Amaré's turnovers are a bit worrying, but he began the week by scoring a season-high 42 points against the defensively challenged Memphis Grizzlies, rebounding from a somewhat middling turn (a four-game stretch averaging 12.8 points). There's plenty to love on this Suns team, and Stoudemire has a lot to do with that -- you haven't heard him complain about playing time (he just popped above the 30-minute per-game mark last week) or shot attempts, and he's always busying himself with rebounds should Nash's passes head somewhere else.
Michael Finley's a gem. He was the heart and soul of a litany of strong Dallas Maverick teams, suffered through working as the heart and soul (while playing more than 40 minutes a night) of a litany of embarrassing Mavericks teams, and was one of the better wing players of his generation. That said, there is no reason for him to be averaging 21 minutes per game on the 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs, especially with Ginobili averaging just 27.8. Manu averages nine points per game more with those extra minutes, with nearly three times as many assists and 10 times as many steals, and he rebounds better per minute. And you can't begin to convince me that Finley's defense is superior enough (or at all, really) to Manu's to prevent Ginobili from averaging 35 minutes.
A brilliant January so far for T-Mac, mitigated somewhat by a flare-up of back pain that kept him out of the Rockets' loss to the Suns on Wednesday. McGrady has been dealing with back issues since 2001, and it's about time to get used to the fact that he'll never be free of pain. But it doesn't make any new news about the potential for missed games go down any easier, especially when McGrady had been averaging 29.9 points with 7.5 assists (to just 1.75 turnovers per game) this month.
The flip side of boasting a 21-year-old wunderkind as your franchise player? Three nights after coming through with 30 points and 25 rebounds in a win over the Warriors, Howard managed just 10 points and five boards in a loss to the Suns. Such is life with the NBA's next big big thing -- and we think the Magic are just fine with the vicissitudes of relying on a superstar who was born during Reagan's second term.
The Suns have lost twice since the third week in November, and I can't for the life of me even try to explain away leaving Marion this low on these (or any other week's) Rankings. It is part of his make-up, we reckon: Marion will have to be feted in Paris in his old age to take in the respect he truly deserves (and covets, as Jack McCallum's Seven Seconds or Less described so masterfully). He never wavers, never stops running the floor, never stops guarding all comers while making the sort of forward-thinking cuts and gallops that heady point guards dream of.
Iverson is averaging a superhuman 42.8 minutes per game in that thin Denver air, doing his best to keep these Nuggets somewhat competitive in Carmelo Anthony's absence. Though we admire his ability to score or find others, AI's efficiency in those two areas is taking a hit. A lot of this has to do with his teammates, because solid defenders like Linas Kleiza and Yakhouba Diawara (who contribute about 11 points apiece for every 40 minutes they play despite dozens of open looks thanks to AI) just don't deserve the minutes they've been afforded as the squad reels from the fight in New York. With two games left before Carmelo returns, Iverson is due for his first 30-shot game as a Nugget. Pointed unselfishness will only carry a team so far.
Bosh has turned the ball over 16 times in his last three games, but we're having a hard time getting up in arms over that and/or his season-long average of three per game. Because of the 37 minutes a night he plays, and the sheer amount of possessions he takes part in, the per-game mark isn't that telling. Bosh turns the ball over in 12.5 percent of his possessions, the same percentage Nash boasts. And for all its ups and downs this season, Toronto's mark of 15 turnovers per every 100 possessions is quite good -- third in the NBA, in fact.
The Trail Blazers have won two of three (Sergio Rodriguez has come out of nowhere to average 10.3 points, 8.3 assists and two turnovers in 24 minutes a game), but Randolph shot just under 35 percent during that stretch. Randolph has long been susceptible to the double team -- he doesn't see the court well but is adept at finding the closest Blazer he sees fit to throw him a re-entry pass -- as he showed in a recent loss to Denver in which he shot 1-of-12 from the field.
Nobody's talking about it, but this is O'Neal's last chance to prove his viability as a franchise talent. O'Neal now has an honest-to-goodness orthodox lineup to work with after the Pacers' big trade. New addition Troy Murphy can't guard a cloth cap, but he can spread the floor and work the boards in a halfcourt game. Mike Dunleavy isn't as good a shooter as everyone seems to think he is (35 percent from long range this season and for his career), but he'll help give O'Neal room to work down low where Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson just clogged things up.
Though we respect the heck out of Flip Saunders' way with X's and O's, he's not standing up to anyone. Though we're scared silly at the thought of Rasheed Wallace reeling in a full-on bout of apoplexy, he rarely has the nerve to call out his own teammates (save for his pathetic back-and-forth with Arvydas Sabonis in the 2001 playoffs). And though vets like Antonio McDyess and Dale Davis will keep a locker room in order, their objectivity will be called into question if forced into a confrontation with Chris Webber, a new addition brought in to take their minutes. So it's up to Billups, in a free-agent year, to keep C-Webb in line. Keep him setting screens, keep him finding teammates and keep him from ruining that offense with those line-drive set shots. We think Billups is up for it.
On the cusp: Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Josh Howard, Kevin Martin