- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Poor Mo Williams got overlooked not once but twice for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and one would think with the outcry that followed that Williams was averaging 25 points per game. He's not. Of course, that didn't stop Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert from making up words like stupidiculous, idillogical and preposterageous to describe the omission when Ray Allen, not Williams, was named to replace Jameer Nelson on the squad.
I understand how good the Cavaliers are and what Williams has brought to the table as LeBron James' sidekick, but Ray Allen isn't exactly having an Antonio Daniels season, you know. Williams is having a fine season, but not nearly the best statistically of his career.
Ah, the numbers. Remember those?
I got to thinking -- yes, I sometimes do that -- would Williams even warrant consideration on the fantasy all-star team? Intangibles don't really matter in fantasy, just the facts, and those can't be doctored. A point guard who averages 17 points, a few 3-pointers per game and rarely misses a free throw is very nice, but-- there's always a "but," you know -- I do enjoy when my point guards are ranked in the top 39 in the league in assists. Williams is ranked 40th. Hey, it wouldn't have sounded the same to say "top 40." He's a nice player, but Ray Allen is having a better season, in real life and in fantasy.
With the always-entertaining, just-a-bit-after-midseason classic on the docket for this coming weekend, I figured I'd go through the East and West teams and see if anything would change in the fantasy world. Does Mo Williams make it onto the team over anyone not named Ray Allen? And who really was snubbed? Don't laugh; this isn't as preposterageous as one might think.
What's correct: First of all, I should make it clear how I decide who should and shouldn't be the fantasy starters. The statistics are what matters, but even they can be a bit subjective. I looked at our Player Rater, but it's not the end-all, be-all guide for me either, as wise a tool as it is. Orlando's Howard isn't in the top 20 on the Rater, and the top East center is actually Bosh, but I'd still rather have Howard in fantasy. Yes, he destroys your free throw percentage, but that's just one category, and Howard trumps Bosh by a ton in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. Howard would be my center; Bosh, the reserve. James and Wade are easy calls as starters, and Garnett is the top East power forward, just a bit over Rashard Lewis. OK, so four of the five are right on.
What's not: I love to watch Iverson play as much as the next guy, and this is no Philly bias talking, but he's not an All-Star, not this season. I understand rep matters and people love to see him play, but the stats speak louder for us. Iverson is having his worst NBA season, but he's not that bad. The thing is if we don't think Mo Williams is an All-Star, then Iverson, who hasn't been any better, shouldn't be considered one either. You know who's having a monster season? Indiana's Danny Granger. I know, he's not a guard like Iverson, but he's fifth in the NBA in scoring and fourth on our Rater. Plus, James and Wade can handle the ball in this offense. Granger should be starting, and Iverson should be playing golf.
What's correct: Allen over Williams is not only the right choice from a real NBA standpoint, but in fantasy as well. Allen is actually Boston's top fantasy player this season. He's tied for second in the league in 3-pointers (with Granger); he never misses a free throw; and he's outscoring and outstealing Williams. Maybe if Williams was more of a thief (and passer), he'd gain more fantasy standing. I know, I know, it's all LeBron's fault, but hey, if you own Williams in fantasy and finish last in dimes, you don't get an asterisk because "he plays with LeBron."
As for the rest of the team, Bosh, Granger, Lewis, Johnson and Pierce should be on the team. Should New Jersey's Harris? Some think in real life he doesn't deserve it, because of the mediocre Nets' struggles. Harris scores and passes more than Williams but is actually not as strong on the Rater, bowing to him in 3s and free throw percentage. Personally, I wouldn't put either of them on the team.
What's not: If Granger takes Iverson's starting spot, and we bump Iverson and Harris from the team, we end up with Vince Carter, Caron Butler, David Lee, Ben Gordon and Andre Iguodala, among others, placing better on the Player Rater, vying for two berths on the team. That's right, Harris isn't even the most valuable Net, people. I'm taking the Knicks' Lee for one of those two spots. Again, their record means little in fantasy. In fact, the Knicks' season-long defensive ignorance, which resulted in Kobe Bryant and James teeing off on them in a three-day span last week, is very valuable in fantasy! Lee is a center-eligible double-double fella who has made more than half his field goals in every month, and since the calendar change to 2009, he has averaged better than 19 points and 13 rebounds. I know this sounds messed up, but he has essentially been Dwight Howard for six weeks, sans the blocks but with a strong free throw percentage. Lee makes the team. For the other spot, it's Washington's Butler. He's a strong all-around player, and I find him being viewed as having an off season. That's not true. Most of his numbers haven't budged much at all. He contributes across the board, except for blocks and field goal percentage. The Wiz stink, but Butler and Antawn Jamison don't.
Changes for fantasy: Granger starts over Iverson, Butler replaces Iverson, Lee replaces Harris.
What's correct: Man, the West is loaded. Bryant, Paul, Yao and Stoudemire are terrific fantasy options, all in the top 12 on the Rater. No complaint there. Of course, the guy who has been arguably the best fantasy player for the past two months, or since a certain coaching change, isn't starting. What, he's not even on the team at all? Can that be correct? I'll explain.
What's not: Kevin Durant is a forward, not a guard. I think this is the main reason he has blossomed into not only a future All-Star, but a future MVP. Duncan is a forward, also a center-eligible, and while he's not having a bad season by any means, and he's not the Iverson version of starting based on rep, Durant is easily having a better season. Of course, the Thunder aren't very good, and the Spurs are, so to think these fellas would ever be switched in real life is folly. Duncan makes the All-Star team, but Durant's missing it is far more stupidiculous than Mo Williams' sitting out.
What's correct: Now that Al Jefferson (torn ACL) is done for the season, Duncan and Dwight Howard are the only 20-10 big guys left (Chris Paul is 20-10 as well, with the 10 being assists instead of rebounds). As for these reserves, Nowitzki, Gasol and Billups make sense, and that's about it. Again, I know rep goes a long way, and just recently I praised Shaq, but really?
What's not: Roy is still not a fantasy stalwart yet. His spot on the Player Rater reminds me of New Jersey's Harris; the points and assists are nice, but he's not carrying your team. He's not a top-20 fantasy player yet. The Hornets' West has been underrated for years, in real life and fantasy, so much so that he might be getting a bit overrated. He's still not a deserving fantasy All-Star yet. His boards are down, and he has never been a shot-blocker, though it sure is nice to have a power forward shooting 89 percent from the line. The final two guys who shouldn't be here are O'Neal and Parker. We all know why O'Neal made the All-Star team. Hey, he's fun to watch. He is having a fantasy rejuvenation, but I can find numerous better fantasy choices out West for this team. As for Parker, Iverson is ranked better on the Player Rater, and we've already ripped him. Spurs teammate Manu Ginobili also is ranked better. Oh, and Luke Ridnour and Grant Hill are ranked bett- OK, you get the point. Parker is having a career year for points and assists, which is helpful, but the fact is he's still underperforming based on his draft rank.
Minnesota's Jefferson would have been a lock for this team had he not blown out his knee over the weekend. What a shame. Like Durant, his team stinks, but still, numbers are numbers. If we remove O'Neal, Parker, Roy and West from the reserves, with Durant being added to the team, it gives us three names to add. Jefferson can no longer be one of them. Say what you will about the Mavericks' Jason Kidd, but he's still a terrific fantasy player. He's No. 11 on our Player Rater despite averaging fewer points than, among others, Timberwolves Rashad McCants and Craig Smith; the rebounds, assists, steals and 3s are there. In Denver, Nene is having a far better season than anyone realizes. His points and rebounds averages aren't among the league leaders, but that .609 field goal percentage is the league's best, and he's a big man who combines blocked shots with steals. He's not Reggie Miller at the line, but he's no Shaq, either. Shaq is better than Nene in scoring and rebounding, but I'd still take Nene because of the rest of their stats. Finally, with Jefferson and Jason Terry having to bow out of the game, the next-best West option on the Rater is Steve Nash. Here's a top-10 pick from draft day clearly having a decline season, but he's still worth owning. Chris Paul and Deron Williams are the only players getting more assists; nobody out West has a better qualifying free throw percentage; and Nash still hits enough 3s to matter. I wouldn't build a fantasy team around Nash anymore, and I'd take Roy over him, but from a fantasy aspect, the monster difference in assists far outweighs the points.
Changes for fantasy: Durant replaces West and starts over Duncan, and Kidd, Nene and Nash replace O'Neal, Parker and Roy.
Jeff (Waukee, Iowa): "Eric, in your recent article about the top rookies for the rest of the season, you have Eric Gordon listed on top. I have both Gordon and Russell Westbrook on my keeper-league team (10-team league, 10 categories, including turnovers), and I can keep just one for next season. Gordon seems to be a better 3-point shooter/scorer, while Westbrook seems to have the edge in rebounds/assists. So I'm thinking the steals/blocks might be the tiebreaker. Which do you feel is the better keeper? Thanks, Jeff."
Karabell: You know, it was funny to me how last week's column came together. I thought, as I began researching and writing it, that the major takeaway point would be that Derrick Rose is not even close to the best fantasy rookie, and when I was halfway through it, I realized just how good Eric Gordon was. Then, when Gordon became the story, I thought I was going to get lambasted by the readers --which is fine, by the way, I can take it -- because I had made such an unpopular stance. Eric Gordon the top fantasy rookie? He might not even be in the top three in the end-of-season real-life voting! I asked my editor Keith Lipscomb whether I had lost my mind. He concurred that I had but said I had backed up my point on Gordon well enough, even if he disagreed. There were few angry comments about Gordon, though, and even fewer about dissing Rose. Ultimately, like the beginning of this week's column, it comes down to numbers in our game. I wouldn't take Gordon over Rose, Greg Oden or a few others in real life, but this Clipper has become Michael Redd -- maybe even better. He's legit.
That said, Gordon would have to continue to play at this high level with his high-scoring teammates around him, like Baron Davis and Zach Randolph, for me to believe in him as a keeper. Gordon's production has dropped a bit recently, but I think we need to believe. The thing is, Oklahoma City's Westbrook is a more well-rounded fantasy option, and he delivers the assists and steals that are so hard to find. It's funny -- I don't think Gordon, even if he ends up the top fantasy rookie this season, would be in my top three or four for rookie keepers. Assuming Westbrook keeps making strides, I would keep him over Gordon. Gordon might be more valuable, but I feel I can draft players like him. It's harder to find emerging point guards.
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 examines the NBA All-Star teams, and then notes the changes he would make from a fantasy perspective.