Rookies, Rumbles, Ratliff, and More
By Adam Hoff
This week’s Fantasy Corner is all over the place. Beware.
Rookie Report. There’s nothing more exciting than keeping tabs on NBA rookies as they develop into fantasy stalwarts. And while there aren’t any LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Carmelo Anthony types this year, there are still some exciting rookies breaking into the league.
Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor dueling to be the next Ben Wallace. Last year I spent a great deal of time marveling at the things that Ben Wallace does on a basketball court. He just pounds the glass, blocks shots, garners steals, and bricks free throws … all while pretty much ignoring the scoring part of the game. Oh yeah, he also ignites unprecedented brawls, but that’s not the point. The point is that we might have two new Ben’s in our midst. Both Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor are putting up very Wallace-esque numbers in the early going. Compare the lines of the threes players:
Ben Wallace (11.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 1.8 spg)
Dwight Howard ( 7.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 0.6 spg)
Emeka Okafor (10.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 0.9 spg)
As you can see, these players are all very similar in the way they control the glass and block shots. Okafor trails Howard and Wallace in both areas but has shown surprising offense in the early going, shooting 73% from the line to go with his double-digit scoring totals. If Howard gets his steals up and chips in 3-4 more points per night, he will soon be right there with Wallace among the best “non-scoring” fantasy players in the game. And if he adds scoring to his game? Well, then he moves into Tim Duncan territory. Not bad company.
Deng emerging. There is a boatload of rookies in Chicago and while Andres Nocioni is providing toughness and Ben Gordon is finally starting to come around (45 points over last two games), it’s been Luol Deng that has looked like a future star. He’s averaging 16 points, 6 boards, a steal, and a three every night and doing it with an array of jumpers and silky smooth moves in transition. He appears to be joining Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Carlos Boozer as recent Duke players to be even better in the pros than they were in college.
Iggy in Philly. My favorite rookie might be Andre Igoudala for the Sixers. He doesn’t shoot much, but he rebounds and plays terrific defense. He’s averaging only 8.4 ppg but over 6 boards and 2 steals a game. Plus, he’s shooting 42% from the three point line. Overall, he’s got the capability of being a big-time fantasy performer down the road. Mark it down: Iggy will post a quadruple-double someday with points, boards, assists, and steals.
Childress’ Time is Now. Two weeks ago, Josh Childress looked like a bust. Now he looks like this year’s Tayshaun Prince. He’s a slashing scorer that can hit open shots and fill up a stat sheet. He won’t have many 20+ point nights, but he’s the kind of guy that could go off and get your five of everything on any given night. On Tuesday night against the Knicks he had 13 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, and 5 steals to go with a pair of blocks. That’s not bad at all.
Lines of Interest. There have been some strange box scores lately in the NBA. Here are five that speak volumes.
Kobe Bryant All Over the Map. (29-10-7 with 1 steal, 1 block, 5 threes, 9 turnovers, and 8-17 from the FT line.) The Evil One wound up on one of my fantasy teams this year so I monitor his performances closely. Not only is he shooting below 40% (one of the three players in the top 50 in scoring to do so … Jason Richardson and Richard Jefferson are the others), but the Lakers suck with him jacking up 30 shots and turning it over four times every night. So far, the Kobe Plan is failing miserably. On the other hand, Kobe continues to get his points, rebounds, threes, and steals, with the occasional blocked shot. And, of course, he’s a free throw machine. Or is he? The other night he nearly snagged a triple-double and hit five threes, but also killed fantasy owners with nine turnovers and a ghastly 47% showing from the line on 17 attempts. That’ll leave a mark. For the time being, Kobe is not to be trusted.
Larry Hughes Goes Nuts. (21-12-7 with 6 steals, 50% FG, 100% FT.) Larry Hughes has been one of those guys that has quietly grown up in the NBA. He came out of St. Louis after his freshman year and got tossed into the pros as Allen Iverson’s running mate. He wasn’t ready. The he went to Golden State, went for 22-7-4 his first season … then got the rug yanked out from underneath him when the Warriors screwed up (surprise, surprise) and took the ball out of his hands. Eventually, he wound up in Washington where he was asked to play point guard in 2002. That didn’t work. However, last year he was able to settle in next to Gilbert Arenas and he put up nice numbers with almost 19 points and 5 boards a game. This year, the seven-year vet seems to have finally reached his full potential as he is averaging 18 points, 5 boards, 4 assists, and an NBA-leading 3.6 steals per game (a full steal better than the closest player). Those numbers certainly weren’t hurt by the performance above.
Kirk Hinrich Gets His Hack On. (6-3-2 with 1 block, 1 steal, and 6 fouls.) What is wrong with Kirk Hinrich? Over the past two weeks he leads the NBA with 5.2 fouls per game, is averaging only 29 minutes per game, and is playing some shady hoops. His overall numbers are what we hoped for (15.5 ppg, 8.3 apg, with 2.4 3’s each night), but he’s only shooting 39% and he can’t stay on the floor half the time. This is a guy that went in the third round in many drafts and was looking like the breakout star of the season after his 34 points and 11 assists on opening night. My man needs to stop undercutting people on rebounds and hand-checking opposing point guards. (One more note here: please, Scott Skiles, for the love of all things good and holy, stop using Duhon as your backup point guard. Everyone knows Ben Gordon is ten times better. Stop the insanity, we beg you.)
Jamal Tinsley is Legit. (13-3-8 with 3 three’s and 8 steals). There is a lot of hand-wringing going on in Indiana right now, but the Pacers should still be a top-six team in the East. Part of the reason is that Fred Jones is ready to be a breakout player (based on the 31 points in 48 minutes the other night). Part of the reason is that Jonathon Bender and Reggie Miller will be back in a month. And part of the reason is that Jamal Tinsley has settled in as a top point guard. His eight steals to go with eight dimes and three deep balls were a gift to fantasy owners and a sign of things to come.
Shawn Marion Keeps on Rolling. (22-14-4 with 2 three’s, 3 steals, 4 blocks, 53% FG, 100% FT.) Somehow this guy remains the most underrated fantasy player in the game each year. He’ll always start around 8-15 on the player rater and then finish in the top four. It’s uncanny. This year he’s fifth in the league in rebounding and the only player in the NBA to average over 2 blocks and 2 steals per game. Plus he’s the only guy with at least 20 blocks and 10 three’s. His versatility is awesome and was on full display against the Clippers on Sunday night.
Random Thoughts. I can’t decide what to do here, so let’s just toss out some random observations.
Rafer Alston Stepping Up. I picked Alston in three of my four fantasy leagues and took heat every time for taking him too early in the 7th round). Well, seven must be the magic number because now that is Alston’s ranking among fantasy players through Wednesday. That’s right, number seven overall. He’s averaging over 16 points and 7 assists a game while chipping in with almost 5 boards, 2 steals, and 3 trey’s a night. Are you kidding me? In his last two outings, Alston has posted 20-11-7 and 20-13-6 with a combined 5 three’s and 5 steals. In fact, in games where Alston has avoided foul trouble (the only thing that can stop him) and logged over 32 minutes, he’s averaging 19-9-6. In short, he’s the man. As long as Sam Mitchell doesn’t screw things up at any point, Alston should be a top-15 player all year.
Fred Hoiberg’s Ball Control. Here’s the craziest stat of the season: Fred Hoiberg has yet to commit a turnover. He’s logging 18 minutes a night and hasn’t turned it over even once! Amazing.
Theo Ratliff Sucks. As Eminem says on his new album, “I don’t how else to put it.” When Ratliff arrived in Portland last year he made an immediate splash, averaging 7 points, 7 boards, and nearly 5 blocks a night over his 31 games in a Blazers uniform. This year, he started the season with 23 boards and 23 blocks through his first four games. Then he fell off the face of the earth. He has yet to post a double-figure total in any stat this year. He hasn’t blocked more than one shot in a game since that fast start. Over his past five outings, he’s been downright abysmal, throwing up 4.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, and 0.6 bpg. Awesome.
James Jones Filling in Nicely. There was talk of doomsday in Indiana after the brawl and there was very little optimism for one of my fantasy teams … James Jones is helping to ease fears in both camps. He’s played over 40 minutes in each of his first two starts and done nice things in both outings. He went for 12 and 12 in his debut and 20 and 11 with 3 triples last night against the Celtics. Could he be this year’s “Joe Johnson Opportunity Knocks” award recipient?
Check Scott Skiles’ Head. Bulls’ fans have to be infuriated, but fantasy owners are right there with them. Last year Skiles jerked Jamal Crawford around, this season he’s ruining any hope of Ben Gordon being good by using him only at the “2” (as opposed to letting him back up Kirk “Hacker” Hinrich at the point), he’s keeping Luol Deng from being a 20-a-night guy by stashing him on the bench, and now he’s benching the Baby Bulls in favor of Othella Freaking Harrington and Antonio “Father Time” Davis. Great move. While you can probably defend the move to bench the lazy, infuriating Curry, there’s really no reason to sit Tyson Chandler. The guy is averaging 7 points, 7 boards, a steal, a block, and shooting 54% in only 24 minutes a night. He should be getting more time, not less! Scott Skiles is horrible. Just horrible. (Bill Walton voice required.)
The Last Word is Really Three Letters: MVP. It’s time to start the “LeBron For MVP” talk. The guy is suddenly right there with KG, Kobe, and Duncan in terms of the league’s best players. Seriously. He’s going for over 27 a night. He joins KG as one of two players to average at least 8 boards and 6 assists a night. He’s shooting 49% from the field (compared to Kobe’s 39%). He’s hitting threes. He’s blocking shots. He’s fifth in the league in minutes played and steals. There is literally nothing he can’t do. As this column was being edited, he was hanging a career high 43-points on the Pistons. Throw in 6 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, a block, and two threes … all on 15-22 shooting from the field and 11-12 from the line, and you are looking at one of the best performances of the season. Before the 2004-2005 campaign started I said that we were about to see a player post numbers reminiscent of Jordan in the early ‘90’s. Well, I was right … and wrong. Right about the fact that it was happening, wrong about the player. I thought Kobe would do the MJ impersonation, but it turns out there’s a new King in town.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sitemail at adamo112.