Czar Star: Jared Sullinger

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Czar Star: Austin Rivers

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Czar Star: Michael Beasley

Change is proving good for Michael Beasley. The newest member of the Timberwolves is demonstrating the offensive prowess that on- and off-court issues mitigated in Miami. Over the summer the Heat traded Beasley to the Timberwolves to clear up cap space for the Superfriends, and so far Minnesota is shaping up to be an altogether better situation for Beasley.

A prolific scorer out of Kansas State, Beasley was drafted 2nd overall by the Heat in 2008. But during his stay with Miami, they moved Beasley back and forth between both the small forward and power forward positions in trying to determine where they felt he would be most effective. No doubt local distractions also contributed to inconsistencies in Beasley’s game.

However in Minnesota, Kevin Love is locked in as the power forward and Darko Milicic is starting at center, so Beasley’s role is clear-cut. Beasley will get plenty of playing time so he’ll have the opportunity to grow into his small forward position while he continues to mature. With LeBron and Bosh joining Wade, Beasley would not have gotten the minutes in Miami that he needs to develop and flourish. And now that expectation levels are so high in Miami, it’s probably not the most nurturing environment for a young guy coming up in the league.

As part of an up-and-coming squad, Beasley and his teammates can grow together. Beasley, Love and Flynn form a great core of burgeoning talent. Emerging as the go-to-guy on offense, Beasley scored a career-high 42 points against the Kings earlier this month. And on Wednesday he went for 33 points against the Clippers and hit the winning shot to get Minnesota their fourth win of the season.

A top rebounder and low post scorer capable of putting up 25-30+ points nightly, Beasley can also make medium range shots on a regular basis. He drives and slashes, and he gets to the free throw line. So as long as he remains healthy, Beasley will always be a scorer in the NBA.

Czar Star: Chartbusters Pierce and Rondo

Boston Celtics Captain Paul Pierce, aka The Truth, and playmaker Rajon Rondo both boasted chart-breaking performances last week.

Pierce is coming off of the best shooting year of his All-Star career in 2009-10.  He posted personal bests in FG%, 3-Point FG% and FT%.

On November 3, during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Pierce scored his 20,000th career point on a free throw.  He is only the 36th player in league history to reach 20,000 points, and just the third Celtic along with John Havlicek and Larry Bird.

The 8-time NBA All-Star was the MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals. Pierce is still the Celtics’ go-to guy when they need a big basket, and he’s presently their leading scorer after 6 games with 19.3 PPG.  In addition he is shooting 93% from the free throw line and grabbing 7 boards a game.

Teammate Rajon Rondo also got off to a sensational start for the Celtics, attacking the record books nightly. On opening night Rondo put up 17 assists against the Heat to tie with Oscar Robertson for the third-most assists in a season opener.

In the third game of the season, Rondo dished out a career-high 24 assists to combine with 10 points and 10 rebounds for a triple-double against the New York Knicks, joining Isiah Thomas as the only players in NBA history to have at least 24 assists in a triple-double.

Rondo’s total of 50 assists through the first three games of the season tied John Stockton’s NBA record for most assists in the first 3 games of the season. And in the next game against the Detroit Pistons, he finished the game with 17 assists for a total of 67, which is the most assists in any team’s first four games in NBA history.

With a 15-assists effort the following day, Rondo again set a record for most assists through the first five games.  He is averaging 15.5 APG, 5.5 rebounds and almost 3 steals per game so far this year.

Czar Star: Grant Hill

Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr. /NBAE via Getty ImagesLast night in Portland, the Phoenix Suns defeated the Blazers to wrap up their first-round series 4-2. It was a very professional performance from a team that, in the past, needed to shoot lights out to put teams away, especially on the road. This win was distinctly different in that Steve Nash had a poor shooting night (although he did hit perhaps the biggest shot of the night late in the fourth quarter) as did starting forward Grant Hill.

For 37-year-old Hill, this marks the first time in his long career that he will play in a second-round playoff series. That tag of not winning in the playoffs for many athletes has a negative connotation (e.g., Tracy McGrady). Things are different with Hill, however. The sentiment surrounding the Suns’ victory was one of genuine happiness for Hill given the obstacles he has had to overcome in his career and the dignity with which he has tackled them.

Hill is the son of a professional athlete whose prowess as a high school basketball player in Virginia led him to Duke where he put together one of the great college careers of all time. As a freshman, Hill was a major contributor to the title team that got Coach Mike Krzyzewski over the hump, and he converted a rim-rattling alley-oop against UNLV in what many consider one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history. The next year, Hill was the trigger man on Christian Laettner’s buzzer beater against Kentucky that many consider the greatest single shot in college basketball history. As a senior, Hill was the go-to-guy and almost single-handedly took the Blue Devils to the championship game where they lost narrowly to Arkansas. Later that year, Hill was the third pick in the NBA draft for the Detroit Pistons.

Photo by P.A. Molumby/NBAE via Getty ImagesHill’s triple-double type ability was more Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan; but his athleticism and aerial abilities led to the inevitable comparisons to His Airness. Hill did not disappoint, sharing ROY honors with Jason Kidd and eventually becoming one of the NBA’s marquee attractions. Following a trade to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2000 (where he was ironically teamed with Mcgrady), Hill was poised to take his game to the next level of greatness. Unfortunately that never happened as a series of season-ending foot injuries and a very serious staph infection derailed what was destined to be a Hall-of-Fame career.

Hill continued to battle, although the injuries and age eventually limited his contributions to those of a role player. In 2007, after turning down an offer to play with the champion Spurs, Hill landed in Phoenix where his career has been rehabilitated. Clearly not the high flyer he used to be, Hill has used a very high basketball IQ and dogged determination to become a valued and, more importantly, a durable starter. Last night was a good example – while his jump shot wasn’t working, Hill did pull down 12 boards, defended effectively and did a number of the little things to help the Suns win. The three-time NBA Sportsmanship Award winner’s professionalism has clearly rubbed off on this version of the Suns. While it must be frustrating for Hill that younger NBA fans won’t remember how great a player he once was, he appears to be at peace with it and is embracing the moment.

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