For someone standing 6-foot-9, Carl Landry had been pretty easy to overlook -- in the basketball sense, at least. In his first two NBA seasons, the Rockets forward had modest averages of 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in an even more modest 19.6 minutes a game.
About a third of the way into this season, though, Landry has played himself onto the short list of contenders for the Sixth Man Award. In a breakout third season, Landry is averaging 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in 26.3 minutes while ranking sixth in the league in shooting at 57.5 percent.
"My role hasn't changed," Landry said. "It's to go out there and play with energy off the bench. But I think the confidence the coach and the front office have put in me has changed a bit.
"I never had plays called for me in years past. I was always the guy to get the rebound or make the extra pass. Now, without Yao [Ming] and Tracy [McGrady], I'm having plays called for me. And with this being one of the youngest teams the league, I'm pretty much a veteran, and this is only my third year."
Truth be told, the Rockets have believed in the former Purdue standout since acquiring him from the Seattle SuperSonics in a draft-night trade in 2007.
"He was coming off of a [knee] surgery in his last year [of college] and he was still productive," Houston general manager Daryl Morey said. "That scared some teams off, but we felt like he was a good gamble. We felt he had upside."
That upside was apparent almost from the moment he arrived in the NBA, although conventional statistics were slow to illustrate Landry's value.
"Carl's ability to generate a lot of points in few possessions [is overlooked]," said Morey, who cites Landry's exceptional career 64.1 true shooting percentage (a measure that takes into account two- and three-point field goals as well as free throws) as evidence of his previously under-the-radar worth. Landry has been quietly efficient since entering the league, averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 boards per 36 minutes in his career, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
With the extended absences of Yao (out for the season after foot surgery) and McGrady (back in limited minutes after microfracture surgery), the Rockets have had little choice but to use Landry more. He has helped fuel a surprising 17-11 start by complementing a front court that makes up for its lack of physical dominance with craftiness and hustle.
Landry also showed his grit by returning a mere one game after an elbow from Dirk Nowitzki damaged five of his teeth and put the super-sub in dental surgery for six hours.
"Without Yao, guys like Chuck [Hayes], Luis [Scola] and myself have to be quicker to the ball, take charges and be in the right place at the right time on the defensive end," Landry said. "On the offensive end, we try to get up and down and take advantage of bigger guys, use our fast-break game for layups and to create matchup problems."
Coach Rick Adelman's trust in Landry is apparent. Adelman has come to rely on Landry late in games, and Landry has rewarded that faith by ranking fifth in the NBA in fourth-quarter points behind Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Jason Terry and Brandon Roy. His big minutes in crunch time are also a testament to how Landry has worked to become the type of defender Adelman needs late in games.
"This summer, I worked on my basketball IQ," Landry said. "Growing up as a kid, I didn't understand why the old guys would always beat up on the young guys. Even though we were quicker and had more talent, they knew how to play the game. That's what I'm trying to do.
"So I just watched a lot of film and asked questions to player-personnel people and the coaches. I'm trying to get better at getting in the lane in the right position to help at the right time and getting back out, finding my man and getting back into rebound position."
To that end, the Rockets had Landry watch a lot film of Hayes, who has impressed the likes of Phil Jackson with his defense in the post despite his 6-6 frame.
"We also talked a lot about how to prepare early, how to be a help defender and the technique of guarding the post," Morey said. "On offense, we worked on his explosiveness in his first move."
Considering how effective that first move has been this season, Landry isn't likely to be overlooked anymore.
• Pau Gasol. Just when a few pundits started idly speculating that his younger brother, Marc, could end up the better player, the Lakers big man goes and shows the rest of the West -- and probably the NBA as a whole -- why the title is the Lakers' to lose this season. Over his last eight games, the 7-foot opera lover has averaged 16.3 points, 15.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. No wonder the Lakers recently decided to fork over as much as $64.7 million in a three-year extension to keep him in L.A. though the 2013-14 season.
• Flip Saunders' temper. For weeks, the media have been trying to diagnose what ails the Wizards. Maybe Saunders' regular slaps to the scorer's table offer a clue. "In all my years in coaching -- 15 years in the NBA and the CBA, college -- I have never yelled at a player for taking bad shots in a game -- until this year," Saunders told TheWashington Post recently. In our view, it comes down to a matter of respect, and clearly many Wizards players don't trust Saunders' system, even though he's used it to win 596 regular-season games (against 413 losses). And that's why many of these Wizards may not be Wizards come the trade deadline.
• Mark Cuban's vigilance. In protesting the Mavs' loss to the Rockets based on what he felt was a misapplication of the rules governing what types of plays officials can review, Cuban has kept the pressure on the NBA for more accountability from its referees. Yes, after Cuban's paying thousands upon thousands in fines for criticizing officials, his protest on a technicality seems petty, but it's an important sign of a mature owner taking aim through proper channels at the imperfect process that is officiating. And while that may not produce as many sound bites, it may be far more effective.
• Mario Chalmers. An 82-game starter for a playoff team last season, the Miami guard played himself into a reserve role by averaging 3.1 assists over his last nine games as a starter and, more important, guiding the Heat to a 3-6 record in that stretch. "I'm not going to overanalyze it with Mario," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel." I still think Mario can go to another level, as a young player." In the meantime, though, Spoelstra seems satisfied with the early results of the switch to Carlos Arroyo as the starter; the Heat won two of three and Chalmers chipped in with 18 assists off the bench.
• Nate Robinson's fate in NYC. Yes, Robinson is a bit of a knucklehead with his preening for the crowd and disregard for defense, but for the Knicks to marginalize him is severe. Robinson's explosive scoring was perhaps the team's only entertaining quality last season, a fact the Knicks acknowledged in making Robinson a key piece of their offseason ad campaign. Now a player who averaged 17.2 points last season can't find time on an 11-17 team? Our sense is that Mike D'Antoni is trying to demonstrate his "commitment" to defense to potential free agents at the expense of maximizing his current roster.
• The All-Star dunk contest. With word in the last week that Kevin Durant won't participate, and with LeBron hedging after saying earlier that he planned to enter, the dunk contest again appears poised to play host to its usual selection of complementary players and kids looking for publicity. While we have our doubts the contest is as taxing as some players have argued, there's no question the game's biggest stars would rather be seen in the stands than heard from on the floor during the contest.
• "Can you fix somebody's heart? That's a personal thing.''-- Gerald Wallace questions the rebounding efforts of Bobcats teammates Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw after a recent loss to Utah.
• "I think it's bull, personally. When you lose and play like we do, you can't say that someone else is the problem. I don't feel like we're good enough to point fingers.''-- Chandler takes exception to Wallace's comments.
• "If a contract doesn't get done, it kind of makes me sad that I probably will have to be a businessman. Being a businessman means I'm a free agent, and I'm going to coach a good team to probably a lot of success. I prefer not to be a businessman. I'm not a very good businessman."-- George Karl, on his efforts to sign an extension with the Nuggets.
• "I'm @ the raptors/nets gm & I'm telling u RITE NOW that I CAN PLAY 4 THE NETS!!!"-- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens tweets an offer to help the Nets during New Jersey's 118-95 loss.
• "I don't give a bleep about money. ... I'd just like to have the ball in my hands and have an offense run through me. I'm not just a defensive player."-- The Knicks' seldom-used Darko Milicic channels his inner superstar.
• "We can provide financial relief, we can provide players who can help you win now, we can provide players who can help you for the future -- so we're sort of like Target right now in that we can provide everything under one roof."-- Houston's Morey, on the Rockets situation as trading season begins to heat up.
• "If they're unhappy with Dwyane, we could probably find a spot for him."-- Magic coach Stan Van Gundy offers to help Miami amid reports that Pat Riley isn't pleased with Dwyane Wade's conditioning.
•Hoopshype.com: Could trouble be brewing over the leadership of the Lakers? Will this be Phil Jackson's final season?
•The New York Times: The morning shootaround is quickly becoming an endangered species -- and that may be good news for the quality of play.
•Miami Herald:Dennis Rodman talks about the pluses and minuses of being famous, and how he's used it to help some acquaintances.
• Details.com: The good folks at Ball Don't Lie found this story detailing Charles Oakley's sartorial judgments of the current NBA.
•Deseret News:Brevin Knight is preparing for a move to the broadcast table -- unless some team comes calling for a point guard.
You can learn a lot about a team that takes a 16-point lead into halftime yet loses by four to the Knicks, like the Clippers did recently in New York. Here are three reasons these Clippers may be one of the most puzzling teams in the league.
1.Their talent is greater than their confidence. With quick hands in the backcourt and plenty of length up front, the Clippers have the makings of a good defensive team, which they showed in limiting the Knicks to 25 percent shooting in the first quarter while registering six steals and three blocks. Yet this is also a team that can let a bad opponent shoot 61.9 percent in a quarter and slice into the lane at will (as the Knicks did in turning a 58-42 halftime deficit into a 72-all tie heading into the fourth quarter), a team whose habit of blowing big leads is on the minds of its players before the game. In short, a team that can picture losing more than winning. That's acceptable for a young group learning how to close out games; it isn't for a club led by playoff-tested veterans.
2.Mike Dunleavy has tried to meet his team halfway. Rife with reports that Baron Davis and Dunleavy didn't agree on how to run the team, last year's Clippers were a picture of disinterest. This year both players and coach have subtly moved toward the other's point of view. "It's a happy medium," forward Al Thornton said. "He's more open to the guys, seeing what guys think. Sometimes someone will say, 'Maybe we should run a play this way.' He'll look at it now." Yet he'll also call some curious plays, too, such as dragging Steve Novak into the game after 47-plus minutes of bench time or running a potential game-tying, late-game offensive possession with Rasual Butler as a top option.
3.This team is only as good as Baron Davis allows. A scout suggested to take note of how often the Clippers point guard passes the ball off a feed to him versus hoisting a shot, the point being that the more Davis keeps the ball moving, the better the Clips play. After shooting three three-pointers in the first half in New York, Davis squeezed off five threes in the third quarter alone in guiding L.A.'s offense into a rut from which it never recovered. It's a pity such a charismatic, intelligent player stubbornly refuses to change his style despite all the evidence a change would make him the type of winner sponsors love.