As serious followers of the NBA, we recently have been seduced by a list of compelling storylines that includes Michael Jordan's ownership confirmation and the golf game of Mike Dunleavy.
These distractions have caused some of us to overlook the tremendous jumps in performance that have been unleashed by many of the league's uniformed employees. Well, tremendous may be a bit of an exaggeration for some of the players on my upcoming roster, but we'll throw them in anyway.
Before calling roll on who's been hot lately, let's investigate just how and/or why these players have been turning it on. One variable is playing time; it certainly is quite a bit easier to achieve a statistical uprising when you're actually on the floor. One player we're about to salute has been on the clock a lot more since his team traded the guy working ahead of him. Another has been rollin' since he was traded from one team to another team with more available shots.
Two have skyrocketed because veterans they were playing behind have been injured. The others either took a while to get it going for whatever reason or have dialed it up as the regular-season finish line approaches.
So, without further preamble, let's take a look at this NBA hot list:
ANDRAY BLATCHE, PF, WASHINGTON WIZARDS
In addition to assisting the championship efforts of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively, the Wizards created playing time and responsibility for this 23-year-old, preps-to-pros prospect. By shipping Antawn Jamison to Cleveland, Washington created a starting spot for Andray. By sending Caron Butler to Dallas, the Wizards created an even greater opportunity for Blatche to become that special someone who has to score points on a bad team.
Dig the difference: As a substitute, Andray gave the Wiz 8.7 points (on 47 percent shooting) and 4.8 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. As a starter, he's producing 21.6 points (on 52 percent shooting) and 9.1 rebounds in 37 minutes.
It gets even better: Blatche is under contract for two more seasons at less than $7 million total.
DARREN COLLISON, PG, NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
When Chris Paul, generally considered the world's best point guard, went out with an injury, this rookie from UCLA took the ball and ran ... and passed ... and shot his way into statistical glory.
In limited minutes off the bench, DC was supplying the Hornets with 4.5 points (on 41 percent shooting) and a couple of dimes. With Paul on the mend and no pressure on Collison to keep the team in playoff contention (Paul probably couldn't have done that anyway), the kid has come up with 18.3 points (on 48 percent shooting) and 9 assists; New Orleans is only 8-15 since CP3 left in early February, but it's not the fault of a kid they now should refer to as DC2
AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE, PF, PHOENIX SUNS
Amar'e, who is averaging 22 points and 8.8 rebounds on the season, is unloading for 28 and 10 in March after putting up 25.3 and 10 in February. So, what gives?
Well, those who follow the Suns like to point out that Stoudemire turned up his intensity after sitting out the fourth quarter of a game with the Dallas Mavericks. It was suggested that his less-than-prime effort resulted in this benching from Coach Alvin Gentry, who denied that theory.
OK, if we avoid buying into that, perhaps we can point to Amar'e getting back into a comfort zone after not leaving Phoenix at the trading deadline or having second-year center Robin Lopez now riding shotgun and providing some inside assistance.
Whatever it is, the Suns will take more of the same.
MANU GINOBILI, SG, SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The numbers don't lie. Manu, who is averaging 14.8 points and making 43 percent of his shots from the field this season, is putting in 19.4 per game this month. He averaged 18.5 last month. He averaged a measly 12.6 in January. The shooting percentages correspond with the scoring upgrades.
The numbers also tell us that Ginobili took a while to fully heal after a groin injury; with the field-goal percentage and free-throw attempts rising, this says the veteran from Argentina now has regained his cutting ability and can drive to the hoop.
JOHN SALMONS, SF, MILWAUKEE BUCKS
This one's pretty simple. Salmons, who was sent to the Bucks from the Chicago Bulls at the trading deadline, was averaging just under 10 shots per game while working in the Windy City.
Playing for the Bucks, who don't have Luol Deng and Derrick Rose taking up most of the shooting opportunities, Salmons now squeezes off almost 15 shots per game (the percentage is up two points) and puts up about 2.5 more free throws each night.
His scoring average has risen from 12.6 in Chicago to 18.8 as a Buck. It also should be noted that the Bucks, who needed someone to score from the wings, had won 12 of 13 games before falling to the Clippers on Wednesday.
ANDREW BOGUT, C, MILWAUKEE BUCKS
While his offense has remained constant for most of the season, defense and rebounding from Bogut has helped the Bucks in the aforementioned 12-1 march.
In that 13-game interlude, Bogut swatted an average of 3.8 shots per game and hauled in 11.5 rebounds. But unlike Dwight Howard, we doubt that Andrew is capable of winning a dunk contest or interested in heaving half-court hook shots before the game.
He probably spends that pre-game time working on his post moves.
RODRIGUE BEAUBOIS, PG/SG, DALLAS MAVERICKS
The Mavs' rookie had been considered their future point guard, but the injury to Jason Terry and Beaubois' ability to score makes him a perfect fill-in for The Jet, who is a two in the body of a one.
With that in mind, Rod, who is averaging a meager 6.7 points for the season, is putting up 17.2 (on 55 percent shooting) points per game in March. It'll be interesting to see if Rick Carlisle continues to find minutes for the kid when Terry returns.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK, PG, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
All this guy has done since being under-recruited in high school is improve. He went from freak athlete at UCLA to Collison's running mate, to one of the Pac-10's most improved players to lottery pick to rookie bonanza.
This season, Westbrook has elevated his game enough to join Kevin Durant in creating one of the league's most formidable 1-2 punches.
The numbers have been on the rise since December, when Russell averaged 15 points (on 36 percent shooting) and 7.5 assists. The scoring went from 16 to 18.8 to 19 in January, February and March, respectively. The increase in field-goal percentage and assists also have fallen into lock step. If this kid continues to get better, it may not be that easy for the Thunder to afford both of their young stars down the road.
BRANDON ROY, SG, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
This one's not so difficult to figure out. Roy has had hamstring issues that limited him to seven games in February, when he produced only 16.3 points per game. With the hammy healing, the Blazers' star is getting 24 per game in March and has bumped up his field-goal percentage a full two points over what he managed last month.
DERON WILLIAMS, PG, UTAH JAZZ
Another upgrade from injury (quad bruise), D-Will has improved six percentage points in shooting from the field over the last month and has boosted his scoring average by two points.
Making things a bit rosier is the early-March schedule that featured six games (out of eight) with teams that don't exactly turn up the heat on defense.