By Charlie Zegers
RotoWire Staff Writer
How do you project a given player's fantasy numbers?
Question one is talent. Is he any good? How's his jump shot? Will he hit a high percentage? Is he an aggressive rebounder, or does he only get the boards that fall right in his hands? What about his free throws? Does he have the ability to get to the line, and when he does, will he hit those freebies?
But "system" is nearly as important. Long-range shooters are more valuable on a team that emphasizes the three. A guard with quick hands will rack up more steals in a defense that allows him to gamble a bit. And every statistical category is impacted by pace - will the team push the ball, or play in a passive half-court system?
For answers to the system questions, don't look at the player. Look at the coach.
First off, let's dispense with the idea that D'Antoni is a bad fit for the Knicks' plodding roster. Red Auerbach, with Red Holzman, John Wooden and James Naismith himself as assistants, wouldn't be able to make the Eddy Curry/Zach Randolph/Stephon Marbury Knicks into contenders. New general manager Donnie Walsh is hard at work rebuilding the roster.
In the meantime, D'Antoni will try to make lemonade out of Isiah Thomas' lemons.
In D'Antoni's "seven seconds" system - which operates from the theory that the best scoring opportunities come in the first seven seconds of the shot clock - every Knick rotation player will have plenty of opportunities to put up great numbers. Ah, but "rotation player" is the tricky bit when the roster itself is a work in progress.
Jamal Crawford might be the best bet to excel at D'Antoni ball - scoring has never been a problem for him. And with Stephon Marbury likely to be released before the season begins, Nate Robinson is the leading contender to join Crawford in the starting backcourt.
Quentin Richardson is the only current Knick with experience in D'Antoni's system. A long injury history makes Q-Rich a risky pick, but he's likely to put up good numbers when he's on the floor.
The frontcourt is harder to predict. Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry are plodders who may have trouble getting down the floor in seven seconds, never mind getting involved in the offense. David Lee certainly has the ability to run the floor, but D'Antoni isn't a fan of bigs who can't shoot.
Randolph might be an interesting sleeper. The Knicks reportedly turned down a trade offer from the Clippers because they think Randolph will have more value after a couple of months in the new offense. And take a long look at second-year man Wilson Chandler, who has small-forward athleticism but big-forward strength. He could emerge as a poor man's Shawn Marion.
Sixth-overall draft pick Danilo Gallinari missed most of the Vegas Summer League with back troubles and will probably be brought along slowly. We wouldn't use a draft pick on "the rooster" - but we'll be watching his minutes closely. He could be an excellent second-half pickup.
Brown's tenure with the Knicks has been well-documented. He got involved in a power struggle with general manager Isiah Thomas from the moment he arrived in New York. Clearly dissatisfied with the composition of the roster, he juggled his lineup and rotation constantly, and - depending on which account you believe - forced the trade of promising forward Trevor Ariza for fading veteran Steve Francis. Thomas clearly wasn't blameless in all this - but it seems clear that Brown's Knick experience is not what got him the Bobcats job.
His tenure as coach of the 2004 Olympic Team wasn't much better. The Team USA experience was similar in many ways to his tenure at Madison Square Garden: Brown clashed with Stephon Marbury and refused to give big minutes to the kids on his roster - but in Athens, the "kids" were LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. The result? A 5-3 overall record and third-place finish that caused USA Basketball to completely re-think its team selection process.
Based on that resume, Brown seems like an unlikely candidate to take over a young and unproven team like Charlotte. But there are early signs that the Bobcat job will be a bit different; the biggest was the selection of Texas point guard D.J. Augustin with the ninth overall pick. Most observers assumed Charlotte would go big with that selection, getting a center like one of the Lopez twins that would allow Emeka Okafor to play at his more natural power forward position. Instead the 'cats took Augustin - probably the most traditional point left on the board - for their very traditional coach.
In the short term, we're guessing that Brown's arrival won't impact fantasy values in Charlotte all that much. This team is still very much a work in progress, and we expect Brown to play with different lineups and substitution patterns until he can settle on a top nine that "plays the right way." Do-everything forward Gerald Wallace and Okafor - assuming his contract status is resolved - seem to be players Brown will like. Jason Richardson is clearly Charlotte's most talented scorer. He may butt heads with Brown over shot selection, but should ultimately produce the numbers you're accustomed to seeing.
On the other hand, Brown's arrival probably isn't a positive sign for two of Charlotte's recent lottery selections. The pick of Augustin would indicate that Brown isn't a big Raymond Felton fan, and we can't imagine Brown will be a big supporter of Adam Morrison, who was defensively-challenged even before tearing his ACL.
This is not to say that Carlisle isn't an excellent coach. He built the Pistons most of the way toward their NBA title - Larry Brown only carried the ball for the last 10 yards - and his tenure in Indiana was ruined by the Pacers/Pistons melee and ensuing year-long effort to rid the team of Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson. But Carlisle did get the team to the Eastern Conference Finals.
If we were building a team from the ground up, Rick Carlisle would be on our short list of candidates. But his strength is defense, and the biggest knock against him is that he's too controlling on offense, and now he's been handed a team built around Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.
Can this work? Stranger things have happened. Rick Adelman - known for his high-scoring, flexible offensive wizardry - was an interesting fit for a Rockets team built for Jeff Van Gundy's stifling defense. Adelman left the defense as-is, improved the offense, and suddenly the Rockets were reeling off NBA-record winning streaks. If Carlisle can improve Dallas' defense while keeping the remains of Nellie-ball that survived the tenure of Avery Johnson, this experiment might work.
Problem is, it's hard to imagine the Mavs getting that much better on defense. Kidd is part of the problem. He was once an All-NBA defender, but he's lost a step and is a major liability against quick points. Chris Paul routinely torched J-Kidd during the playoffs - though, in fairness to Kidd, Paul torches pretty much everybody.
Dirk Nowitzki isn't making the all-defense team any time soon, either. But Dallas does have a number of active and physical role-player types who may help to compensate for its stars' shortcomings. Look for guys like Brandon Bass, Erick Dampier and newly re-signed DeSagana Diop to play significant roles in Carlisle's rotation.
For fantasy purposes, let's assume that Dallas' big three - Kidd, Nowitzki, and Josh Howard - won't be significantly affected by Carlisle's arrival. In fact, let's assume that Kidd - with a full training camp and a better feel for his teammates - will put up better numbers than he did after last season's trade.
But Jason Terry's role seems iffier. He's undersized for a full-time two guard, especially alongside a point guard that will need help on D. That could mean he'll be relegated to a bench role again. Or, Carlisle could experiment with different alignments, possibly putting Terry on point and letting the bigger Kidd chase twos.
The team is already being re-made in Skiles' image… soft-but-skilled players like Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simons are gone, replaced by more physical performers like Richard Jefferson and athletic rookie Joe Alexander. But it's hard to imagine the Bucks are done making changes. Charlie Villaneuva is really a perimeter player at the power forward spot, which makes him a less-than-ideal complement to Andrew Bogut in the frontcourt.
The player most at risk might be Michael Redd. Redd is one of the game's best shooters, but brings precious little else to the table. Skiles had a similar player in Chicago in Ben Gordon, and never seemed able to decide how to use him.
Redd has three years and over $50 million remaining on his Milwaukee contract - numbers that really stand in the way of a more intensive overhaul of the roster. The team has denied that he's being shopped, but that could easily change.
Rookie Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could be an interesting sleeper on this team. Bucks management reportedly loves his ability to defend three positions - which could mitigate Villanueva and Bogut's shortcomings on the defensive end. But Mbah a Moute and fellow rookie Alexander are both considered raw, and may not be able to play major roles until later in the season.
Kerr's priority on the defensive end - ironic, given that he wasn't exactly a lock-down defender during his playing career - was one of the biggest stories in the NBA last season, leading to the Shaquille O'Neal for Shawn Marion trade and the departure of Mike D'Antoni.
Kerr's choice to implement the new philosophy is former Bucks coach and Pistons assistant Terry Porter - a teammate of Kerr's from his San Antonio days.
As with the Mavericks, the best-case scenario for Phoenix is a sort of "reverse Adelman" - implement the new guy's philosophy on one end of the court, but maintain some semblance of the old guy's successful system on the other.
Points won't be a problem - with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire on hand, you could plug in three guys from the average rec league team and still score 90. But will guys like Nash, Stoudemire, Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal improve enough on defense to make up for the inevitable decline in scoring? Enough to get Phoenix the championship that's clearly their goal?
For fantasy purposes, the biggest impact might be on the second-tier players. Every year, it seemed, the D'Antoni/Nash combination would turn an otherwise unheralded bench player into a legitimate fantasy stud. Raja Bell. James Jones. Boris Diaw. Leandro Barbosa. Before the coaching change, we'd strongly consider the seventh man on the Suns over starters on a lot of teams. Today, that really isn't the case.
As little as possible.
If you think about it, the Pistons' modus operandi hasn't changed all that much since Rick Carlisle was calling the shots - three coaches ago. The four key starters - Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace - have been together about as long as the cast of Friends and are even more cohesive. And - though it seems we say this every year - general manager Joe Dumars has assembled what may be his best bench yet, with the rapidly-improving Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo, veteran Antonio McDyess and Dumars' latest project, low-risk, high-reward free agent signee Kwame Brown.
The change from Flip Saunders to Curry seems to be a change of the messenger, not the message. Dumars is very clearly calling the shots. Look for Detroit to rely heavily on the big four, but to try to keep them fresh and healthy for the postseason. Even though the East seems to be improving, the Pistons should be more than good enough to lock down a top-four seed and be considered a serious contender to return to the Finals.
In a way, that makes Curry's job significantly more difficult. He has virtually no track record, but the expectations he'll face in his rookie season are already off the charts.
For those who may not remember Riley's last hiatus from coaching, it went something like this: Miami was horrible. Riley abruptly resigned. They added a superstar-in-the-making via the draft (Dwyane Wade), then traded for one of the game's best players (Shaquille O'Neal), and in 2005 reached the East Finals. In December of '05, Riley returned to the bench and led the team to the title in 2006.
So when Riley hired a relative unknown former video coordinator named Eric Spoelstra as his replacement, most assumed it was a matter of time before he'd make another triumphant return to the bench. Winning the second-overall pick in this year's lottery - and the rights to Michael Beasley - just seemed to speed up the countdown.
For fantasy owners, it probably doesn't matter much if Spoelstra or Riley is in the seat nearest the scorer's table. As with the Pistons, the Heat have a clear organizational philosophy that comes down from upper management, and the coach's job is to keep that in place. We'll still see Dwyane Wade initiating the offense a lot of the time. We'll still see the point guard used most often as an outside shooting threat. We'll see a focus on tough, physical defense.
The biggest questions in Miami are the forward spots: will Beasley be ready to contribute from Day 1, and how will the team deploy Shawn Marion? Based on summer league play - and basing anything on summer league play is always an iffy proposition - Beasley looks polished and ready to step right in. That would probably mean that Marion will be a small forward, which decreases his fantasy value a bit - he's a much bigger threat matched up against opposing fours, which allows him to out-quick just about everyone.
That task instead falls to Del Negro, the ex-Spur/Buck/Warrior/Sun who last served as assistant to Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr. Del Negro has never coached at any level, but a look at his resume - and the circumstances of his hiring - might indicate what sort of coach he'll be.
First off, we know D'Antoni was the Bulls first choice. That indicates interest, at the organizational level, in playing up-tempo. That only makes sense… with a roster full of athletic players like Rose, Gordon, Noah, Deng and Tyrus Thomas, pushing the tempo seems like an obvious move. An up-tempo style should also suit players like Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden.
In that regard, Del Negro might be the next best thing to D'Antoni. Like the Knick coach, Del Negro put in time in the Italian league - he scored 25 ppg and led Benetton Treviso to an Italian league title in '92. Between the European experience and his time in Phoenix, we're guessing he'll have a very good feel for coaching an up-tempo offense that stresses ball movement.
We also know that Del Negro was Steve Kerr's right-hand man, and Kerr hasn't been shy in expressing the idea that offense alone won't win championships. As such, we're going to guess that Del Negro shares that view, and that he'll look to use a strong defense as a means of jump-starting a powerful offense - a philosophy similar to that of Jim O'Brien in Indiana.
That sort of system would seem to suit Chicago's personnel well - defense is a potential strength of the Bulls, particularly in the frontcourt, with Noah, Thomas and Gooden.
Unfortunately, that doesn't tell us much of anything about how Del Negro will handle the position battles that will determine fantasy value for a number of Bulls. Will Rose start right away, or be brought along slowly behind Hinrich? How will he divide playing time between Gordon and Hughes? Will Thomas emerge as a dependable rotation player?
We won't have answers to those questions until the season is well underway.
Article first appeared on 9/11/08