Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Overachievers ... or Are They?

Take a look at the top of the player rater and you’ll see most of the usual suspects, the guys that got drafted in the first round. LeBron, Dirk, Kobe, KG, Marion, RayRay, Timmy, no real surprise to see them ranked this high. Sure, LeBron has been even better than most have thought, but he was a first round pick on average. Guys like Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire are probably higher than you thought they would be, but no one was really sleeping on them and they were likely gone by the third round of your draft. They are surprises, but not shocks. No, the shocks are guys like Rashard Lewis at #11, Manu Ginobili at #12, and Bobby Simmons (BOBBY SIMMONS!!!) at #16. Conventional wisdom says that these guys are overachieving and their value will drop as the season goes on. I can’t argue with you there. I highly doubt that any of the three players listed above will finish the season ranked in the top-15. But just because someone is overperforming doesn’t mean they are going to drop off the face of the earth. Remember the old buy-fake high thing. If you think you’ve spotted a player who an owner is trying to sell high, but you think that player will keep performing at that level, go for it. Examples from last year are more in the Wade, Nash, Stoudemire category, but players like Peja and AK47 were likely late-2nd/3rd round picks last year who owners might have looked to deal after their quick stars. Smart players could have identified that their play was for real and traded for a top-10 player. Let’s see if this season’s overperformers have any chance of holding on the whole year.

Rashard Lewis
After showing steady improvement in each of his first five years, Lewis took a slight step backwards last year. His scoring decreased for the first time and he had his worst shooting year since his rookie year. This, combined with the fact that he plays on an often-ignored west coast team, caused him to fall in many drafts this year. There’s a good chance that whoever snatched up Lewis in the mid-rounds is near the top of the standings at this point. So can Lewis keep up this pace? He’s got a better chance than you may think. He’s currently shooting 47% from the field, a very strong number, but in line with his career 46% mark. He’s averaging 5.4 rpg, which is actually considerably lower than any year since his sophomore campaign. His assists are lower than every year since his second season as well. He’s shown a slight increase in blocks which could be the result of a small sample size, but his steals are in line with his career totals. Right now Lewis’s value is tied up in his 3s and points, and he might be able to keep up his current paces. The Sonics know that they need the 3 to win, so expect them to stick with the formula that has made them the surprise team of the league so far and has made Rashard good for 2.2 3pg. His 21.2 ppg is impressive, but again, he could very well stay around 20 ppg, as he averaged 18 ppg over the previous two seasons. While his FG% will probably settle in closer to 45%, you can expect his rebound and assist numbers to get back to their usual marks. Lewis always very quietly finished around the mid-30s in the player rater at the end of the season, thanks in large part to his excellent health. He’s been banged up a bit this year, but he’s been like that in the past and has appeared in more than 70 games every year since his rookie year. Basically, don’t think it’s all downhill for Lewis from here. He might not stay near the top 10, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hovering around the top 20 come Spring.

Manu Ginobili
Ginobili is a longtime favorite of mine, as he has such a singularly unique game, making him a joy to watch. He’s always been a sneaky fantasy player due to his ability to get steals, and this year an uptick in numbers across the board, accounting for his high ranking. He will continue to be a valuable asset throughout the year, but I see him taking a dropping much more than Lewis. The main reason for this being that Ginobili – a career 43% shooter coming into the season – is at 48% right now. This won’t last. It’s possible he can stay around 45%, but as the season wears on, I’d expect his FG% to drop. And whereas Lewis is clearly the #2 scoring option on his team, the same can’t be said for Manu. Tony Parker will improve as the season progresses, and Brent Barry will become more comfortable in the Spurs system. After scoring at least 18 points in the first five games of the season, Ginobili has hit that number only once in the 10 games since then. Those first five games also accounted for 12 of his 21 3s and 16 of his 32 steals. In fact on the 15-day rater, he checks in at #67. That’s a little low, as I expect him to finish in the top 50, but Manu is a great complimentary player to have, not a foundation for your team.

Bobby Simmons
To borrow one of Steve Buckhantz’s many lines … are you kiddin’ me? The guy who couldn’t unglue himself from the Wizards – the Wizards – bench is now the reason why there’s hope in Clippers land. His play this season has just been out of this world, averaging 16.6/6.2/3.3 on ridiculous 55% and 92% shooting. He’s quickly becoming a fan favorite in L.A. (well, at least the Sports Guy likes him) and he’s their defensive stopper. People may have held off picking him up or even dropped him due to Kerry Kittles presence, but Kittles is hurt again, and at this point there is no way he deserves to take any of Simmons’s minutes when he returns. Simmons is playing better now than Kittles ever has. Now of course no one expects B-Simm to stay in the top 20 for too much longer. And the fact that so much of his value comes from percentages is a little scary. Take away his value there and he’s a neutral player, sort of like Rip Hamilton. Still, you have to think that Simmons has bought himself at least another 20-25 games in which he gets the 37 mpg he’s getting right now. And for every great game he has, he becomes more and more ingrained into the Clippers lineup. It’s very likely that whoever picked him up has fallen in love with him and won’t want to part with him, since he surely won’t get a top-20 player in return. But it’s possible his owner will really want to sell high, as well. If it doesn’t take much to get him – say, Ricky Davis, Jalen Rose, Eddie Jones, etc. – you may want to take the chance.

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