So you’re online checking out an NBA box score and the following play-by-play line appears: "3:20 NY – D. Milicic misses a 3 foot hook shot in the lane".

Do you think to yourself:
a) "What a bust!"
b) "Hey, I didn’t realise Milicic was still in the league"
c) "I gotta scroll down and check the box score to see if anyone on the opposing team blocked the shot"
d) "I wonder if he’ll blame the miss on corrupt refs and then later threaten to "**** their mother’s ***** after the game"(warning: strong language)

If you thought c) then chances are you’re a Fantasy basketball nerd.

(If you didn’t think a) then you’re either a Knicks fan in denial or haven’t been following the league for long enough).

Fantasy basketballers are a small but growing niche of NBA fans for whom a midweek Charlotte-Minnesota matchup is as meaningful as a Lakers-Cavs Christmas blockbuster. For whom the word “intangibles” is meaningless. Who follow names like Augustin, Blatche and Speights with as much interest LeBron, Kobe and Dwight.

They’re kind of like a cult. An over-analytical, judgemental, number-crunching cult. Me, well I’m an unashamed member of the Fantasy basketball cult and Rob D has been kind enough to let me dispense some of my thoughts on the early season fantasy trends for the readers of NBAMate.

Timeshares

Ah, the dreaded timeshare. A dirty word in fantasy circles. On one hand it stops the starter from producing like we know they can. On the other hand it restricts the backup from reaching their full potential. Here are this seasons victims:

TJ Ford (23.11 mpg) and Earl Watson (25.06 mpg). Ford once averaged 7.9 apg in a season. So far in 2009/10 he is dishing out 1.8 apg. Is this the cause or effect of the timeshare?

Joakim Noah (28.36 mpg) and Brad Miller (25.06 mpg). This minute distribution works well for Chicago and has allowed Miller to be a fringe pickup in 12 team leagues. However it has stopped Noah from averaging somewhere in the region of 12-13 rpg.

Jonny Flynn (25.53 mpg) and Ramon Sessions (22.30 mpg) I’m sorry if you wasted a draft pick on Sessions but you should have seen it coming.

Sam Dalembert (23.18 mpg) and Mareese Speights (23.11 mpg). Free Mareese!!!

Steve Blake (25.53 mpg) and Andre Miller (24.53 mpg). The Blazers are struggling early and yesterday Nate McMillan finally decided to change things up and start both PGs at the same time. Keep an eye on how this affects Miller’s numbers.

Rasual Butler (28.23 mpg) and Al Thornton (28.36 mpg). I Wouldn’t touch either of these guys with a 10 foot pole. They don’t know the meaning of the phrase "bad shot".

 

Rebounding SFs

Three players have grabbed 20 rebounds in a single game so far this season. Unsurprisingly Dwight Howard is one of them. The other two? Gerald Wallace and Luol Deng. And they’re not the only SF eligible players pulling down an impressive amount of boards. Check out these numbers:

Gerald Wallace 14.0 rpg
Luol Deng 10.5 rpg
Grant Hill 10.3 rpg
Mike Miller 9.3 rpg

Of course, these averages won’t hold up but they’re worth noting nonetheless. Wallace would be the only guy I’d bet on averaging 8+ rpg for the rest of the season.

 

Rookie Point Guards

It’s always been difficult getting solid fantasy numbers from a rookie. With Blake Griffin out the focus on this year’s class falls squarely on the PG position.

Brandon Jennings
(48.2% FG, 70.0% FT, 22.0 ppg, 2.3 3pg, 4.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.0 bpg, 3.3 t/o)
Jennings is the pick of the bunch and has already had some breakout games. He tends to rely on his perimeter shooting a bit too much instead of penetrating and creating. This may keep his FG% south of 45% and his assists lower than they should be for a guy with the ball in his hands so often.

Stephen (pronounced Steffen in the USA for some reason) Curry (55.6% FG, N/A FT, 11.0 ppg, 1.0 3pg, 3.0 rpg, 6.7 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.0 t/o)
Coming into the draft we all knew the guy could shoot, which may have overshadowed the fact that he’s also got great court vision and can grab a bunch of steals. Pick him up if he’s available in your 12 team league.

Jonny Flynn
(50.0% FG, 90.5% FT, 13.8 ppg, 0.8 3pg, 3.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.0 bpg, 3.4 t/o)
Flynn is solid but not spectacular. He doesn’t seem like the type of breakout-game player who’ll provide the occasional 15 assist or 30 point game. Expect his numbers to hover around the 1.0 3pg, 4.5 apg & 1.0 spg.

Tyreke Evans
(34.9% FG, 55.0% FT, 11.2 ppg, 0.2 3pg, 3.0 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.4 t/o)
The potential is there to be a multi-category contributor but right now he’s done nothing more than kill you in FG% and t/o. However, with the injury to Kevin Martin comes the opportunity to show what he can do at the SG position. Follow his next few games closely.

Ty Lawson
(59.0% FG, 88.9% FT, 1.8 ppg, 1.0 3pg, 2.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 t/o)
A borderline pickup in 12 team leagues, Lawson is doing well to stay on the fantasy radar despite coming off the Denver bench.

On a side note, how is #2 pick Hasheem Thabeet working out for the Grizz you ask? Well, lets just say he has a career high of 2 points in a game. Of course, he could have scored more in that same game if he hadn’t fouled out in just 11 minutes!

 

The Top 10′s

Just prior to the beginning of the season I watched that classic 80′s basketball movie Teen Wolf and saw how everyday teen Scott Howard transformed from a turnover prone PG novice into a fantasy basketball superstar as the Wolf. Heck, the Wolf was even racking up steals by stripping the ball off his own team mates mid-dribble!

It’s now less than two weeks into the new season – the time when player adding/dropping is at its most active within fantasy leagues. You’ve watched a few games here and there and have a small sample of what kind of numbers the players are churning out. Now you’ve got to use all this knowledge to form judgements on players and decide which overachievers are likely to stay in Wolf Mode and keep up their unbelievable form, and which underachievers are likely to break out of their Scott Howard funk and transform into the Wolf to rack up the kind of fantasy stats owners are looking for.

So I thought I’d look at 10 of the more notable overachievers and underachievers and rate their chances of releasing their inner Wolf as the season progresses. The higher the Wolf Rating the better for your fantasy team.

 

Overachievers

1. Chris Kaman
(60.0% FG, 77.3% FT, 22.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.8 bpg, 3.4 t/o)
The Caveman had a few lean years as he struggled with injury. Now he’s back, healthy and producing numbers worthy of a 1st rounder. Congratulations if you drafted him because he’s been the steal of the year in fantasy drafts. The points and FG% will dip to around 16-18ppg @ 50-52% but even then you’re still laughing.
 

2. Luol Deng
(48.3% FG, 77.8% FT, 17.8 ppg, 0.3 3pg, 10.5 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.5 t/o)
I like the look of Deng this season – he’s got that spring back in his step and can get buckets without being the focal point of the Bulls offense. Sure, his 3′s, assists and steals aren’t great but he never had the best all-round game to begin with. It’s just nice knowing he’s back in top form.

3. Andrew Bynum
(54.9% FG, 75.9% FT, 20.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.2 bpg, 2.6 t/o)
Two words: No Pau. Consequently Bynum is getting major minutes as the primary inside target. Further "good" news is that Gasol’s hamstring injury is one that will linger and force him to play tentatively upon return. Even with Pau at full strength I’d expect a robust 16+ ppg, 8.5 + rpg and 1.5+ bpg from Bynum, who is also a sneaky good pickup since he’ll be playing in the last few weeks of the regular season while Kobe and Pau rest for the playoffs. Just stay healthy Andrew!

4. Trevor Ariza
(41.5% FG, 70.8% FT, 20.0 ppg, 3.0 3pg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.4 bpg, 3.4 t/o)
Amazing how he’s become an offensive gunner and major 3 pt contributor this year. His low FG% and high turnover rate suggest that he’s perhaps trying to do too much which is understandable because, well, someone has to take the reigns in Houston. No reason why he can’t keep playing this way – but that doesn’t mean it’s all good across the board. 

5. Marc Gasol
(60.4% FG, 79.0% FT, 22.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.6 bpg, 2.8 t/o)
Even Pau would be hard pressed to put up numbers like this. Playing out of his skin, well and truly in Wolf mode with a significant increase in each stat category. There’s no chance at all of keeping up this output but he’ll still remain a solid #2 C option by years end.

6. Jeff Green
(50.9% FG, 83.3% FT, 19.3 ppg, 2.0 3pg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.3 bpg, 3.3 t/o)
Wow, he’s looking like this season’s Danny Granger. My question is the consistency – I think his numbers won’t stay at these lofty heights and will instead be up and down from month to month.

7. Aaron Brooks
(48.8% FG, 73.9% FT, 19.8 ppg, 2.4 3pg, 2.6 rpg, 8.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.4 bpg, 4.2 t/o)
You look at the Rockets roster and wonder how the hell they’ve stayed competitive. One answer is that every Houston player has stepped up their game this year, none more so than Aaron Brooks. We saw glimpses of this impressive play in the playoffs, but I’m of the opinion that defenses will adjust and Brooks will revert back to becoming a FG% liability with assists also dropping to around 5 per game.

8. Lou Williams
(55.8% FG, 81.0% FT, 17.0 ppg, 0.8 3pg, 4.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 t/o)
For Lou this season it’s been all about playing smart. Good shot selection has led to a high FG% and good decision making with the ball means a low turnover rate. How long can he keep it together? I’m sceptical since he has no previous track record as a PG. A sell high candidate in my opinion.

9. Erick Dampier
(66.7% FG, 66.7% FT, 9.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.2 spg, 2.8 bpg, 1.0 t/o)
The last time Damp had a standout season was 2003/04, a contract year for him. That was also the last time he averaged over 30 mins a game. The Mavs will eventually find a way to limit his minutes so that they don’t have to pay his full salary (Dampier’s contract is incentive based on minutes played). Still, feel free to pick him up if he’s available in your league but be ready to cut the cord as soon as he starts struggling.

10. Larry Hughes
(50.0% FG, 85.7% FT, 15.0 ppg, 1.7 3pg, 4.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.7 t/o)
Whatever you do, do not fall for this hot start by Hughes. You will hate having him on your fantasy team, trust me.

Underachievers

1. Derrick Rose
(40.4% FG, 64.3% FT, 11.8 ppg, 0.0 3pg, 3.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 2.5 t/o)
You and I both know that the numbers are only this low because Rose is still trying to get in top shape as he recovers from an ankle injury. TV commentators only mention it about 50 times during each Bulls telecast.

2. Al Jefferson
(41.8% FG, 78.3% FT, 16.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.8 bpg, 1.4 t/o)
Yes he’s coming off knee surgery and yes he no longer has the shooters to relieve the pressure at the offensive end. But I’m still a believer in Al and think he’ll be a top contributor by season’s end.

3. Andris Biedrins
(91.7% FG, 0.0% FT, 7.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.3 t/o)
How about those %’s. A surprising victim of Nellie’s minute-juggling act and now hampered by a bad back. If he hits the FA list check whether his back issues have been resolved then scoop him up. He’ll be back to delivering double-doubles soon.

4. Jose Calderon
(37.8% FG, 69.2% FT, 9.8 ppg, 0.5 3pg, 2.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.0 t/o)
Unbelievably poor numbers. Struggling in every single category and barely outperforming PGs like Mario Chalmers, Chris Duhon and Mike Conley – not exactly 3rd round material which is where he was likely drafted. Jose’s career has always been about reliability though so I believe he’ll bounce back and adjust to his new team mates. A buy low target.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge
(52.4% FG, 70.0% FT, 14.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.4 t/o)
Here LaMarcus’ game by game point totals so far this season: 11, 9, 27 ,6, 20. Yes it’s gonna be a rollercoaster ride for Aldridge owners. As a long, jump shooting big man he draws a lot of comparisons to Rasheed Wallace but has only seemed to have inherited Rasheed’s ordinary fantasy traits (points, rebounds) and missed out on his valuable ones (3′s, steals, blocks).

6. Anthony Randolph
(35.7% FG, 92.9% FT, 8.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.3 t/o)
The combination of back problems and playing for Don Nelson has resulted in Randolph going from fantasy favourite to fantasy nightmare. Hard to predict when he will be unleashed by the Warriors but expect him to be a fantasy asset at some point during the season (I know that’s a vague timeframe but hey, it’s the best I can do). Trade for him/pick him up off the FA list only if you’re feeling extremely lucky.

7. John Salmons
(25.9% FG, 88.9% FT, 10.5 ppg, 1.0 3pg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 2.3 t/o)
Solid all-round numbers last year had me thinking Salmons (pronounced without a silent "l" for some reason in the USA) would be an underrated pick in fantasy drafts particularly with Gordon gone. Turns out last season was a mirage and Salmons is only like the 5th most important player on the Bulls.

8. Richard Jefferson
(45.8% FG, 68.8% FT, 11.7 ppg, 0.7 3pg, 2.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 t/o)
A strong argument can be made that he’s still adjusting to his new team. An argument can also be made that the new system will restrict his chances of matching his numbers from previous years. There won’t be too many Teen Wolf coast-to-coast reverse dunks here.

9. Baron Davis
(33.3% FG, 72.7% FT, 11.4 ppg, 1.0 3pg, 3.6 rpg, 7.6 apg, 2.2 spg, 0.6 bpg, 2.8 t/o)
Last season he was fat and unmotivated. This season he’s skinny and unmotivated. Perhaps his spirits will lift when Griffin returns. His shot may be off (is it ever really on?), but at least the assists and steals are still there

10. Elton Brand
(46.0% FG, 86.7% FT, 11.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.0 bpg, 2.0 t/o)
Unlike fellow long-term injury returnee Gilbert Arenas, Brand is having a tough time finding his comfort zone on court. Physically he’s not same and neither is the 76ers team he returned to – new coach, new offensive system, new starting PG and a bunch of young guys who will get theirs. Brand is being squeezed out and his numbers will continue to suffer.

Finally, if you’re looking to join a Fantasy Basketball league for this season, it’s not too late. Signups to free ESPN and Yahoo leagues are still open. Just be wary of some of the dodgy custom leagues out there!


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