expiring contracts from the Knicks? Drew Gooden plus? It'll be interesting to see how the Pacers (an organization that rarely botches personnel moves) handles this Artest situation.

5. Nate McMillan still insists on bringing Juan Dixon off the bench despite the fact that the former Wizard might be his #1 scoring option right now. With Darius Miles sidelined for what's expected to be an extended amount of time, McMillan has to juggle the rotation around. The Blazers were having problems enough with Miles as their #1 scoring option, but at least they could put some points on the board. Now with the load being carried almost exclusively by Zach Randolph, Portland is putting up scores less than what Oregon University pours in a night. Did you know the Blazers have yet to ring up 100 this season? I understand a starting backcourt of Telfair and Dixon is like throwing Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto against the likes of Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman, but at least they could get their punches in. The Blazers are going to get knocked around for awhile with the roster McMillan has on his hands.



5 Fascinating Match-Ups

1. LA Clippers at San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday @ 8:30 PM.
-If the Playoffs were to begin today, the Spurs and Clippers would enter as the top two seeds. Major props to anyone who called this. Clippers came up with a huge win against Phoenix at Staples on Saturday, but this is the game that will tell us how good the Clip Show really is.

2. Phoenix at Dallas, Wednesday @ 8:00 PM on ESPN
-A budding rivalry in the NBA has a lot to live up to after the dramatic opening night game in which Dallas made a triumphant comeback late to take down the Suns in Phoenix. Everyone wants to keep talking about how the West is down, but I'm not sure there's a better team in the East save Detroit than these two consistent squads.

3. San Antonio at Minnesota, Thursday @ 8:00 PM
-The Wolves have been playing great as of late, but will have their hands full with the Spurs on Thursday. Much like the the Spurs meeting with the Clippers on Tuesday, here's our chance to truly gauge what this Wolves team brings to the table.

4. Denver at Cleveland, Thursday @ 8:00 PM on TNT
-Of course you know LeBron dropped 52 in a loss on Saturday, but I hope everyone is paying attention to 'Melo, who's playing the best basketball we have ever seen from him. This game is always a treat.

5. Houston at LA Lakers, Sunday @ 9:30 PM on NBA TV
-And T-Mac vs Kobe ain't too shabby either.


This could very well be the next coach of the Sacramento Kings.


5 Fearless Forecasts

1. A couple days ago I was brainstorming potential midseason coaching replacements if/when any of the coaches on the hot seat (Adelman, Jeff Van Gundy, Mitchell, Frank) are canned. An ideal replacement came to mind-- one Mr. Terry Porter, recently and mistakenly let go by Milwaukee, as the new head coach in Sacramento. Porter is a former Kings assistant that is familiar with the system and players, and so he'll be able to try and fix the situation without altering it too much. He's also expected to be one of the most sough-after head coaches this summer; the Maloofs can get a leg up on the competition by locking up Porter long-term before he's pursued by other suitors. So there you have it-- if Sacramento doesn't show steady improvement fast, Rick Adelman will be fired and Terry Porter will be replaced to hire him.

    2. Has anyone else considered the irony in Doug Christie surprisingly announcing his retirement a couple weeks ago and the prospects of the Kings this season looking rather grim? Might the NBA's notorious 'whipping boy' be expressing his desire to the Maloofs about landing a position with the organization, possibly as part of the coaching staff? Here's my forecast-- again, if there's a shake-up of Sacramento's coaching staff, Doug Christie will be hired as an assistant coach.

    3. The Houston Rockets have now won 3 in a row, but stand at a paltry 7-12 on the season. With an impending 4 game West Coast swing around the corner, the Rockets better be ready to play their best basketball of the season if they want to turn their record around fast. I'm calling the Rockets to be at .500 or better by the time New Year's rolls around. Despite a somewhat tough schedule which places them on the road for 6 of their next 9, Houston will need to take 7 of their 9 remaining December games to climb back up to .500-- a task I think is within them.

    4. One rookie who's quietly having an outstanding rookie season is Salim Stoudamire. We knew he was a lethal outside shooter coming out of Arizona and that he could end up being a real steal in last June's draft, and Salim has done nothing but back this up. Aside from an unbelievable 24 point 4th quarter performance in Oklahoma City that nearly got the Hawks their first win of the season back in November, Stoudamire is proving to be a reliable source of scoring off the bench for Atlanta (22.4 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 44.4% FG, 43.5% 3PT). Eventually Mike Woodson is going to give Stoudamire a shot in the starting lineup and 30+ minutes per game to show what he can do. I think Salim Stoudamire is going to fly with this and show that he's just a natural scorer despite his size en route to being named 1st Team All Rookie.

    5. As I said before the season started in my MVP article, there's always one candidate that comes from nowhere and builds a ton of momentum after his team gets off to an unexpectedly hot start. That candidate this year (if you didn't know already) is Elton Brand. The Duke product and former #1 overall pick has been absolutely terrific this season (25.5 PPG, 55.1 FG%, 10.8 RPG, 2.9 BPG) in leading the Clippers to the top of the Pacific Division. Much of Brand's success has to be attributed to Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley who have helped ease some of the defensive pressure and double teams that have been utilized on Brand throughout the past 4 seasons with the Clippers. While I do believe he can keep these Karl Malone-esque numbers up, Elton Brand will not be winning the 2005-06 MVP Award. Is he a franchise player? Sure. But when you consider what 'Da Kid' is doing over in Minnesota with far less support, you simply can't justify Brand taking top honors.

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