Friday, July 08, 2005

Timmy, or not Timmy?

As we wait a few more weeks to see where all the free agents end up (Larry Hughes to Cleveland?! What will become of my Wiz next year?!), we’ll take a look at some players whom we know plenty about already. We focus a lot on smaller things here at FBB, under the radar players who can give you an extra edge. But the fact remains that without a dominant superstar or two, all the savvy free agent pick-ups in the world probably won’t get you much higher than fourth place. You simply cannot miss with your early picks, especially your first rounder. Just ask the folks who took Peja Stojakovic or Andrei Kirilenko last year.

Both of us here at FBB – and probably most serious NBA fans – agree that there is no better player in the NBA than Tim Duncan. If you were going to build a franchise around one player, he’s the one. But we all know that fantasy does not always mirror the real thing. Someone will take Tim Duncan in the first round of your draft next year. Should that person be you? Probably not.

There are two serious issues to consider with Duncan – durability and free throws. Let’s deal with durability first. If you look at the final 2004-2005 Player Rater, the top 10 players missed a combined 22 games. Through his first six years in the league, Duncan was a perfect picture of durability, missing a total of nine games, eight of those coming in one season in 1999-2000. But even though he’s just 29, eight years of being The Man can take its toll. It’s important to note that the Spurs are not a team built for an 82 game season. They are built for a 110 game season. It took 105 games to get the job done this year. The team’s brass is smart enough to realize that playing Duncan 40 minutes per night for 82 games during the regular season is not going to leave them in the best shape come playoff time. With the emergence of Manu Ginobili as a legit first option, there’s no need for Duncan to force himself on the court if he’s not 100%. Having him healthy for the playoffs is clearly their main concern.

So when I see that Duncan missed 13 games in 2003-2004, followed by missing 16 games last year, I take it as a trend. The injuries that have given him problems over the past two years – ankle and knee issues – are likely to recur. These aren’t unlikely accidents like a fractured wrist or broken finger, they are the result of wear and tear. Expecting Duncan to appear in 80 games next season is not realistic. Might it happen? Of course. But hoping against better judgment for your first pick (or your second and third, for that matter) to stay healthy is never a good position to be in.

Besides missing games, Duncan isn’t seeing nearly as much time on the floor in the ones in which he does appear. In his first six seasons, Duncan never averaged less than 38.7 mpg. He saw that total drop to 36.6 two seasons ago and plummet even further to a mere 33.4 last year. We often preach that minutes are the most important stat in fantasy basketball, and while 33 minutes if Timmy is enough to do plenty of damage, he saw his numbers drop in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks last year. (To his credit, he put in three 3s, up from two in 2003-2004.) While everyone would certainly love to have a center who puts up 20 and 11 with two and a half blocks on 50% shooting, that’s what you should expect, not that 25.5/12.7 of a few years ago. His numbers might see a slight bump from this past season, as he should be able to see at least 35 mpg, but it’s just not reasonable to expect him to match his career best numbers.

Now, free throws. In his glorious 2001-2002 season, Timmy shot 80% from the line. He dropped to 71% the next year, plummeted to 60% the next year, and bounced back to 67% last season. Despite some very shaky outings in the playoffs, he shot close to 72% in those 23 games. While Duncan’s free throw shooting will hurt you, he’s nowhere near as much of a liability as Shaq. Timmy checked in at –1.27 on the Player Rater last year; Shaq was –6.77. That’s quite a difference. Even if Timmy was an average free throw shooter, he would have moved just from 21st to 18th on the Rater. For a big man, his free throw woes – as long as he can stay above 65% aren’t that crippling. This is not what should keep you from drafting him.

So where should Duncan go in your draft? If you are in a 12-team league, he might make sense at the tail end of the first round. But I would feel a lot better with a stud I was reasonably sure that would appear in 82 games as my first pick, even if that means taking someone like Stephon Marbury or Elton Brand. Duncan’s center eligibility will obviously make him enticing, but be smart. If the Spurs had lost those last two games at home, I might be more bullish on Duncan this year. Had the Spurs lost the finals, all blame would have been placed on Duncan, and as competitive as he is, there’s little doubt he would have come out with something to prove. But now? He’s a three-time champion and finals MVP. He’s locked into a monster contract for a long while. There’s little reason to expect a reversal in the current trends. Best player in the NBA? No doubt? Best player for your fantasy team? Not quite.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

agreed, end to middle of the first round. He is no longer a top 3 pick.

Also, Brand gets hurt quite a bit.

7:31 PM  
Blogger DM said...

Yeah, Brand has bad luck, he doesn't really have recurring injuries, though. Like, once he's back from an injury, he's back. He's never missing games with nagging injuries, and he always plays big minutes. It's like he'll either play 65 or 81.

8:42 PM  

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