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Hoops Lab: NBA Hoops Lab-Week 14

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.

The Hoops Lab

By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer

Spanish Sensation

Jose Calderon is really, really good.

I know that might not seem like breaking news to those of you aware that he is the No. 3 overall point guard by Yahoo! ranking over the last month and that he's averaging 13.4 points and 9.7 assists since he took over the starting job for the injured T.J. Ford. But there's a line that differentiates between "good fantasy producer" and "great player", and after really watching him play Calderon obliterates that line. Calderon should be mentioned among the "next great point guards in the NBA" good. Calderon is realistically talked about in same breath as "2005 classmates Chris Paul and Deron Williams" good. I knew that Calderon was putting up good numbers, but I had no idea that he really could develop into the Steve Nash analog that former Suns exec and current Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo's needed to fully run the Phoenix system in Toronto.

So, what makes Calderon so good? First of all, he can get anywhere on the court off the dribble. I watched him absolutely destroy Rajon Rondo off the dribble Wednesday night. Consistently. On pretty much every possession. Rondo is an athletic guard who is reputed to be a solid defender, but Calderon simply went by him at will all night. It got to the point that Calderon didn't even require a pick, he just moved past Rondo and into the lane whenever he wanted to. That penetration ability is key in a great point guard.

Second, Calderon is a true point guard that has great court vision and awareness, in addition to outstanding passing ability. As he broke the Celtics defense down, he consistently made the right pass. Often this was a direct pass to the open shooter that was rotated off by the defense, but in cases when a direct assist wasn't there he still made the correct pass that led to the direct assist. If the NBA counted assists the way that hockey does, Calderon might have had 25 or 30 assists on Wednesday.

Third, Calderon can shoot and isn't afraid to take the big shot. He shoots 51 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3-point range, and 91 percent from the line. You want to take a wild guess who the only other 50/40/90 guy is in the NBA? I'll give you a hint, he's finished in the top-2 in the NBA MVP vote for three straight years. And not only do Calderon's percentages mimic Nash's, but so does his poise with the game on the line. During crunch time Wednesday night Calderon drained treys, free throws, and the game-winning driving lay-up (plus the foul) without breaking a sweat.

Bottom line: I thought that Calderon was just keeping the Raptors' point guard seat warm until Ford returned from injury. But now after really paying attention to Calderon's game, I understand why Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell said on Tuesday that Ford won't start upon his return and that he may not start for the rest of the season. With a third year player blossoming the way that Calderon has, Mitchell almost has no choice but to keep riding with him. This is great news for Calderon's fantasy owners, and could be good news for the NBA as a whole because the league can always use as many great point guards as it can get.

Situations to watch

Limping Bulls: The Bulls are depleted by injury right now, with Luol Deng (Achilles) and Ben Gordon (wrist sprain) both out. Kirk Hinrich and Andres Nocioni are the two most likely players to pick up the offensive slack, and each had huge games on Wednesday night. Hinrich has had consistency issues this season, but the table is set for him to return to roto prominence if he can re-find the old swagger. Nocioni has never lacked for swagger, only opportunity, and as the starting forward for at least the next few weeks he should be considered an impact player. Joakim Noah is another very confident forward that has played well when given the time recently, and efforts like his 14-point/15-rebound/three-steal game on Wednesday night should help ensure that he continues to see the time while the team is limping.

Groundhog day: It seems like only yesterday that I was writing in this space about Jermaine O'Neal (knee) and Shaquille O'Neal (hip), cautioning about their long-term prognosis despite the fact that their injuries at the time were "minor". I hope that you were able to unload them then, because things look even more bleak now with Jermaine stating that he could potentially miss the rest of the year and Shaq once again on the shelf. When you add in that Jermaine doesn't seem to be the happiest cog in Indiana and that the Heat could be eliminated from the playoff race any day now, the odds of either O'Neal producing good numbers during the fantasy playoffs are pretty slim.

Quick Hits

Tracy McGrady coming around: McGrady returned to the court this week after missing several weeks with a knee injury. He has returned slowly, though, coming off the bench in each of his three games and not playing more than 30 minutes until Wednesday's 35-minute effort. McGrady had a good game on Wednesday, though, scoring 28 points on 13-for-23 shooting with five assists and four boards. He seemed to get stronger as the game went on, which is an indication that he's getting his legs back under him. I would still be nervous as a McGrady owner and look to trade him as soon as he regains some value, but in the interim it appears safe to get him back into your fantasy lineups.

Jamaal Tinsley's lack of scoring: Tinsley was an early-season breakout candidate before a hamstring injury sidelined him for five games earlier this month, but something seems to be fishy in the last couple of weeks. He has not scored in double-digits since January 9th, and is averaging only 3.6 ppg over that period despite playing more than 31 mpg. For Tinsley to be scoring so infrequently as a main cog in the free-shooting Jim O'Brien offense suggests that either he was told to stop shooting so much or there is some other underlying problem. It is worth noting that Tinsley took 26 shots (making only eight) in the last game before his single-digit scoring streak began, and that three games ago Tinsley sat out a game for what has alternately been called health or disciplinary reasons. I'm not sure of exactly what is going on, but when mixed with his checkered production history it's enough to make me uncomfortable as a Tinsley owner.

Carmelo Anthony hobbled: Anthony sprained his ankle on Monday and did not play on Wednesday. He's questionable for this weekend's games, but it seems that he's more day-to-day than week-to-week so he should be back on the court soon. In the meantime, Linas Kleiza looks to be the main beneficiary of his absence on the Nuggets.

Wally Szczerbiak still exists: Szczerbiak has been a fantasy afterthought for most of this season as he struggled to earn playing time in Seattle, but for the last month he has quietly been producing his trademark points and treys on great shooting percentages on a pretty consistent basis. He's averaging 16.1 points on 51.5 percent shooting from the field and 84.6 percent from the line with 1.7 treys in only 25.6 minutes in the month of January.

New Additions

Kareem Rush and Jeff Foster: The Pacers seem to be going through a team-wide reorganization in the wake of Jermaine O'Neal's continued absence due to knee troubles and Jamaal Tinsley's somewhat odd lack of shots. Rush has stepped up as a primary scoring option for the Pacers, and Foster has stepped in as the primary rebounder/defender.

Joakim Noah: Noah has averaged 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 combined steals/blocks in only 23 minutes per with two double-doubles over the six games since his disciplinary suspension. He already seemed poised to earn more minutes, so now with all of the Bulls injuries he is worth a flyer.

Linas Kleiza: Kleiza has shown himself to be a strong scorer/rebounder recently, and he has the ability to replicate Wednesday's 23-point effort on any given night for as long as Carmelo Anthony (ankle) is out.

Travis Outlaw: Outlaw has been picking it up again lately, and has shown himself to be an important part of the Trail Blazers roster. He's averaging 19 points and six boards per over the past five games.

Al Thornton: Thornton has quietly been one of the more productive rookies in the league in the previous week. He's averaging 19.7 points, five boards, and 1.7 combined steals/blocks per over his past three games.

Article first appeared 1/24/08