Boozer playing successful tune for surprising Utah
Posted: Friday November 24, 2006 12:37PM; Updated: Saturday November 25, 2006 3:36PM
The NBA season is a month old, so excuses are out the window. Teams have had since the first week of October to work out kinks, find a defensive mindset and establish offensive pecking order. By this point we're more or less finished with caveats and qualifiers as to why certain players are stopping just short of greatness. Enjoy every (turkey) sandwich, and the latest batch of Player Power Rankings.
LeBron's Cavs split the four games they've played since we last met, but the 21-year-old can't be faulted for the team's mediocre showing. Not when Cleveland's starting backcourt of Eric Snow and David Wesley is averaging but six points and five assists in a little more than 37 minutes a game. LBJ's 27.6 points, seven rebounds and 6.6 rebounds a game still astound, and the fact that he averages less than three turnovers a game in 40 minutes a night help his Cavs stay efficient (11th offensively) in spite of their limitations at the guard position.
Dirk Diggler has gotten his sea legs back and is the league's most efficient overall offensive performer, making up for a Dallas defense that has ranked among the NBA's worst since the beginning of the season. His Mavericks have won seven straight after dropping their first four contests while Nowitzki has averaged 28 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and just 2.1 turnovers a game during the winning streak. Next up: three games versus the West's best big man defenders: San Antonio (Tim Duncan), New Orleans (Tyson Chandler) and Minnesota (Kevin Garnett).
Boozer is the go-to guy in the clutch for the NBA's best team, but his career year has more to do with his fourth quarter heroics. The bruising power forward is contributing 22.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the Jazz while playing just 35 minutes a contest. With Andrei Kirilenko on the shelf, and Deron Williams still (spectacularly, at times) learning the ropes, Boozer's low-post play down the stretch of some of Utah's closest wins has made the difference. Utah boasts the most efficient offense in the NBA, averaging a stellar 115.2 points per hundred possessions -- Boozer is the biggest reason why.
Yao's Rockets won two of three games this week, but they nearly gave away significant leads in wins over New York and Washington, and their inability to find Yao in the fourth quarter has been a bit of a worry since the season began. Guards Luther Head, Rafer Alston and even do-everything-right forward Shane Battier have been among the biggest offenders in the clutch, unable to pull the trigger on suitable entry passes, choosing instead to fruitlessly fire the ball around the perimeter. Still, Yao is averaging 26.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and two blocks in less than 36 minutes a game.
Duncan's Spurs are chugging along and 10-2, while The Big Fundamental is showcasing some of the play on both sides of the ball that made him a perennial MVP candidate from the moment he entered the league. His Spurs are tops in point differential, beating teams by an average of 7.8 points per game. And Duncan has regained that dangerous touch from the triple-threat position, resulting in 22.7 points per game (on 56 percent shooting), 11 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 blocks in just 34 minutes a game.
With his goofball supporting cast, you know KG isn't as into the games as he usually is. That said, Garnett appears to be keeping whatever frustrations he may have to himself as he leads the Timberwolves in points (21.5 per game), rebounds (11.7), blocks (1.9) and steals (1.7). At least teammate Ricky Davis is doing his part to lighten KG's load, leading the team in assists, with 4.9 a contest. Still, Minnesota has lost six of 10 to open the year, and show no signs of going anywhere beyond April.
Randolph just won't stop playing the right way. He's made a conscious effort to work on his shot selection, which is apparent every time he receives the ball in shooting position some 20 feet from the goal. Watch Randolph as he eases halfway into his set-shot motion: that's not a fake; he really wants to shoot the ball, though he reels himself in nearly every time. Even with the devil and angel taking up prominent space on Randolph's shoulders, he is averaging 25.7 points and 10.7 rebounds this season. The veteran needs to work on his and his team's defense, however, as Portland ranks last in overall defensive efficiency.
We were ready to write this guy off after a shaky preseason, one that saw the once (and future, apparently) next Buck Williams struggle to emulate the next Mark Bryant. Well, the roué is ready; the crow has been plucked and cleaned while the crust is ready to be filled: we've grown accustomed to the taste of humble pie, and not because of the tasty licks Steve Marriott used to serve. Okafor's been a beast for the Bobcats, his league-leading 3.9 blocks per game has helped a Charlotte team that isn't forcing as many turnovers as it used to. Of course, his 19-point, 11-board averages (with just 1.9 turnovers) are a pretty good help, too.
Few have looked more unstoppable on offense this year than Mr. Anthony, whose 31 points per game mark leads the NBA. And yet, he needs to figure out a way to ply his trade without palming the ball, or risking a charge call under the basket. Melo's 4.9 turnovers also lead the league. Even more troubling is the fact that he is averaging more turnovers than assists (3.6) and nearly as many cough-ups as rebounds (5.1). Still, kudos to Anthony for making more than half his shots, especially in an era when, if you chuck enough, a 42 percent mark from the floor can still earn you a scoring title.
Pierce is stuck between a stone and an adamantine place on these Celtics. He can't take over early in games because the kids who surround him have no idea how to play off the ball or contribute in ways outside of scoring. And yet, after watching Sebastian Telfair drive pell-mell toward the front of the rim for three quarters, the C's usually need a batch of quick shots to pull them back into contention late, leaving Paul holding the bag more often than not. Nowhere was this more evident than in a frustrating Wednesday loss to the Bobcats, which prevented Boston from winning four straight.