Monday, March 9, 2009

Above the Rim: Five Productive Players Flying Under the Radar

This week we focus on two players traded at the deadline, two young big men who have been picking it up lately, and one player who is stepping into a void created by injury. Larry Hughes and Thabo Sefolosha were traded from the Bulls to the Knicks and Thunder, respectively, and both have been picking it up recently with the change of scenery. Meanwhile, Marc Gasol and David Lee have quietly been putting up huge numbers down low for the Grizzlies and the Knicks. Finally, Matt Barnes has picked up his game since A’mare Stoudemire got hurt and is earning more minutes.

Hughes- Hughes has 101 points in his last 5 games, which amounts to a 20.2 average per game. Hughes recently returned from an injury after his trade to the Knicks. In his first three games, Hughes only played 15 minutes per game, but since then he has really picked up his game. Hughes has also averaged 4 assists, 2.4 steals, and 2.8 rebounds in the last five games. One of the big reasons why Hughes has been so productive recently is his accuracy from 3-point range. Only a 30.7% shooter from three for his career, Hughes was averaging a career best 39.2% for the Bulls, and that percentage increased to 45.2% (14/31) since his trade to Mark D’antoni’s run and gun offense. That percentage would be even higher, but Hughes was 0-4 against Charlotte on March 7. Hughes has struggled to find his rhythm since leaving Philadelphia for Cleveland and then two half seasons with Chicago. The change to the Knicks up tempo offense may be the system that Hughes needs to revive his career.

Sefolosha- Once the 13th overall draft pick, Thabo, in his third season, has just started realizing his potential since his trade to Oklahoma City. A long wing player who was always described as an effective perimeter defender, Sefolosha has added offense to his game since the trade. In his last 6 games (he has been with the Thunder for 7), Sefolosha is averaging 12.2 points per game to go with 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. Sefolosha is simply another developing player on the Thunder’s roster. Sefolosha will turn 25 in May and should continue to get better, especially now that he is playing more. In Chicago, Sefolosha averaged 12, 20, and 17 minutes per game, but that number is 33 since he joined Oklahoma City. Not only will the increase in playing time lead to more points, rebounds, and assists, but Sefolosha will continue to develop and those numbers will increase exponentially as he gains more experience. Thabo is worth picking up for the playoff run this year, but his real value may be realized next season as he begins to benefit from the experience he is gaining right now.

Gasol- Gasol is averaging 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game this season, but he has gotten hot lately. Marc is averaging 21.3 points in his last 4 games to go with 9.75 rebounds and 2.75 blocks. Gasol has even contributed 4 assists per game, although most come from his 10 assist game against the Clippers on March 4th. In those 4 games, Gasol is shooting 71.8%. Already getting consideration for Rookie of the Year, although he probably won’t beat O.J. Mayo, Gasol is picking it up. His numbers are also up across the board since the all star break as he is averaging 14.1 points, 10 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 blocks while shooting 61% in 9 games since the break. Gasol, like Sefolosha should continue to improve on his numbers as he gains more experience.

Lee- Lee has been an absolute freak lately, and has done it quietly. Averaging 16.3 points and 11.9 rebounds on the season, very impressive to begin with, Lee averaged 18.6 points and 13.2 rebounds in January, 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds in February, and after a 19 point-14 rebound game Sunday, 14 points and 11.7 rebounds in 3 games in March. In Sunday’s game, Lee also had 7 assist and 5 steals, but those numbers are out of the ordinary for him. On the other hand, a double-double is not. Since November 16th, Lee has played in 53 games and has 48 double-doubles. In 4 of the 5 games where he didn’t get a double-double, Lee had rebounding totals of 7, 7, 8, and 9. Those games are more than offset by two 21 rebound games and two 19 rebounds games. While Lee is not necessarily hot right now, he has been one of the most consistent and productive power forwards this season. One reason why he isn’t hot right now is because he has been putting up double-doubles all season. If you can get him in your league, pick him up now because he will probably get a double-double in every game except for one for the rest of the season.

Barnes- Barnes is averaging 10 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game this season, but his numbers have picked up since Stoudemire’s eye injury. In his last ten games, Barnes is averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Recently, Barnes has been the starting shooting guard with Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench and Jason Richardson and Grant Hill lining up at the forwards. This has led to increased minutes and opportunities and is a big reason why his scoring, assists, and steals have all increased. His rebounds have stayed about the same, but that is more due to playing guard instead of forward. Five rebounds per game from the 2-guard is nothing to complain about, especially when he is producing in the other categories. Barnes is owned in only 51% of Yahoo! leagues, so he could be a cheap pick-up down the stretch to help with a playoff push.

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