Saturday, January 30, 2010

Born Again in 2010

The NBA is all about consistency. Teams don't just come out of nowhere and beat the Lakers in the conference finals, and a former role player whose resurgence makes for a great story isn't going to oust LeBron in the MVP race. But that doesn't mean the L doesn't have its fair share of pleasant surprises. The dawn of a new decade has seen an array of previously unheralded, or forgotten, players making a name for themselves, posting awesome numbers for newly thriving teams. Here's a look at five faces - some new, some with facelifts - who have defied their critics by posting terrific numbers in January.

Stephen Curry
2010 Numbers: 19.5 ppg 5.1 apg 4.4 rpg 2.1 spg
In his first couple months as a pro, Curry proved to be the opposite of what scouts expected him to be: an efficient, picky scorer with a high assist-to-turnover ratio. In the new year Curry has remained efficient, but has exploded into the realm of stardom. Averaging nearly 40 minutes a game (he's played at least 40 minutes in the Warriors last 9 contests), Curry has been averaging nearly 20-5-5 a night, to go along with 2 swipes and 2 three-pointers. For a rookie from a mid-major schools, those numbers are quite remarkable.

Derrick Rose
2010 Numbers: 23.1 ppg 6.4 apg 4.4 rpg
In mid-January, HoopsHype blogger Eddie Johnson named Derrick Rose one of the top ten disappointments of the 2009-10 campaign. Yet he might just be the frontrunner for Eastern Conference Player of the Month. Derided earlier this year due to the Bulls' inconsistency and his low assist numbers, Rose has been a revelation in January, averaging 23 points and 6 assists while leading Chicago to a 10-7 record - including road wins at Boston, Phoenix, Houston, Oklahoma City and New Orleans - and the #7 seed in the East after they commenced the new year with a 13-17 mark. I think it's safe to say Eddie Johnson owes someone an apology.

Stephen Jackson
2010 Numbers: 24.5 ppg 5.3 rpg 2.3 spg
Previously one of the game's biggest enigmas, Jackson has come into his own as the catalyst of the Bobcats' best start in franchise history. In leading Charlotte to an 11-4 record in January, Jackson has become the force that his terrific size (6-8/215) and range (972 career three-pointers) projected he might become, dropping nearly 25 points a night while shouldering a 40-minute per game load. Under the guise of Larry Brown, the former renegade has channeled his considerable energy into devastating opponents on a nightly basis, transitioning the Bobcats from league door mat to one of the most feared ball clubs in the East.

Corey Brewer
2010 Numbers: 16.2 ppg 3.9 rpg
The 7th overall pick in the 2007 draft made his case for being one of the biggest busts in recent memory, averaging 5.8 points on 37.4% shooting his rookie year, and playing just 15 games in his sophomore campaign. In January, Brewer's shown some signs that he might not be such a turkey after all. Registering five 20-point games this month, the Florida product has been consistent for the first time in his career, suggesting that this 6-9 swingman, who's still just 23 years old, might yet realize his potential. With a franchise point guard in Johnny Flynn, Ricky Rubio on the way, and a venerable low post combo in Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, the Wolves have been insisting that they'll target a swingman in the draft. Should they maintain that mindset, at least they'll have some real depth for the first time in years.

Andrei Kirilenko
2010 Numbers: 13.4 ppg 4.6 rpg 1.5 spg 1.4 bpg 57.3% FG
For three years now, analysts have been touting Kirilenko as one of the league's most overpaid players (he's set to earn $16.5 million this year and $17.8 million in 2010-11), but he's really been earning that paycheck of late. His numbers in January certainly aren't mind-boggling, but the impact of his rediscovered role on a previously hobbling Jazz team has been extraordinary. Since the Jazz made him a starter on January 9th, Utah has gone 8-1, vaulting from the 10th seed in the West to the 4th seed with ease. Looking more and more like the AK47 of old - the AK47 who fully deserved his lucrative contact when he signed it - night in and night out, Kirilenko is averaging 18 points, 6 boards, 2.8 blocks, while shooting 67% from the field during Utah's 5-game win streak. If he remotely maintains this level of play, the Jazz won't have wasted a dime.

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