Top pick Davis impressive thus far for Hornets
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The overall No. 1 pick in the NBA draft usually doesn’t win Rookie of the Year.
Yes, Kyrie Irving did last season. Blake Griffin won after missing a year and Derrick Rose did also win, in 2008. But it’s no guarantee. Elton Brand, the No. 1 overall pick in 2000 by the Bulls, tied with Steve Francis. Between 2001 and 2007, only LeBron James in 2003-04 was No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year. Some of the No. 1 overall picks since 1989 include Pervis Ellison, Joe Smith, Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown.
But I’ll take an early shot that Chicagoan Anthony Davis is going to parlay the top overall pick into this season’s Rookie of the Year award. I haven’t seen all the rookies play yet and it is a bit early for many predictions. But I was thinking about this watching Dwight Howard’s Lakers’ debut Sunday night against the Kings. You could barely find Thomas Robinson, the No. 5 overall pick, an undersized power forward with not much NBA game as yet. I see No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as expected, works hard and is likeable. But he can’t score. Bradley Beal looks OK, though not quite ready. And Dion Waiters at No. 4 has been all over the place with shooting.
If there’s an early challenger to Davis, it’s Portland point guard Danian Lillard, who is the leading rookie scorer at 16 per game. He’s been un-rookie like, though as a scoring point guard still a bit unsure of his role with a team in transition with some veterans. He looks like a good one. Predictably after that it’s a dropoff with Harrison Barnes slated off the bench for now and various forms of obvious inconsistency for most of the rookies after that from Royce White’s personal issues to the Pistons’ hopes for Andre Drummond. Yes, if you are trading for lottery picks there’s not much after the top five or six, generally.
Austin Rivers, picked No. 10 to join Davis in New Orleans, has shoot horribly and is in obvious need of the weight room and an NBA body. He’s way too young to be ready yet.
But Davis has been impressive. He opened up with a 22 and nine game, and around a slight groin strain that cost him a game he’s averaging 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds, third in scoring among rookies. Someone named Chris Copeland, a 28-year-old European veteran rookie with the Knicks, is second at 15.5. Actually, one of the surprises so far has been Perry Jones, the 28th pick from Baylor who was said to have motivation issues. But he’s worked hard for the Thunder and proven a Kevin Durant-type athlete and versatile scorer. Jared Sullinger at No. 21 also has been good for Boston in a reserve role and I’ve liked Andrew Nicholson with the Magic at No. 19.
But Davis has been so good the Hornets also have played him at small forward some, one of three front court positions he’s played. His defense on the wing has been good and he’s been shooting 20-footers consistently. And he’s done well against more physical players, like Josh Smith and Al Horford against the Hawks. Which should make it two Chicagoan Rookie of the Year guys in the last five years. And Jabari Parker supposedly in 2014-15.
Stoudemire’s quickly aging knees acting up already
-- I feel Amar’e Stoudemire’s pain. Actually, I did. I had a Baker’s cyst, the latest setback for Stoudemire, who turns 30 next month. Though his knees are at least 50. I had my Baker cyst when I was in my 50s. It’s not a young man’s knee problem. It results in major swelling, an inability to walk much and does take about two to three weeks with a compression bandage to cure. I recall going to a medical supply store where I was the youngest customer. Stoudemire will return next month. But my guess is not for long with those quickly aging knees. No truth to reports Carmelo Anthony injected the cyst while Stoudemire was sleeping. But Stoudemire’s just a statistic in the larger preseason NBA story, which has been injuries as much as anything. And no lockout and short season. What do you know, guys do get hurt.
LA’s Howard not the only one returning from injury
The big story Sunday was the return of Dwight Howard after back surgery last season as his recovery turns out to be much quicker than the crippled Magic’s. Heading into this season, the NBA because of injury and various surgeries will be missing three of the top 10 scorers from last season (Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love, the latter apparently a victim of knuckle pushups too close to luggage) and three of the top 10 assist leaders in Rose, Ricky Rubio and John Wall. Others stumbling into the season include Stephen Curry with another ankle setback the Warriors say isn’t serious but are holding him out of the rest of preseason; Andrew Bogut, still recovering from his broken body; Eric Gordon, who is working out by trying to jump over his money; Andrew Bynum, who turns out only is healthy in short seasons and should be strong after the next lockout and Nene, who seems recovered only from his cancer. Which is the good news. And starting for the Knicks at power forward? Yes, Kurt Thomas, who barely played from 1996 to 1998 when he was considered too brittle for the NBA. Which, I guess, means there’s hope. Just ask Clippers starting forward Grant Hill, who missed most of four seasons between 2000 and 2006.
NBA news and notes
-- One of the bargains of the season could be Andray Blatche, who is averaging 12.8 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes and shooting about 56 percent for the Nets on a minimum deal. The problem never was his basketball but his attitude. Blatche took the number zero because he told reporters, “Everybody thought I was going to be out of the league. Zero reminds me I didn’t have any support system outside of my immediate family, nobody who thought I was going to bounce back and get on another team.” Yeah, he was let down by the Wizards, who still are paying him about $23 million the next three years not to play for them after having previously restructured his contract to give him a $35 million guarantee at 24 and traded Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler to accommodate him with more opportunities. You hate when players are treated so badly by franchises. Blatche said the zero also honors Gilbert Arenas, currently out of basketball. Well, maybe Blatche isn’t quite back yet. ... The 76ers have an interesting plan, sort of a copy of the Spurs of the early 2000’s. The 76ers have been shooting close to 50 percent on threes in the preseason with Jason Richardson, Nick Young and Dorell Wright. It’s worked so far, but it won’t for long as the plan is to have Andrew Bynum in the post drawing the attention to open the perimeter as the Spurs did in the early 2000’s around Tim Duncan. Duncan was a bit healthier, though. ... You sort of wish Jeff Green hadn’t put it that way to the Boston Herald: “I’m going to go out there and play my heart out for this team until this team is on top and winning a championship.” But while many look to others that had anterior cruciate surgery regarding Derrick Rose’s return, perhaps the mental part of coming back can best be learned from someone like Green, who underwent heart surgery last year and has been impressive in preseason for Boston. Said Green: “It’s kind of taking a chance. It’s like people skydiving. You never know what’s going to happen. You’ve just got to have faith that everything’s going to work out well. I use that with my knowledge in basketball. I’ve worked hard to get back to the position I’m in — being back on the court and in the shape I’m in, my skill set coming back to where it’s at. It’s me taking a chance and just going out there and playing basketball. I’m not going to be perfect. I’ve just got to go out there and play hard and trust that things will work out. Some days I’m going to feel good, some days I’m going to feel bad. I can’t worry about it too much because then you stress yourself out. But I’m probably healthier than most everybody in the gym because of the procedure I went through. Whenever the doctor says it’s OK or they feel good, they have to put it past them and just go out there and play like you were never hurt. My time came maybe around July when I started playing. I figured I was fine. I was in pretty decent enough shape where I could go out there and play, and I figured that I can’t worry about what’s going to happen. I mean, the doctors gave me the OK, and I’d been checked up on two or three times prior to that date. I just had to go out there and play basketball, just put my faith in God and let whatever happens happen. My body had to learn everything all over again, so I just went all out and now I’m in the shape I’m in today. I’m happy with the results.” The stakes are obviously different with Rose given Green was facing life and death and not just life and death of a career. But I suspect the sentiment has to be the same.
-- Chris Copeland, the Michael Jordan of Belgium last season, put up 34 for the Knicks Saturday night, which makes Northwestern’s John Shurna a long, long shot for the Knicks’ last roster spot. Copeland’s a 28-year-old who played at Colorado and most of Europe as well as the D-league. Meanwhile, given the way older people take those falls, he could be starting before too long. The Knicks are said to be keeping artificial hips at courtside this season. ... Former Bull Ronnie Brewer is due back from injury to start at shooting guard for the Knicks this week. ... Fellow former Bull Kyle Korver has been mostly starting at small forward in the rotating Hawks lineups and averaging almost 10 points in about 20 minutes. ... The only two players averaging at least 10 rebounds in the preseason are Omer Asik and Joakim Noah with Asik first at 11 in 24 minutes. Brook Lopez is sixth at nine per game, which used to be his total for a month. I’m saying it’s the Brooklyn knishes. ... The Celtics with the sharp additions to their depth including Leandro Barbosa last week surely are talking enough already. Rajon Rondo said earlier in camp this team was better than the 2008 champions and coach Doc Rivers didn’t disagree last week, telling the Boston Herald, “I’d put us up against anybody (this season). We are deeper. I think we’re more versatile. I think we have a true small lineup when we want one now. And I think we can sustain an injury. You know, Kevin (Garnett) and Paul were a little younger, so you’ve got to factor in that (about the 2008 comparison), but I think from one through 10, for sure, we’re pretty good.” And they were leading Miami 3-2 in the conference finals last season with half their roster hurt. You always assume the defending champion is the favorite. But Miami got away with playing that small lineup and hasn’t done anything to address their lack of size. The Celtics believe that will prove fatal. ... Is Paul George going for a breakout season? The reluctant scorer who is a brilliant athlete and defender has been among the leading preseason scorers as the Pacers feel they are just a jump by George from joining the best in the East.
-- There’s a lot of soccer talk in the Bulls locker room with Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli and Vladimir Radmanovic. Probably Nate Robinson, too, since he’s particularly eclectic and is always talking. And you wonder how that’s gone of late with free agent Marko Jaric involved in a wild ruckus with the media in England over a tweet (be careful out there) after an African-American player for England allegedly endured racist taunts in a game in Serbia. The media accused Jaric in his tweet of suggesting England has no right to criticize anyone with its history of hooliganism and slavery while Jaric is insisting he’s being misunderstood. Good rule: Don’t get in a fight with the tabloid press over there. Unless you are ready for a revolution. I think Jefferson said that. ... You probably can get the Pistons Austin Daye, assuming you care to, as he seems the odd man out in the rotation. ... Ray Allen did interviews with all the South Florida reporters who follow the team regularly last week amidst an ESPN story about how his allegedly poor relationship with Rajon Rondo led to him leaving for the Heat. Allen offered an interesting tidbit about Rondo not being liked by management (Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers) and the Celtics having a deal in 2009 with the Suns to trade Allen and Rondo for Stoudemire, Barbosa and a No. 1 pick. It’s no secret the Celtics several times tried to trade Rondo, including for Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, though that’s changed with Rondo now the team’s star. Interesting, though, regarding the curious Suns, who drafted Rondo and traded his rights for draft picks to save money. This summer after previously dealing Goran Dragic for Aaron Brooks they paid $30 million to get Dragic back in free agency. ... Tyrus Thomas with 14 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to the Pistons Saturday. Had to mention that as I usually note Tyrus’ zeroes. Yes, he’ll tempt them like he did the Bulls. He was one in four then. Now more like one in 10. The Bobcats, by the way, come into the season with 23 straight losses, four from setting a new NBA record. ... The Lakers got Dwight Howard back Sunday, but they kept alive their record of going winless in the preseason in falling to 0-6, the only winless team in the league. Of course, that’s hardly stopping Ron Artest from predicting the Lakers this season would break the Bulls 72-10 record. Even Miami’s Dwyane Wade was shaking his head. Said Wade to Florida reporters: “Anything is possible. Would it be very hard? Yes, it would be very hard. The game today, with how many good teams are in this league, that’s almost or as close to impossible as you can get. What the Bulls did that year is special. Think about that, losing 10 games. They lost something like four at the All-Star break. That’s crazy. You talk to the older guys who played back then and they can kind of tell you that they won it off strictly intimidation. They were like the Mike Tyson of basketball. He was young and he just walked in the ring and your were scared.”
-- Poor Gerald Wallace. At $9.7 million, he’s the lowest paid Brooklyn Nets starter. The Nets’ starting lineup makes more than $70 million this season, more than two thirds of the teams in the league total payroll. As for Wallace, he could have bought both the Dodgers in 1957 with that salary (worth about $3 million) and paid for a proposed domed stadium (the first ever and obviously not built) that was to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. It was supposed to be built at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, but was stopped by Robert Moses, a notorious New York urban planning official who remains Brooklyn’s most hated man for being responsible for the bad exodus. He demanded sports development in Flushing Meadow, where the Mets landed. The site where the Dodgers couldn’t move into their domed stadium: Where the Nets’ Barklays Center was built (yes, we’re still bitter). ... The NBA’s latest old fogyism is the new 90-second rule after introductions to start the game instead of clapping chalk and stuff like that. So there was Tim Duncan, king of NBA hip hop, being warned last week to speed up his pregame ritual of hugging the ball. I’m not sure that to make of this, but if Tim Duncan isn’t politically correct this may be a problem. ... While Omer Asik produces and doesn’t much talk (I’ve yet to see a quote in the Houston media), Jeremy Lin is talking and not doing much, shooting 25 percent and averaging 5.8 points in 25 minutes in a poor preseason. It’s going to be tough to live up to that New York hype. He’s better than not being able to play in the NBA, but hardly a worldwide phenomenon. New York media have delighted in Lin’s struggles with at least one report Houston coaches are upset with Lin (not true, but in New York media it’s about the next story, not the last one). ... With Dirk Nowitzki out until at least Thanksgiving with knee surgery and a second straight season of knee problems, it’s going to be tough for the Mavs to even make the playoffs. ... One of the more puzzling talents in the NBA is Rudy Gay, an incredible athlete who seems to do just less than you imagine. Technically what keeps Gay from being one of the best in the league is his limited ballhandling. But it’s also a seeming lack of drive, which Gay insists never has been the case. Still, he is determined to change his image and with that the Grizzlies fortunes. Said Gay to the Memphis Appeal: "I don't intend to take any (preseason) games off. I'll play in all eight. It can't do anything but make me better." ... George Karl supposedly is leaning toward Kosta Koufos as starting center. What the heck is going on with JaVale McGee? ... Adam Morrison is trying not to see his NBA bubble burst in an apparently last shot at the NBA in Portland, where he’s averaging three points in about nine minutes per game. The one-time high lottery pick whose anterior cruciate surgery changed his career did draw some attention in a player interview segment on the scoreboard when players are asked whether they prefer showers or bubble baths and Morrison was the first to choose bubble bath.
-- Where have we heard this one before? James Johnson has been starting for the Kings at small forward, and general manager Geoff Petrie said, "I think James has the potential to really help us defensively. His perimeter game needs to get better, but there are a lot of good parts to his game. He's active, he blocks shots, he takes pride in his defense." Yes, we remember that guy. Johnson was scoreless in 21 minutes Sunday night in the Kings win over the Lakers. Meanwhile, he’s obviously a risk and a bit unstable, but DeMarcus Cousins was impressive handling himself well against both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. And the Lakers really were trying to win playing all the starters more than 30 minutes in a tight rotation whike the Kings used mostly reserves after halftime. Does Mike Brown make it to Christmas? ... The Kings’ arena will now be the Sleep Train Mattress Center. A place to fall asleep. It’s OK, the Jazz arena is named for a landfill. ... Jamal Crawford is shooting 48 percent in the preseason while his career average is just above 40. Crawford said he decided for the first summer ever to practice shooting. What an idea. Crawford told the L.A. Times: “This summer was actually the first summer I worked on my game. I usually just play off of raw talent." ... Vinny Del Negro said Lamar Odom is so out of shape they are limiting his play. See, that season in Dallas was a fluke. ... Dwight Howard now says it’s a dream to be with the Lakers, which suggests resigning him may not be that difficult. Said Howard: "I thank God every day that they sent me to L.A. This is the best situation that I've been in. I'm so thankful and so happy. And now I get an opportunity to do something great. I'm just happy about it." Now that’s what you call magic. ... Meanwhile, there’s been an intriguing scenario being floated lately, ostensibly by the Lakers, that LeBron James could opt out when he is eligible in 2014 and sign with the Lakers in the summer of 2014 when Kobe Bryant’s contract expires. Bryant has alluded to retirement then in some media reports, though has since scoffed at that. LeBron to the Lakers was my plan when LeBron was leaving Cleveland and I have since heard the Lakers considered it but decided they could not follow through because of Kobe. But Bryant will be 36 in 2014 with more than 50,000 NBA minutes on his legs, which he’s had treated in Germany. The Lakers, by the way, have only Steve Nash on the payroll after 2014. Of course, that all could be a dodge to make sure Howard with the hope of the Lakers adding another star would resign with them next summer. But there’s also the speculation that Dwyane Wade, after knee surgery this summer and numerous early career injuries, will break down over the next two years with the Heat only adding aging veterans. Then James goes to join Howard and win those seven titles Kobe is striving for to pass Michael Jordan. James would only be turning 30, and who needs to be propping up Wade then. So Miami breaks up, Chris Bosh returns to Atlanta, where he played in college and they are clearing cap space, and Wade goes back home to Chicago to provide that veteran presence for Derrick Rose. You never say never in the NBA, as we know.