I tend to treat discussions of the NBA Most Valuable Player Award the same way I treat Christmas decorations at the mall... they always appear long before I'm mentally prepared to even think about 'em... I ignore 'em for as long as possible... and by the time they actually do become relevant, I'm sort of tired of 'em already.
Great metaphor to get you into the spirit of the season, eh? Maybe I'm a bit cranky about all things holiday because I spent the better part of the weekend hanging lights and trying to prevent my kids from knocking over the tree.
Anyway, I signed on to ESPN this morning, only to be confronted with a discussion of whether or not Miami's overall record would cost Dwyane Wade votes in the MVP balloting. Note to unnamed ESPN columnist: it's December. NBA games haven't even started turning up on network TV yet. It is WAY too early to devote any digital ink to MVP discussions. Besides... the MVP will either go to the best player on the best team or the best available white guy... neither of which is likely to come from Miami this year. If you'd just considered that, you would have saved yourself a lot of trouble in putting your column together.
But it's not too early to think about the most valuable players in fantasy hoops.
I'm not really into the "Paul vs. LeBron vs. Kobe vs. Wade" sort of discussion when it comes to fantasy MVPs... that sort of talk is best reserved for "who are you taking if you land the first overall pick?" chat... none of those guys are available during a season, unless we're talking about a rebuilding effort in some sort of keeper league. I don't think leagues are won or lost in the first round, anyway. I'm not lagging in sixth place in my league because I grabbed LeBron over Amare Stoudemire with the second overall pick... I'm in sixth because relatively few of my middle-round picks (Michael Beasley, Brandon Bass, Stephen Jackson, Mehmet Okur) have put up the numbers I was hoping for, and outside of Quentin Richardson and Rudy Fernandez, I don't have guys who have really exceeded expectations.
For example, here's an interesting list I found on Yahoo! this morning:
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 15, 2008 11:18 PM PDT
I think both Nene and Terry are interesting because neither was seen as a high-upside guy heading into the season. In other words, we all know who the high-risk, high-reward players are like Ramon Sessions, Randy Foye and Tyrus Thomas. But when you're dealing with a known quantity in a limited role (in Terry's case sixth man, in Nene's third or fourth option on his own team), it's always more of a surprise. Can they keep it up? Probably not. I agree that Josh Howard will take some of Terry's shots eventually, and banking on Nene's health and current level of production is probably unwise. (It's the combined 3.0 blocks/steals with excellent FG percentage that's fueling the success of Nene owners). But I do think every year there could be a category of fantasy MVP for these types - mid-level players who excel out of nowhere and create a massive profit. (Hedo Turkoglu and Mike Dunleavy were two guys who fit the bill last year). I don't put Devin Harris in the group because he was a young player finally getting the full-time starting job to himself in New Jersey for a full year, so he was more expensive and less surprising.
But of course, that's just one category. There are the LeBron, Paul, Wade superstar types as you alluded to, there are the Danny Granger/Jose Calderon types (players we expected to break out who in fact did), the Devin Harris/John Salmons types (one tier down, but players whose track records showed they'd be likely to produce with big minutes), the Derrick Rose/Russell Westbrook types (young players who were likely to be good eventually, but arrived ahead of schedule) and then the Chris Duhon, David Lee, Al Harrington types (players who wound up with major minutes under Mike D'Antoni). I'd suspect that most winning teams have a smattering of each - a big-time superstar, a breakout star, a second tier player who has a massive year, an overachieving rook and a couple guys in the right situations.
Which one deserves fantasy MVP? Depends on your criteria.
And I have no idea whether firing Mo Cheeks is a smart move or not, but he did help that young girl finish the National Anthem. But I was already thinking about how coaches get replaced frequently, while GM's are canned more rarely (though actually, Stefanski did just recently replace Billy King). Am I imagining that? And if I'm not, why is it? Is it because the coach is more visible, so when the team struggles, and the fan-base demands accountability, firing the coach is more likely to play to them? Or is it that the GM is higher up the management chain and therefore more established in his job? Because with the exception of the really great coaches and really terrible ones, it's mostly about the personnel. And the personnel is the responsibility of the GM.
For the record, I do still think Philly will pick it up, but also that they would have with or without Cheeks. And I'll throw out one more Fantasy MVP to date: Rajon Rondo, who incidentally lit up Deron Williams Monday night. Rondo will never score a ton, shoot free-throws well or hit the three. But for steals, assists, boards and FG percentage, he's been a monster. And he came cheap.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: December 16, 2008 7:17 AM PDT
I'm a big fan of Rondo. He could have been an afterthought on that star-laden team, but he's really carved out a role for himself that complements Allen and Pierce and Garnett remarkably well.
I also like that he plays to his strengths and knows his limitations - he reminds me of Parker in that regard. So what if he's horrible from three (under 25 percent in his career)? That doesn't hurt fantasy owners because the number of attempts is so small. Rondo is 4-13 from three on the season - that's like, one game from Quentin Richardson (3-10 from three on December 9 against the Bulls).
Tony Parker fits a similar profile... as does Harris.
Now, if you were looking at his career stat line without paying attention to the attempts, that ugly three-point percentage might scare you off. This is one of the reasons that it's helpful for serious fantasy players to have a basic understanding of math... it helps with the subtle nuances of the game, like the fact that Shaquille O'Neal's free-throw percentage - in Shaq's prime - was more damaging than it appeared because of his number of attempts... or, to use a baseball example... that guys who hit for a very high average and don't walk much (Ichiro is probably the best example) have a much greater impact on your team batting stat than guys who walk a ton.
Do coaches get fired more often than general managers? Yeah, probably. That's probably because the GM can fire the coach to save his own skin. In the cases of Sam Mitchell and Mo Cheeks, the general managers came on board after the coaches... when that happens, you know the coach is on borrowed time. The GM is always going to want to bring in his own guy to run the team.
Speaking of which, looks like Reggie Theus just got canned. We spoke about him a little bit last week; you were right to point out that he doesn't exactly have the most talented roster in the Association, and that the Kings were playing about as well as anyone could reasonably have expected. I get the impression there's more to his firing that just the Kings' record. I mean... those guys beat the Lakers last week, then they get run off the floor by the Knicks? A team has got to be more consistent than that. I watched a good portion of the game against New York - the Kings looked listless, like they didn't want to be there. I actually logged on to the RotoSynthesis blog and started to write, "How the hell did these guys beat the Lakers?" but realized I didn't have anything else interesting to say about 'em at the time.
Still don't, really.
I am sort of intrigued to see if Eddie Jordan lands on his feet this season. Now there are two job openings in places where Jordan has a connection - he coached the Kings back in the pre-Adelman/C-Webb/Divac days, and he worked with Philly general manager Ed Stefanski when both were with the Nets.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 16, 2008 11:03 AM PDT
Parker and Devin Harris are more similar - I have no doubt Parker could score 25 a game if Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili weren't on his team, and he wasn't in such a down-tempo system. But neither one racks up the steals like Rondo who could lead the league. And Rondo is a far better rebounder, too. I never understood why certain lightning-quick guards like Parker didn't get more steals. Maybe it's the style of defense the Spurs play - they don't encourage gambling. But then why does Ginobili get so many? Perhaps steals are more a matter of timing than quickness - otherwise it's hard to say.
And it's not Rondo's three-point percentage that's the real concern since in the standard eight-cat. league it's not a factor, but that he takes and makes so few. It's just a hole in his PG skill set, like steals are for Parker. But your point is taken regarding his free-throw shooting (66 percent). He doesn't go to the line a ton, so it's not as bad as say Shaq or Dwight Howard. But keep in mind that while 66 percent is acceptably bad for a center, it's truly horrific for a point guard. Compared to the other players filling his PG slot, that's about minus 15 percent on average.
And maybe GM's fire coaches to save their skin, but what about upper management firing GM's for the same reason? Or is upper management so insulated from the public that they can get away with operating a terrible franchise. It seems if ownership and upper management were driven by winning, e.g, Jerry Buss, than the GM would be no safer than the coach.
Article first appeared on 12/16/08