5-on-5: Clippers-Suns on Christmas
ESPN and ABC are serving up a five-course banquet of basketball on Christmas Day: Heat-Knicks, ESPN, 12 ET; Celtics-Magic, ABC, 2:30 ET; Cavs-Lakers, ABC, 5 ET; Clippers-Suns, ESPN, 8 ET; and Nuggets-Blazers, ESPN, 10:30 ET.
For this quintuple-header, we're playing 5-on-5: That's five writers on five questions on five games on Christmas Day.
1. With Blake Griffin out,
why should viewers tune in to see the Clippers?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Why watch the Clippers? Treat yourself to a look at the most underrated shooting guard in the league, Eric Gordon. And when he's in the lineup, the Clippers actually have a good chance to win -- they're 9-10 when he plays.
Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: I'll give you three reasons:
• For Baron Davis fans, his restoration will stir nostalgia for what we loved about his game a few years ago. On some nights, Davis can't control his shooting habit, but he's distributing the ball beautifully and making the Clippers a watchable team.
• Eric Gordon is emerging as one of the game's best young triple-threats. If you haven't seen him play -- and chances are you haven't -- you're missing the bloom.
• Chris Kaman is guaranteed to do three things on the block against Phoenix's interior defense that will have you pressing rewind on your remote. Kaman's A.D.D. is well-known, but his footwork in the post is the stuff of Bolshoi. Throw in his newly expanded jump shot and his shot-blocking, and viewers will be watching a top-10 center in a league in which big men are an endangered species.
Chad Ford, ESPN Insider: Eric Gordon. He's a rising young player who is both a terrific athlete and a dead-eye shooter. If the Knicks had drafted him in 2008, he'd be generating much more buzz.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: We can come up with two reasons that don't even involve the Clippers' watchability: They're playing the eminently watchable Phoenix Suns on one of the magical days of the year on the hoops calendar. Who needs more convincing?
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Gordon is an exciting, young wing player who is extremely tough to defend when he has the ball on the wing in transition. In this game, we should see a lot of him in that situation. And Kaman is a clinician inside.
2. Is "Two-Time" (Steve Nash) playing better
than he did in his pair of MVP seasons?
Adande: Yes. The Suns need him more now because they don't get as many easy transition baskets, and they don't have Shawn Marion, who was so vital to their team. There's always value in winning, and whenever the Suns are winning it's because of Nash.
Arnovitz: He's certainly doing more with less, and he's posting the highest player efficiency rating of his career. So offensively, yes. The question is, how much blame do you lay at Nash's feet for Phoenix's abysmal team defense? Opponents are finding their way into the interior against Phoenix, and that's often a reflection of the team's primary on-ball defender. Channing Frye and Amare Stoudemire aren't going to win the Maurice Lucas Award for basket protection, but something's gone amiss across the board.
Ford: I'm not sure he's been better, but his play has certainly been as good as in either season. The guy is 35 and just keeps going and going. It's still hard to believe Mark Cuban called me the biggest idiot in sports for questioning his decision not to re-sign Nash. Six seasons later, Nash is still making him pay.
Stein: The Suns have limited depth, no one else besides Nash who can create his own shot and nothing close to the variety of finishers Nash was surrounded by during the Seven Seconds Or Less glory days. At 35, he's doing more than ever and at pretty much the same level of efficiency.
Thorpe: No. It's better to say he's playing at that same level, which is incredible enough.
3. Suns rookie Taylor Griffin is outscoring his brother, 2-0.
Can Blake still win Rookie of the Year
and is he still the best rookie in this class?
Adande: Can't be the rookie of the year when you miss a third of the season. Could you imagine giving it to a guy who went down right after the All-Star break?
Arnovitz: Probably not, because he's not going to have the minutes to compete in what's turned out to be a stellar rookie class.
Ford: I think Blake Griffin could still win it, but he would have to meet two conditions. First, he would have to lead the Clippers to a playoff berth. Tyreke Evans isn't going to do that and I doubt Brandon Jennings will either. Second, he would have to put up huge numbers -- something around 20 points, 10 rebounds a game. Regardless, I still think he's the best player in the 2009 draft class.
Stein: Coming back to steer the Clips to the playoffs would definitely make voters think, but the ROY bar is high thanks to Tyreke Evans. Griffin's impact would have to be substantial, on this scorecard, if he winds up playing 50-some games and Evans is around all season.
Thorpe: Sure. Injuries are the great equalizer, so Blake may be out now, but any other rookie can go down tomorrow.
4. More amazing resurrection:
Marcus Camby or Grant Hill?
Adande: Hill doesn't get enough credit for having to retool his style from superstar to role player during what should have been the prime of his career five years ago. And Camby's depths weren't as low as Hill's. Hill essentially had four seasons taken away from him; Camby only two.
Arnovitz: Since Hill's efficiency is the lowest of his career, despite his professionalism and newfound durability, I'll take Camby, who is posting some of the best numbers of his career. The Clips have been bordering on the top 10 in team defense since Thanksgiving. All you have to do is scan their active roster to realize that Camby is the constant variable in that success. He's not a guy who'll show on a pick-and-roll, but his presence around the basket makes the Clippers a surprisingly tough team to score against. Offensively, he's embraced the role of high-post facilitator and recording the best assist numbers of his career.
Ford: Hill. And all of the credit should go the Suns' trainers, who have done an extraordinary job lengthening the careers of Hill, Nash and, for a short time, Shaq. There isn't a better group in the league.
Stein: No slight to Camby, whom I've always considered to be a defensive game-changer at his best, but people often forget that Hill's injury torment in Orlando was so severe that he contracted a potentially fatal infection after one of his many ankle surgeries. And now, in his late 30s, Hill is Nash's trusty -- and sturdy -- sidekick. Amazing comeback.
Thorpe: Hill. It's not just that he has physically recovered to the point that he can race up and down the floor with a team like Phoenix, which he's been doing now for seasons despite playing against some players who were finishing kindergarten when he was graduating from Duke. But recovering mentally from losing his peak years, when those years may have helped label him the best player in the world at that time, is his most impressive accomplishment.
5. Who would you rather have the next 10 seasons:
Eric Gordon or Amare Stoudemire?
Adande: Amare Stoudemire. He's still only 27, which means the first half of those 10 years will be prime years. And he already has shown an ability to overcome and adapt to injuries. If he can come back from microfracture surgery, he should be able to deal with anything.
Arnovitz: Given that we've seen Stoudemire at his peak and that power forwards tend to atrophy much quicker than guards, I'll take EJ, as he's known back in Indiana. Gordon has two weaknesses -- he's short and a below-average rebounder at his position. In his sophomore season, he's improved on the glass (from a 4.3 to a 4.9 in rebounding rate) and has consistently thwarted bigger guards who try to post him up. He's already a natural scorer who can shoot from unlimited range and draw contact off the dribble, but the scary thing is that he's just beginning to verse himself in pick-and-roll basketball and the results with Chris Kaman have been promising. Now imagine when he can perform that dance with a guy as agile and athletic as Blake Griffin.
Ford: Ten years is a long time. Gordon is a lot younger and hasn't had microfracture surgery. Amare is still more dominant. But for at least six of those 10 years, Gordon will be the better player.
Stein: Besides my tie-goes-to-the-big-guy rule, Stoudemire has won my eternal admiration for his spectacular returns from bad injuries. His recovery from offseason eye surgery and the lingering effects of multiple knee surgeries might not be as emphatic and freakish as a couple of his previous comebacks, but he's still awfully good. Gordon has had his own issues staying healthy, too.
Thorpe: Stoudemire, because he'll be a bucket-getter in the paint for at least eight more seasons, and there are few who will do it better during that span. And he's always going to be a pick-and-pop threat, too. That's a magical combination.
5-on-5: Heat-Knicks | Celtics-Magic | Cavs-Lakers | Clippers-Suns | Nuggets-Blazers