Five Fighters out of the Gates:
Chris Paul- Season: 15.4pts 4.8rbs 4.8ast 2stls. Best game: 26pts 5rbs 3ast, 10-14fg
The Good: Paul has been as good as advertised thus far and then some, leading the Hornets to a surprising 2-3 record early in the season, and putting himself in prime position next to Andrew Bogut as the early favorites for Rookie of the Year. Paul has been the primary ball handler for his team and has a very respectable 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio so far. His outside shot has been very strong with his feet set and that perimeter threat has allowed Paul to penetrate opposing defenses on strong drives to hoop where he has taken full advantage of the collapsing defenses.
The Bad: Shot selection and turnovers are the two main concerns for Paul at this stage in the season. Paul drives aggressively to the hoop, but his recognition of defensive rotations is not developed enough at this pointwhich is really not surprising five games into the season learning the toughest position the NBA has to offer. Although Paul is explosive and fairly strong for his size he is getting swallowed inside on the defensive rotations and that is leading to a majority of his turnovers.
Outlook: Its difficult to over analyze any trends in play this early in the season, so there shouldnt be too much cause for concern as far as Pauls decision making goes, especially considering the team he plays for. Paul has broken out the full arsenal of floaters, reverse-lay ups, and every other crafty attack move in his bag of tricks, showing without a doubt that it wont be his size that holds him back from making a big impact in the NBA. Pauls body control and vision are superb when he takes to the air allowing Chris to bail himself out of tough situations in mid-air. Like most players making the transition to pro ball, Paul needs to work on his 3 point range as it seems just out of his natural range thus far. Still, Paul gets good arc on his shot and his form remains solid. Id expect Pauls play to continually improve all season as recognition and repetition are all he needs at this point.
Sarunas Jasikevicius- Season: 6.2pts 1.8rbs 1.7ast 1.3steals. Best game: 9pts 4rbs 2stls
The Good: Saras is filling in the back up guard role with the poise and confidence youd expect from a 3 time MVP. In limited minutes Saras has shot judiciously but well, hitting 52% from the field, 46% from 3, and 100% from the line. Over the last few games hes found himself on the court late in the game as he and his teammates have gotten more familiar with one another. During Indianas game against Miami Saras hit the game sealing shot with time running down to cap off an impressive road victory for the Pacers, which fits in perfectly with his reputation as one of the most clutch players seen on any stage over the past few years.
The Bad: Saras was known as a notoriously poor defender during his time in Europe and that reputation is a sure factor in the Pacers reluctance to completely replace the unspectacular Anthony Johnson in the rotation. Saras has still been getting 17 minutes per game, and better than 22 minutes over the last 3 games. Given the amount of court time he has received its a bit surprising to see how tentative hes been on the offensive end, although the change in playing style from the Euroleague to the NBA highlights this a bit more than it probably should. Considering his reputation as a lethal offensive player the lack of shot attempts in the early going has been a bit of a mystery. Its possible that he might be trying to endear himself to his teammates first and foremost before slowly establishing himself as a clear cut offensive option for his team.
Outlook: Saras is slowly working his way up the food chain in Indiana and the trust and familiarity between he and his teammates is growing by the game. Although he hasnt been overly aggressive thus far Id expect him to quickly move up the hierarchy of shooters on this team and start contributing more. The Pacers have been running quite a bit of double point guard backcourts, something that is very similar to how Saras played in Macabbi where he was along side Anthony Parker and Tal Burstein, two tall and athletic ball-handling combo guards. The more Saras plays, the greater his level of aggressiveness will become as long as the coaching staff shows a willingness to utilize his strengths as a player.
Jarrett Jack- Season: 4.4pts 2rbs 3.8ast. Best game: 10pts 3rbs 4asts.
The Good: Jack has settled very nicely into the back up point guard role behind Sebastian Telfair, beating out the more veteran Steve Blake in the process by endearing himself to Portlands no-nonsense and defensive minded coach Nate McMillan. While Telfair is more flashy, Jack is more polished, consistent, and has so far looked more comfortable with his role on the court. Jack has shown excellent court vision, racking up a season high 7 assists against Detroit. He has the ability to set up the offense from the top of the arc or drive down the lane hard and still find the open man. Jack has also been extremely careful with the ball, only turning it over twice so far, and has handled the ball steadily and confidently during his time on the court.
The Bad: Jacks shooting is a bit misleading, as a 1 for 8 performance against New York has really skewed his shooting percentage. However, Jack hasnt looked comfortable shooting the 3 pointer. The ball has flattened out on his deep attempts as if hes pushing the ball at the basket instead of shooting up and out. After the poor shooting game against the Knicks, Jack passed up a number of open shots in the Detroit game and really didnt look for his own offense much, though he did make up for that with an impressive assist total.
Outlook: With Telfairs erratic shooting and sometimes out of control play limiting his effectiveness, Jack will see plenty of court time for the Blazers. Jacks size also allows him to play at shooting guard, which Portland has done on a number of occasions. Jacks defense is already NBA caliber and the speed of the pro game hasnt effected his play at all. If anything Jack has shown a surprisingly deft grasp of Portlands offense and should increase his production significantly as the season progresses.
Jose Calderon- Season: 8.6pts 1.6rbs 6.2asts. Best game: 20pts 7asts.
The Good: Calderon has shown a great sense of court awareness for the young Raptors, sporting an impressive 6 to 1 assist/turnover ratio early in the season. Much more of a natural point guard then Mike James, Calderon has learned his teammates tendencies very quickly and has already had 2 double digit assist games. Selective with his shots, Calderon has hit 57% of his attempts so far.
The Bad: The fault I can find in Calderons season to date is the turnover he had late in Sundays overtime battle against the Sonics. For the most part, Calderon has filled in and run the offense very well. He has yet to adapt himself to the NBA 3 point line, but that should come with time and experience as well.
Outlook: Calderon is providing strong competition for the starting point guard job to Mike James. A natural set up artist, Calderon makes the game easier for his teammates and has a rhythm to his game that teammates can pick up on quickly. The Raptors have a lot of young talent and Calderon may be the type of floor general that can bring it all together as his experience overseas has groomed him for such a role.
David Lee- Season: 7pts, 8.5rbs. Best game: 8pts 11rbs
The Good: Lee found himself the beneficiary of Larry Browns dysfunctional New York traveling circus for a couple games last week and really stepped up. A relentless worker, Lee is in perpetual motion on the court and picked up 5 offensive rebounds for his effort in only 18 minutes of play against the Warriors. Lee can pass very well for a player his size and the ball handling ability allows him to penetrate for fouls or finishes at the rack.
The Bad: Lee still has a shaky jumper and with the interior play of New Yorks frontcourt itll be difficult for him to get consistent minutes on the wing when all the other options can help space the floor better than him. Lees rough stroke also costs him at the free throw line, too much of his hard work is being negated by the points he leaves at the line.
Outlook: Lees size, athleticism, and basketball IQ make him a very intriguing prospect for the future of the Knicks. New York has a bunch of veteran spare parts to sort through before Lee gets his turn in the main rotation, but knowing Larry Browns impatience with players who dont hustle, Lee will surely get his chance to prove himself again. Lee has many of the qualities that Brown looks for in a player, so if he can improve his jumper hell be on the floor soon after.
Spotlight Match-up of the Week: Jarrett Jack vs. Chauncey Billups
1st Half: Jack was matched up against Maurice Evans in the first half and had little trouble working around the larger Evans as he got to where he wanted to be with the ball. Jack played more off of the ball with Telfair at the point guard position and didnt do anything aggressive or spectacular with the ball, acting more as a hub for ball movement than a playmaker.
2nd Half: Jack faired much better in the second half of the game, using his strength and quickness to stay in front of Billups and limit his penetration. On offense Jack maintained his aggressiveness and utilized his strength to bull his way into the paint where he dropped a number of beautiful assists. Jack had a strong drive late in the game off a steal from Billups and drew the defense on the break where he dropped the ball off to a closing Miles, who was fouled. Jack had numerous assists off the dribble and was able to move around the court fairly easily despite the presence of Billups. When Jack was cut off he didnt force any action, instead hed calmly pass out of the trouble and await the return of the ball for the reset. He finished the game with 7 assists in just 19 minutes, but only took one shot in the game, which he missed.
Play of the Game: Jack played Billups tough all night, helping out in holding him to 5-14 shooting for the game. Near the mid fourth quarter Billups tried to drive from the right baseline. Jack anticipated the move nicely and squared his body to block the oncoming Billups. Chauncey attempted to plant his foot for a hard stop into the pull-up jumper. Jack was quick on the reaction and stepped in toward Billups as he made his move. Billups foot caught the edge of Jacks and his elevation was weak. Jack sent the weak fade-away attempt into the fourth row.