Though his Clippers have been as disappointing as ever, frittering away a game in Orlando on Tuesday night that should have been a blowout by halftime, Brand is continuing to feed off a second wind after a long playoff run last season and time spent at the world championships last summer. He's averaging 24.4 points (on 66.7 percent shooting) and four blocks over his last five games, but adding just 6.8 rebounds. Brand is averaging 8.8 boards on the year, but he averaged just 7.5 in December. Though Los Angeles outrebounds its opponents and Brand has help from Chris Kaman and Corey Maggette, this isn't an encouraging sign.
Great production all season, but Randolph continues to put his team on its heels with his porous defense. Ryan Gomes (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Al Jefferson (14 and 11) had their way with Randolph in Portland's loss to Boston on New Year's Day; Randolph was forced into fronting the post by the second half. And recent addition Jamaal Magloire, once considered a defensive stalwart at center, isn't helping. Coach Nate McMillan needs to find more minutes for rookie LaMarcus Aldridge (who has thrived in the pivot) alongside Randolph.
Milwaukee's big scorer has been remarkably consistent. Though he fired the opening salvo in the Great Shooting Guard Shootout Wars of 2006-07 with a 57-point night on Nov. 11, Redd has topped 30 points just three times since Dec. 2. Nevertheless, he's still averaging 27.8 points a game. The Bucks' horrid defense (they're last in the NBA in defensive efficiency) has taken away Redd's transition scoring opportunities, which usually come in the form of open three-pointers. He shot 31 percent from behind the arc in December, after nailing 43 percent in November.
Iverson's inclusion in the Rankings is more of a nod to his superb play in his final month as a 76er. After turning the ball over twice in his Nuggets debut, AI has coughed it up 32 times in five games since. Given the amount of possessions he takes part in and the minutes he plays, that mark isn't as egregious as it seems. He's finding his way on what is currently a lousy Denver team, averaging 28.8 points and 8.8 assists per game.
Despite an underwhelming roster, the off-court troubles and the failed attempt at turning into a running team, the Pacers are still above .500 and in the East's top seven. O'Neal has a lot to do with Indiana's strong defense; he's averaging 3.2 blocks per game after notching 2.3 last year (and 1.8 over his career). O'Neal is also adding 19.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and three assists, an All-Star-caliber season thus far. Still, Indiana is getting outscored by two points per game (20th in the NBA), and you get the feeling that this solid start may fall apart as the season drones on.
Fully healthy, Howard came alive in December, averaging 20.3 points and 7.1 rebounds while adding a combined 2.9 steals and blocks. This long-armed, do-it-all forward reminds of Cedric Ceballos in the way he's able to score without needing the ball for too long, but he's five times the defender Ceballos was (Moe Howard is twice the defender Ceballos was), and has a quicker, more consistent release from the perimeter. And though we rarely put stock into these statistics (when teams lose, generally everyone plays worse than usual), Howard is averaging 12.5 points and shooting under 40 percent in the Mavericks' six losses. Quite the drop-off.
Yes, the Spurs will more than likely be playing their most important games four months from now, but we paid good money for League Pass and the good people of San Antonio paid even more money for those season tickets. So can we get some more minutes for Ginobili? The 29-year-old guard played 37 minutes in an overtime loss to Minnesota on Wednesday, but he's averaging only 27.3 minutes for the season. And despite that, he's averaging 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Play him 34 a game and he's an All-Star, but Gregg Popovich has more important things on his mind. Sometimes a healthy sense of perspective can be so bloody boring.
Johnson and his injury-plagued Hawks are struggling mightily. They've lost 11 of 12, and Johnson has looked (relatively) awful since returning from sitting out four games with a calf strain. He was averaging 28.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting before hitting the pine, but has managed just 19.6 a game on 42 percent in the seven games since. With Josh Childress and Marvin Williams back in the Atlanta rotation, it might be a good time to give Johnson another rest.
The same bugaboo, all season long: Howard turns the ball over too much, especially for someone who isn't the focal point of his team's offense. He averages 3.5 a game, and turns it over on 18.3 percent of the possessions he plays. That percentage is way too high, even for a 21-year-old in his third season out of high school. And we criticize because we care, because unlike the rest of the butterfingers on the turnover rate list, Howard has Hall of Fame potential.
The Warriors are still very much in playoff contention, though they will fade a bit with Jason Richardson out with a broken hand, and we're still uneasy about Davis' approach to the game. With Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury whiling away in New York, Baron is the last of the over-dribblers. And though his production has been sound (21.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 8.6 assists), you get the feeling he can shoot you in and out of games. Case in point: Davis has missed 26 of his last 32 three-pointers over six games, but with games against Seattle and Phoenix lined up, do you think this will give him pause before firing up another one?
On the cusp: Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Devin Brown