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Hoops Lab: Hoops Lab-Week 17

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.

Last week the lead to this article was predicated on the notion that Kevin Garnett has been at least as good and historically important as Kobe Bryant. In my comments section this notion wasn't initially well received, to put it mildly, but in the end I feel like we had some good conversations and all came away respecting each other's point of view.

Well, since we're already here, and some of you already question my sanity, I'd like to point out another player that may not have been QUITE as good as the Tim Duncan/Shaquille O'Neal/Garnett/Kobe group... but was awfully close. With the possible exception of Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki is the most consistently overlooked mega star among those that follow the NBA.

Let's get the warts out of the way first: yes, Dirk won the MVP while leading a 67-win #1 seed only to lose in the first round of the playoffs. No way to sugarcoat that one. And yes, the year before that Dirk's Mavs lost in the finals after building a commanding 2.75 to zero lead in the series before letting Dwyane Wade's Heat steal game three then sweep the next three contests. Those two events are black marks to be sure on Dirk's resume. But you shouldn't let those two trees make you miss the forest of excellence that has been Nowitzki's career.

Now that we've hit the lowlights, let's look at some of the brilliant things he has accomplished over the past 11 years.
John Hollinger, inventor of the PER stat, ranks Nowitzki fifth in the 2000s - just behind Duncan/Garnett/Kobe/Shaq. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, inventor of the WARP stat, ranks Nowitzki fourth in the 2000s, just behind Garnett/Duncan/Kobe. Wayne Winston, one of the pioneers of the advanced +/- stat, also ranks Nowitzki fourth in the 2000s, this time just behind Garnett/Duncan/LeBron James and ahead of Kobe. According to the Win Shares stat on, Nowitzki actually ranked FIRST among NBA players in the 2000s just ahead of Garnett/Duncan/Kobe.
So the stat geeks (like me) love Nowtizki.

And that isn't even mentioning his non-advanced-stats highlights like the MVP award, leading his team to nine-straight 50-win teams (only Tim Duncan can make that claim this decade), or that he's one of only five players in NBA history to average 25+ points and 10+ rebounds in the playoffs for his career (others: Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor, Bob Petit). In short: Dirk's resume is spectacular.
So why doesn't his name resonate as an all-time great among the casual fan? A few reasons. First, he's never won it all. That's huge. Second, like Duncan and Garnett he plays a non-glamour position. And like Duncan, he doesn't have the electric personal charisma that would make non-Maverick fans gravitate to him. His game of jumpers and skill doesn't lend itself to Sportscenter. And like it or not, his lasting impression on the big stage is that he came up short to Wade.

I once blogged that Nowitzki is this generation's Charles Barkley, and I still find that to be his best stylistic/impact comp. They are the only two big men since the NBA/ABA merger to win an NBA MVP and go 0-for-1 in their Finals appearances, as well as the only members of the category to never make an All Defense team. In both cases their teams had better records and home-court advantage in the Finals, but eventually lost to teams with a dominant wing scorer that their defenses couldn't stop. As with Barkley, defense has been Dirk's Achilles heel.

Be that as it may, Nowitzki is still one of the greatest players of this generation. And bringing it back to the fantasy world, Nowitzki joins Kobe as the only elite superstars drafted in the '90s that you would still consider taking in the first round of your fantasy league. Dirk is ranked slightly ahead of Kobe by both average and totals in the Y! rankings this season, and because Dirk never seems to get injured and has a game in which athleticism doesn't really matter he should continue to stay at the top of the rankings moving forward. Maybe he's never been quite to the mountaintop, but he's just a step from the peak, and deserves more credit among the general public than he tends to get.

Situations to Watch and Quick Hits: All Star Edition

The All Star break dominates this time of year, because for any player battling injury the smartest thing to do is sit out and take the extra week to heal. As such, let's just rapid-fire through some of the impact players that seem like decent bets to sit until next week and the consequent fantasy ramifications.

  • Kobe/Bynum (Gasol/Odom/Artest): Kobe Bryant (ankle) and Andrew Bynum (hip) both sat out for most of the last two games, and are questionable for Wednesday's game against the Jazz. In their absence Pau Gasol (21 points, 19 boards, eight assists on Monday), Lamar Odom (22 boards, 10 points and six assists on Saturday), and Ron Artest (20 points, four boards, four assists average in last two games) all get big upgrades and have continued leading the Lakers to wins over quality opponents. With the team winning it seems even more unlikely Kobe or Bynum would be rushed back.

  • Brandon Roy (Miller): Roy has missed the last several weeks and is expected to sit through the All Star break. In his absence several Trail Blazers have stepped up, but Andre Miller continues to be the biggest beneficiary.

  • Billups/Melo (K-Mart and Lawson): Chauncey Billups (ankle) and Carmelo Anthony (ankle) are both listed as probable to play on Tuesday night, but Anthony joked that "probable is like a 50-50 chance" that he would play. I have nothing to do with the Nuggets personnel decisions, but if I did there's no way I'd push it right before the break. If they do happen to sit then Ty Lawson and perhaps Kenyon Martin would be the primary beneficiaries.

  • Paul Pierce (Rondo, Ray and Marquis): Pierce missed two games last week with a strained foot, returned to limited effectiveness on Sunday, then was removed from practice on Monday and is listed as "questionable" for Wednesday against the Hornets. If he sits it would again have a ripple effect, with Rajon Rondo doing even more ball-handling than usual, Ray Allen getting more shots and newly returned Marquis Daniels looking at a chance to start.

  • Iverson (Lou Williams): Allen Iverson has missed the last three games for the Sixers to attend to his ill daughter. No timetable has been set for his return, but the Sixers have won all three games that he's been out with Willie Green starting at shooting guard. When Iverson returns he could be moved to a bench role, but in the meantime Green and Lou Williams should be the biggest beneficiaries of his absence (assuming, of course, that Williams gets over his sinus infection in time to play).

  • Devin Harris (do we care?): Harris (shoulder) is a game-time decision for Tuesday's game after injuring himself running into a teammate on Saturday. The Nets have been so universally bad this season that there really isn't an obvious beneficiary if he has to sit.

  • Trevor Ariza and Kyle Lowry (can't really pinpoint): Ariza is expected to sit out on Tuesday with a hip pointer, and Kyle Lowry is expected to be out for awhile with a sprained left ankle. Aaron Brooks has already been carrying a heavy offensive load for the Rockets, so there's no obvious beneficiary. Chase Buddinger might get a bit more playing time, though, which could get him some more opportunities to shoot from downtown.

  • Corey Maggette/Monta Ellis: Maggette (finger) is definitely out for Wednesday and could miss games after the break as well. Ellis hurt his knee in the final four minutes of Monday's game, and no further info on his condition is available yet. With one or both of them out, Stephen Curry and Anthony Morrow should see a bump.

  • Marcus Thornton (back): Thornton has missed three straight games, and though he'll test his sore back again before Wednesday's game, it seems likely that he'd sit. Thornton had averaged 24 points and five assists in the two games before he went down, and with Chris Paul out he has the chance to be a real impact guy once he returns.

    Other Notes

  • Love's knee, loss of PT, Brewer and Gomes: Kevin Love hurt his knee last game, but returned to play in the second half. He had already lost his starting job to Ryan Gomes, though, and both Gomes and Corey Brewer have been playing well of late in their current roles (see New Additions).

  • The Jazz frontcourt: Up until two weeks ago Carlos Boozer was having a breakout season, but the rest of the Jazz frontcourt wasn't doing much on the fantasy front. Then, Boozer went down with a strained calf, and the whole unit seems to have kick-started. Boozer is back now, but even so the numbers kept flowing for at least one game. Boozer scored 19 points with 13 boards in his return, but back-up Paul Millsap still registered 16 and six in 26 minutes off the bench. Millsap's production will likely wane again barring a Boozer trade, but his 20 and 10 numbers with Boozer out keep him on the must-own list.

    The really interesting player, though, is Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko was a top-5 player several years ago due to his unique do-everything style that was heavy on the defensive categories, but he had really fallen off in recent years. He's been on fire since regaining his starting job a couple of weeks ago, though, and has once again been contributing about five combined steals and blocks in addition to mid-teens scoring and solid rebound/assist numbers. If he can keep up this pace he can literally win the title for some teams that got him on the cheap.

  • Anthony Randolph likely done for season: I saw the headline this weekend, and this was sad news for someone like me that had tabbed Randolph for greatness after watching him up close last summer. On the bright side, maybe that means I can get him as a sleeper again for next season.

  • Nate in, then out again: Nate Robinson had a big 23-point/8-assist game, moved into the starting lineup, then averaged 19.5 and 6.5 assists for two games and lost the starting job again. In the meantime, Robinson missed Monday's practice with a groin injury and is questionable on Tuesday.

  • Vinsanity's explosion: I wasn't shy about pointing out Vince Carter's shooting struggles this season, so I would be remiss not to highlight his 48-point masterpiece on Monday. He made 19-of-27 shots from the field with six treys, and for just one night gave us flashbacks of what he used to be. Perhaps this can be the key to jump starting him after the break, but I remain cautious until he shows some consistency in the box scores.

    New Additions

    Anthony Morrow (42% owned): As mentioned above, Morrow is in a great place to take advantage of injuries to Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette. He exploded for 33 points and five treys in only his second game back from injury (his first start), and had scored 24 points with four treys in the last game before he got hurt. Golden State loves scoring and shooting from long-range, and Morrow epitomizes both.

    Ryan Gomes (31% owned): As mentioned above, Gomes has replaced Kevin Love in the starting lineup and is taking advantage of it. He has scored in double-digits in six straight games, averaging 2.5 made 3-pointers per game in that stretch. Most importantly, the Timberwolves are on an improbable four-game winning streak so they should stick with this lineup and these player roles for the foreseeable future.

    Ty Lawson (23% owned): Simple math. Chauncey Billups out equals great numbers for Lawson. Lawson popped for 25 points, four assists, four boards and a trey in this most recent iteration of Billups injury, and he is almost a must-start until Billups returns.

    Earl Watson (9% owned): Watson won't get you huge numbers, but he's a starting point guard in a potent offense and is a reasonable threat for double-digit assists on any given night, like the 11 he notched in the last game before he missed two games for personal reasons.

    Nazr Mohammed (8% owned): This recommendation comes with an asterisk, as putative starter Tyson Chandler is expected to return soon from a 22-game injury layoff. But, Mohammed has been locked in of late, with three double-digit rebound efforts in his last five games including a 23-point/17-board explosion against the Lakers.

    Article first appeared 2/9/10