Dude, Where’s My Job?
An early season look at who’s earning more shine and who’s headed to the pine.
Nearly a fifth of the way through the NBA season, team rotations are starting to solidify, leaving many in the League wondering where their assumed starting jobs have gone. Highly paid new acquisitions, former role players taking a back seat to young blood, and incoming/outgoing trades make for a sometimes season-long session of musical chairs in the starting lineup. Each of these players knows that, in a league of moves, next week can bring a mention in the PA’s starting five or a cold seat at the end of the bench.
We’re Going in a New Direction (those who are out of the starting lineup)
Andre Miller – Signed a three-year deal worth $21 million this summer with Portland assuming he’d be the point guard to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Although he’s started nine games in Martell Webster’s absence, Miller is back to the bench in support of Coach Nate McMillan’s choice of starter, Steve Blake. As a sub, Miller is shooting just 31.7 percent and averaging 7.5 points-per-game.
Udonis Haslem – The starter at power forward for Miami during nearly all of the DWade era, Haslem now takes a back seat to Michael Beasley and free agent Quentin Richardson. Haslem seems to have accepted his role well and is putting up impressive numbers, posting five double-doubles while playing over 31 minutes-per-game.
Andrei Kirilenko – Coach Jerry Sloan started this trend with AK47 last season and it’s worked well. Kirilenko is averaging more points, rebounds, and steals in fewer minutes off the bench. Replacement rookie Wes Matthews out of Marquette has seen his numbers increase across the board as well. The Sloan is wise as the Jazz, who started the year 3-5, have gone 4-2 since the move.
Morris Peterson – MoPete misses Byron Scott. Since the coaching change to Jeff Bower, Peterson’s gone from starting shooting guard to “which suit should I wear tonight?” Not that his 6.5 ppg were startling, but dude’s a ghost in New Orleans these days as Devin Brown gets the nod.
Al Harrington – This is more of a shot to Harrington’s ego than any measurable decline in production. Harrington is on pace to be in consideration for Sixth Man of the Year while putting up 20 ppg and 6 rpg since coming off the bench. Regardless, the woeful Knicks are going with Coach Mike D’Antoni’s favorite youth, Danilo Gallinari.
But It’s My Stapler (those who’ve worked their way back in)
Spencer Hawes – Losing his starting gig to Sean May didn’t sit well with Hawes, so he won it back. Since his near triple-double against Memphis in the Kings fourth contest of the season, Hawes has been the man in the middle. The role hasn’t exactly produced results, as Hawes has reached double figures just three times in eight starts.
Stephen Curry – The featherweight rookie started the season for the Warriors, lost his job to the sharp-shooting Anthony Morrow, and got it back after the Stephen Jackson trade. Now Morrow finds his way back on the bench as Corey Maggette makes his way into Nellie’s favor. No one ever knows with Nellie, which may be a big reason why Golden State sits at 5-8.
Al Thornton – Began the season as the starting small forward, but Rasual Butler has been cutting into his starts. Since Eric Gordon’s injury, both have been in the starting five, but that’ll change upon Gordon’s return. Statistically it makes sense to go with Thornton, whose production is much better as a starter (13.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg vs. 5.3 and 1.3 as a sub), in comparison with Butler, who has been more successful off the bench (12 ppg and 51.3 percent vs. 10 and 33.3 percent as a starter).
Peja Stojakovic – Contrary to Peterson, Peja doesn’t miss Byron Scott. Since the Bower move, Stojakovic has started each game and looks more like the MVP candidate of his Sacramento days than the back-pained European Hornets fans are used to. His numbers are drastically up and his 12 threes two recent games have led the Hornets to wins over the streaking Suns and Hawks, both without Chris Paul.
Ben Wallace – After forgettable stints in Chicago and Cleveland, Wallace returned to Detroit and is playing like he never left the glory days. He’s started every game, in spite of reports that Kwame Brown or Chris Wilcox would win the job, and is dominating the boards (9.2 rebounds) while protecting the rim for the Pistons, all at the rejuvenated age of 35.
In Line for a Promotion (those who will be running the show soon)
James Harden – The rook out of Arizona State is turning it on lately, going for 24 and 25 with 10 threes in games against the Magic and Wizards. Defensive stalwart, Thabo Sefolosha, starts for the Thunder now, but Harden’s time is just around the corner.
Marreese Speights – before tearing his MCL, Speights was on the fast track to the Most Improved Player Award. Averaging 13 points and 6.4 rebounds, Speights looks likely to be the center of the future for Philly. Expect the Sixers to find a new home for struggling Samuel Dalembert in order to open up a spot for Speights.
Toney Douglas – Chris Duhon is shooting 24 percent and the Knicks aren’t winning games with him at the point. If Douglas can get his assists up and the Knicks continue their current losing trend, Douglas could spend the second half of the season getting experience in the starting lineup. His 50 percent shooting and solid athleticism make for a convincing case.
Anthony Randolph – The sophomore was panned to produce huge numbers this season as the Warriors power forward, but Nellie has relegated him to sixth man. A near seven-footer, who can dribble, Randolph can do nearly anything on the court. In just 21 minutes, he is averaging 12.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, while collecting his share of steals and blocks. As his field goal percentage and turnover rate improve, Randolph should prove to be too potent to keep out of the starting lineup, even in Nellieland.
Marcus Thornton – A rookie out of LSU, he will soon replace Devin Brown at shooting guard. Thornton is averaging 18 ppg in his last six games and played a career high 38 minutes Sunday night. One way or another, a Thornton will be a starter in this league this year, and MoPete will be rocking more Perry Ellis than adidas.