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The Suns' Channing Frye has risen above the competition in the early going
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Frye, Anderson help fans forget about losing the big names

By Jeff Case,
Posted Nov 5 2009 12:23PM

Two small-name moves from the summer are making a lasting impact in this week's list.

We all know Shaq got moved from Phoenix to Cleveland in a blockbuster deal to help LeBron. But the guy who's filled The Big Shaqtus' place in the Suns' starting lineup isn't doing too bad himself. Channing Frye has gone from afterthought big man in Portland to a possible contender for Most Improved Player.

Sure, it's great that Steve Nash is an assist machine yet again, Amar'e is finally healthy and the Suns are back to that run-and-gun style. Yet without Frye, where would the Suns be? He's given Nash a weapon he's never had (namely, a big man with 3-point range) and Frye has regained the confidence that made him an All-Rookie first teamer back in 2006.


In Orlando, the Magic offset Hedo Turkoglu's eventual departure by trading for Vince Carter. They even got Dwight Howard some rebounding help by signing Brandon Bass. Yet it's Ryan Anderson -- the "other guy" in the Carter trade -- who is helping as much (if not more) than Carter and Bass.

Anderson, who starts at power forward, has made the loss of Rashard Lewis to a 10-game suspension much less painful. He's emerged as the team's fourth-best scorer, it's leader in 3-pointers and is helping Orlando stay among the East's elite while Lewis serves his time.

Frye and Anderson are my frontcourt choices this week, but it wasn't easy. Shelden Williams is hardly tearing up the stat sheet each night, but watch him play and you'll see he's filling that Leon Powe role for the Celtics pretty well. Andrea Bargnani, Nenad Krstic and Mareese Speights are other bigs I watched that seemed to be on the rise and are pushing for bigger roles on their teams.

Overall, guard play among the lesser-known/rising players seems to be on a level playing field. That means I'm giving any edge to backcourt players on winning teams.

PG. George Hill, Spurs
Last Week's Rank - N/A
How's this for damning with faint praise? Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says Hill is "his favorite Spur" ... a title Popovich once bequeathed on San Antonio legend Rasho Nesterovic. Joking aside, Hill is playing like he did early last season and providing little disruption to San Antonio's offense when Tony Parker checks out of the game. Case in point: Last week, Parker crashed to the floor while shooting a layup against the Hornets and left the game with the Spurs up 20. Hill came in and kept the game under control as the Spurs ran away from their Southwest Division rivals. He's one of the underrated perimeter defenders in the league and may be emerging as one of its best backup points, too.

SG. Marquis Daniels, Celtics
Last Week's Rank - N/A
The Celtics signed Daniels hoping he could fill the role James Posey had on the 2007-08 championship team. So far, he's been up to the challenge. While he isn't scoring as much as Posey did (he averaged 7.4 ppg in 2007-08), Daniels has kept the offense flowing and is an able-bodied defender much like Posey was. Though Daniels has yet to break double figures in any game this season, he hit key baskets in a comeback win over the Cavs in the season-opener and is teaming well with 3-point specialist Eddie House as part of Boston's game-changing second unit.

C. Channing Frye, Suns
Last Week's Rank - N/A
Frye is already trying to tune out the murmurs of him as a Most Improved Player contender. No matter how things turn out this season, Frye says he's having fun playing with Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, both of whom have allowed him to make his big leap forward. "A lot of credit goes to Amaré. He gets four people open. Steve just makes the right decisions," Frye told The Arizona Republic. Back to that MIP talk, though ... our research says that if Frye somehow does win the award, he'd be the first player to do so while playing for his home-state NBA team (Phoenix) after having previously played for a home-state university (Arizona).

SF. Trevor Ariza, Rockets
Last Week's Rank -
With Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady out for the forseeable future, there was a question before the season as to where Houston's points would come from. It seems all of the Rockets have upped their play so far, but Ariza's big numbers are a bit of a shock. The Rockets' marquee free-agent signing is averaging a career-high in scoring average, assists and rebounds, which is more than anyone expected when Houston signed this career role player. As much as Ariza has stepped up, coach Rick Adelman has a point when he says he expects consistency from Ariza. In back-to-back games last week (both of which Houston won), Ariza had 25 and a career-best 33 points. Sandwiched around those games were a pair of mediocre efforts against Portland and Utah (Houston went 1-1 in those contests).

PF. Ryan Anderson, Magic
Last Week's Rank - N/A
Anderson's remarkable play so far has created a buzzworthy topic in Orlando: What to do with Bass and Anderson once Lewis returns from suspension? Lewis is happy (and best suited) in Orlando when he's creating mismatches with opposing power forwards, plus he's not keen on playing the small forward spot again like he did in his younger days with Seattle. We don't have the first idea how Stan Van Gundy will figure out the Bass-Anderson-Lewis quandry, but Anderson's shooting ability creates more space under the basket for Dwight Howard. That's a great problem to have, right?

The Next Five:

Cs: Jermaine O'Neal, Heat and Chris Kaman, Clippers -- O'Neal gets a nod for his quick start (back-to-back 22-12 games to start the season) and showing his summer work to regain his All-Star form might not be all hype. Bonus tough-guy points, too, for playing without a protective mask despite having a broken nose.

Although the Clippers have struggled out of the gate, the oft-injured Kaman is back and is successfully transitioning from complimentary player to go-to guy in L.A.

PF: Andray Blatche, Wizards -- Some dazzling dishes from this big man in the post caught my eye this week. After years of teasing Washington's fans with oodles of potential, he seems to be putting it all together and turning into a reliable rotation player.

SF: Dahntay Jones, Pacers -- The Pacers are 19th in the league in scoring, but imagine how much worse they'd be without Jones. The defensive stopper has emerged as Indiana's sixth man and its No. 2 scorer behind Danny Granger.

SG: Danilo Gallinari, Knicks -- Turns out all that talk from coach Mike D'Antoni about Gallinari being one of the best shooters in the league was true. He already leads the league in 3-pointers made, has tripled his scoring average and I'd probably have him in the Five on the Rise were it not for the Knicks' awful play.

PG: Randy Foye, Wizards -- It's so far, so good for the Foye-Gilbert Arenas backcourt combination. Though they've only started together once, Foye and Arenas are playing well off each other and are often on the court together at crunch time for Washington. He's been a big reason why the Wizards are staying in the early race for the Southeast title.'s Five on the Rise are just one man's opinion and are released every Thursday during the season. If you've got an issue with the names on this list, or have a question or comment for Jeff Case, send him an e-mail

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