Archive January 2008

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Is it Groundhog Day again?

About a month ago Kyle pointed out that Tim Duncan had returned to the consistent double-double threat that he had once been in yesteryear. Today, I am here to point out that Duncan’s throw-back campaign has picked up speed and seems likely to continue to accelerate in the near-term. For the last month Duncan has averaged 21.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.9 blocks in 37.2 minutes per game. Duncan last averaged numbers like that for an entire season in 2004, and not coincidentally has not played that many minutes per game for a season since he won his last MVP in 2003.

The minutes are one of the keys to Duncan’s re-improved production, but there are others. For one, the Spurs are not dominating this season the way that many expected them to. In fact, as of January 30 they are only 2.5 games ahead of the team in NINTH place in the Western conference. While nobody expects them to really miss the playoffs this year, the fact that a legitimate discussion could be held on the possibility speaks volumes. Also, the Spurs have been/are fighting key injuries, including the current absences of Tony Parker and Brent Barry, which causes them to have to rely more heavily upon the man once dubbed Groundhog Day.

I think that Duncan is a great trade-for prospect in the short term because he is currently out-producing his expectations, but here is the key question: will these increased minutes and production by Duncan continue for the second half of the season? Since there is the legitimate (and ridiculous) chance that 10 teams in the West could approach 50 wins this season, for the first time in recent memory Duncan and the Spurs may have to play at a higher level than anticipated for most of the season to ensure that there is a post-season to prepare for. This makes Duncan a great player to own for much of the second half of the year.

My only worry in fully endorsing Duncan as a “buy” candidate is that, presuming that Parker has returned to health and the Spurs have clinched their playoff position by early April I could definitely imagine Duncan scaling it way back over the last couple of weeks of the season to try to get fresh for the playoffs. Since those last couple of weeks corresponds to the fantasy playoffs, I would probably advise acquiring/holding Duncan until closer to your league’s trade deadline then trying to trade him high then.

But that is my opinion. Anyone else have any thoughts on whether to buy, hold, or sell the Big Fundamental?

RotoWire Endorses the Giants

While the Patriots have run a spirited campaign, going 18-0, and setting all kinds of offensive records, we think a New England cover against the spread would reward their cynical (almost Rovian) win-at-all-costs behavior from Spy Gate to their pervasive dishonesty on the NFL injury report to Tom Brady's serial philandering with various supermodels. RotoWire (and the American public) are tired of business as usual in the NFL, and the Giants truly represent the team of change. Eli Manning had not won a playoff game until this year, and GM Jerry Reese has made history as the first African American GM to reach the Super Bowl.

What the Giants lack in experience, they make up for in integrity and fortitude, winning playoff games on the road in Tampa Bay, Dallas and even Lambeau Field. (And Tom Brady's experience before 2001 is suspect at best as he wasn't even a starter at Michigan).

For these reasons, RotoWire endorses the Giants to cover the 12-point spread against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

MLB Notes

Albert Pujols is falling down my draft board. Don’t get me wrong, I’m normally all about drafting guys coming off down years, and Pujols is still unquestionably one of the three best hitters in the game. However, if his lineup protection was concerning, his health woes are flat-out worrisome. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend a top-5 pick on someone who is already talking about surgery in January. Right now, I’d take David Wright, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and maybe even Miguel Cabrera over him.

Dan Uggla is unlikely to be on any of my fantasy teams this year. The counting stats are nice, but do not underestimate how much of an average-killer the strikeout prone second baseman is. Good luck scoring 113 runs again with a .326 OBP, especially with Miguel Cabrera no longer around. I’d rather a boring option, like Jeff Kent. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Kelly Johnson has a better fantasy season than Uggla.

I’m hardly stepping out on a limb here, but I expect Alex Gordon to be a top-10 fantasy third baseman in 2008. So he failed to live up to big expectations as a 23-year-old - big deal. The talent and swing are still there. Kansas City is actually a very good environment for hitters, and his 25-steal potential is underrated. Gordon is absolutely someone to target.

Here are the results of a recent industry draft I represented RotoWire in. Honestly, I’m pretty stoked about my team.

I’m baffled participating in leagues where Dontrelle Willis is still being drafted in the mid-rounds. Maybe some velocity will return, and maybe the league switch will result in early success thanks to the unique delivery, but really, there’s not a lot to be optimistic about. He’s had poor WHIPs and K:BB ratios for consecutive seasons, including last year, when he allowed a disgusting 29 homers in 177 innings versus righties. A switch to the AL means things might actually be even worse in 2008.

No one’s going to have the same impact Ryan Braun did as a rookie last season, or even Hunter Pence, for that matter, but Evan Longoria might be the closest thing in 2008. If he is given the opportunity, nice numbers should follow.

If you don’t like Band of Horses, then you probably think up is down, left is right, short is tall, right is wrong and Rachel Bilson is ugly.

Felipe Lopez is a solid bounce back candidate. One year removed from a 44-steal campaign, Lopez was a massive disappointment last season, thanks in large part to joining the Nationals. In fact, he was limited to just two homers in 309 at-bats at RFK Stadium. Their new confines should be much more friendly to hitters, and as long as he can beat out Ronnie Belliard, Lopez is an excellent value pick in fantasy leagues.

Here are Scott Kazmir’s numbers after the All-Star break last season: 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .222 BAA, 124:31 K:BB ratio over 94.1 innings. A simple change in mechanics combined with maturation led to Kazmir finally reaching his vast potential. His small frame will always bring health questions, and pitching in the AL East is far from ideal, but that type of strikeout ability can only be matched by Erik Bedard. It’d be nice if Kazmir could become more efficient, but after turning just 24 years old this week, there’s still even more room to grow. At worst, consider him a top-10 fantasy pitcher in 2008.

If I’m the Dolphins and I’ve been offered Marion Barber and multiple high round draft picks for the rights to Darren McFadden, my biggest worry would be the cops showing up to arrest me for robbery.

The Tim Lincecum versus Yovani Gallardo debate is not easy. On one hand, Gallardo has better command, poise, an improved Brewers defense behind him and the far superior lineup. On the other hand, Lincecum, although less safe, comes with even more upside. He posted 9.24 K/ 9 IP as a rookie, plays in a pitcher’s paradise and has an elite outfield defense behind him. Obviously, the wins category will be in Gallardo’s favor, but Lincecum’s devastating 95-98 MPH two-seam fastball, curve and developing changeup make him simply one of the toughest pitchers to hit in the game. In the end, both are top-20 fantasy options.

Last year’s numbers hardly suggest it, but Delmon Young could jump into the fantasy elite this season. If he finds himself batting in between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, he can remain an average regular and still beat last year’s solid counting stats. Of course, he might also start tapping into that unlimited potential and become a star. A 25/25 season is hardly out of the question, and because his swing produces so many line drives, his average should approach .300 despite less than ideal strikeout totals. Remember that he’s still just 22 years old.

Next Great Point Guard?

For those of you that read my articles (all four of you), you already know that I am pretty impressed right now by Jose Calderon. I watched him flat-out destroy the Celtics on Wednesday night by pretty much penetrating at will, hitting every kind of shot, and making the correct pass in every situation. The Raptors shot 57% from the field and better than 70% from long-range on Wednesday, and while this was clearly an anomalously torrid shooting night for them credit still has to be given for Calderon breaking down the defense enough to lead to a lot of open shots.

I’d seen Calderon play before, but I’d never really paid that much attention to him. I figured him as a solid platoon-guy with T.J. Ford that could produce decently as a starter, but nothing really special. I scoffed a few weeks ago when I saw ESPN stat guru John Hollinger endorse Calderon for the All Star Game, but I’m scoffing no longer. After watching him Wednesday then really going back through his numbers over the last couple of seasons I’m ready to declare him worthy of mention in the same breath as his 2005 point guard classmates Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Ray Felton.

Now, my question for those that have been paying attention to Calderon for longer than I have: am I overreacting? Is he really THAT good? That one game was very impressive, but I don’t want to make myself look silly by lauding him so hard only to find out later that outside of that one game his numbers are generally a lot more hollow. Because before Ford’s injury Calderon came off the bench, and there was lots of talk that the Raptors might lose him this summer to free agency. But if Calderon is really as good as he looked on Wednesday, I can’t imagine that the Raptors would let him get away for any nor sit him again for any reason even with a solid player like Ford as the replacement. And for the rest of this season, Calderon is now firmly entrenched among the upper echelon point guards in my rankings. I once worried that Ford’s return would ruin his value, but right now I’m ready to declare him a top-30 fantasy player for the rest of the year. Am I wrong?

MLB Notes

Hanley Ramirez versus Jose Reyes is the biggest debate entering the 2008 season. Ramirez should hit for a higher average and much more power, but he’s coming off shoulder surgery and bats in a far inferior lineup, especially with Miguel Cabrera gone. Reyes was brutal during September, but his price tag should be slightly lower, can single-handedly win you the steals category and has shown an improved walk rate. In the end, the guess here is that if you end up with either player, you’ll be quite happy.

Catcher is incredibly thin this year, even more so than usual. After the top-5, there’s a precipitous drop off. There are some decent sleepers to be had later on, but if you’re playing in a two-catcher league, you better address the position fairly early.

I could make a decent argument that B.J. Upton deserves to be a first round fantasy pick this year. He’ll be available at second base, posted an .894 OPS as a 22-year-old and nearly went 25/25 last season despite playing in fewer than 130 games. Sure, his high K-rate and BABIP from last year suggests a lower batting average is in store, but he also started to develop a keen batting eye after the All-Star break. When you combine his age with his power/speed potential, few can match that upside. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he were a top-3 pick next year.

Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman are going to seriously outperform their ADPs this season. Neither will be a big help in the power department, but average is the most underappreciated category, and both of these Angels have the ability to hit .310-.340 as soon as this season. In fact, neither have a batting average. They have a batting outstanding.

Travis Hafner is a confounding player, as there’s no telling whether Pronk’s 2007 was the beginning of a decline or just an aberration. His OPS dropped a full .160 points from the prior season, and he’s about to turn 31 years old. His body type isn’t exactly conducive to aging gracefully. Still, his plate discipline remained strong last year, and he was arguably baseball’s best hitter from 2005-2006. It would have been nice had an injury been to blame, but no major one was reported, and the huge decline in slugging is cause for concern. Draft him only if it comes at a significant discount.

Right now, Erik Bedard sits No. 3 on my SP rankings, and I’m closer to moving him higher than lower. After April of last season, he posted a 2.34 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. He also limits homers and flashed an incredible 10.9 K/9 IP. His oblique injury also limited his innings, making him more likely to enter 2008 with a fresh arm. Moreover, a trade is a real possibility, and a move out of the AL East (into the NL?) would be a major boon to his stats as well. Go get him.

NFL Notes

Philip Rivers’ performance obviously needs to be taken in context, as the numbers reveal a poor outing. Playing without LaDainian Tomlinson and a clearly hobbled Antonio Gates, Rivers made plenty of impressive throws with a completely torn ACL. He deserves a bunch of credit…No one really should have been surprised by Tomlinson’s absence; the writing was clearly on the wall there. He wasn’t just hurt, he was injured…San Diego’s secondary is pretty good at creating turnovers…Laurence Maroney’s last five weeks have been a complete 180. He has the moves and speed to really impress at times. Of course, with each successive big game in the spotlight, he becomes less and less of a value pick in fantasy leagues next year…Not sure what “consensual horseplay” is, but it sounds like fun…Yes, Kevin Faulk is the most underrated Patriot…Pretty crazy that Randy Moss has two catches for 32 yards during the postseason. He never had fewer than 32 yards receiving in a single game all season long.

I haven’t done the research, but I’d be surprised if the Giants aren’t the first team to reach the Super Bowl with a 3-5 home record…Plaxico Burress was the best player on the field Sunday. Coming off a season in which he caught a dozen touchdown passes playing with a torn up ankle for most of it, Burress enters 2008 as a top-8 fantasy WR, at worst…I love Brandon Jacobs’ bruising and wearing down style, but Ahmad Bradshaw is the better running back right now…Has there ever been a team that relies more on their line than the Giants? Not sure why Mike McCarthy gave up on the run so early, especially in those conditions, but New York’s front seven really dominated, despite the lack of sacks…I had no idea Donald Driver possessed that kind of speed still…The Giants will probably get blown out by New England in two weeks, but winning at Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay is an unbelievable accomplishment.

How Does the Giants' Defense Stack Up?

The Patriots have the best offense in the league this year and arguably the best in league history (though it performed only modestly on Sunday), but have they had to face any great defenses? In fact who are the great defenses in the league this year? Indy, Pittsburgh, Tampa, San Diego, Tennessee? None of those are even in the class of the 2006 Ravens, let alone, the all-time great defenses. Is the Giants defense right now the best unit in the NFL?

For most of the season the team's weakness was in the secondary, but with Aaron Ross getting experience and Corey Webster seeming to turn the corner these last few games, suddenly the pass defense is a strength. It doesn't hurt to have the best pass rush in the NFL, but even when Favre had time to throw, the secondary held up. And aside from one blown coverage on Donald Driver and a short field after a long kickoff return, Green Bay didn't score a touchdown. In other words, the Giants defense didn't give up a single drive of more than 45 yards in Green Bay.

It would have been great to see the Patriots offense face one of the all-time great defenses, but largely they've dealt with merely good ones, and with pretty good results. (They struggled a bit with the Colts and Chargers, but San Diego benefited from the bad weather). Over the course of the year, the Giants weren't even a good defense, but during the playoffs, they have been very good. Probably not good enough to stop New England on a clear day in Arizona, but then again, I didn't think they'd win in Green Bay or Dallas, either.

Baron Davis or Deron Williams?

Last week I raised the debate of whether you would rather have Marcus Camby or Chris Kaman for the rest of the season. Basically, would you rather have a potent young player on the rise or an (arguably) more potent veteran with a history of injury? This week, let’s have a similar discussion about Baron Davis vs. Deron Williams.

On most player raters, Baron Davis is ranked ahead of Deron Williams with Davis most likely in the top-10 overall and Williams somewhere around the top-25. On the other hand, Williams is a young player on the rise who has played in 80 games in each of his two seasons thus far while Davis is a veteran that has missed at least 15 games in each of the last five seasons with an average of 26 missed games per year over that stretch. Davis’ combination of scoring, assists, steals, and 3-pointers is unmatched in the NBA, but Williams is no slouch as an almost 20-point/10-assist player that also shoots 50% from the field.

Just like Camby last week, the thought that Davis has yet to miss a game this season almost feels like a ticking time-bomb when he has been so consistent an absentee over the years. But also like Camby, the fact that Davis is the more elite player makes me tend to rank him higher with the thought that you’d rather have ‘elite’ in the playoffs than ‘very good’. But if Davis has his injury during the playoffs, you could very easily be stuck with nothing at the most important time of the season. Dilemmas, dilemmas…

In the end, in a keeper league or a rotisserie league I probably play it safe and go with Williams since health and games count more in roto leagues than head-to-head. But in a head-to-head league with playoffs…call me a gambler, but I believe that Davis is not going to sit out down the stretch for a Warriors team that has post-season aspirations. So in that situation, I rank Davis ahead of young Deron.

That is my stance…what is yours?

NBA Notes

It took a while to get acclimated to the new offense, but Jason Richardson is blossoming into a fantasy star in Charlotte. It started in December and has carried over into January, when Richardson has averaged 24.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg and 2.5 3pg. While J-Rich could be described as a sell-high, his poor start still suppresses his overall numbers, and his recent hot streak is for real. Over the last 30 days, no player in the league has averaged more 3-pointers per game (3.2) than Richardson.

Speaking of slow starts, Lamar Odom was a guilty party as well. Since he was coming off shoulder surgery during the offseason, the sluggish start could be expected, but his current career-low of 2.7 apg is concerning. Still, with Andrew Bynum expected to miss the next eight weeks with a knee injury, Odom is going to have to be more aggressive on the offensive side of the ball as well as on the boards. While his scoring remains down, Odom is averaging 11.2 rpg, 4.2 apg and 1.3 bpg this month, showing flashes of his previously dynamic self. Few other fantasy players offer his versatility, so make some offers before it’s too late.

Over the last month, only six players in the NBA are averaging more blocks per game than Erick Dampier (2.5). He’s also shooting a respectable 70.2 percent from the field during that time span. Still, only deep leagues should consider him.

After a lackluster campaign last year, Brad Miller worked hard over the offseason, and the results are obvious, as the big man is enjoying a fine bounce back season. One of the best passing centers in the game, Miller’s assist and rebound numbers are likely here to stay. However, with Kevin Martin back, and Ron Artest and Mike Bibby soon to follow, a decrease in scoring is likely, making Miller somewhat of a sell-high candidate. Fellow Kings John Salmons and Francisco Garcia also qualify, but for them, it might very well be too late.

Kenyon Martin is injury-prone and isn’t as explosive as he used to be following multiple knee surgeries, but he’s someone who currently belongs on all fantasy rosters. Teammate Nene is dealing with a serious health issue, meaning K-Mart is going to get all of the minutes he can handle. Before a staph infection sidelined him Tuesday, Martin had seen 35-plus minutes of run in consecutive contests, and he offers rare steal/block potential. Fellow Nugget Anthony Carter also offers under the radar fantasy value, especially if you are in search for help in assists and steals.

While his defense still needs work, Rashad McCants is developing into a legitimate scorer. Over the last five games, he’s averaging 21.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.2 apg and 2.0 3pg, while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. With his recent inclusion into the starting five, his fantasy relevance may be here to stay.

Pau Gasol has been a disappointing fantasy commodity this year, but certainly not since the calendar turned. During January, the big man has averaged 24.4 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.9 apg and 1.9 bpg. The slow start can at least partially be blamed on the different offensive system installed by the new coaching staff, but if the past seven games are any indication, it’s going to be an excellent fit. Trade rumors continue to swirl, but Gasol should be a top-15 fantasy player from here on out no matter what uniform he’s wearing.

NFL Notes

Imagine if Seattle hadn’t been gifted a 14-0 lead…Atari Bigby had to have one of the bigger “where did that come from?” games of the season Saturday…Ironic how Charles Woodson went from being typically overrated in Oakland to being one of the best football players this season, yet pretty much under the radar for the most part…I like Matt Hasselbeck’s game, but I like Mike Holmgren’s offensive system even more. If he leaves town, Seattle’s passing unit needs to be downgraded significantly…Remember when all of New England was crying about Deion Branch leaving town? Good times. Like Billy Beane in baseball, it’s best not to trade with the Patriots…Green Bay’s rushing attack went from being a weakness, to a strength, to a top-three unit in football. Ryan Grant is a mid-first round pick in fantasy leagues next year.

I realize it’s not a terribly important position, but Jacksonville’s lack of talent at wide receiver killed them Saturday night. Dennis Northcutt probably just dropped another pass as I’m writing this…I was on board with the Jaguars’ game plan of never blitzing and taking away the deep ball, but it’s hard to get burned deep in the red zone; they should have blitzed on a couple of those third downs from the 10-yard line…Tom Brady’s performance was masterful, don’t get me wrong, but completion percentage is obviously far less important than YPA…Watching Laurence Maroney reel off four straight big games has to be frustrating for his fantasy owners from this past season.

Played NBA2K8 for PS3 over the weekend. Probably the most realistic, and best, (sports) video game ever made.

I can’t remember a more disappointing performance out of a sports franchise than how the Colts played Sunday. At least not in recent memory. It’s like the secondary forgot how to play football…Thanks for showing up, Marvin Harrison. Now, don’t let the door hit you on your way out…Reggie Wayne is more a product of Indy’s system than a truly special wide receiver. His hands could really improve…In the most important game of the season, LaDainian Tomlinson, Joseph Addai, Antonio Gates, Marvin Harrison and Philip Rivers all left the game hurt at one point. Most were at least hobbled throughout…Credit where credit is due: Philip Rivers has been nothing short of fantastic over the last six quarters…Were you as surprised as me to find out Adam Vinatieri hadn’t made a single field goal from more than 39 yards all season long?...I’ve heard from more than a few people declaring Peyton Manning had a poor game Sunday, but the guy completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and got 8.4 YPA. Both interceptions could have easily been caught…Teams should not be charged a timeout inside 2 minutes if an injury occurs on a dead ball (i.e. an incomplete pass). That rule makes zero sense…I don’t understand Tomlinson’s comments saying how he could have returned if the score was different. Really? Down three points in the fourth quarter of an AFC Divisional game didn’t qualify? I’m not calling him soft. I’m saying I doubt he plays this week…Sunday offered more proof than ever how unimportant the RB position is. Did anyone notice a difference between LT and Michael Turner? Didn’t think so…Teams simply must stop insisting on calling three straight run plays when a first down wins you the game. Not only did Sunday’s playcalling make even less sense since Indy had timeouts, but it’s even more perplexing when you factor in that the defense is gearing toward run, further making a first down via the ground less likely. Call your favorite pass play; if it doesn’t work, your opponent is left with one more timeout. If it does, the game is over…I really wanted to see a Colts vs. Patriots matchup again.

No team relies on winning the battle in the trenches more than the Giants, and their line is the No. 1 reason why this team is playing in the NFC Championship game…It’s not saying much, but it appears Steve Smith has a chance at being the best WR from USC in quite a while…How much do prospective Brandon Jacobs 2008 fantasy owners have to worry about Ahmad Bradshaw?...I still can’t wrap my head around watching Terrell Owens cry profusely while defending Tony Romo over taking a vacation in Mexico with Jessica Simpson…The new “American Gladiators” is more likely to win an Emmy than Julius Jones returning in a Dallas uniform next season…Trying to tackle Marion Barber does not look fun…Eli Manning and Philip Rivers playing terrific football in January. Yep, it’s definitely bizarro world.

Some Observations from the Weekend's Games

  • Eli Manning got deeper into the playoffs than his brother Peyton.

  • Norv Turner, despite being skewered for half the year, got deeper into the playoffs than Marty Schottenheimer did last year. He did it with a gimpy Antonio Gates, no LT in the second half and Billy Volek on the team's game-winning drive. (Maybe Gates' injury was a blessing because they remembered Vincent Jackson was on the roster).

  • With the Colts and Cowboys going down, the Patriots' road to perfection just got a lot easier, though if Sunday's games showed us anything, we should not assume it's a done deal.

  • If the Pats beat the Packers, they will have beaten the Colts, Cowboys, Packers, Giants, Chargers and Jaguars en route to 19-0. The only playoff teams they won't have beat would be the Seahawks, Buccaneers and Titans. Even though their division was a joke, the Pats will have done it by beating all of the relevant competition directly. Still, because the Pats will avoid the Colts and the Cowboys in the postseason, their greatest-team-ever argument will be weaker than if they had beaten those two decisively. (Not that they don't have a strong case, but they were robbed of the chance to make an air-tight one).

  • A Manning-Rivers Super Bowl would pit two quarterbacks traded for one another against each other.

  • Letting Drew Brees go doesn't look so bad after Rivers torched the Colts secondary without a healthy Gates

  • If the Packers win two more games, Brett Favre's comeback season will include the TD record, the yardage record and a second Super Bowl

  • The Giants pass rush against three Pro Bowl offensive linemen in the fourth quarter Sunday was unreal. They only had two sacks, but the pressure on the very elusive Tony Romo was constant.

  • There were zero turnovers in the Cowboys-Giants game until Romo's pick on the last meaningful play from scrimmage, and even that wasn't really a turnover because it was fourth down anyway.

  • After the Seahawks went up 14-0, they were outscored 42-6.

  • The Colts' defense was terrible during the regular season last year, but good in the playoffs. They were great during the regular season this year, but terrible in the playoffs.

  • The Giants held the Cowboys to 17 points in Dallas despite missing their top corner, Sam Madison, for the whole game, and their No. 2 corner, Aaron Ross, for half of it. Corey Webster, considered the weak link for the last two years, guarded TO one on one for much of the game. (Even No. 3 corner Kevin Dockery was out).

  • If the Giants face the Patriots in the SB, that Saturday night game where they could have pulled their starters becomes much more meaningful in retrospect.

  • LaDainian Tomlinson is overrated.

  • The Pats' defense is beatable, but it's good enough to slow opponents down, and even a slowdown is fatal when you're trying to keep up with the NE offense.

  • The Giants are 9-1 on the road this year, having not lost since Week 1 at Dallas. Nine wins in a row on the road in the NFL is almost an impossible feat. (NE has eight, of course this year).

Camby vs. Kaman

Generally by this point of the season, I am trying to trade players that are either injury risks or are playing so far above their previous production that I fear that they may slow down. Marcus Camby would fall into the injury risk category, while Chris Kaman would fit as a player whose production this season is significantly better than he has ever shown in the past. Camby and Kaman would both be near the top of any fantasy rater at the center position, with Camby posting dominant rebounding and ridiculous blocked shot numbers while Kaman matches the mega rebounding and also adds strong scoring to go with good blocked shots. So, if you had to choose just one or the other for the rest of the season, which would you pick?

When I first thought of this question I was leaning towards picking Kaman. He is younger and hasn't had the injury concerns that Camby has, so I would feel safer that he will play in more games in the second half of the season. Camby has missed at least 10 games in every season since the lockout in '99, and has missed an average of 16 games per year in his last four seasons. The fact that he has played in all 33 games this season feels like a ticking time-bomb for his fantasy owners that are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But in the end, I find myself leaning towards Camby for one reason: Elton Brand. I am uncertain whether Brand will play this season, but if he does return for March and April Kaman owners will be faced with their primary center being relegated to the secondary post player on his own team. While I worry about Camby's health, at least I know that if he is on the court he should produce at an elite level. I would rather take the chance on having elite production in the playoffs from Camby if healthy as opposed to risking Kaman devolving to a lesser player next to Brand.

So give me Camby over Kaman. What about you?

NFL Notes

Todd Collins may lack in arm strength, but he was pretty good this season all things considered. Forget the ugly late-game interceptions last week, Collins was one of the biggest surprises of the season…Matt Hasselbeck was pretty clearly not playing at 100 percent last week. The Seattle offense did the best they could not to win that game…I really hope D.J. Hackett ends up on a bunch of my fantasy teams next year. Since the injuries suppressed his numbers so much, he’s definitely someone to target as a value pick in 2008…Referees should always err on the side of the play that is later reviewable as opposed to vice-versa. This drives me absolutely crazy.

The Steelers/Jags game was an instant classic. Jacksonville is clearly the better football team, but they should consider themselves lucky to still be alive. I understand the importance of running time off the clock, but that Ben Roethlisberger designed sweep was quite a head-scratcher. I feel like teams too often fall into the trap of doing what they are “supposed” to do instead of giving themselves the best chance of winning…I love Roethlisberger’s ability to hang tough in the pocket and the impressive YPA, but man, he sure does take too many sacks…Is Hines Ward the best possession receiver ever?...Heath Miller could be a fantasy force if he were featured in the game plan like that more often…I disagreed with Mike Tomlin’s original decision to go for two with the score 28-23 with so much time left – can you really expect to prevent Jacksonville from even a field goal for the final 10:25? But the move to still go for two from the 12-yard line in that situation was the single dumbest decision I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’m not exaggerating.

Ironic how the team that rested its players Weeks 15 and 16 jumped out to the early lead Sunday, while the supposedly sharper Giants took a good quarter to get into the flow of things. In the end, that debate wasn’t really answered…Jeff Garcia was seriously exposed, especially with a hobbled Joey Galloway at his disposal…Michael Pittman is one of the best receivers out of the backfield of any running back in the league.

As good of a first half Cortland Finnegan played Sunday, he was equally as bad during the second half. I think I just sounded like Tim McCarver there…In almost every circumstance, quarterbacks make the receivers, and I’m by no means making excuses for Vince Young’s atrocious 2007, but come on, that Titans wideout corpse was possibly the worst unit I’ve ever seen…Jeff Fisher deserves all the credit in the world for his coaching job this season. That team had no business being in the postseason, especially coming out of the AFC.

The 49ers’ hiring of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator is quite interesting. On the surface, it makes very little sense considering their personnel, especially since their best player is at running back. Still, I’m not ready to lower Frank Gore’s fantasy value next year, as he should approach 80-90 catches.


Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick – Yes, he was coaching the team with the most talent, but don’t try to get cute; the Patriots went 16-0! If I were starting a franchise from scratch, I’d make Bill Belichick the No. 1 pick, ahead of any current player in the league. It’s an even easier choice when you consider longevity.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Adrian Peterson – A no-brainer.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Patrick Willis – A no-brainer.

Defensive Player of the Year: Nnamdi Asomugha – Jared Allen was the best defensive end, Patrick Willis was the best linebacker, Albert Haynesworth was the most dominant tackle, and Bob Sanders was the class of all safeties, but Asomugha was the NFL’s best defensive player in 2007. Charles Woodson was also terrific, but a toe injury derailed the latter part of his otherwise brilliant season. Asomugha’s numbers don’t stand out – 34 tackles and one INT – but that was because of the single craziest stat of the year: he was targeted 28 times all season long, resulting in a microscopic 10 catches allowed. Almost always lined up in man coverage, Asomugha is a physical, rare talent with the ability to match up with any sized receiver in the league. Part of the reason he saw so few targets had to do with the Raiders’ poor run D, but the same could be said about Denver, and Champ Bailey was picked on this season. A truly dominant, shutdown corner in the NFL these days is a rare thing, and Asomugha is the exception.

Worst Defensive Player of the Year: Jason David – He allowed an eye-popping 14.5 yards per pass. That’s almost unfathomable.

MVP: Tom Brady – The only argument would be Randy Moss, but I look at it like this: if I were playing New England, I’d rather face them without Brady than I would sans Moss.

NBA Notes

Other than LeBron James, there isn’t a fantasy player I’d rather own than Chris Paul. In fact, in leagues that count both free throw percentage and turnovers, he’s probably even more valuable than James. In just his third year in the Association, Paul is already the league’s best point guard. He’s virtually unguardable off the dribble, and if New Orleans makes the playoffs, he’s the NBA’s MVP this season.

Kevin Garnett is currently enjoying a rather ironic season; while most other years during KG’s career consisted of wondering whether he’d shut it down before the season ended because Minnesota was so far out of the playoffs, he now finds himself playing for a team that might be TOO good, as his fantasy owners can’t be happy with his decrease in minutes. By all means, he’s still an elite fantasy player, but he’s currently averaging the least amount of points, rebounds and assists since the 1997-98 season.

As far as I’m concerned, the biggest steals in fantasy leagues this year have to be Chris Kaman, Manu Ginobili, Andrew Bynum, Mike Dunleavy, Hedo Turkoglu and Stephen Jackson.

The most underrated fantasy player might very well be Mike Miller, who is averaging an impressive 16.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.0 apg and 2.1 3pg, all while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Some more steals would be nice, but Miller’s last two seasons have quietly justified his previous selection as the No. 5 pick in 2000’s draft.

If he’s not already taken (he should be), feel free to stash Randy Foye on the end of your bench. After a recent positive prognosis on his knee, he should be back on the court by the beginning of February. While his minutes may be limited initially, there’s absolutely no reason for Minnesota not to hand the point guard duties over to him. A franchise playing for the future, Sebastian Telfair and Marko Jaric are unlikely to be on the next Timberwolves team that makes the playoffs. Foye has the talent to really help fantasy squads over the second half of the season.

In non-keeper leagues, I’d be shopping Dwyane Wade right now. He’s a top-5 fantasy player, no doubt, but the injuries are mounting, and the closer we get to season’s end, the more likely it is Wade shuts it down. The Heat are 8-26 right now; only one team in the NBA has fewer than eight wins. If you can get first round talent in return, pull the trigger.

I expected so much more from Emeka Okafor this season. He’s basically become an afterthought in Charlotte’s offense, typically no better than the team’s third or fourth option on any given possession. It’s now his fourth year in the league, and he’s still yet to develop any low post moves, evidenced by his career-worst 12.8 points per game this season. It’s safe to say Orlando isn’t regretting making Dwight Howard the No. 1 pick during the 2004 draft.

If you want to know who the next superstar in the league is, I’ll save you the suspense; his name is Rudy Gay. He’s basically improved every single month he’s been in the NBA, and we’ve yet to even approach his ceiling. Remember when he was knocked for coming off as too aloof in college? Neither do the seven GMs who passed on him during the 2006 draft.

Give a hand to Grant Hill, who has redefined his game and persevered much longer than I ever expected after so many ankle problems. After missing 275 games between 2000-2006, 35-year-old Hill is now thriving while playing nearly 34 minutes per game in a run-and-gun uptempo system.

Dallas is Vulnerable in the NFC

If Terrell Owens isn't close to 100 percent, the Cowboys aren't the same team. The Giants could give them a tough game, and the Packers almost certainly would. Having an explosive downfield threat is such an important part of the NFL these days, losing Owens is like the 2000 Ravens losing Ray Lewis - it changes the entire dynamic of the team.

Of course, Owens played very well in the Super Bowl with the Eagles on a broken leg, so there's little doubt about his ability to play through pain. But if his ankle doesn't allow him to play anywhere near 100 percent, it takes Dallas from a 60 percent Super Bowl contender to a 40-45 percent one (the odds that they win both their games).

I was smart... for a week anyway

I've been near the top in the RotoWire staff league and feeling pretty good about my team until a spate of injuries hit this week. Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest, Chris Wilcox and Andrei Kirilenko are all hurt and costing me places in the standings. That's cool, injuries are a part of fantasy. It's happened before and it will happen again. Winning fantasy leagues involves luck sometimes. Until this past week, it looked like blocks was the only category keeping me down. This is a pretty deep league and the pickings were mighty slim on the waiver wire. David Harrison? I tried him and be barely played. He had a nice little run when Jermaine O'Neal was out of action, but Harrison was little used when J.O. came back, then got hurt himself.

Then came an NBA transaction and it was time for me to pounce: the Bobcats traded two guys to get Nazr Mohammed. There must be a reason why Mohammed only averages 18 minutes per game for his career, but surely a team so in need of a frontcourt presence to take some of the pressure of Emeka Okafor would play Mohammed 30 minutes a night. I haven't watched a lot of Mohammed before, but I knew what he could do with regular playing time. He's not a ferociuos shot blocker, but his blocks per minute numbers indicated he'd have 1-plus as a starter getting 30 minutes a night. I overbid on him, too, thinking his blocks would move me up in the category. I'm paying $20 (FAAB $100) for what he can do for me here and now. I won't need him next year. And my plan was working perfectly. Once he entered the Bobcats' starting lineup, Mohammed looked like a shrewd acquisition. In five starts, he had three double-doubles, blocked eight shots and was averaging over 14 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game. I remember watching him play a couple of games on NBA League Pass. He was slow to react on defense, wasn't very good on switches and didn't look he was paying very good attention while out there, but I wouldn't sweat the defense as long as the Bobcats needed a big body -- and that looked like it would be the case for rest of the season at the very least.

Problem... problem solved. Not so fast. Charlotte is led by first-year coach Sam Vincent. And apparently, Vincent is a tweaker. He likes to fiddle with his rotations and lineups. Vincent has decided he doesn't want Okafor guarding quicker power forwards and having to guard near the perimeter. That doesn't utilize his strength. I'm down with that; Okafor is a strong interior defender and the team can maximize his value near the basket. But that means he moves to center and Gerald Wallace starts at power forward. Not Mohammed. If Mohammed has trouble reacting on the inside, he'll be toast guarding away from the basket. So Vincent is brining Mohammed off the bench, where he's averaging about 18 minutes a game -- his career average. I guess if the cream rises to the top, the other stuff sinks to its own level. Mohammed has two blocks in four games off the bench -- all of which have been single-singles to the tune of 5 ppg and 5 rpg. And with me missing production from the aforementioned injured players, I can't afford to keep his buttocks in the lineup and wait for Vincent to change his mind, which I expect him to do at some point. That's what I'm noticing about Vincent: he doesn't stay with a plan too long. And he's a little inconsistent. I remember in training camp, when May went down and Primoz Brezec was mysteriously absent, he said Ryan Hollins would start at center because he wanted to keep Okafor at power forward. He didn't want Okafor playing center, and now he's got him playing center. And with Raymond Felton, he said he didn't want Felton playing too much shooting guard because it was stifling his development as a point guard. And now he's moved Felton to the two, because he felt Felton had become less aggressive as a point guard. Felton seemed fine to me. He was getting to the line over five times a game and it doesn't seem like Charlotte is 13th in the Eastern Conference because Felton was playing point guard. And I'm still waiting to see Jared Dudley play more. Vincent feels his job is to win this season, and while Charlotte's only four games out of eighth place, clearly Vincent needs to think about a year down the road. Doesn't he? I don't know if any of this is a good reason to continue starting Mohammed, but his contract goes on for another three years after this one, and the team isn't about to solve its big man problem overnight. May has to come back from microfracture surgery and the soon-to-be 34-year-old Othella Harrington is outta here after this year. It looks like it will be Plan B for me starting next week. Hello to my starting lineup, Brian Skinner.

Here and There

I'm all amped for the Celtics/Pistons tonight. Detroit's won 11 in a row and the Celtics haven't lost since Detroit beat them at the Garden eight Celtic wins ago. In the parlance of the times, that game was an "instant classic." I expect nothing less tonight in Detroit.

Love seeing the Hornets at 22-11 and in the playoff hunt. Chris Paul will be the league's MVP, or should be given serious consideration. Tyson Chandler is a beast, and David West is among the top scoring fours in the league right now. New Orleans' starting five is among the best in the league and are second only to Boston in the NBA's Lenovo +/- Stat. There's a good reason they are second: they have no bench. The starters are playing a ton of minutes lately and I don't know how long they can last. I saw that problem before the season started and it continues today. If they are going to stay in top 4-5 of the Western Conference, they will need to avoid injuries and trade for some bench help. They need scorers at forward or in the backcourt, along with a competent backup for Chandler. Once Melvin Ely (fractured eye socket) gets healthy, he'll be given a chance to back up Chandler, but if West goes down (he hurt his hip Friday night and is questionable Saturday), there's no one to replace him. My apologies to Ryan Bowen.

Staff NFL Playoff Draft

These were the rules:

6 Teams

2 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 D.

Standard 20/10, 3/6 scoring. Defense is 1 point per turnover/sack, 2 for safety, 6 for TD. Kickers are face value.

This is how it went:

Schuler Pianowski Liss Erickson Del Don Ilk
Pats QB Moss M. Barber Packers QB Dallas QB Colts QB
Welker Tomlinson Seahawks QB Grant Wayne Addai
Maroney Chargers QB Steelers QB Bucs QB E. Graham Owens
Jags QB Witten DJ Hackett Jennings Davenport D. Clark
F. Taylor Crayton S. Holmes Galloway Gates Giants QB
Branch Driver S. Alexander Jones-Drew Engram Burress
Gostkowski Redskins QB Folk Gonzalez H. Ward Jacobs
Packers D Pats D Harrison D. Lee Dallas D Vinatieri
Watson Crosby Colts D J. Brown Kaeding Giants D
Gaffney Portis H. Miller Tampa D Titans QB K. Robinson

By the way, I know my team is bad. I should have taken Jason Witten instead of DJ Hackett, but I forgot about tight ends at that moment. Herb Ilk has the best team in my opinion - if the Colts beat the Pats, I think he's got it.

Ownable Wolves?

Like Charlie I received an e-mail from a friend of mine with the first initial J asking me questions about players to own. In my case, though, this other J was asking two questions about Timberwolves players. More specifically, he asked me:

1) "What the heck is going on with rotation and minutes for (Rashad) McCants and (Marko) Jaric. Are they worth holding on to and/or starting these days?"

2) "Also, just picked up (Ryan) Gomes for (Travis) Outlaw, good or bad move?"

These two questions perfectly illustrate the situation for fantasy owners with regard to Minnesota right now: outside of Al Jefferson, everyone else on the roster is "play at your own risk". They can be blazing hot one week and invisible the next. The player rotations change on almost a daily basis, and when combined with the natural inconsistencies of young and enigmatic players just makes it impossible to predict week-to-week production.

My opinion is that Randy Foye (if he gets healthy) and McCants are the two non-Jefferson Wolves that I'd hold onto on a roto team just because they're the only two that I think have fantasy impact potential this season...but even they are risky. Foye's risk is mainly due to health, because if he returns he should be the featured guard. McCants I'd hold onto for his 3s if nothing else, though whether he ever in fact becomes a roto impact guy or safe to start on a daily basis is still very much in question.

Jaric, Gomes, Corey Brewer, Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair and everyone else would be on my "ride when hot, but don't really want to depend on" list. If you can pick one up and trade them before they cool back down you should probably do it, but until the Wolves establish a set rotation and stay with it (and these players show that they can produce in this new, fixed paradigm) I can't put them into my long-range plans.

NFL Notes

After a 9-7 Week 17 against the spread, my 129-118-9 season record means there’s a new RotoWire Staff Picks champion. Like Matthew McConaughey’s character in “Two For The Money,” all I do is work out and pick winners. Only I don’t work out.

It’s tough to find fault with Tom Brady’s 2007 season, but it is a little crazy to think how long it took him to beat Peyton Manning’s TD record after throwing 30 scores over the first half of the season. Manning, who did have the benefit of playing in a dome, did not have the NFL’s most gifted receiver (Randy Moss) at his disposal and also sat out all of Week 17 during his record-setting performance…New England didn’t just go 16-0 this season, they did so winning on the road against the NFL’s next two best teams (Indianapolis and Dallas)…Since I’m all about upside, I’ll be the sucker drafting Brandon Jacobs way too early next season. The more I think about it, the more I’m feeling him as a first round pick.

Few probably watched it, but the Seattle/Atlanta game was actually one of the best of the season…Chris Redman quietly put up 7.5 YPA or more in three of his four starts this year…If Roddy White ends up on your fantasy team next year, you won’t be sorry.

I was surprised to find out the Saints’ secondary was even worse than Kyle Orton at quarterback…Drew Brees completed more passes in a season than any other QB in the history of the NFL this year…Here are Brees’ stats in the red zone for the 2007 season: 23:0 TD:INT ratio and zero sacks. That’s pretty solid...The Bears’ defensive line was banged up, but do not underestimate just how good Pierre Thomas was Sunday. Unless you can nab an Adrian Peterson type, it’s next to insane to spend an early draft pick on a running back. I’d honestly rather Thomas starting in my backfield than I would Reggie Bush.

Hide the women and children when Chris Weinke steps onto a football field. Words can’t describe how poorly he played against a terrible Browns’ secondary Sunday…The Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn saga is an interesting development…Forget Rookie of the Year. Patrick Willis is the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Brandon Jackson looked halfway decent Sunday, and only 16 weeks too late…Ryan Grant is going to be one of the more debatable fantasy players entering next season…I’m not sure if Mike Martz is a really good or a really bad offensive coordinator.

I’m going to be sure to draft Ron Dayne next year and stash him. There hasn’t been a better fantasy running back over the last few weeks of each season over the last two years…Jacksonville might very well go into Pittsburgh and win again this week, but the stats say the Steelers come out on top.

The Ravens were inches away from becoming the only team to beat New England and lose to Miami during the 2007 season…I love how every move the Dolphins make now seems like life-or-death because Bill Parcells is running the show. Is there a more overrated person in all of sports?

The Eagles are playing some of the better football right now, and I’d argue they’d beat the Redskins regardless of venue. They had the hardest schedule in the NFL this season…Where do you take Marshawn Lynch in fantasy leagues next year? I hate drafting RBs who play with poor quarterbacks.

It’s been beaten to death, but why did John Fox give so many more carries to DeShaun Foster instead of DeAngelo Williams this year? I liked the version of Foster more when he was explosive and always hurt…The Panthers really hit a home run by selecting Jon Beason with the 25th pick in last year’s draft.

Troy Smith, NFL quarterback? I still doubt it, but he has looked more competent than I expected…Reason No. 3,867 why RBs are the most fungible position in football: Cory Ross.

It seems to me Terrell Owens is awfully important to this Dallas offense…Clinton Portis definitely exceeded my expectations this year. Imagine what he would have done if seemingly every member of the Redskins offensive line didn’t get hurt…Washington became just the fourth team ever to reach the playoffs after a 5-7 start.

I get that theoretically it’s better to focus on the future than smaller short-term goals, but in my estimation, you’d have to be brain-dead to hand Matt Leinart the starting QB role over Kurt Warner next season…Put a fork in Edgerrin James, he’s done…It’s safe to say Marc Bulger didn’t have a very successful 2007 season.

What Brandon Marshall did as a sophomore is underrated. Cutler to Marshall is the new Montana to Rice…Speaking of which, there is not a better quarterback to target in fantasy leagues next year than Jay Cutler…Chester Taylor’s 2007 season was one of the most underrated in the NFL…Maybe Adrian Peterson’s lackluster finish to the year will allow him to slip in next year’s fantasy drafts. Instead of going No. 1, maybe he’ll fall all the way to No. 2.

After JaMarcus Russell’s first pass of the game Sunday turned out to be one of the worst of the 2007 season, he actually put together a solid performance…The Raiders have a very good running game…While he’s never broken out as some expected, mainly because LaDainian Tomlinson is as durable as they come, it will be interesting to see where Michael Turner ends up during the offseason.

The Brodie Croyle versus Kellen Clemens matchup Sunday was about as ugly as it gets…All of a sudden, Chad Pennington doesn’t look so bad. And neither does Damon Huard…D’Brickashaw Ferguson has quietly become one of the bigger draft day busts in recent memory. He allowed the second most sacks in the NFL this season. Only Jeff Backus allowed more, and at least he had the excuse of playing for pass-happy Detroit.

Is it just me, or did the Colts’ offense drop off after Peyton Manning exited?...It’s Craphonso Thorpe’s world, and the rest of us are just paying rent…Marvin Harrison apparently suffered the worst bruise in the history of bruises.

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