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Hoops Lab: NBA Hoops Lab-Week 13

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

Championship Charisma

Last week I made myself get up at 3:30 in the morning three times in four nights... to watch tennis. Now don't get me wrong, I've always been a tennis fan, but I have never set an alarm to get up long before sunrise three times in a week until now. And the reason I did it this time is the Rafael Nadal/Roger Federer effect. Nadal and Federer have dominated their sport on a level previously unseen in decades across any sport, having won 16 of the last 17 major championships between them. This dominance is compelling, as it has allowed the tennis-watching public to observe them repeatedly on the sport's biggest stages. We know their personalities, the strengths and weaknesses of their games, their tendencies... we feel like we know them, which makes each championship run dramatic before they even get to each other.

This same dynamic is starting to show up again in the NBA for the first time since Michael Jordan's ascension in 1990 and is part of the reason that the NBA appears poised for another golden age roughly a generation after the last one ended. In the '80s the Lakers and Celtics were the dominant teams that caused everyone to pick a side - it was impossible to be a true fan of both teams, and even the casual fan knew which direction he leaned. With that rivalry and team excellence as the known backdrop, there was room for plenty of other compelling storylines as well: Magic vs. Bird as individuals, Dr. J and Moses Malone teaming up for a dominant title run, Jordan bursting onto the scene to challenge both Magic and Bird for supremacy, the Twin Towers, the Bad Boy Pistons, Dominique the Human Highlight Film, etc. The NBA product was entertaining, with individual brilliance spliced into historically excellent teams.

Then came the '90s, a period so thoroughly dominated by Jordan that each season felt almost like a foregone conclusion. There was no foil to Jordan's excellence, no opponent for those that weren't Jordan fans to get behind - Jordan was *the* flagship of the NBA. But once Jordan retired, there was a charisma vacuum in the league. Players like Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan tried to step into the gap early in the 2000s, but neither had Jordan's individual panache to draw the fans by themselves. And with both the Spurs and the Lakers in the dominant Western Conference, there were still very few competitive NBA Finals. The Finals are where the championship swagger is developed, where the fan interest is piqued and cemented, where the legends are born. Without any compelling rivalries there were no super-Finals to boost the next generation of super-stars.

And then last season happened. Suddenly, we had a star-studded Lakers vs. Celtics NBA Finals again to draw the casual fan back in like they were in the '80s. And as a bonus, the two best of the "next Jordans" are simultaneously at their peaks on championship caliber teams as Kobe vs. LeBron becomes the hottest debate since Magic vs. Bird. Not only that, we have our next generation Isaiah Thomas and Clyde Drexler in Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, right on the cusp of playing their way into the big debate. We have a ripped center in Dwight Howard winning the dunk contest and challenging a 5-foot nothing high flyer in Nate Robinson in the following one, like David Robinson and Dominique Wilkins morphed into one person to challenge the new Spud Webb. We've got Shaq rapping about Kobe and stirring up the heat for a possible first-round playoffs match-up. We've got the possibility of Duncan and Kevin Garnett finally meeting on the big stage to determine whether they were actually supposed to be the early 2000s Bird/Magic debate in an alternative universe where the Timberwolves weren't the Bad Luck Shleprocks of the league.

The NBA is FUN again, with compelling storylines and everyone having a side that they can get behind. So while I'm happy I won't have to get up at 3:30 am to watch this year's NBA Finals - it feels good to know that I would.

Situations to watch and Quick Hits

Elton Brand done for season: It is being reported that Elton Brand will have season-ending shoulder surgery after failing in his bid to return from an earlier injury. On paper this sounds like a big blow, but in reality both the Sixers and fantasy teams have probably gotten used to playing without him. This may be a boon for Andre' Iguodala and Andre' Miller, both of whom stepped up big in the more fast-paced offense the Sixers employed during Brand's previous layoff. This also makes Marreese Speights again an upside pick up that could pay dividends later in the season.

Kobe and LeBron duel: Last week I talked about the on-going debate of who's better between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. This week the two are both stepping up to make their case, with Kobe dropping 61 points (19-for-31 FG, 20-for-20 FT) with three assists (but zero boards) on the Knicks on Monday only to see LeBron respond with a 52-point/11-assist/10-rebound triple-double against the Knicks on Wednesday. They're obviously very aware of what the other is doing, with LeBron even quoting from Kobe's post-game press conference. They get to bring their cases to each other personally on Sunday, as the Lakers visit the Cavs.

Bynum's déjà vu: For the second year in a row, a January game featuring the Lakers vs. the Grizzlies ended with Andrew Bynum sidelined with a knee injury after a teammate fell into his knee. This year it was Kobe Bryant who crashed into Bynum's leg and tore his medial collateral ligament. The injury is expected to keep Bynum out from eight to 12 weeks, which means a best-case scenario of a return in early April once the fantasy playoffs have already begun. The worst case scenario has Bynum out until after this fantasy season ends, making it hard to justify using a roster slot on him unless you just have room to spare. Meanwhile, Bryant and Pau Gasol have each scored over 30 points in both games so far sans Bynum, with Bryant averaging 48.5 points and Gasol 31 points and 14.5 rebounds. They are the obvious value gainers, but keep an eye on Lamar Odom and possibly even Trevor Ariza who should have more opportunity to produce in extended minutes.

McGrady sprained ankle: Tracy McGrady missed another game this weekend with a sprained ankle, but has returned to play in two games since for the Rockets. He remains the least trustworthy potential impact player this side of Jermaine O'Neal, so I continue to preach "sell" if you get any kind of reasonable market for him.

Vince Carter's sprained ankle: Carter also battled through a sprained ankle this week, but seems to be showing no ill effects as evidenced by his triple-double on Tuesday.

Chris Paul's groin: Chris Paul strained his groin, and sat out Wednesday night's game. His replacement Antonio Daniels didn't do much on Wednesday, but star forwards David West (24 points, 14 boards, four assists) and Peja Stojakovic (24 points, seven boards, three steals, two assists) helped fill the stats void for the Hornets.

KG's flu: Kevin Garnett, who has missed two straight games with the flu, practiced with the team Thursday morning and is expected to play Thursday night against the Lakers. In Garnett's absence, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo have both been more aggressive on offense. Pierce, especially, produced elite numbers with averages of 32.5 points, 7.5 boards and 6.0 assists in those two games to illustrate that the members of the Celtics' Big Three could likely all put up their old numbers again if needed. Glen Davis started in Garnett's place and also showed that he can be a viable if unspectacular fantasy option if he gets minutes (12 points, 8.5 boards per in the two games).

Jameer Nelson's shoulder: Jameer Nelson tore the labrum in his right shoulder and is out indefinitely, possibly for the season. He was replaced in the starting line-up by Anthony Johnson, who went on to lead the Magic in scoring in his first start (25 points, 9-for-11 FG, six 3-ptrs). But Nelson's assists were picked up by forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, who combined for 11 helpers on Wednesday night. This could also be an opportunity for J.J. Reddick to establish himself. The Magic also traded for Tyronn Lue on Thursday, so keep an eye on whether Johnson or Lue gets the starting job moving forward.

Is Durant top-10? Since moving from shooting guard to small forward at the end of November, Kevin Durant has averaged 26.0 ppg, 48% FG, 86% FT (on 7.7 FTA/game), 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 treys (42% 3-pt%), 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 2.9 TOs in 32 games played. Those are remarkable numbers for a small forward, basically Carmelo Anthony at his best with more of treys and blocks. Yahoo! has him ranked 14th overall for the season by average, but if the draft were held today I would pick him at the end of the first round.

New Additions

Flip Murray (15% owned): Murray continues to be a solid source of points and three-pointers off the bench, averaging 16.7 ppg and 1.3 treys over the past week. He is a streak shooter that is shooting 56 percent from the field in this stretch, and eventually he will cool off. But in the meantime he makes a solid short-term scoring role player.

Anthony Johnson: As mentioned above, Johnson is starting in place of the injured Jameer Nelson. Johnson is a veteran guard with a recent history of producing solid numbers when relied upon. He'll have to score to help the Magic offense, and if he holds off Tyronn Lue for the starting job, he could be a decent flex option.

Marreese Speights: Speights is a promising rookie that has shown positive signs in limited minutes this year. With Elton Brand done for the season, Speights could be worth an upside pick-up if you have the roster space for him.

Ryan Anderson (7% owned): Anderson is again playing well, taking advantage of his starting role. He's scored at least 17 points in three of the last four games, and he also has crashed the boards - 7.5 rpg over that stretch. Like most rookies, he's inconsistent, but worth keeping an eye on.

Professor's Crib Notes

"Just like I told you, you must learn!"

- KRS One, Retrospective, 1989

We return to our discussion of advanced basketball stats with a look at Win Shares, both offensive and defensive. Basketball Win Shares were derived based on the baseball Win Shares model established by Bill James, modified to fit the NBA game. For a more detailed interpretation you should check out my blog entry, but I'll hit the high points here in my crib notes:

What it is: A Win Share is an estimation of how much a particular player contributes towards a win when compared to an average player. The calculation relies heavily on Dean Oliver's Offensive and Defensive Ratings, which we talked about two weeks ago. A Win Share is kind of like baseball's VORP stat - it relies on the assumption that efficiency is the key to wins, looks at a player's efficiency compared to that of the league average, corrects for minutes played, then adds up the corresponding Offensive and Defensive Win Shares to get one number that estimates how many wins that player was worth.

Strengths: Win Shares is one of the stats we'll look at that estimates exactly how many wins an individual player is responsible for, an intuitive way to judge player value. The Win Shares stat attempts to correct for teammate caliber. Finally, Win Shares are a function of both efficiency and production which helps its leaderboard pass the sniff test.

Weaknesses: The actual math and calculations that go into Win Shares are kind of dense. The complex math also ties into the major question mark: how do we know that this is really the best way to apportion credit for wins? The numbers produced are somewhat intuitive, and total Win Shares totals for teams tends to match fairly well, but it is hard to use this type of mathematical model as evidence in a discussion with a skeptic who simply refuses to believe that a number can capture the essence of winning basketball.

Usage: Win Shares is a measure that purports to measure a player's total impact on games won and takes both offense and defense into account. Therefore, one could make the statement that "according to Win Shares, player X is a more productive player than player Y." But as always, you have to understand that any mathematical model has weaknesses so this can't stand as it's own argument. It must be a supplement to a case built on personal observation, personal analysis and other stats/opinion.

Quick Links for series:

Offense/Defense Rating

Kobe vs. LeBron by the numbers

Article first appeared 2/5/09