Possibly salivating at the thought of another boffo statistical night in the
face of a beleaguered Denver Nuggets roster, Arenas managed to miss 20 of 30 shots in an
embarrassing Monday night loss. Consider it an aberration, because Gilbert took a backseat
to a white-hot Antawn Jamison on Thursday, playing off the ball but still finishing with 30
points, eight boards and seven assists. He's averaging 33.3 points and 6.2 assists in
Paul's Hornets are struggling, staggering and trying to formulate a rotation
in the wake of myriad injuries and the news that $62 million forward Peja Stojakovic will be
out indefinitely after back surgery. Until Byron Scott fleshes out the minute allotments,
Paul's just going to borderline-dominate for a team that probably won't win a whole lot
(it's lost 11 of 13). Since missing nine of 11 shots against the Spurs on Dec. 14, Paul is
averaging 25 points, 7.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists in three games.
Since starting these Rankings, we've made a point not to include
performers who were clocking in fewer than 30 minutes a night, which is why you haven't seen
David Lee, Manu Ginobili or Amaré on this list thus far. It isn't that we agree with the
coaching decisions behind the truncated minutes -- we're quite opposed, with all the names
mentioned -- we just would rather wait for the season to drone on and the numbers to bump a
bit. Well, with Amaré, we can wait no longer, and here's why: 17.6 points (on 62.9 percent
shooting), 8.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in just 28.2 minutes a night.
The schedule has been tough, but the Clippers have to do better than a 3-7
December, even with Sam Cassell struggling to overcome plantar fasciitis. The Clippers tend
to sleepwalk through first halves, and their late-game execution has been dreadful in losses
to Houston, Portland and especially to the Raptors on Wednesday. After averaging 18.2 shot
attempts last season, Elton has topped 18 just four times in 24 games this year.
Nevertheless, he's still averaging 19.7 points along with 9.7 rebounds and two blocks.
After needing 13 shots to score just nine points in a Dec. 13 loss to the
Nets, Redd (88 points in three games since) and his Bucks have rebounded well. Milwaukee
made a game of it in a road loss to Chicago, and beat Minnesota and Miami handily at home.
Another thing to watch is Redd's continued back-and-forth with league officials. Nobody, not
even Rasheed Wallace, argues as many non-calls as Redd. But because Redd's outbursts come
nanoseconds after taking in a little contact while shooting (as opposed to Rasheed's
drawn-out dialogue), he gets away with the gripes. Redd has only one technical foul all
season, which is as surprising as any stat we've seen.
After nailing a series of clutch shots to start the season, Johnson has
faded a bit in two chances down the stretch of recent home losses to Chicago and Utah. He
seemed a little winded toward the end against the Bulls -- the overtime game was his first
after missing four games with a calf strain -- and he was unable to score in the face of
Kirk Hinrich's strong defense. Johnson fouled out of the loss to Utah, which enjoyed a 40-13
advantage in the fourth quarter after being outscored 39-19 in the third period.
Something's not right here. Carter has made a point to spend the bulk of
December behind the three-point line, and his insistence on shooting from the perimeter is
bringing down the rest of his game. We've seen this before, 2001-02 especially, and if the
Nets are going to have a chance in the Atlantic, Carter can't average 7.6 treys a game (as
he's done this month), or miss 36 of 48 shots (as he did in three games last week, averaging
11.7 points per game). And we know, that you know, that Carter knows this: He made a point to
take it to the rim repeatedly in a win over Cleveland on Wednesday, scoring 38 points on 18
shots and 18 free throws.
Detroit keeps chugging along, winning two-thirds of its games with one of the game's best (if least exciting) offenses. Billups can become a free agent after this season, but it'd be a shame if Flip Saunders (the architect of Detroit's deliberate style) were to lose Billups' steady hand for the second time in his coaching career. Billups took over late in Detroit's road win over Cleveland on Thursday night, and he's averaging 18.7 points and 8.4 assists.
Marion, who is still leading the Suns in points (19.5), rebounds (9.2), steals (2.0) and blocks (1.6), is starting to find the touch from the perimeter that eluded him in the season's first five weeks. Marion, who is a 35 percent career marksman from behind the arc, is shooting 39.3 from long range over his last eight games, and 52 percent from the field overall. Most important, he has gracefully ceded shot attempts and minutes to a newly healthy Amaré Stoudemire and an improving Leandro Barbosa.
The Magic have had a rough December. They're a good team but not as good as their 13-4 start would indicate, and they've dropped six of 10 since then. Howard is still playing strong basketball -- he doesn't let rough starts or bad calls bring him down -- but he appears to be the latest in a long line of international basketball participants to hit a wall. This is no doubt aided by the fact that Howard has averaged nearly 35 minutes a night in his career, he's yet to miss a game since being drafted by the Magic, and he just turned 21. Howard is averaging 17 points and 12.7 rebounds, but we may have to wait until next year to see the big leap from the big youngster.
On the cusp: Baron Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce