Crashing the Boards
By Derek VanRiper
There are very few of us who don't get excited by a big opening-night performance during the first week of the NBA season. Lakers' second-year man Andrew Bynum quickly put himself on the fantasy radar with a career-high 18-point, nine-rebound performance to open the season. Was it the extra time Bynum spent working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar over the summer? Maybe. Is the Suns' interior defense just weak? Could be. Whatever it was that sparked Bynum's coming out party made a lot of experts and fans jump on the bandwagon, and by Wednesday morning, a number of owners had already declared the 19-year old this year's opening-night waiver-wire steal.
It's never wise to jump ship on an early- or middle-round draft pick during the first couple weeks of the season. At the same time, falling asleep at the wheel during the early portion of the season can be a sure-fire way to get left in the cold after poor draft-day choices begin to derail your squad from the road to a league championship. Excitement from Bynum's opening night performance faded quickly when he played just under 11 minutes in Lakers' second game against Golden State, and just as quickly as he disappeared from the waiver wire, he was cast back on to it. The lesson is simple: Be patient through the first few weeks of the season. That includes the players you selected on draft day, and the early-season pickups like Bynum. There are number of factors that can cause short-term fluctuations in playing time and performance, so don't do the waiver-wire shuffle and chase last night's pleasant surprise on and off of your roster. Look carefully at the circumstances behind recent stats, not just the raw numbers.
Offseason injuries and player movement have paved the way to more playing time from Detroit to Los Angeles, with a number of young stars and capable veterans shouldering increased workloads early on. In addition to having a ripple effect in the Eastern Conference hierarchy, Chicago's signing of Ben Wallace left the Motor City reeling and lacking identity.
From a fantasy standpoint, a defensive-monster such as Wallace is a two-category stud piling up boards and blocks. In most cases (and in this one), production on the stat sheet is more easily accounted for than the physical presence on the floor. Detroit has been using both Nazr Mohammed and Antonio McDyess to fill the void left by Wallace's departure. On paper, the numbers don't look bad, as Mohammed has averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds (along with 1.5 blocks) in just under 25 minutes per contest through the first two games while McDyess has pulled down nine boards per game (and contributed another 1.5 blocks) in just under 28 minutes. As it stands, both are essentially "boards and blocks" specialists and the most likely scenario is that the Pistons will continue using a combination of Mohammed, McDyess and Rasheed Wallace on the floor at the power forward and center spots. Draft-day hype on Mohammed was limited, as he was drafted in just 60-percent of Yahoo! leagues, but he's shown in the past that he can average just under a double-double per game given the opportunity to play a significant role.
If you're looking a little deeper for some help on the glass, take a peak at the Knicks' David Lee. Lee has averaged 24 minutes of action in the first two games this season, and has produced to the tune of a near double-double average (9.5 points, 10.5 rebounds). Friday night, he was on the floor for just 18 minutes, but still managed to make an impact with nine points and eight boards. He should continue to play around 20 minutes per night and that figures to increase if he consistently makes the most of his chances on the floor.
Out west, Warriors' forward Mickael Pietrus has been taking care of business on the boards. The former first-round pick has seen his minutes increase in each of his four seasons with Golden State, and under head coach Don Nelson, Pietrus has played nearly 28 minutes per game thus far. With his guard-forward eligibility, Pietrus is a great sneaky play for those in need of a rebounding boost, plus he can score as evident by his 16-point effort in Friday night's win over Portland.
Let's take a look at some other early-season surprises that could turn out to be great additions for at least the near future:
Hakim Warrick F, Memphis: When Pau Gasol cracked a bone in his foot during the FIBA Championships back in early September; a huge offensive void was left in the Grizzlies' frontcourt. The second-year man from Syracuse has been up to the task thus far, posting a double-double in the season opening loss to the Knicks, before a 15-point, six-rebound effort against the Bobcats on Friday night. He should continue to see close to 30 minutes per game at least until Gasol returns.
Leandro Barbosa, PG, Phoenix: Barbosa has averaged over 36 minutes per game through the Suns' first three contests. That number figures to take a slight hit following the signing of Jalen Rose on Friday, but Barbosa should still be a multiple-category contributor from the point-guard spot. His gaudy 21.0 PPG average probably wasn't going to last even prior to the Rose signing, but looking further at what the Brazilian brings to the table (4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and ability to connect from three-point range), there's still plenty to be excited about.
Luke Walton, SF, Los Angeles Lakers: Out of training camp, Walton has won the starting small-forward job from Vladimir Radmanovic. Receiving 10 minutes per game over his career-average, Walton has emerged as a consistent, blue-collar option that fits well in coach Phil Jackson's system. Further, he's been a bit sheltered from the spotlight with big man Andrew Bynum receiving much of the early-season attention from fans and fantasy owners. 15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game over the first three contests has been a big surprise thus far, but is within reason to believe that he can continue to produce at this level.
Brevin Knight, PG, Charlotte: What does Knight have to do to get some love on draft day? Concerns about Raymond Felton taking his minutes away have been quelled by the Bobcats' employment of both point guards at the same time. In two games, Knight has racked up 14 assists and four steals, while averaging 35 minutes per night (a handful more than Felton). Not bad for a guy who is always flying under the radar.
Jarrett Jack, PG, Portland: Jack has been a machine running the point in Portland, averaging 41 minutes, 12.5 points, 8.0 assists and three steals per game for the Blazers thus far. Drafted in just 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues, there is an excellent chance that the former Georgia Tech standout is available on the waiver wire. The only real downside here is turnovers (he's coughed it up seven times in two contests), but backup point guard Juan Dixon struggles to distribute and Jack should continue to receive chances to succeed in Portland.
Ronny Turiaf, PF, Los Angeles Lakers: After being limited by a serious heart ailment during his rookie campaign, Turiaf has made the most of increased playing time with Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm on the shelf for the Lakers. After playing just three minutes in the season opener, Turiaf has averaged 23 minutes in the Lakers' last two games, while contributing 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. The minutes will vary and could be harder to come by once Brown and Mihm return, but until then, he's a nice source of blocks at the very least.
Rudy Gay, F, Memphis: Gay played a major role in Memphis' season-opening overtime loss to the Knicks, dropping in 21 points and pulling down eight boards. The most impressive piece of the box score, however, is the four blocks he piled up. The follow up performance in the Grizzlies' second game was a bit uninspiring (14 minutes and two points on 0-for-4 shooting from the field), but the rookie has already flashed his potential.
Sean May, PF, Charlotte: Something is definitely in the water in Charlotte, and while Emeka Okafor has lead the league with 10 blocks in two games thus far, May has been making his presence known as well with the three rejections in 53 minutes of action. The former Tar Heel can also get it done on the offensive end, as he showed with a double-double in the season opener (10 points and 10 boards).
Article first appeared on 11/4/06