The 21st-century man-child continues to get better and better. And though the realization has come nearly a year too late, it's been nice to see the reports about Amaré's surgically repaired left knee having a better chance at full recovery (than, say, any recent buyout recipient's) because of his relative youth. Though he's yet to bust through the 30-minute-a-night barrier, Stoudemire will have to remind himself (and the rest of the doubters) of his 17.6-point, 9.1-rebound, 1.5-block averages -- brilliant for any 24-year-old, much less one coming off operations on both knees.
You can't tell it by looking at his averages, but Manu is enjoying a career year. Ginobili's had to do it in 27.5 minutes per game while the Spurs rest him for the long postseason, though they'll have to let him loose pretty soon. The Spurs need to make their move starting next week. Their schedule is littered with solid playoff clubs (Chicago, Washington, Houston, the Lakers), and they need to boost their profile in the standings before the AT&T Center welcomes the rodeo and kicks the hometown team out of its building for 25 days across late January and February.
Scoring heaps more than your age is one thing, but when the kids start to outrebound their age, you know they're onto something special. The NBA's leading rebounder (12.8 a game) is all of 21 years and one month, and he's fresh off of 30-point, 25-rebound effort against Golden State and Andris Biedrins, who, at 20, is no slouch himself (9.7 rebounds and 1.95 blocks in 29 minutes a game). Howard is averaging 21 points, 16 boards, 1.8 blocks and 1.8 steals in January.
T-Mac's hardly been among the NBA's top 20 -- or even 30, really -- this season, but he deserves special merit for his inspired work in the wake of Yao Ming's injury. The Rockets boast an at-times frustrating mix of limited vets and chuck-happy guards alongside the two franchise players, and when you throw in the yin/yang of the angelic Shane Battier and devil's-food-cake-chomping Bonzi Wells resting on coach Jeff Van Gundy's shoulders (to say nothing of JVG's inimitable mix of insecurity and insight), you have a potentially combustible mix. McGrady, however, is refusing to let things fall apart. The Rockets have won seven of nine with Yao sidelined, and T-Mac is averaging 27.8 points, 5.3 assists and 5.3 boards in the big fella's absence.
The Nuggets have lost seven of 10 since trading for Iverson, but this is indicative of next to nothing. They've missed Marcus Camby for five of those games, J.R. Smith for nine and Carmelo Anthony for all of them. And Iverson has kept them close; he turned the ball over just three times, had six assists and scored 33 points on 15-of-25 shooting in 45 minutes against San Antonio's top-notch defense in a nine-point loss Wednesday. Very encouraging.
My favorite part of these Player Rankings? The fact that we use the only known file photo of Randolph that doesn't render him a doppelgänger for Darius McCrary (a.k.a. Eddie Winslow from Family Matters). The Trail Blazers have lost nine of 11, and Randolph's all-around production is starting to take a dive: 19.5 points and 8.5 boards in January after averaging 24.7 and 10.5 in the season's first two months. The good news? Rookie LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 24 minutes a game in 2007 (offering 10.6 points and five boards), and I'm not going to make a Steve Urkel joke.
His braces are off, his arms are long, his game is ready and the national press is starting to take notice. Though Howard won't make the All-Star team (we obviously think he's a top 24 player, but the numbers game in the Western Conference will prevent it), he's been the subject of some well-deserved national pub over the last few weeks while the Mavs reel off win after win.
O'Neal took his team to task last week, mentioning how frustratingly average Indiana looks these days, and pointing out that -- even when healthy, and playing its best brand of ball -- this is a stiflingly mediocre team that isn't going to get much better. Few teams deserve the scorched-earth treatment more than these Pacers, and it's never a good sign when the starting power forward realizes it before the team's front office.
Though the Raptors have fallen out of the Atlantic lead, they needn't worry much. At the current pace, 38 victories will win the division (seriously), and Chris Bosh is looking healthy and ready to re-earn an All-Star appearance. After missing 12 games to close out 2006 with a bruised left knee, Bosh is averaging 22.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in the five games since his return. Toronto has won three of five, and assuming T.J. Ford continues to hit those jump shots (he's averaging a sound 15.6 points and 7.8 assists on the year), Toronto will be in the fight for a playoff berth.
Though this will hardly force Johnson into some tears before bedtime, the Hawks swingman is stuck on this list only because we can't argue away the preclusion of a player averaging nearly 25 a game. Johnson is really digging himself a hole; he's averaging 18.4 on 40.7 percent shooting in 11 games since his return from a left calf injury, and now is as good a time as any to take a rest. The Hawks are as healthy as they've been all season, and if Johnson is feeling the effects of averaging more than 40 minutes a game for the last four seasons (along with a trek deep into the 2005 playoffs with Phoenix and a turn at the world championships last summer), then we feel his pain. But something needs to be done about his sluggish play, whether it comes in the form of a trip to the injured list, or a reduced role.
On the cusp: Tony Parker, Kevin Martin, Shawn Marion