A Third Dose of the Dime
10 games and five players you need to keep an eye on.
by Doobie Okon
It’s always interesting to see which players are prime to permanently stamp their names in the NBA history book. Often, the great ones in this league begin their careers with two or three solid years before breaking out one season to only sustain those numbers for a long period of time. Go check any of ’em out: Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, etc. etc. So, which players are on the cusp of becoming household names this season?
1. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers: When the Pacers put the right pieces behind Granger, he might emerge as a top-tier player in the league. For now, as sad as it is, he’ll have to rely on his statistics to do the talking because Indy’s victory total certainly won’t help his cause. Granger’s numbers are steadily increasing every year, and after a 25.8 ppg breakout last year, good for 5th in the NBA, he may improve his numbers even more this season. With a great body for a small forward (6’9, 228 lbs), and as a player with the capability to shoot from anywhere, we shall see if Danny can remain a top 5 scorer in the league for seasons to come.
2. Kevin Martin, Sacramento Kings: It’s amazing how the Kings’ woefulness has overshadowed this dynamic player. He put up moderate numbers his first couple years before breaking out as a 24 point player in the last couple of seasons. He just fractured his wrist, but hopefully he’ll fully recover by mid-December and continue this early scoring binge. It’s early, but he’s putting up 30.6 ppg and like Granger, he’s the centerpiece of a terrible team. So look for both to be scoring fiends this year and continue to bolster their NBA credibility.
3. Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors: Ellis might top out this year in terms of scoring, somewhere in the 23-24 range. But another good sign so far this season is that he’s averaging 6.7 assists. If healthy, he can be one of the most valuable guards in this league for another 5-7 years. The Warriors have some nice young players so hopefully, if Nelly uses them, they’ll continue to improve and Ellis will get more airtime to show off his game.
4. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers: This one’s simple. In Roy’s first year, he averaged 16.8 points on 13.4 field goal attempts. In his second year, Roy recorded 19.1 points per game on 15.8 shots. Last season, Portland’s star broke out for 22.6 points per game on 16.9 shots. And so far this year, he’s averaging 25.4 points on 18 attempts per game. Anyone see a pattern? So, Blazers: keep feeding him the ball. As the Blazers continue to mature around him, Roy will become a true gem of the NBA.
5. Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers: What’s scary is the Lakers won the Championship last year and this kid hasn’t reached his potential at all yet. Injuries have plagued his young career, and although he’s in his 5th year, Bynum is still only 22 years old. If he can remain healthy and continue at his current 20 point-10 rebound pace throughout the season, then the Lakers may have the dominant center they’ve been looking for since Shaq departed.
Ok, I’m officially intrigued. The Thunder start off 2-0 before losing to a good Blazers team and then taking the mighty Lakers into overtime. Granted, I predicted the Lakers would win by 15, but I knew that matchup was worthy of a top game to watch. Durant led the way with 28 points, but nerves had to play a part in him air-balling two shots that would’ve given the Thunder the late lead. He’s still young, but he’s got to learn to seize those opportunities against superior teams.
Another hard game for Oklahoma City comes in Houston before they come home to take on the Magic. Orlando slipped up at Detroit, suffering their first loss, but then rebounded nicely to chwoooop the undefeated Suns. They get another shot at the Pistons before traveling to Soonerama in a battle of ‘s’-less teams. Orlando needs to take advantage of the favorable early schedule to keep pace with Boston.
Prediction: Durant should have a tough time against Michael Pietrus’ defense, and Howard will continue his beastly season in the paint. The definition of the dominant center= 65% shooting percentage, 11.8 rebounds/game and 2.5 blocks per game. Magic by 8.
2. Nuggets at Bulls: Tues, 11/10, 8:00 (ET)
I’m a tad confused, so tell me if this makes sense. Bulls beat the Spurs by 7, get shellacked at Boston by 28, lose at Miami 95-87, then barely beat the Bucks at home by 2 after rallying from 18 down. Here’s the Bulls major problem: They lack an offensive identity. Ben Gordon was their only 20 point scorer last year, but nobody seems poised to take on that role this year. Luol Deng is a nice player, but is he a go-to guy all the time? No. They’re averaging a pitiful 88 points in their first four games, but starting off 2-0 in the West against two elite teams should give them some confidence moving forward in the East.
One team I’m certainly not confused about: the Denver Nuggets. They have a potent offense surrounding Carmelo Anthony, and they’ll continue to drop triple digits throughout the year. Like the Magic, their schedule starts off ridiculously easy as they draw the Bulls in the middle of a 5 game road trip through Eastern conference mediocrity. The Bulls can play some D, and this game could be close if the Bulls get amped at home.
Prediction: Note: J.R. Smith hasn’t even played yet. Note: It doesn’t matter when your point guard is averaging 23.3 points himself. Chauncey and Melo win this one by themselves. Nuggets by 4.
3. Rockets at Mavericks: Tues, 11/10, 8:30 (ET)
Sweet. A true early-season statement game for both squads. Yes, I said the Rockets were looking at a 1-4 record to start the year. But they bounced back after an opening night loss to the Blazers with 3 straight wins, including one in a rematch with Portland, before losing an OT thriller verse the Lakers. At the tail end of that win streak was an unbelievable 113-96 victory in Utah. First of all, Utah doesn’t lose at home, and they certainly don’t lose at home by almost 20 points. The Rockets did it with balance as eight players scored in double digits, and that’s exactly what they will need to continue to do as their stars remain sidelined.
Meanwhile the Mavericks have gone 3-1 themselves after an opening night loss to the Wizards. They also beat the Jazz by double digits after outscoring Utah 44-18 in the 4th quarter as well as an impressive handling of the Lakers in Los Angeles. With all of their firepower, it’s easy to overlook the Mavs’ defensive approach. They effectively took Kobe out of that game as well as every Jazz player not named Deron Williams, who only dished out 5 assists. A huge division game is looming against a Houston team that’s playing proud and paying no mind to the injury excuse.
Prediction: What an interesting matchup between Dirk and Scola. If Luis can limit Nowitzki at all, the Rockets have a chance for the road victory. I actually see a low scoring one in this matchup, with Dallas pulling away in the 4th to win it by 6.
4. Warriors at Pacers: Weds, 11/11, 7:00 (ET)
See above. Danny Granger and Monta Ellis. Congrats to both of the bottom-dwellers for getting off the schneid Wednesday night, and hopefully this game will be a nice showcase for the two young stars.
Prediction: I actually kind of like the Warriors roster, so I’ll go with Golden State by 8.
A common theme so far in this column: teams are beating up on the Jazz. Granted, those teams were the Nuggets, Rockets and Mavericks, but those are teams that Utah should stay competitive with. The problem so far: In their three losses, Utah has been outscored by a combined 110-63 in the 4th quarter. Ouch. The Jazz will be fine, but they’re going to need to work on their killer instinct if they want to stay in the Western mix until the end.\
The Celts? What else can you say? They’re 6-0 and have outscored their opponents by 110 points so far. The next highest margin? +68, held by Denver. So what else can you really say? When fully healthy, KG, Ray, Pierce, Sheed, Rondo and co. are the best the NBA has to offer on this side of the Mississippi. Huge game for the Jazz if they want to make a statement.
Prediction: Back to back games against Phoenix and New Jersey for Boston before 3 days off. The Celts go into this game feeling strong, but are not ready for a rejuvenated Utah team. Jazz pull off the road upset, beating Boston by 5.
6. Cavaliers at Magic: Weds, 11/11, 8:00 (ET), National TV: ESPN
While the Celts have their hands full with Utah, the two other East elites go at it in this sizzling national television rematch of the Conference Finals. Cleveland has rebounded after starting 0-2, but I’m sure LeBron circled this one on his calendar months ago. The nightmare for James is that he actually played as well as he could that entire series and Orlando still prevailed, 4-2. LBJ’s surrounding cast needs to improve if Bron wants a ring, but I am not so sure that ShaqDaddy is the answer. We will see how he holds up over the course of the year, but the Diesel needs to contribute more than Ilgauskas ever did as a starter if Cleveland has hopes of competing with Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. A wild card is thrown into this new rivalry as Vince Carter steps on the scene.
Prediction: I just think the Magic are too deep for the Cavs. Rashard Lewis will still be on the bench for this one, but Orlando will shut down LeBron’s supporting cast. Magic by 10.
7. Mavericks at Spurs: Weds, 11/11, 8:30 (ET)
November 11th is a great night for NBA basketball. After all the aforementioned Wednesday night games, we come to this Texas two-step. Both teams have won at least 50 games each year this decade, so this Lone Star rivalry is still very pertinent and exciting despite the geriatric aspect. Another early statement game as both teams fight for the top spot in the Southwest.
Prediction: Although Dallas doesn’t have to travel far, they do have the Rockets the night before, and that might just do them in against Duncan and company. This one goes down to the wire though, but the Spurs come through at the AT&T center. San Antonio wins it by 2.
8. Suns at Lakers: Thurs, 11/12, 10:30 (ET), National TV: TNT
Congratulations to the Suns for working their way back to relevance in the West after a 4-1 start, although they just got pistol whipped in a 22 point defeat by their first top-tier opponent, the Orlando Magic. So, let’s take a look at their schedule leading up to the Lakers showdown: @BOS, @WAS, @PHI and at home against NO. The Suns could be anywhere from 8-1 to 5-4 before this one tips-off, but it’s pretty evident that Phoenix has an arsenal of offensive weapons from Steve Nash all the way to Channing Frye. I can’t wait to see how their effective their offense can be at the Staples Center.
Wakeeeee upppppp, Lakerssssss. Here’s the thing: They are 4-1, but haven’t looked at all convincing in their four wins over the Clippers, Hawks, Thunder and Rockets. Granted they’ve missed Pau, but there are too many teams gunning for the Lakers in the West, and as much their roster might argue on paper, L.A. is not invincible. After losing to their only formidable opponent in Dallas so far, they have a few good conference teams coming up, including the Suns. The Suns have scored 111.2 points so far while yielding 107.6, whereas the Lakers have averaged under 100 in their first handful of games but have given up ‘only’ 98.5 points per game. So something’s gotta give here. Although defense isn’t what it used to be, if L.A. can hold Phoenix to under a 100, that’d be considered respectable and would probably lead them to a ‘W’. The Lakers need to slow this game down or Nash will run wild.
Prediction: Hmmm. I’d probably have a better idea after the Suns’ run through the East, but the Lakers will probably man up, anyway. I think this one boils down to the big man with the bigger impact: Amar’e or Bynum (if he’s healthy). Lakers by 3.
Tsk, tsk, tsk. Two teams I had high hopes are in the midst of disappointing first weeks. The Hornets finally learned to how to close against a really good Mavericks team in overtime to go to 2-3, but their schedule doesn’t get easier with games against the Raptors, Lakers, Suns, Blazers and Hawks around the corner. So far, it seems that their fourth quarter play is to blame for their losses against the Celtics and Knicks. And come on, there is no excuse for New Orleans losing to a phenomenally horrible Knicks squad.
The Hornets have the talent, but their production needs to improve. And on a quick side note: I’m amazed at Chris Paul’s ability to totally control the point guard position. Not only is he a great passer, but the little guy can score like it’s nobody’s business. His offensive numbers are going to continue to increase as he definitely could land himself in the 26-28 points per game echelon by the end of the season. Paul proves that if you have speed, you will eventually get open and/or easy layups at the rim. He’s almost as quick as another 6’0, 175 lb. guy that I can’t quite place right now….hmmm, I think he went to Tennessee or something…. Psh, anyways…Paul’s sick.
Meanwhile, the Blazers are 2-3 after many experts picked them to finish right behind the Lakers this year. Portland is too young to grab the second seed, but they should finish in the top 4 still. Their losses include a grinder with Denver, a close one at Houston after they squandered the short-handed Rockets at home in the opener, and a 97-91 home loss to the Hawks. Atlanta is a tough team this year, but the Blazers need to beat those Eastern clubs if they want to make good on high expectations for ’09-10.
Prediction: Portland’s youth is still an issue, but if LaMarcus Aldridge’s 20 point, 14 board effort against Atlanta is any indication, then the Blazers’ front court should start to carry them to more victories. It would be nice to see Oden contribute a little more offensively, but we all know the name of his game is in his D. Which playoff team will start to turn their season around first? Blazers get the road win by 8.
10. Lakers at Nuggets: Fri, 11/13, 10:30 (ET), National TV: ESPN
We get conference finals rematches galore this week with the Cavs-Magic showdown followed by this Best in the West battle. This could be the best game of the season so far following a scintillating 6 game series last year. At times I truly thought Denver would take over that series, but the Lakers had too much.
For all of his talent, Carmelo Anthony has been overshadowed in the NBA. That’s just my opinion—and SLAM’s. The fact is Kobe got a ring last year, LeBron’s Cavs have been at the top the last two years and D-Wade has a ring as well as the ’08-’09 scoring title. So, I think last year’s series against the Lakers was a coming out party for Melo because he has just as much talent as the rest of those guys, and this might be his season to reign over the league. In order for that to happen though, the Nuggets are going to have to sustain this early success and get back to the conference finals so Melo can continue to show the world what he can do deep in the playoffs.
I cannot wait for this game.
Prediction: The Nuggets seem motivated. The defending champs seem sluggish. Nuggets by 6.