Biggest rookie surprise: Michael Stewart, Kings. He's a former Sacramento ball boy who went undrafted out of Cal but has blossomed into a gifted rebounder and shot blocker at center. He also lives with his parents. Too good to be true?
Biggest rookie bust: Tony Battie, Nuggets. It seems almost criminal to pick on a kid who's already been sentenced to toiling for Denver. But the 6'11", 240-pound Battie has failed to prove himself at either power forward or center despite ample playing time. It's a bad sign when you're a top five pick and can't make the rookie all-star game roster.
Most predictable swoon: The Hawks' 18-20 record after an 11-0 start. "I was angry at the comments made by the media, who said we would be collapsing very soon," says center Dikembe Mutombo, "but then we went out and proved them right."
Most sobering reality check: Charles Barkley's being left off the All-Star team and acknowledging that he didn't deserve a spot. Maybe Sir Charles should retire after all.
Worst free-agent signing: Nick Anderson, Magic. Orlando believed that once Anderson's broken left hand healed, he'd recover his aggressiveness. He hasn't.
Best free-agent signing: Sherman Douglas, Nets. With Cleveland picking up all of his $4 million salary, New Jersey is paying only the minimum ($272,500) for this backup point guard. Douglas saved the day when Sam Cassell was out with a shoulder injury, and he can play just as effectively alongside Sudden Sam.
Most unwatchable soap opera: As the Sixers Turn Allen used to think Larry was god, but that was before Larry made Allen's life hell and tried to ship him off to Toronto so Larry could convert Damon instead. But Damon said he wouldn't go where Allen played, no offense to Larry, and would rather become Rudy's disciple in Houston. So now Allen wonders how he can ever please Larry. We knew where this story was headed in November, didn't we?
Bryant Shows No Restraint
We always suspected that 19-year-old Lakers star-Kobe Bryant had no fear. We now know he has no conscience. The youngest player in All-Star history confessed he was a "nervous man" before the tip-off on Sunday night. Right He was so jittery that the first time he touched the ball, he streaked toward the hoop for the first of his 16 shots, daring Michael Jordan to stop him. "Had to," Bryant explained afterward, "or he would have killed me. The only tiling he understands is aggressiveness."
Bryant's trigger-happy approach might have prompted his West teammates to freeze him out, an All-Star tactic used to put upstarts in their place. But Bryant spent the weekend charming the old pros with his exuberance and his reverence for the game. Even Jordan, the game's MVP, spared the kid his legendary tongue-lashing while burying jumper after jumper. "Michael did talk to me, actually," Bryant says. "He gave me some helpful tips."