Saturday, February 02, 2008

Forward Thinking

It has been a while since I've used a cheesy play-on-words title, but it seemed appropriate tonight in light of all the unheralded forwards stepping up and making big contributions. In fact, I can't remember the last time I saw so many guys come out of nowhere and play well at one position. Here were a few of the guys that caught my eye:

Carl Landry, Houston. The rookie out of Purdue has only played in 13 games this year for the Rockets, but he's now appeared in 10 straight and is starting to look like a real player. He's undersized at 6'7" but I remember seeing him play against Arizona in the 2007 NCAA Tournament and being impressed by his ability to score in the post despite being a "tweener." He kind of reminds me of Sam Perkins with his long arms and lefty release and he has nice range on his jumper to go with really good rebounding instincts. Houston has struggled to find a power forward who can score and rebound while bracketing Yao with some athleticism (Stro Swift, Juwan Howard, Chuck Hayes, and Luis Scola all lack at least one of those three things), so the mere possibility that Landry could help fill the void has to be exciting. Tonight he really put on a show, scoring 14 fourth quarter points and taking over a road game at Indy. He finished 9-of-11 from the floor and tallied 22 points, 7 rebounds, a steal, and a block in just 20 minutes of action. Terrific performance.

Shawne Williams, Indiana. I've always liked this former Memphis forward and tonight he had a really nice game off the bench for the Pacers. His range improves all the time and in this one he made all three of his attempts from deep on the way to 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go with 3 assists, a block, and a steal. Indiana needs players to put around Danny Granger and I think they would be better off seeing what this youngster can do than they are with Troy Murphy plodding around.

Thaddeus Young, Philly. He's been coming on strong lately, but tonight Young looked exceptional for stretches against the Magic in a 108-106 loss. His numbers were fairly modest - 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal - but his athleticism and effort were remarkable. It helps that he is left handed, because for some reason that stool fools about 60% of NBA defenders. I think the Sixers have a real keeper in Young and should consider themselves lucky that he fell to them at the bottom of the lottery last summer.

Craig Smith, Minnesota. I expected Smith to be a nice sleeper this year, but he's having a tricky time coexisting with fellow banger Al Jefferson. Tonight he was able to maul the Clippers undersized front line to the tune of 21 points and 7 boards on 9-of-11 shooting. I think Smith is the type of guy who would contribute even more to a good team and really shine as a role player in that type of setting. In fact, he would look really good bolstering Phoenix's front line, giving them muscle, rebounding, and even some post scoring. Plus, he only makes $700K, so the Suns can actually afford him. Maybe a future first round pick would get it done?

Andray Blatche, Washington. I've always been high on Blatche, dating back to when the Wizards nabbed him with a second round pick in the 2005 Draft. And despite being shot last year, he is really coming around. It's to the point where Blatche typically produces when given minutes. But tonight he looked particularly good, crashing the glass, protecting the rim, and - a big one for a young guy - learning on the fly. He was swatted by Utah's Andrei Kirilenko numerous times in the first half while trying to flip in shots after offensive rebounds. Early in the fourth quarter he took a feed on the fast break and dunked on AK47's head with two hands. You have to see a young big man evolve during a game and made key adjustments. You also have to love the following stat line: 19 points, 13 boards, 3 steals, and 4 blocks. Yikes. Granted, it remains to be seen if he can keep up the solid play when Caron Butler returns, but if nothing else, Blatche is proving he can get the job done when given the chance to start. (Also: he's another guy that would really help the Suns.)

(I should note that I tuned in to this game to see Al Thornton, but unfortunately, my man went 1-for-15 from the field. Ouch.)

Renaldo Balkman, New York. Together with David Lee, Balkman brought energy, poise, and tenacious rebounding in a near upset at Portland. More on this in the next post.

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