While Crawford and the Hawks were busy serving notice in the East, the Phoenix Suns and newcomer Channing Frye began re-establishing themselves out West. Currently registered at 10-2, the Suns have been receiving considerable production from Frye, who returned to his hometown following a rather uneventful run as a Portland Trail Blazer.
After averaging 4.2 points per game in limited minutes last season, Frye was transformed from not-so-powerful forward to pick-and-pop center by Suns coach Alvin Gentry. Frye's offseason work deserves a few bows as well, because it has enabled him to dramatically expand his shooting range. Frye, who shot a combined 70 3-pointers in his first four seasons as a pro, has fired up 76 already this season and is succeeding at a brisk 46-percent clip.
His ability to hang out on the perimeter and threaten the defense makes life much easier for Suns point guard Steve Nash and screen-roll power forward Amare Stoudemire. The two-man game that often was sabotaged by the low-block presence of O'Neal has been resurrected with another space-the-floor shooter in Frye.
His 13 points per game come with an affordable price tag of $2 million per season.
Although the Suns have to rank as the biggest surprise in their conference so far, the Dallas Mavericks also are playing at a clip that has surpassed the expectations of most prognosticators. The addition of small forward Shawn Marion hasn't exactly provided a shocking statistical upgrade, but the still-bouncy veteran is giving the Mavs a needed defender and rebounder.
He also is able to run and rebound his way to a dozen points per game, an offensive output that is generated without steering half-court sets away from the established skills of designated scorers Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. Marion, who whined about being a third or fourth option during the halcyon days with Mike D'Antoni, Stoudemire and Nash in Phoenix, has been a quiet contributor in Dallas ... so far.
If the Mavericks continue riding this wave into the playoffs, Marion can give them a reasonably capable defender against the likes of Bryant, San Antonio Spur Richard Jefferson (assuming a revival in San Antonio) and Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets.
While Marion is working out well as a former Sun in Dallas, an almost Sun has returned for duty in Detroit.
That would be Ben Wallace, a one-time Pistons hero whose recent stint in Cleveland was terminated when the Cavs used his contract to help acquire Shaq from Phoenix. The Suns had no on-court use for Big Ben, so he returned to Detroit and is handing the Pistons an impressive 9 rebounds per game in 29 minutes. Not bad for $1.3 million.
And he has the experience, strength and lingering defensive chops necessary to battle some of the low-block brutes the Pistons will encounter if they find themselves in the playoffs.
If you're looking for frequent flying under the radar, Miami Heat swingman Quentin Richardson is your guy. OK, so he's averaging a pedestrian 7 points per game as a 3-point marksman who keeps the floor spread for Dwyane Wade.
But Q leads the league in transactions. Going into the last NBA Draft, Richardson was working for the New York Knicks, who traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies. In a matter of weeks, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Minnesota Timberwolves and, finally, the Heat.
If you're interested in a pretty important address change that seems to have been overlooked, we offer first-year Houston Rocket Trevor Ariza, who was considered a bit cuckoo for leaving the defending champion Lakers for something less than a true bonanza in Texas.
While L.A. is 9-3, Ariza and the Ron Artest-free Rockets are a respectable 7-5. In 14 more minutes per game than he was given by the Lakers, Ariza has doubled his scoring (from 8.9 to 19.3) and assist (1.8 to 4.2) averages.
As a bonus to Houston, Ariza has yet to record a rap CD or refer to himself in the third person.
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