Spurs: Buy or Sell?
The San Antonio Spurs currently have the best record in the NBA at a sparkling 12-1. Of more interest to you, they are currently featuring four of the top-45 rated players in fantasy according to the Y! player rater. Manu Ginobili is ranked No. 3 overall by average, Tony Parker is 18th, Richard Jefferson No. 42, and Tim Duncan No. 45. The question is: can it last? Or, more importantly, should you depend on it lasting with these players? Let's take a closer look at each of the Spurs' current Fab Four, and whether you should buy or sell on them.
Manu Ginobili: Sell
I believe Ginobili is one of the best, most underrated players of this generation - when he's healthy.
At his best, he is one of the greatest second options we've had in recent years. Healthy Ginobili is as good a shooting guard as Pau Gasol has been a big man in the last two Lakers title runs. Healthy Ginobili is better than Paul Pierce was for the Celtics in the 2008 postseason. Ginobili WAS the second option on title winners in 2005 and 2007, and at times gave Duncan a run for his money for best player on the team. But again, all of this comes with the huge caveat: when he's healthy and on the court. Unfortunately, Ginobili's wide-open, aggressive style has not proven conducive for longevity and health. This becomes clear if you look at his splits for the last several years, in which he always has stretches of play as good as his current one but can never maintain it for a whole season:
2009-10: Ginobili averaged 21.4 points, 5.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 48% FG and 2.1 treys after the All Star break, but he had averaged only 13.4 points, 4.5 assists and 40% FG in the 46 games before the break as he fought injury.
2008-09: Ginobili averages 18 points, 5 boards, 3.5 assists, 2.3 steals and shoots 46% from the field in January and February before getting injured, playing only 6 games in March and April and averaging 12 points on 41% FG in those games.
2007-08: Ginobili almost maintained it the whole year - almost. He was elite up through March, only to wear down and make it through only five April games at averages of 10.8 points and 42% FG. And of course, April is the fantasy playoffs, when you need your best player playing his best.
The pattern is evident. Ginobili is a great player when healthy, and he's healthy enough to put up elite numbers right now. My advice is to trade him high, before the fall that history tells us is coming.
Tony Parker: Buy
Parker is having a great year, but if you look at his history it's not really unusual. He's shooting 55% from the field, but from 2005-2009 he never shot lower than 49% and he maintained a 55% average for the entire 2005-06 season. His free throw percentage is good for him, but he's shot greater than 78% in two of his last three healthy years. His assists are good, but again less than one more than what he averaged when healthy in 08-09. The biggest thing that hurt Parker last year was a recurring ankle injury, but this year he seems healthy, and he's still only 28 years old - right in his basketball peak. Plus, before last year's injury, he had averaged 76 games played in his previous five seasons. The steals are a bit higher than usual so far and might regress, but other than that there is nothing to suggest that this Parker isn't the one you should expect for the rest of the year.
Richard Jefferson: Hold
Jefferson in some ways has been the biggest surprise for the Spurs so far, as he was written off by most after a terrible first season with the team a year ago. Even before he came to San Antonio, all of Jefferson's non-scoring numbers were on the decline as his athleticism had dissipated and weakened his rebounding/defensive abilities. The thing is, his renaissance this season hasn't been based on an unexpected (and likely unsustainable) return of athletic ability - instead, it's been based entirely upon his ability to shoot and score. And that is something he should be able to maintain. Jefferson never fit in the Spurs offense last season, but now he has finally meshed as an off-the-ball shooter who lets his teammates set him up (81% of his shots are assisted, according to his 82games profile. His 3-point pace would be a career-high, but he shot 40% on 3.6 long-range attempts in his last year in Milwaukee so his current 46% on 4.0 attempts isn't that unusual. I like him to continue as pretty much the player he currently is for the rest of the year.
Tim Duncan: Tentative Buy
Duncan is the most difficult one to characterize, because all of his indicators conflict. On the one hand, looking at his splits, in each of the last three seasons Duncan has worn down. From the 2007-08 through the 2009-10 seasons, Duncan's scoring (-3.2 points), rebounds (-0.5 reb), assists (-0.6 asts), field goal percentage (-4.2%), and minutes played (-3.0 min) all decreased precipitously after the All-Star break. That would generally make him a good sell early candidate, as his body and his coach seem to consistently tell him to slow down late in the year in preparation for the postseason. The thing is, Duncan this year has been under-utilized to a point that I'm not sure the Spurs team can sustain. His 29.1 minutes played and 13. points/game averages would be by far career-lows, and only once in his career has he shot lower than his current 49% from the field. But per-36 minutes and almost all of his other numbers are very similar to what he's done every other year in his career. It could be that he's just slowing down with age, but it doesn't quite feel like that to me. Instead, it seems like the rest of the team has played so well that Duncan has been able to get his rest in earlier this year while normally it happens later. At some point, though, things will slow down for the team, and it will have to push for more from its best player in order to keep pace with the other strong teams out West. Thus, I am saying to tentatively "buy" on Duncan, because I think he has more in the tank and that at some point he will be called upon to use it.
Around the League
• Heat Index: I've been having fun comparing the records of the Heat and Cavs this year, but for this week there are more weighty issues surrounding the South Beach crew. First is the health of Dwyane Wade, whose wrist injury caused a DNP on Saturday followed by a putrid three-point performance on 1-for-13 shooting from the field on Monday. Wade is obviously hindered by the wrist, and though he is currently expected to play through it his owners should watch this carefully. The second major news is that Udonis Haslem underwent foot surgery and may miss the rest of the season. This could have the most direct effect on Chris Bosh, who is averaging 11.7 boards over his last three games and will be relied upon more heavily to crash the glass with Haslem out.
• Poor Greg Oden: In a Tuesday chat, "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons suggested Greg Oden's name should be officially changed to "Poor Greg Oden". I have a hard time arguing against that, as his snakebitten young career has again been put on hold by a season-ending knee injury. I like Oden, and every year I draft him as an upside guy in the 10th round - once again, I have to cut my losses. On the bright side, there's always young or unexpected talent on the waiver wire, and at least this gives me an easy early-season drop candidate in several leagues.
• Bynum pushed back: Another fragile center, Andrew Bynum, has been pushed back in his recovery from knee surgery. He may not begin practicing for another two weeks, which means he's unlikely to see any game action before mid-December at the earliest. Meanwhile, in his absence, Pau Gasol continues to make a push for MVP, and Lamar Odom is averaging a double-double while shooting 57% from the field. When you factor in that the Lakers are doing fine without him, and that Coach Phil Jackson intimated in the preseason that he could eventually contemplate giving Bynum a minutes limit, I'm not convinced that Bynum will be an automatic starter upon his return.
• Yao update: And rounding out the hobbling behemoths, Yao Ming will be out at least two more weeks as he recovers from the bone bruise in his left ankle. As soon as the Rockets suggested that they might remove his minutes limit he got hurt, Oden went down for the year, and Bynum got pushed back. I have to believe if any member of the Rockets staff even thinks about removing that minutes limit again, he will be immediately fired and sent to Siberia. Which suggests that, in the long term, Luis Scola should continue to be featured, and Yao just doesn't seem like a good bet.
• Nicked up facilitators and their teammates: Rajon Rondo (hamstring) and Steve Nash (groin), two of the best facilitators in the league, have both missed time this week due to injuries. Nash returned on Monday, and Rondo will return soon, likely this week, so the injuries themselves weren't huge deals. But to me, the more interesting thing to note is what happened to their teammates in the (admittedly extremely small) sample when the point guards were out. For Rondo's Celtics his absence didn't really show up much in the numbers. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all scored at a similar rate and at similar percentages over the two games thus far that Rondo has missed. But when you look at the Suns, their other starters' offense went into the tank with Nash out. Jason Richardson especially felt it, averaging only 10 points on 33% shooting over those two games only to bounce back with 26 points on 7-for-11 shooting with Nash back on Monday. Again, the sample is small, but this at least suggests if you own Celtics they should still produce if Rondo goes down. But if you own Richardson or another Suns player, you have to really keep an eye on rumors that Nash could be traded and on his health because Nash's status could very directly influence his output.
• Missing out on Darko? On Friday I Tweeted: "Lakers Wolves at half, leading Minnesota scorer...Darko Milicic??? 12 points, 11 boards, 6 blocks, 3 assists at the HALF? Speechless". He looked excellent that game, but I just couldn't believe it. I checked in a couple of leagues, and he was available, but I couldn't make myself pick him up. Flash forward to Monday, when I again watched the Wolves, and Tweeted: "This is 2 games in a row now... Darko Milicic actually looks good. I mean visibly, he's one of the best players on the court. Picking him up". Unfortunately, in those three days Darko got picked up in every league that I wanted him in. Apparently the 17 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 3.5 assists he has averaged in his last four games were just too tempting. I don't know what's going on in Minnesota, but right now they have a very fantasy-relevant frontcourt with Darko, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love all carving out their niches.
• Rookie electricity: I hope everyone that is reading this has seen the dunk contest that Blake Griffin put on the Knicks last weekend as part of his 44-point/15-rebound/7-assist explosion. If you haven't, stop what you're doing and immediately go You-tube "Blake Griffin dunk Mosgov". Trust me on this. Likewise, John Wall returned from his foot injury to score 25 second-half points while leading his team to a win. This is shaping up to be one of the more fun Rookie-of-the-Year races we've seen in recent years, and I have a feeling that these two will end up pushing themselves to out-do the other as the the season goes along. I don't love having rookies on my fantasy squads, but I find myself wanting to have both of them on my teams just so that I can enjoy watching them more.
• Carter's knee: Vince Carter injured his left knee on Monday against the Spurs, and will not play on Wednesday against the Heat. The injury is not expected to be serious, but Carter doesn't have the greatest reputation for being an iron man so keep that in mind when setting your lineups for the next week.
• Baron's knee: Baron Davis is tentatively scheduled to return to the Clippers' lineup on Thanksgiving, but I'm still not convinced he will live up to his draft-day cost. With health and team-fit concerns hanging over his head, I continue to have get-out-while-you-can-if-you-can feelings about Davis moving forward.
• Green's return and I-Blocka: Jeff Green returned to the court for the Thunder Monday night, scoring 24 points with three treys and showing that he's healthy now. Meanwhile, Serge "I-Blocka" Ibaka played a season-low 19 minutes and only had three fouls on the night, suggesting Green's return may send him to the bench. It's just one game, but Ibaka owners that got used to his three or four blocks a night as a starter should keep an eye on this.
• Um... JaVale McGee? McGee detonated against the Sixers Tuesday night, scoring 24 points with 18 boards, four blocks, two steals and two assists. This came one game after he gave the Pistons 20 and 16 with two blocks. He's currently averaging 14 points and 13 boards over his last five games, with a ridiculous 6.8 OFFENSIVE rebounds per game in that stretch. McGee has always been young, talented and inconsistent. I'm not ready to believe that this is his new level, but the Wizards desperately need an inside presence, and Andray Blatche hasn't stepped up like he did last year. McGee is worth watching.
• Okur returns to full practice: Mehmet Okur (Achilles) returned to full practice for the Jazz on Tuesday, though he still doesn't have a timetable for his return to game action. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction, and he's worth monitoring to see if he can get anywhere near starter's minutes in the Jazz frontcourt.
• Grant Hill (44% owned): Hill may be one of the oldest players in the NBA, but that isn't stopping him from continuing to put up numbers. He was the only Suns starter that seemed capable of creating his own offense when Steve Nash was injured, which contributed to the 19 points on 57% shooting that Hill has averaged in the last week.
• Amir Johnson (41% owned): I've mentioned Johnson in this space before, and I like that he seems to be trending upwards. He is a young player trying to establish himself, so inconsistency is expected, but he is coming off of a 17-point/11-rebound double-double, has two blocks in four of his last seven games, and just seems to be settling in to his larger role.
• C.J. Miles (24% owned): Miles has been on a scoring run lately, posting back-to-back 20-point games and double-digits in six of his last seven. He hit seven treys against the Trail Blazers, which obviously isn't sustainable, but he seems to be fitting well into the instant offensive off the bench category that the Jazz have put him into.
• Kyle Lowry (18% owned): Lowry got off to a slow start upon taking over for the injured Aaron Brooks, but as he has gotten healthier he has started settling in. Lowry has 20 assists in his last two games, at least two steals in five of his last six, and has even been crashing the boards with at least five rebounds in five of his last six games.
• Brandon Rush (16% owned): Rush has slowly been encroaching on Mike Dunleavy's job, even replacing him as a starter one game for defensive purposes. Rush is averaging 16 points with almost two treys over the last week, and no matter who starts it's clear Rush will get good minutes on a nightly basis moving forward.
As long-time readers of the Lab know, I'm a basketball nerd and think the various advanced stats out there can help you get a better understanding of the league. And since understanding the game better should also help to identify the really good players, I think this can help your fantasy squads as well. Carson Cistulli has a good article pointing out some of the good advanced stats websites out there, and some of what you might get from checking them out. It's worth a read.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio every Friday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.