Posted: Tuesday January 24, 2012 1:26PM ; Updated: Tuesday January 24, 2012 3:28PM
Britt Robson
Britt Robson>NBA POWER RANKINGS

Hawks hang tough without Horford

Story Highlights

The Hawks have the NBA's third-best record and are 6-1 without Al Horford

Memphis and Houston make big moves thanks to seven-game winning streaks

The Lakers, who aren't using Pau Gasol enough, fall to 15th after three-game skid

The Atlanta Hawks should be folding any day now.

That's been the dismissive conventional wisdom about the team from the "Highlight Factory" for more than a year. It's not fashionable to like Atlanta's chances, or even to respect its identity. The Hawks are the bickering team that was annihilated by Orlando in the 2010 playoffs (except they came back and beat the Magic in 2011). They are the team that overpaid for Joe Johnson, preventing them from making upgrades that can get them to the next level (except they have upgraded at point guard with the emergence of Jeff Teague and the imminent return of Kirk Hinrich).

The Hawks are also the team widely regarded as having more talent than maturity, and not enough of either to be a real factor in the postseason, a notion that was reinforced by the potential season-ending injury to their best and smartest player, Al Horford, a couple of weeks ago. I know: Even after the Hawks had won three of four, I docked them seven spots in last week's Power Rankings on the assumption that Horford's absence would doom a good team to mediocrity.

Wrong.

Atlanta is 6-1 since the Horford injury. Yes, the schedule has been soft, but the Milwaukee team that the Hawks knocked off Monday had just finished upsetting the Heat in Miami. And Horford or no Horford, Atlanta already has played the Bulls and the Heat two times apiece and still owns the NBA's third-best record, behind Chicago and Oklahoma City.

I've learned my lesson. I won't prejudge the Hawks, who jump to sixth this week. I suspect the loss of Horford will eventually take its toll (old assumptions die hard), but Atlanta has earned the right to trump conventional wisdom with reality.

(All stats and records are through Monday, Jan. 23 unless otherwise noted.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 1
Right now, the Bulls' most formidable opponent might be themselves -- they play so hard and so ruggedly that injuries seem inevitable. On Monday, center Joakim Noah (sprained ankle) and point guard Derrick Rose (turf toe) returned while forwards Luol Deng (bruised wrist) and Taj Gibson (sprained ankle) and point guard John Lucas (strained groin) sat out. But even with the reigning MVP back on the court, the Bulls seem more team-oriented than ever, playing with a seamless, relentless back-and-forth momentum that has their top-rated offense and second-ranked defense transitioning into each other the way water sloshes from side to side in a pail. Can the juggernaut be sustained through this relatively brutal regular-season schedule and into the playoffs?
 
2Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Whether he was distracted or otherwise affected by his contract status, Russell Westbrook has been better at involving his teammates without losing his aggression in the period surrounding the signing of his five-year, $80 million deal. And now that the starting lineup is humming, the Thunder have removed the pressure on rookie backup point guard Reggie Jackson to try to play beyond his capabilities to rescue the team. Since the former backup, Eric Maynor, was lost to a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 7, there has been only one time in eight games (against the Hornets on Jan. 11) in which Jackson has checked into the game for the first time with his team tied or behind. Not coincidentally, OKC is 7-1 since Maynor went down, and has an NBA-best plus-4.4 point differential in the first quarter.
 
3Miami Heat
Last Week: 5
Miami Heat (11-5)
Led by its elite athletes on the wing, Miami is not a team one would imagine being vulnerable to three-pointers from opponents. Yet the Heat are among the worst in both total threes allowed and three-point percentage. By contrast, only Boston stymies fast-break opportunities more effectively than Miami, and the Heat are a top 10 team when it comes to limiting points in the paint. Given that Eddy Curry is a still a long ways (if ever) from knocking the rust off his game; that Dexter Pittman is still raw; and that the Heat have jettisoned last season's squadron of veteran big men, credit belongs to undersized grinders Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem (with some help from Chris Bosh) for enabling Miami to "play big" on defense even without a classic center in its rotation.
 
4Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 11
Denver has outscored its opponents by 105 points in the 266 minutes that Ty Lawson and Andre Miller have shared the backcourt. That works out to a blowout-worthy 18.9 points per 48 minutes -- yet is less dominant than the plus-138 that Lawson and Raymond Felton put up in 310 minutes together last season for the Nuggets. It shows what a versatile threat Lawson presents. Because he is one of the NBA's fastest players, he leads the league's quickest-paced and most prolific fast-break offense. But Lawson also has the ability to find open teammates and move without the ball in half-court sets. Throw in the kind of aggressive pressure defense that coach George Karl prefers, and you have an emerging star who needs only to return to his previous 40 percent average from three-point range (he's at 27.9 percent) to cement his breakout season.
 
5Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 3
The Sixers have proved they can bully the likes of the Wizards, Kings, Pistons and Raptors, which fattens up their point differential. But they had two chances to really prove their mettle last week and instead lost at home in overtime to Denver and were blown out at Miami. Coach Doug Collins has done an admirable job putting together a nine-man rotation that mixes and matches into two or three units of nearly equal prowess. The starting five features defensive stopper Andre Iguodala, who limited Joe Johnson to eight points in Friday's win over Atlanta. The subs, nicknamed the "Night Shift," have more firepower, with Lou Williams shooting from outside and Thaddeus Young being a matchup nightmare as a combo forward. The team's depth and Collins' egalitarian approach ensures quality control from game to game, but to effectively joust with the elite teams, the Sixers could use a go-to guy. I'd nominate Young, their most versatile scorer.
 
6Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 14
How have the Hawks been able to thrive without Horford? Backup center Zaza Pachulia has stepped up with greater activity. The defense remains cohesive, as even players with questionable credentials at that end, such as Vladimir Radmanovic, are showing hard on the pick-and-roll. Jeff Teague and Tracy McGrady are running the offense intelligently, despite the perpetually questionable shot selection from Josh Smith, whose defensive virtues are less obvious but just as influential as his offensive flaws. And Joe Johnson is making big shots.
 
7Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 8
On the plus side, the Pacers are unbeaten at home (5-0), they've had two-thirds of their games on the road and they play a grind-it-out style that usually ensures more consistency from game to game. But the overall schedule has been weak.They're 1-2 against teams above them in these rankings and posted their most impressive road win Sunday, a gritty victory against the reeling Lakers to finish a three-game West Coast trip. But the test is coming this week, as the Pacers follow a Tuesday home game against Orlando with a three-game trip against the Bulls, Celtics and Magic. The game with the Bulls will be brutal -- first one to 70 wins? -- and the pair with Orlando pit some intriguing strength-against-strength matchups. The Magic are the best in the NBA at keeping opponents off the offensive glass while the Pacers are third in offensive rebounding percentage. At the other end, the Magic's bevy of outside shooters put them sixth in effective field goal percentage (which factors in three-pointers), while Indiana ranks third in lowest eFG% allowed.
 
8Orlando Magic
Last Week: 9
Boston's defense dismantled Orlando on Monday. The carnage began with Jameer Nelson simply trying to bring the ball up against Avery Bradley and get the Magic into its sets. Nelson's five-turnover night -- most of them forced by Bradley in embarrassing fashion during the game-clinching third quarter -- was the nadir of an already rotten season for the 29-year-old point guard, who is shooting well below his career norms from the field, three-point arc and free-throw line and has his worst assist-to-turnover ratio in five years. But Nelson hardly deserves all the blame for the Magic's franchise-low 56-point outing against the Celtics. Second-leading scorer Ryan Anderson was shut out on 0-of-8 shooting, Dwight Howard missed all but one of his final dozen shots and Hedo Turkoglu was dominated by Paul Pierce at both ends of the court. Unfortunately for Magic fans, it was the kind of comprehensively awful performance that lends credence to Howard's belief that there's not enough talent and cohesion to realistically contend for a championship, either now or in the near future.
 
9Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 15
For the second year in a row, the Grizzlies are surging despite the prolonged loss of one of their top two players. They roared back from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to win at Golden State on Monday for their seventh straight victory. And just as Zach Randolph elevated his game in the absence of Rudy Gay last season, center Marc Gasol has now been ascendant at both ends of the court as Randolph recuperates from a torn MCL. Gasol's stats are impressive since Randolph went down: He is averaging more than 15 points and 11 rebounds and recording more than two assists for every turnover. Overall, Gasol is on pace for career highs in his percentage of his team's rebounds, blocks, assists and steals and a career low in turnovers. His rugged but increasingly agile defense has spurred the Grizzlies to No. 7 in efficiency. It's early yet, but in his fourth year, Marc is making a serious bid to outperform his older brother, Pau.
 
10Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 4
The Clippers have played the NBA's fewest games and had their starting five active in only half of those-- not enough time to determine the dynamics of teamwork. But in the limited sample size, there doesn't seem to be any ball-sharing or play-calling issues when Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups team up in the backcourt; Caron Butler is finding a complementary niche similar to the one he established in Dallas; and DeAndre Jordan has become even more adept at playing off Blake Griffin in the front line. In other words, the circumstances are ripe for this team to contend in the West, provided that Griffin can better round out his game in terms of defense, shot selection and knowing when to attack and when to dish as opponents guard him more with centers or come hard with the double team.
 
11Houston Rockets
Last Week: 16
New coach Kevin McHale is sending a message to his team by starting relatively obscure rookie Chandler Parsons over Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee or Terrence Williams at small forward. Parsons is a hard-nosed grinder who isn't enamored of scoring; he's meant to touch the ball as often by disrupting passing lanes and getting offensive rebounds as in the context of the half-court offense. His spot in the lineup is the only one in flux, as Samuel Dalembert now owns the center position by dint of his superb defense, which has helped fuel a seven-game winning streak.
 
12San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 7
After the Spurs yielded 106 points in a home loss to Milwaukee two weeks ago, coach Gregg Popovich declared them "the worst defensive team we've ever had" during his 16 years in San Antonio. The problems continued last week, as the Spurs were blown out while giving up 120 points to Miami, allowed Sacramento to erupt for 10 points in a three-minute span in crunch time to pull off an upset, and gave up triple-digit points totals twice more while losing in Houston and winning in New Orleans. The Hornets hadn't cracked 100 points all season until falling to the Spurs 104-102 on Monday, making at least half their shots in all four quarters. Likely of most concern to Popovich is the breadth of his team's defensive deficiencies. The Spurs' field-goal defense is higher than the league average at every location on the court, from at the rim out to the three-point line, and they are 24th in forcing turnovers. (One hallmark of the Popovich era still holds: The Spurs rarely commit stupid fouls, ranking third in the rate of free throws to field goals it allows.) After that loss to Milwaukee, Popovich said of his defense, "We've got a long way to go." Still true.
 
13Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 10
Putting Dirk Nowitzki on the shelf for a week while he strengthens his sore knee was a management decision that coincidentally provides newcomer Lamar Odom more space and opportunity to freelance with the other starters, which could steer him out of the doldrums and help him regain his rhythm. Nowitzki's temporary absence furthers the distance between this year's team and last season's champion. For example, few expected Delonte West and Ian Mahinmi to be two of the Mavs' more valuable performers. West has provided tough defense and good ball movement while starting all but one game either at shooting guard or filling in for Jason Kidd at the point. His steals and assist percentages are the highest of his eight-year career. Mahinmi has been a superb backup center for more than 20 minutes per game, demonstrating quick hands and feet and a dedication to coach Rick Carlisle's defensive schemes in helping Dallas rank second in preventing points in the paint.
 
14Utah Jazz
Last Week: 13
Utah Jazz (10-5)
The Jazz run a near-equal veteran platoon at point guard, with starter Devin Harris averaging 25.4 minutes and Earl Watson coming in for 21.1. Harris is quicker and has the better reputation and bigger salary, but Watson has been more effective and is increasingly getting crunch-time minutes. The dilemma is that Watson, who is 31 and on his sixth NBA team, has been a stabilizing influence on the cadre of youngsters in Utah's second unit, but his sense of appropriate pace for the circumstances and his constant ball movement make him valuable with the starters. For pecking-order reasons, and because Harris, who dominates the ball more, is excellent at getting to the rim, drawing the foul and hitting the free throws, Harris likely will continue finishing games. But having a backup like Watson is a real bonus for a Utah team trying to rebuild and fight for a playoff spot simultaneously.
 
15Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 6
You can blame the difficult adjustment away from the triangle offense because of insufficient practice time, or the loss of Lamar Odom, the longtime bridge between the Lakers' paint and perimeter games. But common sense still leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Lakers are squandering Pau Gasol's skills. Especially given the departure of Odom, how does Gasol wind up with the fewest shots per minute and lowest usage rate of his 11-year career? Be it the triangle, a pick-and-roll or a simple feed into the post, it isn't hard to get the versatile 7-foot Spaniard the ball. For the first time since he became a Laker, Gasol, one of the league's best-passing big men for years, is averaging fewer than three assists. His rebounds and shooting percentage are also down, and some of that, of course, is on him. But he needs to be more involved in an offense that ranks 18th in efficiency.
 
16Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 12
The Blazers continue to play fitfully after a hot start, and much of it has to do with their lack of offensive execution. The problems begin at point guard. Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford are shooting below 39 percent, although both take care of the ball. Crawford has been especially ineffective. Never that much of a playmaker, Crawford has the lowest shooting percentage and highest usage rate of his career. Portland has also had trouble finishing at the rim, ranking 29th through Sunday, with Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews -- both fond of penetrating and hitting the offensive glass -- below 47 percent (the league average is 62.8 percent). Add in nagging injuries to Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace, and the burden is heavier on LaMarcus Aldridge. The 26-year-old power forward continues to play like an All-Star, highlighted by his 33-point, 23-rebound, five-assist performance in Friday's win at Toronto.
 
17Boston Celtics
Last Week: 20
Those of us poised to declare the end of the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen era as a successful Celtics entity were resoundingly rebuffed by Monday's thrashing of Orlando, accomplished without Rajon Rondo, Allen and three other injured players. Just 24 hours earlier, Boston had needed 34 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists from Pierce just to edge the woeful Wizards. And that came on the heels of an uninspired home loss to Phoenix. Those who keep the faith maintain that if the Celtics make the playoffs, their capacity for defensive dominance and deep reservoir of veteran pride and experience could enable them to mount a meaningful last hurrah. Monday's performance was a compelling argument for that belief. But the skeptics, including yours truly, need more evidence, beginning with Thursday's rematch in Orlando.
 
18Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 21
Sunday's upset of host Miami was a vintage Bucks performance during the Scott Skiles regime. Milwaukee shot just 35 percent but slowed the pace, forced 21 turnovers and limited the Heat to 12 fast-break points. A rash of injuries and personal absences wreaked havoc on Skiles' preferred 10-man rotation earlier in the season, but with most everyone available, he can now play his hunches and ride the matchup advantages more frequently. On Sunday, the most valuable role players were Shaun Livingston, the onetime point guard prodigy who at 6-7 can easily slide over to the off-guard slot, as he has the last three games; and 6-9 forward Ersan Ilyasova, who had been losing minutes to rookie Jon Leuer recently.
 
19Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 19
The marquee names in Minnesota's improvement -- Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and coach Rick Adelman -- are all associated with prolific offense, and yet its greatest upgrade has been on defense. "A huge part of that is accountability," forward Anthony Tolliver said. "We didn't have that last year. Now, if you don't play defense, you're coming out of the game." Another huge part is the play of Rubio, who has debunked questions about his toughness and quickness by ranking among the league leaders in both steals and drawing charges. According to Basketball Value, the Wolves allow nearly 11 fewer points per 100 possessions when he is on the court compared to when he sits, easily the best differential on the team.
 
20Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 22
Those who marvel at how different this team is compared to the run-and-gun style of past clubs led by Steve Nash need to look back to the December 2010 trade with Orlando as the source of the change. Phoenix parted ways with two shooters who live on the perimeter, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu. Then, during the offseason, the Suns cut ties with the long-range gunners they'd acquired, Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus, leaving center Marcin Gortat as the remaining asset from the deal (which also netted a first-round pick that the Suns traded, along with Goran Dragic, to Houston for Aaron Brooks last February). This year Gortat is the Suns' clear-cut second-best player, leading them in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentage -- which has altered their identity. Gortat, in his prime and soon-to-be 28, is a bargain at $6.8 million this season, $7.3 million next season and $7.7 million on a player option in 2013-14.
 
21New York Knicks
Last Week: 17
It is difficult to know where the bottom is for these fulminating Knicks, who have lost six in a row and embark on a four-game road trip this week. Despite obvious breakdowns on defense -- they continuously allowed basic bounce-pass layups in Saturday's double-overtime loss to Denver, which got 43 shots at the rim -- the offense is the cause of their current woes. Carmelo Anthony is a ball stopper. Amar'e Stoudemire has no point guard for pick-and-rolls and, with Tyson Chandler displacing him at center, has to take quicker power forwards off the dribble. The "point guards" have a score-first mentality and no court vision. The four Knicks averaging at least 10 shots per game have shooting percentages between 32.3 and 41.3. With home losses to Toronto, Charlotte, Phoenix and Milwaukee already on the books, these are perilous times for coach Mike D'Antoni.
 
22Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 24
It is easy to understand why the Kings are so unpredictable. The roster is talented but immature, with pieces that don't mesh together logically yet because the roles are, in chicken-or-egg fashion, both unclear and undefined. But the team is still capable of upsetting playoff contenders in successive games, as it did last week. Against Indiana, the Kings rode the playmaking of rookie Isaiah Thomas, the shooting of Francisco Garcia (both bottom-of-the-rotation players) and a staunch defense to a 26-8 fourth-quarter advantage in a win over Indiana. Two days later, Tyreke Evans suddenly rediscovered the all-purpose groove he played with as a rookie, getting 23 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a victory at San Antonio. Of course, the next night it was back to ineptitude via a 33-point loss to Memphis.
 
23Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 18
With his Steve Nash-like shooting accuracy (50 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line), it's tempting to anoint teenager Kyrie Irving a rookie sensation. But Irving has been unreliable with the ball and overmatched on defense. His combined 31 points against Chicago and Atlanta were obscured by his nine turnovers (versus five assists), and, worst of all, the 127 points the Cavs allowed in the 49:31 he was on the court (compared to the 108 they yielded in the 46:29 he sat). The Bulls' C.J. Watson and John Lucas were able to get wherever they wanted in Derrick Rose's absence, and Irving's defensive effort was more lethargic the next night against Atlanta's Jeff Teague. The entire Cavs team wilted and then quit in those two blowouts, especially on defense, but it was nevertheless disappointing to see Irving so exposed.
 
24Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 23
The roster is tailor-made to run and gun. Run your finger down the list of names -- Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Brandon Rush, Nate Robinson, Dorell Wright, David Lee, rookie Klay Thompson -- and you see a collection of scorers most comfortable filling it up in a transition game. But rookie coach Mark Jackson is trying to alter the team's culture more in the direction of defense and greater discipline. It is an uphill, perhaps fruitless battle that too often will result in a game like Monday's against Memphis. The Warriors executed their sets and allowed just 52 points through three quarters to go up by 16. Then they had nine turnovers and blew the game in the fourth quarter. No one should be surprised that Ellis and Curry collectively shot 18-for-30, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished 10 assists, committed 12 turnovers and shared the backcourt for nine minutes of a fourth quarter in which the Grizzlies exploded for 39 points. Either somebody in that backcourt needs to enjoy the harness or Jackson has to at least temporarily compromise his philosophy until more complementary personnel arrives.
 
25New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 29
When coach Avery Johnson was hired before last season, the abiding question was whether the notoriously demanding coach would have sufficient patience with a franchise coming off a 12-72 finish. Since then, Johnson has kept his outbursts to a minimum while doubling his team's victory total last season and holding to a similar winning percentage this year despite the loss of center Brook Lopez. He's also provided major minutes for MarShon Brooks despite the rookie's frequent lapses on defense, and he has remained even-keeled despite the obvious pressure to convince point guard Deron Williams that the team has enough existing talent and future promise to keep him in New Jersey beyond this season. In fact, an argument can be made that Johnson needs to light more of a fire under this team, especially as it takes the court. New Jersey's average first-quarter deficit of 6.9 points is at least three points worse than any other team's (Sacramento is 29th at minus-3.9).
 
26Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 25
There's no question that the Raptors' defense has improved dramatically under first-year coach Dwane Casey. But while Toronto has established itself among the league leaders in reducing opponents' field-goal percentage and limiting points in the paint, its defensive efficiency ranks only among the middle of the pack because it commits a lot of fouls and gets very few steals. The Raptors simply lack even one individual shut-down defender either in the paint or on the perimeter. On the other side of the ball, the Raptors rank last in offensive efficiency and desperately miss Andrea Bargnani, particularly his pick-and-roll partner Jose Calderon, who is a plus-6 in the 338 minutes he and Bargnani have been on the court together. With their leading scorer sidelined the last six games because of a sore calf, the Raptors are averaging fewer than 80 points. With or without Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan has been no help. The third-year guard is shooting 38 percent as Toronto has dropped eight in a row and 11 of 12.
 
27Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 27
The Pistons play the slowest pace and score the fewest points in the NBA. But when coach Lawrence Frank wanted to shake up his starting lineup last week, he inserted defensive stalwart Ben Wallace for Jonas Jerebko and reiterated his emphasis on defense, rebounding and limiting turnovers. Wallace proceeded to have more steals and blocks than shot attempts over the next four games. During the week, president Joe Dumars praised Frank for holding to his principles despite the team's anemic offense and poor record. In fairness to Frank and Dumars, Detroit was facing power forward matchups with Houston's Luis Scola, Minnesota's Kevin Love and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge; plus, Frank said another reason for the switch was to provide better balance between the first and second units. But the fact remains that 40 percent of the starting five for the 2004 NBA champions -- Wallace and Tayshaun Prince -- still is taking the floor for Detroit at the opening tip eight years later, for a 4-14 team that has no playoff prospects.
 
28New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 26
There are only so many close losses that can be endured before you stop praising a team for its effort and start wondering why it can't ever break through for a victory. That's the situation in New Orleans, where the Hornets have lost seven straight games by single-digit margins. Small forward Trevor Ariza's return has solidified the rotation, center Emeka Okafor remains a consummate professional patrolling the paint and point guard Jarrett Jack has anointed himself the team's go-to guy -- a hopefully temporary status that ends after Eric Gordon gets past his knee injury.
 
29Washington Wizards
Last Week: 30
Tuesday's firing of coach Flip Saunders was surprising only in that it didn't happen sooner. Saunders has always been better at on-court strategy than locker-room management, and it is apparent that the Wizards need a coach who can motivate before he tries to educate. Gifted but immature power forward Andray Blatche is owed more than $7 million annually through 2015 yet is showered with boos at home games for his inconsistency. Gifted but immature center JaVale McGee doesn't understand why it is wrong to toss the ball off the backboard to yourself for a dunk when your team is trailing in the third quarter. And gifted but immature point guard John Wall hasn't progressed as rapidly as expected for a No. 1 pick. Replacing Saunders with Randy Wittman, a Bobby Knight disciple who frequently castigated his players on the sidelines and to the media during his last head-coaching stint, in Minnesota, doesn't seem like the ideal solution.
 
30Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 28
Coach Paul Silas is a good soldier, but no miracle worker, and a hard look at this roster confirms the preseason suspicion that there is a glaring lack of reliable talent. Leading the team in minutes is Gerald Henderson, who has noticeably improved over the past year but would still be no more than a solid rotation player on a good team. Ditto, to a slightly lesser extent, for point guard D.J. Augustin and forward Boris Diaw, who are second and third in playing time. Tyrus Thomas and Corey Maggette are teasing talents who never stay healthy or disciplined enough to deliver on their potential. Of the rookies, Kemba Walker is an undersized shooting guard and 19-year-old Bismack Biyombo is a raw athlete who can jump out of the gym but will be faked into the air at the lift of an eyebrow. There is a reason this team is in the bottom five in offensive and defensive efficiency -- and it's not Silas.

 
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