Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ten Fantasy Basketball Sleeper and Busts

Yes, I know; too late to help your league, you hate the NBA, it's Christmas, it's cold, there are wolves after you. Sack up and dig in.

Busts

1) Pau Gasol. I don't know what's wrong with his head, and neither do you. But I do know that the Lakers are going to need him to be one of the top 15 players in the Association, and he's going to have to do that while getting all of those guys on defense that Lamar Odom used to erase. Let's just say he's not going to appreciate Josh McRoberts (or Luke Walton!) very much. Oh, and the Lakers are old, and on the outs, and Kobe Bryant lost faith in him a year ago. Kind of a problem.

2) Blake Griffin. In the real world, he'll be fine; in the numbers game, he's going to stop playing 38 minutes a game and start watching other people dunk a lot as well, because the opposition is going to do everything possible to prevent Chris Paul from turning every game with him into Lob City. Look for the Clips to share the wealth a lot more than they used to. Also, and it's a pretty big problem at this point... when you take Blake, you lose FT%, even to the guy that owns Dwight Howard. Not helpful. And finally, there's this: who really thinks the Clippers can have nice things?

3) Paul Pierce. The eternal under the radar ugly superstar just seems like he's wearing out, and unlike fellow stablemates Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, he's going to hurt you in the percentages on the way down. Add in the collective shiva that the old guard is still sitting for Kendrick Perkins, the lack of depth now that Jeff Green is sick and Big Baby Davis is gone, and a sense that he's just got too many miles on the tires to keep it up, and I can assure you that he won't be on my team.

4) Steve Nash. The eternal source of three, assists and great percentages is at that point in his career when he can't stay healthy anymore, and while he had fun making Marcin Gortat fantasy relevant last year, you have to wonder how long that will last. The smart thing for Phoenix would be to move him to a playoff team that can hide his defensive shortcomings and limit his minutes, and both of these things are, of course, death to his nerd owners. Stay away.

5) Luol Deng. Last year's sneaky great small forward is going to see a solid 5 minute per game reduction in his burn, as the Bulls are just going to have more margin and bench time than last year's learn as they go bunch. Add in the probable bounce-back year for Carlos Boozer and the infatuation they seem to have for the empty calories that is Rip Hamilton, and I don't like it. Still a great player in the real world, of course.

(More with less comment: Kevin Love because he'll actually get some rest this year, Monta Ellis because he's getting his minutes messed with and then traded for 40 cents on the dollar, Rajon Rondo because his head has been well and truly messed with, Manu Ginobili because he won't stay healthy with this schedule, and Paul Milsap because the league has film on him now, and Al Jefferson is going to spike his usage with less weight and more time with Devin Harris.)

Sleepers


1) Russell Westbrook. Can a first round pick be a sleeper, especially when he seems a step behind Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in the Yahoo game as point guard eligible? Yes, because the Thunder play fast, had no meaningful personnel turnover, and he's still young enough to get better. Assuming he doesn't start freezing out Kevin Durant like he did in last year's inexplicable playoff run, I like his chances to be a 20-6-10 guy, and a part of a large number of championship teams. Oh, and unlike Wade and Rose, no real injury history here. Lots to like.

2) Josh Smith. The longtime multi-cat defensive hammer and three-point abomination is said to be down 30 pounds, which is kind of crazy for an energy guy in the first place. There's just a lot of everything here, and with deep sleeper Jeff Teague settling in at point guard for the corpse of Mike Bibby, I like the Hawks' chances to get up and down in the open court more. The 48%/75% percentages mean that he won't hurt you anywhere now, either.

3) Chris Bosh. Ride the unlikable to a grab in rounds 5-6, a solid 1-2 rounds too late, for a PF with C eligibility that plays a ton of minutes, does a little bit of everything except shoot threes, and helps you in both percentage categories. Unlike his running mates, he actually played well in all three rounds of the playoffs, and he's also said to have lost weight and gotten good and mean in the off-season. It won't be as good as when he was the whole show in Toronto, but it's going to be very good indeed, especially if Wade or LeBron James gets banged up (and they will).

4) Marcus Thornton. Man, I love this guy; but it's not hard to love a 21-5-3 who shoots 45/80 and drains 2 three-pointers a game while *also* being a borderline top 10 guy in steals. Wait, you didn't know Marcus was all that? That's because you are making the mistake of thinking that his time in Bugland was relevant, when they gave him 16 minutes a game and eventually shipped him out so that they could see more of Marco Belinni. (No, seriously.) I don't doubt that Marcus isn't really as good as these numbers, and they he gives it all back on defense... but on a Kings team were everyone is playing matador, you aren't pulling the guy who fills it up at the other end. This is fantasy gold right here.

5) Nick Young. The very definition of an empty calorie scorer... but the nice thing about the league is that if you get to 35 minutes a game, empty calories still add up to a meal. Nick is going to be the only consistent three-point threat on a Wiz team that's going to be looking for home run balls, and with talent in short supply here, he's going to play 35 minutes a game. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he gives you 22-4-2 with 3+ three-pointers a game, and you might not even have to pick him before the bench slots are getting filled.

(More with less comment: Kenneth Faried in Denver, who might be an elite energy player. Zach Randolph because people still doubt his physique and head, and shouldn't. Besides, he qualifies at center. Jarrett Jack, who will give someone 15 games of PG1 play, and will then get traded to some team who he will disappoint. Chuck Hayes, because Sacramento will play at a high tempo and he'll be the only one getting the hustle numbers, and the max minutes. And Ben Gordon, who finally gets big minutes with Hamilton in Chicago, and will use them to tweak up to relevance, especially on the bench for teams that need threes.)

We thank you for your indulgence, and return you to actual ball, which will happen in just another 36 hours or so...

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