Breaking down the best game in town
By Adam Hoff
We are long overdue for a Fantasy Corner and a checkup on the world of NBA hoops. But before we get started, allow me to make a few quick comments about other hot topics in the world of sports and beyond (there’s no telling when I’ll be able to fit these babies into a column, so might as well do it now – no time like the present).
- Jets play calling. Not only did the uber conservative Jets ruin their own season, they ended my run at a perfect postseason of predictions. After making all my picks prior to the playoffs starting, I’m sitting at 9-for-10 with both my Super Bowl picks still alive, and only Doug Brien’s missed field goals are keeping from a shot at perfection. I got about 15 emails telling me what an idiot I was for taking the Jets all the way to the AFC Championship game. I was ready for the sweet taste of revenge! Turns out, I was an idiot. I forgot how badly Herman Edwards can mangle a game.
The big problem was this: the J-E-T-S forgot that the Pittsburgh 30-yard line wasn’t the freaking end zone. After Pittsburgh scored to tie the game at 17-17, New York marched down the field, tearing off big runs with Martin and Jordan and generally abusing the Steelers defense. Then they got to the 30 and just stopped trying to gain yardage. Who plays for the field goal there? Not only was there plenty of time for Pittsburgh to answer with a touchdown, but Heinz Field is a notoriously bad kicker’s field. Amazing! Sure enough, Doug Brien bounces one off the cross bar … no good. By a stroke of luck, they get the ball back on a pick and start their drive at the Pittsburgh 35. They proceed to get nine yards and once again call it quit – leaving the very same kicker to take a 43-yarder. Are you kidding me? It was about a 99% certainty that he was missing that kick. To top it all off, they ran a two-yard out on third-and-nine in and played a soft defense on a QB with shattered confidence in overtime. I personally predicted a Jets victory because I felt that Big Ben would finally suck and that the New York defense and special teams would both score touchdowns. Improbably, no impossibly, all of this happened! What I failed to realize is that Herm Edwards and his staff could mitigate all of that with abysmal play calling. What a disaster.
- The Scorsese snubs continue. Although Marty has won a few “Best Director” Golden Globe’s in the past, he got jacked last week when the Hollywood Foreign Press (whatever that is) went with Clint Eastwood for “Million Dollar Baby.” Why is this important? Because this is THE YEAR for Scorsese to finally win an Oscar. He’s been overlooked time and time again for movies like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Gangs of New York. It has to stop. And this year – a year with no obvious choice for best director – has to be the year. But now that Eastwood has the Golden Globe, he becomes the new favorite. It makes me sick.
Okay, I guess there were only two pressing issues. On to the fantasy hoops …
The Underachiever Club. Not to start off on a negative note, but there are quite a few guys playing well below expectations. And most of them are on my teams. Here are some key stars turning in shaky performances:
Yao Ming. 18.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg. If you were one of the unfortunate fantasy owners who bought into Yao’s third year breakthrough, you are bitter right now. His 1:3 assist to turnover ratio is positively abysmal and he needs to boost his numbers across the board.
Lamar Odom. 14.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.7 apg. Odom hasn’t been horrible, but a guy that was good for 18-10-5 with threes, blocks, and steals has turned into a rebounder. Granted, it’s not his fault – anyone would be shackled playing with Ballhog Bryant, but Odom owners probably aren’t faring all that well. Maybe this vacation from Kobe will right the ship.
Amare Stoudemire. Just kidding.
Kenyon Martin. 14.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.0 apg. The guy that was supposed to put the Nuggets over the top in the West has been a disappointment in fantasy and real life alike. His base numbers are brutal, he’s a liability at the free throw line (.587), and he’s averaging a mere .9 bpg. Ouch.
Sam Cassell. 15.3 ppg, 6.0 apg, 2.7 rpg. Sam I Am was supposed to be at the top of the point guard class this year, but he can’t even hang with the likes of Jamaal Tinsley or Chauncey Billups, let alone Nash, Wade, or Arenas. To make matters worse, right when he finally started to play halfway decent, he got hurt. Now he’s a member of the “Baron Davis Day-to-Day Lineup Killers” All-Star team.
Samuel Dalembert. 5.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg over the first 35 games. 20/13/3.5 over the last two. Is this the breakout year or not? Maybe we need to ask Jim “Stubborn” O’Brien.
Brent Barry. 6.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.2 apg. Barry was a fifth round pick in many drafts and the guy that was supposed to be the key to the Spurs title run. Well, the Spurs are running toward the title, but it’s Ginobili and Tony Parker that are doing all the keying. Barry’s isn’t even getting playing time, let alone hitting threes, grabbing steals, and dropping dimes as expected. You can find him on your local waiver wire.
Honorable Mention. Theo Ratliff (only reason he’s not on the list is because his troubles have been well documented in this space), Rasheed Wallace (poor shooting percentages), Latrell Sprewell (what did we really expect though?), and Erick Dampier (Ditto, since it’s not a contract year).
The Washington Wizards' backcourt. Don’t look now, but the Wizards might have the most exciting and effective fantasy NBA backcourt for the foreseeable future. Bibby and Mobley make a nice pair in Sacramento, Nash and Joe Johnson are lighting it up in Phoenix, the Spurs’ Parker and Ginobili are constantly getting better, and Marbury and Crawford are solid in New York, but to be honest, it’s not even very close. Larry Hughes and Gilbert Arenas are the best set of fantasy guards in the game. And despite a disastrous injury to Hughes, the duo should be good for a long, long time.
From the opening tip of the season until his injury, Hughes had been on a mission. Plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, it appears that the former Biliken standout is finally coming into his own. He’s one of only eight players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points (21.6), five boards (6.1), and five assists (5.3) a night. His shooting percentage is up to nearly 44%, which is not spectacular, but it shames the marks of follow 2 guards like Kobe Bryant and T-Mac. He’s stroking at least one three per game and has 9 in his past three games. Plus, he leads the league in steals with 2.9 per game. No wonder he is the #7 rated player in all of basketball. And in case you thought it was a fluke, just as anyone on the Wizards how much they’ve missed Hughes while he’s been out. He’s legit.
As for Arenas, he too is fulfilling his substantial promise. Last year was marred by a lengthy stint on the IL, a rift with Kwame Brown about FGA’s, and a strange suspension for going out on the court in his street clothes and shooting jumpers like a seven-year old kid during halftime of a junior high game. This year it’s been smooth sailing for Gilbert Grape. The #12 rated player in the game, Arenas is averaging 23.6 points, four boards, and five dimes a night. Plus, he gets nearly two picks per outing, hits 2.4 three’s a night, and boasts solid shooting percentages everywhere on the court.
Whether the Wizards will continue their winning ways and make the playoffs remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Hughes and Arenas are here to stay.
Odd Stat of the Week
“Right Side” Monsters. The “right side” moniker refers to the right side of the scoreboard in a head-to-head match up. Namely: assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers. I’ve always contended that the key to winning a head-to-head fantasy match up is having guys who help you on the right side of the board. The left side stats – points, threes, rebounds, and shooting percentages – are often the flashy and publicized numbers, but their gritty cousins are usually more responsible for coming away with the win. So here are the players that have at least 60 assists, 30 steals, 30 blocks, and fewer than 120 turnovers – guys that truly help you in all of the “Right Side” categories:
Dirk Nowitski – 108 assists, 52 steals, 54 blocks, 95 turnovers
Kevin Garnett – 249 assists, 65 steals, 59 blocks, 115 turnovers
Brad Miller – 148 assists, 44 steals, 47 blocks, 55 turnovers
Shawn Marion – 97 assists, 90 steals, 67 blocks, 60 turnovers
Kurt Thomas – 80 assists, 46 steals, 41 blocks, 49 turnovers
As Tony Kornheiser would say, “That’s it, that’s the list!” Obviously Garnett and Marion are on it – they are the best fantasy players in the game this year. And neither Nowitski or Miller come as a big surprise; this is just one more feather in their respective caps. But Kurt Thomas? Wow.
(Note: Watch out for Shane Battier as a right side monster. Now that he’s starting in Memphis, Battier is emerging as a fantasy stud because he does all the little things. In fact, it’s ironic that he’s finally getting to start now that Hubie Brown, the inventor of “doing the little things” is gone. Battier is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 1.5 blocks AND 1.5 three’s over the past 30 days, and he’s throwing in over a steal a game, 2 assists per contest, and only turning the ball over once every other game. Keep your eye on the former Blue Devil.)
Blocks. Quick: name the player that led the NBA on blocks over the past month. With AK-47 out for the last 30 days, the title as best shot blocker was wide open, and rookie Josh Smith stepped up big. The only small forward in the top ten, Smith averaged 3.1 blocks per game over the last month to become an instant hit in fantasy circles. With decent rebounding and scoring numbers to go with a terrific field goal percentage (.517) and plenty of steals, Smith is becoming a valuable fantasy performer.
Scoring. This could be one of the best races for the scoring title in recent years. I assumed that Kobe would run away with it since he takes so many shots. However, his miserable .406 shooting percentage has leveled the playing field. He currently sits on the IL (with what is apparently the most severely sprained ankle of all time, judging by his reaction and the subsequent sideline reporting by Craig Sager) with 27.5 per night, in second. The current leader is Allen Iverson and he has taken over the top spot with a bullet. Coming off one of the best months of his career (32.8 ppg, 7.5 apg, 2.4 spg, 4.7 rpg, 47% shooting), AI has surged to 29.1 per game on the season and is probably the best bet to capture his fourth scoring title. However, there are more challengers lurking. Dirk Nowitski continues his best season and is tied for third at 27.2 ppg. LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire both float around 26 a night. T-Mac is turning it on and is up to almost 25 per. However, the guy to watch for is Jermaine O’Neal. As evidenced by his 55-point effort a few weeks back, O’Neal is back from suspension in a big way. He’s going for 30.2 ppg since his return (second to Iverson over that span) and seems to have a new attitude about getting to the line. He’s tied for third overall at 27.2 a night and could be the guy to emerge and join AI and Kobe in a photo finish.
(A couple more spiteful comments about that Kobe ankle sprain, if I may: 1) Hey Kobe, learn a little something from LeBron about how to play through a “severe sprain.” The next MVP of the NBA absolutely ruined his hoof tonight and came back to lead the Cavs to a big win over the scorching Grizzlies. 2) Hey Kobe, learn a little something from Tom Brady about how to handle an ailment with class. You didn’t see Brady posing for the cameras and grimacing every 10 seconds in a ridiculous attempt to replicate “The Flue Game.” Stop trying to manipulate the media and man up one time. Tom Brady is a stud. Hey Kobe, how about those 4-1 Lakers in your absence? Think maybe this means you should pass once in a while? Sorry to pile on … I mean, is even a worthy target anymore? The Lakers aren’t any good when he plays, his jersey sales have dropped below Smush Parker to #76 in the league, and it doesn’t appear that anybody on the planet likes him. Maybe I should just let it go. Nah.)
Rebounding. Last year Carlos Boozer emerged as the new force on the boards in the NBA. He added some decent shooting and scoring, but never got around to making steals or blocking shots. This year’s Boozer? Troy Murphy of the Warriors. He sits fifth in the league in rebounding at 11.3 per game and has upped that to 13.3 over the past month. Like Boozer, he doesn’t block shots or contribute steals, and though he doesn’t shoot well at all (.407), he does stroke the three every once in a while. So basically, he’s the same guy. But different.
We’ll cover assists, three’s, and steals next week.
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.