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Hoops Lab: Rondo vs. Ibaka

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.

Rondo vs. Ibaka: Who ya got?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the philosophy that the percentages might be the most important roto stats to plan for, as the counting categories can be recovered a bit at the end of the season when losing roto squads stop paying as much attention. In that same vein, another strategic aspect in roto is deciding whether there are stat categories that may be less important than others. I am of the mindset that the best teams try to maximize what they have across the board, but as teams take shape, that can't always be done.

Chris Liss and I have often had this discussion, and he always refers to a philosophy that he encountered that says that the least important stat category is assists. The foundation of this philosophy is that assists is a lone category that doesn't necessarily affect any of the others. For example, your percentages and three-point categories are going to be intertwined with points scored. Similarly, drafting players that are strong in rebounds usually comes with the assumption that they will be good at field goal percentage or perhaps blocked shots. But assists? Being strong in assists doesn't necessarily connote strength in any other area. Usually, pure assists come from point guards, but you can get all of the other traditional perimeter-player categories (e.g. three-pointers, free throw percentage, steals) from wings. Said another way, this strategy suggests: Instead of owning a couple of pure point guards, you stockpile a bunch of do-everything wings that will allow you to strengthen your other perimeter categories with the only area of weakness being assists.

In recent years, another category has increasingly lent itself to this same strategy. It used to be that the traditional big man would rebound, help field goal percentage, and block shots, but blocked shots are falling more and more under the purview of the specialist. You could draft several bigs that help with the other big-man categories without overpaying for blocks.

The poster child for assists these days is Rajon Rondo, and the highest rated shot-blocke specialist is Serge Ibaka. So, today's questions are: Which one would you rather have? Which one helps your team more? Let's go to the tale of the tape and look at Ibaka's and Rondo's season averages.

Serge Ibaka: (Yahoo! rank, 12) 14.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 57% field goals (10.6 field goals attempted), 84% free throws (2.3 free throws attempted), 0.1 three-pointers made, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 3.0 blocks

Rajon Rondo: (Yahoo! rank, 33) 13.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 52% FG (11.3 FGA), 64% FT (2.9 FTA), 0.4 three-pointers, 12.3 ast, 2.0 stl, 0.3 blks

The first thing that jumps out at me is that Ibaka is clearly rated by Yahoo as the better player, with a top-12 value that would argue Ibaka would be the best player on a team in a 12-team league. But would he really be the best player on any team? Ibaka's line is pretty textbook for a big man: leads the league in blocks, great field goal percentage on a reasonable number of shots, and solid rebounder. Meanwhile, he offers next to nothing in most of the perimeter categories with rounded zeros in three-pointers, assists, and steals. He even shoots well from the line, though his attempts are so low that his good percentage is essentially meaningless. He's a solid traditional big man outside of blocks, but his dominance in that one area shoots him way up the rankings.

Rondo, on the other hand, has a line as crazily unique as his game. He's dominant in two of the four perimeter categories. He leads the league in assists (by a wide margin) and is top-five in steals, but he also puts up a goose-egg in three-pointers and a terrible free throw percentage. The saving grace is that he shoots so few free throws that his low percentage doesn't really hurt your team that much. On the flip side, he is legitimately strong in a couple of big-man categories. Rondo has the leading field goal percentage among guards, on a solid number of attempts, and he grabs the second-most rebounds among point guards.

So, who would I rather have? Well, the rankings say Ibaka. And because his strengths and weaknesses are so traditional, it could, arguably, be easier to build around Ibaka. With that said, I think I'd prefer Rondo.

I keep coming back to the fact that Ibaka is pretty ordinary without his blocks, and even with his blocks, Ibaka doesn't offer much separation from his peers. The five best shot blockers this season average 3.0, 3.0, 2.8, 2.6, and 2.6 blocks per game. No one stands out as being on a tier of their own.

Rondo has two categories in which he is at the top of the league and two more categories where he is at the top of his position. Sure, it'd be nice if Rondo would hit some three-pointers and an extra free throw per game, but those deficiencies can be made up elsewhere. And Rondo dominates in assists. The top assist men in the league average 12.3, 9.3, 8.9, 8.9, and 8.8 assists per game. There's Rondo at the top; there's a gap; and then there's everyone else. Which means you could pair Rondo with, say, Kevin Durant and end up with as many assists as if you paired Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams.

I understand why Rondo is ranked lower (primarily due to the free throws), but in this battle of the specialists, I'll take the dynamic player that can help me make more impact in more areas than the traditional guy that is more of a one-trick pony.

Around the League

Nash coming: Next week Santa Claus is coming to town, and for Lakers fans, the return of Steve Nash is starting to take on similar significance. Nash went through a full-contact practice Thursday and is expected to get back into game action sometime this week. He could be back as soon as Saturday, but it's more likely he'll return on Christmas day. With all of the struggles and bad press around the Lakers, the one silver lining that has been clung to is that Nash would return and set the offense right. Starting in about a week we'll get the chance to see if it really plays out that way.

Gordon too: Nash is just the first of the big names that's expected to return soon. Eric Gordon is another, as he is expected to rejoin the Hornets on Saturday, and he claims that he is "more than 90-percent sure" that he will play before the end of 2012. Gordon claims to have no discomfort in his right knee, but after missing essentially the entirety of last season with the injury, I'm still skeptical about his health. Either way, though, as a Gordon owner that expected him to break out last season I am curious and excited to see what his game looks like right now.

Dirk three: Yet another injured star on the mend, Dirk Nowitzki (knee) returned to practice fully on Wednesday and should be back soon. Nowitzki, like Nash, is well into his 30s and thus could be brought along slowly even after he feels healthy. But I expect more from Nowitzki than I do from Nash, as his team role is more featured, and there is a sizable difference in their age when it comes to athletic prowess. Dirk is 34 years old, while Nash is pushing 39.

Amar'e four: Finally, Amar'e Stoudemire (knee) has been practicing with the Knicks for the last week, but he's still doubtful to play this weekend, according to coach Mike Woodson. On Christmas, the Knicks play the Lakers in a game that could feature the return of both former Suns, Nash and Stoudemire. While Nash is expected to come in and get the Lakers' offense moving, Stoudemire is actually a bit of a risk to the smooth-running Knicks offense. There are claims that Stoudemire will be fine with a bench role, which I think would be best for the team, but he's an All-Star with a lot of pride and is used to having the ball. I'll be watching this situation.

Kyrie and Varejao hurting: The Cavs have two of the best roto players in the league in Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, but they are having the darndest time getting both of them on the court at the same time. Irving returned from his long injury layoff only to immediately break his jaw. He's been able to play through the injury with a protective mask, and he's played well, in fact. But now Varejao is out with a sore knee that has him day-to-day. Varejao finally convinced me that he was the real deal, but the danger in owning a player that is performing so far above expectations is that he doesn't maintain value through injury or cold spell the way a bigger name superstar would. Thus, if I owned Varejao on a team, I might take this time to explore the trade market to see if I could get superstar value for him.

Collins and Bradley: The Celtics have tried several lineups this year, trying to find one that works best. On Wednesday, they tried a new variation, starting journeyman defensive role player Jason Collins at center and moving Kevin Garnett back to power forward. Collins has no fantasy value, but if he starts, it actually boosts the value of the other Celtics' starters because it concentrates the scoring into their hands. Paul Pierce exploded for his first 40-point game in quite some time in the first game that Collins started, and it might be worth noting if Collins can maintain the role. In the meantime, another injury return on the horizon is Avery Bradley. Bradley has returned to practice, and presumably, he will move back into the starting lineup when he is ready to play. Bradley flashed mid-teens scoring potential late last season, but his primary value is in his defense, which could further concentrate the offense to Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo.

Drummond long-term prospect: Andre Drummond has been playing excellent in his court time this season, averaging 12.6 points, 12.5 boards, 2.8 blocks, and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes. The problem is that he only plays 18.5 minutes per game, and when those numbers are cut in half, they aren't nearly as impressive. But Pistons Coach Lawrence Frank has announced that he expects to ramp Drummond's minutes up as the year goes on. This makes Drummond an interesting long-term prospect, as he's got great upside if he ever gets starter minutes.

New Additions

Jason Thompson (54% owned in Yahoo! leagues): Thompson is the kind of lunch-pail big man that the league used to be full of but is now in short supply. He's a nightly double-double threat, and even if his upside is 10/10 with a block thrown in, it's still worth adding for big man depth in many situations.

Carl Landry (51% owned): Landry is coming off the bench in Golden State, but he is getting about 25 minutes per game these days and is responding with mid-teens scoring on good percentages with solid rebounds. He's purely a depth grab, though he does have some slight upside if David Lee gets hurt.

Gerald Henderson (38% owned): Henderson missed most of November with a foot injury, but he worked himself back into shape off the bench and recently re-joined the starting lineup for the Bobcats. He was arguably the best player on the team last year, and his scoring ability makes him a viable roto threat.

Shannon Brown (24% owned): The Suns keep tinkering with their lineups an attempt to find something that works, and their latest attempt has Brown getting a big role in the backcourt. He's taken advantage of it to average in the upper teens in points over the last several games, and he has that upside for as long as he can maintain starter's minutes.

Jodie Meeks (20% owned): Meek is a three-point shooting threat on a Lakers team that desperately needs a three-point shooter. He's finding a niche for himself off the bench and knocking down more than two three-pointers per game of late, a trend that could continue even after Steve Nash returns.

Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.