CP3 for MVP?

February 28, 2008

LeBron James became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career points on Wednesday with his 26-point performance against the Celtics. It’s quite an achievement for the 23-year old (it’s unbelievable that this guy is 23…), and there is little doubt in my mind that he is the most talented overall basketball player in the league right now. Naturally, he’s in the early conversation for MVP this season. However, I’d like to argue for a different candidate – New Orleans’ Chris Paul.

Kevin Garnett was the favorite for awhile, but Boston went 7-2 in its recent nine-game stretch without the Big Ticket – who statistically is having his worst season since the 1997-98 campaign. Those two factors should eliminate KG from the MVP conversation as far as I’m concerned. With Garnett falling by the wayside, the discussions have revolved around James and Kobe Bryant, with Paul being largely ignored. First, let’s make a case for LeBron.

F LeBron James, Cavaliers (Last Three Years)

Year G Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk 3PM FG% FT%
2005-06 79 42:30 31.4 7.0 6.6 1.6 0.8 1.6 48.0 73.8
2006-07 78 40:53 27.3 6.7 6.0 1.6 0.7 1.3 47.6 69.8
2007-08 52 40:30 30.2 8.1 7.4 2.0 1.0 1.4 48.5 70.5

King James is currently putting up career highs in rebounds, assists, blocks, and field goal percentage. His Cavaliers are currently just fifth in the lowly Eastern Conference, but they would be in dire straights without LeBron. In six games without James this season, Cleveland went 0-6 while losing by an average of 11.3 points per game. How’s that for value?

Kobe time:
G Kobe Bryant, Lakers (Last Three Years)

Year G Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk 3PM FG% FT%
2005-06 80 41:00 35.4 5.3 4.5 1.8 0.4 2.3 45.0 85.0
2006-07 77 40:47 31.6 5.7 5.4 1.4 0.5 1.8 46.3 86.9
2007-08 57 38:00 27.8 6.1 5.4 2.0 0.5 1.7 46.3 84.6

Kobe’s Lakers are one of the biggest surprises in the league this year – honestly, did anyone outside the organization expect the squad to be in first place in the Western Conference after 57 games? I’d be shocked if even half of the L.A. front office believed that prior to the season. Bryant has played a big part of the revival, besting his career averages in points, rebounds, assists, steals, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three point percentage this season. He’s also been durable, playing in every game despite ligament damage in the pinky finger on his shooting hand.

Finally, there’s Paul:
PG Chris Paul, Hornets (Last Three Years)

Year G Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk 3PM FG% FT%
2005-06 78 36 16.1 5.1 7.8 2.2 0.1 0.6 43.0 84.7
2006-07 64 36:47 17.3 4.4 8.9 1.8 0.1 0.8 43.7 81.8
2007-08 54 37:30 20.8 4.0 10.8 2.7 0.0 1.1 48.0 87.7

Paul is currently producing career-highs in points, assists, steals, field goal percentage, free throw percentages, and three-pointers per game. Then there is the fact that New Orleans is a half-game out of second place and a game and a half behind the Lakers. As surprising as L.A.’s first-place perch is, the Hornets even in the playoff picture may be even more flummoxing. Paul has missed two games this season, with New Orleans 1-1 in those contests.

So, why Paul over the other two? I suppose I’m putting more stock in the performance of the team than anything else. Just because someone is putting up ridiculous numbers doesn’t automatically make them the MVP in my mind – otherwise LeBron would probably win it every year. James is the sole reason Cleveland is even in the playoff picture, but the Cavs realized just how bad the supporting cast around their stud was and Danny Ferry made a big move at the trade deadline in to fuel a playoff push. Assuming Cleveland gets better, I think that hurts LeBron’s MVP status. If he were to win it I don’t think there would be much of an outcry, buy my point is that the Cavs, as now constructed, could probably pull off a playoff trip in the Leastern Conference without James because things are so bad. Perhaps if Cleveland was No. 2 in the conference I would be a bit more supportive of his cause.

Bryant’s biggest issues are a pair of big guys named Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – and, to a lesser extent, Derek Fisher. Bynum turned into a stud during the offseason and his progress was well-chronicled before he suffered a left knee injury in January. Then Gasol showed up from Memphis and the Lakers have gone 10-1 since. Throw in a solid leader and veteran presence at the point guard position in Fisher and L.A. has a stronger team that is supplemented most by Bryant, but not completely fueled by him. He’s undoubtedly the MVP of the team, but probably a tier below James and in third place in this discussion.

Then there is Paul, the former Demon Deacon who has the Hornets buzzing with thoughts of home-court advantage through at least one round of the playoffs in their first year back in New Orleans full time. During Paul’s first two seasons, the Hornets finished with sub-.500 records and in 10th place in the Western Conference. But he’s putting up career-best numbers across the board and suddenly New Orleans is relevant. Still, his numbers aren’t the only argument. Not only has his strong play improved his own numbers, it has also improved the digits of those around him. Sure, you can say that some of Paul’s success is a matter of circumstance. He has shooters like Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson who lay out a beach towel at the three-point line and wait to be spoon-fed. He’s also got Tyson Chandler at center to gobble up rebounds and only shoot when he’s got a dunk set up by CP3. David West supplies him with an inside-outside offensive threat that he can rely on to score when the defense collapses. Without those pieces in place, Paul could not be as effective. But because the Hornets have been smart enough to supply the necessary pieces, Paul is flourishing and leading his team where no one expected them to go. Barring a late-season collapse, I think that is enough for Paul to deserve the individual honor.

Yao-uch!!!

February 26, 2008

I have quite a bit of respect for Yao Ming. The guy is a tremendous athlete for his size, has been well-spoken (despite the somewhat broken English still) and thoughtful the few times I’ve dealt with him, and carries the weight of an entire country’s basketball-crazy fan-base on his shoulders. Perhaps Yi Jianlian will share that in a few years, but for now, it’s all Yao’s. So I’m disappointed to hear that Yao is done for the season with a stress fracture in his foot. But I also feel vindicated after once again passing on my opportunities to draft Yao in fantasy leagues.

I’m always tempted to grab Yao early in 8-cat leagues because of his fabulous percentages – 52 percent career shooter, 82.6 percent from the line – and because I simply like having guys on my team who I can pull for. But the only time in Yao’s career I’ve had him on one of my fantasy teams was the 2003-04 season – his second and final 82-game campaign since entering the league.

Houston cut back Yao’s minutes a bit the next season and got 80 games out of him, but realized he was better than the 18 points, eight rebounds per game that he was putting up was far below his potential. And they were right.

But at 7-foot-6 inches, no matter how good of an athlete Yao is, he can’t play much more than 30 minutes per night and stay healthy. He’s proven it the last three seasons. In the 2005-06 season Yao needed toe surgery to deal with osteomyelitis and missed a total of 25 games. He averaged a then career-high 34:12 per contest that season.

Houston maintained Yao’s minutes the 2006-07 season and was rewarded with more of the same. The center suffered a fractured right tibia in December and ultimately missed 34 contests as a result.

Now Yao is 55 games into the season and the Rockets have a 12-game winning streak under their belts. Yao averaged more than 37 minutes per night in those 55 games, setting a new career high by three minutes per game. There’s no doubt that fantasy owners with Yao at center have been at least somewhat successful this season in part due to the 22 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and two blocks per game Yao has supplied. No one in the game can duplicate those numbers with the percentages he shoots. So once again, his fantasy owners will likely finish the season short of a championship.

My hope is that Houston figures out that no matter how great of an athlete Yao is, his body is simply too big to play much more than 32 or 33 minutes per night. Is it tough to leave him on the bench for 15 minutes per game, especially with your team still fighting for a playoff berth? Absolutely. But guess what? The Rockets aren’t getting to the playoffs with Dikembe Mutombo patrolling the paint.

Will Houston figure it out? It’s tough to say. I certainly wouldn’t bank on it. And I also wouldn’t select Yao in the first two rounds of a draft. If for some reason I did wind up with him you can bet I’ll be sending out trade offers before the calendar hits 2009 because I don’t want to be left holding the bag when Yao checks out early again. Perhaps he’ll do the same thing Marcus Camby did – shake off years of injury troubles to put up a couple ridiculous seasons – but fantasy owners reaping the benefits from Camby are doing so because they took him in the middle rounds. Yao’ numbers certainly are tempting enough that someone will take him in the first couple of rounds. But the best-case scenario there is that Yao reaches expectations, unlike Camby’s situation where he easily surpassed the expectations based on his draft position. Yao is too much risk compared to the reward as far as I’m concerned.

For once, though, I hope I’m proved wrong.

NBA tidbits

February 22, 2008

Well, I wanted to post something yesterday, but wound up covering the blockbuster Gerald Green trade for the Associated Press yesterday, so didn’t quite get around to it. But now that all the trades are in and I just watched the Spurs squeak by the Timberwolves on Thursday I’ll just throw together a hodgepodge in hopes of covering all my NBA bases.

 

 What are the Bulls thinking?

I understand that you want to get out from under a bad contract with Ben Wallace, and with this team nowhere near championship contention I can understand moving him. But with the pieces they got in return, I agree with Chris Broussard that they are simply running in place. And now they are doing so without a legit center – no offense to rookie Aaron Gray. Between Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, Andres Nocioni and newcomer Drew Gooden, the Bulls will have to keep three of them on the floor at all times just to make up for deficiencies at the center position.

As for adding Larry Hughes, I couldn’t be less excited. It’s even more of a disappointment because it signals the end of Ben Gordon’s run in Chicago, as the Bulls aren’t going to pay Ben big money with Larry already eating up a solid chunk of the payroll at the shooting guard spot.

For fantasy purposes I think Hughes actually takes a step back this year because of Gordon and Luol Deng’s presence. Larry could be the No. 2 scoring option on any given night for the Cavs, but he’ll be no better than a No. 3 at best for Chicago.

The big winners in terms of fantasy production will be Thomas and Noah. Both will see more minutes with Wallace and Joe Smith out the door and will see their stats jump accordingly.

I’m curious to see how Cleveland uses Zydrunas Ilgauskas along with Wallace. Will they play together with Ben at power forward? Will Big Z come off the bench? Will Wallace come off the bench? This is the kind of move that I think could re-energize Big Ben a bit and give him a boost in fantasy value, but Ilgauskas definitely takes a hit in that department regardless of how coach Mike Brown chooses to utilize Wallace.

 

Manu Ginobili = Zach Morris

All of you 20-somethings out there are well aware of the powers that Zach Morris possessed back in his Saved By The Bell years. I’d argue that his biggest talent was his ability to call timeout and make everyone else in the room freeze while he could do whatever he pleased. This is where the Morris to Ginobili comparison comes up. I just watched Manu drop a 44-spot on Minnesota last night, two games after pasting Cleveland for 46. Ginobili was dropping threes like they were going out of style in both games, combining for 15 treys. But I was even more impressed with the way this guy gets to the rim and can create space for himself. He’s certainly not the quickest guy on the court and he doesn’t have any ankle-breaking moves, but he never has a problem getting by the defense. My only explanation for this is that he has Morris-like ability to call timeout and freeze everyone on the court for just long enough to get by them. I don’t think he always uses his power for fear of getting caught, but he uses it enough that he’s suddenly one of the best scorers in the league.

Manu made no mention of such power after the game (although I didn’t specifically grill him on the subject), and instead gave this reasoning for his recent success.

“When my shot is really falling it makes everything else so easy. It’s not my kind of game – I’m not the best shooter in the league. But if that is going well, the defense has to get close, I get to the line more often, I can penetrate – everything changes. In the last four or five games I’ve been doing really good with the shot.”

Comedy hour

A couple of entertaining nuggets from the Spurs’ locker room post-game. First, deadpan comedy from Tim Duncan:

Q: Do you see a little bit of yourself in (Al Jefferson)?

A: No, I don’t think I’d disrespect him like that. I think he’s a little better than me.

 

And finally, this back-and-forth between coach Gregg Popovich and San Antonio’s one beat reporter who was at the game. 

Reporter: At the end there you did want (Manu) to take the shot? 

Popovich: Yeah, why do you guys always ask stuff like that? No, we wanted him to pass it three times and were hoping that Timmy would shoot a hook from three. We run the play and then you ask, ‘did you want him to shoot it?’ You guys do that all the time.

R: It’s what we do.

P: Do it better.

Well, I’m on the docket for two more girls state tournament hockey games this morning so I better get preparing. At least this time it’s for the AP and not for the GFH, which I mentioned I wrote for the other day. It’s always a blast when you write what you think is a pretty good story and send it off, only to see a typo edited into it a mere four words into the final version. But I’m not bitter…

Where am I?

February 20, 2008

Hello loyal blog readers (all three of you), I am still alive and well. I just wanted to let that be known since I haven’t posted in a while. I’m still trying to figure out how Cleveland let Mike Bibby go to Atlanta instead of providing LeBron with some help in the Leastern Conference. Plus my head is exploding with all sorts of spring training related items — like will Joey Votto and Jay Bruce get full-time jobs in Cincy even though Dusty “veteran lover” Baker is now the manager?

I’ll delve more deeply into some topic of my choosing in the next day or so, I promise. For now, the Grand Forks Herald really needs me to cover the Minnesota girls hockey state tournament for them, so I’m off to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Check that link tomorrow and I promise you’ll find a byline from me.

Just Kidd-ing?

February 14, 2008

Well, turns out it’s not a done deal after all. Jason Kidd remains a Net for the moment thanks to Devean George invoking his right to block a trade via a little known rule that allows players on a one-year contract, but who spent the previous season with the same team and are then eligible for Early Bird free-agent rights at the end of the contract, can’t be traded without their approval.

It sounds like this trade won’t be held up for long, but there is a possibility that George sticks to his guns. We’ve got a week until the trade deadline gets here, so something will happen soon.

Anyway, did anyone see Steve Novak drop the Kings like they were hot last night? Clutch.

No Kidd-ing

February 13, 2008

You certainly can’t accuse NBA general managers of being lazy – not after watching what’s happened around the league the last three weeks. First we had the Pau Gasol thing, then Shaquille O’Neal followed scores of other old people to Phoenix. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban certainly wasn’t about to let all of this go without making a move after a historic NBA Finals collapse two years ago and a historic first-round exit as the No. 1 seed last season. So by the time we come out of the All-Star break, much of Dallas’ roster from this week will be wearing those ugly Nets uniforms, while Jason Kidd and Antoine Wright (who is supposed to be dealt for a second-rounder in a separate deal) will be with the Mavs. First, let’s discuss the Dallas end of this.

Kidd is obviously a fantasy stud and has been for several years, but has been in a steady decline as the Nets have fallen from the elite teams in the East. This year he’s struggled even more, shooting the worst percentage of his career while seeing his scoring average drop for the fifth straight season. Some of this can be attributed to the miles he’s got on those legs, but don’t underestimate what the boost of playing for a contender can do for him. Kidd has privately wanted out of New Jersey all season, and made that desire more vocal when the calendar turned to 2008. Dallas was the destination he hoped for all along, so he now returns to the team that drafted him out of Cal and the squad that just a year ago had the best record in the league. He brings with him the mental toughness that comes from more than his fair-share of playoff and domestic dispute experience – which may have been the main reason for the Mavericks’ year-end demise the last two seasons.

Kidd’s addition makes everyone still on the roster better – Erick Dampier should get a few more dunks per game and more playing time with DeSagana Diop now gone. Dirk Nowitzki gets plenty of weight lifted from his shoulders now that he isn’t the only star on his Lone Star squad. Josh Howard maintains his role with the promise of more open shots and perhaps even more playing time with Jerry Stackhouse now gone. And Jason Terry is the only other reliable offensive option at either guard position, so he should be on the floor with Kidd plenty.

As for the Nets, may God have mercy on their souls. This team has headed south in a hurry and is going to get worse before it gets better. Sure, they now have a young corps of Devin Harris, Josh Boone, Nenad Krstic and Sean Williams – and Richard Jefferson is still a spry 27. But they intend to buy out the contract of Stackhouse, and Diop, Devean George and Maurice Ager are throw-ins with two being attractive for their expiring contracts – not their basketball talent. I don’t expect Diop or George to find much playing time because they won’t be with the squad next year and coach Lawrence Frank has young players who need to develop on-court chemistry. Ager could see more time than he did in Dallas, but not enough to be fantasy worthy. Jefferson and Vince Carter are must starts, but Carter may not even be in a New Jersey jersey come next week. More on that in a minute.

The Harris, Darrell Armstrong and Marcus Williams triumvirate is quite vomit inducing, with only Harris worth anything for fantasy owners when he’s completely healthy. I don’t expect him to be as productive as he could be with Dallas, but I don’t expect much of a decline, either. Carter and Jefferson will probably do the same damage in terms of scoring, but expect a drop in field goal percentage now that Kidd isn’t there setting them up. But Carter is considered trade bait as well now that J-Kidd is gone, and it appears that a deal with Indiana is imminent assuming that Jermaine O’Neal can prove he’s 70 percent healthy by the end of next week. Or Not. Now this potential move has me absolutely dumbfounded. I do understand the financial ramifications of said deal – Carter is on the books for four more years at $66.5 million, while O’Neal has just two more years left on his deal at $44.3 million. If New Jersey was looking at this move with a buyout for O’Neal in mind, then it might make more sense to me. But the fact that they are waiting to find out more about his health tells me that he is going to be brought on board to play – and play immediately. The situation for O’Neal isn’t much different in Indiana than it would be in New Jersey – a crappy team with not much promise for the coming seasons. But if he played for the Nets, he’d be keeping Williams, Boone and Krstic from maximizing their playing time, while leaving only Jefferson as a serious non-post scoring option.

I’m digressing a bit now since that move has yet to happen, but I’m sure I’ll jump on it again if/when that move becomes official. For now I think I’ll just sit back and admire what is an absolutely stacked Western Conference and salivate at the thought of the Suns, Lakers, Mavericks, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz, Nuggets, and either Warriors or Rockets trading blows throughout the playoffs. This is going to be fun…

Yank’d Out of the Rotation

February 12, 2008

Before I was fired from laid off by Fanball along with most of my co-writers, we put together a fantasy baseball magazine with several solid feature articles in it. I would personally recommend the “Busts” story because it was written by yours truly, but it appears as though the New York Yankees read Ted Carlson’s “Warning Flags” story. While it is certainly not an exact science, pitchers who increased their workload by 50 or more innings from one year to a next generally struggle to stay healthy and consistent the next season. So perhaps New York is looking towards 2009 in its decision to bring Joba Chamerlain out of the bullpen as Mariano Rivera’s setup guy through the beginning of June before sending him down to the minors to build up arm strength in hopes of having him join the rotation in early July at the latest. This is all in hopes of limiting the 22-year old Chamberlain to 140 innings this season after he pitched 112 1/3 innings last year. I don’t mind the logic, but it’s certainly more than a bit flawed.

First of all, the Yankees are planning on doing this assuming that Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy can all stay healthy the first three months of the season. They are also assuming that Alan Horne, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez or Ross Ohlendorf emerges as a suitable replacement for Chamberlain in that time, because LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth certainly can’t be trusted. Then they are assuming that by late June or early July, one of their starters will get hurt or need to be demoted to the bullpen or the minors. Now I’m not suggesting that all of these things can’t happen, but hoping for the timing to work out on all of them is like expecting Ed McMahon to show up at your door with one of those really big checks. Sure, it’s possible, but you might as well wait to get hit by lightning as well.

Here’s the thing – Hughes is actually younger than Chamberlain and threw fewer innings due to injury last year. Kennedy is only a year older than Chamberlain. Now I agree that Chamberlain will be the most effective of the three as a setup guy, but basically the Yankees are hanging out Hughes and Kennedy to dry via their own logic (although Kennedy did top 165 innings last year in all of his stops). But to be honest, I don’t know if much of that matters, because I have a feeling this plan is going to be thrown all out of whack within the first month of the season somehow. I’m sure there is some sort of connection with Chaos Theory here, but I’m too stupid to know what it is.

So when it comes to fantasy draft day, Joba turns into quite the wild card. In keeper leagues his value doesn’t take much of a hit at all, so don’t skip over him just because you’ll be without his services as a starter for 2-3 months this season. But for those folks who are drafting for this year only, Chamberlain may not even be draftable depending on your league and bench size. For one, most teams won’t be starting middle relievers for any reason – and the only ones deserving of a bench spot are those who are likely to take over the role because of injury or ineffectiveness (like Matt Capps in Pittsburgh last season). Then keep in mind that some leagues don’t even let you hang onto players who aren’t in the majors, so when Joba gets sent down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre you may have to dump him. And even if you don’t have to dump him, you still have a guy you can’t use on your bench for three months! Then, if he makes it through all of that, you are assuming that he’ll be just as effective as a starter in the majors as he was in the minors. It’s certainly possible, but there are just way too many issues with this to make him a trustworthy fantasy pickup.

The only logic I see for taking him on draft day would be assuming that New York’s rotation can’t go on as is for even the first six weeks of the season. It is also assuming that the Yankees would choose to deviate from their plan and use Chamberlain immediately in that role instead of someone like Kei Igawa or Chase Wright. Then you’re assuming that Chamberlain will be an effective starter immediately in his first try at the big league level. I can listen to the argument if you’re willing to use it, but it certainly won’t be coming out of my mouth. I think I’ll go ahead and wait on drafting him until next year.

Mr. Jones and You

February 8, 2008

You know what will be great this summer? Seeing the words “Adam Jones” in print without the words “arrested” or “busted” or “strip club” later in the sentence. While it’s true that it may have been the case regardless if the baseball version of Adam Jones was traded to the Orioles or not, it simply helps that the young outfielder is now in a position to be not only an everyday starter, but a key component to the offense. There’s also that whole East Coast bias thing and the fact that most his games won’t start after half of the country is done getting ready for bed.

Yes, after much delay, Jones and four other Mariners prospects are en route to Baltimore for Erik Bedard, who will give Seattle a chance to compete with Angels this season. But there has been enough talk about Bedard in this deal, so let’s take a look at the Orioles side of the coin. With Corey Patterson out of the picture as a free agent, Baltimore has the center field job for him on a silver platter. I’m curious to see how he handles this, because he was handed nothing in his first two stints with the Mariners and struggled without an everyday role:

OF Adam Jones, Orioles (Last Two Years)

Year G AB AVG R HR RBI SB OBP SLG OPS
2006 32 74 .216 6 1 8 3 .237 .311 .548
2007 41 65 .246 16 2 4 2 .300 .400 .700

But check out what he did in the Pacific Coast League with Tacoma the last two seasons, noting the improvements from 2006 to 2007:

OF Adam Jones, Orioles (Last Two Years)

Year G AB AVG R HR RBI SB OBP SLG OPS
2006 96 380 .287 69 16 62 13 .345 .484 .829
2007 101 420 .314 75 25 84 8 .382 .586 .968

The guy has considerable power and managed to hit .314 despite striking out 106 times in 420 at-bats at Class AAA in 2007. And that OPS of his was fairly impressive as well. Are the high strikeout and low walk numbers concerning? Certainly. But we’re talking about a 22-year old here. Although I can’t say I think he’ll flip the switch this season, I’m confident that Jones will get things moving in the right direction over the next few years. So what am I expecting this season?

Well, he’s seen Major League pitching, but probably not enough of it for his batting average to climb much higher than the .275 to .280 range despite the fact he’s hit at least .287 in the minors since 2004. He won’t be much help in steals with fewer than a dozen or so, but at least it’s something. The power department is where fantasy owners would hope to get the most use out of Jones this year, but I wouldn’t fly off the handle here. The two guys I’ve heard him compared to the most since moving from shortstop to outfield in 2005 are Mike Cameron and Torii Hunter – players who found their way into the lineup because of their defense with their power coming along later. Jones has the athleticism to be a great defensive center fielder and the swing to perhaps eventually pass the ceilings of those two guys in homers – not to mention batting average – but for 2008 anything more than 20 should be considered gravy. His RBI totals should be decent as well with assuming he can bat sixth or seventh instead of behind guys like Kevin Millar and Luke Scott, who aren’t as adept at getting on base as some of Baltimore’s other offensive offerings. His run total will probably fall in the 60-70 range. When the dust settles, Jones probably ends up being a top-50 fantasy outfielder. So if you’re in a 10-team combo league with a shallow bench, he may not be worth the risk on draft day. But 12-team leagues or deep 10-teamers probably end up seeing Jones come off the board towards the end of the proceedings. Keeper leaguers should be a bit more aware, however. Jones is the type of guy who could get that batting average up sooner rather than later, so if you can swipe him later on and hang onto him for a couple of years, you’ll probably be handsomely rewarded down the line.

The Matrix Removed

February 6, 2008

matrix.jpg

Note to Shawn Marion owners: don’t get too excited just yet.

Yes, the Matrix is en route to Miami after being traded along with Marcus Banks for “The Big Saguaro,” meaning he will no longer be playing third fiddle in Phoenix to Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Marion owners seem to be excited about this, with the thinking being that Marion’s digits will explode once in South Beach. Don’t be so sure. Why is second fiddle for a crap team better than third fiddle for a great one?

While I give Nash a ton of credit for Marion’s development, it’s fair to point out that he was already a stat monster when Nash arrived. In the 2003-04 campaign, Marion averaged 19 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest. That also happened to be the season that Mike D’Antoni arrived in December to replace Frank Johnson. With D’Antoni’s up-tempo, European style of play, and Nash running the show, Marion was let loose to use his athleticism. Phoenix scored points and was scored on, leading to more opportunities on the glass and the scoreboard. After three straight seasons of a falling shooting percentage, it jumped back up to 47.6 percent. Since then, with Nash setting him up for open looks, Marion hasn’t been below 52 percent. But let’s not start proclaiming that his solid shooting is a product of that awful looking jumper he’s got.

Look at it this way – right now he’s Phoenix’s fourth-best scorer while taking the third-most shots per game on the team. This is for a Suns club that is outscored on a nightly basis only by the Golden State Warriors. Now look at Miami. Marion will certainly not displace Dwyane Wade as the primary option, so look for him to be the No. 2 shooter (assuming that Ricky Davis doesn’t start firing away with Shaq gone) on the club. But he’ll be the second option for a team that is last in the NBA in scoring – putting up 17 fewer points per game.

And Shawn won’t be getting the alley-oops and easy buckets the way he was in Phoenix, either. Do you really think that Jason Williams and Banks will be looking for Marion in the corner when they could put up circus shots or chuck three-pointers themselves? Not likely. Marion is going to have to work harder for his points, meaning his shooting percentage will probably dip back to the 45 percent range – not awful, mind you, but not near what he was doing in Phoenix.

Yes, the intangibles should still be there, assuming Miami’s losing ways don’t rub off on him immediately. The rebounding, blocks, steals; don’t expect a drop-off there. But don’t expect a big increase – if at all – in points, and don’t be surprised when he’s no longer carrying your club’s shooting percentage on his back.

As for the rest of the pieces to this puzzle, Banks should see an increase in minutes and consistent production, but likely not to the extent that he’s contributing in deep fantasy leagues. Shaq? Well, this move should certainly re-energize him – but unless it comes with a working hip, his numbers probably won’t increase significantly, if at all. Boris Diaw actually turns into the big winner here, because there is no way that Shaq will be able to run with the Suns more than 20-25 minutes per night. Considering Marion was playing more than 36 minutes per game, Diaw should jump up into the 32 mpg range and become a more consistent fantasy contributor. On the Miami side, Mark Blount is actually a serviceable option the rest of the season. Granted, he’s the worst 7-foot rebounder in the history of life, but he does know how to score points – and when you have center eligibility and can score, there is always room for you on fantasy teams.

Suns running on Diesel

February 6, 2008

I was having a really tough time wrapping my arms around this Shaquille O’Neal to Phoenix for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks thing. This seems to be a bit more than rumor at this point, with Shaq even flying to the valley for a physical on Wednesday – he hasn’t played since January 21st because of a hip injury. If he passes, that’s it. Shaq is a Sun. So why on earth would Phoenix want to do this?

On the surface, this appears to be a bad move on all fronts. Shaq is old, lumbering and injury prone. The Suns play at high tempo. But apparently Steve Kerr and the gang don’t believe they can compete with the best in the West as they are currently comprised. Although I don’t think this move will work, it appears to be the only option if Phoenix wants to compete for a title this season. Amare Stoudemire can hang with Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan on his best nights, but that leaves guys like Brian Skinner to take on Erick Dampier and Fabricio Oberto – not awful matchups, but certainly tilted in favor of the opposition. Then there are the Lakers, who when healthy will throw out a front line of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Oh, and they’ve got that Kobe Bryant guy. Let’s not forget to mention Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets, or the upstart Hornets with their front line of Tyson Chandler and David West.

Marion and Stoudemire can hang with all of those groups offensively, but the Boston Celtics are proving that defense and chemistry are just as important as star power these days – and the Suns have bought in. Phoenix has been trying to trade Marion the last few years because of money and chemistry, anyway, but this deal is proving how little a factor the dollars are. Shawn has a publicized history of complaining about not being “the man” on the Suns despite the fact that Steve Nash has a lot to do with the numbers Marion puts up. And although Phoenix has spent most of this season winning, Mike D’Antoni was already making references to the team’s chemistry way back in early December when he talked following the Suns’ loss to the Wolves in Minnesota. He didn’t refer to Marion by name, but anyone who follows this team knows who he was talking about. 

Marion was no longer motivated by winning. He was motivated by style and money – two things Shaq has plenty of. He’s also got plenty of rings, but he’s also tasted losing recently – something Marion only gets around playoff time. Sure, Shaq brings age and injuries to the table, but as part of a winner, the Suns hope those words morph into experience and grit – thus providing Nash with a fellow veteran leader and an even bigger overall presence.

I played around with the trade machine on ESPN a bit because my first reaction to this trade was shock that Phoenix would put their fate in the hands of a fading 35-year old who is owed $20 million in each of the next two seasons. But to be honest, the Suns had few other options. No one in the Western Conference was about to give Phoenix a big man even with Marion as a return, and the Eastern Conference is void of experienced big men. The only guy who would make sense salary and experience-wise is Ben Wallace, but the Bulls already have enough guys at Marion’s position to start a small army, so they likely wouldn’t be interested in unloading their one serviceable center. So if Marion truly was causing unrest in the Phoenix locker room and coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t think it could be overcome enough for the Suns to continue trying to outscore people, this move actually ends up making some sense.

Is it a gamble? Absolutely, a bigger one than anyone probably expected Phoenix to take. But Nash certainly isn’t getting any younger, so why not add the Diesel, hope he can keep up, and hang on for the ride?