Monday, January 02, 2006

As the Point Guard Turns

Four Situations to Pay Attention To (One Bonus Since It’s Federal Holiday)

Seattle
A lot can change in a week. Last week with Luke Ridnour ailing it was all about Flip Murray, who was coming off an impressive 29-point, 5-assist performance in a win over Boston. But Murray dislocated a couple of fingers on his shooting hand in that game and then went out and shot 1-for-12 with 1 assist and 4 turnovers as the starting point guard the next night. Ouch. It’s not like Bob Weiss – or anyone – thinks that Murray is a legitimate NBA point guard, but he was just trying to get a hot player out on the court. That one game was enough to convince Weiss to bring Murray back off the bench while Ridnour remained limited, and Murray did respond with 14.5/4.0/4.0 with 1.0 3s and 1.0 steals in those next two games. But the point guard to watch in Seattle these days is someone who probably only qualifies at SF in your league – Damien Wilkins. The highly touted high school prospect with great basketball lineage (his dad is Gerald, his uncle is Dominique) who never lived up to his billing at N.C. State and eventually transferred to Georgia before catching on as an undrafted free agent is finally showing some consistent skills. He actually looked rather impressive at times in his rookie season with the Sonics last year and it was enough to get him a 5 year, $15 million contract offer from the Wolves that the Sonics matched. But now he’s the starting point guard in Seattle for what looks like at least a few more games, so he merits watching and/or snatching in fantasy leagues.

His stat lines to date don’t really give the clearest indication of what we can expect since he hadn’t been playing much point guard. But his first two games as a starter have been pretty encouraging. He did rack up four turnovers in both contests, which is not pretty, but he has done his best to balance that out by being an efficient scorer, tallying 24 total points on just 17 field goal attempts. His line of 12.0/6.5/5.5 with 2.5 steals is quite solid. I love to draw comparisons between players just because it makes it easier to know what to expect, and Wilkins is starting to remind me of Marquis Daniels. Both were undrafted SEC products who were unexpectedly productive early in their careers and turned that into a long-term contract. They are both naturally SG/SF types but can handle PG duties in a pinch. They offer solid all-around numbers but are especially helpful in steals – Wilkins is fourth in the league in steals per minute this season. But like Daniels, Wilkins has a crowded roster that makes him far from a sure bet for fantasy purposes. But for now Weiss seems to be liking Wilkins: "Damien has really come on," Weiss said. "He's been a bright spot for us. He's a defender. He rebounds. He just plays the game well, and I like him with his size at the point. He gives us a guy that can post up and make things happen for Ray and Rashard on the outside."

While it seems highly unlikely the Sonics would simply give up on Ridnour, they need to find a combination that works. Despite being one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season with a 13-16 record after coming off a 52-win season, the Sonics are only 1.5 games out of the lead in the pathetic Northwest. Tonight they start off on a 5-game road trip that could be crucial in determining what shape their season takes. With Wilkins playing the best ball of the bench, expect him to see plenty of PT. So for those in weekly leagues, his four-game schedule makes him an enticing play this week. Long term, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wilkins occupy a role similar to the one that Antonio Daniels filled last year. Meaning he might be of a lot more use to the Sonics than your team.

New York
Well, Larry Brown is at it again. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say he’s at it again, because there really hasn’t been a time this season when he hasn’t been at it. Rookie dynamo Nate Robinson rejoined the starting lineup last night and this time it’s for good, says LB. He’s paring down the rotation and letting the kids play! Of course, he said the same thing a few weeks ago, and that didn’t really work out. Still, it means we have to at least consider Nate Robinson yet again. The “No Knicks” rule is still a good one to adhere to, but we know that not everyone has that luxury and sometimes you just might not have a choice. Earl Boykins is the obvious comparison for Robinson because of their shared diminutive status. Like Boykins, Robinson is really a SG who has to at least pretend to play PG because of his size. Neither gets as many steals as you’d think a lightning fast little guy would. While Boykins has never been shy about shooting 3s even though he’s never really shown an ability to make them, it’s a different story early on for Robinson. He’s made an astounding 46% of his long range attempts, shooting far better from behind the arc than inside it. He was never an especially great outside shooter in college, so you can expect this number to come sliding down sometime soon. And it’s not like you can expect him to rack up the assists. He’s played 30+ minutes in five games this season, and he’s totaled 14 assists in those five games. And he has 39 assists compared to 37 turnovers on the season. And he’s a 64% shooter from the line and 41% from the field. So there’s not a whole lot to get excited about, which of course is just compounded by the fact that Brown likes to change his mind about the direction of the squad every week. If you have a roster spot to play with and the pickings are slim, Robinson is someone you can pick up and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. But don’t count on anything.

How will all of this affect Stephon Marbury? It shouldn’t, really. He’ll continue to plug along and be a little disappointing just because it’s hard not to be on the mess that is the Knicks. Besides that 5-point stinker against Orlando last week, he’s been doing about what you’d expect. You’ll probably keep hearing his name in trade rumors because that’s what generates clicks, but it will be a small miracle if Isiah can ship him out. His 23-point, 12-assist performance as Robinson’s backcourt mate might have his owners hoping the current setup remains intact. As for Jamal Crawford, he remains one of the better bench options, especially since in LB’s bizarro world, bench player’s minutes are sometimes more consistent than those of the starters. He’s regularly received right around 30 mpg all season, and his numbers of 14.3/3.0/3.5 with 1.4 3s and 0.9 steals are good enough for a respectable 81st on the player rater. He’s received at least 29 minutes in each of the last 7 games, but know that there’s always the chance of a stretch like Dec. 9 to 14 one – 3.7/3.7/5.0 on 19% shooting – lurking just around the corner.

Memphis
It was quite a sad sight to see Damon Stoudamire go out like that. One of my favorite players in the league – and not just because he once had the audacity to try and slip a 1.5 ounces of weed wrapped in aluminum foil through an airport metal detector – is done for the season. It was especially disheartening to see Damon go down in his return to Portland. Stoudamire had been a disappointment in fantasy circles this year, but he helped the Grizzlies get off to an extremely fast start and they will miss him dearly, as they are now quite thin at PG. Bobby Jackson was the popular subsequent pick up, and while he should be the biggest beneficiary, he might not be the waiver wire savior many were hoping for. B-Jax has always been injury prone – he missed 57 games last year and 55 combined in the previous two – and the game Stoudamire went down was Jackson’s first game back after missing eight because of hamstring issues. This might be why Mike Fratello decided to start Antonio Burks instead of Jackson in the first game post-Damon. It was still B-Jax out there at the end of game, but he was limited to just 25 minutes, which might be the number the Memphis brass decides to keep Jackson at in order to best keep him healthy. Burks can be a decent guy to get some minutes, but despite his impressive 3.1 assist/TO ratio, he’s not a realistic starting option for a team looking to make some noise in the playoffs.

A trade is a distinct possibility, but those things often take a while to shake out, so for now a roughly 23/25-Burks/Jackson split seems like a very plausible short-term solution. Jackson is yet another one of those SG masquerading as a PG, as his less than 5 assists p40 over his career attests. Jackson loves nothing better than to shoot shoot shoot, averaging 17.7 FGA p40 this season. He especially loves to shoot 3s, which is going to make him attractive for fantasy purposes. Nearly half of his 9.9 attempts this season have been from long range, and he’s connected on a respectable 37%. Jackson needs to hit those 3s to be an asset for your fantasy team. He should get enough assists and steals to be decent there, but he’s going around 2 3pg while getting big minutes, that’s where he’ll find his value. If he can’t break the starting lineup he’ll be a shaky play, another one to throw into the Jameer Nelson, Flip Murray, etc. group. The best hope is that Memphis realizes that even roughly 20 mpg is too much for Antonio Burks and that Jackson takes over the starting role. He’s worth picking up and at least keeping on the bench to see how the situation shakes out.

Utah
The Jazz may be the most ignored squad in the league for fantasy purposes. It’s a pretty unexciting unit and with the unpredictable Jerry Sloan running things, people have pretty much learned to stay away. Still, there’s a new PG, so we should take a look. Rookie Deron Williams had an impressive run in mid-November, but then started slumping, got into some legal problems and has now been relegated to bench duties, and has seen his minutes drop from 32 to 22 to 15 in his first three games in his new role. He’s not a fantasy option right now – and really he hasn’t been for around a month – and while the preferable option would be to hold onto him and wait for his next surge, it’s be understandable if you wanted to dump him. What about the guy who took over for him, Keith McLeod? Well, it’s not too exciting. Jerry Sloan obviously likes him, as he started 47 of his 53 games last season and is back as a starter now for no apparent reason. But he’s simply not very good, and with Sloan running show, you never know what you’re going to get. After not playing more than 20 minutes in a game since Nov. 12, McLeod started and played 46 minutes in an OT win against Memphis a week ago, totaling 22/1/4 with 2 steals, 2 blocks and 1 3. Nice. The next game’s 10/2/2 with 2 steals was more along the lines of what to expect and the next game’s 2/1/3 in 9 minutes is what there’s always a chance of with Sloan running things. McLeod just isn’t going to be worth your time expect in the deepest of leagues. He’s a career 36% shooter, doesn’t shoot 3s, gets a few steals. With just a three-game schedule this week that includes games at Memphis and Detroit, there have to be better options.

L.A. Clippers
So much for the Shaun Livingston SF experiment. After getting three starts there – which included two blowout defeats – Livingston found himself back on the bench for the past two games as the Clippers continue to search for ways to right the ship in the absence of Corey Maggette. Livingston was decent but unspectacular in his three starts, getting the assists (7.3) and steals (2.0) you’d expect, but he shot just 33% and having him, Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley out there together hasn’t proved to be a winning combo. In fact, Livingston has the worst +/- on the team. So he’s back to his 20-25 minutes off the bench, out there at the end of games, which is probably the best way to use him for now. Rebounding machine James Singleton got one start for the Clips, but last night it was Daniel Ewing who got the call and went for 11/5/4 with 3 steals and 1 3 in 35 minutes. You’d think that once Quinton Ross gets healthy he’ll rejoin the starting lineup, but he’s missed 5 games now and who knows when he’ll be back? And right now the Clippers are looking for anything that works, and they did get a road victory last night with Ewing in the lineup. Ewing is another – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – SG trying to get by as a PG, at least that was the role he was filling while Livingston was hurt earlier this year. Starting alongside Cassell would let him fall into a different role.

It’s hard to get too excited about Ewing right now. The Clips have had different starting lineups each of the last three games, so it’s not the most stable situation. And Brand/Cassell/Mobley are clearly the Big 3 for the Clippers right now, with Chris Kaman comfortably occupying that fourth spot. Last night’s production and minutes seem to be the best-case scenario for Ewing.

Comet Gain
Maurice Williams – The best of the “All They Need Is a Chance” crew gets his chance; 27.0/4.0/3.5 with 2.0 3s and 1.5 steals in two games as the main man in Milwaukee. Might not keep up that pace, but won’t be too far off.

Mike Bibby – Has stepped it up big time in the absence of 3/5 of the starting lineup; a good reason why you shouldn’t sell low on established stars.

Jason Kidd – Yeah, it’s been Vince Carter carrying the team on this winning streak, but Kidd has been rock solid. Averaged 1.9 3s, 8.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game in December (not to mention 6.6 boards and 46% shooting), which are dominant numbers.

Juan Dixon – We can give it up for our old fave; 17.1 ppg and 1.6 steals in his 8 starts, but 47% shooting is the real surprise.

Mike James – Last two games – 23.5/5.5/9.5 with 1.5 3s and 1.0 steals – suggest he’s back in the groove.

The Hold Steady
Kirk Hinrich – Responded to possible benching with 25/3/4, 3 3s, 3 steals performance; look for continued bounce-back.

Brevin Knight – Was able to avoid missed time with his sprained ankle; don’t expect recent scoring surge to last, but still the best bet for assists + steals.

Chauncey Billups – Enduring an extended shooting slump but still hitting bunches of 3s and is as dominant in FT% category as Tim Duncan is in rebounds. Don’t look past that.

Chris Paul – Sign of a true stud: his shooting, too, has gone cold (38% in last 6), but has made up for it by nabbing 2.8 steals per game in that stretch.

Chris Duhon – Notice how in all of that Chicago lineup change talk, Duhon’s name was never mentioned? Skiles loves him, he’s #55 on the player rater, just keep running him out there.

The Fall
Jamaal Tinsley – More of the same from the most frustrating fantasy player in the league; will miss “at least three games,” which with Tinsley could mean a month.

Jason Terry – The assists have completely disappeared again – just two total in his last two games and averaged just 3.0 per game in December. A healthy Dallas squad cuts into everyone but Nowitzki’s numbers.

Jose Calderon – Injuries, uninspired play, Mike James’ hot streak are a bad combo for the rookie.

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