(SportsNetwork.com) - Here are some quick observations around the NBA:
Character questions were a big reason why Lance Stephenson fell to the 40th
overall pick in the 2010 draft. But now that selection by the Indiana Pacers
has to be considered one of the biggest steals in recent years. His play this
season should lead to a pretty good payday this summer when he'll be a
restricted free agent. His game has really taken off, with the fourth-year
shooting guard currently putting up career highs in points (13.3), assists
(5.2), rebounds (6.7), field goal percentage (49.9) and 3-point shooting
percentage (35.2). His 6.7 rebounds per game leads all NBA guards, and even
more surprising, is that he leads the league in triple-doubles with three.
Speaking of draft steals, I'd be remiss not to be mention Isaiah Thomas. The
diminutive point guard, who was the last pick of the 2011 draft by the
Sacramento Kings, already surpassed expectations prior to this season, but has
now taken his game to another level. He's averaging a career-high 19 points and
6.1 assists while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from
3-point range. In a recent matchup against Kyrie Irving, who was the top pick
of that very same draft class, Thomas completely outplayed the former NBA
Rookie of the Year winner in the Kings' 44-point rout of the Cleveland
Cavaliers. He had 26 points and six assists, hitting 7-of-15 shots from the
floor, including two from downtown, and was 10-of-11 from the line. Irving,
meanwhile, shot just 3-for-14 from the field and finished with seven points and
You wouldn't know it by the stats in the box score, but Andrei Kirilenko's
return to the lineup has had a huge impact on the Brooklyn Nets. He's averaging
6.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in just over 17 minutes, but his effort and play on
the defensive end has been contagious, and it's helped the Nets go 5-2 since
his return, which includes wins over the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs,
Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors. "I love playing with him,"
said teammate Shaun Livingston. "He has all the intangibles you might say. ...
He brings stuff you really can't put a value on."
Jeremy Lamb was mainly a spectator in his rookie season after being dealt to
the Oklahoma City Thunder in the James Harden deal. But with last season's
starting shooting guard Kevin Martin leaving via free agency, Lamb is
finally seeing consistent playing time and starting to show the skill set
that made him the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft. His play has drawn some
very high praise from his teammates. "He can do it all," said Kevin Durant. "I
mean, he's athletic. He can shoot. He can dribble. But I like his intensity. I
like his focus and his hard work. With all that, anything can be done on the
court by him. So we just need him to keep getting better." Following the
Thunders' win over the Boston Celtics on Jan. 5, Kendrick Perkins gushed about
Lamb's potential. "He made some plays that I thought showed signs of
greatness," Perkins said. "I think he's going to be very special in this
Michael Carter-Williams is the prohibitive favorite to win the Rookie of the
Year award. The Philadelphia Sixers point guard, who was drafted 11th overall,
leads all first-year players in scoring average (17.5), assists average (7.0)
and rebound average (5.8), and his 2.69 steals per game top the NBA. If indeed
he's named the top rookie, he'll be the first winner not to be a top-10 pick
since Mark Jackson took home the award in 1988 after being selected 18th by the
New York Knicks.
The Thunder have struggled since Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury
in late December, but his absence could very well lead to Durant winning his
first MVP trophy. Oklahoma is 5-5 without its All-Star point guard, but Durant
has put up huge numbers in his absence, averaging 34.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and
Courtney Lee has given the Memphis Grizzlies a nice boost since being acquired
from the Celtics earlier this month. In four games in his new home, Lee is
averaging 14.8 points and shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. He had his best
game Tuesday night, scoring 24 points on 9-of-15 from the field in the
Grizzlies' 90-87 win over the Thunder. Memphis is 3-1 since Lee's arrival
The aforementioned Irving is the second-leading vote-getter among guards in the
Eastern Conference in the latest All-Star balloting. Irving's play certainly
hasn't earned him a starting berth, and it could cost Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar
DeRozan a spot on the team. The pair has spearheaded the Toronto Raptors'
surge, with the team winning 12 of its last 16 games and sitting atop the
Atlantic Division by 4 1/2 games over the Nets. The fan voting for guards in
the East has for the most part been a joke, with Ray Allen (fifth), Rajon Rondo
(sixth) and Deron Williams (seventh) ahead of DeRozan (10th) and the Pacers'
Stephenson (ninth) and with Lowry failing to crack the top 10.
The Denver Nuggets' Randy Foye is a lifetime 40.9 percent shooter from the
field and 37.6 percent from 3-point range. But during the team's recent five-
game winning streak, he looked like an elite shooter. Foye hit 31 of his 56
shots from the floor (55 percent) and was 20-for-37 from long range (54
percent). He averaged 18.4 points during that run, which is seven points above
his career mark.
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