Aaron Bruski

The Step-back 3

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SBT: Kevin Love on Shutdown?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A whirlwind weekend deserves a whirlwind column, but before I divulge, I have to pose the question – is there any better time to be a fantasy basketball nut than right now? You're either in the playoffs or close, and to chase that down you get the first two (or three) rounds of the NCAA tournament to keep your significant other hating you. My bracket is busted, but then again, I let my girlfriend, her friend, and my dog make the selections (Bacardi diets and dog treats). They know about as much as I do about the NCAA tourney, which is nothing, but I successfully picked every loser possible. I had Pittsburgh and Michigan State doing battle with Pittsburgh advancing to face Notre Dame in the Final Four. Sigh.

The Step-back Three is a place where Aaron Bruski takes a look at three issues in the world of both fantasy and reality basketball. Focusing less on daily events, the idea is to take a step back from the daily hullabaloo and try to make sense of things.

1. Playoff Push and the Shutdown Surprises – Western Conference

There are three more weeks of fantasy basketball left unless your league counts 'dead week,' though it shouldn't, and shutdown season is already underway.

In the West, San Antonio has wrapped up the first seed, while the Lakers and Mavs are within a game for slots 2-3, the Thunder has about four games in either direction for the fourth seed, and the final four spots are held down by the Nuggets, Blazers, Hornets, and Grizzlies, who are separated by no more than 1.5 games (in that order). Trailing the Grizzlies by 1.5 games are the Rockets, and then the Suns and Jazz are just 0.5 games behind them, rounding out the 11 teams remaining in playoff contention.

For the purposes of determining which teams will be grinding it out, you can omit the Spurs and Lakers from this list as both will play it safe, the Mavs might be more inclined to fight for seeding, the Thunder have no real advantage to be gained absent a big streak either direction, and the rest will fight it out until they are satisfied with their position or eliminated.

Some players that you will want to keep an eye on for surprise DNPs, limited outings, or cautious mom syndrome from coaches include Tony Parker (age), Manu Ginobili (age), Tim Duncan (age/knees), Kobe Bryant (knee, ankle, fingers), Pau Gasol (hamstrings), Kevin Durant (ankle), Dirk Nowitzki (age), Jason Kidd (age), Tyson Chandler (ankle), and Shawn Marion (wrist).

Of the teams that are likely to make the playoffs currently ranked 4-8, the following players will be handled carefully: Arron Afflalo (hamstring), Danilo Gallinari (toe), Raymond Felton (ankle), Kenyon Martin (age, previous injuries), Nene (calf, groin), Marcus Camby (ankle, knee), Brandon Roy (knees), Chris Paul (knee, concussion), Trevor Ariza (groin), David West (ankle), and Rudy Gay (shoulder).

Each of the aforementioned guys has their own individual risks. For instance, we know that Gregg Popovich is going to rest his guys, so George Hill, Gary Neal, and DeJuan Blair (wrist pending) could all end up being useful down the stretch. A guy like Kevin Durant, who is young but has hurt his ankle three times this year, probably won't get rested before dead week unless he tweaks it again – but you can bet he'll be sidelined at the first sign of injury. Kobe Bryant, Arron Afflalo, Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Gay are among the most risky in this grouping, giving bumps to Shannon Brown, J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Tony Allen and the Memphis wings, and the Portland log-jam.

From there, there are two categories of teams that will handle shutdown risks as we go – the teams that are out of contention already, and the ones that will fall out of contention shortly. Looking at the grouping of the Rockets, Suns, and Jazz, let's bust out the protractor and try to look smart.

Steve Nash – He has surged since 'Pelvic Instability' broke into the Billboard Top 40 with their hit, It Normally Doesn't Happen Like That, which is a great sign now but you can bet grandma's cat Dilly that he'll be the first to get shutdown if the Suns fall out of the mix. Off topic, one of the things I appreciate about various writers is their ability to admit when they were wrong, and on the issue of Aaron Brooks over the past couple of weeks, I've been dead wrong. I don't know what's going on with him, other than he's clearly frustrated, but a player of his previous caliber doesn't go this far south without a reason. He threw a ball at an official, and while I haven't seen it yet and it doesn't seem too malicious, it's just yet another example of how he's losing his grip. Should Nash go down, don't rule out Zabian Dowdell to split time or even leap-frog Brooks at this rate. Either way, the beneficiary of that potential shutdown could be sitting on a goldmine, so keep your eyes peeled and watch the standings.

Channing Frye – We don't know how his shoulder felt, and hope to get some comment on that today, but the 19 points he scored spoke volumes on Sunday. If there is something wrong, however, he has already spoken about the pros and cons of playing through the injury and my sense is that he'd opt to sit. One of our blurbers said last night that Hakim Warrick would be worth a look in deep leagues down the stretch, but I don't even know that he'd be worth adding if Frye went down. He fooled us once before, but gambling on a guy that put up a donut when he had the starting job and no competition is crazy in my mind.

Vince Carter – His production has been closely tied to Nash's lately, which makes sense, because when Nash is out or hurt, they need him to handle the ball and initiate the offense. His knees will be an issue for the rest of his career, so gutting it out if Phoenix falls out probably isn't going to happen, making Jared Dudley a strong candidate for some late-season love. And while he has no specific injury, it doesn't hurt that Grant Hill is 77 years old.

Luis Scola – He lasted just 20 minutes last night in a must-win game for the Rockets, and has missed the last week of must-win games, as well. For a guy that doesn't miss games, that's about as big of a red flag you'll find on this side of China. Patrick Patterson posted a 13 and 14 double-double with a block last night, and could even split time with Courtney Lee at SF if Chase Budinger is out, so there's a bunch to like here outside of the two-game week. Unless we get great news about Scola soon, Patterson will be on the short list of stashes that I have in 12-team leagues.

Paul Millsap – He might try to impale the first guy to mention it, but if anybody deserves an early break it's the Sapper. He popped off for 35 points, 10 boards, three blocks, two threes, and a steal in his return-game on Sunday, and word is that he also uses aluminum for chewing gum. Kids, don't ever do that.

Devin Harris – He ran right up against the 30-minute mark last night, as he has been battling a hamstring injury that caused him to skip overtime in a must-win game on Monday. Unfortunately, his backup, Earl Watson isn't much to look at in fantasy leagues, but could be worth a desperation play if Harris goes down.

Andrei Kirilenko – At this point I'm pretty sure they're pumping him up with so many pain killers that he can't feel his back or his face, but the 20-minute outing last night is all I need to see to know his days are numbered. It's yet another reason to love C.J. Miles right now, and rookies Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward are dark horses for productive weeks during the fantasy finals.

The final group is playing for ping pong balls, including the Warriors, Clippers, Kings, and Wolves. With the latter two teams and the Wizards each having 17 wins, there is some potential for a draft position swing, but predicting a true throwing of games is simply irresponsible. But if you're asking whether or not management would use that as a tie-breaker, well, they've been doing it for years.

Monta Ellis – He's as banged up (ankles, back, wrist) as they come, and while I'll be watching him, it just doesn't feel like he's ready to shut it down. I think he's having too much fun to quit.

Mo Williams – See Ellis, Monta. It's amazing how few reports we've gotten about his hip, groin, or state of mind since moving to the beach.

Eric Gordon – Now here's an injury risk. He took just 11 shots last night, but complained only about the 40-minute workload from the night before. My sense is that he's going to be able to handle the normal wear and tear, but it's the awkward landing or catch that I think could knock him out. Randy Foye played 31 minutes last night, and while I wouldn't stash him in a 12-team league, I'd probably do it in a 14-team league if I could afford the stash.

Tyreke Evans – He's hitting his benchmarks, and as funny as it seems, the Kings' frontcourt issues may be the saving grace for him, Beno Udrih, and Marcus Thornton. After Samuel Dalembert (knee), Jason Thompson (ankle), and DeMarcus Cousins (mouth) – the Kings have nobody, and I repeat nobody, to play down low. I get the sense that Thompson's ankle is probably hanging by a thread judging by the lower than normal per-minute numbers, and we could be seeing the run-and-gun Kings for the remainder of the year.

Kevin Love – You can add groin issues to the knee issues, and his season is very much in doubt at the time of this writing until we learn more. Anthony Randolph is the player on everybody's mind, but last night's 14-point, 4-rebound, 3-assist night while starting the second half in place of Love was a microcosm of his career. He had seven turnovers in 24 minutes. So my guess is that the Wolves would love to let him loose, but aren't about to reward bad play, which is his specialty. So they will counterbalance any of his playing time with a healthy dose of Anthony Tolliver. If Love goes down, make no mistake, Randolph will be worth a flier for his upside – but he'll need to be watched closely with expectations in check. Should Michael Beasley also go down, it could only help his cause.

Michael Beasley – He lasted just 15 minutes last night, and whether that was due to his hip, his ankle, or both, he is going to be a risk for the foreseeable future. I tend to think his minutes would be shifted more toward the guard group than the forwards if he was to go down, making Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, and Wayne Ellington a bit more viable than they are right now. Each of the three need to show us something, however, before they're fit for activation in a 12-team league, obviously.

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Aaron Bruski has covered hoops for Rotoworld since 2008 and has competed in national fantasy sports competitions for nearly two decades. You can also find his work over at ProBasketballTalk, where he received critical acclaim for his in-depth reporting of the Kings' relocation saga. Hit him on Twitter at Aaronbruski.
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