Thursday, December 15, 2005

Roar! Checking in on the ... Grizzlies

The Grizz were one of the season’s early success stories but have fallen on hard times recently with an ugly three-game losing streak. In consecutive games they have looked quite listless in getting stomped by an imploding team in Indiana and then at home against a suddenly surging Lakers squad. What’s the problem? Well, Mike Fratello has brought a defensiveness toughness to the team, and the Grizzlies are allowing just 85.3 ppg, which is nearly four points better than the Wolves, who are next. That’s quite an impressive feat, right there. But still, if you allow 85 points, that means you have to score at least 86 points to win, and the Grizzlies are having major problems doing that. The team is averaging just 76 points per game in its last three contests, and it’s going to be tough for a team to have many players with fantasy value on a team that’s scoring so little. A lot was made about Fratello settling on a more defined rotation with bigger minutes for his starters, and he’s followed through on that for the most part, but if the team is going to keep struggling to score 80 points, those gains may be offset.

There was a lot of talk about Pau Gasol making the all-star team in November, but he can’t afford any more games like his last few if he wants to make that a reality. It’s not like the West is hurting for quality big men. In fact, you could argue that given the PT he’s received so far, Gasol has been a fantasy disappointment. This isn’t because of his production, though – it’s because of his percentages. His scoring hasn’t gone up as much as one might expect with five extra minutes, but that can be attributed to the Grizzlies’ general lack of scoring. But his rebounds and blocks are exactly where they should be, and he has suddenly become one of the top passing big men in the league. His nearly 4 assists per game are a huge help at the PF slot and give him a unique skill set. Take a look at the rest of the big men with top assist totals – Brad Miller, Lamar Odom, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are the only other bigs to have a positive score in assists on ESPN’s player rater – and none of them are nearly the force in blocked shots that Gasol is. So with those guys you are sacrificing a traditional big man category to get some help in assists, but with Gasol it really is an added bonus. But Gasol is having problems shooting. His 46% from the field represents a career low and he’s at a pathetic 40% so far in December. He’s improving at the line – 71% this month after a 62% month in November – but he’s still been a liability there. A career 72% shooter, you’d like to think that he can shoot at that mark for the rest of the season, but if you’ve seen his one-handed delivery, you know that he will run hot and cold. I’m a Gasol owner – and I’ve been a Gasol owner plenty of times in the past – and I must admit I’m starting to get a little frustrated. But the worst thing you can do in fantasy basketball is make rash decisions based on slumps. Gasol is the main man in Memphis and the Grizzlies need to get him back on his game if they are going to reverse their recent losing ways. He was the only started on the floor for much of the fourth quarter last night and it looked like Fratello just wanted to see him put a few shots in to give him some confidence going forward.

Shane Battier has arguably been Memphis’s best fantasy player this year, which isn’t too much of a surprise. Battier has always been a roto stud waiting to happen, and Fratello is finally giving him that opportunity. He missed last night’s game with a minor injury which hopefully won’t keep him out long or affect his 54% shooting. Because Battier gives you a little bit of everything, he’s a guy that needs consistent PT. Last year’s 0.9 3s, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks are up to 1.0 3s, 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks, while his points have shot up to 12.9 from 9.9. Those are minor, almost negligible improvements, but when everything goes up across the board, you can’t deny the value. While Gasol was getting much of the credit for the Grizzlies fast start, you can tell that Battier is really the glue that holds the team together. It’s no coincidence that in his absence last night the team got run out of the arena on its home floor – the 15-point final spread was not much of an indication of how competitive the game was. I’ve found that players like Battier are unlikely to switch teams in your league as the season goes on. Because his actual value is so much higher than most people would expect from someone averaging 13 points, 5 boards and not even 1.5 3s, steals or blocks, it’s doubtful that his owners would ever get equal value for him in a trade.

Back on draft day in our league I took Eddie Jones in the 10th round; BV took Ricky Davis. We had a side bet on who would have a better season. It’s safe to say we both got pretty good value with our picks, but after a first few weeks where Old Eddie was one of the league’s most pleasant surprises, he’s slipped back down to his expected production. Which isn’t all that bad, mind you. A key with Jones is that while he takes just 10.2 shots per game, 5.3 of those are from downtown, and he’s connecting on just over 2 per game. Fantasy owners love guys who consistently gun from deep because it ensures that even in a down game, there’s a good chance he will avoid a complete clunker and help out in at least one category. Jones has also rediscovered his inner thief and is averaging 1.6 spg, his highest total since the 00-01 season. Will it last? Memphis is playing a more aggressive defense, so you never know, but it’s not something you can really count on. A major problem with Jones is that he has a tendency to get in early foul trouble and that Memphis’s best sub, Mike Miller, plays the same position. This has limited Jones’s PT recently, as he hasn’t topped 32 minutes in any of the team’s last six games. I’ve had him parked on my bench for the past week or so until he straightens things out; after hitting double figures in scoring in the season’s first 9 games, he’s been there in just 3 of the last 12. If you need to start Jones, you know that he will be inconsistent, but he makes one of the best bench options around. I’m sure you’ve noticed that dozens of guys across the league are missing games recently – Gilbert Arenas, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Zaza Pachulia, Corey Maggette, Bobby Simmons, etc. – and Jones makes a nice fill-in in these situations.

Mike Miller may actually be playing some of the best ball on the team. Fantasy players may not be noticing because he’s doing it in limited time off the bench, but maybe they noticed after last night’s performance when he put up 21/5/2 with 2 3s on a night when no one else on Memphis had anything working. In his other start – which admittedly came against the Suns, which will inflate anyone’s numbers – Miller was good for 24/8/2 with a 3 and a steal. Remember, he was the fifth overall pick in the draft and it has been his ability to stay healthy more than his actual ability that has most often come into question. That said, Miller needs 35+ mpg to be a legitimate fantasy option. Whereas Battier could sneak by with some value in 28-30 minutes because he offered a little of everything, Miller hits 3s but doesn’t do much in steals or blocks. He’s actually attacking the boards with a vengeance, averaging 5.2 per game in just 28.4 minutes, and a lot of them aren’t cheapies. But he’s an example of why I focus so much on point guards, and now big men. Miller is a scorer with only one real secondary fantasy skill (3s), so he’s never going to offer that much help. Eddie Jones is seeing just 2.5 more mpg than Miller, but because he guns all those 3s and grabs some steals, he finds himself nearly 50 spots higher on the player rater. Still, if you’re looking for a short-term pickup, Miller seems like a decent option. There’s a fair bit of ambiguity around Battier’s injury situation and the Grizz have a game against Phoenix on Saturday, so even if he’s coming off the bench Miller might be a decent starting option for that contest.


Blogger Rook said...

Wow, excellent article. I'm a Gasol owner and had been wondering about all the trends you wrote about.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shane Battier puts up a great line, solid %s, and is an outstanding player. He's as close to a poor man's Pippen as anyone in the league right now. My only gripe with him is that he could be a much bigger presence on the offense if he would assert himself more. Agreed?

12:48 PM  
Blogger Bendyr said...

Why did Battier get 0 minutes yesterday? Did I miss a news announcement?

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about damon stoudamire? is he a valid fantasy threat over someone like jasikevicius?

2:42 PM  
Blogger DM said...

Yeah, Battier has a sprained right index finger, so he didn't play. It kind of snuck up on everyone. He's day-to-day, but you know how those things go. He has a pretty perfect track record of health, so I'd expect him to be ready to go soon.

And let's not go comparing him to Scottie Pippen just yet, even if you throw in the "poor man's" caveat. Pippen's one of the top 50 players of all time; let's see Battier make an all-star team. Scottie averaged at least 5 assists per game in 11 seasons; Battier has had one season where's he's been above 2. I think the fact that he doesn't assert himself so much on offense is part of what makes him so great. He saves energy for the defensive end, picks his spots to keep his FG% up (although this year is really the only year he's been that great of a shooter).

2:46 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Damon is more valuable for Saunas. As someone that owns both, Damon's numbers are better and he has less competition for the starting role. Right now Sarunas is a backup playing starters minutes since Tinsley is down; that will eventually change. Damon is the starter in front of the oft-injured BobbyJax, as he is currently.

It will be interesting, however, to see how things shake up with the Artest trade that may or may not happen. For example, if a trade that happens like Artest and Tinsley for Richardson and Starbury in NY, that it woudl be interesting to see hwo things settled down.

Regardless, I'd take Damon over Sarunas, but Sarunas is my latest pickup since luther Head lost PT, and is a solid 3rd PG/Util option, as he certainly doesn't hurt you in any category and is great for percentages.

11:45 PM  

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