Harris, Amare top list of underachievers
Originally, I'd planned to write a column about players whom I drafted in many or most of my leagues to discuss which studs I got right and wrong. Then I decided none of us really needs to sit through me stroking my ego about the guys I got right. First of all, there's nothing newsworthy about players who have been playing well all season. You know they're good, and I know they're good.
Second, we need to learn from our mistakes by examining why things didn't work out the way we had hoped. In fantasy hoops, that means sometimes you need to look at those guys who failed to do what you had hoped and find out why they failed. To that end, I decided to skip over my success stories and focus this column on a number of underachievers I thought would be big this season. Let's see why they're underachieving and whether there's any hope of a turnaround this season and in the future.
Devin Harris, New Jersey Nets: There can be only a few fantasy sports junkies who are as cautious as I am about drafting injury-prone players. Yet somehow the oft-injured Harris is on most of my teams. How did that happen? Well, despite my years of experience and typical use of caution, I did what happens to everyone from time to time: I fell in love with his upside, which blinded me from his downside.
Last season, Harris had four months when he averaged at least 21.6 points per game and two months when he averaged at least 25.7. He also averaged 1.8 steals in his final 22 games and hit 82 percent of his 8.8 free throw attempts each game. On top of all that, Harris also averaged about one triple per contest on the season and a whopping 9.2 assists per game in March. Vince Carter's departure only seemed to secure Harris as a big-time scorer who could offer a wide range of fantasy stats.
None of that upside matters, though, if that player is injured all the time. And, alas, Harris has played in just 31 games so far this season because of various injuries. It's no surprise, really, considering he's missed large chunks of nearly every season during his career (games played in each season of his career: 76, 56, 80, 39, 64, 69).
To make matters worse, Harris has been pretty much awful when he's actually taken the floor this season. Clearly, he needs another player like Carter to take the defensive pressure off his game. He'll probably tease us all with one good healthy stretch later this season, but learn a lesson at my expense, and don't fall for his upside without properly weighing his downside next season.
Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns: Stoudemire hasn't had a bad season in general terms. In fact, his overall production looks nearly identical to what he did last season. But I was a firm believer that the Suns would showcase him a little more, so they could maximize his trade value by maxing out his stats for a good stretch of the season. He can opt out of his contract in the summer, and it still seems clear to me that Suns management and "Stat" are not on the same page for the long term. So why wouldn't the team want to get the most back from a guy who very well could leave it with nothing in return?
A case can be made that the Suns have done that the past two games while trade rumors have run rampant. Consider that Stoudemire has taken 20-plus shots in six games this season, including the past two games, when he scored 25 points and 36 points while pulling down a total of 23 rebounds. Odds are that he will finish the season as a fantasy monster if he is in fact dealt away. If he isn't traded, though, you can assume we'll see more of the same from Stoudemire during what likely would be his final months with the Suns.
Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers: No one should have been surprised that Bynum posted such huge numbers earlier this season. He's a phenomenal talent, and Pau Gasol was on the sideline. And no one should have been surprised that Bynum's production dipped once he began sharing the Lakers' frontcourt with a healthy Gasol. After all, it's nearly impossible to have two legit fantasy studs in the same frontcourt.
What I have found surprising is Bynum's inability to produce even halfway-decent numbers alongside Gasol. For instance, in 15 December games with both big men on the floor, Bynum was borderline unusable: 11.6 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, 1.4 blocks per game. Of course, Bynum got hot again when Gasol was out for six contests last month. Then he returned to his usual inconsistency once Gasol was running the hardwood again (e.g., sandwiching a 19-point game between 5- and 6-point games in his past three contests).
The day should come when Bynum will produce well in a frontcourt timeshare, but that's not likely to happen this season. Bynum makes for a great handcuff for Gasol owners, but just don't expect huge numbers after the All-Star break so long as Gasol stays healthy.
Jason Richardson, Phoenix Suns: J-Rich can flat-out score when he's given the chance. He averaged 23.3 PPG with the Golden State Warriors in 2005-06 and 3.0 3-pointers per game with the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2007-08 season. But he's been capped since joining the Suns last season and is currently producing career-lows in average points (14.3), assists (1.9), and steals (0.8). Worse yet, he's knocking down just 1.7 3-pointers per game, and his field goal percentage has dropped from 48.8 with the Suns last season to 44.9 this season.
His only real hope to be freed up this season is if Stoudemire gets traded away. But even that may not let Richardson return to his glory days as a big-time scorer and 3-point threat. The talent is still there, but that won't matter if he doesn't get the touches.
Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz: If you own Millsap in most of your leagues as I do, you've been muttering under your breath (or maybe even shouting after having a few beers) about Jazz coach Jerry Sloan most of the season. After all, Sloan's team matched the Portland Trail Blazers' four-year, $32 million contract offer during the summer, but then Sloan limited the kid to 8.2 field goal attempts per game and less than 27 minutes per game in his first 47 contests of the season.
Considering he averaged 18.6 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 1.3 bpg last December when Carlos Boozer was hurt, it's no surprise that Millsap cranked off 57 points, 23 boards and four blocks the past two games as a starter with Boozer sidelined again. That has only increased the muttering and shouting at Sloan from Millsap supporters.
Sloan said he'll give Millsap more run once Boozer returns, but it's hard to take him at his word. What we Millsap owners really want is to see Boozer sent out of town, so Sloan will have no choice but to turn our guy loose.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.