Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Underperformers

So, it's been a month since the NBA season got underway. By now, you should have a pretty good idea of who's going to help your team more than expected (LeBron), and who's not going to make as much of an impact as you thought (Vince Carter). But there are still some guys out there who haven't broken out of their shell, and you might be able to take advantage of an impatient owner and get a stud at a discounted price. Who hasn't been living up to their billing so far this year? Here are 3:

Tracy McGrady ( HOU) - Whenever you see a top-5 player absent from the leader boards, you know that something's up. McGrady is an all-NBA talent that simply hasn't found his spot yet on his new team. Minutes aren't the problem - he's been getting over 40 a game, even more than he got in Orlando. But for some reason, he's been struggling to score 20 ppg (he averaged over 32 in 2002), his 5.1 rpg are his lowest since his rookie season, and his FG% is at an all-time low. His 3's, steals and FT% have also taken hits, and his fantasy value is the lowest it's been since 1999.

There is reason to believe these problems could last for McGrady. Remember, this isn't the first time that Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy has had problems with a star guard - last year, Steve Francis struggled in Van Gundy's offense, and is now enjoying a resurgence in Orlando. It shouldn't be a matter of fatigue, as he didn't participate in the Olympics this year, and at 25 he should be in the prime of his career. Plus he hasn't shown any signs of improvement; over his last 5 games he's averaged only 17.6/5/6 with under 1 3 pointer.

Nonetheless, we haven't given up hope. With the Rockets at 6-10, they are the most disappointing team so far this year. And with that in mind, look for Coach Van Gundy (or his successor, if Houston fans have any say in the matter) to try and shake up his team, maybe getting Tracy the ball more often. Don't look for a return to last year's numbers, but McGrady should be able to get back to 26 ppg with 2 3's, 6 boards and a couple steals. If the McGrady owner in your league is looking a little discouraged, try and pick up his first-round pick on the cheap.

Sam Cassell (MIN) - Don't let that 25-point outburst on Sunday fool you. Cassell is on the way down. He hasn't hit the 30 minute mark in 5 straight games, his points and assists are lower than they've been in years, and he's complaining about his contract (something about having to feed Latrell Sprewell's family). Plus his biggest asset over the last few years - his incredible FG% as a PG - has slipped down to a very average 43.9%. Cassell has a habit of getting in funks, and letting that affect his play on the court, which is part of the reason why he's been on 6 different teams over his career.

Unlike McGrady, Cassell is old and (surprise) getting older. He turned 35 a couple weeks ago, and there aren't too many 35 year old point guards running around being effective in the NBA. This is a guy you're going to want to avoid. He's not a strong candidate for buy-low, because his new low could be what he really us. Stay away.

Carlos Arroyo (UTH) - A couple weeks ago, we were bursting at the seams, awaiting the debut of the reinvented Arroyo after his amazing performance at the Olympics this summer. Now, we are far less excited. After nine games, Carlos seems to still be held back from the bad ankle that forced him to start the year on the IL. He's struggling badly with his shot, shooting just 37.5% from the field, and as a result is taking nearly 3 fewer shots per game than he was a year ago. He is sharing the ball nicely, but almost all of his other stats are at or below where they were last year.

It looks like we're going to have to temper our expectations for Arroyo this year. He should be able to get his scoring up to maybe 13 or 14 ppg, and maybe increase his other stats a bit, his potential breakout year is fizzling. Don't avoid him, however. If you can get him at current value, go for it. Look for him to close out the year with something like 14/3/7 with a steal and a 3, significantly better than he's doing right now.

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