Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tonight’s Starting Five

Shooting Guard:

Tonight is an example of what Vince Carter brings to the Magic.

In the Magic’s win over the Warriors tonight, he took over late in the third quarter when Dwight Howard was forced to sit after picking up his fifth foul. After three consecutive Warriors baskets including two layups, Carter went to work scoring eight points including three trips to the line in which he tagged CJ Watson with his fifth, Monta Ellis with his fourth and Anthony Randolph with his third—basically the three best players for the Warriors tonight. While the Warriors took the lead, it was Carter’s offensive savvy that kept the Magic within three at the close of the period.

Carter was also involved with eight key points in the last three minutes when the game was still up for grabs. He deflated Oracle arena with his three pointer that put the Magic up 117-114, then stole the ball following the Warriors’ timeout and got to the line, sinking both freethrows. He then found an open Mickael Pietrus for a three. Ball game.

Hedo Turkoglu was pretty good at creating his own shot and getting people involved, but his offensive game has nothing on Carter’s. The Magic don’t pull this one out without Carter’s contributions during crunch time.

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Small Forward

Still love me some Vladimir Radmanovic. The Space Cadet (as so endearingly called by Phil Jackson) helped energize the crowd tonight. His defense, as I said before,

He’s even shored up that non-existent defense, working to stay in front of his man and usually getting a hand in his opponent’s face.The best change that I’ve seen in Vlade, however, is his activity around the basket...Vladimir, on nearly every shot other than his own, dives towards the basket and uses his 6-11 frame to at least try and touch the ball. I’d say about 85-90 percent of the time he fails, but during that other 10-15 percent, he often makes positive things happen. He’ll get tip outs to teammates on the perimeter. He’ll get putback buckets. He’ll get offensive rebounds.And it’s these little aspects, nuances that he contributes, like the hockey assists and the hand up on defense that have added to his game and made it possible for him to stay on the floor even when his high-arching shot isn’t falling.

All of those things seem to be evident with him now that he’s getting major rotation minutes with the Warriors. Since joining GS, he’s averaging 32 minutes. His December has been spectacular, despite the three losses (the Orlando and Houston games were both very winnable). He’s averaging 15 points, 2.7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2.7 steals and shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall.

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Amare Stoudemire was a beast on the boards tonight against the surprising Sacramento Kings who gave the Suns a hell of a game that will hurt even more tomorrow when the face the Lakers.

Amare pulled down 21 caroms, including 9 offensive which justifies his STAT moniker. The somewhat disappointing reality is that this was only his fifth game of the season with double digit boards. While it seems like he’s been working to be better defensively, the extra board work clearly has taken its toll on his offensive game. In those five games, he’s shooting 48 percent. In all other games he’s shooting a blistering 59 percent but pulling down a paltry 5.6 caroms. He’s faced some big time centers in those five contests including Shaq, Brendan Haywood, Jermaine O’Neal, Dwight Howard and a thus far impressive Jason Thompson, which could account for the dip in shooting percentage, but it doesn’t explain the paltry glass work against lesser centers.

With Jason Thompson only playing 23 minutes tonight, Amare should have had nearly 30 boards. He got his hands on several, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t have a natural ability to rebound. Just watch a guy like DeJuan Blair to see the stark difference.

And, not to continue to pick on Amare, because I mentioned him to show appreciation for the work he put in tonight, but I have a problem with him not wearing his protective shades while shooting freethrows. I used to wear goggles before I found soft contact lenses, so I understand the discomfort. But he ditched his goggles last year and ended up on his face for 22 hours a day for nearly two weeks.

He should not be taking any unnecessary risks whatsoever. Good players aggressively box out the shooter. He could get poked in the eye on a box out. What I worry about the most is that one of his shots bounces long, or right back at him, and he gets poked in the eye because the shades are up on his head. Along those lines, he’ll never be aggressive to rebound his misses because he’s unprotected. Which, ironically or not, goes back to my beef with his paltry rebounding numbers.

Point Guard:

During the Suns/Kings game, a poll was taking on who the public believes to be the early favorite for rookie of the year. Brandon Jennings won outright with over 50 percent of the vote. Tyreke Evans came in second with only 23 percent. Yeah, I know dropping 55 points got everyone’s attention. And leading the Bucks, sans Michael Redd, to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference is a big accomplishment. I know the stat geeks will point out that he’s leading the rookie class in PER (18.10) and scoring.

But Evans is playing equally as well, if not better. He’s averaging nearly a minute more per game, putting up 19 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds (the only other players to do so are Dwyane Wade, Lebron James and Andre Igoudala) and he’s playing in the Western Conference.

Jennings was phenomenal during the first 11 games of the season, a stretch that saw the Bucks go 8-3. But he’s largely been resting on that stretch to keep his numbers up. Over his last seven games, the Bucks are 1-6 and Jennings is averaging 14 ppg, 6.5 apg, 2.85 rpg, 1.42 spg and 2.42 turnovers on 30 percent shooting. Add to that the fact that the Bucks are ranked 29th in strength of schedule, and Jennings, while a worthy candidate, should in no shape or form be the clear cut frontrunner for the ROY.

Meanwhile, over Evans’ last seven games, the Kings have gone 4-3 and he’s averaged 22 ppg, 6 apg, 6 rpg, 1 spg, and 3.71 turnovers on 50 percent shooting. The Kings have had it pretty easy as well ranking 24th in strength of schedule, but it has to be noted that they are one game out of the Western Conference playoffs and doing so sans their star player on a team that many pundits picked to finish in last place.

The season is long. Picking awards now is stupid. But as of right now, Evans appears to be on his way up, while Jennings has fallen off quite a bit.

Power Forward

Speaking of beastly play and a guy with a natural talent for rebounding, look no further than Marcus Camby, the Clippers starting power forward. Camby has been on a five-game blistering of the backboards averaging 16 caroms including a 17-board effort tonight in a win against Indiana. He too had a 21-rebound game last week against, yeah, Indiana. In addition to his rebounding, Camby has been contributing across the, ahem, board averaging 3 blocks, 2.6 steals and 3.6 assists over that span while shooting 53 percent. While the competition has not been stiff (only the height-challenged Rockets has a winning record), it has to be noted that Camby punishes those teams that should be punished. Take notes STAT.

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