Monday, March 16, 2009

Above the Rim: Help for the Stretch Run

If you are looking for help for the playoff push in your fantasy league, two players are quietly putting up big numbers recently. Whenever someone on the Grizzlies is doing well, it takes a while for the rest of the league to notice because of Memphis irrelevance in terms of the rest of the league. However, this is the second straight week that a young Grizzly has caught this column’s attention as Mike Conley has joined Marc Gasol in stepping his game up (Darko Milicic’s second double-double in three games isn’t enough for me to devote a paragraph to him due to his inconsistency since being drafted in 2003, but I will keep a close eye on him this week to see if a Grizzly will get some attention for three straight weeks). Trevor Ariza on the other hand has grabbed my attention earlier this season, but with Kobe and Pau on the Lakers with him, he is easy to overlook.

Mike Conley, Grizzlies- Conley is averaging 9.9 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.2 rebounds on the season, but he has been on a tear for the last month and a half. In 13 games since the all-star break, Conley is averaging 14.5 points, 6.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. Conley’s shooting percentage has increased across the board as well, shooting 46.4% from the floor, 41% from three-point range, and 82.4% from the free throw line. In 7 games in March, Conley is shooting 92.3% from the free throw line. In the 19 games since the beginning of February, Conley’s minutes per game have increased from around 26 minutes per game to 36 minutes per game, due mainly to the departure of the Grizzlies other young point guard, Nick Lowry. Conley has scored in double-figures of 18 of these games, with the one exception being March 4th when he only played 1:39 against the Clippers. In 16 of those 18 games, Conley had more assists than turnovers and had 4+ turnovers only 4 times. Conley also contributed 31 points and 9 assists in a March 7th loss to the 76ers. In yesterday’s win over the Pistons, Conley scored 20 points on just 11 shots, an extremely efficient ratio. Conley’s accuracy from the free throw line (5-5) and three-point range (3-5) were the main contributors to his high efficiency. This efficiency has been part of Conley’s game since the start of February as his 14.5 points have come on just under 12 shots per game.

Trevor Ariza, Lakers- I have written about Ariza before because he is a guy that can fill up the stat sheet in a little bit of time off the bench. Since yesterday was Ariza’s third straight start, he is poised to become a fantasy monster for the rest of the season. Ariza was already averaging 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game this season before displacing Luke Walton in the starting lineup. In start number 1, Ariza played 29 minutes and contributed 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, but he was just warming up. Start number 2 featured 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals. Against the Mavericks yesterday, Ariza was arguably the Lakers best player in a close victory as he compiled 26 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 more steals in 30 minutes. Ariza has been shooting the lights out in these three games, as he is 17-26 from the floor (65.4%), 4-9 from three-point range (44.4%), and 6-6 from the free throw line. Ariza’s quickness and athleticism guarantee that he will contribute points, steals, and a high shooting percentage for your team down the stretch, and he could also contribute with a decent number of rebounds and assists. I would expect around 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals the rest of the way while shooting over 50%.

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