Each year I protest that the Most Improved Player award should go to someone who improves from good to great, because that is the hardest jump to make in this league. By my own dissident standards, the favorite should be Orlando center
But that standard would permit no further debate, as no one else can approach the leap Howard is making from All-Star to MVP candidate for the 16-4 Magic.
So for this one week I surrender to conventional thinking and focus on five improving players who appear most likely to receive consideration in the general election next spring ...
"He's picking up the whole idea of seeing what are they giving me," coach
Despite the frustration of losing five games by three points or fewer, the 6-12 Grizzlies have shown big competitive gains over their 22-win season of last year, and Gay's newfound confidence is helping. The former UConn star had a career-high 31 points (on an efficient 24 shots) against Portland in the second week of the season, and other nights he's kept Memphis alive with big threes or acrobatic tip-ins in the final minute.
While sidelined with a broken finger in the preseason, Udrih was traded by San Antonio and waived by Minnesota before arriving in Sacramento for the minimum $826,046 as a replacement for
The Blazers have reconnected with their fans (they are 5-3 at the Rose Garden), and Aldridge has a lot to do with it. Averaging 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and shooting 52.3 percent this season, he shows signs of developing the versatility of
Aldridge also has bulked up to fight his way to the line at a far higher rate than last year, and his approach to hard work is setting the franchise standard for his teammates. While Aldridge finished strong last year with 14.7 points and 7.4 rebounds over his last 18 games, his numbers mean more now that he is being targeted by the defense. Imagine the potential of this front line next year if Oden's health permits.
The unexpected solution came from Brewer, the son of former NBA player
"This summer I was trying to get in better condition," he said. "And I tried to improve my shot because that's one of the things coach [
If the starting job was open, then what was to stop Brewer from claiming it? He was the surprise of training camp and has provided a highly reliable -- and altogether unexpected -- 14.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 steals in his 30.8 starter's minutes. At 6-7, he moves nonstop like a smaller version of
"I think the Jazz are a little shocked," an opposing team's personnel scout said. "One thing about him and Kirilenko is that they're both long guys. Let's say they're running a regular 'floppy' set -- they call it '11' in Utah. Brewer comes off, and rather than shooting like most teams do, Utah likes to curl [around] screens. So Brewer curls it and it takes him one step to get to the rim. That's how long and athletic the kid is, and he's a very good defender too with his length."
Brewer is not the prototype shooting guard. He appears to stroke the ball diagonally, as if waving mosquitoes away from his forehead. Rather than fundamentally reinvent his jump shot, he worked last summer to become reliable.
"My elbow is going to stick out regardless," he said. "It might not be the prettiest shot or the most fundamental, but I worked on it and made it consistent. Playing with these guys, I'm going to get open shots because they're going to draw attention to themselves."
Brewer's stroke may prevent him from living on the three-point line (where he is 5-of-20 this year) and that's a good thing: He is most effective roaming the floor, shooting 52 percent while exploiting the seams created by Utah's ball movement amid
"Who's this? Who's this?" Williams said before a recent game in New York, as he shuffled across the visitors' locker room with his head lowered and his hand raised high. Teammates laughed at his impression of Brewer waving for the ball.
"Then the defense tends to overplay me," answered Brewer, who has benefited from more than a few ensuing backdoor cuts this season.
The Jazz could still use a deep backcourt shooter off the bench. But Brewer appears to be a snug fit with their starting lineup -- even if he wasn't quite what they were looking for.
"Ronnie worked very hard in the summer and he deserves the credit for his improvement," Sloan said. "He came in, he wanted the job, he was working very hard, he was very diligent. And it's amazing how that works if you feel like you've been mistreated -- and he probably felt that way a little bit last year, because he was a young player and he didn't understand. But the bottom line was he knew he had to work, and he did the work."
(a) Lakers trade
The prognosis in Washington is that Arenas may be ready by March 1. The Wizards will be cautious, and they surely won't risk his health to rush him back. But we have a better chance of seeing Arenas on the court again this season than of seeing those other events happening.
(a) Just enough to poke his head out of the locker room and smell the boiled hot dogs
At least that's what
The 6-9 forward spent his opening years in Portland going all-out for 45 to 60 minutes against his fellow young Blazers. He would return to the pregame locker room sweated through like
Randolph is a 26-year-old with the Knicks now, and last week one of their assistants asked him to tone down the regimen. Randolph agrees that his pregame work may have been tiring him for the fourth quarter.
"So I'm probably going to go to seven spots and shoot seven times from each spot," he said. "Go into the post, spin move." No more sweating? "No, I'll still work up a sweat," he said. "A little sweat. Nothing crazy."
"When you look at the all-time falls from grace, his has to rank in the top three," said an Eastern Conference executive who doesn't work for Detroit or New York. "The guy went from champion of the league to being run out of town. But if you take away what he did in New York, he should be coaching again."
Now that it looks like his return to Philadelphia has been nullified by the arrival of new 76ers president
"Let's say Miami gets its ship righted, I still don't think they could do it. Cleveland, Chicago, New Jersey -- none of them could do it. Orlando has really improved and you have to take notice of that road record (11-2) and how Dwight Howard has gone to another level, but I have my doubts about that supporting cast. Detroit is the one team with that starting lineup and that playoff experience and the advantage that
"But as strong as that Celtics team is and the way the fans have taken to them, that's going to be a very strong home court in the playoffs. Anybody who plans to beat them had better get that homecourt from them during the season."
Here is your answer from the NBA advance scout:
"Rasheed really understands the subtle nuances of the game.
"He really understands defensive schemes, situations and rotations. He is like a coach on the floor offensively and defensively in how he verbally communicates with his teammates. He is always calling out situations. He knows how to use his body and length to negate a smaller player's quickness and his agility and timing to bother bigger players. He knows just when to time a double-team, get around a guy to front the post, or play behind and reach in at the last second. He understands using angles.
"Offensively, like many players, he will force the occasional three-point shot. But he really gets spacing, recognizes mismatches and is willing to make the extra pass. He is incredibly unselfish in this regard. He willingly looks for others as much as his own. He doesn't worry about his stats, and he gets it that on teams that win consistently, the players don't [focus on their own numbers]."
Only once in the last 11 years -- when it was won by the Pacers'
"What gives with Phil Jackson signing an extension for $12 million a year? Now I know