Monday, March 23, 2009

Above the Rim: Buyout Provide a Fantasy Boost

Last year the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship after being propped up by two veterans that savvy GM Danny Ainge picked up down the stretch in P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell. Neither started for the Celts, but both provided experience and production off the bench for Boston helping them to the championship. The Celtics were at their usual tricks again by picking up both Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore for the stretch run, but the Cleveland Cavaliers pickup of Joe Smith may be the most valuable addition.

Marbury- I have written about Marbury going to the Celts twice before in this column. Starbury has let me down. I was never sold on him being a good teammate in Boston, but to this point I have not heard anything about him having a negative attitude. However, I also thought that Marbury would be productive backing up Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo and that has not been the case. The only thing I was marginally accurate about was Marbury going to Boston, and I thought it was going to happen months before it did.
Marbury has been struggling since he came to Boston. Maybe he is rusty after hardly playing in the past year or maybe he is having trouble adjusting to coming off the bench. Either way, Marbury is only averaging 2.9 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 30.2% from the floor, 9.1% from 3-point range and 50% from the free throw line. In 6 of 12 games, Steph has shot below 25% and has been held to 2 points or less in 7 games (scoreless in 3). It may be time to cut Stephon loose because I don’t see him coming out of this and scoring the 8-10 points that I thought he was capable of when Boston picked him up.

Moore- Mikki Moore has been a gritty player since coming into the league and he is the perfect player to fill the void that P.J. Brown left in the Celtics rotation. While youngsters Leon Powe and Glen Davis can be productive, Moore provides the veteran approach and more consistency. Since his signing, Moore has averaged 4.2 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 56.1% from the field and 81.8% from the free throw line. Down the stretch, Moore should continue to produce as he has experience playing in the playoffs with the Nets in 2006-2007. Moore should continue to produce even with Kevin Garnett back in the lineup. While he is not going to consistently be a triple-double threat, Moore should provide solid minutes in the rotation and can put up 10-15 points if he gets hot.

Smith- Joe Smith may have been the perfect pickup for any team after the trade deadline. The Cavs were thin up front with Ben Wallace’s fractured leg and Smith played with the Cavs after a deadline deal last season so he is familiar with Coach Mike Brown’s system. With Wallace out, Smith is the first big man off the bench, usually coming in for Zydrunas Ilgauskas late in the first quarter. Smith is averaging 7 points and 4.2 rebounds so far for the Cavs while shooting an efficient 57.7%. This is consistent with what Smith provided last season for the Cavs as he averaged 8.1 points and 5 rebounds during that playoff push while splitting time with Anderson Varejao off the bench. When Wallace comes back, the rotation will consist of Varejao and Smith off the bench just like last season, so don’t expect much of a drop-off from Smith. Also, because Big Ben does not provide much in terms of offense, Smith will not lose shots to him when he returns.

Fantasy Stars
While you will not be able to acquire LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Paul to improve your team, I feel that we need to recognize the video games seasons these guys are having.

James- LeBron is averaging 28.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists while shooting career highs of 48.8% from the floor and 76.8% from the free throw line. His 33.1% 3-point percentage is the third highest of his career after 33.5% in 2005-2006 and 35.1% in 2004-2005. James has also been contributing on the defensive end with 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks. The blocks may be the most impressive part of his game this season as at least a quarter of them have come from running down opposing players on the fast break and swatting away a sure two points, including his rejection of Jason Richardson’s 360 dunk earlier this month. I went to the Cavs-Hawks game on Saturday and left feeling that LeBron had an off-game. The King finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists to go with 3 steals and 1 block. No one in the NBA averages 22-7-5, with the exception of Wade who averages 30-5-7, and most players would consider that their best performance of the season, but for LeBron it is actually below average. The realization that we expect him to approach a triple-double every game is a testament to how phenomenal a season LeBron is having. LeBron “rebounded” with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists on Sunday against the Nets.

Wade- D-Wade is the only player in the league that can match LeBron’s statistics on offense with 30 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 7.6 assists. Wade also surpasses LeBron’s numbers on the defensive end with 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks. In any other season, Wade is probably the front runner for the MVP, but this season he is third or fourth behind James, Kobe, and maybe Chris Paul. Beyond the season averages, James and Wade have also put up some of the biggest all-around games in recent memory. First LeBron came within a rebound of a 50 point triple-double, then Dwayne missed a 50 point triple-double by one assist. On the season, Wade has 2 50-point games and 9 40-pointers while LeBron has 3 50-point games and 6 in the 40’s.

Bryant- We can talk about all-around averages and high scoring games all we want, but fans need to remember that Kobe is the most dangerous of the three in terms of exploding for 60 or 70 points on any night, which he did with 61 against the Knicks on February 2nd (Kobe also has 3 40-point games this year). As good as LeBron and Wade are, Kobe has one of the smoothest jump shots I have ever seen and is the best pure scorer of the three. On the season Kobe is averaging 27.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.9 assists which are outstanding although a little below LeBron and Wade’s averages. Kobe destroys the two youngsters in terms of free throw percentage 86.3% to LeBron’s 76.8% and Wade’s 76.5%. And while Kobe does not get the blocked shots the other two get, Kobe is the best defender of these three as well. One reason why Wade and James put up higher defensive numbers is their ability to thrive playing help defense, but Kobe is much more of a lock-down defender, especially on the perimeter. This defensive prowess is often overlooked because it does not show up in the stat sheet.

Paul- Paul is easily the best point guard playing in the NBA right now. He averages 22.2 points and leads the league with 10.9 assists and 2.9 steals. Despite these numbers, many of the analysts have not included Paul in the MVP race. While I personally consider it a two man race between LeBron and Kobe, if you are going to include Wade, you have to talk about Paul as well who is at least as important to the Hornets as Wade is to the Heat. Like Wade, Paul is putting up numbers that are more suited for NBA Live, and not NBA reality, and would be an MVP in most seasons. However, the absolute dominance of James, Kobe, and Wade have overshadowed Paul’s season, possibly due to the Hornets not fighting for the league’s best record like the Cavs and Lakers and because Paul is not putting up 50 point games like Wade. However, Paul is second in the league with 6 triple-doubles, just behind LeBron’s 7.

The NBA has been looking for the post-Jordan golden era of the NBA. With LeBron, Wade, and Paul all younger than 28 and Kobe still a superstar at 30, that age seems to be on the verge of happening or already here. In a season or two, players like Dwight Howard and others are going to take steps into this highly elite group of players and then David Stern may have a new era of superstars to aspire to.

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