This article is part of our Hoops Lab series.
The Hoops Lab
By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer
My plan for this week was to write the second part last week's Defenseless article, this time with a mid-season All Defense team that tends to limit roto production. I had already done the research, and had this great team in mind to tell you guys about. But then, the NBA went crazy with huge names moving around and changing the entire landscape, and my All Defense team has been pushed to the backburner until next week.
I'll give my fantasy take below on the two monster trades that have Pau Gasol, Shawn Marion, and Shaquille O'Neal in new homes. But for now, I want to talk for a minute about how much fun it is to be an NBA fan right now. This year, I am starting to feel like a kid again, when super-teams roamed the NBA landscape and legends made their names. Not since the '80s gave us the Showtime Lakers, Big Three Celtics, Bad Boy Pistons, Twin Tower Rockets, Dr. J making house Calls in Philly and baby Jordan learning to dominate in Chicago has the basketball landscape been so full of quality teams and individual star power.
It began in the offseason when the Spurs, Suns, and Mavericks were a trifecta of royalty atop the league. Then, the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett after already adding Ray Allen and suddenly there was a legitimate contender in the East. Now, Pau Gasol joins Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, and the Lakers are back in the mix. LeBron James and Dwight Howard are two of the most gifted physical specimens that the NBA has seen, and suddenly they're growing up and making their teams contenders. Chris Paul and Deron Williams are coming of age and leading their squads to the top with dominant point-guard play, while the Pistons continue to illustrate that cohesive team play can beat any individual superstar. Even the bad teams are interesting, as the last-place Heat just traded one of the best big-men in history in Shaquille O'Neal and now feature Shawn Marion with Dwyane Wade in what promises to be one of the most athletic tandems in the league. There are so many storylines, so much potential for budding rivalries, and with all of the quality at the top there is FINALLY the potential for some true legends to be formed in the playoffs and championship. It is so cool that I almost can't stand it, and I actively look forward to seeing how the rest of this year plays out.
Situations to watch: Trade edition
The Flash meets the Matrix: This trade is great news for Dwyane Wade owners and fans of the Heat. What the Heat needed, more than anything else, was an energy generator. The older veterans, including Shaq, could no longer generate any wattage, and Wade was burning out rapidly trying to carry the team by himself. With Marion in the fold, though, I expect to see fireworks. According to most accounts, Marion has felt underappreciated in Phoenix for years and was longing for the opportunity to prove himself. Now that he has it, look for the Matrix to do everything in his power to explode in Miami. With Marion as a running mate, Wade seems a lot less likely to shut it down early than he may have before the trade. Also, the athleticism of a Wade/Marion combination is almost unprecedented and should provide exciting and fantasy-wonderful action for the foreseeable future.
The forgotten man in this trade is Marcus Banks, but I also have my eye firmly on him in this new situation. He showed two seasons ago in Minnesota that he is capable of putting up big numbers on a poor team after a mid-season trade, and he absolutely dominated offensively for long stretches in the Vegas Summer League. With Jason Williams often injured and Chris Quinn seemingly lacking in NBA talent, there's definitely room for Banks to come in and establish himself as a fantasy option.
Can Superman still fly?: When visualizing the massive, injured O'Neal and the high octane Phoenix offense trying to adapt to one another, I find myself seeing the Immovable Object against the Irresistible Force. I just have trouble believing that O'Neal can keep up with the Suns enough to make a fantasy impact. My sneaking suspicion is that the Suns may not play O'Neal as much as many might expect during the regular season, wanting him primarily to get adjusted to the new team and regain his health in time for the playoffs. If this is true, then the big winners on the Suns in this deal will by Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire.
Diaw's most effective fantasy role has been as a tweener big forward/center that the offense runs through, but with Marion and Amare Stoudamire getting most of the big-man minutes he didn't have much room. O'Neal should average at least 10 minutes/game less than Marion did and is injured much more often than Marion ever was, and I expect most of those extra minutes to go to Diaw. Stoudemire also may gain, as he no longer has to compete with Marion for rebounds and fast-break scoring opportunities. Plus, he may be looking to put up big numbers to show that the Suns really did not need Marion, and we shouldn't underestimate how much that motivation might translate to the stat sheet.
New Look Lakers: The addition of Pau Gasol changes the dynamic of the Lakers team now, but it will change even more next month when Andrew Bynum is expected to return. In the short term, if Gasol's back holds up he should produce numbers and have a similar effect on the Lakers that Bynum did when he was healthy. As a consistent scorer, Gasol likely brings Kobe Bryant's scoring average back under 30 ppg more to the upper-20s range that it rested when Bynum was on the court. Gasol is also an excellent passing big man which, when combined with the defensive attention that he should garner, should help the other Lakers shoot slightly higher percentages. And Gasol's presence on the glass will likely cut a bit into Lamar Odom's nightly rebounding numbers.
In the long-term, once Bynum returns all of the Lakers will have to sacrifice their numbers a bit more. Bryant's scoring likely goes into the mid-20s on a nightly basis, but his assists and shooting percentages should increase with fewer turnovers. Any of Gasol, Bynum and/or Odom would remain nightly double-double threats, but it is unlikely that any of them will actually average a double-double. Among the three, I would expect Gasol to have the highest scoring average, Odom the most assists, and Bynum to grab the most boards and blocks.
The Grizzly Cubs: The Gasol trade officially signals the start of the youth movement in Memphis. As such, expect youngsters Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Juan Carlos Navarro to be at the center of everything that the team tries to do in the second half of the season. Gay has shown that he is ready to be a fantasy stud, Navarro has shown that he can score on a nightly basis if given minutes, and expect Conley to be force-fed as many minutes and as much opportunity as his body can stand. Darko Milicic is the other big winner here, as he had already been reaping benefits with Gasol sidelined with back troubles. Milicic has three consecutive double-doubles with two-plus blocks, and like Conley, is likely to be force-fed opportunity in the second half of the season. If Mike Miller remains on the team, he'll obviously continue to be a roto force, but he could be traded out of the youth movement. It's also possible that any of the other young athletes on the Grizz, such as Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowry, Javaris Crittenton or even Kwame Brown could step forward in what should be a low-pressure opportunity to shine in the second half of the season, but none of them have shown that they have it in them to be consistent forces. I would expect them all to have streaks and slumps that make them regulars on the most added/most dropped list down the stretch.
Kevin Garnett's abs: Garnett has been listed as "day-to-day" with an abdominal strain for much of the last two weeks, but in reality he appears to be more "week-to-week". Garnett has a well deserved reputation for playing through pain and not missing games, but for once in his career sitting out games appears to be by far the smartest decision. With the Celtics still winning at a decent clip and maintaining their lead in the Eastern conference, it appears pretty unlikely that Garnett will be allowed back on the court anytime soon. And if he misses both Friday's game against the Timberwolves and Sunday's game against the defending champ Spurs, both of which have likely been circled on his calendar since the season began, I have to believe that he is not likely to return until after the All-Star break.
Kobe Bryant's finger: Hidden in the midst of the hoopla surrounding the Lakers' big trade is that Bryant injured his finger last weekend and has gone a combined 7-for-29 from the field for 17 total points in his last two games. A similar injury to a different finger kept LeBron James out for several games earlier this season, and while Bryant may not miss time it's obvious that the finger is affecting his game. Temper your short-term expectations for him.
Josh Smith's (almost) triple doubles: Smith has flirted with triple-doubles in three of the last four games, twice coming up just short in points/rebounds/assists and once just short in points/assists/blocks. Over that stretch he is averaging 20 points, 8.3 boards, 7.8 assists, 4.5 blocks and 2.3 steals per game. Outside of the obvious that he is playing outstanding right now, the fact that he is consistently coming close across four different categories has him on my watch-list for a potential quadruple-double on any given night.
Two very OK centers:Emeka Okafor and Mehmet Okur have both been quietly playing outstanding basketball of late, with Okafor averaging 19 points/16 boards and Okur averaging 18 points/10 boards/two treys for the last week. Okafor has stepped up his offense and rebounding in the absence of Gerald Wallace, while Okur seems to finally be healthy and settled into his role on the Jazz. Both make nice trade-for options now, as neither have huge names and many might not realize how well they have been playing.
Rajon Rondo: Rondo has really stepped up his game in the last week as he has gotten healthy, which has corresponded to the time period with Kevin Garnett out and both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen taking turns with illness and nagging injuries. This has allowed Rondo to step forward and take a larger chunk of the offense, which led to him being the 35th ranked player in Yahoo! over the last week.
Jarrett Jack (56.64%): Jack is back in starting line-up for the Blazers for the next five games with James Jones out, and he has been playing well recently anyway. Jack has shown in the past that he has solid 15-point/five-assist ability on a nightly basis, so at this price he's worth keeping an eye on.
Andray Blatche (31.07%):Caron Butler's hip injury opened space for him to move back into the starting lineup. Blatche has been producing even off the bench as well, and is well-served by the versatility that allows him to play all three of the frontcourt positions. Butler is still struggling with the hip, and with the All-Star break coming next week it's conceivable that Butler may not hurry back into the lineup until he's at full strength, which would open more space for Blatche.
Chris Duhon (9.17%): The Bulls are currently missing their top three scoring options, including their primary two backcourt players in Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng. Duhon is an inconsistent scorer at best, but somebody on the team has to score points and generate offense. Duhon showed on Thursday night with a 34-point/nine-assist explosion that he's capable of doing that, and in the interim he could make a nice spot-starter in your backcourt while Hinrich and Gordon are out.
Jose Juan Barea (.49%): Barea has started the last two games for the Mavericks so that Jason Terry can return to his role off the bench. Eventually Devin Harris will return and bump Barea back to the bench, but in the meantime Barea is the starting point guard in a good Mavericks offense.
Article first appeared 2/8/08