Fantasy basketball season in review
Blake Griffin dazzles, while Chris Bosh, Darren Collison disappoint
The 2010-11 fantasy hoops campaign is officially in the books. Luckily, we have the NBA playoffs to wean us off the game of basketball, but it's cold-turkey withdrawal time for fantasy hoops junkies like us. We won't see another relevant hoops statistic for another six months, and that's if the players and NBA can come to agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement in time. To help us all transition from the hoops season to the summer season, I've taken a look back on this campaign with an eye toward the next one. Here are some things I've learned:
There's room for only two in Miami: LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to Miami to join Superfriend Dwyane Wade, but Bosh forgot to bring his fantasy game with him. LeBron saw only a slight dip in his overall production and, based on averages, finished the season atop the Player Rater. Wade also didn't live up to his best seasons, but he ended up sixth on the Player Rater. On the other hand, Bosh, who typically was a late-first-rounder with the Toronto Raptors, finished 48th.
It's hard to blame Bosh for his dip in scoring, since his percentages were about the same as usual. His diminished offensive production was primarily because of a lack of opportunity, since LeBron and D-Wade took so many shots. He averaged 2.8 fewer shot attempts per game than last season and 2.3 fewer free throw attempts per game. So it's not surprising that he saw his scoring drop from a career-high 24.0 points per game last season to a six-year low of 18.7 ppg with the Heat. On the other hand, we definitely can be disappointed in his paltry 8.3 rebounds per game and embarrassingly low 0.6 blocks per game. He was never much of a shot-blocker, but with less responsibility on offense you would expect him to boost, not diminish, his production on defense. Bosh can still be a productive fantasy contributor with the Heat, but a player who can get you 19 points, 9 boards and no defensive stats is nothing special.
White men can jump (or at least rebound)!: I grew up watching the Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys" and Bill Laimbeer, who incomprehensibly averaged at least 12 rpg for four straight seasons in the '80s and was the NBA rebounding champ during the 1985-86 campaign with 13.1 per game. Why was it incomprehensible? Lambs, despite being 6-foot-11, couldn't jump over an ant and looked as if he could barely run from Point A to Point B without tripping over his own feet. Great rebounding has far less to do with athleticism than it does effort and positioning. That's why a guy such as Laimbeer could dominate the glass. It's also why John Hollinger could describe Kevin Love as "slow-footed" and "floor-bound" while also calling him a "phenomenal rebounder who gets superior position." Appropriately enough, Laimbeer is an assistant coach for Love's Minnesota Timberwolves and surely played a role in helping Love maintain his epic performance on the glass this season. He finished the campaign averaging 20.2 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 3s. He is only 22 so he should be able to maintain big production next season and beyond. If he can get his field goal percentage on the right side of 50 percent (47 percent this season) and increase his free throw attempts, he could push his scoring closer to 23-25 ppg.
Brook Lopez can jump (but he can't rebound)!: Just like Love, Lopez was described by Hollinger as having "slow feet." Unlike Love, Hollinger described Lopez as being a "good leaper when he can gather himself" but a "mediocre rebounder." Clearly that leaping advantage did Lopez no good this season, as the 7-footer averaged an embarrassing 6.0 rpg. It seems as if you're that tall and average 35 minutes per game, seven or eight rebounds should fall into your hands if you're even half trying. He did average 8.1 rpg as a rookie and 8.7 rpg last season, but I think we have to accept that the real Brook Lopez is more apt to average six boards than nine boards. Let's hope he can put out a little more effort next season and at least get up to 7-8 rpg, because the rest of his game is still solid (20.4 ppg, 1.5 bpg, 49.2 FG% and 78.7 FT% this season).
Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison reveal importance of coaches and systems: Last season, many of us harvested fantasy gold off the waiver wire in the form of these two rookies, who then played for the New Orleans Hornets. With Chris Paul sidelined for most of the second half, Collison posted CP3-like numbers (18.9 ppg, 8.7 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game and great percentages after the All-Star break). Meanwhile, Thornton averaged 20.3 ppg and 2.0 3s per game with great percentages over the same stretch. Things can change quickly in Fantasyland, though.
The Hornets traded Collison to the Indiana Pacers, and he was thoroughly ordinary all season (13.2 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.1 spg and 45.8 FG%). He serves as a great example of how a system can make or break a player's fantasy value. The Hornets' offense was built around Paul, and Collison was talented enough to max out his stats via Paul's role in that offense. The Pacers' offense is focused on Danny Granger and has fewer weapons than the Hornets' offense, so the Pacers required less from their point guard in terms of production. That doesn't mean Collison can't develop into a quality fantasy point guard; it's just going to take the right system to create those stats.
Thornton's production crashed this season, too. In his case, he fell out of favor with Hornets coach Monty Williams and couldn't even crack the rotation most nights. Then they traded him to the Sacramento Kings and he averaged 21.3 points, 2.0 3s and 1.7 steals over 27 games. Thornton is an excellent example of why the player-coach relationship is so important in determining a player's value for the upcoming season. If a coach believes in a player, that player will have far more opportunity to produce and vice versa. Keep that in mind in terms of draft-day player value the next time you hear a coach expressing his admiration for a player or the next time you hear they have a run-in.
Call him Serge Iblocka: Serge Ibaka averaged 10.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 3.0 bpg after the All-Star break and has fit well playing next to his new teammate, Kendrick Perkins. It's a good combo for the Oklahoma City Thunder's defense because Perkins can bang one-on-one and Ibaka can block shots as a helper. Statistically, he reminds me of a younger Theo Ratliff (actually, Ratliff turns 38 this weekend, so maybe "much younger" would be a better choice of words). In his younger days, Ratliff could average around 11 ppg, 8 rpg and more than 3 bpg, which is a safe baseline to expect from Ibaka next season. Despite his limited scoring, Ibaka's defensive prowess is going to make him a hot fantasy commodity next fall.
I was right: I took a lot of grief in the preseason for having Amare Stoudemire and Stephen Curry in my top five (as high as third in some formats). Based on averages, STAT finished fourth and Curry seventh, so I feel pretty good about my preseason rankings. Playing alongside Carmelo Anthony in New York will keep Stoudemire from maxing out his production next season, but he should still be the top center off the board in leagues in which free throws matter (I'm looking at you, Dwight Howard). At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Curry will never be a banger but he will have to improve his strength to avoid nagging injuries such as his forever-twisted ankle. That aside, Curry allayed any concerns that the departure of fantasy stud-maker Don Nelson would limit Curry's production. There was barely a change in his overall production this season, and we should expect nothing less from him next season.
I was wrong: I wrote during the preseason that Nash would miss Stoudemire more than people thought. Specifically, I predicted his assists would come down and his scoring and 3-point production would increase to make up for the big guy's absence in scoring. Instead, the crafty veteran led the Association in dimes, posting his best average (11.4 apg) in four seasons. He also had his lowest scoring average (14.8 ppg) since joining the Phoenix Suns seven seasons ago, and his 1.1 3s per game were his fewest since the 1999-2000 run. He's 37 years old now, so things are going to keep slipping each year, but he's in such phenomenal condition. It seems as if he could still be diming with the best until he's 40. I'll still shy away from him next season because I avoid old ballers, but I also expect him to prove me wrong again.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap can coexist: In fact, in their first season together with the Utah Jazz, they finished with nearly identical fantasy value: Millsap was 29th on the Player Rater and Jefferson was 30th. Of course, both big guys have the tools to post much bigger stats if they don't have to share the paint with each other, but we should be happy that both can crank out quality numbers together. I think next season we should see Jefferson settle into his post-All-Star break production of 21.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg and 1.8 bpg, while Millsap will continue to be a hustle-stat-producing sidekick who can pass. Something like 18 points, 8 boards, 3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game could be a realistic upside for next season.
Free throw volume is crucial for fantasy stars: Eight of the top-10 players on the Player Rater were among the top 13 in the NBA in free throw attempts. Only Paul and Curry managed to rank that high without taking a ton of free throws. It's the most underappreciated stat in fantasy hoops, in my opinion. Volume of attempts is just as important as what percentage a player shoots, no matter what format you use. Clearly, it also affects scoring, since the more free shots a player gets the more likely his point production will rise.
The Clippers Curse didn't get Blake Griffin ... this season, at least: I'll admit I did not end up with Griffin on any of my teams this season. It's not that I didn't believe in his talent or desire; I'm impressed but not that surprised by what he did statistically as a rookie. The problem was he plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, the worst franchise in U.S. sports and a team that seems to torture its fans with bad decisions and terrible luck. That Griffin missed his first season because of a random injury only lent credence to that feeling, so I pegged him a couple of rounds later than everybody else and never got to draft him.
I don't see how I cannot rank him next season based strictly on what he did this season and without fear of a silly curse. On the other hand, I'm sure any self-respecting Clippers fan would tell me to not even dream of taking the bait because it's the Clippers and something bad is bound to happen. I honestly expected Griffin to trip over the car during his winning dunk contest slam, break something and miss the rest of the season. At this point, I'll take my chances on bad luck if the upside is anywhere near the 22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.8 apg and 50.6 FG% he posted this season. Now if he could just manage to play a little defense and give us some hustle stats!
Watch the playoffs and learn: Just because you aren't getting fantasy stats during the postseason doesn't mean you shouldn't be paying close attention to the games. The stats players produce aren't very relevant, but you can watch aging stars to see if they've lost a step. You can watch young up-and-comers to see if they're taking the next step in their maturation process. And you can keep an eye on coaches to see their coaching styles and how they relate to specific players. Once the playoffs are complete, all we can do is pull for a new collective bargaining agreement and a timely tipoff to the next fantasy season.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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