The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, added a gigantic post presence named Shaquille O'Neal, who was unable to prevent the team with last season's best regular-season record from losing its first two games. A flashy new wing named Richard Jefferson exploded for an average of seven points in the San Antonio Spurs' first two parties, while Ron Artest was throwing around bricks at the Lakers' palace in Los Angeles.
Blueprints worked considerably better in Boston, where Rasheed Wallace (my choice as the top off-season powerhouse addition) seems like a beautiful fit with the Celtics, and in Orlando, where Vince Carter's trigger finger has caused little damage for the Magic.
It should be noted that while the aforementioned teams have generated the most newcomer interest, key additions have sparked stellar first-week play elsewhere (hello, Dallas and Denver).
Anyway, just when critical watchdogs were preparing to wag their fingers after checking a whopping sample size that covered five percent of the regular season, the powerhouses now look ready to pass inspection.
We'll begin in Cleveland, where a big third quarter from Shaq enabled the Cavaliers to rally from an 18-point deficit Tuesday night and defeat the Washington Wizards. Shaq, who had seemed like an odd matching-furniture choice on offense through four games, banged in 21 points and claimed eight rebounds as Cleveland ran its recovery winning streak to a modest three.
O'Neal insisted he had been more aggressive in his fifth game, and Cavs coach Mike Brown said having Shaq as an option on the block is "like Christmas."
But a look at the numbers tells us Shaq was more efficient than aggressive, converting 7 of 9 field-goal tries. O'Neal has taken 22 total shots in Cleveland's three victories, after squeezing off a more robust 23 in two defeats. This could mean that using Shaq in modest fashion may improve the aesthetics and keep LeBron James happy, but we'll see if O'Neal can stay engaged when averaging less than 10 field-goal attempts per game. It helps that Brown is scrapping the use of O'Neal as the trail-screener in their secondary offense (no pick and pop threat there, right) and having the Great Ex-Laker run straight to the rim.
As interesting as his future on offense may be, the biggest concern for the Cavs will be how Shaq evolves on defense. Never a dynamo on that end of the floor, O'Neal's Inability (or reluctance) to serve as a road block on screen-roll defense could compromise the efforts of one of the league's best defensive teams.
A larger sample size is needed from Carter, Jefferson's former teammate in New Jersey.Vince has already missed two games with a sprained ankle. He also misfired on 10 of his 16 field-goal attempts in Tuesday's loss to the Detroit Pistons. But it should be noted that Dwight Howard through foul trouble and a shoulder injury managed just 18 minutes in Orlando's only loss.
"If they can keep Howard's touches high throughout the season, the Magic will be more than fine," the Eastern Conference assistant coach said. "Thus far, Carter looks like he's trying to stay with the program. He gives them someone to create scoring opportunities, but as their young stars emerge, we'll see if Vince can be as easy to play with as (Hedo) Turkoglu."
With three old-timers leading the Celtics in Boston, the historically emotional Wallace should have enough veteran direction to fill his role as a versatile centerpiece of the C's upgraded bench.
Through six games, Wallace was giving Boston 11 points and 4 rebounds in a modest 21 minutes per game.
'Sheed has 53 shots through five games, 40 of those coming from 3-point range. He's bagging about 40 percent from deep, but must resist going for the heat-check hoist during crucial moments of big games.
But he's really a boon to the Cs on defense, where his experience leads to timely and correct rotations in the team's pack-line, helping style that appears to be at the 2008 championship level.
While other teams will adjust to whatever adjustments are used to smooth these transitions, legitimate opportunities to score a championship ring should be enough to keep the new additions from ruining the foundations of already-established powerhouses.
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