The list of players off to hot starts this season reads like a "Who's who?" of the NBA. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Vince Carter, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson are just a few of the names who have played particularly well in the early going.
The one star whose numbers really jump off the page is Tony Parker.
The San Antonio Spurs point guard has two championship rings and a diva girlfriend, but the one thing he's never possessed is a lethal jump shot. Apparently, the man who has it all now has a jumper, too.
Parker is shooting 57 percent from the field and averaging a team-best 22 points a night. His midrange game has improved dramatically as he has eschewed the three-point shot (just four attempts from beyond the arc) and focused on using his lightning speed to slash into the lane for higher-percentage looks. He has also improved his free-throw accuracy, raising his percentage from 65.0 last season to 69.7 this season.
What's the reason for Parker's improvement? San Antonio hired shooting coach Chip Engelland to specifically work on Parker's technique, and Engelland's work is already having an effect.
Engelland, who was on Denver's staff a year ago, has worked with Grant Hill, Larry Hughes, Shane Battier, Corey Maggette and Juwan Howard, among others. He is slowly working on tightening up Parker's shot, eliminating the hitch that has hindered Parker in the past.
Another Spurs player who has improved his shooting stroke is Duncan. The two-time MVP has long suffered from the free-throw line, but he is hitting an impressive 82.5 percent from the stripe this season.
As if San Antonio's opponents don't have enough to worry about, now the Spurs are even making their free throws. Their 77-percent accuracy is good for 10th in the NBA. Shockingly, however, San Antonio is also dead last in the league in free throw attempts, taking fewer than 20 per game. Maybe Gregg Popovich's theory is the less you go to the line, the fewer you miss.
- The Spurs' Southwest Division rival, the Houston Rockets, is desperately missing Bob Sura, who began the season inactive because of right-knee surgery and is not close to returning. Rockets officials wonder if Sura can come back at all this season, and if he's not available, the team will surely suffer.
Jeff Van Gundy says Sura "gave us courage" in 2004-05 and that his confidence and swagger were a big reason for Houston's late-season surge. Without Sura, Houston lacks size and rebounding in the backcourt, a playmaker alongside Tracy McGrady and an outstanding defender at the guard spot.
- Speaking of outstanding guard play, Maurice Williams of the Milwaukee Bucks is a big reason for the team's hot start. Williams is one of the top reserve scorers in the league at 16.3 points per game, and his long three-pointer capped Milwaukee's amazing comeback victory over the Pacers on Saturday night. With T.J. Ford garnering most of the attention in Milwaukee, Williams is quietly becoming a candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man Award.
- It's tough to pinpoint one area that has caused the Sacramento Kings' slow start. But the Kings, who have long been one of the most skilled teams in the league, aren't doing what they've always done – make shots. They're shooting 43.5 percent as a team and scoring just 96.0 points a night, which would be their lowest since the 1997-98 season.
Of their five starters, only Shareef Abdur-Rahim has been consistent from the field at 54 percent. Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic are the keys to the team, and neither has found the range yet. Unlike past years, though, Sacramento does not possess a high-scoring bench, and therefore the Kings have been unable to make up for their starters' inaccuracy.
- Ask any coach and he'll tell you that rebounding is one of the keys to winning. Any doubts? The Toronto Raptors are dead last in the Eastern Conference with a minus-7.28 rebounding margin. The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the league in that category with a plus-9.00 margin, which is one of the reasons why they're 6-2.
- One of the games to watch this week will be the Bucks at the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors handed Milwaukee its only loss of the season at the Bradley Center in an up-and-down, entertaining affair. Not since 1975, when Rick Barry and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went at it, has a Bucks-Warriors matchup been anticipated by anyone other than the most diehard hoops fans. But a boisterous Oakland Arena crowd will await Terry Stotts' crew.