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Hoops Lab: Whitney Houston and Linsanity

Andre Snellings

Andre Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

As you may have heard, music legend Whitney Houston passed away this weekend. I say "may have heard" facetiously, of course, because you would have to be living in a cave with earplugs in your ears to be unaware of Houston's death. I always appreciated Houston's talent, and she was a ubiquitous celebrity during my youth, so I note the significance of her passing in my personal history. I also watched with sadness as she battled drug addiction for the past decade, so while tragic, I can't say that I was shocked when I heard that she had died. On a personal note, my wife and I have used Houston's death as an opportunity to really talk to our daughter about the dangers of drugs. Since Houston has been the lead story on just about every channel for the past several days, we've had plenty of chances to reinforce the message…Houston has been on TV so much that my daughter now walks around singing Houston songs, when just last week she didn't even know who Houston was. That's what non-stop media coverage can do.

Of course, Houston's death isn't the only story to go viral in the media this week. In fact, in sports circles there has been another story that has been hammered into our consciousness with just as much emphasis. I speak of course of Linsanity, which has gone from a novelty to a mania in the last seven days. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that if you stop reading right at this second and turn on your TV, you could probably catch a Jeremy Lin highlight right now on one of the sports networks. Much like what happened with Tim Tebow during football season, Lin has burst onto the national stage with a vengeance and suddenly has become a household name even among non-sports fans.

In last week's Hoops Lab I said of Lin: "Lin has taken the fantasy world by storm, already up to 61 percent owned in Yahoo leagues with his averages of 26.5 points and 7.5 assists in the last two games. I'm not yet convinced that this run is sustainable, but at the very least, if you got your hands on him he makes an interesting trade piece that you can use in your roto lineups while he's hot." Last week I thought he was just a fad, a one-hit wonder. This week? I'm convinced. Linsanity is here to stay. And not just because he seems to be playing at a you've-gotta-be-kidding-me level right now (which he is), because a scorching start doesn't necessarily mean it will continue. Nobody these days remembers Flip Murray, who back in '04 ran off an amazing stretch of 11 games while Ray Allen was injured to the tune of 23.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.4 apg, 50% FG in his first real game action. Needless to say, Murray didn't come close to maintaining that pace nor did he ever approach anything similar again in his career. So, why do I believe so much in Lin right now? Two reasons:

1) Mike D'Antoni
2) Straight cash, homey.

Let's start with the second point, because Lin has become such a world-wide phenomenon SO quickly that there's no way that he sits down for any reason barring his leg falling off before the season is over. I saw on Sportscenter this week that Lin is being credited for the stock price of Madison Square Garden reaching an all-time high…his merchandise is making huge (and unexpected) profits as folks are buying anything they can get their hands on with his name or image on it…Lin is the first Chinese- or Taiwanese-American NBA player ever, and he happened to come along right when the HUGE Chinese NBA market was entering a vacuum due to the premature retirement of Yao Ming. Lin is already part of pop culture, with everyone from David Letterman to President Barrack Obama weighing in on him. Lin is the Knick's ambassador of "quan" right now, which means that he is guaranteed big minutes moving forward even if his game falls through the floor and/or Baron Davis ever gets healthy.

Which brings us to reason number one that Lin is now ranked in the top-30 overall of the Rotowire Hoops Cheat Sheet in what is by-far the steepest rise in the history of these rankings: he is the starting point guard in a Mike D'Antoni offense. And he can shoot. AND he has quickly developed the clout to have carte blanche running the show. That is a powerful trifecta, because D'Antoni's system LOVES point guard decision makers that can shoot. It was this system that catapulted Steve Nash from ho-hum to two-time MVP. It was this system that made Raymond Felton into a top-10 ranked roto player, when he has had trouble staying in the top-100 on other teams. It was this point guard friendly D'Antoni system that has had even Toney Douglas on the fantasy radar at times in recent years.

In summary, Lin is in perhaps the SINGLE friendliest fantasy stats-producing situation in basketball, and he's essentially guaranteed to remain in that role for the rest of the year. That equals fantasy gold for Lin moving forward, as far as I can tell. But what does it mean for the fantasy prospects for the rest of the Knicks this season? As I see it, there are two trains of thought on this. On the one hand, Lin is now a primary scorer/distributor that could potentially take some shots away from Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, who already were struggling a bit to find enough shots. But on the other hand, Lin is actually a true point guard and that is vital to run D'Antoni's system correctly, which means that the entire offense should run better with him at the helm. With that said, this is what I predict for the Knicks moving forward, fantasy-wise:
• Lin could legitimately average peak Steve Nash fantasy stats for the rest of the season. Seriously.
• Anthony and Stoudemire are looking at potentially lower shooting volumes but higher shooting efficiencies. Ultimately, though, I think that this will settle out with Lin's scoring dropping into the teens with Anthony and Stoudemire as still the main scoring options. And if this happens, I could see both Anthony and Stoudemire increasing their current scoring averages (22 ppg and 18 ppg, respectively) even at higher scoring efficiency.
Tyson Chandler was already averaging 12 points on 70% FG, and if anything this move should help him. Over the last two weeks while playing next to Lin, Chandler has boosted his volume to 14 ppg while maintaining his 70% pace.
Baron Davis's stock is through the floor. I have stashed Davis on my bench in several leagues all season, waiting for him to get healthy and get the D'Antoni boost. But as I said above, barring an injury I can't imagine Lin not getting 35 minutes for the rest of the season. Which bodes poorly for Davis.

Around the League
• Time to trade high on Kobe? Kobe Bryant exploded at the start of this season with a string of huge scoring efforts in spite of an injured wrist that caught the national attention. But quietly, despite recent statements by Bryant that his wrist is now completely healthy, his shooting has gone through the floor of late. Bryant has made fewer than half of his field goal attempts in 12 straight games now, his longest such stretch since he was a teenager in the 90s. Bryant will always be the Lakers' main option and thus valuable, but he is in his 30s in a condensed schedule so it's possible he wears down a bit. As such, if you can get first round value for him, it might not be a bad idea to sell high on Bryant.
• Dirk waking up? After a slow start that included several missed games due to fatigue, Dirk Nowitzki seems to finally be showing signs of life. Nowitzki just ended a stretch of six consecutive 20-plus point scoring games, including his first two 30-point efforts of the season. Just last year Nowitzki was arguably the best player in the league in the postseason, so if his legs are finally under him his production should increase dramatically from where it has been for most of the season.
• Gordon's knee surgery: Eric Gordon underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday and is expected to miss six weeks. Which means that as of his projected return in early April, Gordon will have played in only two games this entire season. I have not yet cut Gordon in the league that I own him, but he has been cut in several other leagues that I'm in.
• Randolph cleared for basketball activity: Zach Randolph has been cleared for basketball-related activities, which means that he should be returning to the Grizzlies' line-up relatively soon. If you held onto him, congratulations. And if you don't own him, it could be worth throwing a quick offer out to the Randolph owner in your league to see if you can still snag him for cheap.
• Same for Lopez: Brook Lopez returned to practice on Tuesday, so he should also be back soon. As with Randolph, the ship has probably already sailed on acquiring Lopez for cheap. But you never know unless you try, and if for any reason Lopez is still on your free agency wire by all means pick him up now.
• Pekovic the new Gortat? Last season Marcin Gortat finally got the chance to play big minutes after his trade to Phoenix, and the result was a very strong finish that has led into him producing some of the best center stats in the league this year. In the last few weeks, Timberwolves second-year center Nikola Pekovic has gotten his chance to play and is making similar use of it. Pekovic has four 20-10 efforts in his last eight outings, and is playing a consistent 30-plus minutes per night. He was very highly thought of as a draft prospect in 2008, and only slid to the second round because he was going to play in Europe for a couple of seasons. Right now, Pekovic looks like the real deal.
• Kaman auditioning? Chris Kaman was reportedly on the trading block very recently as he recovered from a knee injury. Since he has returned he has played like a man auditioning for his next major gig, notching double-doubles in four of his last five games and averaging over 20 points and 10 boards in his last three outings.
• Arenas and the Lakers? Gilbert Arenas recently held a workout that was attended by the Los Angeles Lakers. Arenas is still a free agent coming off the worst season of his career, and he had to have procedures on his knees this offseason. Nevertheless, the Lakers have an absolute hole in production at their point guard slot so if they do decide to sign Arenas it would make him immediately note-worthy on the fantasy front.

New Additions
Vince Carter (49% owned in Yahoo leagues): Carter has been solid enough lately for consideration (11.3 points, 3.4 boards, 3.3 assists, 1.6 treys in 25 minutes over last two weeks), but with Delonte West going down with a gruesome finger injury Carter could be in line for even more minutes.
Ersan Ilyasova (40% owned): Ilyasova has averaged 15.2 points and 9.4 boards over the last five games, and appears to be stepping up his inside production in the absence of Andrew Bogut.
Zaza Pachulia (12% owned): Pachulia is a solid eight points/eight rebounds center as he starts in Al Horford's absence, but over the last six games he has really added value on defense with 13 steals and six blocks in those six games.
• Marco Bellineli (8% owned): Bellineli is purely a long-range shooter/scorer role player, but he has scored in double-digits in five straight with 12 treys over that stretch. And with the news that Eric Gordon just had more surgery, Bellineli is pretty locked into his role for the foreseeable future.
Klay Thompson (5% owned): Thompson has knocked down 15 treys in his last six games, four of which were double-digit scoring efforts. He still is only playing about 20 minutes per game so consistency will likely be an issue, but he is also a very young player so he has upside if he continues to produce.
Gustavo Ayon (5% owned): Ayon has started the last five games at power forward for the Hornets, but in the last two he seems to have found his footing to the tune of 12.5 points and 10.5 boards in those two games.
Semih Erden (2% owned): Erden has started the last two games in place of Anderson Varejao (fractured wrist). In the first one he didn't score in less than 14 minutes played, but in the last game he scored 18 points with eight boards in 32 minutes. He is unlikely to be a consistent producer, but as a second year player in a starting role for the near future he could be worth taking a flyer on in deeper leagues if you need a big body.

Best Players in NBA history: Oscar Robertson

In this section of the Lab I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week's player The Big O, Oscar Robertson, one of the greatest offensive talents in history. Everyone these days remembers Robertson for being the only man in NBA history to average a triple-double over an entire season...which of course is bananas...but when I really looked in-depth into Robertson's career I found that his impact transcended even those lofty box score accomplishments. Said simply, Robertson is on the extremely short list with an argument for best offensive player ever.

Robertson in many ways was the original model of Magic Johnson, or better yet LeBron James. Robertson was huge to be the primary ball-handler, with a stocky 6-5 frame that would have easily allowed him to play forward in his time. But he was still an excellent ball-handler with excellent court vision that rivaled Magic's. Robertson's scoring prowess was more like LeBron's, though, as he routinely averaged more than 30 points per game. Robertson was an absolute match-up nightmare, perfectly content to back smaller players into the post and have his way with them. But you couldn't put a big guy on him, because O would just blow right past him. Put it all together, and you have a player that would have been the in the argument for #1 overall fantasy pick every year if fantasy sports had existed in the 1960s.

For more on Robertson's highlight facts, be sure to check out this week's blog.

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 on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.

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