West Coast Offense
I spent the last week in California for a conference (the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, if you were curious). One of the biggest adjustments was that, with the time zone difference, I was unable to watch much (if any) of the early evening games because they now started during business hours. On the other hand, all of the "late night games" (e.g. games that start at 10:00 or 10:30 when I'm in Michigan) were instead now prime-time games that tipped off in the early evening. As such, I got a steady diet of the Clippers, Warriors and Thunder in my main viewing window during the trip.
And you know what? That was some fun basketball to watch.
The Western Conference has long had the reputation for being the exciting league, with fast-paced offense in response to the East's more traditional plodding and defense. When I was a kid, watching the Showtime Lakers play the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets was often good for a final score that approached 300 combined points. 25 years later, I wouldn't be shocked to see a Warriors-Clippers game with those same point totals. And of course, this fast-paced/high-scoring brand of basketball is a great place to find fantasy production.
Thus far this season, we are seeing more offense at the top of the league than we have seen in recent years. In fact, let's look at the highest scoring teams of the last few seasons:
2011-12: top scorer – Nuggets (104.1 ppg)
2012-13: top scorer – Nuggets (106.1 ppg)
2013-14: top scorer – Clippers (110.0 ppg),
There are five teams so far (Clippers, Timberwolves, Rockets, Heat, Mavericks) with higher scoring averages than the highest in 2013, and eight teams (add the 76ers, Warriors and Thunder) with higher scoring averages than the highest in 2012. And you'll note that of those eight teams, six of them are found in the Western Conference.
I'd argue that these higher point totals this season are not a fluke, and that the reason behind it is very logical: the NBA front offices have finally gotten sophisticated enough in their statistical analysis to fully take advantage of the early 2000s rule changes that favored offense. Statistical analysis tells you that the most efficient shots in basketball are either shots in the paint or the 3-pointer.
In the mid-2000s, teams coached by Mike D'Antoni and Don Nelson exploited this by utilizing undersized shooters at big man positions and ran at extremely fast paces to put up video game scores. The downside for their teams, though, was that playing undersized scorers in the middle led to porous defenses and ultimately put a limit on their championship aspirations.
We are now in the next generation, where teams have mined big men with good size that can also knock down the outside jumper. Or, you see a lot of the four-shooters-plus-one-center squads with one "true" big man plus four shooters on the court. Teams have discovered how to produce these high point totals, while still maintaining championship aspirations.
The end result is an NBA with a lot more potential points scored on a given night, yielding a more entertaining product as well as more fantasy production. And as I've often mentioned in previous years, if all else is equal, it is better to have a player on a high-scoring team than a low-scoring team. The stars are more likely to maintain their value, the role players are more likely to produce, and injury subs are more likely to provide sneak value. All in all, there is just a lot to like about this trend with the West Coast offenses.
Around the League
Rose struggling: Derrick Rose isn't off to the start that we hoped for. His numbers are down across the board, and Saturday night was the first time that he hit 20 points in a game all season. Rose was able to return on Saturday from the slightly pulled hamstring that has caused him to miss some action, but he clearly still isn't fully right. Rose's recovery from his torn ACL has carried over into the season, and it's fair to wonder whether we will even see peak Rose this year. I believe that if he can stay healthy he'll get much better, but this doesn't have the feel of a season in which he'll be touching his MVP caliber numbers of a few years ago.
Injured Nets: Deron Williams has been playing all season on obviously still-gimpy ankles, and on Friday he re-injured his left ankle. In somewhat lucky news, it was Williams' right ankle that kept him out of most the preseason. The Nets have underachieved as a squad this season, and Williams' lack of ability to play up to standards has probably played a big role in that. While the exact prognosis is unknown, it would not be surprising if he had to miss some time as I would think that the Nets might want to hold him out until he is fully healthy. Williams isn't alone on the pine, as the Nets were missing a full four starters on Saturday night with Brook Lopez (ankle), Paul Pierce (groin) and Kevin Garnett (knee) all absent. All of the injuries are considered minor, but when you factor in injury history (Lopez) and age (Pierce and Garnett) these are all worth watching to see if they linger. And you should be on a first name basis with the backups on the team such as Shaun Livingston (see New Additions, below), Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson.
Injuries bring Linsanity back to life: Coming into the season, Jeremy Lin was expected to be in a dogfight with Patrick Beverley for the starting slot in Houston. Instead, an early Beverly injury gave Lin the chance to put up some solid numbers early. Then, this week, a short-term injury to James Harden got Linsanity back in full-swing as he exploded for back-to-back games over 30 points. The presence of Harden and Dwight Howard will keep Lin from going on another extended scoring burst like he had during his magical run in New York, but this week shows that the ability is still in there. And in the bigger picture, Lin has shown that he can be a consistent upper-teens scorer with solid assists and treys and a nice free-throw presence (81% on almost six attempts per game) as well.
Kobe returns to practice: Kobe Bryant returned to practice Saturday morning for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon. Though this is obviously a step forward in his rehab process, he is still considered to be a ways away from a return to real action. Saturday's practice was limited to 5-on-0 half-court drills and shooting, which doesn't require much cutting. On the other hand, according to Bryant himself, "If there was a playoff game tonight, I'd play. I'd play. I don't know how effective I'd be, but I would play." I still don't look for Bryant to be in live game action until at least December, but with him you just never know. Stay tuned.
Jefferson's tricky ankle: Al Jefferson just can't stay on the court this season, once again being forced to sit out with an ankle injury. Jefferson was expected to be the offensive focal point of the weak Bobcats this season, but Jeff Stotts called more than a month ago that Jefferson's ankle issues could plague him long-term. As such, if I own Jefferson in any league I'm looking forward to his next great game so that I can immediately get him on the block and hope to get value for him.
Sanders injury/issues: Larry Sanders was off to a slow start to the season, and then he injured his thumb. Rumors have swirled that this injury happened in a bar fight, but whatever the cause, the injury will sideline him for the next six weeks. Some have advocated cutting Sanders in shallower leagues, and I can understand the logic, but if you have him then you likely used a high draft pick on him. I know I would have trouble cutting bait in this scenario, and would probably try to trade him at a discount before cutting him outright. In fact, after a week or two I'm likely to make a run on Sanders in my various leagues to see if I can get him on the cheap.
Carter-Williams balling but feet hurt: Michael Carter-Williams drew a lot of his attention with his near quadruple-double in his NBA debut, but when he came back to earth in the following games, his buzz dimmed. However, somewhat under the radar, MCW was averaging 13.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.7 blks and 1.3 treys in the week before he hurt his foot. MCW's bruised left arch is expected to keep him out for a couple of games, and foot injuries are always tricky. That said, I believe that he is the real deal. He was always expected to be a plus defender, and he has the length to continue to average around a combined 3.0 steals and blocks. The scoring has been unexpected, but the Sixers are running a very fantasy friendly offense with MCW driving the bus. If he stays healthy, he appears to be in for a monster season.
Steve Blake (41% owned in Yahoo! leagues), Jordan Hill (38% owned) and Jodie Meeks (18% owned): The Lakers seem to be settling into their steady-state value of the sans-Kobe-Bryant squad. While Pau Gasol has been struggling with his shot, several of his less heralded teammates are showing themselves to be viable roto options. Blake has completely surpassed Jordan Farmar, and with Steve Nash (old…and general soreness…and OLD) sidelined, Blake has taken advantage with averages of 12.2 points, 9.4 assists and 2.2 treys over his last five games. Hill had a couple of monster games this week and has averaged 12.4 points with 10.6 boards and 2.6 combined steals/blocks over his last five. Finally, Meeks is the main shooter/scorer from the wing with averages of 14.0 points and 2.6 3-ptrs over his last five. When Kobe returns, everything will change, but since we don't know when that will be, you might as well take advantage of the value of the current Lakers while the opportunity is still there.
Corey Brewer (40% owned): Brewer is a player that has flirted with fantasy relevance for the past several years, and this season looks to be the best version of Brewer to date. He's getting more minutes (33.3 mpg) than he ever has, and doing so in a very efficient /high-paced offense while responding with (currently) career-high marks of 14.5 points on 49.5 percent shooting from the field. His other numbers (1.8 steals, 1.2 treys) are in line with previous year expectations, so it would seem that much of his current value is sustainable even if his shooting cools down slightly.
Vince Carter (28% owned): I just couldn't resist getting ‘Vinsanity" and "Linsanity" into the same article. I told someone on Twitter last week that they could safely drop Carter in favor of a higher-upside pick-up, and I stand by that. On the other hand, while his upside is low, Carter's downside is relatively high. In other words, you know about what to expect from him at this stage of his career. He's going to play in the mid-20s of minutes, and average in the low double-digits in scoring. If his shot is falling, that may scale up to mid-teens scoring with a couple of treys, the way he's been for the last week. So if you are looking for that type of consistent if ceiling-bound production, Carter is a viable pickup.
James Anderson (16% owned): Anderson drew a lot of attention with a 36-point explosion on Wednesday night, including six treys, five boards and three steals. That point total is almost as many points as he's scored in the rest of the season combined, so obviously you can't expect anything like that on a regular basis (his next-highest point total is 13 points). However, that type of scoring outburst is always worth noting early in the season because it shows that he has that capability. And more importantly in Anderson's case, he's had at least one 3-pointer in eight of 10 games and at least two steals in five of 10 games which means that he has solid role-player value even without the explosive scoring.
Josh McRoberts (14% owned): I started to put McBob in this space last week, but decided not to because of his inconsistency. But even with his inconsistency, he still has value on the whole as a center that can knock down the trey. His shooting percentage is awful for a big, but the 3-point value makes him rosterable on teams that need the long ball.
Terrence Jones (12% owned): Jones saw his value increase when Omer Asik made his trade demands, and he has taken advantage of it to average almost 10 boards per over the last week. His other categories aren't impressive, but he has some 3-point range as well and is worth keeping an eye on as long as he continues to get the 33 minutes per game he's received this week.
Shaun Livingston (5% owned): Williams' ankle injury opens up an opportunity for Livingston. On Friday, Livingston stepped in with 18 points, six assists, two steals and a block in 37 minutes of action. Then he followed that up with 11 points, five boards, five assists and two steals in 34 minutes. Livingston actually showed much better chemistry with the rest of the Nets starting lineup than Williams has thus far, with his youth and athleticism providing energy and speed to the thus-far lumbering Nets starters. He's worth a short-term slot until Williams is able to return.
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.