FIGHTING FOR AN EDGE
Why has the Hornets' David West emerged as one of the NBA's top young forwards despite often playing against bigger, more athletic players? The 6'9", 240-pound West, the No. 18 pick in the 2003 draft, credits his love of boxing. "It gives me confidence in my physical abilities," says West, 26, who averaged 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. "It's a serious thing that boxers do; it gives you a different edge."
Since his college years at Xavier, West (right) has spent his summers working out with boxers, punching the heavy bag and—very occasionally—sparring. Those experiences taught him how to mix it up inside against Western Conference giants like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. "His footwork, his timing, all that stuff from boxing equates to basketball," says Hornets coach Byron Scott. "David has a very high basketball IQ, and his determination has something to do with it too."
The Hornets are counting on the more offensive-minded West to complement shot blocking center Tyson Chandler for a long time; the team recently signed West to a five-year, $45 million extension. When his NBA days are over, however, don't expect West to try boxing as a second career, like former player Kendall Gill. "I'm way smarter than that," West says. "You play basketball, you play football, but you don't play boxing."
WHO IS ... YAKHOUBA DIAWARA?
He's a 6'7", 225-pound Frenchman who went undrafted after graduating from Pepperdine in 2005, then transformed himself from a low-post forward into a wing player last season while playing in Europe, where he drew the attention of Nuggets director of international scouting Masai Ujiri. Diawara impressed the Denver coaching staff during an extended summer-league audition in July, and though the Mavericks offered him more money, he signed a two-year deal with the Nuggets out of gratitude for the opportunity they gave him. "I thought it would take me two years to get in the NBA," says Diawara, a 24-year-old rookie. "To do it in one is surprising."
Diawara (left) played a total of 43 minutes in Denver's first two games. Though he made just two of nine shots (missing all four three-pointers), the Nuggets are confident that he'll develop his offensive skills. "He can guard anybody from point guards to bigs, and that's how he gets in the game right now," says Nuggets VP of basketball operations Mark Warkentien. "If you look at similar dirty-dog defenders like Bruce Bowen and Michael Curry, they came in as nonshooters and ended up being competent shooters."
3 Mark Cuban's promise to keep his nose out of league affairs reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer hopelessly repeats the mantra, "Serenity now," before unloading on a roomful of computers. Eventually, Cuban will blow up.
2 As it was for Michael Jordan, so shall it be for Kobe Bryant. As the talent around Bryant improves and the Lakers win more games, the complaints that he doesn't involve his teammates will fade away.