Monday, December 06, 2004

All Shook Up

We’re about 20% through the season, which is when teams – both real and fantasy – start to take stock of what they’ve got. In most cases it’s still too early to take very drastic measures, but a couple of coaches of struggling teams are threatening shake-ups. More often than not this is just a lot of talk (sort of like Rafer Alston’s retirement), but it’s worth investigating.

Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers are a respectable 8-8, but as usual, there is turmoil in Portland. It’s pretty well-known that GM John Nash is calling all of the shots and that head coach Mo Cheeks doesn’t have much say in matters of PT. But after two straight double digit losses, things may start to change. Shareef Abdur-Rahim has been playing out of position all year, and has had solid production, checking in at #49 on the player rater. But part of the reason he’s been playing so much has been to showcase him for a trade. Now that teams see that he’s still basically the same player he’s always, the Blazers may start cutting down his time as part of sweeping lineup changes.

The one player whose role is completely safe is Zach Randolph. With a fat extension earlier this year, Randolph has been designated as the centerpiece of this team. All moves the team makes should be made with him in mind, since they are very committed to him. Randolph has been a disappointment so far, as he’s only one spot higher than Abdur-Rahim on the player rater. His 21.3 ppg and 11 rpg are very nice, but that’s all he’s bringing to the table. He shot nearly 49% last year, but is down to 44% this year, and that has cost him lots of his value. If Abdur-Rahim sees less court time, it could make things less clogged and help Randolph’s shooting. Still, Randolph is what he is – a great scorer and rebounder who still doesn’t do much for your team unless he hits nearly half of his shots.

If Abdur-Rahim does get sent to the bench, it would create more playing time for both Darius Miles and Ruben Patterson. Patterson has made the most of his limited playing time so far this year, averaging a robust 1.7 spg in only 18.3 minutes. His 55% shooting is also mighty impressive, and less of a fluke than you think, as he’s a career 51% shooter. If he could somehow get up to 30 mpg he could be worthy of roster consideration, but his upside is still limited. Like Randolph, he won’t be any help in assists or blocks, and with Zach cleaning up the boards, Patterson won’t be much help there either. It would be nice if he could hit a 3, but that’s not part of his arsenal. He’s simply a one category specialist.

Darius Miles could be another beneficiary, especially if ‘Reef is jettisoned out of town. After Miles re-upped with the Blazers in the offseason, it looked like he might finally fulfill the promise he’s long shown. But Abdur-Rahim stuck around and took the starting job it looked like Miles would have. We know that Miles can be a solid all-around contributor if given the chance. The other night against Seattle he received 33 minutes of PT and hit 10-of-14 shots en route to 20 points, 6 boards, 3 assists and a block. Blocks is where Miles could really help a team, as he averaged 1.2 in his career over 27.1 mpg. If given time he won’t hurt you anywhere, really, except from the line. But we’ve been through this before. He’s a perennial tease and you shouldn’t count on him.

Theo Ratliff is another player to keep an eye on. He’s been a pretty big disappointment so far, at only #138 on the player rater. His 2.5 bpg would be impressive coming from almost anyone else, but considering that he offers absolutely nothing in any other category, he needs to be absolutely dominant. If he stays at his current level, his 2.5 bpg would be his lowest output since the 1996-97 season. He’s seeing only 28.3 mpg so far, and has seen a dip from 31 to 25 to 21 in the last three games. Unless he starts picking up his play soon, he could see more time on the bench, as the Blazers could opt to go with a small lineup, especially seeing first hand how effective that can be after getting blown out by the Suns. If you have Ratliff, you have to keep him in your lineup as you never know when he could explode for an 8 or 9 block game, but there is plenty of reason to be worried.

In the backcourt, Damon Stoudamire is slowly falling out of favor. After averaging 35.9 mpg in the first 12 contests, he’d down to 25.5 in the last four, a very significant drop off. Logic dictates that Nick Van Exel would be the beneficiary, but last night when Stoudamire saw a season low 21 minutes, Van Exel saw only 11 himself. Instead, it was Ruben Patterson and Darius Miles who saw the extra time, showing that it’s not just Abdur-Rahim who can affect their minutes. This is a situation to keep an eye on. Derek Anderson hasn’t played all that well but seems to be a favorite of Cheeks’ and can pass as a point guard if need be. Stoudamire has a valuable expiring contract and could be shown the door.

Bottom Line: We’ve covered lots of ground, but don’t expect any major changes in Portland unless a trade occurs. Rumored deals come up every day, but often it’s a deal you don’t expect that happens. If you have Abdur-Rahim, you might want to think about seeing what you can get for him, but if he does go, he could go to a team where he’d be a top option, or it could be like last year where he goes to a team and then comes off the bench. Stoudamire owners should be worried. Hopefully he’s only a third option at PG for you, because his recent trends are very disturbing. Don’t hold your breath on Nick Van Exel. If Ruben Patterson or Darius Miles can find their way into the starting lineup, they are worth a flier if you need help in steals or blocks, respectively, but don’t expect much more than utility production.

Next, the Atlanta Hawks.

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