Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Leap

It’s often said that the NBA is a superstar’s league and the same is true in fantasy. It’s great to have solid contributors up and down your roster, but if you plan on winning, you need to have superstars. The list of superstars doesn’t change much from year to year, and the very top almost never changes. LeBron, KG, Matrix and Dirk were the consensus top four coming into the year and they are the top four players right now. But in that next batch of superstars – which I consider top 30-35 players – there are always a few new names each year. Let’s look at the guys who did it this year.

Chris Bosh
Before the season started, I was skeptical as to whether we’d see a big jump in Bosh’s numbers. I figured it was just going to be his third season (at just 21 years old, too), he would still need to muscle up a bit to bang around with the big bodies in the league and that he wouldn’t have enough help in Toronto. But none of those factors have hindered Bosh and in fact, the last one has really helped him. It was pretty clear coming into the season that Bosh would be the #1 option on the Raptors, which is always a good thing for fantasy purposes. The only downside to this is that it can sometimes have an adverse affect on a player’s FG% since he is left launching so many shots. And that’s what makes Bosh’s season that much more impressive, that he’s taking 25% more shots and has dramatically upped his FG% so dramatically. I talked about this at length last week, so I won’t go into that much more. Bosh is up to 2.5 apg this season and when more and more double teams start coming, he’s going to have to continue to learn how to spot the open man. When that number rises – along with his blocks – we’ll start to talk about Bosh as not just a superstar, but a top 10 player.

Jason Richardson
J-Rich was a tough player to read coming into the season. While the Warriors were ignited by the arrival of Baron Davis at the end of the season and played some great ball, Richardson’s numbers took a hit when Baron became the alpha male in Oakland. So that scared people off, but then all the talk about the run ‘n’ gun Warriors being this year’s version of the high-scoring Suns made J-Rich an attractive name again. So what happened? The Warriors have been largely a bust, not even averaging 100 ppg on the season, but J-Rich has emerged into a legit fantasy difference maker. If you look at his numbers compared to last year’s there’s really not too much of a difference, and you could argue that it was really last year that he made the leap. But the possibility of Baron killing his value, along with some slight improvements made it a sure thing this year. Richardson is averaging 2.1 3pg this season, a new career high that puts him in the top 10 in the league. I am usually of the opinion that for a player to be a true fantasy superstar, he needs to be a dominant force in at least one category, and that’s the case with J-Rich now. Like Bosh, he’s also working on a career high FG% on career high FGA, which is always a great sign. And while 0.6 bpg isn’t something to jump up and down about, as BV was saying a few days ago, getting that from a guard can make more of a difference than you think.

Carmelo Anthony
Here’s another player that I was skeptical of coming into the season. I never bought into the ‘Melo hype from the start and the regression he showed last year led me to believe that he would always be overrated in both reality and fantasy. But Anthony has proven me wrong and has emerged into a legit top 30 player in his third season. Right after I got through saying that a true fantasy superstar needs to be a dominant force in at least one category, I talk about ‘Melo, but the fact is that while it’s tough to be dominant in points, ‘Melo actually is. In fact, according to the Player Rater, ‘Melo gives you as much value in points as J-Rich does in 3s. To continue the trend that seems to hold true to players making the leap, ‘Melo is shooting 46.4% -- a dramatic increase from last season’s 43.1% -- and he’s doing it while taking a career high 19 shots per game. Perhaps my favorite aspect of ‘Melo’s game is his relentlessness at attacking the basket. It’s easy for young players to get enamored with their jumpshots and it’s usually not for the best. After taking 2.6 3pg in his rookie season (connecting on 32%) and 2.1 per game last year (connecting on 27%), he’s down to just 1.9 attempts this year. The simple fact is that ‘Melo isn’t a very good outside shooter. Perhaps he’ll develop over time, but right now it’s not one of his strengths. So instead, he’s heeded his coach’s advice and is getting to the line, and he’s doing it better than anyone in the league except for some guys named Iverson, Wade, Bryant and James. He’s taking higher percentage shots and scoring more points. His steals have also rebounded back to a solid 1.3 per game this year and while he will likely never be in the same league as his draft buddies Dwyane and LeBron, he’s looking like at least a top 30 player for many years to come.

Pau Gasol
For Pau, it was all about the minutes. He’s not really playing any better than he was last year – in fact, his percentages are way down, from 51% and 77% to 49% and 67% – but when you are one of the most talented players in the league and are the #1 option on your team and go from playing 32 mpg to nearly 40 mpg, the bump is going to be significant. Gasol has made the leap because Mike Fratello let him make the leap, basically. He trusted Gasol to be the centerpiece of the team, and Gasol has responded and led the Grizzlies to the fifth best record in the league, which unfortunately for them looks like that will draw them a first round matchup against the Mavericks in which they don’t even have home court advantage. Back to Gasol, the extra minutes have allowed him to become a top 10 force in blocks while also being on the verge of a 20/10 guy. But the area where Gasol has made the biggest improvement is in assists. His 4.3 per game is a huge asset coming from a PF, and actually puts him around the top 30 in the league. While his FT% is a definite negative, it’s not a killer; I’ve got him on my team and am comfortably in second place in the category. And it’s no coincidence that I’m in first in assists.

Mehmet Okur
Yes, we all love Andrei Kirilenko. And for the record, I am predicting that at some point in the next five years Kirilenko will do the impossible and record a QUINTUPLE DOUBLE. That’s right, not just a quadruple double, but a QUINTUPLE DOUBLE. But AK47 made the leap a couple of years ago. It’s Memo that has done it this year. He’s done it in a quiet manner, quite fitting since he plays for Utah, the least exciting team in the league, but the numbers don’t lie. He qualifies at center, is averging 18 and 9 to go with a block and a 3 per game on very solid percentages. He’s another guy who might not be especially dominant in one category, but he’s pretty close in rebounds, where he falls just outside the truly dominant group of Ben Wallace, Shawn Marion, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and KG. He’s especially been a monster lately, grabbing 10.6 per game in January, as he and Kirilenko are proving to be a great team. Carlos Boozer’s return might have an impact, but you get the feeling that Boozer doesn’t want to ever play again and the Jazz might be OK with that. Not really, but you know what I mean. He doesn’t really look young, but Okur is only 26 years old and is in the prime of his prime. He’s a perfect player for Jerry Sloan and for the most part has managed to avoid Sloan’s crazy PT issues, averaging 35.4 mpg on the season, a very healthy number for a center.

Making The Leap Next Year?
Dwight Howard
– He needs to score more and/or get that FT% up. Until then he’s just a really good complementary guy.
David West – One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, just need to see him do it for a whole season.
Josh Howard – Dallas’s depth and his lack of one standout skill might keep him from truly emerging.
Andre Igoudala – The silent assassin; you may think he’s been disappointing, but watch him finish in the top 40. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him get his 3pg up from 0.6 to 1.0 and steals up from 1.6 to 2.0. Then you’ve got a superstar.
Samuel Dalembert – Health and consistency are all that stand in his way.
Gerald Wallace – See above.


Blogger JM said...

Nice article. I agree with all the guys you listed, though I'm still a little skeptical about Okur. I know his numbers this year put him as the 5th best center in a 9-cat league, behind only Rasheed, Bosh, B.Miller, and Duncan (with Dalembert being very close behind Okur).
However, it's hard for me to accept that he's a superstar. I want to see him play this well 2 years in a row. (Though perhaps, it just a long-standing dislike of the Jazz, on my part.)

As for guys I would add to your list, the first that comes to mind is Elton Brand, who has had a solid improvement in 5 categories.

For his career he's at:
20pts, 2.0 blks, 49%FG,73%FT, 2.6TO

This year he's at:
25pts,2.6 blks, 52%FG, 76%FT, 2.1TO

The jump would be even bigger if you considered what his career numbers were prior to this season.(This season's stellar numbers have raised his career avg a decent amount.)

Did you leave him out because he had already "made the leap" a couple years ago?
Maybe he's in the category of guys who have made a leap from fantasy Superstar to Knocking on the Door of the Top 4 (Lebron,KG,Matrix,Dirk).

For Brand to be in the upper-upper echelon, I guess it depends if he can keep up his first half #'s for the entire season. i.e. his %'s have started to slip a bit this past month)

Others who I would add in to your "making the leap" category:

C.Billups - his avg's have increased by 5 pts, 3.5asts, 0.5 3's, 2%FG, 4%FT compared to his career avg

R.Lewis - has increased 6 pts, 0.5
3's, 0.8 asts, 0.3 stls,0.2 blks

Camby - has increased 5 pts, 4 rbs, 0.7 blks, 0.5 stls, 8%FT, 3%FG, 0.5 less TO,
(if he were to get a magic infusion of healthiness. :-)

2:24 PM  
Blogger DM said...

Yeah, Brand already made the leap, but he's making a mega-leap this year. I mean, I drafted him in the first round two years ago (when he broke his foot in the opener after going for 21 and 15 w/8 blocks), so he's already a well-established superstar. Same with Rashard Lewis, who never gets enough respect, but I had him ranked #30 before the season, and it was only that low because I knew you could wait on him.

Billups's season is weird -- I still can't figure out if it's a leap or just a career season. He's a lot older than the rest of these guys, y'know?

2:52 PM  
Blogger JM said...

Dm, Good points. I agree that Rashard doesn't get enough respect. I drafted him at #36, and he's been playing like a top 15 guy. He's been so good that I was recently able to package him with Dwight Howard in a trade to get Elton Brand and Richard Jefferson.

As for Billups, at age 29 I think he's now finding his groove. As long as the core of his team and coach stay together he will continue to produce #'s like this year.
He was a guy who in my league was drafted in the late 3rd round (#35). At the time I thought that was a bit high. But now, he's showing he was a great pick at that spot, and is playing like a top 15 guy.

8:39 PM  

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