ONE: For the first time in a while, I’m going to start the Aussie Roundup with someone other than Bogut. The biggest NBA-related Australian news of late has been the play of Patty Mills. Patty hit his career high (14 points) a week ago against Houston in what was his best NBA game to date – along with the 14 points he had 5 dimes, 5 steals and 2 boards in 23 minutes of court time. He hoisted 12 shots, made 6 of them, including 2-4 from downtown (this one and this one). On the defensive end he helped contain the dangerous Aaron Brooks, and the most important stat of course, was that the Blazers got the W. Patty’s career night earned him a congratulary Tweet from Andrew Bogut, as well as making newspaper headlines here in Aus and generating lots of fantasy buzz. Check out his post-game interview in the locker rooms.

But Patty wasn’t satisfied. Two days later he came out against Dallas and scored 9 points in 21 minutes on an efficient 4-7 shooting, to go with 4 assists. The Blazers lost, but Patty was getting in a groove. The next night the Blazers faced Houston again, and Patty equalled his career high with another 14 points outing – this time on 5-9 shooting, including an epic 4-7 from downtown. This time though the Rockets put up much more of a fight, Kevin Martin especially who dropped 45 points, so every one of Patty’s points counted. None more so than the three he hit with 5 minutes remaining in the fourth, giving the Blazers their first lead of the quarter. It marked the third straight game that Patty had played 20+ minutes, the first time in his NBA career. Today against the T-Wolves Patty played 17 minutes, but still hit double figures with 10 points on 4-9 shooting, and grabbed 3 boards and an assist.

So these are the averages for January thus far for Patty: 11.8ppg, 3.3apg, 1.5spg, 51% FG, 44% 3-PT, in 22.3 minutes per game.

They look like some pretty darn fine backup point guard stats to me. It’s no coincidence that over the same stretch Andre Miller’s numbers have declined, and his minutes are down about 5 mpg less than usual. Miller is perfectly healthy now I might add. Coach McMillan is simply placing more faith in Mills, and Patty is rewarding him with superb play and helping his team get W’s in the process. Keep up the great work Patty – we’re all cheering for you mate!

The Bogey Man has had his struggles recently, but in fairness the Bucks have had a nightmarish stretch over the last 5 games: @Chicago, Dallas, @Miami, @Orlando, and Miami. Three wins from that bunch would have been exceptional, two wins acceptable. The Bucks however, only came away with one, against Dallas. During that stretch Bogut’s offense has been sub-par, shooting just 34% from the field and continuing his free-throw woes with just 32%. This is becoming a real issue for Bogut. His FT% this season is 42.6%, which is 20% less than last season and 16% less than his career average. There seems to be no obvious reason why he’s struggled from the line so much this season, but he needs to turn it around, or else the Hack-a-Bogut strategy will start being employed.

A dunk from back in November that I somehow missed

What has remained a constant through this stretch is Bogut’s defense. He averaged 3 blocks over the 5 games, to go with 13.2 boards. That was boosted by a career-high 27 boards against Miami yesterday, the most rebounds by a Bucks player since Swen Nater’s franchise-record 33 rebounds in 1976. Also check out his dunk on Juwan Howard yesterday.

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A quick update on David Andersen, and it will be quick because DA hasn’t seen any court time yet this year. In fact, since becoming a Hornet in mid-November, Andersen has only hit 3 shots from the field. He’s only played 52 minutes mind you, but with that kind of production it’s not hard to see why he’s fallen out of favor with coach Monty Williams. The Hornets have had a tendency to play small of late, without a real backup center behind Okafor. Their other bigs – DJ Mbenga and Aaron Gray – are getting bugger-all minutes too, so maybe it’s more coach’s strategy that DA’s play that is at fault here?

TWO: Is Kobe’s run as the lord of superstar calls coming to an abrupt halt? Have Wade and Lebron taken the mantle from the Mamba? Haggard over at A Stern Warning answers the question in Superstar bawls and superstar calls.

Alvin Gentry coaching

THREE: Pretend you are Alvin Gentrywhat would you do with the Sun’s roster? Bright Side asks this very valid question that has few answers right now. The Suns are struggling. They will not make the playoffs this season, and without major changes, they will not make it next season either. They are stuck with a few worthy pieces: Dragic could foreseeably grow into a starting PG one day. Dudley is a true bench spark and with an improve defensive game could become a very handy Posey / Ariza-esque role player (every championship team needs one of those). Frye can stretch the floor a la Rasheed Wallace and will punish teams with lazy forwards. Robin Lopez is clearly a work in progress but obviously has size, and you can’t teach size. The problem for Gentry is that none of those players, individually, are worth building a team around. They are just complimentary guys. The Suns best two players right now are 36 and 38 years old (Nash and Hill). It’s a conundrum. The recent Gortat and Carter trades will improve them in the short term, but should that even be the goal right now for this ball club? What would you do, Suns fans?

FOUR: In case you weren’t aware, Ray Allen is getting close to that all-time three point record. Before the start of today’s play he was only 43 threes short of Reggie Miller. To help celebrate the occasion, we are adding a Ray Countdown in the sidebar. The enormity of this achievement cannot be overstated. Folks, we are watching the greatest three-point shooter in the history of the NBA. Some of you might point out that the three-pointer has only been around for a few decades (it was adopted by the NBA in 1979-80), so the record is a little less meaningful than others. But I would disagree. I think Ray’s record will stand for a long time, like 20-30 years. There is currently no one playing in the NBA that has a remote chance of hitting 2700 career threes (the number you’ll likely need to beat Ray). For a 15-year career, you need to hit an average of 180 threes to reach that number. May not sound like much, until you realise that only a handful of players top 180 threes in any season – last year it was just 2 guys (Aaron Brooks and Danilo Gallinari).

To hit that many threes in your career you not only need to be a dead-eye shooter. You need to be durable, rounded enough to contribute in other ways on the floor, smart enough to continue getting your own shot off, and talented enough to warrant taking that many attempts. That last point is the crucial one. We’ve seen plenty of phenomenal three-point shooters over the years: Jason Kapono, Rashard Lewis, Peja Stojakovic (who will soon pass Dale Ellis to be 3rd on the all-time list) and Kyle Kover come to mind. But none of them were franchise players. None of them could command 15-20 field goal attempts per game. Ray Allen was a franchise player for a decade in Milwaukee and Seattle. He had the green light to hoist as many threes as he wanted, and did so at a high clip throughout. As an aging superstar his production decreased in Boston, but his three-point shot never wavered. This season, he’s averaging as many threes made (2.1 per game) as he did back in 1999-2000 when he was scoring 22 points per game with Milwaukee. I just can’t imagine any aging franchise player continuing to be so effective from long-range at 35 years of age. Sure, role players will be, but they haven’t logged the miles that Ray’s knees and ankles have.

Two other curiosities I’d like to raise with regards to this record. The first is Gilbert Arenas. As far as I can tell, he is the only player in the last decade who at a point in time, stood a good chance of beating Reggie Miller’s record. After six seasons in the league Arenas had drained 882 threes. At that point he was 25 years of age and a legitimate franchise player with the Wizards. The world was Gilbert’s oyster after the 2006-2007 season. What happened then was a combination of bad luck, injuries, and extreme stupidity. We all know the story. But what would have happened without that bad luck? Let’s do some math.

Over the prior three seasons, Arenas hit 205, 199 and 205 threes respectively. It’s no stretch to suggest he would have sustained that 200 average – at least – for another five seasons. He was just entering the prime of his career after all. That would have put him on 1900 threes after 11 seasons, at age 30. Then say he hit 160 threes for the next three seasons (far less than Ray’s average of 205 at that age), which would have put him at about 2400 threes at age 33. Arenas would have then only needed another 300 threes for the record, which would have been achievable given at least two more years of playing time. This doesn’t surprise me. Arenas is the archetypal player to own that record. Deadly offensively, huge green light to shoot, franchise player at a young age. But of course, he lacked the durability and sanity of Ray Allen, so he didn’t get close. But still, it’s an interesting discussion.

Could Gilbert Arenas have ended up the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history?

The other player I wanted to mention was Stephen Curry. When I said no current player will have a chance of beating Ray’s record, some Warriors fans might have screamed “what about Steph!”. Fact is, Curry is the best young three shooter in the league. He hit 166 threes in his rookie year, which was 50 more than Ray as a rookie. Thanks to injury this season, he’s on pace for about 120. Assuming he’s healthy, how many threes do you think Steph could hit over a 15 year career? Could he average the 180 necessary to beat Ray? I very much doubt it. Curry is a PG first, a scorer second. I can’t see him average 15-20 shots a game over a season, let alone the ten years Ray did it for. You can’t run around multiple screens to get open when you’re the point guard. It just doesn’t work that way. Nonetheless, even at this pace, Stephen Curry could very easily end up a Top 5 three-point shooter of all time. Again, something to think about.

FIVE: Marc Stein from ESPN just handed out his First Trimester awards, putting Amare Stoudemire as MVP of the East. With all due respect to Derrick Rose who is more likely to actually win the award, I completely agree with Stein’s decision there. And I have to completely swallow my pride on this one. Before the season started I said this:

New York, at this stage, is still laughable. Amare is not even close to being a franchise player and I expect that to play out quite amusingly very early on in the season. They will try and replicate the high octane offense that D’Antoni enjoyed with the Suns, except this time they’ll do it without the best point guard of the last decade and the #1 ingredient in that offense. Like I’ve been saying to several people, New York will no doubt be more fun to watch, and possibly a playoff team in the East. But not close to being serious contenders

The second part of that is still true. The Knicks are not serious contenders, and will likely fill up the 5th or 6th playoff spot. The first part of that statement is where I was wrong. Apparently Amare is a franchise player, and a decent one at that. I am utterly shocked by the transformation he’s made in New York and the impact he’s having on his team. I thought Amare was chasing money and fame. I thought he’d be happy being the token franchise player, rather than a true franchise player and leader. I thought his tumultuous end in Phoenix was a sign he didn’t care about winning, and that he was stupid for not embracing the fortunate position he had with Nash and that team. I thought his insistence on being “The Man” pointed to a deep-rooted hero complex that would always overwhelm his desire to get better as a basketball player.

Right now, it’s looking like I misread most of that. I’m still not 100% convinced it’s all untrue of course, that will only happen if he sustains this effort in the long term. But I’m already begrudgingly shifting a lot of respect back to Amare’s corner, and quite simply, I’m in awe of what he’s doing right now.

It’s not the extra points and touches and responsibility that impress me. It’s the way he’s carrying himself and the team. It’s the positivity he exudes. It’s the way he’s inspiring his teammates, his home crowd, the entire city. It’s infectious, because I’m not a Knicks fan and I’ve never been a huge Amare fan, but I’m feeling it.

Most of all, it’s the defensive tone he’s setting, for a team that is supposed to be allergic to defense. He’s having a career year in blocks with 2.3 per game – that’s good for fourth in the league and only .06 blocks per game behind Dwight. Think about that. Amare Stoudemire is fourth in the league in blocks. When did you ever think you’d hear that? I’ve ragged on Amare for his defense his entire career. Even Chucko, the eternally optimistic Suns fan himself, would regularly send me photos of Amare staring off into space while his opponent scored on him. Eventually those emails came faster than spam. Amare just never seemed interested in playing basketball at that end of the floor.

Now something has changed. I didn’t expect Amare to improve his defense coming to New York. I expected the opposite. I expected him to amp up his scoring to give the illusion that he’s a franchise player leading the way. No Knicks fan would have complained had Amare started averaging 30ppg with the rest of his game remaining the same. But instead he’s consciously trying to be a better, smarter defensive player, and for a scoring power-forward nine years into his career it is a remarkable adjustment. Improving is one thing, but to set the tone for your team, when NO ONE else is there to anchor the defense for you, says a lot about what Amare is truly willing to do.

Now, I’m not saying the Knicks are an elite defensive team. That’s almost impossible with D’Antoni as coach. But when you watch Amare, you will notice that his opponents are having a hard time scoring on him. As a Pistons fan I used to love watching Sheed go against him. Amare would start scoring, then run down the other end to play matador defense on Sheed. Sheed would score and back and forth they’d go. At some point Sheed would then decide to start playing D, and Amare would stop scoring. And at the other end Amare didn’t know how to respond accordingly, and Sheed would keep scoring. In the end Amare would be a broken man, stuck with one blunt axe while Sheed was there twirling two of them.

Go watch Amare this season. He’s scoring even more, but at the other end I’m not seeing that blank look of disinterest. Defense hasn’t become a 24-second distraction for Amare. It’s now a new game for him, a chance to showcase even more reasons why he’s a deserving franchise player. Maybe that motive is still individualistic, but it ends up in more W’s for the Knicks, and that’s all that really matters.

Of course Amare won’t really be the MVP, Derrick Rose probably will. But damn, you’ve got my attention again Amare. And I didn’t think I’d say that again for the rest of your career.

SIX: I’m sure many of you are familiar with the writings of Zach Harper. He’s a very excellent blogger that writes for the TrueHoop Network at ESPN, as well as a few other sites including Talk Hoops and Hardwood Paroxysm. It’s the later site where I recently read two very thought-provoking pieces from Zach. One on Rajon Rondo, and one on Kobe Bryant. Well worth the read folks.


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