The final edition of NBA Fantasy Trends is here, a day late but not a moment too soon. I began jotting down some highlights and lowlights of the NBA season, team by team, but had to cut it off after getting no further than 'L', alphabetically. But before we get to the team recaps, let's look at a few players with substantial late-season value.
We have reached that strange Bermuda Triangle-ish part of the season when Bucks point guard Ramon Sessions might actually be a better fantasy option than Chauncey Billups. Mo Williams is listed as day-to-day with pubic symphisitis, but the condition sidelined him for five games last month and the Bucks only play four more times this season. In his absence, Sessions has effectively transitioned into a starting role, compiling averages of four rebounds, eight assists and one steal in the month of April. Scoop him up without expecting help in scoring, percentages or threes, and you will be satisfied.
Francisco Garcia should be owned in all leagues. Unfortunately he probably is already -- especially after Tuesday's 11-of-18 shooting, 31-point, four-steal explosion against the Warriors. Garcia always has some value, but his main interest to fantasy owners depends on the continued absence of Ron Artest. Artest already said that his thumb feels like it has a "screw coming loose" (he had surgery to repair the ligaments earlier in his career), his daughter has recurring kidney cancer and he could still opt out of his contract this summer. Basically, all signs point to Garcia having big value in the few games that remain on the Kings' schedule.
Atlanta Hawks: Atlanta looks headed for the playoffs, but the only real drama I can see is whether or not they will be swept by the Celtics.
Highlights: Al Horford has been a season-long highlight for the Hawks, challenging for ROY honors with averages of 10 points on 50% shooting, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.7 turnovers in 31 minutes per game. Zaza who?
Mike Bibby's acquisition was the most important in-season move the Hawks made. There was no criticism of the trade -- the Hawks got the point guard they desperately needed -- freeing Joe Johnson to focus (with great success) on his own offense -- and they didn't sacrifice much to land him. They are 14-14 since the trade and Bibby appears worn out at times, but nobody doubts how vital he is to the Hawks' playoff odds, even if they are still infinitesimal.
From a fantasy perspective, Bibby's move benefited Joe Johnson enormously. Johnson shot no better than 42% in any of the season's first four months, but surged to 47% in March and 57% in April, thanks to Bibby. On the Sacramento side of the deal, Beno Udrih became a viable fantasy point guard overnight, finishing March with respectable totals of 15.7 points on 49% shooting, 3.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.9 turnovers. He isn't a great source of threes (0.6) or steals (0.7), but the Bibby trade, in short, was a fantasy owners' delight.
Lowpoint: Joe Johnson wasn't great for the first few months of the season. Acie Law struggled at times in his rookie campaign; he never jelled as a starter, was sidelined by a hand injury, and came back to find veteran Mike Bibby ahead of him on the depth chart. Better luck next year.
Boston Celtics: The Celtics get a lot of praise, and they deserve even more. What they have done is nothing short of miraculous. A potentially back-breaking twist of draft-day fate became a series of impressive trades, one historic in its 7-for-1 magnitude. Those trades in turn produced the greatest single-season win/loss improvement in NBA history. And by "those trades," I really mean Kevin Garnett.
The KG-effect is palpable. He radiates an intensity that has clearly infused the Celtics' locker room. Nothing should be taken away from Paul Pierce, either, whose re-dedication to defense has given the Celts another shut-down perimeter defender alongside James Posey and Tony Allen (discounting Allen's last-second foul on Chauncey Billups in this year's first Celts-Pistons matchup -- Doc Rivers should never have inserted him in the game).
The other highlight of the season has been the play of their young guys -- Rajon Rondo has consistently exceeded expectations, and it's going to be fun watching him blossom throughout the playoffs. Leon Powe and Glen Davis have also developed a knack for contributing in limited minutes, minimizing the drop-off when the front-court starters leave the game.
Lowlight: The only lowlight that jumps to mind is injury-related…Kevin Garnett's abdominal strain. Other than that, fantasy owners can only quibble with Doc Rivers' decision to rest his starters before the playoffs -- wise in reality, death in fantasy leagues.
Charlotte Bobcats: Maybe it's a good thing Charlotte didn't sign its new television deal until the end of the season.
Highlights: The Bobcats reeled off a five-game winning streak with Gerald Wallace sidelined…then (Lowlight) lost five straight as soon as he returned. Jason Richardson was effective offensively, averaging 22 points and 3.0 three-pointers in his debut season as a Bobcat, but his style of play didn't necessarily foster the team chemistry that Charlotte so desperately needs.
Lowlights: The Bobcats' brass decided to trade for pricey veteran Nazr Mohammed, which was at the very least an unusual decision. Matt Carroll struggled in a big way with his minutes restricted behind J-Rich. Gerald Wallace should be given special allowance to wear padded headgear. Emeka Okafor struggled mightily at times, though he played well at the end of the season -- presumably that was when he remembered he was playing for a contract.
The lowest lowlight for the Bobcats was the performance of coach Sam Vincent. I give him some slack for integrating shot-happy Jason Richardson and being forced to integrate Nazr Mohammed into his already ponderously slow front-court. But he screwed with Raymond Felton all season long (point guard, shooting guard, combo guard…no, point…no, shooting…oh good, we cut Jeff McInnis). He also vacillated on whether to play Okafor and Mohammed together, mashing his front-court together until the pieces sort of fit for a week or two. I don't have much faith in MJ as a GM, but I think only James Dolan would keep Vincent after a season like this.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls at this point look like they just got back from Madrid during the running season, but you can't feel too bad for them -- all of their wounds are self-inflicted.
Highlights: It was an emasculating year for the Bulls franchise. They came in with aspirations of claiming the top spot in the East, but ended up bottom-feeders. Ben Gordon and Luol Deng each came into the season with $50 million worth of baggage, and the contract issue didn't resolve as the losses piled up. Kirk Hinrich is undersized, as the Chicago media reminded us every time he had a bad game (which was almost all the time). Ben Wallace was so awful that they engineered a trade to bring in the equally-untradeable Larry Hughes. Which brings me to the only actual highlight of the Bulls' season: Drew Gooden! Gooden looks like a steal, as his numbers jumped across the board once he escaped the Cavaliers more rigidly structured style of play. Unfortunately his season is already over because of an abdominal strain.
Lowlights: Joakim Noah cursing out an assistant coach and the player-driven extra game suspension that resulted, Tyrus Thomas blowing off practice, Chris Duhon dismissing a suspension because he "wasn't playing anyway", Scott Skiles fired on Christmas Eve, Ben (Big Bust, Big Bum) Wallace, Luol Deng's Achilles' injury…the list goes on and on.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavaliers highlight is always LeBron James.
Highlights: LeBron James.
Lowlights: Ben Wallace actually makes Larry Hughes look pretty good by comparison, which is a sad thing. LeBron's finger injury early in the year wasn't pretty, as it triggered an immediate six-game losing streak. Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West have both had more bad times than good times since being traded from Seattle. In short, the Cavs are a no-frills group…especially from a fantasy perspective.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are the most disappointing team nobody is bitching about. Yes, they are in contention in the air-tight Western Conference…but is this team assembled to make the playoffs or to be a championship contender?
Highlights: 168 points on March 16th! Iverson scores 51 on December 5th (Nuggets lose). Melo scores 47 points on April 7th (Nuggets lose). J.R. Smith drops 43 points on February 22nd (Nuggets lose). Linas Kleiza drops 41 points on January 17th (Nuggets win!).
Lowlights: Every trip to the defensive end. Not really…Marcus Camby is a terrific defender (3.6 blocks per game) and Kenyon Martin is playing defense with renewed conviction, but in general the Nuggets just lack the necessary focus. Primary responsibility has to lay with George Karl, though some leadership-by-example from A.I. or Melo would be a nice change of pace.
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons are the dark horse of the East, overshadowed by the resurgent Celtics.
Highlights: The Pistons' young guys have been tremendous this season. Significant contributors include Jason Maxiell, Aaron Afflalo, Amir Johnson, and of course Rodney Stuckey.
Lowlights: In fantasy-land, the Pistons have become a nightmare lately. Starters have been benched at random and without warning, or alternately held to 20-25 minutes in a game. Richard Hamilton's nagging hip injury is more than nagging to his owners, and Tayshaun Prince's tremendous start to the season turned out to be an illusion.
Golden State Warriors: The Warriors drive 100 mph, in the express lane, on the wrong side of the road…they're super exciting, but have an inevitable aura of doom about them.
Highlights: Monta Ellis recovered from a shaky start to the season and has been an absolute monster since the All-Star break. Don Nelson has actually played Brendan Wright and Marco Bellinelli for extended minutes in close games (though with nowhere near the consistency needed to help fantasy owners). There is a short film that features Baron Davis roller-skating in hot pants and knee-high socks, with a boom-box, all compliments of Reebok.
Lowlights: Don Nelson's rotations. Mickael Pietrus' slow recovery times. Stephen Jackson's late-season shooting slump. Al Harrington and Andris Biedrins wild swings in value. Etc., etc., etc…
Houston Rockets: The Rockets season is already a success, though a trip to the second round of the playoffs would really seal the deal.
Highlights: 22 consecutive victories is all that needs to be said. Huge contributions from guys like Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier, Aaron Brooks, Luther Head, Dikembe Mutombo and even Mike Harris.
Lowlights: Yao Ming's injured foot cost the Rockets any legitimate shot at winning a championship.
Indiana Pacers: The Pacers are in an awkward re-building phase, and it showed.
Highlights: Mike Dunleavy has been a fantasy owners' dream this season, averaging 19 points, two 3-pointers, five rebounds, three assists and one steal, while missing zero games all season. Danny Granger continues to develop his impressive all-around game, and Travis Diener did a surprisingly good job filling in for injured/apathetic Jamaal Tinsley.
Lowlights: Jermaine O'Neal's season has been a thorough disaster, and his return from a bruised knee isn't improving anyone's fantasy fortunes. The aforementioned Jamaal Tinsley is officially a plague in fantasy leagues, his poor play compounded by the vast potential he teased us with in the season's early stages. Marquis Daniels never broke out this season, and I doubt if he ever will.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers season ended before it began, when Elton Brand ruptured his Achilles heel in a pre-season workout.
Highlights: Al Thornton is the obvious highlight to the Clippers doomed season, though the successful return of Elton Brand qualifies as a huge success at this point. Chris Kaman also re-emerged as a beast in fantasy leagues.
Lowlights: Sam Cassell basically forced his way off the Clippers roster, a process I never quite understand. Corey Maggette stayed relatively healthy, but his headlong-toward-the-basket offensive style will always cost him games over the course of a season. Elton Brand's injury was clearly the defining lowlight of the season.
I have to end there, but encourage you to send emails with your own highlights/lowlights of the season. Good luck to all you fantasy owners who are still tweaking your lineups and scraping the waiver wire. Thanks for reading my column this season, I hope that it was helpful/entertaining. Also, check Rotoworld during the off-season…there's still plenty of NBA news to be reported.