Amar'e has top-five upside
By Tom Carpenter
Amar'e Stoudemire and Al Jefferson are going late in the first round or right on the turn in most fantasy drafts. When I pick in the latter half of the first round, I'm looking for a player who has limited risk and a realistic chance to finish as a top-five fantasy option. To me, only four players have virtually no risk and are top-end: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. Everyone else has a legitimate injury concern or is unlikely to finish in the top five.
How do Amar'e and Big Al compare with other first-rounders? Obviously, both have some serious injury concerns, but only Stoudemire has top-five potential in my book.
When you look at the number of games Amar'e has played in his seven-year career, you can't help but notice the black holes: 55 games in '03-04, three games in '05-06 and 53 games last season. Does this mean Stoudemire will have a career like Marcus Camby, where he'll never play full seasons and you'll hope he gets in 70 games? No. In fact, aside from those black-hole seasons, Amar'e has missed just five games in his other four campaigns. The truth is Stoudemire has had three injuries in his career: a sprained ankle/toe that cost him 27 games in '03-04, microfracture knee surgery that wiped out '05-06 and last season's detached retina. He's three seasons removed from the knee surgery, and his goggles are expected to protect him from any future eye problems.
I don't even need Jefferson's current Achilles injury as ammo to convince you he's a huge injury risk. Aside from his full 82-game run in '07-08, Big Al has failed to top 71 games in his other four campaigns, and he was limited to 50 games last season because of ACL surgery. That does sound like Camby. To his credit, Jefferson shed 30 pounds during the summer, but a big man with only one full season under his belt coming off ACL surgery sounds like a recipe for disaster as a first-round pick.
What about their upsides? Let's call their field goal percentages, 3s, assists and steals a wash. Based on history, we can expect Jefferson to outrebound Stoudemire by a couple per game and have a slight edge in blocks. Although Amar'e has proved capable of averaging 30 points, Jefferson is a big-time scorer, too. But the thing that really separates them, and the reason Stoudemire, not Big Al, could be top-five, is free throws. Jefferson won't kill your percentage if he hits only 70 percent of his five or so attempts per game, but Amar'e can vault you to the top of your free throw standings by knocking down 80 percent of as many as 10 attempts per game.
I honestly don't think the comparison between Amar'e and Big Al is even close. Not because Jefferson is a bigger health risk, in my opinion, but because his upside isn't as high as Stoudemire's. In fact, I have Amar'e ranked as my top big man and would consider taking him fifth, behind LeBron, CP3, Wade and Durant. I wouldn't take Big Al until the turn, behind Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. If you think that sounds crazy, then go look at his post-All-Star performance from '07-08. With no Shaq around during what likely will be a contract year, Amar'e very well could match or exceed that production.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Jefferson is all you want in a center
By John Cregan
That said, I just can't find a compelling reason as to why you'd take Stoudemire ahead of Jefferson. Jefferson simply has more to offer your fantasy team.
Achilles tendons notwithstanding, it's really impossible to label either player as the greater injury risk. Jefferson and Stoudemire have major surgeries in their medical histories, and both also possess a tendency toward excessive coexistence with the scarlet "DTD."
In the end, Jefferson versus Stoudemire comes down to a category battle.
Let's throw out assists, 3s and steals, which effectively cancel one another out. (Each averages nearly a steal per night, impressive for a post player.)
Stoudemire wins in the percentage categories; he's among the annual league leaders in field goal percentage because many of his shot attempts occur above the rim. He's at the very top in free throw percentage for his position.
However, Jefferson also will help your team from the field (.505 career percentage) and has improved his free throw percentage every season. There's no reason to believe Jefferson won't push past the league average (73 percent) this season, meaning he at least won't be a liability at the line.
That leaves points, rebounds and blocks.
I think both players are in line for an uptick in scoring, but ESPN's projections (24.0 ppg for Jefferson, 22.3 for Stoudemire) are reasonable expectations. Jefferson is the more complete offensive player. Stoudemire is perhaps the best finisher in basketball and can pop out for a jumper on occasion, but he's limited when compared to Jefferson. And Jefferson should be the unquestioned No. 1 option in his team's offense (with improved point guard play), while Stoudemire will be featured in a more balanced attack.
Three players in the NBA are capable of averaging 12 rebounds and two blocks a night: Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and Jefferson. Jefferson is an elite rebounder and shot-blocker and will happily anchor your team in both areas.
Stoudemire is actually trending down in these categories. How someone with Stoudemire's gifts could not average 10 rebounds a night is baffling. And frankly, it's impossible to tell whether this is a permanent trend or a one-season anomaly.
Which brings up another point. Stoudemire's mercurial tendencies prove particularly troubling when trying to peg the peaks and valleys in his production. He is in a contract year and could respond by playing the best basketball of his career or by demanding a trade by Thanksgiving. Personalitywise, Jefferson is the steadier bet.
Unless you're looking to balance out another player's hideous free throw percentage, I can't see why you'd take Stoudemire ahead of Jefferson. When I draft a center, I'm looking for three things: boards, blocks and strong field goal percentage. If that's your philosophy, Jefferson is the clear and safe choice.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.