Updated: Feb. 8, 2007, 3:17 AM ET

Not quite their former selves

John Hollinger named his Least Improved players so far this year. Here's my thoughts on his leading picks, and why each player might be struggling.

1. Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko -- The first thing I look for when players have down years are physical problems and injuries. Which is probably the No. 1 reason Kirilenko is not the same player he once was. Also, with the further emergence of Mehmet Okur , Carlos Boozer back in the mix along with Deron Williams becoming an All-Star caliber guard, well, Kirilenko is now the third or fourth option on offense.

Two years ago, he was the first option. Of course, all this still doesn't account for him really falling down defensively.

2. Cavaliers forward LeBron James -- He's had a toe injury, and that might have hampered him. Futhermore, LeBron is an open-court player who needs to run and is at his best with the ball in his hands. Perhaps most importantly, we need to look at his point guard (Eric Snow) and center (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) as two older players who are looking to play a halfcourt game.

LeBron's proven he can rack up individual numbers. He's going through an adjustment now. In trying to make others better, he's deferring too much.

3. Timberwolves guard Mike James -- A great scorer who probably doesn't fit in with what the Timberwolves are doing. His better years were in a more open-court, one-on-one style. He's still the same player, but now he's trying to run a team. He's at his best as a shoot-first point guard.

4. Magic guard Jameer Nelson -- The Magic are trying to focus on defense in their bid to become a next-level team. That involves playing in a system, and again, here's a shoot-first point guard trying to defer to others -- that's going to cut back his effectiveness.

5. Blazers center Joel Przybilla -- I don't think he's been healthy. It's not much more complicated than that. He's a big man who relies on physical ability more than fancy moves or shooting. So if you're hurt . . .

6. Bucks center Dan Gadzuric -- He's out now with a shoulder injury, but I don't know how healthy he was this season. One thing to consider is how Mo Williams emerged and that could have changed the Bucks' style.

7. Suns forward Boris Diaw --- With Amare Stoudemire back healthy, Steve Nash has his primary target again. So now the Suns' focus is more on the pick-and-roll -- and the ball's out of Diaw's hands. Notably, he came into the season out of shape and it appears he's just rounding into form now. He will be successful.

8. Cavs forward Larry Hughes -- Not healthy. I think that and the Cavs' style of play are two problems for him. He's much better in the open-court game because he's so athletic and so fast.

9. Spurs guard Beno Udrih -- It's confidence with him. Last year the Spurs went with the Nick Van Exel experiment, and that shook Udrih. He's still a very good player. I know the Spurs like him a lot. He's got to play on through and earn minutes again.

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Mikki Likes It
Mikki Moore
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
Nets center Mikki Moore sends home two of his 19 points in New Jersey's 87-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks.


Daily Dish: Three Feat
Daily Dish

Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld is in his 17th year as a GM. His best playing season came 25 years ago when averaged 12.4 ppg with the Knicks. Now he's running D.C.'s team. He told Chad Ford about the team's Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison:

"They understand that one makes the other one better, there's no jealously between the three of them, and at the same time, they also realize, it's not just about the three of them. Basketball is a team game and they show a great appreciation for their teammates... everybody realizes who our scorers are. But I think our scorers realize they need the help of their teammates if we are to realize the success we are looking for."

Hear the full podcast



Dime Mailbag: Scanned In Boston
Rajon Rondo

Reactions to Tim Legler's Daily Dime on the Celtics:

I disagree with you on a couple of things about the Celtics. First,I think you overlooked Tony Allen, who will hopefully be able to come back from his knee injury, and Rajon Rondo, who is going to be a terrific point guard (at least in my opinion). I also greatly prefer today's roster to the '97 roster. That team had very little hope -- better players were needed even if they got Tim Duncan.

-- Larry (Boston)

Mr. Legler, much love and respect, but are you kidding me? The C's 1996-97 team might have been the worst compilation of players ever. I'd take the club's current roster over that roster any day of the week. Al Jefferson will be getting 25-12 within two seasons, Gerald Green looks like he will soon become a legitimate scoring threat, and Ryan Gomes is a smart, good all-around player. Telfair has been a clear bust, but you underestimate the play of Delonte West and Rondo.

-- Jason (Boston)


Records At A Glance



Hornets Buzzing Over OT Buzzer Beater

Desmond Mason sends Nuggets below .500.


Raptor Rapture
Chris Bosh
Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
Raptors forward Chris Bosh savors a 41-point night that helped his team to a 113-103 win over the Magic. Toronto has a 3-game lead over New Jersey and is just four games behind Detroit for first place in the East.



Extreme Behavior
tracy mcgrady hspace=

Tuesday's Best
Raptors forward Chris Bosh: A career-high 41 points helps the Raps swat the .500 Magic. Fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" each time Bosh stepped to the line in the fourth quarter. Bosh, elected to start in the All-Star Game for the first time, went 13-for-25 from the field and 15-for-17 from the line. His previous career high was 37 points on Dec. 27, 2005, against Detroit.

Monta Ellis

Tuesday's Worst
Warriors guard Monta Ellis: Averaging 17.2 ppg in this, his breakout year. However, his achin' left knee left him only able to post six points on 2-for-8 shooting in a 27-point loss to the Timberwolves.

Quote of the Day
"Step on your teammate's foot on the bench? What else can go wrong? It's like, gee, it's one of those things. ... It's just frustrating, right when I was starting to feel better."
-- Celtics forward Wally Szczerbiak, who jumped to block a shot and landed on Leon Powe's foot during Wednesday's loss to Miami.

See how all 204 who played stacked up
Playoff matchups if season ended now

-- Andrew Ayres



The Usual Dunker
Tyrus Thomas

Tyrus Thomas of the Bulls was fined $10,000 Tuesday for comments deemed disrespectful toward the NBA's slam dunk contest. Thomas said, "I'm just going to go out there, get my check, and call it a day. ... I'm just into the free money. That's it."

Thomas has scored only 51 field goals this season, but 30 have been on dunks. That's the highest percentage in the NBA. The top five (minimum: 10 dunks): Tyrus Thomas, 30 of 51 (59%); Maceo Baston, 17 of 32 (53%); Dwight Howard, 138 of 294 (47%); Erick Dampier, 67 of 144 (47%); Solomon Jones, 13 of 29 (45%).

-- ESPN Research



It Happened On This Day In History

February 8, 1986
5-foot-7 Spud Webb of the Atlanta Hawks scored two perfect scores of 50 to beat teammate Dominique Wilkins in Spud's hometown of Dallas during the Nestle Crunch Slam Dunk. The AT&T Shootout debuted with Larry Bird capturing the crown.

February 8, 1992
Cedric Ceballos used his "Hocus-Pocus" (blindfolded) dunk to win the Nestle Crunch Slam-Dunk in Orlando.

-- NBA.com



Heave Whoa

Greetings from Bloggerville, everyone. Hope you like the new digs; I'll be checking in from here a couple times a week in between columns.

The topic du jour is the New Jersey Nets, who have been living in their own miniature version of Groundhog Day the past two weeks. Unbelievably, the Nets' game in Atlanta tonight went down to the final shot again, making it the eighth time in ten games that a Nets contest came down to the last heave.

Fortunately for the Nets, they pulled this one out late after 10-day contract pick-up Jeremy Richardson missed a jumper with four seconds left. Afterward, a relieved and unusually chipper Lawrence Frank joked that they should just fast forward the game until 15 seconds were left and play from there.

See the full John Hollinger blog

 

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