NBA PM: Anderson, Bigs Lead Most-Improved Charge
It’s a shame Dwight Howard’s days with the Orlando Magic might be numbered, because he’s finally found the perfect partner in the post.
Magic power forward Ryan Anderson ranks 22nd in the NBA in scoring thanks to the spacing that Howard provides and his own shooting ability. The former Cal star is hitting 43.4% of his 3-point attempts this season, which tops his career best of 39.3%, but he’s also getting seven more minutes per game than he was last season, which explains the near-seven point improvement in his scoring average. He’s also averaging a career-best 7.3 RPG, which helps make up for the loss of Brandon Bass.
In fact, Anderson is making his case for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award by not only playing more minutes, but by doing more with the time he’s getting. Anderson’s Player Efficiency Rating has soared to 24.91 (the league average is 15 and he currently ranks ninth in this category) and his true shooting percentage is up to 61.6.
But Anderson isn’t the only breakout player over the season’s first few weeks.
Detroit center Greg Monroe is actually fifth in the entire NBA in PER (26.31) thanks to his improvements on the boards (15.0 rebounding rate this year, up from 16.5 last year), at the line (82.1% this year, 62.2% last year) and from the field (59.7% this year, 55.1% last year). He’s also registering an assist in 15.8% of his possessions, which is 12th among centers. Monroe is currently averaging 16.4 PPG and 9.2 RPG, but could still do more to improve his block totals (0.5 BPG).
The 76ers Spencer Hawes (see below) ranks third among centers with an assist rate of 21.8, but that’s not nearly as impressive as his 23.01 PER (17th in the NBA). He currently ranks just behind Suns center Marcin Gortat whose PER has risen to 23.13, thanks to a 62.1% clip from the field.
But not all of the Most Improved candidates are big men. Denver’s Corey Brewer ranks eighth in the NBA in PER (24.94) while San Antonio’s Daniel Green sits at 17th (21.77), although neither player is averaging 15 MPG.
The dark horse candidate is Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, whose PER is up to 22.26 because he’s blocking more shots (1.7 BPG), rebounding more (11 RPG) and scoring more (15.5 PPG). It appears the often-maligned big man is starting to learn to use his size. Cousins played 39 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Raptors while scoring 21 points and grabbing a career high 19 rebounds.
Obviously it’s a bit early to start handing out awards, but it’s nice to see some big guys improving in what has increasingly become a guards’ league.
76ers Keep Getting Deeper
The Philadelphia 76ers’ hot streak came to an end at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Without Most Improved Player-candidate Spencer Hawes (see above), who had a back strain, the Sixers offense floundered as they ultimately fell to the New York Knicks 85-79.
As strange as it sounds, Hawes, who has averaged 11.1 PPG and 9.1 RPG while shooting 61.8% from the field (second in the NBA) since discovering the paint, might be the most-irreplaceable piece of Doug Collins’ lineup.
Point guard Jrue Holiday is great, but Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner are both good distributors and Lou Williams is arguably the best backup point guard in the league, albeit one with a scorer’s mentality. Iggy and Turner’s skills are largely similar and even Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young primarily shoot from the same spots on the floor.
What the offense wasn’t able to replicate on Wednesday was the spacing that Hawes has given Philadelphia through the first few weeks of the season. However, that’s an issue that is quickly being rectified by first-round pick Nikola (Nik) Vucevic.
“Nik’s been excellent both offensively and defensively,” Brand told HOOPSWORLD. “He still has some things to learn like all rookies do, but he’s solid and he’s going to contribute to this team for the rest of the season.”
Vucevic, a seven-foot center from USC, isn’t going have to log huge minutes anytime soon. Hawes’ back problem doesn’t appear to be serious.
But what Vucevic has done in his limited playing time is enough to make you want to see more.
“When I get out on the court I just try to do whatever I can to help this team win,” Vucevic told HOOPSWORLD. “As a big I need to rebound and crash the boards on both ends of the floor, I help my team that way.”
Through eight games at 13.4 minutes per clip, Vucevic has shot 60.9% from the field while averaging 6.0 RPG and PPG. He also leads rookies in Player Efficiency Rating (21.88) and has rebounded 20.1% of missed shots while he’s on the floor, which is second among rookies behind Utah’s Enes Kanter.
But as good as Vucevic has looked when giving Hawes a breather, he’s cognizant enough to known his own strengths. Vucevic doesn’t feel the need to emulate anyone, including the Sixers’ big man.
“I just try to keep playing the way I always play,” Vucevic said. “I always want to be effective when I get out on the court, both on defense and on offense. I never try to do too much. I just try to be solid and help the team.”
The biggest change for Vucevic has been Collins’ system. Philadelphia averages 95.4 possessions per game (ninth in the NBA), but that’s just a composite figure. Collins’ players can actually play at a breakneck pace one moment, and a snail’s pace the next.
“It’s a much quicker game,” said Vucevic, who played in a slow, halfcourt offense with the Trojans. “I also had to get adjusted to the three-second defense. I’ve had to adjust to playing the amount of games we do in a short period of time. In college it’s a lot slower, but here you have to be quick and learn. I think I’ve done a pretty good job at that. Those things have been the biggest adjustments.”
Vucevic has the advantage of joining a rare NBA team that hasn’t experienced a lot of turnover. Philadelphia’s roster remains largely intact from a season ago, and he says that has given him a more precise framework to fit himself into.
“I think it makes it a lot easier for me to adjust,” Vucevic said. “All the guys know each other already so it’s easier for them to get to know me because it’s only Lavoy (Allen) and I that they have to get to know. Everyone’s been really great to me. They’re all helping me in every way. I think it’s because of them and the coaching staff that I’ve been able to adjust so well.”
Specifically, Vucevic is benefitting from Brand’s years of expertise. And unlike some of the NBA’s other veterans, Brand isn’t impatient or boorish. Instead, the 76ers power forward has been a positive, encouraging voice for Vucevic.
“Whether I make a mistake or I do something well, he’s always telling me how I can improve,” Vucevic said. “If he sees that I need some help adjusting to something he tells me. He and Tony Battie and Spencer (Hawes) and all the other bigs have helped me a lot with the three-second rule and how to guard in the post. They help me with whatever I need help with.”
Vucevic was perhaps at his most valuable in Monday’s 96-86 win over the Pacers in which he had a career-high 11 points (hey, he’s played in eight games) and eight boards. He also hit a 3-pointer, which could add a new dimension to his game.
“He’s versatile but he’s not afraid of the post,” Brand said. “He has post moves. He can shoot the ball, he can pass the ball and defensively he’s quick.
“He definitely helps this team,” Brand concluded.
Morrow-for-Mayo Not Happening
There has been some rumors floating around that the Memphis Grizzlies and New Jersey Nets were engaged in negotiations for an O.J. Mayo-Anthony Morrow swap, but league sources have told HOOPSWORLD that the talks never really went anywhere because the Nets didn’t have much interest.
The presence of rookie MarShon Brooks would mean Mayo, who has a similar style, would be redundant on the Nets roster.
Do the Knicks Have a Technical Problem?
New York’s Big 3 of Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire have already committed a combined nine technical fouls (three apiece) and those figures will be crucial as the season progresses. Yes this is a condensed season, but all three players will need to hold their emotions in check or risk facing a suspension if they accrue a 16th tech.
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