Sunday, December 11, 2005

Center of Attention

With all the attention I give to point guards, I figured it was time we gave equal attention to big men. Starting next week it’ll follow the same format as ATPGT, but for now we’ll look at a few teams and then break the big men down into four groups.

Three Situations to Watch
Most people don’t realize how much the Celtics actually suck – their record stands at just 8-12 despite playing 11 games at home and playing just seven games against teams that currently have a winning record. Things are bound to get ugly as their next 10 games include 6 road contests as well as 7 games against teams with winning records (not to mention road games at Seattle and Sacramento).

There are four guys in the discussion here, and at least three of them probably qualify at center in your league. Doc Rivers threatened lineup changed and followed through, yanking Raef LaFrentz for the first time in two years. Sometimes people can get a little worked up over a slump – everybody has them after all – but what Raef’s going through right now is especially bad. Before last night’s game he was averaging a very ugly 4.4/2.9/0.9 with 0.9 3s and 0.9 blocks on 23% shooting over his last seven games. Save for that miraculous 7-for-7 3-point game, he’s averaging 8.4/4.5/0.9 with 1.3 3s and 0.9 blocks on the season. He was effective last year because his minutes were kept down and he stayed healthy the entire season. He’s never been one to regularly log 35 mpg – he’s reached that number just once this year and has topped 30 just five times. So that keeps his upside rather limited. He’s been a popular fantasy player because of his ability to hit 3s to go along with blocks at the center, but during his time in Boston, which covers 117 games, he’s averaging just 1.1 bpg, which is nothing at all special from a center and is a far cry from the 2.5 per game he averaged from 99-00 to 01-02. Now that he’s been banished to the bench, it’s probably OK to give up on him for the time being. But it’s not like Mark Blount and Kendrick Perkins are going to be productive enough to be mainstays in the lineup. LaFrentz is going to go on a hot streak at some point this year where he will rain a bunch of 3s. Old guys like him who are past their best years can sometimes offer decent value since they aren’t thought of too highly. People often look to the waiver wire for a savior, when they should instead look to it for simply a solid player. LaFrentz might be that guy at some point in the future.

Mark Blount is a favorite whipping boy, but he’s actually played some decent ball this year despite falling out of favor with Rivers for a brief stretch. Yes, his rebounding leaves a lot to be desired, but I suppose it’s time we realized that his second half performance in 2004 – when he racked up double digit rebounds in 18 of the season’s final 25 games – was one of the great contract year runs in recent memory. Through that point in his career he averaged 11.0 rebounds p48. Over the last two seasons that number has dropped to 8.5. But he remains a high percentage shooter, is hitting a career best 84% from the line on a career high 3.1 attempts per game, is averaging a solid 11.9 ppg and is chipping in 1.1 bpg. In two center leagues, those are hardly numbers to scoff at. While he was back in the starting lineup last night, it was hardly an impressive performance and there are no guarantees that it will stick. In deep, two center leagues, he’s at least worthy of a bench spot.

Al Jefferson is the one that people are most excited about, and mostly with good reason. He probably doesn’t qualify at center, but we’ll talk about him anyway. He is the Great Unknown in this bunch, so visions of him fulfilling all of that upside can get people giddy. I’ve always been skeptical of Jefferson’s ability to contribute to a fantasy team, if not necessarily his ability. He’s still not quite 21 years old and just last month saw his first ever 30+ minute game. He’s 22nd in the league in rebounds per minute after finishing 24th last year (both for players who average at least 15 mpg), so his rebounding prowess is unquestioned. He’s a career 53% shooter, which would likely take a small hit with more shots, but he is still bound to be a plus there. His career blocked shot rate puts him roughly in the same class as Emeka Okafor and Dwight Howard, who are surely the two guys that people have visions of Jefferson becoming. Foul trouble has been one of Jefferson’s biggest problems so far – he was third in the league in fouls per minute last year and is right near the top again this year. This could be one thing keeping him from getting a starting nod. If Doc Rivers thinks that he will regularly pick up two fouls in the game’s first five minutes, he may as well just bring him off the bench. Jefferson isn’t afraid to shoot the ball, averaging nearly 17 FGAp48 in his career (compared to just 12.7 for Howard, for example), so that bodes well for him should he ever get consistent PT. The best scenario for Jefferson would see the Celtics fall completely out of things – which is going to be tough to do in the pathetic Atlantic – and look towards the future. Last night’s game showed why the salivating over Jefferson is merited. How many players in the league can put up 21 and 12 on 10-of-14 shooting with 2 blocks in just 27 minute? This makes three out of four very good games for Jefferson, putting in him Charlie Villanueva territory. That means he’s a decent start even though he comes off the bench, but you have to recognize that there is a chance he’ll have a complete dud of a game on occasion. His FT% will hurt you, but you’ll deal with it.

Kendrick Perkins should be pretty much off everyone’s radar by now. Yes, he can hit the boards better than almost anyone, but all that does is make him another Reggie Evans. Has Reggie Evans ever helped anyone win a fantasy title? His numbers in nine starts – 5.1/6.8/1.1 in 20.0 mpg looks a lot like Evans’s 4.9/9.3/0.7 in 23.8 mpg line from last year. Nothing to see here.

The main problem I see with all of these guys is that it is going to be hard for any of them to assert themselves with any sort of regularity. Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis are as clear a 1-2 punch as there is in the league, and they will handle a majority of the offense. Delonte West is locked in as the starting point guard, if not necessarily a #3 option all the time. Jefferson obviously has the best chance of establishing himself as a regular part of the offense, but I’ll continue being stubborn in my skepticism and say that it won’t be until around February that he’ll be a consistent option.

For a few days there it was looking like Nick Collison (who now qualifies at center at least in Yahoo leagues) was going to be a great pickup. In his first start of the season he went for 20 and 12 on 7-of-9 shooting and two games later followed that up with 19 and 13 on 9-of-12 shooting. But it’s all been downhill from there for Collison. Early foul trouble and the emergence of Vladimir Radmanovic have contributed to Collison’s woes. When Collison is saddled with foul trouble the Sonics turn to Radmanovic and go with a smaller lineup. With Reggie Evans around to provide rebounding muscle, this has been working out pretty well for the Supes, as they have won 4 out of 6. After seeing at least 30 minutes in each of his first six starts, Collison has cracked that number just once in his past eight. He’s a high percentage shooter from the both the field and the line, but because he rarely looks for his shot, he doesn’t make much of an impact in those categories. He also doesn’t get many steals or blocks. Center is a thin position, so he could still have value, but he needs to see roughly 35 mpg for that to happen, and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen with any sort for regularity in the near future. I picked him up after that nice first game, but dropped him a week ago. Feel free to do the same.

When Joe Smith left the lineup a couple of weeks ago, I was among the many who thought that Jamaal Magloire would be in for a nice month or two. But that hasn’t come to pass at all, and Magloire is stuck in neutral. He’s averaging just 30.7 mpg since Smith’s absence, which is just about the same as he was seeing beforehand. He hasn’t been looked to more often on the offensive end, averaging under 7 FGA per game. One problem is that he doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the Bucks’ offense. This is a heavily perimeter oriented team, as Michael Redd, Mo Williams, T.J. Ford and Bobby Simmons take the majority of the shots. Andrew Bogut is suffering as well, putting up 8 FGA per game in that same span. This is Magloire’s sixth season in the league and he’s 27 years old. He had that one all-star season, but that was due to the complete lack of non-stiff centers in the East that year. He’s never averaged more than 14 ppg or more than 1.5 bpg. The career 70% free throw shooter is somehow shooting 44% right now, which is reason enough to have him parked on the bench. He still starts, receives decent minutes and is a force on the boards. But it looks like it’s about time to give up on him as a legit #1 center for fantasy purposes. He should still be a solid #2 if he can ever figure out those free throw woes.

As for Bogut, he makes a somewhat risky, low-upside play with Smith out. Even though he’s started each of the last seven, he’s topped 30 minutes in just four of those games. Last night’s 21-point performance is the exception, not the rule. He’s a very active player on the defensive end, as evidenced by his three steals in each of the last two games, and if he can keep that number in the 1.2 range, that’s quite valuable from a big man position and it will help offset his inconsistent offense. Dan Gadzuric, the popular preseason sleeper turned forgotten man, had a solid three games before last night’s scoreless, five foul debacle. He’s still a long ways from having any value, although he’s doing a pretty good job of keeping Bogut and Magloire from fulfilling their potential. There are rumors percolating that the Bucks are looking to deal Magloire, but with Smith on the shelf, don’t expect this to happen any time soon.

Now a quick rundown of just about every center there is…

Ten Never to Touch (when healthy)
Tim Duncan – Vintage TD, and before last night, it was all good at the line.
Marcus Camby – The obvious fantasy MVP so far; keep holding your breath.
Jermaine O’Neal – One of the most predictably consistent guys out there – that’s a good thing.
Chris Bosh – Now qualifies at C in Yahoo leagues; more blocks would make him a top 15 player.
Brad Miller – Not the blocks or boards you necessarily want, but you still can’t complain at all.
Yao Ming – 19.3 ppg on 58% shooting with McGrady; 19.8 ppg on 41% shooting without McGrady.
Rasheed Wallace – Career highs so far in 3s, FT%, assists and steals, so beware of a drop off.
Shaquille O’Neal – Not the most impressive return, but you’ll probably want him in your lineup sooner rather than later.
Ben Wallace – The downward trend continues; lowest blocks since Orlando, but not someone to bench.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas – Numbers down with nearly 4.5 fewer mpg and Hughes and LeBron dominating the ball.

A Little Shaky
Samuel Dalembert – At least two blocks in every game, with five in three of those; sometimes you just need to patient. A few more weeks like the past two and he vaults into the above list.
Mehmet Okur – The Jerry Sloan Factor is the only thing keeping him out of that top group.
Emeka Okafor – It’s been ugly so far, but there’s little question it will get better.
Kurt Thomas – Remember that patience thing; a Big Ben-esque 14.3 boards in his last eight.
Zaza Pachulia – 30+ minutes in 16 of 19 games makes him a solid option, but FG% and blocks are weak for a center.
Channing Frye – Actually encouraged by crappy last game; he started, played 38 minutes and despite not scoring well still grabbed 9 boards, a steal and a block.
Chris Kaman – Clips are winning and he’s seen at least 32 minutes in seven straight; scoring is hit and miss, but blocks and rebounds aren’t.
Joel Przybilla – I’ll guess that Ratliff doesn’t play more than he plays as the season goes on, which makes Przybilla money.
Jamaal Magloire – See above.
Andrew Bogut – See above.

Really Shaky
Brendan Haywood – Terribly inconsistent, but a real force in blocks and FG%.
Tyson Chandler – It's understandable if you want to give up, but I'd keep him parked on the bench.
Nenad Krstic – Like a poor man’s Pachulia.
Alonzo Mourning – With Shaq back, not much more than a block specialist; always a decent chance of another Diesel injury, though.
Eddy Curry – Explosive scorer and blocking more shots than ever, but consistency is very unlikely.
P.J. Brown – Mr. Consistent seems to be on his last legs.
Mark Blount – Only if he can stay in the starting lineup.
Nick Collison – See above.
Raef LaFrentz – Will still find value at some point.
DeSagana Diop – Blocks only, but slight chance of Big Ben upside if ever got the starting nod.
Stromile Swift – Last game gives us slight hope.

Just Flat Out Sucky
Chris Mihm – He’ll drive you crazy and sometimes offer decent production.
Adonal Foyle – As good a reason as any to make sure you draft an actual good player who can get blocks.
Erick Dampier – Why cause yourself the misery?
Primoz Brezec – A combined 10 steals/blocks in 20 games – ouch.
Michael Olowokandi – Yep, he’s still around.
Theo Ratliff – If he can stay healthy, about the same as Foyle.
Lorenzen Wright – A proven chump.
Chris Andersen – If Brown gets dealt and he got the chance…
Melvin Ely – Yes, we know it’s not Marvin; 13/7/2 with a block in his lone start just a hint of the possibilities.
Kwame Brown – The suckiest suck that ever sucked.


Anonymous bublitchki said...

I think it would also be useful to monitor those situations in which a talented non-center could possibly wind up gaining C eligibility.

Looking at your list serves to reinforce the notion that there are an awful lot of useless stiffs clogging up the paint in NBA arenas. Obviously, many coaches are aware of this too and probably would not be averse to trying a more gifted PF at the center spot. It seems this has already happened in Toronto, where Mitchell has concluded that a skinny Chris Bosh - who routinely cedes 40-50 pounds to a typical NBA center - is still a better option in the pivot than the likes of Araujo or Woods.

Chicago is one such situation that currently bears watching. If Chandler's stamina problems persist, Sweetney figures to gain more time at the 5 and could wind up getting C eligiblity, thereby increasing his value significantly. Boston could be another; if Blout, LaFrentz, Perkins continue to disappoint, maybe Rivers tries Jefferson in the middle. Eddie Griffin replacing Olowakandi in Minny is another switch that would seem to make sense, considering that Eddie grabs more boards and blocks more shots in 10 minutes than 'kandi will in an entire week.

But the one change I'd really, really like to see is in Orlando. Both Cato and Battie have been stiffs thus far and... well, you know what this Dwight Howard owner dreams of for Christmas.

Anyway, here's my suggestion: You might want to keep your readers apprised on which talented non-centers are seeing playing time at the C position so they can get a jump on grabbing them prior to their getting C eligibility. This would be an especially useful feature for readers (like myself) who compete in leagues that start two centers.

2:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like bublitchki's idea, Eddie Griffin would make a fine addition to teams if he gets some starts at C and exceeds kandiman's minutes, he should be very productive with boards and blocks.

I have a question of my own today, I've been patient with Magloire so far for him to 'figure out' the Bucks' offense. But he just doesn't seem to be turning it around at all, should I drop him for Pryzbilla since it seems like Ratliff can't play 2 consecutive games?

10:27 AM  
Blogger bv said...

I think that's a good idea too - the issue is that it's really tough to do. What one person sees as a guy playing center, your fantasy league server might see as a power forward. It's really a judgement call, and it's tough to know how your league is going to act. but we'll certainly do our best.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous bublitchki said...

Great point, PV... as anyone hwo plays in a Yahoo league already knows.

Yahoo's decisions on who does or does not merit center eligibility are as shrouded in mystery as Bush's plan for "victory" in Iraq. There seems to be no rhyme or reason there.

Rasheed Wallace, for example, seems to have perpetual C status despite the fact that he spells Big Ben there only sporadically. On the opposite side of the coin you have Mike Sweetney, who played almost exclusively at center for the Knicks after Muhammad was traded last season yet reamins eligible for PF only.

Yes, it's frustrating but like evrything else in this game you make your best educated guess as to what will occur (in this case, what Yahoo will do) and make your moves in anticipation of that event occuring. It would be nice, though, if an entity as large as Yahoo was a bit more clear and consistent about its criteria for awarding C eligibility.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yahoo!'s official stance is to give players positional eligibility one of two ways:

1 player has started at least 5 games at a position that season or the previous season. (ex Boris Diaw has started 3 games at C and needs to start 2 more to be a C)

2 someone at Yahoo! perceives a player to play a certain position. (someone at Yahoo! decides that Eddie Griffin doesn't look like a C, thus is not a C)

7:16 PM  
Anonymous bublitchki said...

If that is indeed Yahoo's official stance, then it's really tantamount to no stance at all.

The first criteria you mention is objective, quantifiable and can be easily understood by anyone who competes in a Yahoo fantasy hoops league; five games played at a given position = eligibilty at that position.

The second criteria, however, is so subjective as to be virtually meaningless. If it is indeed true that Yahoo reserves the right to award or not award position eligiblity based on its "perception" as to whether or not a player actually looks the part, well that's just downright goofy. Worse, it seems irresponsible considering how many thousands of people participate in Yahoo based leagues.

My guess is that this so-called "perception" is probably heavily based on the name-recognition of the players involved. When stars like Chris Bosh or Rasheed Wallace play five games at center, they're promptly rewarded with C eligibility. But when a "no-name" second year PF, Mike Sweetney, plays more than half a season at center for the Knicks, he's somehow "perceived" as looking not enough like a center to warrant any change in position eligibility.

1:58 AM  

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