Obscured bybigger stars, Josh Howard quietly fills up the stat sheet
A LATEFIRST-ROUND pick in 2003 despite lottery credentials at Wake Forest (ACC Playerof the Year, first-team All-America) and an All-Star snubbee last seasondespite top-shelf production (16.1 points, 6.7 rebounds per game at the break),Mavericks forward Josh Howard has spent the better part of his career in theshadows of superstar teammates Michael Finley, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. Soit's easy to see why the 6'7" Howard, whose scoring average has increasedin each of his first three seasons, might be overlooked by fantasy owners aswell. He should be underappreciated no longer. "He gives you a little ofeverything," says an Eastern Conference assistant coach. "You don'treally notice until you pick up the stat sheet and say, Wow, he did allthat?" More important, Howard is pain-free after battling ankle andhamstring injuries that cost him 23 games last year. You don't have to sell theMavs on the value of a potent Howard: Last season Dallas was 19--0 when hescored 20 points or more.
THE PRICE OFPEJA
Tempting as it may be to look past Peja Stojakovic's half season in Indiana--heaveraged 19.5 points in 40 games but never really looked comfortable--don'texpect a big turnaround from the 29-year-old swingman. "I understand whythe Hornets gave him all that money," says an Eastern Conference executiveof the five-year, $64 million deal that Stojakovic signed with New Orleans inJuly. "But I wouldn't have given him half that much." The 6'10"Stojakovic thrives alongside strong post players such as Jermaine O'Neal andChris Webber, who open up the floor. The Hornets have no such weapon (sorry,David West), and the results are telling: In his first three games Stojakovicaveraged 11.7 points on 33.3 % shooting.
J.R. GETS HISSHOT
What do Greg Buckner, DerMarr Johnson and Voshon Lenard have in common? Well,besides not having been selected in any self-respecting fantasy league, thetoothless troika has manned the Nuggets' two guard position over the last threeseasons. Enter sharpshooter J.R. Smith, who will get every chance to shine on ateam desperate for perimeter shooters. So far, so good: In his first two gameswith Denver, the product of St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, averaged 10.5 pointsin a mere 20.5 minutes. Two years ago Smith was a rising star following arookie season in which he averaged 10.3 points for the Hornets. But he spentlast year nailed to the bench after clashing with coach Byron Scott.
WHERE THERE'S AWILLIAMS...
Atlanta's plan to play small ball this season was put on the shelf when6'9", 230-pound Marvin Williams, a projected starter at forward, broke abone in his left hand on Oct. 26. But don't expect to hear Shelden Williamscomplaining. The 6'9", 250-pound rookie power forward will get most ofMarvin Williams's minutes in the Hawks' rejiggered starting lineup. SheldenWilliams (no relation to Marvin) will never be much of a scorer--he averaged13.9 points per game at Duke--but he's a tenacious rebounder and shot blockerwho can also pick up a few buckets around the rim. Any early sign of successwill give Hawks coach Mike Woodson reason to return Marvin Williams to hiscustomary role off the bench when he returns in four to six weeks.
IF YOU'RE lookingfor a quick fix in the middle, take a flyer on Lakers center ANDREW BYNUM. Justdon't expect any off-the-charts results, at least not in 2006--07. The19-year-old averaged 11.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in his firstfour starts this season, but with big men Kwame Brown (shoulder) and Chris Mihm(ankle) expected back next week, those numbers will come back to earth.
THE SEASON-ENDINGknee injury that Sonics center Robert Swift suffered in an Oct. 25 preseasongame against the Kings made 6'9" forward Nick Collison a lot more valuablein Seattle. The Sonics agreed, locking up Collison with a four-year, $26million contract extension six days later.
BOSTON COACHESare raving about rookie point guard Rajon Rondo, the 21st pick in the draft outof Kentucky, who is already a better playmaker than third-year man (and newCeltic) Sebastian Telfair.
THE UPAND UP
Howard has increased his scoring average in each of his first three NBAseasons.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH