- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Never let it be said I don't read my own feedback. I knew writing an article last week saying Ray Allen is one-dimensional in fantasy was not going to be well-received. Guess what: I did it anyway! For a sportswriter -- be it regarding fantasy or anything else -- not everything is supposed to be positive, you know. I like the debate, even if it's all one-sided and half the arguments make no sense. Lord knows colleague Matthew Berry deals with that, and so can I. If you think Allen is the most underrated player in fantasy hoops, good for you. It is your fantasy team, after all.
So today's column is going to be nothing but happy thoughts, rainbows and unicorns and Philly cheesesteaks, as it were, since I'm convinced that's what people want to read. The holidays are here, I wish everyone happy and safe times, and may all your fantasy basketball teams be winning every category and dominating. In the real world, that cannot be true, but hey, if fantasy sports are supposed to be a fun hobby, why deal with the nasty real world? Elton Brand will cruise to 20-10, right? Mo Williams will be a steal; Greg Oden is ready to emerge! Don't worry, Wizards fans, all will be well when Gilbert Arenas returns in, um, three weeks! Yeah, sure, three weeks!
You know, the more I think about it, Greg Oden does look a lot better to me recently, and I could really see him taking off and becoming a monst OMG, as the kids say, I just can't do it. Back to a measure of reality. Ray Allen is a great story, I do admit that, but we have to discuss the good and the bad here.
That's where coaching changes come in, because my first reaction to what the Philadelphia 76ers did Saturday morning was not a positive one. Maurice Cheeks is a Philly icon, as the one play most Sixers fans remember from the championship-series clincher against the Lakers in the spring of 1983 was the little point guard who never dunked or showed emotion doing both in the final seconds of the sweep. Whether Cheeks was truly a good coach or not was problematic to most, and really, is Tony DiLeo going to have more success? His players are his players. The thing is -- and John Hollinger covered this better than I can -- the 76ers have the talent to be a good team, assuming they figure out how to score consistently and create better shots.
I remember a few years back when a coach was fired, and we had a weekly ESPNEWS hit on fantasy basketball -- I cannot remember who it was -- and the anchor asked me live on the air, without warning, if I thought it would affect fantasy at all. I chuckled a bit, and professionally answered I didn't believe it would. Players are players, and when they underachieve, you can't just ship them to the Clippers. The coach often has to go. Research has since backed this notion up.
If you look at the other coaching changes in the Association this season -- six of them already, which is both amazing and sad, including Monday's departure for Reggie Theus -- I think you'll find the moves didn't change much in our fantasy world. I took a closer look at how the teams and individuals performed in the aftermath, and I didn't see much difference. I'd call the 76ers and Raptors good teams who weren't playing well enough, and the Wizards, Timberwolves, Thunder and Kings lost causes, but in none of those cases did fantasy owners really need to alter strategy. Even in Philly.
Maybe it's me. In baseball, a new manager can really effect change: altering lineups, rotations, his closer, calling up kids from the minor leagues or even just stealing more bases. Hockey is similar, especially with line changes. In football, coaching changes rarely happen in-season, but when they do, a team is truly horrible and likely dealing with injuries that made them that way, and little can be done. Hoops are the same. If Philly's Brand was averaging 20 and 10, maybe Cheeks' job would have been spared, though I doubt it.
Anyway, because it's a decent segue, here are my thoughts on the teams that changed head coaches since the last time I wrote fantasy hoops a week ago. The tally is up to five -- oops, I mean six -- teams that think a coaching change can turn things around. Good luck. Would your fantasy team fare much better if someone else was managing it, or are the players pretty much the players?
76ers: Brand's problem wasn't Cheeks, or the offense. The Dookie just looks slow, like he missed most of the previous season and needs more time to get in shape. I thought Brand was a prime buy-low option to start with in recent weeks, and still believe it to a degree, but it's going to be tough for him to get much better, even when he finds his shot. If you trade for Brand today, you should assume he will shoot better, which in turn means more points, but his other stats are what they are. In Philly's Saturday-night victory over the awful Wizards, Brand took better jumpers, and hit them. The Wizards aren't exactly strong defensively, though. Brand did miss five of eight free throws. Can't blame that on Cheeks. For whatever reason, I just don't think Brand will get enough points, rebounds or blocks, or shoot well enough to be a top-20 fantasy player, which is where you had to draft him.
I'm starting to think Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert are not buy-low choices. Iguodala is still a versatile, all-around fantasy asset, one who will rank among the top 50 players in fantasy this season, but prepare for a low scoring output like it is now. He probably shouldn't have been scoring 20 points per game in the first place, since he's not a good shooter, and more like Pippen than Jordan anyway. He'll get his other numbers, though. Iggy's actually hauling in a career-best rebounding average, and his assists are up a tad from last season. Meanwhile, Dalembert doesn't want to shoot, or do much else. He should be owned if you really need blocks and boards, but as long as Brand is there, Sammy's not going to get it done like in past seasons. I do think DiLeo will prompt the 76ers to run more, but who does that really favor? Certainly not Dalembert. Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young were playing a lot to start with, but they are scorers, not much else, so when you sign them this week in fantasy, know their limitations.
Kings: Kevin Martin can't stay on the court, so he's different than Brand. Again, a healthy Martin would have meant the Kings would score more, but defensively they stink. Martin missed 12 games with a left ankle injury, came back and then hurt it again. Who knows if he returns by Christmas or not, but I would not drop him in fantasy, which many are doing. In fact, Martin is one of numerous Kings on ESPN's most-dropped list. It's amazing how unfortunate injuries can cost coaches their jobs.
It remains to be seen if the Kings will change things, but I would let John Salmons have the ball in his hands more. There were times in the past few seasons when Salmons was a triple-double threat. Now he just scores. Fantasy owners and Kings fans would enjoy the occasional triple-dub, wouldn't they? Sacramento went out and scored 118 points in the Kenny Natt debut, but let's remember they were playing the Timberwolves. They had a coaching change, too, and have yet to win under condemned Isiah Th um, I mean Kevin McHale.
Point guard Beno Udrih, a sleeper of mine I stuck with, has played well after a slow start, though not Monday. Could he average 16 and 6? Finally, keep an eye on Rider rookie Jason Thompson. He's not so ownable now, but why not start the kid and see what he can do? Ultimately, like Philadelphia, I just don't see the coaching change affecting fantasy very much.
Kyle (Bethesda, Md.): Hey Eric, always love the columns and trust your advice in just about all situations. I'm playing fantasy basketball for my third year and couldn't seem to find too much success until this year, largely due to Chris Paul. One owner keeps offering me two-for-one trades with Dwyane Wade and the likes of Samuel Dalembert and other players of that nature. Should I even consider moving Paul for anything? I'm terrified of if/when Wade gets hurt. I doubt he would do it, but the only scenario I would take would be Wade/Rajon Rondo for Paul, leaving me to drop Thaddeus Young. Sorry, I know you love Philly. However, I think the Hornets will go on a tear and think that the Sixers might do the same in the second half, and that Young will be a big part of it. Thoughts? I'm leaning toward not messing with something not broken, especially because it's Chris Paul, and he's played a few games less than most people.
Karabell: You bring up so many good points, I thank you. First of all, I don't want to assume Wade gets hurt, and Wade/Rondo for Paul does seem plenty fair to me, but I also agree Paul is a durable, consistent superstar and there's no reason to trade him unless the offer is so overwhelming. I don't assume, however, that either the Hornets or 76ers have a tear looming. Young is a scorer, not much else. Your last point was probably your best: Whenever you're making trades or roster changes, consider whether you're gaining or losing overall player games. In past seasons I've been able to pick up 10 or more games for a full season just by playing the waiver wire wisely. The Wizards, for example, have four games in hand on the Bucks. The Hornets entered Monday having played 20 games, five fewer than the Jazz. This all makes Chris Paul more valuable in trade talks than most realize.
Kevin (Providence, R.I.): Eric, I would like to thank you for your consistently pragmatic approach to fantasy basketball. I appreciate how you reiterate over and over to the readers how it is about numbers and not names. I drafted both Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo on two of my three teams in the last three rounds of the draft. I understand why Rose was underrated, but what I can't seem to figure out is why Mayo was so underrated? Was it simply that he was going to a horrid Memphis team that has a younger player-age average than some college teams, or was it something else? Also, I drafted Allen Iverson on my best fantasy team this year. I also had Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton on the same team. I got great value on Hamilton, and have a hard and fast rule that I will not ever have more than two players from the same team on any one of my rosters. The second the trade to Detroit went down I sent out an e-mail to my league putting all three of the players on the table. I received a poor offer of Tracy McGrady for Iverson and countered with AI for David West, which was accepted. My question is do you think that I will win that trade in the long run? I certainly think I will.
Karabell: Good for you. I think Rose and Mayo are totally legit, but note only one of them is a point guard who delivers versatile numbers. If one of them is going to see his stats reduce as time goes on, I don't think it's Rose.
Meanwhile, Iverson is getting more steals with the Pistons, but that's about it, because he's on a team that actually plays defense. On offense, the Pistons share the ball, and score less, and The Answer is paying the price. Iverson comes off an interesting, though inconsistent week. In one game he had 12 assists, exciting his owners, but then had three in the next game. He went without a 3-pointer in five straight games, then drained four at Charlotte. Iverson is on his way to a career-worst statistical season, sorry to say, and there's little question West is the better fantasy option right now, unless you're desperate for assists. By the way, this week will make it two years since the 76ers controversially dumped their star on the Nuggets. I'd take Iverson over Andre Miller, but the top-10 pick is getting 17 and 6 per night, while the guy you stole after the top 50 is at 15 and 6. Just sayin'.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
Eric Karabell discusses why fantasy value is largely unaffected by coaching changes in basketball.