Missing Pieces of the NBA Puzzle: Miami's Mike Miller and More
While the NBA season is hitting its 10 game stride, many teams are still missing vital pieces to the their respective rosters. Starting the season undermanned can heavily influence any potential rhythm a team could ride through to December.
And while most teams are suffering from the injury bug in one way or another, there are many contenders dealing with big losses to their lineups.
Here’s the list of current suit-wearers who are playing on legitimate contenders and what their returns mean to their teams.
Greg Oden: Portland Trailblazers
Perhaps being one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory is not Greg Oden’s fault. Injuries have plagued his career, much like that of Sam Bowie in the mid-1980s. I only mention Bowie because, much like passing on Michael Jordan, the Blazers opted for the size of Oden over the almost-sure-thing Kevin Durant.
When Oden is healthy, his presence is undeniable. Forming a defensive tandem with the shot-blocking Marcus Camby, Portland has one of the most difficult middles to score against. Both are tremendous in the paint, whether they’re blocking shots or simply influencing them.
I’m a stat guy and certain numbers don’t lie. When Greg Oden has been on the floor and healthy, he has produced and he has produced big. Only averaging about 22 minutes per night for his career, Oden, on average, has put up almost 10 points and over seven rebounds per outing, while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field and swatting almost 1.5 shots.
If he ever sees starter-like minutes, he could be one of the best bigs in basketball.
Oden is set to return no earlier than late this month and possibly not until mid-December, depending on how Portland decides to play it. With Oden’s sensitive history—only 82 total games in over two years in the league—don’t bet on Oden seeing any significant minutes before January.
Carlos Boozer: Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls have credited Carlos Boozer’s bank account between $75-to-80 million but haven’t received anything in return. Given the Bulls’ constant flirtation with .500, a mirror image of last season, the Bulls would like to get Boozer on the court as soon as possible.
Hoping to form one of the best front lines in all of basketball and compete with the size of the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics in the improving Eastern Conference, the Boozer-Noah tandem has yet to take the court together. Boozer, who was injury-plagued in Utah, mysteriously broke his hand while walking in the dark.
These Duke guys should be smart enough to turn on a light when entering a room, but now Boozer’s out until late November, not a day sooner.
Derrick Rose, who’s putting up career numbers of 23.6 points per game and 9.7 assists per game, will definitely appreciate Boozer’s presence because. Boozer's career numbers of 17.2 points per game and 10 rebounds per game will ease Rose’s offensive burden.
Carlos can spread the floor up to 18 feet, rebound like a beast, pass better than most big men in the NBA, and he has a terrific basketball IQ. Rose and Boozer could be reminiscent of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer of years past in Utah.
Chris Andersen & Kenyon Martin: Denver Nuggets
With all the drama surrounding Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets, it’s nice to have some constants in the Mile High City. Kenyon Martin and Chris Anderson are injured again. I don’t believe that George Karl has embraced that cup-half-full perspective, and I don’t expect him to.
Both Bird Man and K-Mart are coming off knee surgeries and the Nuggets front line is missing them. Anytime you are a legitimate playoff contender and Shelden Williams is starting at PF, you can’t help but scratch your head.
Even though Williams is putting up career highs in both scoring and rebounding, he is no Kenyon Martin or Chris Anderson defensively. You can say what you want about the thuggish nature of the two, but offenses all around the league steer clear of the paint when they’re on the court.
Kenyon Martin allows Carmelo Anthony to do his thing offensively because you have to respect his jumper, which sometimes drifts to the three-point line. Anderson is a bird of a different color. Over the last two seasons, he hasn’t broke the 23-minute mark and he’s still averaging over two blocks a night.
Emotionally speaking, Andersen and Martin are the leaders of this Denver team and George Karl can’t wait to pull Shelden from the starting lineup. Chris Andersen is set to return no sooner than the end of this month. Kenyon Martin is out until January.
Mehmet Okur: Utah Jazz
Despite the Jazz’ current winning ways, the teams still has one of the least productive benches in the entire league, averaging just over 20 points per outing. CJ Miles, who most Jazz fans believed would have his breakout season after his productive performance in last year’s playoffs, isn’t carrying nearly the weight that Jerry Sloan was hoping for.
Even though Miles is leading the bench in production, through nine games he’s averaging less than ten points per game in 24 minutes while shooting a career low from the field.
Mehmet Okur, who averaged 13.5 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game last year in 29.4 minutes, is desperately needed back in Utah. His ability to stretch the defense as one of the best big-men shooters in the league is something the Jazz is missing, especially since, as a team, Utah is shooting a collective 35 percent from downtown.
Okur’s return is tentatively set for later this month or early December and that will allow Sloan to put a scorer on the floor with his second unit.
The backups for Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, Kyrylo Fesenko (2.9 points per game and 2 rebounds per game) and Francisco Elson (2 points per game and 2.2 rebounds per game), have just been bodies on the floor to relieve the starters.
When Okur returns to the active roster, Utah’s bench should get a much-needed offensive lift while saving minutes for their bigs.
Andrew Bynum: Los Angeles Lakers
Having the second best record in all of basketball is never a problem, especially when Lamar Odom is having one of his best seasons in recent memory.
However, the tandem of Andrew Bynum and current MVP-candidate Pau Gasol is the league’s best at the C/PF position. Andrew Bynum also clogs the lane more than the extremely-versatile Odom and he influences the paint like nobody’s business.
Andrew Bynum, who had a tremendous NBA Finals for the Los Angeles Lakers, opted not to have knee surgery during the playoffs after missing the title run in 2009 for the same problem. Although injuries seem to be a re-occurring theme for the 23-year-old, his influence is undeniable when he does play.
If you thought the Lakers were playing well right now, wait until Bynum is healthy. He is currently scheduled to return later this month.
Kendrick Perkins: Boston Celtics
Even after Kendrick Perkins went down in the opening minutes of Game 6 during the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics were still minutes away from stealing Game 7 on the road and forever tainting Phil Jackson’s 48-0 record after winning the first game of a playoff series. However, the Celtics could not keep the Lakers away from the offensive glass and, uncharacteristically, gave up 23 offensive boards.
The Celtics, a team that decided that their loss to the Lakers was a depth issue, went out this offseason and nabbed two former All-Stars, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal. Adding two additional seven-footers to their lineup has filled the gap in the middle for now, but both O’Neal’s are well past their prime and injury-ridden themselves.
Jermaine has already missed two games due to minor leg issues, and Shaq has missed over half the C’s first nine games.
Perkins is currently scheduled for a February return. While the Celtics record doesn’t appear to be missing him too much, Perkins offers youth and a defensive mindset that completes Boston’s team. When he gets his legs back, we could be looking at yet another Lakers-Celtics showdown in the NBA Finals.
Mike Miller: Miami Heat
Jeff Van Gundy’s absurd statement regarding the possibility of the Miami Heat winning 73-plus is all but out the door. And while it seems that the Heat don’t need another non-defensive guard on the floor, Mike Miller will help take some of the offensive load away from James, Wade, and the ever-disappearing Chris Bosh. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
One of Miami’s biggest issues is that its bench is loaded with one-dimensional players and, more specifically, streaky knockdown shooters. Mike Miller is unlike James Jones and Eddie House because he can handle the ball, run an offense and get his when necessary.
Miller’s presence will force opposing teams to play Miami straight up and to keep the help defenses more honest, possibly opening up the outsides for the likes of House and Jones.
Miller’s return is scheduled for January at the earliest, and the New Year couldn’t come soon enough for the dreadful play of Miami. While I believe this team will get it together, Miller’s arrival will only help this team become more complete for the second half of the season.