1. Markieff Morris – Markieff Morris (pictured below) was pretty solid over the last seven days, averaging 11.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. Morris also shot 15/27 (55.6%) from the field and averaged one block and one steal per game in that time. The older Morris needed a strong week to maintain his position on top of the leaderboard, and he came through in the clutch as the Suns went 2-1. Phoenix has a great chance to move up in the Western Conference standings (as Chris Paul will be sidelined for a few weeks with a separated shoulder), meaning that Markieff Morris will need to step up for the Suns, who would be the seventh seed in the West if the playoffs began today. There isn’t much new to say about Markieff Morris, but it is interesting to note that two of his three games next week will be against unfamiliar opponents: The Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls. I’ll have more about the Chicago matchup later in the “What to Watch for” section, but I would like to briefly touch on the Suns-Timberwolves upcoming game. Markieff Morris will be battling for rebounds against the likes of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love, two of the best rebounders in the entire NBA. Love currently leads the NBA in rebounds per game (13.5) while Pekovic ranks 17th with 9.1. Love and Pekovic average a combined 34.4 points per game, and they will each pose a difficult task for Markieff Morris, although it should be a great opportunity for Morris to prove that he belongs as one of the better power forwards in the entire NBA. He certainly doesn’t hurt his case with dunks like these…
2. Paul Pierce – Pierce had a pretty remarkable bounce-back week, as he moved up two spots from last week’s list. I’ll discuss his week more in depth below, as Pierce is this week’s player of the week, but I want to touch on the anomaly that is the 2013-2014 season of the former Kansas great. Every time Pierce has had a down week and is looking like a shell of his old self, he has managed to bounce back and string together some impressive performances. Pierce nearly shot up to number one on this list, but there were a couple of things that kept him out of that top spot. I’ve talked about a few of those things before, but one that bears repeating is the fact that Pierce averages far too many turnovers per game. Of the 433 players to play this season in the NBA, only thirty players average more turnovers per game than Pierce, putting him in the 93rd percentile for turning the ball over. That isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. Additionally, Pierce averages .36 steals for every turnover, meaning that he is nearly three times more likely to give a possession away than to gain an extra possession for his team. If Pierce can get over his turnover woes, there is a real chance that he can take over the top spot on this list. However, if Pierce’s season has taught us one thing, it’s that you really can’t anticipate how he’s going to perform.
3. Mario Chalmers – 6th out of all NBA point guards in Assist Ratio, 11th in True Shooting Percentage, 26th in rebound rate. You know who doesn’t have statistics as good as these? Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, Nate Robinson and Deron Williams. You know who does? Mario Chalmers. Mario Chalmers has put together quite an impressive season, ranking higher than the aforementioned players in at least two of the three categories. Chalmers nearly earned a third player of the week award, after averaging 12.0 points, 6.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. Chalmers had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.53, and he appears to be playing his best basketball of the season, especially since the New Year, as he has shot 10/16 (62.5%) from the floor. Chalmers has helped the Heat improve to 9-2 in their last 11 games, and the Heat haven’t lost by double digits since December 3rd (I refrained from making a clichéd “in a year” or “since 2013” comment… you’re welcome). As if it wasn’t official already, Chalmers has exceeded even the wildest of expectations when he was taken 34th overall in the 2008 NBA draft. Chalmers has been huge for the Heat, especially in the NBA Finals, where he has had two separate 20-point games, including a huge 25-point outburst against the Oklahoma City Thunder (in a narrow victory I might add). At 25-8 the Heat may very well be on their way to winning a third consecutive title, and they would be the first team to reach four consecutive NBA Finals since Larry Bird’s Celtics accomplished it from 1984-1987. In fact, such a feat has only been accomplished twice since Bill Russell reached a remarkable 10 consecutive NBA Finals’ appearances in Boston. Mario Chalmers will be need to be impressive if LeBron James and company are going to three-peat, which certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
4. Marcus Morris – Marcus Morris dropped a spot this week, and simply put, he hasn’t looked like himself over the last few weeks, averaging just 9.2 points per game (1.1 points per game down from his season average). That being said, Morris has performed better on the glass, as he did snag 5.7 boards per game over the last seven days. We have seen a different side of Marcus Morris over the last few weeks, as he has seemingly refocused his style of play to help the Suns in different ways, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Marcus Morris is truly a jack-of-all-trades, master of none; he is nothing if not versatile. There simply aren’t enough clichés to express the versatility of the younger Morris’ game, as he often draws the typical comparison to a Swiss Army Knife. If Morris does have a weakness, it is that he simply doesn’t have any one area of his game that he can hang his proverbial hat on, and if he is to become a starter in the NBA, he’ll certainly need to develop in that area. For that reason, Jeff Hornacek (head coach of the Phoenix Suns) is really unable to give him major minutes, as he doesn’t have a specific position on the court. That being said, if Morris has another productive year in slimming down and increasing his speed, he may finally fit in the NBA as a true small forward, which will allow him to play increased minutes in the future.
5. Darrell Arthur – I’ll begin this by posing a simple question… Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? Darrell Arthur (pictured above), also known as Shady, has been pretty good over the last few games, and he plays under a coach (Brian Shaw) who values in-game performance and will reward guys who are playing well with more minutes. However, this has not been the case for Arthur the entire season. Arthur has had his share of up-and-down games begging the question: Who is the real Slim Shady? When Darrell Arthur is at his best, he is a dynamic scorer. Among his best games were his 14-point performance (on 7-7 shooting) in a blowout win over the Raptors and his 13-point game (1-1 from three-point range) against Miami, as the Nuggets nearly knocked off the defending champions. However, Arthur has also had some rough games, including a two-point, two-turnover game against the Warriors where he fouled out in just twenty-two minutes. I believe Arthur is getting closer to figuring it all out, as he’s averaged 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game over his last six games and 9.0 points per game over the last week. Oh, and he got bonus points for performing well on one of the games I highlighted as a key matchup last week (Miami vs Denver).
This is Arthur’s first appearance on the list, so I also want to mention the THREE (not one, not two… sorry, I had to do it) other Jayhawks he beat out to claim the final spot on the list. First, let’s talk about Ben McLemore. McLemore has absolutely fallen off the face of the Earth these last few weeks, as he has not gelled at all with Rudy Gay. I plan on addressing that issue in another article in the upcoming weeks. Second, Arthur beat out Xavier Henry who is struggling with an injury, but he should be able to get back on the list pending his return to action. Finally, Arthur jumped over Kirk Hinrich who has averaged just 5.0 points per game since returning from injury. Furthermore, Hinrich has shot an appalling 6/22 (27.3%) over the last seven days. It appears that Hinrich is still shaking off the “injury-bug,” so while he struggles to return to form I’ll give Arthur the nod over him.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Paul Pierce
It has been incredibly difficult to figure out Paul Pierce, and this week was no different. This is Pierce’s third time as player of the week, but he has also had his lows, spending two weeks off of the list entirely. Over the last seven days Pierce led the Nets to a 2-1 record, averaging 16.0 points, 4.7 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. Pierce certainly stuffed the stat sheet, and his production allowed him to get to the line on six separate occasions (he ended up going 10-10 from the line). Pierce did however struggle with turnovers (3.3 per game) and shooting (17-43, 39.5%). Pierce was also a bit flat from behind the three-point line, hitting just four triples on thirteen attempts (30.8%). Pierce appears to be back in his best shape since the beginning of the season, as he managed to play 34 minutes in back-to-back games for the first time since LAST YEAR (I had to sneak that one in somewhere, apologies). Pierce had actually gone eight games without logging 34 minutes in two consecutive games; he’s only accomplished the feat twice on the year. In comparison, Pierce achieved this feat 17 times in last year’s regular season, and he tallied 50 minutes in a game twice (including 54 minutes against the Nuggets in a triple overtime game, where Pierce had 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists). While Pierce has shown considerable decline due to age, he still has the ability to be a solid performer in the NBA.
Overall… It was an exciting week for the Jayhawks in the NBA, as all five players on the list performed relatively well. There was even a brand-new face on the list for the first time since Week 2! There was a lot of movement on the list, and I’ll say it right now… If Pierce can put together an efficient week (both shooting and handling the ball), he will take over the top spot on the list (barring something exceptional). It has been fun to watch all the Jayhawks in what has nearly been the first half of the NBA season, especially with many of them on track to make the postseason, including the Morris Twins, Thomas Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison. This upcoming week will be one to watch, so without any further ado, let’s get to it…
What to Watch for: This week there are four key matchups I would like to highlight. First, the Phoenix Suns will head over to Chicago to take on the Bulls this Tuesday. The Morrii will be facing off against the powerful tandem of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, and Kirk Hinrich will be looking to return to form in this game of potential playoff teams. Second, Darrell Arthur and the Denver Nuggets will take on Nick Collison and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. In his last game against the Thunder, Arthur was just 0-4 from the floor, while Nick Collison was impressive, totaling eight points and six rebounds, with a plus/minus of +18. Arthur will certainly be looking to rebound and to show up the other former Kansas big man. Third, the Brooklyn Nets will take on the Miami Heat on Friday, in a game that will showcase the last two players of the week: Mario Chalmers and Paul Pierce. That game will be shown on ESPN and www.WatchESPN.com. Fourth, I want to bring up a game that is not as interesting because of the matchup, but rather because of a couple of the players. Tuesday, January 7th, the Lakers will take on the San Antonio Spurs. Why is this matchup interesting? Well first, this game has been targeted by the Lakers to be Xavier Henry’s first game back from injury. It will be interesting to see how he reestablishes himself. Second, the starting point guard for the Lakers is Kendall Marshall. If the name sounds familiar, it is probably because he sat out against the Jayhawks (due to injury) in the NCAA Tournament, which allowed the Jayhawks to handle the Tar Heels fairly easily and advance to their fourteenth Final Four. Ah, memories… am I right? These four matchups will provide the various Jayhawks in the NBA with great opportunities to solidify their spots on the list and maybe even move up a couple spots. Finally, I will leave all of you with a recap of the first ten weeks. As always, if you have any comments or question please write them below or send them to me on twitter: @ScottChasen1994.