|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
|Mo Williams has been great, but the biggest reason the Cavaliers are having their greatest season ever is James, even though he has had better seasons statistically. (Last week: 1 | Team record: 20-4)|
|Proof that you can do only so much heavy lifting before you finally get tired: Wade had three straight poor-shooting games, and, as expected, Miami lost all three contests. (Last week: 2 | Team record: 12-12)|
|With Christmas rapidly approaching, the league's premier point guard has been even more generous than usual, averaging 13 assists per game in the month of December. (Last week: 5 | Team record: 14-7)|
|Reduced minutes have led to Bryant's averaging his lowest point total since the 2003-04 season and his lowest assists-per-game total since he averaged just 3.8 in 1998-99. (Last week: 3 | Team record: 21-3)|
|Even the Man of Steel gets hurt sometimes. A sore left knee has caused the big fella to miss the first two games of his five-year career. He may return Thursday against the Spurs. (Last week: 4 | Team record: 19-6)|
|Denver is 16-5 with Billups in the lineup. He is everything you want from your point guard -- solid on defense, careful with the ball, capable of hitting big shots and a leader. (Last week: 6 | Team record: 17-8)|
|His points-per-game average is the highest it's been since 2003-04, he has posted a double-double in seven straight, and he is the key cog in one of the stingiest defenses. (Last week: 10 | Team record: 15-8)|
|He had 11 points in the fourth as the Hawks ended the Cavs' 11-game win streak. He followed that up with 28 points and 8 dimes as Atlanta beat Charlotte for its third straight win. (Last week: 7 | Team record: 15-9)|
|Despite playing with a torn tendon in his right little finger, he had 29 points, five assists and four steals in the Blazers' win against the Kings on Tuesday. (Last week: 9 | Team record: 16-10)|
|He has posted double-doubles in 10 of his last 14 games and is averaging 32 points (he dropped a season-high 46 on the Thunder) and 10 rebounds in seven games in December. (Last week: NR | Team record: 13-10)|
Rocky Widner/Getty Images
When Carlos Boozer went down with a strained quad in late November, a drop in production from the power forward position was expected for the Jazz. However, reserve forward Paul Millsap has filled in admirably.
Since replacing Boozer in the starting lineup, Millsap has averaged 17.8 points and 11 rebounds on 56.7 percent shooting in 13 games. He has notched a double-double in 12 straight games, and he torched Kevin Garnett and the Celtics for 32 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals Monday.
He shows nice touch on midrange jumpers; goes after every loose ball; and, simply put, works harder than everyone else on the floor.
When Boozer gets healthy, the Jazz will have to find a way to keep getting Millsap extended minutes -- maybe even playing the two together.
Most Improved Top 5
David Thorpe of Scouts Inc. weighs in with his leading candidates:
1. Devin Harris, Nets: He's a shooter, slasher, defender and leader. And he's doing it for a tougher-than-expected team.
2. Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers: He has career highs in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, true shooting percentage and points and assists per 40 minutes. He is also a key component to a title contender.
3. Shaquille O'Neal, Suns: I thought he was awful last season. I think he's pretty good now.
4. Tony Parker, Spurs: He is scoring and passing better, and playing on a team that may be scary in a few months.
5. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavaliers: He is more efficient than ever and anchoring a terrific team.
2. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies: Through the first quarter of the season, the ROY race has been between Rose and Mayo. But I don't think Mayo's hot shooting will be enough to offset Rose's playmaking abilities in the voters' eyes. (Last week: 2)
3. D.J. Augustin, Bobcats: He came off the bench and scored a season-high 29 points, gave out seven assists, made clutch free throws that forced overtime and dominated fellow rookie star Derrick Rose as Charlotte ended its seven-game losing streak. (Last week: 4)
4. Michael Beasley, Heat: In an effort to top Rose's "getting injured after cutting an apple in bed" story, Beasley missed a game with flu-like symptoms he says he may have gotten from his three dogs. (Last week: 5)
5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies: He is averaging 11 points, 6.8 rebounds and a block per game. He has also started 20 out of 25 games and has helped Memphis win four of the past five. (Last week: NR)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images1. Mike Brown, Cavaliers: Cleveland has the third best record in the league (20-4), is unbeaten at home (13-0), is playing defense like never before and doesn't appear to be complacent. Sure, a lot of those things are because of LeBron, but at what point does it become obvious that Brown deserves credit, too? (Last week: 4)
2. Lawrence Frank, Nets: New Jersey's three-game losing streak cost Devin Harris his spot in the MVP top 10. Still, Frank has one of the league's youngest teams (rookie Brook Lopez is playing great) exceeding expectations by a lot. (Last week: 1)
3. Gregg Popovich, Spurs: The Spurs' lineup had a lot of inexperienced and unproven players in it during the first few weeks of the season while Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were busy getting healthy. While being without two of the best players in the world would bury most teams, the Spurs find themselves tied for first place in the Southwest Division. (Last week: NR)
4. Doc Rivers, Celtics: His confidence in Rajon Rondo -- letting him call his own plays and allowing him to run more this season -- is paying huge dividends. Hard to believe this year's version of the C's is better than the title winners from last season. (Last week: NR)
5. Nate McMillan, Blazers: His young squad dropped three in a row before getting back on track Tuesday night. If the coaching staff can teach Greg Oden some moves on the block, this team can be dangerous. (Last week: 5)
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesPoints per game