Pimp My Team
Fantasy Corner takes a look at some fantasy makeovers
By Adam Hoff
This week in Fantasy Corner we are highlighting the NFL and NBA teams that have had a change of fortunes in the world of fantasy sports. They may or may not be any better in their actual sport, but they certainly bring more to the table in terms of fantasy value. Here are 10 teams that just got their ride pimped:
Phoenix Suns. It should be noted that the Suns had some decent fantasy players last year as well. They boasted a top-five player in Marion, they had Marbury for a while, Joe Johnson came on late, and Amare Stoudemire was showing signs of becoming a dominant player when healthy. However, they also had guys like Leandro Barbosa and Casey Jacobson getting fantasy consideration purely because they were getting 32 minutes a night. Never a good sign. This year they are probably the most exciting team in the league as they boast five legit fantasy starters in the lineup. Shawn Marion leads the way and continues to serve as the most underrated fantasy player in the NBA. He gets steals, blocks, threes, and rebounds in mass quantities while doing enough in the other categories to consistently be a top-five player by the end of the year. And the best part is that he does it all without any plays ever being run for him. So despite the Suns’ overload of go-to guys, Marion will continue to fill up the stat sheet.
Next for Phoenix is a trio of valuable guards. Joe Johnson was the shakiest coming into the season due to this track record of inconsistent play and need to have plays run for him. However, he’s been great through the first week. A pleasant surprise along the lines of “Mean Girls.” Quentin Richardson is the 6th man when they go with their traditional lineup and the starting two guard when they go small, but either way is sure to see 30-35 minutes a night. That means that we can count on 14 points a night, plenty of boards from the SG position, and about 150 three’s on the year. And of course, Steve Nash is the new floor general and is validating his third round selection by piling up the assists and making all his free throws.
The final piece of the puzzle for the Suns is rising star Amare Stoudemire. An absolute beast as a rookie, Amare saw his stock drop a bit over the past 14 months as he fought through an injury-plagued sophomore season and a rough month over in Athens on the Olympic team. Some thought he was overrated. Most considered him to be a few years away from being dominant. Wrong on both counts. He has been incredible thus far, playing center in three games and putting up huge numbers. The amazing thing about Amare is that he’s hitting free throws and staying out of foul trouble, two huge problems for young big men. It’s keeping him on the floor, allowing him to get touches in all situations, and to put up those terrific 24-10-3 numbers that have everyone giddy. Everyone who owns Stoudemire on their fantasy team, that is.
Indiana Pacers. Just like last year, Indiana is a deep team that gets contributions from up and down the roster. Unlike last year though, there are legit fantasy studs to be had beyond Jermaine O’Neal and Ron Artest. While the Big Two are still the best Pacers to own, there are two new faces on the hot list. Stephen Jackson was already going to get 30 minutes a night at SG and SF, but now that Reggie “Mr. Fantasy Irrelevance” Miller is out with a broken hand, Jackson is getting even more run and more touches. He’s a mortal lock to put up 15-6 every night with a couple steals and a couple of threes. Just little better than the 12-1-1 Reggie had been giving you the past few years. At point guard, Jamaal Tinsley has finally won over his coaching staff and is the man at the position. Three years ago he was a star rookie offering up 8 dimes a night. Last year he was third string behind Kenny Anderson (of all people) and Anthony Johnson. Now that Tinsley is armed with a six-year extension, the support of the brass, and 37 minutes per game, he should be a top-10 point guard. He’s already had three monster performances in the first four games (the other was marred by foul trouble) and is showing that he can provide threes, steals, and even rebounds and points in addition to all those assists. Throw in possible contributors like Jonathon Bender, Fred Jones, and Austin Croshere and its clear that this Pacers team finally has the fantasy clout to show for all those wins. “Indiana, we just pimped your ride!”
Boston Celtics. Quick, think back to this time last year. How many Celtics were viable fantasy options? The answer is one: Paul Pierce. Antoine Walker had just been shipped out of town, Raef LaFrentz was already hurt, Ricky Davis was in Jim O’Brien’s doghouse, and nobody else on the roster was even remotely ready to step up. Mike James was the only other guy that could be considered anything besides worthless. Now though, there are four legit Celtics in the starting lineup in Gary Payton, Davis, Pierce, and Mark Blount. Even LaFrentz is healthy and owned in many leagues, if not terribly effective. Payton is a top-12 point guard that looks good for about 15-7 this year. Davis has won the starting job with model behavior on and off the court and is playing very well. He should be able to provide 14 points, 5 boards, decent shooting, and a handful of tasty surprises every night. Pierce was the second best fantasy player in week one (based on averages, not totals) behind Baron Davis. Blount is a solid 13-9 guy with good percentages and the ability to block shots. The Celtics might not be any better this year, but they are giving a lot more to the fantasy world. And that is what’s important.
San Antonio Spurs. How can one of the best teams in the NBA suddenly become more fantasy viable? Well, it’s a four-step program: 1) Tim Duncan is making free throws. He went 8-8 on opening night and is shooting 82% on the young season. If he keeps shooting above a 75% clip, he’s back to being the second-best fantasy player in the game. 2) The addition of Brent Barry. The upgrade for the Spurs from Turkaglu to Barry is significant and could help them win an NBA title … but it pales in comparison to the fantasy upgrade. Turkaglu is one-dimensional and inconsistent; Barry is his exact opposite. Because Barry’s fantasy value comes from three’s, steals, high percentage shooting, and assists, he doesn’t need a ton of minutes or a high volume of shots to be effective. He can come off the Spurs bench, get his 29 minutes each night, and put up very nice numbers. 3) The maturation of Tony Parker. He just keeps getting better and better. While he might not yet be worthy of his average fifth round draft selection, he’s getting close. 4) The insertion of Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup. Remember when I became the number one fan of Johan Santana during the baseball season? You are about to see a repeat performance with Ginobili. I’m convinced that he’s one of the top 20 players in the NBA and a guy that will be deciding championships for his entire career. (Have I mentioned the Nuggets should have maxed him out this summer?) Now that Popovich has stopped holding Manu back, the guy has been unstoppable. For those of you with short memories, Ginobili was the #14 rated fantasy player after two months last season. He was hitting threes, garnering steals, and generally putting up huge stats. Then he got hurt for a few weeks and when he came back he was sitting behind Turkaglu. One of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Anyway, now he’s firmly entrenched at shooting guard, is getting over 30 minutes a game, and is taking full advantage of it to the tune of 21-6-6 with a league-leading 4 steals per game. Someone needs to get Xzibit down to San Antonio so he can pop Manu’s collar. (A special nod to my buddy Higa for that one.)
Orlando Magic. Last year it was Tracy McGrady and a bunch of guys that you would never want on your fantasy team. This year there is an entire starting lineup full of fantasy worthy players. Steve Francis is back to his top-10 form, Cuttino Mobley is still good for 18-4-3 with a couple of threes, Grant Hill is looking terrific and playing more than 30 minutes per game, rookie Dwight Howard is stuffing the stat sheet, and even Kelvin Cato is getting enough rebounds and blocked shots to make him a decent situational play. It turns out that T-Mac trade wasn’t such a bad idea.
Bonus Team! Charlotte Bobcats. I briefly considered putting the Bobcats on the actual list, but that would be cheating. Obviously they have more fantasy options than last year, considering they didn’t even have any players. It’s worth pointing out though that an expansion team has already put three legit fantasy players on the table (Brezec, Okafor, and Gerald Wallace) with a fourth (Jason Hart) a few games away. Not bad.
Buffalo Bills. Moving to the NFL, we find a team that has undergone an amazing transformation. After four games, the Bills were a fantasy version of Death Valley. The defense was okay, but they were on the field far too much to keep the score down. Drew Bledsoe was a laughingstock. The receivers never saw the ball. Running back Travis Henry was dinged up and struggling. It was pretty gruesome. However, Willis McGahee was inserted into the starting lineup and things have been clicking ever since. Now the Bills are pounding the ball on the ground, keeping the defense off the field, and giving Bledsoe time to throw. McGahee is the obvious fantasy option emerging from this miracle as he looks like a lock for at least 100 yards and a TD every time out. However, receivers Eric Moulds and Lee Evans are suddenly hot property and the Buffalo defense is one of the five best in the league. As for Bledsoe? Well, I’d still stay away from him. Overall though, the revival in Buffalo has been nearly as surprising as Eminem putting out an entire song dedicated to making fun of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
San Diego Chargers. What has happened in San Diego? This was always a team that pounded the ball with Tomlinson and tried to not to get beat down too badly. Now they are flinging the ball around the yard and running up gaudy point totals. The ringleader has been Drew Brees, a guy that was a lame duck going into the season but now is in the MVP race and in line to make huge dollars in the offseason. He’s thrown for nine touchdowns in the past two games and has 18 TD’s versus three picks on the season. He’s the #5 rated player in all of fantasy football! What year is this? Tomlinson has been hurt all season at running back but still has touchdowns in seven different games. Keenan McCardell is legit at wide receiver. And Antonio Gates is the emerging star in all of fantasy football with over 600 yards receiving and eight touchdowns from the tight end spot. He’s the #12 rated player at any position! This is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen; perhaps even stranger than West Coast Customs putting a waterfall in a girl’s car.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Who would have thought that Tampa Bay would be winning shootouts and boasting a hot fantasy player at each of the three skill positions? Not this guy. Michael Clayton is challenging Roy Williams for rookie supremacy among wideouts and seems to rack up at least eight or nine fantasy points every week. He’s a great guy to acquire because his stock is only going to rise higher. His coaches love him because he’s a great blocker and very coachable; he’s going to get more balls throw his way before he gets less, that is for sure. Brian Griese is throwing up 240 yards and two scores every Sunday in the most stunning comeback since Happy Gilmore bounced back from getting hit by a car. And Michael Pittman has been able to shed his 35-game steak of no touchdowns by getting in the end zone four times in the past two games. Always a total yardage wizard, Pittman is now THE goal line threat in Tampa Bay. It’s safe to say that the Bucs offense has been overhauled faster than a 1981 Civic.
Minnesota Vikings. Fantasy sports are a bit odd at times. Randy Moss gets hurt and suddenly there are several new fantasy options on the Vikings roster. But are they dependable? Onterrio Smith looks incredible at running back but will be sharing some carries with Bennett and Moore. Nate Burleson and Marcus Robinson can give you some depth at wide receiver, but they disappear for entire halves. Only Culpepper is a true lock from week-to-week. But when you consider that Daunte and Moss were the only legit plays a year ago, this team has changed quite a bit.
(Quick fantasy football story. In my auction league, my buddy Tom the Bomb was running his mouth about his playoff chances in our forum. He was building his case on the assumption that Harrison and Culpepper would “easily” get 25 points that night for the win. Nope. And he would have had it if only for Smith’s brilliant 32-yard touchdown run to tie the game with three minutes to go. If Smith doesn’t fight his way into the end zone there, you know that Culpepper gets the score one way or another. It’s a crazy game.)
San Francisco 49ers. Going into most FFL drafts, the only 49ers player going in any of the first 10 round was running back Kevan Barlow. It turns out that he sucks (although out of fairness to him, he doesn’t have much of a chance), but the good news is that there are a few other Niners who have emerged to become quality plays over the course of the season. Quarterback Tim Rattay gets to throw 50 times a game and when he’s healthy, he puts up better numbers than guys like Tom Brady and Aaron Brooks. Brandon Lloyd is an emerging threat at wide receiver and is coming off two straight terrific games. Eric Johnson is the #4 tight end in the league despite some nagging injuries. Hard to believe a team this bad could present four worthy fantasy starters.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sitemail adamo112.