Monday, March 27, 2006

Worth the Wait?

One of the best moments in the NBA season occurred this past Thursday when Amare Stoudemire took the court in Phoenix. Stoudemire is the most exciting big man in the league and depending on the night, he can certainly give LeBron, Dwyane and Kobe a run for their money when it comes to the most fun player to watch, period. He didn’t look too rusty either, going for 20 and 9 with a pair of blocks in just 19 minutes. So all of those owners who stashed him on the bench all season in hopes of a late season push were probably thrilled. “If he can put up 20 and 9 in 19 minutes in his first game, he’ll be putting up 30 and 10 in no time!” Well, not quite. Game Number Two wasn’t the same rousing success as Amare put up just 6 and 5 in 17 minutes. He’s been complaining of soreness in both knees, which isn’t too surprising, and he may actually be more of a problem for your fantasy team right now than a true asset.

Why’s that? Because – just like at the beginning of the season – he’s the ultimate temptation, but far from the sure thing. At this point in the season, you need the most out of every game you use. With some members of your league likely inactive due to their standings position, it should mean that they are even more quality free agent options available, meaning there’s little excuse for having a clunker. If you’ve held onto Stoudemire for this long there’s a good chance you’ll want to see your patience pay off, but that could be working against you. The eagerness to plug Stoudmire in the lineup might backfire. Don’t consider what you have already invested when making decisions going forward. Look at things completely objectively. If you spent a draft pick on him and have been stashing him all year (more on that in a bit), don’t use that as your reasoning to get him in your lineup. He should only be in your lineup if he’s the best option you have available. And even though a minute played for Phoenix is more valuable than a minute played for any other team, and even though everyone needs a center, it’s hard to endorse a player who will be lucky to see 25 minutes per game over the rest of the season. If I learned anything in the one economics class I took in college -- and that’s open for debate – it’s the sunk cost. You can’t let whatever price you paid for Amare earlier on affect your decisions now.

It’s also a good time to reflect on whether it was worth it drafting Stoudemire at the beginning of the season. The best-case scenario had Stoudemire coming back around the All-Star break, but you had to be the most optimistic person in the world to think that was going to happen. A smart organization like Phoenix knows better than to rush its franchise player back from injury before he’s completely healed. Getting back for the final 16 games is really the best one could have hoped for, and that includes the slow ramp up time. In our 12-team league with 13 roster spots on each team, Stoudemire went in the 8th round. This was ridiculously early; I can’t imagine too many leagues in which he went any earlier than this. But just to prove a point, let’s take a look at some of the players drafted after Amare: Bobby Simmons, Mike James, Al Harrington, Josh Childress, Nenad Krstic, Bonzi Wells, Shane Battier, Gerald Wallace, Jameer Nelson, Ricky Davis, Eddie Jones, Luol Deng, Raja Bell, Charlie Villanueva, Mike Miller, Raymond Felton, T.J. Ford, Chris Kaman. Think that owner wouldn’t mind having one of those players instead of 16 games of middle Amare?

The draft is by far the most important day of the season. Each pick should be treated preciously. The trend throughout the league these days is to be overly cautious when it comes to injuries, especially with elite players. There is too much money tied up in these guys to allow GMs and coaches to do anything risky. There are obviously different levels of risk – Jason Kidd’s injury at the start of last year simply nowhere near as serious as Stoudemire’s, for example – but it’s just very hard to ever endorse the drafting of a player who absolutely everyone agrees will miss at least the first half of the season.

While we’re on the topic of the Suns, one more quick note. When possible I’m going with the “they’re playing the Suns? I’m gonna plug him in” strategy. I picked up Charlie Bell today, hoping that T.J. Ford misses another game and Bell can put up a good line in a possible shootout. Other teams on the plate for Phoenix over the next few days include Indiana and Toronto. So if guys like Danny Granger or Matt Bonner are sitting out there, this might be the time to use them.

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