Posted: Friday December 8, 2006 3:11PM; Updated: Monday December 11, 2006 11:38AM
Ah, life as a big player on a bad team can't be easy. Sure, you get all the shots you can handle and nobody asks you to share the spotlight on the cover of a team's media guide or season ticket advertisements, but it can't be a satisfying existence. Not with the constant double-teams, perpetual rebuilding processes and the odd whispers that have surrounded players like Elton Brand, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Dominique Wilkins for years insinuating that, somehow, averaging 20 and 10 was "bad" for your team.
There's more than a few of these players on this week's edition of the Player Power Rankings. Who's kept their chin up, and who has let the losing get to them? Read on ...
One cannot stress enough how important it is that Nowitzki -- the franchise player, and man with the ball in hands for 36 minutes a night -- averages just 2.15 turnovers per game. Here's a guy who alternates quick hits from the perimeter, mad dashes to the front of the rim and drives from one end of the court to another (after pulling down one of his 9.8 rebounds per game) for one of the league's best teams; and he's unflappable with the rock. He also scores a bunch (24.5 per game), hits nearly half his shots from the floor, gets to the line (8.5 a game) and makes his free throws (92 percent). Good player.
One has to respect the way Duncan continues to get to the line, in spite of a free-throw stroke that still needs some work. While big men such as Chris Webber and Antoine Walker have shied away from contact at times in their career to avoid a trip to the line, Duncan is shooting nearly eight freebies a game, up 1.2 from last season. He's hit 31 of his last 40 (78 percent), which has gone a long way toward helping his 22.1 points per-game average -- a 3.5 per game increase over 2005-06, though his shot attempts have remained about the same.
LBJ was brilliant down the stretch in a Cavaliers win over the Raptors on Wednesday. Scoring, rebounding and finding open 3-point shooters with assists; he had a significant hand in just about every possession during a 13-0 fourth quarter run that decided the game. James is running a steady ship up on Lake Erie, playing huge gobs of minutes (40.5) while trying to keep everyone happy in a slow-down offense that doesn't bode well for a player's scoring average. Still, let's pick up the free throw shooting: 'Bron is 25 for his last 40 (63 percent).
Yao's Rockets have split their last four games, and though Yao touched the ball for (quite literally) about 30 seconds during the fourth quarter of their Nov. 29 loss to the Suns, he was afforded plenty of opportunities down the stretch against Minnesota on Wednesday. The result? Another Houston loss, with Kevin Garnett shutting down the All-Star center in the fourth quarter. November's Player of the Month is averaging 21.7 and seven boards in December, but he's turned the ball over 15 times in three games, and shooting 42 percent after hitting on 54.4 percent of his shots in November.
If someone was to present to you a roster that included Mark Blount, Mike James and Ricky Davis in its starting lineup, alongside a rotation that featured heavy minutes for Troy Hudson, you'd probably assume it to be among the league's worst defensive outfits. Instead, the 103 points for every hundred possessions Minnesota is giving up ranks third in the NBA. KG is why. Though he's had help from Trenton Hassell and Marko Jaric (!), KG has been all over the place defensively for his 8-9 Timberwolves.
SI's Sportsman of the Year has a rather nasty task ahead of him: single-handedly keeping the Miami Heat out of the lottery just a year after their first NBA championship. Wade seems up to the task, but the second-best player on the Heat right now is Udonis Haslem. Gary Payton isn't getting any younger, Alonzo Mourning's rebounding touch has faded away (5.5 in nearly 24 minutes a game) and does anyone think Shaquille O'Neal is going to round into forum before the All-Star break, coming off the first knee surgery of his career?
Though his 7-13 Trail Blazers have fallen back to earth, Randolph was something special in his team's road win over the Pistons on Tuesday. Scoring 31 of his squad's 88 points, Randolph dominated a long-armed Detroit defense while pulling down 13 rebounds. Among big men, nobody shoots more than Randolph (18.8 per game, on a Portland team that milks the shot clock). But considering his marks of 48 percent from the floor and 83 percent from the free-throw line, we applaud the decision to get the ball into Big Zach.
Only Carmelo Anthony has converted more field goals than Boozer, who is one of the league's most efficient players while not even serving as Utah's go-to guy for the bulk of each game. Boozer's ascension to one of the league's elite power forwards has been astounding. He's averaging more than six points and nearly four rebounds per game than he came through with last year, in just four minutes more per contest. Boozer has made 42 of his last 62 shots (67 percent), and the Jazz have the best record in the NBA. Solid start.
Since returning from a strained back on Nov. 20, Nash has averaged 23.6 points, 12.1 assists and turned the ball over just 27 times in 305 minutes of play. Phoenix has won all six contests. And yet Nash's greatest contribution to our common good would have to be nailing that 3-pointer at the end of regulation against the Nets on Thursday night, tying the game and allowing for the most entertaining battle of the season to go on for two more overtime periods. It gets tougher from here on out. After that 161-157 thriller, the Suns have to play in Boston on Friday, and then head south for games in Charlotte and Orlando on Sunday and Monday nights.
We've harped on Carmelo for his turnovers this year, and while his 4.3 miscues per game may look unseemly at first glance, a closer look behind the numbers reveals that his butterfingers may not be as painful as originally deduced. To start, Denver is far and away the NBA's fastest team, chewing up nearly 99 possessions a game. And Anthony (the league's leading scorer at 31.7 points per game) turns the ball over on 12.2 percent of the possessions he takes part in. That's a pretty solid mark, about what Jason Kidd is averaging on the year, and better than steady types such as Grant Hill (13.6) and Brevin Knight (14.3).