The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 3, 2009 3:47 AM PDT
Strange things are afoot this week, Chris. Shaquille O'Neal is the hottest player in the league, and the Pistons are knocking off top teams left and right.
I feel like it's 2004 all over again.
Shaq first. The return to a faster-paced offense, instituted when Alvin Gentry took over for Terry Porter, was supposed to help every Sun - except Shaq. The Big Fella was supposed to get left behind by the new attack. Instead, with Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash both sidelined, he's become the focal point - 45 points two games ago, 33 against the Lakers on Sunday.
Now, I certainly don't think Shaq is at anything near peak physical condition... but even at, what, 60 percent of what he once was... there's not a player in the league that can defend him one on one if he gets the ball on the low block.
He's even hitting his free throws - 67 percent from the line in his last five games.
I wasn't at all optimistic about the Suns hanging on to a playoff berth after Stoudemire got hurt. But now I'm starting to think that O'Neal might have one more month of "I can carry a team on my enormous shoulders" left in him. Either way, the Suns' sudden return to fantasy relevance and entertaining basketball is one of the most welcome developments of this NBA season.
That and Shaq on Twitter.
Speaking of teams returning from the dead - interesting couple of games for the Pistons, huh? Detroit was riding an eight-game losing streak and facing games against the best two teams in the East. Then Allen Iverson gets hurt, Rip Hamilton is moved back into the starting lineup, and the Pistons beat Orlando and Boston - with Hamilton scoring nearly 30 a night. Now, it seems, Hamilton will return to the lineup on a permanent basis, with Iverson becoming the sixth man when his back injury is healed.
As I wrote in the NBA Schedule Grid this week, I think Iverson could put up good numbers in the role when he recovers. What's your take?
One last thing... have you seen Don Nelson's new "I'm resting my veterans" scheme? He sat Jamal Crawford for one game, Stephen Jackson for another... Corey Maggette and Andris Biedrins are next on the list.
Uh, Don? Resting them for what, exactly? They'll have plenty of rest soon enough. I understand Gregg Popovic giving Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili extra rest down the stretch to keep 'em fresh for the playoffs; that explanation doesn't fly for Golden State.
You think he's tanking? Trying to get Crawford so annoyed that he exercises the early out in his contract? Or is there a method to the madness?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 3, 2009 11:15 AM PDT
Shaq is a great story, and I agree that as long as he's healthy, it doesn't matter that much whether he's lost a step or two. There was no one in the history of the NBA with his size and strength, and that hasn't changed since he came into the league in the early '90s. I used to root against Shaq because I thought anyone with those physical skills would be a star, and so he didn't really have to earn it, but now, seeing him at age 36 (he'll turn 37 in a few days) carrying the Suns, I'd love to see him in the playoffs presenting major matchup problems. It's also possible that Stoudemire comes back if the team's in the postseason, and it would be interesting to see how that dynamic would play out - with Amare being second fiddle.
As for the Pistons, Suns (and Rockets) getting hot just after losing their marquee players, it's probably not a fluke, so long as the name outweighs the current skill level. Iverson probably is better suited to an instant-offense sixth-man role at this point anyway, and Hamilton, who's played with Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess for years, is better suited to starting for that team.
As for Don Nelson - what a horror show for fantasy owners! I mean it's one thing to accept injury or even role changes as the reason your player didn't pan out, but random resting? From Nelson's perspective, it makes sense, though - there's nothing for the Warriors to gain by trotting Maggette or Crawford out there every night. If the argument is they give you a better chance to win, it's not a very good one - they've only won 20 games all season, and their winning percentage is .339. I'm sure it's a combination of seeing what he has on the roster, having no incentive to do well, having an incentive to do poorly and knowing that even if he puts his best five out there, their chances of getting a meaningless win only increase marginally. Is that deliberate tanking? You tell me.
Finally, if the Suns do make the playoffs, the team I hope they keep out is Dallas. I see no upside for the Mavs in the playoffs. They're just 19-17 in the conference, and I don't think Dirk Nowitzki is good enough to put them on his back. Houston with the point-guard upgrade (yes, I think Aaron Brooks is a better scorer than Rafer Alston, and Kyle Lowry can penetrate and handle the rock) and the absence of Tracy McGrady (who was never healthy this year and couldn't play defense) is dangerous. I think Portland if it can get Greg Oden at anything close to healthy, will be a tough out, and of course, Utah, San Antonio and New Orleans have a good chance to come out of the first round. Denver is an oddball team to me - I can't quite believe in them, but they're looking at a No. 3 seed, and they're 23-11 in conference. is Billups capable of making the huge a difference?
Fantasy-wise, it's becoming a wasteland, not only with Nelson shaking things up, but Stoudemire, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Danny Granger and, Kevin Durant are all out - virtually half the first two rounds, and that's not even including players like Al Jefferson, Elton Brand, Andrew Bynum, Michael Redd and Gilbert Arenas who've been out for longer. And it's only going to get worse. Maybe NBA leagues should treat March and April like Week 17.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 3, 2009 7:08 PM PDT
I don't know why you'd doubt Billups' influence on the Nuggets. Look at how the Nuggets have played with him, look at how the Pistons have played without him. Case closed.
I see no reason why that their regular-season success wouldn't translate in the playoffs. They're capable of playing in the half court, they have players who can be physical, and they have scorers that present impossible matchups. The big concern with the Nuggets always seems to be health - they rely on Kenyon Martin and Nene a little more than I'd prefer, given the combined injury histories of those two.
That said, they could easily drop to seventh or eighth in the seeding... as I write, just two games separate Denver, Portland and Utah. Winner gets the three seed... loser could wind up facing the Lakers in the first round.
Personally, I like the Jazz to take that division. It's actually pretty remarkable that they've hung around as long as they have - Jerry Sloan finally has his starting five healthy and available for the stretch run, while most other teams are looking to rest guys or scrambling to replace the injured.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 3, 2009 7:08 PM PDT
I have a hard time believing in Melo, Martin, Nene and J.R. Smith. After all, Billups couldn't get it done with Wallace, Prince and Hamilton the last couple years, and I'm not sure the Denver cast is better. Melo is a better talent than those guys, but hasn't really put it together - maybe I'm underestimating them.
The Iverson-less Pistons did handle them at home tonight - though there's no great shame in losing on the road to a team that just won at Boston and at Orlando. I still think Houston is more dangerous than either Denver or Utah, and I'd be surprised if the Rockets don't make it to Round 2 this year.
Article first appeared on 3/3/09