Wednesday, December 29, 2004

What the F?

By Anthony Peretore

Western Conference Wednesday
Week of 12/29-01/04

What the F? is a run down of every team in the NBA, facts surrounding them, player(s) to look out for on the fantasy front, and a forecast of their games this week. The intent of this blog is to provide readers with up-to-date information on their favorite teams, help with their fantasy team, and predictions for every NBA game this week. Comments are much appreciated.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION
1st: San Antonio Spurs (23-6)
FACTS: Everyone’s preseason favorite to win it all has not disappointed, especially of late. The Spurs are the league’s top defensive team in holding their opponents to just 85.2 PPG. They also lead the lead in opponent’s FG% (41.2%) and their point differential (10.8) is second to only Phoenix. Five of their six losses have come on the road and only Seattle (20-6) has managed to knock them off at home. Tony Parker has shaken off his early season funk of late (19.0 PPG, 6.6 APG, 1.2 SPG in his last 5) in leading the Spurs to the league’s third best record overall.

FANTASY: The problem in getting a talented 8, 9 or 10th man off the Spurs roster is that Coach Gregg Popovich grants double-digit minutes to ten players right now. There are two guys to keep an eye on that may serve as valuable fantasy players down the road. G Brent Barry (18.6 min, 5.9 PPG, 2.2 APG, 0.5 SPG) and G/F Devin Brown (17.8 min, 7.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.4 SPG) put up solid numbers when they get their run, but for some reason their time is in constant fluctuation. Brown had 17 and 6 in 33 minutes the other night versus Boston, but the previous game went scoreless in just 13 minutes of action. While Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker remain the only dependable fantasy options on this team, Brown and Barry may produce in the long haul.

FORECAST: Thursday: @Portland (Win), Friday: @Clippers (Win), Sunday: @Sacramento (Win), Tuesday: vs. Lakers (Win)

2nd: Dallas Mavericks (19-10)
FACTS:
Want to know how important Dirk Nowitzki is to the success of this team? In the nine games in which Dirk has shot below 39%, Dallas is 3-6 and lost another when he sat out with a sprained ankle. Thus his poor play/injuries have led to 70% of the team’s failure.
A big factor in Dallas’ success thus far has been, believe it or not, their defense. Last year the Mavs ranked 28th in opponents’ PPG at 100.8. This year, they have climbed to 11th in the league, allowing just 94.8 per contest. The downfall to this however, has been their dip in offensive production. Last season Dallas led the NBA in PPG at 105.2, but are averaging just 99.6 (9th) this year. Perhaps a more defensively focussed team will carry them further in the playoffs however.

FANTASY: This is another team that warrants double-digit minutes to 10 players, making it hard to find valuable production from anyone besides their studs. However, look for the Mavericks to make a trade down the road for another point guard. They need a pass-first type player (Jason Kidd?) to get all of their weapons involved. A key piece to any deal they should make will be G/F Marquis Daniels, a guy who if given 35+ minutes a night could be a top 30 fantasy player. In his 5 games this season with 35+ minutes, Daniels has averaged 12.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, and 1.2 BPG.

FORECAST: Sunday: vs. Milwaukee (Win)

3rd: Houston Rockets (13-15)
FACTS
: Monday the team traded veteran G/F Jimmy Jackson and F Bostjian Nachbar to the Hornets for G David Wesley, yet another move in hopes of fortifying a rather weak backcourt. Last week Hosuton acquired SG John Barry for unimpressive PG Tyronn Lue. These deals also allow the team to move star Tracy McGrady to his natural SF position. It is believed that Wesley (13.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 SPG) will team with G Bobby Sura in the starting backcourt with McGrady moving to the ‘3’ to play alongside Juwan Howard and Yao in the frontcourt.

FANTASY: This recent acquisition should stir up the Rockets quite a bit, especially along the fantasy front. With less of the scoring pressure on T-Mac, expect his numbers to rise across the board. Sura, who has been garbage (yes I’m bitter) since coming off the injured list should also improve a bit with Wesley there to shoulder the point guard load. Sura is a more natural ‘2’ and Wesley played the point in Boston. The team should get better all around with this trade and even Yao and Howard’s numbers may improve.

FORECAST: Wednesday: @Cleveland (Loss), Friday: vs. Milwaukee (Win), Sunday: vs. Utah (Win)

4th: Memphis Grizzlies (13-17)
FACTS:
The Grizzlies aren’t as bad as their record might indicate. Since Coach Mike Fratello took over for the "ill" Hubie Brown (by the way he was awful on Saturday) Memphis is 8-6, including 5-2 at home. The Grizz have played very well on the defensive end of the floor, holding their opponents to just 92.2 PPG (5th best). Their problem has been getting the same consistency from their 10-man rotation they got last season. Four regulars (Shane Battier, Bonzi Wells, James Posey, and Lorezen Wright) have all seen their PPG averages drop. The combined drop-off between these players has been 9.9 points, with the most significant decrease from Posey. He has just not been the same player we saw at the end of last year (14.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.3 SPG last April). The team needs him to be a reliable second option behind Pau Gasol.

FANTASY: Keep an eye on Center Stromile Swift. Only averaging 21.5 minutes per game all year, he has at times looked like the up-and-coming star the Grizz are counting on him to be. When receiving 25+ minutes this season, Swift has averaged 15.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG and a gaudy 2.9 BPG. With Wright crapping the bed on an almost nightly basis, why isn’t Stro getting more run? When he starts getting it, make sure you cash in.

FORECAST: Wednesday: vs. Boston (Win), Saturday: @Minnesota (Loss), Monday: vs. Utah (Win)

5th: New Orleans Hornets (2-25)
FACTS:
What can I wrote about this team that readers would be interested in? Basically just how awful they are so we can all have a good laugh, so here goes. The Hornets rank dead last in PPG (85.2), FG% (39.6, which is 2.2% lower than anyone else), 3-pt FG% (27.7), defensive rebounds per game (26.9), points per shot (1.04), and free throws made and attempted per game (16.1/20.1). New Orleans also ranks second to last in BPG (3.2) and FG made per game (32.5). This team is gross. They just traded David Wesley, Baron Davis may be out the door, and Lee Nailon has been their go-to-guy lately. Why did New Orleans get a franchise again?

FANTASY: The question is which one of these guys is going to step up on a nightly basis on such an awful team. It seems as if a handful of guys have put together some solid games but Lee Nailon (36.7 min, 19.3 PPG and 4.8 RPG in his last 6—3 starts), and Dan Dickau (35.0 min, 12.2 PPG, 5,2 APG, 1.2 SPG in his last 5—3 starts) seem to be the most consistent. Also keep a watch on rookie J.R. Smith who started Monday for the first time this season. He had a sub-par game (10, 4, 2, 2, 1) but played a hefty 38 minutes. Highly touted out of high school, he could be a nice pick up.

FORECAST: Wednesday: vs. Phoenix (Loss), Monday: @Boston (Loss)

NORTHWEST DIVISION
1ST: Seattle Supersonics (20-6)
FACTS:
No, I have not forgotten that I picked this team to finish dead last in the West. But I’ll be the first to tell you I’m rooting hard for them. They have been playing very smart basketball on both ends of the floor. Offensively Seattle ranks 2nd in 3-pt FG% (38.4), 4th in the NBA in free throws made per game (22.0), 5th in FT% (79.1), 5th in fewest turnovers per game (13.2), and 6th in PPG (100.4). On the defensive end, they are 8th in the league in opponents’ PPG (93.9), 3rd in point differential (+6.5), and 5th in opponents’ 3-pt FG% (32.8). They have done a great job on the boards as well, limiting their competition to a league low 36.4 RPG. Of their five losses, two have come against Boston (of all teams) who have managed to hold Seattle to just 34.1% combined shooting in both games. With no more games against the Celts, Seattle should coast to the Northwest title.

FANTASY: If you need some rebounds from a 9th or 10th man, pick up Reggie Evans. He’s averaging 8.5 RPG in just 24.2 minutes, equaling out to 16.9 rebounds per 48 minutes. Why Coach Nate McMillan chooses not to give him more run is beyond our knowledge. But given 30+ minutes a night, Evans can be a rebounding machine. He does little else to help you out, but if you need boards, Evans should be available in most leagues.

FORECAST: Thursday: @Atlanta (Win), Friday: @Charlotte (Win), Monday: @Miami (Loss)

2nd: Minnesota Timberwolves (16-10)
FACTS:
Inconsistency doesn’t even begin to describe this team. The T’Wolves started the month of December 4-0 on the road, but since then have lost their last four away from home. Most recently they dropped road contests at Cleveland in San Antonio by a combined 24 points. Over the course of the season they have road wins at Dallas, Sacramento, and Phoenix, but currently stand at just 8-7 for the year. While their struggles continue away from the Target Center, Minny has been great at home (8-3), evident in their last two contests, blowing out the Wizards and Clippers by a combined 62 points. Their main strength all season has been their rebounding. Minnesota ranks second in the league with a +3.7 differential on the glass, led by the NBA leader in boards, Kevin Garnett (14.7 RPG).

FANTASY: Is that Wally Szczerbiak putting up rather decent fantasy numbers of late (20.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 3.2 APG in his last 5)? With Latrell Sprewell either nursing injuries or being suspended for the ridiculous comments coming from his mouth, the Zerb has really stepped up. If only Sam Cassell would wake up this T’Wolves team could return to elite status.

FORECAST: Wednesday: @New York (Win), Saturday: vs. Memphis (Win), Tuesday: vs. Phoenix (Win)

3rd: Portland Trailblazers (13-13)
FACTS:
It is being reported that the Blazers are somewhat regretting their decision to re-sign PF Zach Randolph to a six-year extension. He is not adjusting well to Coach Mo Cheeks system, something ‘odd-man-out’ Shariff Abdur-Rahim has been more than willing to do. Does it really matter anyway? With goons like Randolph, Darius Miles, Damon Stoudamire and Sebastian Telfair there is no reason to expect any sort of cohesion in future years. This team is in big trouble despite the fact that they have one of the more talented rosters in the league. Go figure.

FANTASY: Go get F Darius Miles now. A few weeks ago I actually said to Paul that it was too bad this guy never panned out. Then he quickly reminded me that Miles entered the league on his 12th birthday and is still only 23! It’s so easy to forget how young some of these guys are. Anyway, since taking over for SAR in the starting lineup, Miles has been a force in averaging 37.0 min, 18.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.3 SPG, and 2.0 BPG in 6 games. There is no reason to think he’s going to lose his starting spot, thus we can all finally expect big things from Miles.

FORECAST: Thursday: vs. San Antonio (Loss), Saturday: vs. Golden State (Win), Sunday: @Phoenix (Loss)

4th: Denver Nuggets (13-15)
FACTS:
The Nuggets finally came to their senses yesterday and fired Coach Jeff Bzedghglik. But, their interim coach is Michael Cooper is the former LA Sparks (WNBA) Head Coach. Does management really expect a smooth transition from mentoring Lisa Leslie to Kenyon Martin? It will be interesting to see if Cooper sticks around or if Denver will quickly search for a veteran coach. The main factors in leading to the Nuggets’ disappointing record thus far have undoubtedly been injuries and defense. In their first game of the year they lost their starting ‘2’ Voshon Lenard for the season, Carmelo Anthony has missed 6 games and Center Marcus Camby another 4. Also, the Nuggets are allowing their opponents to shooting 46.3% from the floor which currently ranks 27th in the league. The team is hoping Cooper can rally the troops and lead the Nuggets to a high seed in the playoffs, something we all expected from this team in the preseason.

FANTASY: The question remains: who (if anyone) is going to step up to fill’s Lenard’s void? Many people outside the team feel it’s outrageous that Rodney White hasn’t gotten a fair shot for his potential (9th pick overall in ’01) alone should get him 25-30 minutes a night. In his last three games, it seems as if he could be coming along. He has averaged 13.7 PPG in 26.0 min on 43.9% shooting. Greg Bucker and Bryon Russell are still going to get their minutes, but who knows what Cooper’s preference will be. Worth keeping an eye on if you’re in need of a solid G/F.

FORECAST: Friday: vs. Philadelphia (Loss), Sunday: @Lakers (Loss), Monday: vs. Clippers (Win)

5th: Utah Jazz (11-17)
FACTS:
Since F Andrei Kirilenko went down with a knee injury, the Jazz are a dreadful 3-11. This is the same team that started the year 6-1 and had everyone talking about them being a sleeper for the NBA title! So, how important of a defensive presence is Ak-47? In their 13 games playing with Kirilenko, the Jazz were able to hold their opponents to just 42.5% shooting from the field. In the 15 games since (and including) his injury, foes are stroking it at a red-hot 48%. To put things in perspective, the worst ranked team in opponents’ FG% for the year is Atlanta at 47.1 %. Utah’s 42.5% through 13 games would currently rank 4th overall. Bottomline is, they need Kirilenko back in the worst way before their playoffs hopes are completely wiped away.

FANTASY: With Carlos Arroyo in the doghouse after getting into an on-court confrontation with Coach Jerry Sloan, it appears that Keith McLeod will take over starting point guard duties. In his first game from returning with a groin injury, McLeod played 32 minutes totaling 11 points, 4 boards and 6 assists. While Arroyo was injured earlier in the year, McLeod started the teams’ first 6 games averaging 24.8 min, 9.0 PPG, 5.7 APG and 0.5 SPG. He could put up similar numbers to Mo Williams in Milwaukee if Sloan continues to give him 30+ a night.

FORECAST: Wednesday: @Clippers (Loss), Friday: vs. Sacramento (Loss), Sunday: @Houston (Loss), Monday: @Memphis (Loss)

PACIFIC DIVISION
1st: Phoenix Suns (24-4)
FACTS:
The San Antonio Spurs finally put the notion to rest that an offensive powerhouse can be the elite team in the NBA this season. The Spurs smoked the Suns last night 115-94 with Tim Duncan having to play only 1:16 of the fourth quarter. The Suns worst loss before last night’s 21-point debacle was by 5 in overtime to the Cavaliers. Don’t expect this loss to mean Phoenix isn’t as good as advertised. The Suns still lead the league in the majority of offensive categories: PPG (108.8—7.0 more than any other team!), 3-pt FG% (38.7), 3-pt FG made per game (8.2) FG made per game (40.4), and fewest turnovers per game (13.0). The team also ranks second in point differential (+10.3) and FG% (47.9). While their defense still has much room to improve, there really has been no need. Not many teams have been able to keep up with the high-flying Suns led by PG Steve Nash, league leader in assists at 10.9.

FANTASY: Stay away from any Phoenix player that isn’t a starter. The starters on this team are all averaging 30+ minutes per night, which means very little run off the bench.

FORECAST: Wednesday: @New Orleans (Win), Sunday: vs. Portland (Win), Tuesday: @Minnesota (Loss)

2nd: Sacramento Kings (17-9)
FACTS:
The Kings have lost consecutive games for the first time since November 6. They entered their most current home stand with a 9-1 record, yet dropped three out of five, most recently to the hapless Warriors. The Kings got some more bad news when it was announced that backup point guard Bobby Jackson is expected to miss the next three months with a torn ligament in his wrist. Last season the Kings were 35-15 (.777) with Jackson and just 20-12 (.625) without him. So far, the team is winless (0-2) in his absence this season. This could mean trouble for Coach Rick Adelman and co.

FANTASY: Right now the Kings only seem to be going 7 or 8 deep and those 2-3 players (Greg Ostertag, Maurice Evans, and Darius Songalia) don’t seem worthy of anyone’s time. These guys are either unspectacular, not receiving more than 25 minutes per night, or both. Stay away.

FORECAST: Friday: @Utah (Win), Sunday: vs. San Antonio (Loss), Tuesday: @ New York (Win)

3rd: Los Angeles Lakers (15-12)
FACTS:
On paper, the Lakers look as if they should be better than their .555 winning percentage shows. Their main problem has been their carelessness with the basketball. They have a league low –3.1 turnover differential but only commit 14.4 per game (15th). Thus, their problem has been forcing their opponents into mistakes. LA ranks dead last in forced turnovers per game (11.3) and steals per game at 5.9. The thing is however, Kobe Bryant and Caron Butler force a combined 2.6 per game by themselves, leaving the other Lakers mostly to blame. With the lack of a transition game in the high-flying Western Conference, it’s no wonder the Lakers haven’t gotten any higher than the 7 seed thus far.

FANTASY: Despite having a rather unimpressive start to the season, F Lamar Odom has turned it on of late. In his last six, the URI-product has averaged 39.3 min, 16.7 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 1.2 BPG, all above his season averages. When he finds a comfortable groove along side Bryant, look for his numbers to mirror last year’s in Miami.

FORECAST: Sunday: vs. Denver (Win), Tuesday: @San Antonio (Loss)

4th: Los Angeles Clippers (12-14)
FACTS:
The Clippers have been hovering around the .500 mark all season, but recently dipped below in dealing with injuries to starters Marko Jaric and Corey Maggette. Interestingly, the team is 3-0 when Maggette, their leading scorer sits out. Their real problem however, has been their lack of a talented point guard. There have been recent rumors discussing Jaric, Kerry Kittles, and Chris Wilcox being shipped to New Orleans for Baron Davis. How this makes sense with phenom Shaun Livingston on the roster is beyond me, but Davis will undoubtedly make the Clips a serious playoff contender. Labeled the worst franchise in sports history, who wouldn’t want to see these guys succeed?

FANTASY: If for some reason Bobby Simmons is still available or a manager has him on the trading block, it would make sense to grab him. Simmons is having a career year (37.4 min, 15.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.5 SPG) and finally getting the minutes he deserves. He is LA’s shutdown defender right now, making him a prime candidate for steals. He is also getting over 12 shots per game and has not lost any minutes when Kittles has played.

FORECAST: Wednesday: vs. Utah (Win), Friday: vs. San Antonio (Loss), Sunday: vs. Philadelphia (Loss), Monday: @Denver (Loss)

5th: Golden State Warriors (10-18)
FACTS:
One night last week I decided to watch the Warriors-Grizzlies game before going to bed. What I saw was one of the worst basketball teams (Golden State) I’ve seen all year and to top it off they were allowing Ansu Sesay playing time. The Warriors were down double-digits when I turned off the television and when I woke up I was in utter shock to see that they had won by 10. But, that’s been the way this team has been all year. They have lost three games to the Clippers, one to New Orleans (who only has 2 wins), but then have road wins over Dallas and Sacramento, two of the toughest home teams in the league. Their problem has been their abysmal field goal shooting (41.8%) in which they rank 29th, but being the young team that they are, this was most definitely expected. Coach Mike Montgomery will look to get his youthful team on the right track with six of their next seven against teams under .500.

FANTASY: If President of Basketball Operations Chris Mullin had any clue, he’d trade Mike Dunleavy Jr. away for a pack of gum. He stinks; want evidence: his points, rebounds and assists are all down from a year ago, numbers that are far from impressive to start with. It seems as if Montgomery realizes this and thus has awarded more minutes of late to second-year Euro Mickael Pietrus. In his last four, Pietrus is averaging 26.8 minutes, 7 more than he’s averaged all year. He had possibly his break out game on Monday scoring 24 points and grabbing 5 boards in 32 points in a win over Denver. Dunleavy only received 18 minutes in that game, a clear sign who the coach is favoring of late.

FORECAST: Wednesday: vs. Toronto (Win), Saturday: @Portland (Loss), Monday: vs. Philadelphia (Loss)

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