FIVE QUICK NBA THOUGHTS
1. CHAUNCEY BILLUPS (Pistons): Yes they got Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings in the off-season and Andre Drummond is a beast (teams are kicking themselves for passing on him - he rebounds and block shots every game - that's two more discernable and significant skills than most guys in his draft class), but don't for a second discount the impact of having a savvy veteran like Billups on your team. He can play both guard spots and plays within himself and can shoot the three-ball exceptionally well but most importantly he is a respected elder statesman who 'gets it' and can still play. He's a huge asset to coach Maurice Cheeks getting this young/talented team to 'buy in" and make the sacrifices necessary to be successful. A good 'under the radar' pickup by GM Joe Dumars after a messy departure a few years back.
2. NIKOLA VUCEVIC (Magic): Check out these numbers (14.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg and shooting 56 per cent) and I think you can see this guy is no fluke. Loved watching him get extended minutes last season and it's paying off. He's relentless on the offensive boards and has that nose for the ball that good rebounders have. He's getting the opportunity and is one of the bright spots for a young team that is flying high after knocking off the Brooklyn Nets.
3. LANDRY FIELDS (Raptors): None of us have any control over the bloated contract he received yet we do have control over our pure objectivity in assessing a guy's game and overall contribution to a team with money left totally aside. I like what I see. Would he be a guy I'd want as a teammate? Yes, definitely. Would he be a guy I'd like to coach? It would be an honour. He gets it. He's all about team and sacrifice. Smart and tough. Does he have limitations? Yes, but he's a solid rotation player who you can count on and trust to try to do the right things and be in the right places. He won't always be successful but you know the intent is precisely what the script calls for. As a former coach, you reach a point where you get tired of 'waiting' for guys and you'd rather deal with someone who is dependable. Fields fills that void for a number of minutes each game to allow for others to grow/prosper. I talk to lots of coaches, executives and scouts and in spite of a contract that's overpriced (no fault of Fields) to a man - he's a respected player who fits the bill as a role player with winning habits. He's healthy and we're seeing a guy regaining his confidence and earning the trust of his coaches and teammates as a guy who will be in that nine-man rotation. Guys like this are hard to keep off the floor. It's a team game.
4. MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS (Sixers): Who saw this coming? The 76ers are 3-0 and the Suns are 2-1 (they played pretty well in their loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday night and lost Goran Dragic). Carter-Williams has been awesome in their upsets. He's averaging an amazing 20 ppg and 7 assists and is shooting 47 per cent from long distance. He guards and sets the tone for Brett Brown's team defensively with his excellent lateral quicks and his ball pressure. Honestly didn't think he'd be this good this early with a team that has limitations to say the least. He strikes me as a guy that will be one of those players who will be a better pro than he was in college at Syracuse. The pace and rules of the NBA game favour his game and also look at him as a guy who is still figuring out how to run a team. Has lots of ability and he's really jumped out at me.
5. XAVIER HENRY (Lakers): Style of play is a major benefit to this guy playing for Mike D'Antoni. He parks himself behind the three-point arc (14.3 ppg and 45 per cent on threes) and lets loose. Watched a few of the Lakers games already and this system fits his game perfectly. Run to a spot and fire away on the catch. I'm curious to see how he performs as we go along here as teams lock in with their scouting/preparation and begin to chase him off the distance line and make him score in a secondary fashion. If he can handle all that he's playing in an ideal situation for himself.