Knicks: Buy or Sell
The Knicks have been in the national eye for the last couple of weeks in a positive way – perhaps the first time that has been the case since Patrick Ewing manned the paint for them last millennium. A couple of weeks ago I briefly speculated that they were starting to look like the Phoenix Suns of the East. Amar'e Stoudemire's Knicks-record string of 30-plus point games drew him a lot of attention, but what does that mean in the long haul for fantasy owners? Is he really a potential fantasy MVP? Also, what to do with his teammates? Raymond Felton is having a career year, Wilson Chandler is quietly at the top of most fantasy raters, and Danilo Gallinari is also playing well. What should we expect from the various Knicks players moving forward?
Amar'e Stoudemire: Buy
By average, the Y! rater has Stoudemire #10 overall for the year. But in my most recent rankings, I have him No. 2 over Kevin Durant and just behind Chris Paul. And even with all of the hype his scoring streak engendered, I still encourage you to buy. Why? Because I believe Stoudemire and his teammates have worked through the hardships and settled into their roles, and that the rest of the season will look more like the last month than the first one. Early on Stoudemire "struggled" a bit with becoming the offensive focus and playing with his new teammates, and thus averaged only 20.3 points on 44.8% shooting with 8.1 rebounds in his first nine games. Since November 12, though, Stoudemire has put together averages of 29.4 points on 55.7% FG with 9.9 boards over his last 19 games. He's also averaging more than two blocks and a steal, with a free throw percentage up near 80% (well over 80% for the last month). Combine center eligibility with league-leading volume scoring potential on excellent field goal and free throw percentage, double digit rebounds, AND good defensive stats, and you have a player capable of finishing the season as the top-rated fantasy producer in the game.
Raymond Felton: Buy
When Steve Nash went from the run-n-gun Nellie-ball offense of the Mavericks to the Mike D'Antoni-led Suns style of play, he went from a borderline All Star to a two-time MVP. Felton wasn't nearly as good as Nash beforehand so I don't see any MVPs in his future, but he is experiencing a similar huge boost in value in his first year under D'Antoni. Felton is on pace to shatter his career high in points, assists and steals this year, he's only a tenth of a percent off his career-high in field-goal percentage, and is taking and making more field goals and free throws this year than ever before. The only question is whether Felton's body can handle all of the extra minutes and responsibilities he has this year, but he has played at least 78 games in every season of his career so to this point durability has never been an issue. People don't think of Felton conceptually as one of the best players in the game, but as far as fantasy goes he's right there with draft-mates Chris Paul and Deron Williams among the best around.
Wilson Chandler: Buy at name value, sell at ranking value
Chandler is currently ranked 15th overall in the Y! player rater, and I seriously doubt most people reading this could pick him out of a lineup. He plays a bit of the Shawn-Marion do-everything role for the Knicks, minus the rebounds, and that across-the-board production is great for fantasy teams. He is a plus scorer at high shooting percentages from both the field and the line, he gets solid rebounds for a small forward, knocks down about two treys and is even blocking almost two shots per game. His pace has been steady all season and doesn't seem likely to slow, so if you can trade for him at anywhere near his name value then by all means do it. On the other hand, if you can talk someone into giving you top-15 value for him, then take that and run as well. Chandler is very valuable, but regardless of what the rater says he isn't best-player-on-your-team valuable.
Danilo Gallinari: Sell at ranking value
Like Chandler, Gallinari has a roto value that may exceed his name recognition. But unlike Chandler, Gallinari is a former high lottery pick that was also picked on average in the fifth round of fantasy leagues and was expected to do well this year. As such, his price tag is naturally higher than Chandler's. Also, Gallinari's value is tied entirely to his ability to score and knock down shots from long-range. His other numbers (outside of free throws) are pedestrian, and his 40.5% field goal number is pretty poor. Gallinari is also streaky, as evidenced by his field-goal-less first half followed by a 20-point second half explosion against the Celtics, followed by a 22-point first half but only 3-point second half against the Heat. Gallinari's production is less predictable, he won't be more than the third or fourth option on the Knicks this year barring injury, and his initial price tag is close enough to his current value that I don't see a lot of room for growth. If you can get top-40 value for him, now is likely a good time to move him.
There are other interesting players on the Knicks, highlighted by rookie Landry Fields (another jack-of-all-trades that should have come cheap and looks to be locked into his role in a good way), Toney Douglas (one-time starting point guard has thrived at times in his role of offense off the bench, like a poor man's Leandro Barbosa from Phoenix days), and, of course, Anthony Randolph – who still might be the most talented player on that team – but every day seems less likely to get the bench splinters out of his backside. Coach D'Antoni has recently mentioned that he would like to lower the minutes a bit for the starters, but he has a long history of riding six or seven rotation players for big minutes and giving short shrift to the rest. In short, I'm high on just about every rotation player in that system, and if you have a chance to grab any of the key pieces without breaking the bank, they're likely to continue to produce.
Around the League
•Huge trade ramifications: There have been lots of trade talks swirling around the league this year, and last week the first major domino fell with the Orlando Magic re-making their team on the fly through two trades with Phoenix and Washington. By now there have been many good articles like this one by Charlie Zegers that break down how the deal affects fantasy prospects, but I have a few thoughts to throw in as well.
•Orlando: In Orlando, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu came in to replace Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus. I watched the Magic play the Mavericks on Tuesday, and you can already see their team roles solidifying. Arenas' value is probably similar to what it was in Washington, as he'll still come off the bench but should get almost-starter minutes. Richardson's value may take a hit because the offense isn't quite as friendly and there are more scoring threats in Orlando that will keep the ball out of his hands. Turkoglu likely gets the biggest boost in value, as the Magic appear poised to use him similarly to how they did during his breakout campaigns of a few years ago. At the end of the game it was Turkoglu who had the ball in his hands a lot, creating off the dribble and making shots for himself and his teammates. Keep an eye on Earl Clark, too, who seemed to be a throw-in in the trade but played some on Tuesday and is young enough to have upside.
•Phoenix: The biggest potential gainer is Marcin Gortat, because he has a legit chance to fight for a starting spot. Gortat has played well as Howard's back-up, and has shined when called upon for a larger role. The kicker is he has to beat out Robin Lopez and Channing Frye for minutes in Phoenix, but there's at least a reasonable chance he does that. Vince Carter also could gain a lot as the main scoring threat next to Nash – if he can stay healthy (see below). Pietrus could hit threes if he earns a spot in the rotation, and could be in line for a bigger role if Carter can't go.
•Washington: If Lewis has anything at all in the tank he should be able to take the starting small forward spot from Al Thornton, but that's actually a big "if". Lewis has looked extremely average thus far on the season, and it remains to be seen if a return to small forward and a friendly jump-shooting offense like Flip Saunders runs will be enough to get him jump started.
•Melo's "Aggressive" trade talks: We've been hearing all season that Carmelo Anthony is likely to be traded, to the point that local news media tried to trick him into believing he had been traded to the Nets. But in the last week it seems to be heating up, with sources claiming the Nuggets are "aggressively" listening to trade offers. The Knicks still seem to be Melo's destination of choice, the Nets seem to still be willing to go after him regardless of his preferences, and now the Mavericks are also making "an aggressive push" to get the talented small forward. With the Magic blockbuster done, the countdown to a Melo deal seems to be speeding up. On a sad note, Melo will miss Wednesday's game due to a death in the family, so if you have him in daily leagues be sure to sit him.
•Injury issues: Injuries are tough in any sport, but in basketball leagues with concentrated talent and shallow benches they can be devastating. I'm facing the tough decision of what to do with players like Joakim Noah and Rajon Rondo chained to my bench. There are no easy answers. I can't cut them, but their trade values are obviously through the floor while they're on the shelf. Raiding the free agent wire can only help so much, so my default advice in the face of too many injuries is to identify your team strengths, make trades to accentuate that and try to get through the hard times. Here are some more impact players facing time on the shelf:
•Brandon Jennings: Jennings broke his left foot and is expected to miss the next four-to-six weeks.
•Brandon Roy: Roy will skip the upcoming three-game road trip after already missing the last three games with his ongoing knee issues. While Wesley Matthews has already established himself as a strong producer, Rudy Fernandez has also awakened in the last week and looks like a viable producer while Roy is on the shelf.
•Rajon Rondo: Rondo has missed the last two games, and was expected to miss around two weeks with various injuries (ankle, feet, hamstring) with the ankle being the most serious. He was able to partially practice on Saturday, so perhaps he will be back on the sooner end of the expected absence length. Paul Pierce has taken up the assists slack for Rondo thus far, with two straight double-digit efforts.
•Vince Carter: Once Carter got to Phoenix, the rumors began swirling that he might undergo arthroscopic knee surgery that would keep him out for a month. He has since decided against the surgery, but if this was even considered it's a sign Carter isn't fully healthy and could rear its head at any moment moving forward.
•John Wall: Wall's knee issues are lingering, and have gone from being called tendonitis to a bone bruise below his right knee that could keep him out up to two weeks. Knee injuries are always potentially serious, and when they linger it's sometimes a sign more is wrong than the team is letting on. Hopefully that isn't the case here, but as a Wall owner this is starting to worry me.
•Andrew Bynum: Bynum still has lingering pain in his surgically repaired knee, and though he is playing through it, this is another worrisome situation. In light of fellow fragile centers Yao Ming and Greg Oden having to pack it in for the season, hearing Bynum describe his current "sharp pains" can't be comforting to Bynum owners.
•Jose Calderon: Calderon has returned after a foot injury caused him to miss four games, but he had to miss practice again on Monday due to the issue lingering. He is set to play on Wednesday, but this is worth keeping an eye on.
•Andrea Bargnani: Bargnani has missed two of his last three games with ankle issues, though he sandwiched those absences around a 32-point/nine-rebound effort against the Nets. He practiced on Tuesday and may play on Wednesday.
•Returns in Denver: Chauncey Billups could return from a wrist injury as soon as Wednesday night after a three-game absence. Kenyon Martin is also a game-time decision on Wednesday, though it seems unlikely he'll come back quite that soon. After having missed the whole season to date with knee issues, it's unlikely Martin would able to play enough minutes to make an impact even when he does return.
•Keeper League Blues – fire sales: For those of you in keeper leagues, this could be an interesting time period. In the one I'm in, last week marked the "fire sale" period when every team below fifth place decided to sell off their assets in exchange for keepers and draft picks. I'm in a difficult place as my team is in third, far enough behind that I don't want to gut my future for the sake of a one-year run but close enough that I don't want to sell off either. I ended up trying to skirt the middle, taking on players with upside but obvious flaws (like Dwight Howard) in exchange for draft picks and sculpting my team to try to account for his weakness (with free throw mavens like Kevin Martin and Chauncey Billups). If your league goes into fire sale mode, you almost have to do something because the alternative is to get left behind and end up with the worst of both worlds.
•Larry Brown fired in Charlotte: Brown has stepped down as coach of the Bobcats, which almost can't but be good news for their fantasy prospects. As I pointed out last week, the Bobcats I watched in person against the Celtics looked like they had a lot of quit in them. Maybe a new coach is just the thing needed to jumpstart the Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jacksons of the world.
•Cousins on the rise: Two weeks ago, spurred by Cousins' below par production and apparent maturity issues, I dropped him in a league where I needed to pick up a producer to stay competitive in the face of the injury bug. I didn't think anyone would pick Cousins up, but unfortunately my boss Pete, who read my offseason ravings about Cousins' upside, did. Thus, Pete is the one enjoying Cousins' 14.5 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks over the last week. Cousins is still volatile, but he has upside and is starting to show glimpses that he could reach some of that upside this year.
•Reggie Williams (48% owned): Williams can score, when given the chance. Over the last two weeks, most of which coincided with a Stephen Curry injury absence, Williams has averaged 20 points on 51% field goal percentage with more than four boards and three assists per night. Curry is likely to return soon and cut into Williams' minutes, but Williams is still worth owning as he'll still get enough minutes to score reasonably and has the now-proven upside of putting up big numbers if either Curry or Monta Ellis go down again.
•Nick Young (46% owned): Young was already on a scoring binge, but with the recent trading of Gilbert Arenas, Young now steps into a larger and more consistent role for the Wizards and will be required to keep scoring at the 20 ppg level he has flirted with for the past few weeks.
•Leandro Barbosa (42% owned): Barbosa has quietly been more aggressive and effective scoring the ball in recent weeks, scoring 15 points on 50% shooting with two treys per over the last two weeks. He is still coming off the bench, but with Jose Calderon dealing with lingering foot issues and the Raptors not getting a lot out of their starting shooting guard slot, there is potential for Barbosa to grab a larger slice of the pie.
•James Harden (27% owned): Harden was a lottery pick last season, finished his rookie year strong, then had a good training camp this year. Those factors combined to make him a decent sleeper candidate entering the year, but he has underperformed to date as he hasn't earned enough minutes. He has performed a bit better lately, and though he still isn't getting major minutes that could change as the season goes along. Consider him a long-term prospect, but Harden could come in handy sooner rather than later if you have the roster spot to spare.
•Marcin Gortat (17% owned): As mentioned above, Gortat could potentially become a starter in Phoenix with double-double potential. There's no guarantee he beats out Robin Lopez and Channing Frye for minutes, but if you have the roster spot it's worth taking a flyer just in case.
•DeAndre Jordan (15% owned): Jordan was a recommended pickup last month when Chris Kaman first went down injured, but he got off to a slow start to the year due to nagging injuries of his own. Recently, though, Jordan has started getting healthy and is once again a nightly double-double threat with almost two blocks per game. He shoots an unconscionably low percentage from the line, but on very few attempts so it doesn't hurt too bad and is countered by his similarly high field goal percentage.
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.