Coming into the season I never thought the first quarter would be The Year (So Far) of the Big Man. However upon further review, big is in.
Biggest man, biggest honors
Of course any MVP debate is, well, subjective. My argument here in naming these Big Five is based on impact. Boy, has it been big so far.
1. Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (25.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 7th overall in Hollinger PER at 26.04, Team record 14-8).
He has made the transition from being arguably the most important player in the league -- he's from China, biggest market in the world by anyone's standard -- to the Rockets' best. Yao's still developing which is scary but his impact has developed to the point to warrant MVP contention.
2. Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (20.2 ppg. 11.7 apg, 3.0 rpg, 12th overall in PER at 24.95, Team record 15-6).
All he has done the last two-plus seasons is play the point guard position as well as it can be played. He's won it the past two seasons, his team is in first place in the division and he's having his best season ever statistically. You do the math.
3. San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 2nd overall in PER at 27.15, Team record 17-6).
Numbers alone don't do justice for the "best power forward to ever play the game" -- my opinion but shared by many. Nobody in the game dominates both ends the way he does. Plus he's clutch, might also be a little motivated after being ousted by Dirk and the Mavs last season.
4. Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer (22.6 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 5th overall in PER at 26.43, Team record 17-5).
He might also be the feel-good story of the season. He doesn't dominate on the defensive end but offers scoring and great knack for always being in the right place at the right time. My question about Booz was, is he really on par with the top power forwards in the game? So far, my answer is a resounding yes. Early on, averaging more points and rebounds than Garnett, Duncan and Brand . . . oh, did I mention the best record in the league?
5. Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard 17.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 18th overall in PER at 23.11, Team record 15-10).
The Tim Duncan of the East. While not as polished as the Big Fundamental, becoming every bit as impactful. Quietly he has emerged as arguably the best center in the league! With apologies to the Diesel, for my money Yao and the Baby Beast are a toss up. Did I mention the Magic are the best team in the East? He's only going to get better.
Kobe's greatness this season has been in his ability to trust his teammates. Carmelo, arguably the best pure scorer in the game, has matured into a better all-around player. Scary when you think just how good he can be.
D-Wade has been as good as it gets. I know Miami's only 9-12, but my God where would it be without his play? Still the team to beat in the East, especially if Antoine Walker decides to show up.
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Adam Morrison's game is under scrutiny from Keyon Dooling and Carlos Arroyo, right. He had 22 points off the bench in a 99-89 win.
YELL LEADER: The Spurs will compete for a title every season that their stars allow themselves to be coached, and sometimes yelled at, by Coach Popovich. It's one thing that separates them from much of the competition.
RESUME ITEM: Sean May took a few extra steps in offering curl protection when J.J. Redick was running off May's man looking for a 3. I doubt that strategy was outlined in the scouting report, considering Redick had made just one 3 on the season. But May doesn't need to see any report on Redick, does he?
SCREEN GEMS: When you see an illegal screen called on your favorite team's big man, typically you should point your anger at your guard and not the player called for the foul (or the ref!). The guard has to let his screener/teammate get position before he tries to use the screen.
ROOKIE MOMENTS: Redick and Adam Morrison combined for back-to-back 3s with 8:47 left in the second quarter. Just thought somebody should note that.
-- David Thorpe
Mark (Akron): I will never figure you out. I can usually understand your top five, but beyond that it just doesn't make any sense. You have the Bulls ranked 10th after going 7-1 against iffy teams, right after they lost six road games to much tougher opponents. There are easily nine better teams in the West and four or five better in the East. No. 14 or 15 would be a better ranking for Chicago. My Cavs, meanwhile, are sitting at No. 12.
Granted, they've given some games away and have lost to teams they should have blown out, but it's early in the season and they're still developing their chemistry while dealing with a key injury to Larry Hughes. All the while they still started 12-7, better than the Bulls you love so much. I must also add that the Cavs beat the Bulls last month by 19 points. Cleveland should definitely be in the top 10 instead of Chicago.
Committee's counter: You did figure it out, actually. The Bulls weren't punished as severely for their poor start because their November schedule was so brutal. They faced a seven-game trip right away, with five games against quality West opposition. Chicago's bad start is a lot easier to rationalize than the Cavs' habit of losing to inferior and/or banged-up competition, which we saw again Wednesday with a loss in Oklahoma City to a short-handed Hornets team that had dropped seven of eight and didn't dress Peja Stojakovic, David West and Bobby Jackson.
Spurs beat Hornets, increase Southwest lead
AP Photo/Ben Margot
While the Warriors dusted off secret weapon Adonal Foyle (four blocks in a season-high 26 minutes), Yao Ming still scored 38 points and hauled in 18 rebounds. Golden State pulled out the win, 109-107, in Oakland.
Quote of the Day
-- Bobcats rookie Adam Morrison, who had struggled to find his range at home, shooting 4-of-34 from the field in four previous games at Bobcats Arena. But he hit 7 of 12 field goals Thursday, including 3-for-4 on 3-pointers.
-- Andrew Ayres
"This is like an estate sale. You're crazy if you don't try to get in on it," one Western Conference executive told me this evening, saying the Bobcats are crazy if they're not heavily involved. "They (the 76ers) want three things -- a young player, a draft pick and an expiring contract, and nobody has all three. Except Chicago."
But the Bobcats, if they're creative enough, have the cap flexibility to get the Sixers those three commodities while picking something up for themselves along the way. Charlotte would assumedly want cash and a first-round draft pick, but there aren't many teams with enough extra No. 1s in 2007 (Phoenix has three -- its own, Atlanta's (protected top 3) and Cleveland's; while Denver, Detroit and the Clippers each have two) to toss one apiece to the Sixers and Bobcats to sweeten the pot in a three-team deal.
Moreover, the Bobcats already have an extra No. 1 pick (Toronto's, protected 1-15), and they're so cash-starved (they laid off 12 employees Tuesday after an earlier round of front office cuts last summer; and they still don't have a naming rights deal, although owner Bob Johnson jettisoned the money-losing WNBA Sting on Wednesday) they just might consider brokering a deal simply to get their hands on $3 million -- the most any team can receive in a trade, and the exact lump sum they'd demand as a broker's fee to route Iverson elsewhere.
Sam (San Jose): How do you think Billy King is handling the Allen Iverson situation? Throwing out false rumors to get teams to up their bids, Baron Davis and Andris Biedrins for AI? No way the Warriors offered that.
Chad Ford: He's made a couple of big mistakes. The biggest was setting a deadline (he never did that publicly, the media did, but a number of GMs told me that he told them he was moving AI right away, so make their best offer). If GMs call your bluff, which they seem to have done, it looks like the market is much weaker. The Sixers aren't dealing from a position of strength any more. Billy King's a good guy, but I definitely think that it's time for a change in Philly. They'll have cap room in two seasons and should get someone in place with a different vision of what to do with it.
Joshua (CA): With Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar playing this well at 19 years old, and Kwame Brown and Luke Walton are playing very well and are both still young, and Odom should still be playing good, and Kobe should still be the best player in the NBA. So do you think in a season or two that the Lakers will be back on top of the NBA for a few seasons again, maybe another 3-peat?
Bill Walton: The Lakers' success this season is a direct testament to how great a coach Phil Jackson is. Phil has taken players who, by themselves, would be nowhere near where they are today without Phil. Coaching is about teaching, guidance, making people better at what they do -- making them feel better about themselves. This Laker team is capable of being a finalist contender this season.