- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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I wasn't even close to being born 47 years and a day ago when Wilt Chamberlain scored a record 100 points against the New York Knicks, but apparently tens of thousands of other people claim to have been in attendance for that historic event.
I ran into an older gentleman at an event a few weeks after Kobe Bryant's 81-point game, and he boasted how he saw the Chamberlain game in person March 2, 1962, one of the 4,000 or so who was there. Of course, he also said he enjoyed cheesesteaks from both Pat's and Geno's after the game. I didn't have the heart to tell him I knew the Chamberlain game was played 100 miles away from Philadelphia in Hershey, Pa., or that Geno's didn't come into existence until 1966.
Bryant's monster scoring game against the Raptors in January 2006 was certainly nice, but anytime the Lakers guard puts up 50, as he nearly did in a losing effort against the Suns on Sunday, I enjoy reading the message boards boasting how great a fantasy game it is. Bryant had a good fantasy game Sunday, with 49 points, 11 rebounds, a few 3s and 10-of-10 from the line, but it wasn't even close to the best fantasy game by an individual this season. Bryant's 61-point effort on Feb. 2 at (naturally) the Knicks wasn't either. Sure, we all enjoy 61 points, but that is still but one category, correct? How did he not get even one rebound that night? Or a steal?
In honor of the great Chamberlain, whom I think about every March 2 when my father -- who was there for the big night in Hershey (he has the ticket stub and corroboration from friends to prove it) -- reminds me what the date means, I take a look at big fantasy games from the current season. For the record, Chamberlain didn't just score 100 points that night. He added 25 rebounds and hit 28 of 32 free throws. I can only imagine how many blocks he had, but the statistic wasn't kept until 1973-74 and there is no footage from this event. For perspective, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds that season, so I laugh whenever I hear someone discuss Michael Jordan, LeBron James or Kobe as having the best fantasy season. Sorry, not even close. Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double the same year Wilt did his 50-25. And neither of them even won the league MVP! (It went to Bill Russell.)
Anyway, let's get to the point: It takes more than sheer points to make a great fantasy game. ESPN.com's NBA coverage team has developed a rating system to determine their top individual games this season. Building off that list, here are my top five games of the season for fantasy.
1. Dwight Howard, C, Magic, Feb. 17 versus Bobcats: The big man scored 45 points and added 19 rebounds, very nice numbers, but the number that struck me was the eight blocks. Considering that only four players in the league are averaging even two blocks per game, and Howard and Marcus Camby are the only fantasy-viable ones (people generally don't own Chris Andersen or Ronny Turiaf), I'd call those eight blocks arguably the most significant single statistic in any game all season, including Kobe's 61-point effort. Eight blocks is a week for some fantasy teams. By the way, the season-high for rebounds is 22, so Howard wasn't far off on that one, either.
2. Amare Stoudemire, PF, Suns, Nov. 5 at Pacers: Stoudemire's 49 points weren't even the most in the league that night, as Tony Parker lit up the Timberwolves for 55 (but still won't make this list). What Stoudemire did was have the best shooting night in the NBA this season, in my opinion, considering the number of shots he took. He made 17 of 21 field goals, all 15 of his free throws, and threw in 11 rebounds, six assists, five steals and a pair of blocks. Wow. It's ESPN's top game, and close to mine.
3. Leandro Barbosa, SG, Suns, Feb. 20 versus Thunder: The first two months of the season, when this guy was being mass dropped and angering fantasy owners, seem pretty far away now, eh? Barbosa scored 41 points against defenseless Oklahoma City, but what I noticed was no other player has a game all season with five or more rebounds, assists, steals and 3-pointers all in the same game. Barbosa delivered seven, seven, six and five in those categories, while hitting 16 of 21 field goals and all four free throws. Now nobody complains about his production and he's nearly universally owned.
4. LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers, Feb. 20 at Bucks: It's listed as James' second-biggest game in the efficiency ratings, but it doesn't appear those ratings take into account 3-pointers, which obviously matter to us. Also, turnovers don't matter in ESPN's standard game, so the six James had aren't a problem. James has 92 3-pointers this season, and nearly one-tenth of them came in this game. He was 8-of-11, which stands out because James had a total of eight 3s in the five games after that outing (he then went 6-of-7 from long distance on Monday). Anyway, those 3s led to 55 points, and while his shooting wasn't great, he added nine assists and five rebounds. But why no steals or blocks?
5. Dwyane Wade, SG, Heat, Feb. 28 versus Knicks: Maybe last week's column should have been about how Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni has benefited fantasy owners this season, and not Golden State's Don Nelson. I mean, three of ESPN's top six games in their system this season came against the Knicks, including this one over the weekend. Wade delivered 46 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, four steals, three blocks, two 3-pointers and 12-for-12 from the free-throw line in a stupendous effort. It was Wade's fourth career 40-point, 10-assist game, and only three active players have more (James, Allen Iverson and, surprise, new Celtic Stephon Marbury!).
Honorable mention: I wanted to include what the Bucks' Ramon Sessions did Feb. 7 against the Pistons because, best I can tell, his is about the only top-20 individual performance from a player available in more than half of ESPN's leagues at the time of his outing. Sessions, still owned in only 66 percent of leagues, had 44 points and 12 assists against a very good defensive team.
Sure, when all is in doubt, blame the leader. It's the American way. A week ago in this space, I discussed the great Don Nelson and how critical a role the legendary coach has played in fantasy basketball this season, letting his Warriors run, run and run so more, with seemingly little attention to trying to win. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Suns are scoring even more than the Warriors lately, because of their coach, and they're actually winning.
Poor Terry Porter didn't run enough, so he lost his job, and Alvin Gentry has reinstalled the ol' Mike D'Antoni style of running teams into the ground. However, the amazing thing is the Suns aren't doing this with the pile of All-Stars we've come accustomed to seeing. The Gentry-led Suns are 6-2, staying in the West playoff picture as the No. 9 seed (they would be fourth in the East!) and scoring more points than anyone sans studs Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash.
We all can see what rejuvenated Shaquille O'Neal is doing. Over the past fortnight, he's fantasy's No. 5 center, including the nasty free-throw percentage. If you're in a head-to-head league or already buried in free throw percentage, the case can surely be made he's been the best post player in fantasy not named Dwight Howard over that span. That's incredible. Nobody wanted to draft this guy! Over the weekend O'Neal scored at least 30 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 2004, and he's the fourth player over the age of 35 to score 33 or more points in consecutive games, ever.
Of course, the near-universally owned O'Neal and sharpshooter Jason Richardson aren't likely to be available in your league. Keep an eye on Grant Hill, who had 12 assists in a recent game playing point forward for the absent Steve Nash, the resurgent Barbosa and underrated 3-point shooter Matt Barnes, who should be owned in more leagues.
One more thing on Nelson, always the trendsetter: For those who aren't aware, Nelson decided recently that he would start resting healthy veteran players like Jamal Crawford and Stephen Jackson, among others, to get some of the younger players more time. I don't mean sitting them on the bench and cutting minutes, but actually not letting them dress for the game. If you own Andris Biedrins in a head-to-head league, be prepared for his scheduled absence Friday in Detroit. No, I have never heard of this behavior before, especially not with so much time left in the season, and it is a bit troubling for fantasy if other coaches adopt the philosophy. Hey, at least we know in advance when guys aren't going to play, though it can't be good for anyone in fantasy.
Bill (Portland, Ore.): "Eric, it's time for me to look ahead, and I was wondering who you would choose as a keeper among this group: Jason Kidd, Al Jefferson, Ben Gordon, Vince Carter, Shaquille O'Neal and Chauncey Billups. I already have Amare Stoudemire, and have assumed he's one of my two keepers. Thanks for the terrific work this season."
Karabell: I've seen a lot of e-mails from Jefferson and Stoudemire owners whose seasons are slipping down the drain with them out of the lineup. It's not easy to replace that many points and rebounds, plus the blocks. Ugh, what a shame. Anyway, I'd definitely keep Stoudemire, so it comes down to Jefferson or Billups as the other keeper. Jefferson had surgery to repair his torn ACL, and is expected to return to playing form in time for next season to start. Will he be slowed at all? Is he going to resume his 23 and 11 with blocks right away? I'd obviously follow his recovery and wait as long as you can to make a decision, but at this point the injury would lead me to Billups as that other keeper. While Kidd is ranked ninth on our Player Rater, Billups is just behind him at 12, and to me a better all-around option because he scores. I can find others to rebound. Don't get me wrong, Kidd has been terrific, better than we thought, but I'd keep Billups over him, and at this point probably Jefferson as well.
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.
11hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler