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12-08-2003, 01:02 PM
Class of 2003 starting to hit its stride

What's the matter with these kids today?

On Friday we explored the growing trend toward drafting international teenagers in the NBA and their inability to make an instant impact in the league. Today, it's time for the rebuttal.

Led by Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, the draft class of 2003 is shaping up to be the most prepared group of rookies since the 1996 draft saw standout rookie performances by Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Marcus Camby.

And here's the most intriguing part of the story. The list of standout rookies doesn't include LeBron James.

Insider breaks down the most intriguing story lines from Week 6, including why Nate McMillian's in hot water in Seattle, why the Raptors' honeymoon with Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall won't last forever, why the Bulls' honeymoon with Jamal Crawford has just begun and why the Magic could go 1-81 this season.

Class of 2003 feeling the spirit: You have to give them the summer league, training camp, the preseason and the first month of the regular season to get their feet a little wet. Any rookie deserves that. But come December, the gloves come off and teams usually can sit back and get a handle on who they drafted in July.

One month isn't enough to tell us if a kid is a bust. The kids are coming into the league too young, and considering how many stars in this league were late bloomers, it's to early to write anyone off. Given the dominant themes about lack of fundamentals and preparation, you almost expect first-round draft picks to fail for a couple of seasons these days.

So when the rookies start getting it on a month into the season, forgive us if we want to get a little excited.

We established on Friday why Darko Milicic, the No. 2 pick in the draft, wasn't playing. But take the other seven kids drafted in the top 8, look at their December numbers and you have one hell of a story.

Carmelo Anthony
Small Forward
Denver Nuggets

20 18.8 6.9 3.1 .398 .756

Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets

24.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3 apg, 47% shooting
The skinny: What does Nick Van Exel think after Carmelo dropped 26 points on Wednesday and 28 points on Friday on the Warriors? "Carmelo's the truth, and he's going to be the truth for a while." After an early season shooting slump, Anthony seems to have figured out how to fit in with his teammates and is the big reason the Nuggets are off to a stunning 14-7 start. Two things seem to be at work for Carmelo at the moment. First, he's really started to get to the line. In December he's averaging 9.3 free-throw attempts per game. In November, when he shot just 39 percent from the field, he got to the line just 5.2 times a game. Considering he's shooting 81 percent from the line in December, that's a big deal.

"He's got a great knack for drawing fouls," one scout told Insider. "I think he drifted a little too much toward the perimeter in the first month and wasn't taking advantage of that. He's putting the ball on the floor more now and it's really opened things up for him on the perimeter."

That's the other big point. After shooting just 30 percent from behind the arc in November, Anthony is hitting 46 percent of his 3s in December.

"If he can shoot 40 percent from behind the arc," the scout continued, "we're all dead."

Chris Bosh, Raptors

14.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 52% shooting
The skinny: Bosh was supposed to be one of those players who was going to take a few years to pan out. He was supposed to be too skinny and too inexperienced to do any damage in the middle. Forget about it. Bosh is the only thing the Raptors have that even resembles a big man, and despite giving up 30 to 40 pounds every night on the guy he guards, he's done an unbelievable job anchoring the Raptors' front line the last few weeks. He's averaging over 40 mpg over his last six starts.

"It's hard for me to believe that, at 19, as a big guy, he's carrying the kind of minutes he's carrying right now," coach Kevin O'Neill told the Toronto Star. "But he's a great athlete, so he recovers quickly. . .It will be interesting to see how he holds up. But I have no choice (but to play Bosh extensively). If I wasn't playing Chris ..."

Still scouts are stunned by Bosh's rebounding production the past few games. While everyone knew he had the potential to be a gifted scorer both in the paint and on the perimeter, few thought they'd see this type of defensive effort from the 19-year-old rookie.

"I said before the season that he reminds me a lot of Tim Duncan after his freshman season at Wake Forest," one scout said. "He'll grow into his body. He'll get strong. And when he does, he's going to take his game up three or four more notches. We're just scratching the surface here."

Dwyane Wade
Point Guard
Miami Heat

18 14.1 4.3 4.2 .402 .763

Dwyane Wade, Heat
16.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3 apg, 53% shooting
The skinny: Wade as a point guard? Forget about it. Six weeks into the regular season the Heat have all but abandoned the notion. Yes, Wade is still starting at the position, but Rafer Alston's averaging around 30 mpg exclusively at the point, meaning in reality Wade's playing around 10 minutes a game at the point.

The good news for Heat fans is that Wade's huge rise in production has corresponded directly with him moving to off guard. Coach Stan Van Gundy has taken the pressure to run the offense off Wade's shoulders and he's responded with some big-time scoring efforts for the Heat. What happens when Caron Butler returns and carves into the minutes available for Jones to swing to the three? Now you know why teams believe the Heat are trying to package Butler with either Jones or Brian Grant.

Chris Kaman, Clippers

12.3 ppg, 11 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 42% shooting
The skinny: Michael Olowokandi who? Many people raised some eyebrows when the Clips let Olowokandi slip away in free agency, leaving a rookie as the only legit center on the team. Kaman was a talented low-post scorer in college, but many scouts wondered whether he has the strength and athleticism to defend and rebound in the pros. So far, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy couldn't be happier.

"Kaman had another terrific night," Dunleavy said after Kaman had 14 points and 14 rebounds versus the Cavs. "It was his presence in the paint. He blocked three shots but he changed a lot of other shots. For a young guy, he rebounds so well in traffic."

With Elton Brand now back to provide more toughness in the paint, expect Kaman to keep getting his 30 plus minutes a night. He and Brand should be able to work the high-post, low-post game to perfection.

Kirk Hinrich
Point Guard
Chicago Bulls

14 7.4 1.9 4.8 .370 .767

Kirk Hinrich
9.3 ppg, 8.3 apg, 31% shooting
The skinny: He was pretty awful in November when coach Bill Cartwright called on Hinrich to replace Jamal Crawford. But with a new head coach who played the same way Hinrich did and with a new position for Crawford, Hinrich's production was gone into overdrive.

While he still can't hit a jump shot to save his life, his rugged defense and his knack for running coach Scott Skiles' new offense means that he'll continue to average the 33-plus minutes playing point for the Bulls. Skiles is sold.

"I said [Sunday] morning in our film session that I think he's one of the best defensive guards in the Eastern Conference right now, and he's only [played about] 20 games," Skiles told the Chicago Tribune. "He's got the potential of being an all-league defensive guard. The way he moves his feet and the head he has about him, that's not a stretch. He's a very, very good defender, and then when you factor in that he's so early in his career, it's exciting."

T. J. Ford

6.5 ppg, 7.3 apg, 2 spg, 26% shooting
The skinny: Like Hinrich, Ford can't hit the ocean with his jumper right now, but his 7.3 apg have been a bright spot on the Bucks this season.

"He really plays in control for a rookie," one NBA scout said. "I think his jumper will come around. You can teach that. You can't teach floor vision or leadership. He's had that. I was big skeptic of his on draft night. I just thought he was too small. But he's made a believer out of me. If he can start sinking jumpers, the Bucks have their point guard for the next 10 years."

Of course we're leaving out the No. 1 pick and everyone's favorite for Rookie of the Year, LeBron James, who's in a pretty major slump at the moment.

LeBron James

10.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 6 apg, 27% shooting
The skinny: James has been shooting the ball poorly and was benched recently in a game versus the Clippers after a terrible 2-for-13 shooting performance, but he's been doing just about everything else well for the Cavs. He's still their best playmaker and floor leader. When he can't get it done offensively, he usually comes up with a big steal or defensive play that turns the tide for the Cavs.

"He's going to struggle a bit because defenses are getting more familiar with what he does and they're taking that away from him," one NBA scout said. "The beauty of LeBron is that he gets it done other places. He makes an assist or a steal. He's always in the game, even when his shot isn't falling. That's a big deal for a rookie. Especially an 18-year-old one."

Is Nate McMillan on the hot seat?

The coaching crisis of 2003 continues. Frank Johnson is sweating in Phoenix. Don Chaney and Jim O'Brien were believed to be in trouble as well, though both Scott Layden and Danny Ainge have denied it. The talk in Orlando is that Johnny Davis may be done by the new year if the Magic don't win a game. Now comes word, through Frank Hughes and the Tacoma News Tribune, that Mr. Sonic himself, Nate McMillan, may get kicked to the curb.

McMillanAccording to Hughes' report in the News Tribune, there's a rift between McMillan and the front office. McMillan reportedly ripped management in front of the players after a tough loss to the Jazz on Nov. 28. "Forget the owner. Forget the CEO. Forget the general manager. From now on, we are doing things my way. I am not here to develop players who don't deserve playing time. I am here to win. I am going to give minutes to the players who earn their minutes. I am going to play the guys who played like I played: hard, scrappy, defense-first."

That's obviously at odds with the Sonics' rebuilding plan. McMillan would prefer to have a roster of hard-nosed players in his image. Instead, Wally Walker and Rick Sund have given McMillan some great offensive players who are at their best in an up-tempo, run-and-gun-type offense. After some success with the approach early in the season, McMillian apparently began questioning the philosophy after the loss to the Jazz.

McMillan's benching of second-year guard Ronald Murray in favor of defensive stopper Antonio Daniels, combined with his comments to the team, reportedly created a furor in the front office. According the report, McMillan, Walker and Sund met Tuesday and aired their differences. However, the crux of the meeting, according to the Tribune, was that Walker and Sund told McMillan that his job was to adapt his style to the players they give him.

McMillan and management downplayed the story Sunday. "What was said in that article, some of it was true, and some of it, I don't know where it came from," McMillan told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. "But there's no rift."

McMillan claimed the meeting between himself and the front office was routine and said the tone wasn't negative at all. As for the question of style ...

"All coaches have a style they want to play," McMillan said. "No question. But that style is always something that you adapt to what your strength is, and that's part of coaching. That's part of what we do. So to say that this team is not my style ... you adapt to your players and what they're capable of doing."

Can McMillan adapt? I have spoken with Sund about McMillian twice in the past eight weeks, and both times he went out of his way to praise McMillan for adapting his coaching style to the talent they have given him. Sund implied that McMillan was making progress as a coach because of his decision to adapt this year.

In light of the recent reports, Sund's comments to me could be taken two ways -- an honest compliment for a job well done or a veiled acknowledgment that McMillan was in good graces only because he was toeing the management line.

Fool's Gold for the Raptors?

Donyell Marshall is playing like Kevin Garnett. Jalen Rose is dishing assists like Jason Kidd. The Raptors are 4-0 since swapping Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams for Marshall and Rose. Did the Raptors, in one fell swoop, solve all of their problems?
Donyell Marshall
Small Forward
Toronto Raptors

20 10.9 6.6 1.7 .446 .677

It sure appears that way on the surface. Marshall's averaging 19.5 ppg and 7.2 rpg since coming to Toronto. Those numbers, for those of you who have yawned through Marshall's career, are higher than at any time in Marshall's career.

Rose has taken over for Alvin Williams as the team's starting point guard and is averaging 8.3 apg. While he's shooting just 34 percent from the field, his effect on the team has bee tangible. Rose's move to the point has allowed Williams to move to the two guard position, and his numbers have jumped from 4.8 ppg in November to 13.6 ppg since Rose took over handling the point.

It doesn't stop there. The Raptors were averaging a league-low 72.5 ppg. Since the trade, their scoring 100 ppg.

That's the good news, Raptors fans. The bad news? If Marshall was really this kind of a scoring machine, don't you think he would've gotten the opportunity some where to showcase it? Rose has wanted to play point guard his entire career, but three teams, the Nuggets, Pacers and Bulls, all came to the conclusion that Rose was more of a liability there than at the small forward position.

I'm as open to change as anyone, but this deep into a player's career, I'm going to remain skeptical for a while. When Rose was traded to the Bulls, he put up several spectacular performances that had Chicago writers claiming he was the best thing to happen to Chicago since Michael Jordan. Now one should be surprised that Rose is playing like this. He's talented, and for the first time in a while, he's motivated. Can he keep it up? That's the question that has dogged him his whole career.

The other cause for skepticism is the Raptors' schedule during that four-game stint. The team is paper thin in the paint, and hasn't played a team yet (with the possible exception of the 6-15 Hawks) that can take advantage of that. The Sixers, Celtics and Sonics also have some of the thinnest front lines in the league.

The Raptors should be able to survive December just fine. Their schedule is soft (with the exception of away games versus the Mavs and Spurs) and the only big man of any significance they'll have to face is Tim Duncan. But come the new year, the Raptors may be in trouble if they don't figure out a way to parlay some of that perimeter depth into another low-post player to help out Chris Bosh.

Jamal Crawford finally gets his shot:

The Bulls may not be getting the production or the wins (the team is 1-2) out of Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams that the Raptors are with Rose and Marshall, but the trade has had positive effects for Chicago as well.

Since the trade, Bulls guard Jamal Crawford is averaging 26.7 ppg, 5.3 apg and 2 spg on 48 percent shooting. That's up from the 15.3 ppg on 43 percent shooting that Crawford averaged in November.

While former Bulls coach Bill Cartwright used to focus on Crawford's shortcomings -- mainly his inability to get his teammates involved -- Skiles has decided to play up that strength by moving Crawford to the two and letting rookie Kirk Hinrich handle the bulk of the duties at the point.

Crawford's been given the green light to shoot the ball for the first time in his career, and he's responded with three straight sizzling performances.

"He's a very good shooter and very good all-around offensive player,'' Skiles told the Chicago Sun Times. "He needs to work on his ballhandling and some of his decision making, but that's typical for young guys. But he can score in bunches. He's explosive.''

Davis and Williams have also responded, though to lesser degrees. Davis' numbers are up from 8.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg in Toronto to 9.7 ppg and 11 rpg in Chicago. Williams is averaging 8.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg in Chicago after putting up 4.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg in Toronto.

Will the Magic go 1-81?

Doc Rivers is gone, but the Magic are still looking for their second win of the season. Their best shot to break the 19-game losing streak will be this week. When will they get it? They play the Suns at home tonight, and with the way Phoenix has been struggling lately, they've got a shot. On Wednesday, they play the Wizards, who are missing Gilbert Arenas from their lineup. On Saturday, the Magic play the Hawks in Atlanta. At 6-15, the Hawks aren't that much better than the Magic.

If they let all of those opportunities slip, they won't see another weakling until Christmas, when they play in ABC's televised game versus the Cavs. Is it conceivable that the Magic could be 1-27 when the Cavs come into town. Sure. The problem with the Magic is that they have no interior defense, which means teams are shooting from five feet in against them. On offense, they have no interior scoring, which means that all of their shots are coming from 18 feet and out. Do the math, play with the percentages and 1-27 doesn't seem that far fetched.

The curse of McDyess?

Maybe Antonio McDyess should go back on the injured list. There was so much hope and enthusiasm last Monday in New York surrounding McDyess' return, and the Knicks looked poised to start making a push for the playoffs. The team had been playing well, was getting contributions from the likes of Charlie Ward and Frank Williams and had really seemed to turn the corner.
McDyess isn't at fault for the Knicks swoon. However, since McDyess' return, the team has gone 0-4 and still faces the Lakers and Jazz on the road before returning home to host the red hot Nuggets. I think Scott Layden has quit smiling.

Mike Miller to the point

Is Jason Williams in danger of losing his job once he gets back from those back spasms? Since Williams left the lineup, Miller has taken over as a pseudo point-forward and the Grizzlies have been rolling. The team is 5-0 since Williams went out and Miller is averaging 13.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 7.8 apg during that stretch.
Putting the ball in Miller's hand seems to have awoken him from an early season slumber, and at least one rival scout claims that the Grizzlies are better off keeping it that way. "I like Jason Williams, but the Grizzlies are tougher when they put Miller at the point," the scout told Insider. "Miller is such a match-up problem for you and really gives you a lot of flexibility. I can envision a line-up of Miller, Bonzi Wells in the backcourt and James Posey, Pau Gasol and Stromile Swift in the front court that would be close to unstoppable."

Peep Show

Seattle SuperSonics: Nate McMillan says he has no problem with management so long, it seems, as they leave him alone to run this team. "There's no rift, not at all," the Sonics coach said in the Seattle Times. "What was said in that article, some of it was true and some of it I don't know where it came from." The earlier article said that McMillan railed at his team and management about having to develop certain players at the expense of losing games. "It never happened the way it was reported," team president Wally Walker said. "What we told Nate was, he's doing a great job. He's hard on himself after any loss, but if you step back a little bit and realize where we are without Ray (Allen), then you know he's doing a great job."

Orlando Magic: Maybe Grant Hill will retire like he said he would if his ankle required yet another surgery. Or maybe he won't. "I should have never said that," Hill said in the Orlando Sentinel. "I mean, it's probably it if they have to go in again. . . . but it depends. I can't rule it out." Hill has said he will try to return to the court in February, but is at odds with the team, which wants him to sit out the entire season and not risk losing more money due to insurance complications.

Portland Trail Blazers: Believe it or not, the Trail Blazers say they have hit rock bottom and are ready to do something about it. "It's all the truth," center Dale Davis said in the Oregonian. "In all aspects, it's the truth. There's just no other way to put it. Right now, we can either fall on the table or separate ourselves from this. Now we are going to see if we have pride. I have a feeling we do, and we will play better the next two games." But that doesn't mean there isn't going to be some back biting. After all, these are the Blazers. "For me, I'm not really into getting after him in the newspapers," guard Damon Stoudamire said of forward Rasheed Wallace. "But I was going to talk to him about this anyway, because he is a friend. I don't think these are necessarily strong words; it's just what we need to do. We need him to post up more, not take jumpers, especially when it's James Posey guarding him."

New York Knicks: Antonio McDyess is back but still almost as sore as Kurt Thomas who, as bad as his tendinitis is, is much better off than Allan Houston. "If it's not one thing, it's another," McDyess said as the Knicks fell to 7-14 despite his playing in the last four games. "The toughest part about the whole situation is that it really requires rest and I don't have it," Houston said of his surgically repaired knee in the New York Times. "I've never been faced with the situation where, do I sit out or do I play? And it bothers me because I don't really know what to do sometimes. Should I sit out a couple games? It's very confusing to me right now. All I am going to do is trust that it will get better." The Knicks still have two remaining games on their current road trip.

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Minnesota Star Tribune is reporting that center Michael Olowokandi recently visited a second doctor to get a second opinion on his ailing right knee but that the result was still the same. "What he saw wasn't conclusive," said Olowokandi, who believed he originally had a case of tendinitis but is not sure now. Kandi has already missed three games and will likely miss another two at least.

12-08-2003, 05:18 PM
Thanks for posting this thebac. I also can't believe just how good this rookie class is looking. I'm glad I picked so many of them on my fantasy teams...

12-08-2003, 05:21 PM
I know evil.. I have Howard and Anthony and they both are now in the regular rotation. i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif

Excellent class of rookies. My prediction is that James will get rookie of the year based on his popularity. But Anthony should get strong consideration.

Thanks thebac for posting these insider articles. i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif

12-08-2003, 05:41 PM
Has anyone thought that the play of the league as a whole is down, because of all the youth? So now, the good young players are looking good against lessor players overall. Don't know if I really think that, just something to mull over.