Commentary

Are You For Real?: Alston, J. Smith, Conley

Updated: January 9, 2008, 1:19 PM ET
By Guy Lake and Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

You want to know what wasn't real? The halftime show at last Friday's Hornets-Warriors game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Why wasn't it for real? Well, I am not sure what passes for entertainment in your minds, but watching a stainless steel ball rack sit quietly at half court for 15 minutes didn't set my heart on fire. I mean, give me something. I'll take the local break-dancing troupe; I'll sit through Thunder and his helpers dunking off trampolines (though I will shake my head at this cheapening of the dunk); I'll bop my head to the beat of the Bucket Boys; I don't mind the young kids getting their kung fu on; and I actually love watching 10 8-year-olds playing a frantic full-court game at the half. There's always that one kid who will shake 'n' bake, blow past two defenders, then miss the layup. This never fails to elicit a heartfelt groan from the crowd. How'd that feel, kid? You just disappointed 15,000-plus fans. The best part, of course, is that same kid will just keep shaking and baking like he's a pork chop in a ziplock bag until he makes his basket.

The most popular halftime acts, the national ones, also are the oddest. Daniel Browning Smith, aka Rubberboy, aka the Dude in the Box, is downright grotesque in his contortionistic displays. The Chinese unicycle lady? Has she ever fallen while flipping those plates from her leg to her head? I am still puzzled by the ubiquity of David and Dania's quick-change act. I mean, I get it; they ballroom dance and change their costumes a lot. On second thought, maybe I don't get it.

I would have taken anything over the absolute nothing I got last Friday. Granted, I was there to see the Chris Paul-Baron Davis matchup, but for my hard-earned money, I want something to laugh at and make me feel superior. I would've taken two guys wrestling on a sheet of Vaseline if that's all they had. Instead I got a ball rack at midcourt. Well, Brian and I vow never to leave you empty-handed. Today we will look at three players who have picked up their play recently: Rafer Alston, Joe Smith and Mike Conley. Who, among these three, is as real as Rubberboy? And who will be deemed a ball rack?

Rafer Alston, PG, Rockets

Rafer Alston
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesRafer Alston is averaging 17.8 points in his past six games.
Mac: For Real, For Now. Let's just take a quick look at Rafer's average stats in the nine games Tracy McGrady has missed this season: 15.1 points, 2.1 3-pointers, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals. If those numbers aren't for real, I don't know what is. I think it's pretty safe to say that Alston is going to get it done when T-Mac is sidelined, but the real question here is this: Will he be able to produce once McGrady returns? The short answer to that is "no," unless you are looking for a 3-point and steal specialist. Fact of the matter is, Alston's stats are fairly pedestrian when T-Mac is in the lineup. Take a look: 9.0 points, 4.7 assists, 1.3 3-pointers and a steal per game. Those numbers are all right for deeper formats, but they make him expendable in standard leagues for sure. Now, before I start to sound too negative on Skip, keep in mind that he has at least been able to fend off Mike James & Co. to become the clear-cut starting point guard for the Rockets. So even after T-Mac returns, he'll continue to earn ample minutes, and should be moderately productive in assists, steals and 3-pointers. The other nice thing about Alston is that he'll be only a T-Mac injury away from having value, and that's a pretty nice spot to be in considering McGrady's injury history.

Guy: Not Real. I admire what Alston has done recently and, as a short-term add, I wish I had scooped him up in more leagues. The numbers he puts up when T-Mac is out are very for real. Brian showed you what he has done this season in McGrady's absence. Looking at the following digits, you will see the story was much the same last season when McGrady missed 11 games. In those contests, Skip posted 14.7 points, 1.8 3-pointers, 6.6 dimes and 1.0 steals. Overall last season, he averaged 13.3 points, 2.3 3-pointers, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals. It is hardly surprising to find that Alston's offense is called upon more when T-Mac is out. The problem is that he is unlikely to maintain this level of play when McGrady comes back, and McGrady is rumored to return this Friday. The biggest issue for Alston, even when he is getting more opportunities, is his field goal percentage. He is shooting 39.9 percent this season and that is an improvement over the past two seasons. If you are punting this category or have a team full of Dwight Howards and Carlos Boozers, you can take on Alston. Otherwise, he becomes a serious drag on your field goal percentage. This, for me, is a deal killer and why I would pass on Alston for the long haul.

Joe Smith, PF, Bulls

Joe Smith
Gary Dineen/Getty ImagesJoe Smith is averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in January.
Mac: Not Real. I'd love to go "for real" on Joe Smith because I truly believe the veteran has plenty left in the tank. The only problem is, I can't see Smith morphing into anything other than a solid "glue guy" for fantasy owners. Smith has seen an increase in production in the seven games since Jim Boylan replaced Scott Skiles, averaging 16.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 0.8 steals, while shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 80.9 percent from the line. Those aren't great numbers, but are solid enough for a waiver-wire addition in most fantasy formats. The problem is, Smith hasn't shown this sort of shot-blocking ability since his first couple of seasons in the NBA, and I don't think he's going to start blocking shots again, not when he's starting to get up there in age (32). That said, Smith seems to have found his niche in Chicago's defensive-minded frontcourt. He's the only real scoring threat the Bulls have in the post, and that should ensure that he'll continue to put the ball in the basket, not to mention see plenty of minutes for Boylan's Bulls. If you decide to roll with Smith, realize that he'll be an option only for points and the percentages with a few rebounds added in, which is all right for deeper leagues, but not good enough to earn a "for real" from this writer.

Guy: For Real. Mac, if you'd love to go "for real" on Smith, you should let go and do it. All those Irish Catholic inhibitions can't be doing you any good. I do believe Joe Smith is for real. He is very much in coach Jim Boylan's plans and the recent production we have seen from Smith should continue. Why? Because the Bulls' biggest problem before Scott Skiles was shown the door was their offense. In particular, they had no threat in the post. Only Luol Deng was capable of scoring on the block but his game thrives at midrange. Tyrus Thomas, bless his athletic heart, is not a scorer. His offense consists of running and dunking in transition or the occasional backdoor play. He cannot face up or dribble drive. As a result, defenses can pack it in when he is playing the 4. Smith gives the Bulls size and skill at power forward. He can both score on the block and pull defenders out, as they have to honor his jumper. I agree with Mac that the blocks are unlikely to continue, but the scoring, rebounding and percentages will be there. And those blocks aren't going to evaporate. If he gets 30 minutes, Smith projects to average 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.7 steals per game. That's good enough for this writer.

Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies

Mac: Not Real. It looks pretty obvious that coach Marc Iavaroni is going with a youth movement for his 10-24 Grizzlies and Conley is going to be a big beneficiary. Many folks, myself included, like Kyle Lowry just as much as Conley, but Iavaroni and the Memphis brass disagree. Let's face it, if Memphis saw Lowry as its point guard of the future, he would have been starting long before Conley returned from his shoulder injury. Conley should be a lock to receive anywhere from 30 to 35 minutes per game going forward.

I know what you're thinking: A kid with Conley's talent getting those minutes has to be for real, right? Well, not exactly. Conley's hype is likely to be bigger than his potential fantasy production. Everyone knows who Conley is, and expectations will be high now that he's a starter. Unfortunately, there are a ton of holes in Conley's fantasy game -- namely his below-average jump shot and poor free-throw shooting. Simply put, Conley will not hit many 3-pointers, he won't score as much as you might like, and he's more likely to hurt than help in the percentage categories. Now, that doesn't mean Conley can't be an effective fantasy player, but if you are expecting anything more than Rajon Rondo-like numbers, you may come away disappointed. In fact, Conley's numbers as a starter (in just four games) are nearly identical to Rondo's. Take a look:

Conley: 35.6 minutes, 9.7 points, 0.5 3-pointers, 6.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 2.2 turnovers on 41.0 percent shooting from the field and 62.5 percent from the line.

Rondo: 31.5 minutes, 9.2 points, 0.1 3-pointers, 5.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.7 turnovers on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 56.7 percent from the line.

Basically, what we are looking at here with Conley is a near statistical clone of Rondo with slightly more assists and slightly fewer steals. If that's worth it to you (and it should be, for the assists and steals), then Conley is for real, but if Rondo can't make your roster, you might want to hold off on acquiring Mike Jr., because the difference is negligible.

Guy: Not Real. Conley is going to see plenty of minutes as the Grizzlies' starting point guard, but I am unconvinced of his fantasy potential. Look, I loved his leadership at Ohio State. I mean, it was pretty clear watching the Buckeyes last season that it was his team when he was on the floor. He was the emotional core of the team and was a superior floor general. However, his collegiate numbers can tell us a bit about what to expect from him as an NBA starter. What I have seen is a limited player for the fantasy game. As a Buckeye, Conley averaged 31.6 minutes, 11.1 points, 0.5 3-pointers, 6.1 assists and 2.2 steals on 51.8 percent shooting from the field and 69.4 percent from the line. His shooting percentage is worse in the NBA, as would be expected. Conley's dribble penetration is still nasty, but it is a bit harder to get those layups off against seasoned professionals compared to Big Ten forwards who shave once a month. Plus, Conley has no outside game and with teams sagging off him in the half court, his points are going to have to come in transition. Personally, with his better field goal percentage, I would rather have Rondo than Conley for this season.

Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com, while Brian can be found at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.