This article is part of our Hoops Lab series.
The Hoops Lab
By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer
All money ain't good money
Stat geek alert: I am about to give you an example for why I love math. Al Jefferson of the Timberwolves had a break-out season last year in Boston, and now is making the leap to stardom as the focal point in Minnesota. He is averaging 20.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game and would rank sixth in the saber-metric stat PER (which attempts to quantify player quality) among all centers in the NBA according to stats guru John Hollinger. Center is often the most difficult position on the floor to fill with an impact player, so having a 23-year old double-double machine at that position should be a huge asset in Minnesota, right?
So why, then, do many Timberwolves fans and analysts such as Britt Robson consider center to be a weak spot on the Timberwolves? The answer lies in the phrase: "all money ain't good money". "All money ain't good money" is a slang expression often used in the game of dominoes to describe how it isn't always good to try to score points, if in doing so you allow your opponents to score even more points. In this case, when Jefferson plays center he puts up great numbers but his interior defense is exploited by the opponent such that the net effect for his team is negative. According to 82games.com, when Jefferson plays power forward he dominates opponents (+10.4 net PER vs. opponent), the Wolves' offense scores 89.1 points per 48 minutes but the defense gives up only 91.0 points/48. When Jefferson plays center, on the other hand, he barely outplays his opponent (+2.5 net Per vs. opponent) and though the offense scores a bit more at 93.5 points/48 the defense allows a whopping 109.5 points per 48 minutes. Keeping it simple, when Jefferson plays center the Wolves' defense is almost 20 points worse than when he plays power forward, completely overshadowing any small offensive gain with him at that position.
This type of thing would be completely missed by just looking at Jefferson's points and rebounds and exclaiming what a great center he is. So now, how do we tie it back to fantasy sports? For one thing, it could be a useful way to look for potential sleepers. Presumably someone in the Timberwolves coaching staff will eventually realize how much better the team plays with Jefferson at power forward instead of center. If they come to this realization this season it would bode ill for the long-term production of former New Addition pick-up Craig Smith, who can only play power forward and would be tied to the bench if Jefferson starts getting the majority of his 37 mpg at that position. Likewise, it could be an indication that Chris Richard, the only young center on the Wolves roster, could eventually be in for more playing time and opportunity.
Another way this information could help is when setting your starting lineups. Large and/or athletic opposing centers such as Samuel Dalembert (18 points, 11 boards, nine blocks), Chris Kaman (16 points, 16 boards, five blocks), Brendan Haywood (11 points, 14 boards, one block), Marcus Camby (AVERAGING 17 boards and six blocks in three games) have all had field days on the inside against the Wolves this season. So if you're deciding between starting Haywood or Erick Dampier on your team that night and Haywood is facing the Wolves, that would be a good day to leave Haywood in the lineup.
Situations to watch
Return of fallen Kings:Mike Bibby, Ron Artest, and Kevin Martin are all healthy and on the court for the first time this season. While this should be good news for Kings fans, it is bad news for owners of previously over-producing Kings like John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, Beno Udrih and even Brad Miller. Right now Bibby, Artest and Martin are coming off the bench, but barring a trade each will presumably make their way into the starting lineup at some point which would mean that Salmons, Garcia and Udrih would be moving to the bench. Miller has been in the midst of an unexpected renaissance this season, but if the offense shifts back to running through the new returns, his numbers could dip as well.
Pacers' New Pecking Order: The Pacers have had a changing of the guard in their frontcourt, with Danny Granger and (shockingly) Mike Dunleavy Jr. moving past Jermaine O'Neal as the roto players to own. O'Neal still produces decent numbers when he plays, but his knee has taken the juice out of his low-post offense and shot-blocking on defense even when he plays. And as his 'DNP-sore knee's add up it becomes more clear that depending on his production in the second half of the season is an extremely dangerous proposition. Meanwhile, Granger and Dunleavy are consistently doing the heavy lifting for the Pacers on offense, scoring well with solid shooting percentages out to 3-point range while also chipping in on the boards. In the Pacers' backcourt Jamaal Tinsley is still the man, but a nagging knee injury (or perhaps suspension, if you believe Stephen Jackson) has opened the door a crack and allowed Travis Diener to flirt with fantasy relevance.
Fantasy friendly Nuggets: The Nuggets may have moved past the Suns as the most fantasy friendly team in the NBA. On a nightly basis there are generally at least three or four Nuggets putting up video game numbers, and their win over the Jazz Thursday night just helped illustrate that. The Nuggets are a high-scoring team, but the points are concentrated among only a few players with Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and usually one other player carrying the load on a given night. On Thursday it was Linas Kleiza coming from nowhere with a 41-point/nine-rebound effort. Although those numbers were clearly over the top, don't be shocked if Kleiza continues to make a solid impact when Nene and Kenyon Martin are both out. With the scoring taken care of elsewhere, Marcus Camby is free to continue to channel his inner Dennis Rodman/Ben Wallace on defense. It's to the point where nights like his 24-rebound/11-block/2-steal effort are not even so unusual. Finally, journeyman Anthony Carter (assists) and even J.R. Smith (3-pt shooting) have carved themselves a niche in the backcourt that allows them to make a roto impact as well.
Gerald Wallace – Deal or No Deal?: Wallace has made the leap to fantasy superstar that I expected this season, and as someone that owns him in several leagues I couldn't be more nervous. Every year Wallace goes through stretches where he is one of the best roto impact players around, but the way he throws his body around on the court often leads to injuries that derail his momentum. He has never produced offensively at the rate that he is now, though, which both raises his upside and also leads to a dilemma: should his owners sell high or ride this out? His numbers are through the roof right now which makes it hard to move him, but it would be really amazing if he could hold this pace for the entire second half of the season. If you have someone willing to give you full value (read top-10 overall value) for him now, this could be a good time to consider trading the man known as Crash.
Tony Parker's heel: The news came out this week that Parker is still dealing with the heel injury that forced him to the sideline earlier in the season. This helps explain why his numbers are down a bit lately, but anytime a foot injury lingers like this it's cause for concern. It's not time to panic sell on Parker, as evidenced by his strong game Thursday night, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on his progress and being ready to make a move if things don't improve.
Anderson Varejao (21% owned): Varejao has seemed to finally play himself into shape and has averaged 13 points, 13 boards and almost three combined steals/blocks per game over the last week.
Linas Kleiza (10.14%): A 41-point/nine-rebound night will get anyone onto the "most added" list in a hurry, but Kleiza's 3-point shooting from the frontcourt is the skill that could ultimately prove most consistently valuable to his owners.
Josh Boone (8.52%): Boone has really picked up his production of late. He has clearly established himself as the primary rebounder and interior scorer on the Nets, and with his athleticism he is perfectly built to run the break with Jason Kidd.
Thabo Sefolosha (.18%):Kirk Hinrich has missed the last two games with injury, and Sefolosha has moved into the starting lineup. Sefolosha responded Wednesday night with one of the best games of his career. Hinrich is not expected to be out long, but Sefolosha is worth keeping an eye on.
Travis Diener (.08%): Diener did not start on Wednesday night, but he did receive extra minutes and responsibilities with Jamaal Tinsley out. If Tinsley has to miss an extended period, Diener could be worth keeping an eye on as he has scored in double-figures in three of the last four games.
Article first appeared 1/18/08