Updated: Dec. 19, 2005, 9:46 AM ET

Paul's got it all

By Greg Anthony
ESPN Insider

In the Rookie of the Year race, we've got a clear-cut leader rejuvenating a Hornets team given little shot to challenge many teams this year. Here's how I rank the top five rookies so far this season:

1. Chris Paul, Hornets guard. Watch this guy. When some young guys get bumped in traffic, they don't have the ability to finish.

Paul finishes. He's a prototype 6-1, 6-2 point guard. He has really taken basically the same team they had a year ago, and made them better. He leads all rookies in scoring (16.7 ppg) and assists (7.0 ppg). Those are numbers, along with his ranking near the top 10 in assist-turnover ratio, that are comparable with those of the best point men in the league.

It's one thing to be a good player as a rookie. It's another thing entirely to be a superstar in the making. That's Paul.

2. Channing Frye, Knicks forward. He's more of a power forward than a center, and he can stretch the defense with his range. An excellent shooter. I'd like to see him do better rebounding with his size, put more power in his game. He's been hurt because his team is in disarray. He's one of the few bright spots.

3. Charlie Villanueva, Raptors forward. His preparedness says a lot about UConn players -- one of a long line of guys who've come out and had an impact. With him and Chris Bosh, they can be pretty potent at forward. He's been a better shooter (46 percent FG, 12.6 ppg) than he was given credit for coming into the season. I never questioned his talent, but I did question the Raptors picking another power forward.

4. Deron Wiliams, Jazz guard -- Pretty solid. Big, physical. Not as quick as some others. He's got to improve on his shooting (40 percent FG). I think he'll be better when his team plays better.

5. Andrew Bogut, Bucks forward. His numbers (8.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) are very mediocre, but he plays on a pretty complete team, so they're not asking a lot out of him. Playing alongside Jamaal Magliore helps. He's learning how to win without the pressure of carrying the load; that's a huge advantage for a young guy.

ON THE FIVE FRINGE: Rockets guard Luther Head has come on of late, when they needed it. He's got a lot of game, he can shoot the basketball, and can play the 1 and the 2. The Hawks' Salim Stoudamire is a combo guard who can flat-out shoot. If he works at it, he has a chance to be a very good player. The best shooter in the draft.

Marvin Williams, the No. 2 pick in the draft, has definitely struggled. He hasn't figured out who he is for that team. The one positive is they're playing better. Bobcats guard Raymond Felton has struggled to shoot (30 percent FG). Defensively he's fine, offensively not the decision-maker you'd like to see.

His fellow Tar Heel in Charlotte, Sean May, is going to have to overcome an overall lack of quickness and athleticism. There's going to be a period of adjustment, but I think he has the tools to be a solid NBA player. He's really going to have to work at creating space for himself. The sixth overall pick, Blazers forward Martell Webster, hasn't been able to do much of what he does best -- shoot.

ESPN NBA studio host Greg Anthony played for six NBA teams in 11 seasons.

Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: December 7 | 8 | 9 | 10-11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17-18

That's A Carry
After they both made clutch shots late in overtime, Josh Smith picks up Hawks teammate Tyronn Lue with Joe Johnson (30 points, nine assists) looking on. The Hawks celebrated a 110-107 overtime win over the Nuggets.

Atlanta Finding Its Range

Break up the Hawks! Atlanta won its fourth game in five tries in overtime Sunday against Denver, and a big reason has been the sharpshooting of Joe Johnson. The former Suns sniper is averaging 24.6 points in that stretch and hitting 52.2 percent from the floor, including a sizzling 6-of-7 from downtown in Friday's win over the Knicks.

Helping Johnson is Atlanta's renewed focus on sharing the ball, which has earned him numerous open jumpers on the weak side when Al Harrington or Zaza Pachulia initiate a play in the post. Sunday marked the Hawks' fourth straight game with at least 20 assists, after they averaged only 16.5 in the season's first 19 games.

And if the Hawks can keep up their improved passing, the upcoming schedule should help them move up in the standings. After Tuesday's visit to Miami, the Hawks play 13 of 19 at home, and only three of the 19 are against clubs from the powerful West -- Atlanta's payback for a brutal early-season slate.

-- John Hollinger

NBA Intelligence Report

Artest: I Made A Big Mistake
"Ron Artest expanded on his desire to remain with the team Sunday in a telephone interview, claiming he 'made a big mistake' by asking to be traded. ... He talked with CEO Donnie Walsh, and spoke with Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal. Artest called other players as well but wasn't able to reach them, and planned to call coach Rick Carlisle on Sunday night. ... Artest would not divulge the nature of his conversation with O'Neal but regretted not talking to him earlier." -- Indianapolis Star

KG's Game Ahead Of Nowitzki's
"A pondered trade by one daydreaming columnist back in October wondered if a Dirk Nowitzki-Kevin Garnett trade might be a deal that could help both teams. Sufficient evidence never was offered, and Casey couldn't think of any Sunday night. 'Kevin's ahead of him as far as dominating the game in different ways. Kevin does a little more in rebounding, blocking shots, he's our assists leader. No disrespect to Dirk, but Kevin has more of an impact on the game, all-around, for us, the coach said." -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

Changes Under Riley Are Noticeable
"Pat Riley won't be able to put his true stamp on the Heat for another several weeks, as he finally gets some practice time with his players. But the first four games did display some subtle changes and the general direction Riley wants to go with his latest group of players. 'I think all of us have benefited [from] Coach Riley coming in and just giving us the opportunity to just run and make plays, like Gary [Payton], Antoine [Walker] and myself who can get out on the open floor and make plays,' Dwyane Wade said." -- Miami Herald

Bobcats Show Little Fighting Spirit
"The Charlotte Bobcats had a reputation last season -- a persona, really -- that they outworked most every other NBA team. This wasn't a marketing ploy; it was legit. I know because I heard the words and saw the expressions from opposing players, stunned by the resistance the Bobcats put up. I remember asking various Bobcats this preseason how hard it would be to maintain that persona. They'd shrug or offer condescending smiles in reply, as if it was a given they'd always outwork opponents. These first 24 games say otherwise." -- Charlotte Observer

Read the entire Intelligence Report on ESPN Insider Insider

Buzzing In Oklahoma City
Hornets guard Chris Paul, who finished one assist shy of a triple-double, gets a postgame hug from teammate J.R. Smith after their team beat the Spurs, 89-76.

Extreme Behavior

Sunday's Best
Jason Kidd, Nets guard: Rolled out 24 points, 13 dimes and nine rebounds as New Jersey showed a glimmer of why some once counted them as an Eastern contender. His Nets roll the Warriors, 118-90.


Sunday's Worst
Nick Van Exel, Spurs guard: He did not give a lift off the bench needed for a weary Spurs team facing a Hornets squad backed by a pumped up full house in Oklahoma City. Five missed shots in 12 minutes of (in)action. But he did score one point, so he does have that going for him.


Quote of the Night
"We've got to win a few more like this and maybe [NBA commissioner] David Stern will get us on there."
-- Hornets forward P.J. Brown, whose team beat the defending champion Spurs 89-76, noting that his team is not scheduled to be on national TV for the rest of the season.

See how all 137 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres

Life On The Ron

Pacers management said it is willing to keep Ron Artest on the inactive list for the remainder of the season, but don't count on that happening. The longer the pre-trade limbo continues, the more the issue will chafe at a roster that needs to put the whole matter behind it.

"Not trading him doesn't help us. Bring us somebody who can make us better. Give us something we can look forward to," Jermaine O'Neal told Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz. "If he's on the inactive list, he's still damaging the team we have now, and that's not right."

See Chris Sheridan's complete blog Insider

Elias Says

Andre Iguodala scored a game-high 26 points, including six dunks, in the 76ers' 107-80 win over the Raptors. The other A.I. equaled the most dunks in a game by a guard over the last five seasons, and he raised his total for the season to 39 to rank second among guards to Dwyane Wade (51).

Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Feelin' It

Chauncey Billups, at the age of 29 and in his ninth NBA season, declares that he's never been better as he leads his Pistons (18-3), sporting a franchise-best start over 21 games, into Memphis on Monday night.

"I'm playing the best I've ever played right now," Billups said after the Pistons blew out the Bobcats on Saturday. "I have that freedom to run the show. I know the offense inside and out, I know where people are going to be. Things are really good right now."

His career-best numbers include: 18.4 ppg and 8.8 apg, all while sinking 92 percent of his free throws and 46 percent of his 3-point attempts.

-- The Associated Press

Dime Mailbag: On Your Honors

Readers react to Tim Legler's First Quarter Awards:

Tim, I can't believe you would overlook Derek Fisher for serious consideration as Best Sixth Man of the Quarter. Though I've never been a huge Fisher fan, but I've got to give him his props (and you should, too). He is absolutely a big reason they've won many of their games, and also the only thing keeping them close in their losses. He should, at the very least, receive a runner-up nod. P.S. Totally agree with you on the retro jerseys. Hideous.
-- Jeffrey W. (San Ramon, CA)

I think Chauncey Billups should have been given consideration for first-quarter MVP. He has led the best team in the league through a change of style, he plays great defense, which Nash does not, his numbers are great, and his assists/turnovers ratio is out of this world.
-- Joe (New York)

I have to say I'm amazed that you omitted Dirk Nowitzki from your top three MVPs of the quarter. He has been the only constant star for the team this season and is doing it all for them. They're 9-0 when Nowitzki scores 30+. Also, the Mavs are in the top ten in differentials in: RPG, SPG, BPG, PPG, and hold their opponents to a sixth-best 93.5 PPG. If Dirk's the only one who has been there consistently, you have to think he's doing something.
-- Jared (Dallas)



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