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BTP's NBA Roundup: Big Men Doing Big Things?

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This week's first look at Big Ten schools' NBA products is highlighted by a pair of large, highly drafted land-based mammals beginning to play up to their reputations.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my first run at the BTP NBA Roundup, in which you'll see exactly why the Memphis Grizzlies are so thoroughly running things and the price that Jamal Crawford paid for doing some shady business with the basketball gods. We'll go school-by-school, with those thoughtful souls at Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and Rutgers saving some time by producing no current NBA performers of note. Thanks, fellas.

ILLINOIS

Meyers Leonard Shifting Positions

Third-year Portland big man Meyers Leonard has frequently struggled as a back-to-the-basket center, but as Jason Quick of The Oregonian points out, he’s showing some improvement as more of a face-up forward. In his first start of the season Saturday, Leonard filled in for an ill LaMarcus Aldridge and produced a career-high 12 rebounds to go with a season-high seven points in a win over Brooklyn. He was right back to DNP-land when Aldridge returned two days later, but the starting assignment displayed a lot of confidence from Blazers coach Terry Stotts. Or maybe he just wanted the world to get a good, close look at Leonard’s…um…valiant effort at growing a mustache. Movember: it's not for everyone.

Deron Williams: Our Balls Aren't Moving

It's unfair to blame a team's losing streak on one player, but the Brooklyn Nets' struggles are closely mirroring those of point guard Deron Williams. During the Nets' 4-2 start, Williams was putting up seven assists and only 2.5 turnovers per game, nearly a 3-1 ratio. They've lost four straight since, and D-Will's rates have changed to 5.8 dimes and 3.3 giveaways a night. Overall, Brooklyn ranks 28th in the league at 19 APG, prompting Williams to complain about ball movement to the New York Daily News. "This team, this system, the way we want to play, we should have 25 assists, not in the teens. Simple as that. If we're moving the ball, sharing the ball -- if you look at our wins, we've passed the ball relatively well."

You want ball movement, Deron? Miami rookie Shabazz Napier gave such a display Monday night that Williams resembled a Chihuahua chasing his tail:

INDIANA

Signs of Life From Eric Gordon?

Struggling New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon may be experiencing a moment of clarity in an otherwise dreary season. After averaging a mere 7.7 PPG on 28.8% shooting in his first six games, the former Indiana star has perked up over his past three. In that span, Gordon has shot 65.2% and produced 13.0 PPG, highlighted by a season-high 17 in last night’s win over Sacramento. He still shows no ability or inclination to attack the rim (only three FTA over three games), but at least the long jumper is beginning to fall. That’s at least a minor improvement for a player whose contract has recently been referred to as the NBA’s worst.

Oladipo’s Return Shaky, But Still an Improvement

After missing Orlando’s entire preseason and first nine games of the regular season with a sprained knee and broken face, second-year guard Victor Oladipo made his 2014-15 debut Friday in a win over Milwaukee. In his first three games back, Oladipo has averaged 14.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists, but has made less than 40% of his shots. That’s still a massive improvement over rookie Elfrid Payton, however. Payton started in Oladipo’s absence, shooting only 32% from the floor and 50% from the line. Oladipo dropped in 18 points in his first start, but the rust and unfamiliarity with his largely new Magic teammates was clearly evident in a 98-93 loss to the Wizards.

Cody Zeller Ready to Start?

Frank Berndt of At The Hive dug into the numbers—not just individual, but lineup-based—to determine if former Indiana forward Cody Zeller is ready to supplant Marvin Williams in the starting five for the Charlotte Hornets. Basically, the decision comes down to whether coach Steve Clifford is ready to trade Williams’ shooting for Zeller’s screening ability, rebounding and high-post passing. Right now, it doesn’t appear that Clifford is ready to make the move, but it is a situation to observe.

MARYLAND

Suns’ Len Going Supernova

In back-to-back games, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len has staked a claim for the starting position currently held by former ACC rival Miles Plumlee. Len has put up 36 points and 18 rebounds over a loss to the Clippers and a win over the Celtics, compared to Plumlee’s eight and six. He even jumped a passing lane and drove the ball about 60 feet for a dunk against Boston. Len is beginning to show the effects of continued good health and work with assistant coaches/longtime NBA big men Mark West and Kenny Gattison. It’s a good bet, however, that West and Gattison didn’t teach him to go full freight train all over a three-point shooter, as he did to Rajon Rondo in the waning seconds of the Boston game.

MICHIGAN

Bad > Terrible for Trey Burke

Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke has struggled mightily to hit his shots in his second year. He sank only 30% from the floor and 21% from the arc over his first nine games. The past three have seen signs of life, as Burke put up his two best shooting percentages of the season with an ugly 4-15 effort sandwiched in between. Of course, every busted slump has that turning point where you see the greatest sign of life, and Burke’s may have come when he did this to the Knicks:

The Highlights AND Lowlights for Jamal Crawford

Even at the age of 34, J. Crossover is still putting in work. Jamal Crawford struck for 24 in Monday night's loss to the Bulls, par for the course in a season that sees him second on the Clippers in scoring behind only the Griffin Force. Crawford's obviously still good, but there's also an element of luck at work here.

Witness the scenic tour of the goal that this shot takes:

That ball went through more bounces than a slow-motion Baywatch montage.

As if demanding payment for that bit of lovely shooting karma, Crawford was later left sprawling by old nemesis Kirk Hinrich:

A video posted by Danny Cheskis (@pmillerchi) on

I've been in that position many times and have never failed to blame a poorly wiped floor.

Late Flurry for Hardaway

The Knicks lost 117-113 last night to the Milwaukee Bucks, falling just short in their furious fourth-quarter rally. The Bucks led by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter, but Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. sparked an epic near-comeback. Hardaway scored 18 of his season-high 24 points after halftime, shooting 9-14 for the night including 6-6 on two-pointers. It's a welcome sign of life for the second-year Michigan product, who had shot a combined 4-18 over his past three outings.

MICHIGAN STATE

Green About to Make Serious Green

Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher breaks down Draymond Green's value to the Warriors and why the former Spartan general is about to make some serious bank when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Green has blossomed as a starter, averaging 12.9 points - on a .600 true shooting percentage - 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists through 10 games while David Lee struggles with a hamstring injury. Bucher cites a preliminary estimate that pins Green's potential windfall at $8M per year.

Did You See Gary Harris Get Up? His Mom Didn't

Denver Nuggets rookie Gary Harris got to make his belated debut in his home state of Indiana, and he put a poster-worthy hammer down on the Pacers in the fourth quarter for two of his 13 points. Everyone who saw it was impressed, but that unfortunately did not include his mom, former Purdue All-American Joy Holmes Harris:

I'm still trying not to be bitter that Harris didn't come to Purdue. Some days are better than others.

Randolph Still Eating Glass in Memphis

The Grizzlies have stampeded to an NBA-best 10-1 record, and veteran power forward Zach Randolph is still the team's alpha beast. Z-Bo smashed the Pistons Saturday for 22 rebounds, including a career-high 13 on the offensive end. He's standing sixth in the NBA at 11.2 boards per game.

MINNESOTA

Humphries Playing Well, Butt...

It took a few games, but new Wizard forward Kris Humphries has finally begun to earn his paycheck. Humphries was slow to recover from a hand injury suffered in the preseason, but over his last four games, the ex-Golden Gopher has produced 11.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, shooting 55% from the floor. His physical presence off the bench has contributed to Washington's three-game win streak, but some interviewers still only want to talk about the more distant past. Specifically, Humphries' tush-baring, Internet-breaking ex-wife.

OHIO STATE

Conley Cruising for Grizz

As mentioned above, Memphis is off to a fantastic start, and the point guard always comes in for a little credit. Mike Conley is no exception. The Grizzlies have won four games in the past eight days, and Conley has produced 20.5 points and six assists, shooting nearly 50% from the floor in that span. With each team in the Southwest Division standing 6-4 or better, the San Diego Union-Tribune recently asked if the division would be the best in league history. As the best point guard in the division (yeah, Spurs fan, I said it), Conley will certainly have a lot to say about that by season's end.

Koufos On Hot Streak During Team's Win Streak

After putting in only 10 points combined during Memphis' first seven games, reserve center Kosta Koufos has averaged nearly that amount while the Grizz have won four straight. In all, Koufos is averaging 9.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and shooting 80% from the floor over that span. He stuffed the sheet in a thrashing of co-division leader Houston Monday night, putting up 10 points, six boards, three steals and three blocks. Koufos is no longer the guy who prompts a sigh of relief when Marc Gasol lumbers toward the bench.

Celtics Winning In Spite of Sullinger?

Former Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger has become a key player for the Celtics, but there's an odd element to his season so far. According to Basketball Reference's Game Scores, Boston's three wins have come in Sully's four worst games. Those wins have produced Sullinger's three best plus-minus figures of the year, proving that balance wins for the C's. Overall, though, Sullinger is averaging three points and four rebounds fewer in Boston's wins than its losses. The Celtics are at their best when Kelly Olynyk is providing quality support for Sullinger, so if the ex-Buckeye becomes a 20-PPG scorer, rest assured that the Celtics' season is probably going down the flusher.

PURDUE

Landry Aiding Kings' Renaissance

The long-irrelevant Sacramento Kings stormed out to a 5-1 start, and still have their heads above water at 6-5. Reserve power forward Carl Landry has been a factor in the team's early success. Landry has put up eight or more points in eight straight games. In that span, he's racked 11.3 points and 4.5 rebounds a night while shooting 53% from the floor and 85% from the foul line. His average Game Score in that span has been a respectable 8.9.

WISCONSIN

Harris Skidding, And Now Sitting

Dallas guard Devin Harris started the season hot, averaging 10.1 points and 4.6 assists over his first eight games. He slowed down just a bit over his last three, and now the injury bug has bitten. Harris will miss tonight's game against the Wizards with an ankle injury that sent him to the locker room early in Monday's stomping of Charlotte.

Leuer Gets Liftoff Against Rockets

Finally, we come to yet another Big Ten alumnus balling out for the Memphis Grizzlies. (Is it any wonder this team has the league's best record?) Badger icon Jon Leuer hasn't been much of a productive presence thus far this season, but it seems that everyone got a little shine while the Grizz were shooting down the Houston Rockets. Leuer pocketed a season-high 13 points, with two of them coming on this display of authority:

Adding to the Bizarro feel of Memphis' thorough dismantling of a team that came in with a matching 9-1 record: Jon Leuer more than doubled up James Harden, 13 points to six. Weird business going down in the Grindhouse.