With this week being the last week of fantasy basketball, I thought I would review this NBA season in terms of the fantasy world. What players turned out to be fantasy busts? What players had breakout seasons? What trades and/or other major events shook the fantasy world?
Notes to readers: For the purpose of this article, I played on the Yahoo! game under Head-to-Head scoring. In addition, listed next to all honorable mentions are the reasons why they did not make the cut.
Amare Stoudemire: Originally one of the top three centers in the league to be drafted, Stoudemire quickly dropped in the rankings after his microfracture knee surgery. Surprisingly, Stoudemire was still ranked in the top 50 players to be drafted. Many believed, especially those in deeper leagues, that he would return to action by midseason just before the All-Star break. Owners could afford to wait on him as long as that was the case. Well, unfortunately for those who still have him, Amare returned to action four days before fantasy ended not four months before basketball ended. Though he did produce 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks in only 19 minutes of play, he definitely was not worth the wait.
Tracy McGrady: Houston, we have a problem. Always one of the first ten to be selected in drafts, Tracy McGrady quickly disappeared from the rankings this season. This year has not been too kind for McGrady and his owners. Despite predictions and expectations, the Rockets have been unable to continue the winning trend and are lottery-bound. The team’s season record does not matter for the game, but one of the main reasons they were losing was McGrady’s chronic back spasms. Without T-Mac, the Rockets were unable to find that energy and catalyst to win games, especially in the fourth quarter. Owners were very accustomed to seeing McGrady put up 0’s at least once a week. There was a time when McGrady’s injuries appeared to be behind him but in comes personal troubles that apparently distracted the superstar. McGrady is currently recovering from back injury and expected to be out for five weeks. The Rockets would have four or five games left to play by then, so I do not expect McGrady to return to the Rockets who are clearly going anywhere but up.
Steve Francis: A favorite of mine, Francis has had the worst season as a pro. His averages are down in nearly every category (15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists down from 21.3-5.8-7.0). Besides that, his image has changed drastically. Originally known as “The Franchise,” Francis has turned into a ballhogger solely concerned with his own numbers. His lack of concern for his teammates has led to much criticism. Francis clearly did not take these comments lightly, often benched for misconduct and eventually, suspended indefinitely for refusing to return in the waning moments of a game. Last month, Francis was traded to the Knicks where his numbers have decreased further. Many thought he could make a new start even if Madison Square Garden is home to the NBA’s most hard to please fans but apparently not. To add insult to injury, he was twenty-fifth overall in the Yahoo! rankings.
Other Honorable (perhaps dishonorable mentions):
Any Bulls player: The Bulls have a horrible rotation which leads to inconsistent fantasy play. However, there are still fantasy worthy players in Hinrich and Gordon.
Shaquille O’Neal: MVP –> mediocre in one season. However, he is still a 20 pts, 10 reb center.
Ron Artest: Was suspended but still a top 20-30 fantasy player.
Joe Johnson: A core component of last season’s 62-20 Phoenix Suns, Johnson left for the Atlanta Hawks feeling that the Phoenix management did not acknowledge his contributions. His departure created some controversy but quickly faded out as Johnson was just a borderline all-star. His first few games with the Hawks were mediocre at best; nearly every game in and game out, Al Harrington was posting up better numbers than him. By mid-season, Johnson appeared to figure out his position and started to flirt with the triple-double nearly every game of the season. He even had a couple of game winners, the biggest of which was the shot that beat Detroit. His outstanding play has increased his averages and has warranted Jerry Colangelo’s attention. Johnson was chosen as one of the twenty-three players who would compete for a spot on the USA Basketball team. Johnson has clearly revived the Hawks franchise and has definitely grown into an all-star even if he plays on a very unsuccessful team. If it were not for Boris Diaw, the Suns would definitely be hurting from the trade.
Boris Diaw: The mere throw-in in the Atlanta-Phoenix trade, Diaw has surprisingly blossomed into a formidable center for the Phoenix Suns. He is definitely the third reason for the success of the Suns this season, following Nash’s and Marion’s improved play. His fifteen points are nice, but he is the Suns’ second best playmaker with 6.0 assists. The Suns essentially acquired a poor man’s Brad Miller. I say that, but he has honestly outlived that name in his past few games. Diaw had two triple-doubles this season and was able to stop Nowitzski, one of the best players and toughest match-ups in the game today. Phoenix definitely would not have been as successful without him, and the best way to make this apparent is to honor him as the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
Kobe Bryant: Dare I say more? Most NBA players score 80 in a week, so when someone explodes for 81 in just one night (or perhaps just 62 in three quarters), that someone has clearly transcended the plateau of all-stars to the NBA’s greatest players. Kobe’s achievements this season have clearly surpassed anything else that occurred in this post Jordan era. They are the reasons he is considered for the MVP honor by the end of the season. Though Nash deserves the award as well, what Kobe has done has not been seen in years. If the Lakers were on a definite winning track, he would be the MVP no contest. That is not to say that they are losing. The Lakers (37-34) are currently seventh seed in the West and appear to have a firm hold on that position. The NBA and its fans may like winners, but how could you overlook what Kobe has done?
Shawn Marion: Had expected numbers, not a real breakout season.
Dwayne Wade: Similar to Marion.
Andrei Kirilenko: Inconsistent, perhaps coinciding with back injuries.
Marcus Camby: Injuries caught up to him.
Player of the Year
Alonzo Mourning: Shaquille’s injury at the beginning of the season may have been a blessing in disguise. With O’Neal out for nearly two months, Mourning had to fill in for the “Big Aristotle.” He did much more than just fill in. Though he never was able to provide twenty points, Mourning provided interior defense and rebounding for the team, averaging nearly 10 rebounds and 4 blocks during that span. His most impressive game was a 15 points, 21 rebounds, and 4 blocks outburst against the Orlando Magic. The best part of this was that Mourning produced these numbers while acting like a rookie in the league, yelling at the crowd, waving his arms, and hopping around the place. He was a burst of energy and was a sight to see, especially since he is near the end of his career and underwent a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, once Shaq returned, he went back to ten minutes a game and his fantasy stock decreased. No longer deserving of consideration except in the deepest of leagues, Mourning would not see action until just recently when he played the majority of the fourth quarter and helped rally the team to a comeback victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Mourning is receiving a little bit more playing time, and I am glad to see this NBA great playing his last years doing what he does best.
Kobe Bryant: Did you really think Kobe was not capable of 81 points?
Shawn Marion: Did as expected.
Boris Diaw: Still mediocre despite two triple-doubles.
Joe Johnson: Can he produce the same outside of Atlanta? In a few years, maybe.
Ricky Davis: Outstanding numbers at the beginning of the season quickly returned to earth.
Major Fantasy News
Artest-Stojakovic trade: When Artest lashed out at his team and was suspended indefinitely, many wondered where he would continue his career. In comes a trade that appeared to be in the making years ago. A few years ago, Stojakovic uttered his concern with the Kings franchise, believing their chances for a championship were over. As a result, two rumors arose. Either Peja would be traded for Artest or he would go to Chicago because he often cited the Windy City as a place where he would like to play. Kings management quashed both rumors and Peja stayed put. Because of these rumors, I was not surprised when Artest and Stojakovic swapped spots this season. Unlike most trades, this trade was a boon to owners of both players. As a King, Artest returned to the game (no more 0’s for owners) and produced more numbers. Artest improved his inside game, increasing his rebounding from 4.9 to 5.6. In addition, the Kings’ ball movement apparently rubbed off on Artest as his assists have increased from 2.2 to 3.9. For the Pacers, Stojakovic’s arrival occurred simultaneously with Jermaine’s injury, meaning Peja would have to assume a leadership role. This has not been a problem for Peja as his numbers have improved, especially his scoring (19.3 from 16.5). The trade has been a major success for both franchises as well as for owners. Unfortunately, Artest owners had to wait a few games before Artest returned to action.
Timberwolves-Celtics 9-players trade: No real profit for owners of Szczerbiak and Davis. Numbers for both players have been similar.
Best Fantasy Pick-up
T.J. Ford: An injury prone player, T.J. Ford remarkably played the majority of this season. Though only deep leagues drafted the guard from Texas, most leagues found Ford at the top of their free agents list. That fortunate owner who added him to his team was no way prepared for his numbers. In his first few games, Ford was dropping double digits in dimes while adding a mediocre ten points and four rebounds a game. His first week of basketball produced 14-6-11-11 assists. He was phenomenal. Since then, his numbers have returned to earth, but he continues to average 6.1 assists which is decent for most back-up fantasy guards.
Smush Parker: Numbers quickly fizzled after opening week.
Samuel Dalembert: Without blocks, he has nothing.
Alonzo Mourning: Shaq’s return quickly dropped his stock value. Was a decent pickup for two months.