1. While this has been another disappointing season in Charlotte, the optimist in me has to look at several players who have flourished under Larry Brown.
The Bobcats are 19-30 and failing to develop as a cohesive unit, but the maturation of Raymond Felton, as well as the transformation of Boris Diaw since his trade from Phoenix, are two things to examine in a positive light.
Felton has embraced a more efficient tempo under Larry Brown, and has seen his field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, and turnovers all trend in the right direction. He’s made so many positive strides, the Bobcats are looking to swap him at the deadline since they have DJ Augustin in their back pocket.
While they may receive positive value and achieve better team balance by dealing Felton, I feel as though he’s primed for good things down the road. Of course, if he leaves the nest of Coach Brown, he may regress.
As for Diaw, he looked asleep, lost, and unmotivated playing alongside a Suns team void of any true identity at the beginning of the year. His game averages out in the desert looked like this: 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 35.7 percent shooting from three.
In Charlotte? Try 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 46.2 percent from behind the arc.
Granted, his minutes have spiked since becoming a starter for the Bobcats, but anyone watching Diaw on a regular basis can clearly see he’s morphed back into the player he was in 2005-06, before he got his fat contract. That trade looks better and better by the day for Brown and the ‘Cats.
2. The Lakers bench creates incredible matchup problems for even the best teams in the NBA, as we saw during their overtime win over Boston last week.
Trevor Ariza’s reach and athleticism on the perimeter is a real asset to the second group. Kudos to Mitch Kupchak for swinging Maurice Evans and Brian Cook—guys who simply didn’t mesh with LA’s tempo or makeup—to Orlando last year for the now-blossoming Ariza. Even more kudos to Phil Jackson for getting Ariza to embrace his role and play to his strengths.
Will we soon say the same about Kupchak’s similarly quiet acquisition of the once highly-touted Adam Morrison?
Jordan Farmar gives LA excellent long-range shooting, a definitive slashing presence, and solid perimeter defense/energy. He was a steal at No. 26 in the ’06 draft and embodies the type of collegiate standout who is constantly overlooked in the NBA draft process.
Sasha Vujacic is quickly becoming one of the biggest instigators in the NBA, with his greasy hair and European flare. He simply gets under opponents’ skin. His three-point percentage is markedly down from last year (43.7 to 36.4 percent). Nevertheless, he stretches the defense and forces the issue behind the arc.
Josh Powell, in his third year out of NC State, has started to contribute regularly and adds an element of toughness on the low-block that LA sorely missed last year. He hit several key mid-range jumpers against Boston and battled Leon Powe admirably inside. Much like Ariza, Powell is a guy who has looked lost at times during his NBA career but is now contributing solid minutes for Phil Jackson’s second squad.
Luke Walton—in my eyes—has regressed in the last year or so. He looks uncomfortable, forces shots that aren’t within his comfort zone, and was never a guy who could beat you with athleticism and spunk. His greatest asset remains his interior and zone-passing skills, and his occasional hot hand from the outside.
3. Where was “Big Game LeBron” Sunday verse the Lakers? Five of 20 shooting won’t get it done. Credit the aforementioned Ariza for some of that. The Cavs are a dangerous club—especially at home—but unless LeBron simply takes over an entire series, I still think they’re vulnerable offensively.
4. David Lee is flourishing in New York, and while I know many New Yorkers as well as the Knicks upper management want to save, save, save for the free-agent crop of 2010, they better take a long, hard look at what Lee brings to their team before dismissing his contract wishes. Word has it the Knicks aren’t going to extend the type of money to Lee that he desires, and deserves, come season’s end.
I absolutely love his game though. He’s tough inside, has soft hands, positions himself well wherever he is on the court, and never quits on the play. His 16 PPG and 12 RPG averages don’t hurt either, as he's become a double-double machine (40 of the 51 games he's played in this year have been of the double dip variety). All of his averages are up from a year ago, and he looks like a guy the Knicks should be trying to build around, instead of off-loading.
It’s funny. When he was at Florida, he was thoroughly under-whelming, and the type of guy I couldn’t help but think needed another year or two in college when he declared for the draft.
He was an absolute THEFT at No. 30 of the ’05 draft. Players taken ahead of him: Ian Mahinmi (No. 28, San Antonio, from France), Johan Petro (No. 25, Seattle, from France), and Yaroslav Korolev (No. 12, LA Clippers, from Russia), among others. When’s the last time a late-first round European player panned out in a major way? And imagine those dominant national title Florida teams with Lee...
5. God Bless Birdzilla. Chris Andersen—formerly dubbed “Birdman”—has decided he wants to be referred to as Birdzilla these days instead. You gotta love some of these professional athletes.
Birdzilla, Birdman—whatever you want to call him, Andersen has developed into a high-energy impact reserve for the surging Nuggets. His 2.07 blocks per game (in just 19 minutes) are fourth in the NBA. It’s good to see this grade-A goofball resurrect his career after a two year hiatus from the Association due to serious drug charges.
6. If I’m the Chicago Bulls, I’m doing everything humanly possible to off-load some dead weight for Amare Stoudemire. If the Suns don’t want him and need to seriously consider rebuilding, then now’s your chance Chi-town! Gordon, Hinrich, T.Thomas, Noah, Ben Gordon…whoever it takes.
Despite his less–than-ideal interior defensive prowess and somewhat selfish attitude, Stoudemire is a difference maker and still very young. What’s more—and this is the real selling point—combined with Rose and Deng (the only two players who shouldn’t be on the table in trade negotiations), Stoudemire makes Chicago a very formidable team for a potential big free-agent to relocate to come 2010.
Isn’t D-Wade from Chicago? He is. You put Wade, Stoudemire, Rose, and Deng together and add the necessary complementary ingredients, and you got yourself a shot at the finals in the East for at least a two- to three-year window.
As a resident of the Windy City, and I can also say fans are getting very restless. It’s been a decade since MJ’s glory years and the front office has botched numerous first-round picks (Curry, Chandler, and Tyrus Thomas, among others).
The city and fan base is itching for a serious contender they can get behind. Stoudemire would give that to us.