This article is part of our Hoops Lab series.
The Hoops Lab
By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer
The Future and the Forgotten Man
High school phenom. Spent a year absolutely dominating at the college level, clearly the best player in the country. Would have been a No. 1 overall pick in most years, but was competing with a once-in-a-generation physical talent that no one could pass on. Entered the NBA as a 19-year old and immediately became a 20-point scorer. He scores so effortlessly that many are calling him the "Ice Man" Gervin or Alex English of this generation. By the end of his second season, it's clear that this 20-year old small forward has the skills to win multiple scoring titles before all is said and done.
Today, this description fits Kevin Durant to a T. Pretty much everyone loves his talent and expects him to take the NBA by storm in the very near future. Bill Simmons has detailed his man-crush on Durant in several articles, and even yours truly felt the need to blog about the way Durant is exploding this season. But four years ago, you could have written the same opening verbatim about a player that you hardly ever hear mentioned anymore.
Carmelo Anthony has a high school and college pedigree perhaps even stronger than Durant's, and his production at age 19 and 20 looked almost exactly like what Durant is doing today (seriously, check it out). Anthony's Nuggets have never missed the playoffs in his NBA career, and this season they are on pace for their second straight 50-win season. Anthony is still only 24 years old, and has already fulfilled much of the scoring potential that Durant is just starting to scratch. So, how come nobody ever talks about Anthony as the future of the NBA anymore the way that they do for Durant?
Well, some of it is that Anthony was unlucky enough to be drafted in 2003, sandwiched in the draft between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. While the "phenom" of Durant's class, Greg Oden, has been struggling through injury in his first two NBA seasons, the phenoms of Anthony's class have completely overshadowed him with championship experience and likely soon-to-be MVP trophies to go with the gold medal they all shared.
Some of it is that Anthony has made some questionable decisions through the years that have led to bad publicity and/or suspensions that have tarnished his reputation a bit. So much of superstardom is driven by the media and endorsements, and right now Durant's squeaky clean image gets him more commercial time and glowing articles than Anthony's somewhat spotted rep.
But most of it is just that Durant is the "new thing". People have seen Anthony for six seasons now. We know that he can be a 30 ppg scorer and get his team to the playoffs, but he has yet to get out of the first round or make any serious inroads to contention the way LeBron and Wade have. People know that Anthony has played with a superstar in Allen Iverson and question why that wasn't enough to get to the second round, not paying as much attention to the fact that pairing two huge scoring perimeter players was likely never going to end well. Even the Nuggets' increased success this season is attributed more to the acquisition of Chauncey Billups than to anything that Melo is doing differently.
I don't want to give the impression that Durant and Anthony are the same player, because they aren't. Durant is 6-10 and lanky where Anthony is 6-8 and stocky. Durant has a beautiful long-range jumper out to 30-feet, while Anthony is much more comfortable working the 15-foot mid-range game. Durant's length and ball-handling skills give him a bit more upside to be an all-around producer, and he plays for a Thunder team that has built its entire franchise specifically around him. But we shouldn't overlook the fact that Anthony has a knack for winning that Durant has never shown. Durant was the NCAA Player of the Year, but Anthony led his team to the National Title. Durant has put up excellent numbers for a Thunder team that as-yet has never won more than 20 games in his tenure, whereas Anthony's Nuggets have been in the playoffs from his rookie year on. Anthony also has an Olympic Gold Medal and played a big role on the Redeem team. Durant is a great young prospect with a heck of a future in front of him, but people should not forget that there is another young small forward in the West that will likely be challenging him for those scoring crowns over the next several seasons.
Situations to watch and Quick Hits
The Flash slowed by injury:Dwyane Wade has been dealing with a variety of nagging injuries of late, and it finally caught up with him when his strained right hip forced him out of action on Wednesday against the Celtics. There is some concern that the hip sprain may also be affecting his groin and abdomen, so he could also miss Friday's game and would be considered day-to-day after that.
No KG no D: Boston has had a historically good defense for the last two seasons when anchored by Kevin Garnett, but without him it falls off the table. The Celtics have given up only 91.5 ppg in the 53 games Garnett has started this year, but 99.6 ppg in their 16 games without him. Garnett is expected to be back as soon as this weekend, but until he's back to full speed it may be a good idea to start players against the Celtics.
Duncan sitting 2nd night of back-to-backs: Duncan was given the night off on Tuesday against the Timberwolves, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that he wants to limit the number of back-to-back games that Duncan plays down the stretch. This plan undoubtedly includes giving Duncan more rest during blowouts. Obviously, this is something you'll have to monitor, so be on the look out for back-to-backs and plan accordingly.
Harris sidelined, Carter and Dooling stepping up:Devin Harris is sidelined with both a sprained left shoulder and a strained deltoid muscle. Both of these injuries will require ongoing treatment, and a timetable for his return has not been set. Vince Carter has stepped up big-time in Harris' absence, averaging 34 points with 5.0 treys on 57 percent shooting from the field while adding 5.3 boards and 3.7 assists in his last three games. Keyon Dooling has replaced Harris in the line-up, and he has averaged 17 points and seven assists in the last two games.
Celtic's MASH unit: As mentioned above, Garnett is expected to return as soon as this weekend. The Celtics have a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, and if the medical staff clears him, Garnett is expected to play around 20 minutes in one of the games and not at all in the other. Realistically, it will probably be at least a week or two before Garnett gets his game legs back under him.
Ray Allen hyperextended his shooting elbow on Tuesday and sat out Wednesday's game. He traveled with the team to San Antonio for the game on Friday, but he's a game-time decision and considered day-to-day.
Leon Powe sprained his knee this week and is expected to miss the next two to three weeks. Rajon Rondo re-sprained his ankle on Tuesday, but played and had a big game on Wednesday so he should still be good to go.
Piston's MASH Unit:Rasheed Wallace (calf) has already missed five games with the injury, and is not expected to be back before Sunday at the earliest. Richard Hamilton (groin) has missed back-to-back games, and is also out until at least Sunday. Allen Iverson is still dealing with back pain and is undergoing further tests on his back today before a timetable is set for his return to practice (We talking 'bout practice?!), let alone game action.
In the absence of the injured starters, Antonio McDyess (16 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.8 combined steals/blocks over last five games), Rodney Stuckey (19 points, 8.5 assists, 4.0 boards, 1.0 steals over last two games), and Arron Afflalo (20 points, 4.0 boards, 4.0 treys, 1.0 steals over last two games) have really stepped up the pace.
Durant back, but not quite full speed:Kevin Durant does not feel as if his ankle is at full strength since returning from a severe sprain earlier this week, but he's still averaging 25 ppg over his three games back. That he still has upside to perform better as he gets healthier is just gravy, as he clearly can contribute at a high level even when slowed.
Oden back, but limited time off bench:Greg Oden returned on Wednesday from the chipped kneecap bone that had sidelined him for the previous month. He's being brought back slowly, though, playing only 12 minutes off the bench in each of his two games back. His per-minute production has been impressive in those two games (11 points, 16 boards, and two blocked shots total over the 24 minutes in two games), but he's not worth a spot in your line-ups until he is getting closer to 24 minutes per night.
Ellis in the zone:Monta Ellis has been on fire since his latest return from injury, as he finally looks like the player we saw last season. He has scored at least 26 points in each of his last four games, and sports averages of 26 points, 4.6 assists, 4.4 boards, 1.6 steals and 57 percent shooting from the field over his last five games.
Brazillian Blur blows a tire:Leandro Barbosa will miss one to three weeks after suffering a bone contusion to his left knee Wednesday night. If he misses the full three weeks, Barbosa will only play in the final four games of the season. If you have the room on the bench, feel free to wait it out. But with the playoffs starting in standard head-to-head leagues next week, coming up with a Plan B should be considered.
Feeling the Love:Kevin Love is having a huge week, averaging 20.7 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field and 82 percent from the line on more than seven free-throw attempts per over his last three games. Love doesn't contribute a lot to any other stat, but he has solid upside down the stretch as a scorer/rebounder/percentages guy.
Close Call for Landry:Carl Landry was shot in the lower leg early Tuesday morning in a possible drive-by shooting or failed robbery attempt. Landry was able to escape the gunmen on foot, but he was visibly shaken when interviewed about it later in the week. He points out that he's 6-9 and had a bright shirt on, so he's unsure how the gunman missed his vital parts from such close range. Thankfully, his injuries are minor, and he's expected to be back on the court in one-to-two weeks.
Gallinari's rookie season may be over:Danilo Gallinari returned to Italy this week to see a back specialist, and he may require surgery to correct the problem. If so, Gallinari's injury plagued and somewhat disappointing rookie season would be over.
Villanueva tweets... during a game: I'll let my Rotowire colleague Dalton Del Don sum this one up: The highlight of Charlie Villanueva's year occurred Sunday, when he posted a message to his Twitter feed during halftime of a game against the Celtics: "In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We're playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up." Needless to say, the Bucks were not amused with the incident and have since banned players from Twittering during games.
At this point in the season, a surge in injuries is expected. We're entering the last month after bodies have taken a steady pounding all year. And every injury is potentially a "season ending" one, since the season has only four weeks left. As such, it's important to keep one eye on the injury list and the other on the waiver wire, because every injury to a starter is an opportunity for a reserve.
Kelenna Azubuike (50% owned): Azubuike has taken advantage of injuries and suspensions to Warriors players this week to re-establish himself in the rotation. He has averaged 18.3 points, 6.5 boards, and 1.8 treys over that week. Azubuike is one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA by percentage, so when he shoots them at volume it's normally good for his roto owners.
Trevor Ariza (42% owned): Ariza has averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 boards, 2.7 steals, 2.3 treys and 2.0 assists while shooting 60 percent from the field over his last three games. Ariza is still trying to prove himself in the league, so if the Lakers rest their vets more in prep for the postseason, Ariza is a good bet to pick up some of the production slack down the stretch.
Jason Thompson (41% owned): Thompson has been taking advantage of the Kings being in rebuild/youth mode, with two double-doubles in his last three games and averages of 14.5 points, 9.8 boards, 1.8 blocks and 1.0 steals over the last week. Rashad McCants is another cheap Kings player with upside, but he's inconsistent and only has value if one of the starting wing players sits out.
Kyle Korver (19% owned): Korver has had a hot shooting hand this week, and somewhat surprisingly has been contributing a more complete floor game of late. He's averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 boards, 3.0 assists, 2.3 treys and 1.3 steals over the last week.
Steve Novak (11% owned): Novak has been lighting it up from downtown of late, averaging 5.3 treys and 17.8 points on 60 percent shooting from the field in his last four games. He doesn't do much besides hit the deep ball, but while he's hot and getting minutes he can help you catch up in the 3-pointers category in a hurry.
Article first appeared 3/20/09