ONE: Pop Quiz: Who is THE in-form center in the league at the moment? If you answered Dwight Howard, you’d be incorrect. The correct answer is actually Chris Kaman. But who is the second most in-form center at the moment? That would probably be Andrew Bogut. Since looking very rusty in his first two games, the big Aussie has been picking up steam with the Bogomoter (TM) similarly soaring to never-before-seen heights. It all culminated in today’s huge 22 point, 8 rebound, 4 assist effort against the Knicks, which is – get this – his highest points total since April 16th 2008 (as usual, head over to Brew Hoop for the post-game reactions) This came after a similarly impressive 17-10-4 game against Minnesota yesterday, both games of course without the injured Michael Redd in the side. Bogut is always generally starved of media fanfare, no doubt owing to the unspectacular way he goes about his work. Reading through game recaps you’ll rarely hear players or coaches single him out, but he’s starting to get some worthy praise, starting with his own rookie teammate today:

Bogut was on fire," said Jennings. "He’s been playing real well. We need that every night from him. Now that Michael Redd is down, he’s picking up the scoring a little for us, and that’s helping us out a lot."

Bogut had this to say about his own conditioning:

You’re not going to have 20 and 10 every game. I’m definitely starting to feel better. The last two days I have been real tight. Obviously in the exhibition games I had limited minutes and now it’s in the full swing of things. Five games in ten days, it’s getting my body back used to those hits.”

Starting to feel better? Yeah, you could say that. Welcome back Mr Jefferson.

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Apart from dominating David Lee and Al Jefferson over the past two days – no mean feat I might add – there was also the extremely cool situation which arose during the Bucks-Wolves match yesterday. That being the rarest of occasions in the NBA when two Australians hit the hardwood to play against each other as direct opponents. Andrew Bogut and Nathan Jawai. We already saw it earlier in the season when David Andersen and Bogut faced off. To think its now happening with some regularity… well, it just feels a bit weird really. Obviously Bogut had the better of Jawai, who was only given three minutes but managed to go 1-1 and grab a rebound.

TWO: Obviously the biggest NBA news today is Allen Iverson being given permission by the Grizzlies to head home for “personal reasons”. What that really means is AI is still bitching about coming off the bench, and has suddenly realised that coming off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies is akin to playing backup tambourine for a country rock band. That is, it’s the pinnacle of shite. The big question here is, have we seen the last of AI? Chad Ford grapples with the question. For me, I struggle to see AI walking away from the game. Not only because it’s the worst-case scenario for retirement when you’re a future Hall of Famer like Iverson. But because Iverson still has plenty left in the tank. He could still average 20-25 points on a team in the right situation. That is no doubt what is frustrating the hell out of AI – the fact he knows he could do this, the fact he’s still chasing that elusive ring. Iverson doesn’t want to sit in an armchair on the bench and be a passenger on a train to a championship. He wants to drive the train. That of course is the manifestation of a delusional and severely misguided ego, and you’d hope these recent reality checks – first Detroit, now Memphis – are slowly forcing Iverson to rethink his entire take on the situation. Maybe this needed to happen, so he can leave the game for a while and come back ready to be a role player. Most GMs seem to think that kind of shift in mindset is impossible for AI, but we say the same about most superstars in this league before they reach that crossroad. AI might just need a little more time than most. If he is capable of taking a backseat, I guarantee there would be several teams interested later in the season when their hands are on the ‘Panic’ button. For now, just sit back and enjoy the speculation that will mount up over the coming days.

THREE: I didn’t read that much into Kobe Bryant’s pre-season work-outs with Hakeem Olajuwon. For me Kobe was already far and away the best post-up shooting guard in the league, so I didn’t see a lot of room for improvement there. But as Silver Screen and Roll said yesterday, early indications are that Kobe is simply dominating in the post – more than most could have imagined. Kobe’s 41 against Memphis yesterday saw him become the youngest ever player to reach 24,000 points, took him past Iverson on the All-Time scorers list, and saw him record his third 40-point game out of four. But its the way Kobe’s been going about it that is so startling, taking his defenders into the post early and often. Against Memphis yesterday Kobe did not take one three-point attempt.  It’s the first time that’s happened since November 7th 2006 – exactly three years ago. That includes playoffs, so we’re talking about a stretch of 300+ games where Kobe attempted at least one three (and between 5-6 on average). He’s on pace to have his lowest total three-pointers made in a season since 2001-2002. The consensus is this is no fluke – Kobe is making a conscious effort to get to the post more often, where he’ll almost certainly get the bulk of his points as his career winds down. Not that his career is winding down, mind you. Kobe has been simply phenomenal so far this season.

FOUR: Andre Iguodala, you are ridiculous.

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FIVE: I’m still trying to figure out, as I’m sure you are too, if the Phoenix Suns are the real deal. Ryan picked them as his #1 under-the-radar contender a couple of weeks back, which at the time I found very amusing (no offense Ryan, but seriously, the Suns?!?). What was even more amusing though was reading the comment by Chucko (aka The Frustrated Suns Fan) in response to that piece:

“Suns” and “Contenders” should not be uttered in the same sentence this season. Amare is a shadow of his former self, and there is nobody who can guard a dominant big man. The first game the Suns struggled to get over the Clips, and Grant Hill was our leading rebounder. That speaks volumes about how f*cked the Suns are.”

Of course such a response is typical of the most frustrated Suns fan in the world, but he was happily gloating when I spoke to him earlier today. “Number 1 in the West baby!” he kept shouting, which sounds ridiculous, but if you look at the standings, it’s true. It’s very early days yet, but out of all my preseason predictions it’s looking like the team I was most wrong about was the Phoenix Suns. I had them dropping off from last year. I couldn’t see Nash playing at this level any more – basically he looks as good as he was four years ago. I couldn’t see Grant Hill get mentally and physically rejuvenated for another 82-game season.  And I thought that Amare would simply start mailing it in at some point (which I’m not ruling out). But instead those three guys have raised their games and renewed their focus. Jason Richardson is doing exactly what he was brought in to do – run, score and shoot threes (he’s 52% from behind the arc so far), Channing Frye is looking like a young Rasheed Wallace, and Barbosa was looking in career-best form before he hurt his wrist (he might be back tomorrow). And WTF even guys like Dudley, Dragic and Amundson are looking good. Don’t take it from me, this is what Doc Rivers said after the loss yesterday:

And, hell, it’s rare when I’ll say ‘Keep Grant Hill on the floor,’ but we wanted him on the floor instead of Dudley, the way Dudley was playing. He was just a thorn in our butt. I mean, the biggest, one of their biggest plays is that back-cut down the stretch. But he did it all game. He was absolutely fantastic tonight. I thought Dudley was – him and Amundson – I thought those two were fantastic.”

That was the first time in the history of the English language that the words “Dudley”, “Amundson” and “fantastic” were used in the same sentence. It’s got to be the early-season fluke rule, right? Not if you ask Suns fans, who are starting to see glimpses of a real team – and they’ve seen some pretty good teams in recent years.

SIX: The people have spoken. When I put it to the vote as to who should be departing NBAMate’s Wall of Fame (the faces in our banner), the answer was clear: Sasha has to go. Readers of this site will know that Sasha became immortalised in NBAMate history when I personally met him during my travels to the US earlier this year. Out of all the NBA players I spoke to (and there were dozens), Sasha gave me the most time and was the most genuine. As gay as it sounds, it made an impression on me. I went and bought a Vujacic jersey, and for every Lakers game there-on I would rise and shout “Sashaaaa” every time he launched a three. The only problem is, after I met Sasha he curiously decided to stop playing basketball properly. He became a shadow of The Machine who dominated in the previous season, who was legitimately one of the best outside shooters in the league. So as nice as the guy is, the NBAMate Wall of Fame cannot prop up players who are simply not performing. So without any regret, we say farewell to Sasha – thanks for the memories, for your sooky glances and over-energetic defense, for your long flowing hair and your dunk on Sacramento. Here’s hoping you can rediscover your old Machine ways before Shannon Brown permanently replaces you and you end up jobless.

The decision on his replacement was an easy one – as many of you suggested in the comments. Patty Mills, our new Aussie NBA hope. I’d been toying with the idea of putting Patty in the WoF for a long time, but now that he’s signed a contract with the Blazers, it seemed only fitting he gets honoured by (probably) Australia’s Best NBA Blog. Welcome to the Wall of Fame Patty. Here’s hoping you stay there for a long, long time.


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