Tuesday, January 11, 2005

RJ Goes Down for the Count

Just as things were starting to look up in New Jersey, word comes down that Richard Jefferson will soon have wrist surgery and will be done for the season. This is incredibly surprising news, and if not quite devastating to fantasy teams, it certainly will be tough to overcome. We knew Jefferson had been battling a variety of ailments recently, but there was never any sense that he could be lost for the season. After all, this is a guy who missed a total of five games in his first three NBA seasons, making him one of the most durable players in the league. His 35% shooting in five January games made it clear that there was something wrong, and we have to assume that he knows what he’s doing. I’m sure the fact that he signed that fat extension before the season made it a little easier to call it a day.

This is terrible news for the Nets, as now they are down to Kidd, Carter and, um, that dude with the red hair. We recently went over the Nets, and outside of their big three, it wasn’t pretty. And now it’s down to a big two, and it’s a pretty fragile two. There’s no point in recapping the health issues with Kidd and Carter; they’re well known. What’s not known is whether this injury to RJ will convince Kidd that New Jersey isn’t a place he wants to be too much longer. Even in the incredibly weak East – where the Nets have the conference’s third-worst record yet are still only three games back of the final playoff spot – it’s hard to see the team getting into the playoffs with just Kidd and Carter. Unless, that is, they get some big contributions from some players currently on the roster. Let’s take a look and see if that’s likely, or even possible.

Rodney Buford seems most likely to take Jefferson’s place in the starting lineup. Before we get too far, everything obviously depends on how Lawrence Frank splits the minutes. If Buford’s not seeing somewhere near, oh, 33 mpg, then there’s no reason to even consider him. That said, in six games as a starter this season, in which he’s seen 31.8 mpg, Buford has put up the following numbers: 11.2 points, 3.7 boards, 2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 3s, 39.5 FG%. Those are not pretty numbers right there. Buford is a SG/SF that has never really shown an ability to hit 3-pointers, but he does have five games where he’s hit at least two this year, including a night where he hit four against Indiana. Assuming that he does indeed get the starting job for a while, this is what will determine whether or not he has any value. 13/4/2 with a steal doesn’t really have much value, but if he can somehow hit 1.5 3pg, then he’s on the fringe. Still, Jefferson owners looking to replace his numbers are extremely unlikely to do so with Buford.

One person who could see a significant bump in value is foul-prone center Nenad Krstic. The big man has skills and the confidence of Jason Kidd, but he’s getting no love from the NBA refs. Save a game against the Knicks on New Year’s Day where he managed to play 42 minutes and pick up only one foul, Krstic has racked up an amazing 35 fouls in his last 7 contests. Sometimes he can spread these fouls out, and it’s no problem; in three of those games he was able to play 40 minutes. But when he picks them up early, he’s a non-factor; three other games saw him play under 20 minutes. Vince Carter is obviously the #1 scoring option in Jersey now, and you could say that Kidd is #2, but everyone knows that Kidd’s better off when he’s setting the table. There’s a real chance Krstic could emerge as a top threat for the Nets, and he’s worth grabbing if he’s still out there. Even if he has trouble breaking double digits in points, he’s proven a capable shot blocker. For someone who played a total of 58 minutes in the first month of the season, Krstic looks very comfortable (when he’s not fouling, of course). Keep an eye on him, and be ready to pounce.

If you have an IL spot to play with, you might want to consider stashing Ron Mercer there. But don’t get your hopes up too much. Those stat lines from his first five seasons are looking mighty nice to RJ owners right now, but that was a long time ago, at least in basketball terms. Mercer’s knees are just about shot, and he’s not got no real chance of playing enough minutes to help teams out if/when he comes back. He played 35.3 mpg to start the season, but he did that for all of three games before he couldn’t do it anymore. Combine that with the facts that he has 60 career 3-pointers, and never averaged more than 4 rebounds or assists even when he was getting 40 mpg, and he’s not someone who is capable of providing serious help.

What about Jason Kidd and Vince Carter? I wouldn’t expect too much to change with their numbers. Carter was already averaging 40 mpg with the Nets, so it’s not like he can be on the court much more. Will he increase his 21.6 ppg to closer to 25? Probably? Will that mean his 46% shooting so far with the Nets will creep back towards the 42% he shot last year? Probably. Call it a hunch, but Carter might be tempted to start launching more 3-pointers. The Nets will be in need of points, and Carter’s never been shy; remember, this is a guy who attempted more than 5 per game back in 2000 and 2001. If his FG% drops but he sees his 3pg go from 1.1 to 2.1, that’s something his owners can live with.

As for Kidd, he might look to up his scoring more, but losing one of his best outlets for assists will hurt there. Kidd has been attacking the boards with a vengeance lately (9 per game in his last seven), and he’ll need to keep doing that to make up for RJ’s loss. Who knows how his knee will hold up, but he did manage a season-high 41 minutes on Saturday and it resulted in his first triple-double. Owners of both of these guys can be cautiously optimistic that they’ll see a slight-numbers increase, but due to their fragile natures, having to play near 40 mpg might not be the best long-term situation for them.


Anonymous Stan Minnis said...

Happy Thanksgiving!!

10:25 AM  

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