Aaron Bruski

The Step-back 3

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SBT: Kevin Love on Shutdown?

Monday, March 21, 2011

2. Playoff Push and the Shutdown Surprises – Eastern Conference

In the East we have a three-team race for the top seed, with Boston and Chicago standing in a tie and the Heat just two games back. Orlando and Atlanta each sit on islands for the No. 3 and 4 seeds with four games separating them from each other and the next closest teams. Then, the Sixers and Knicks form another island for the No. 6 and 7 seeds at just a half game apart, and the Pacers sit in the eighth seed 5.5 games back. Trailing the Pacers by 1.5 games are the Bucks and Bobcats, rounding out the teams that are still in contention.

So the grinders in the group of teams that are leading the standings are the Bulls and perhaps the Heat. The Bulls are a young team that could use the home court advantage and the Heat are still trying to develop as a team. The Celtics have proven that they can win on the road in the playoffs, and will not be concerned about resting guys. The 'island teams' will probably play any injury situation safe, especially the Magic and Hawks who have no upward/downward mobility within the standings, and while one has to think the chance of playing an inconsistent Heat team is desirable over the Bulls and Celtics – the Sixers and Knicks will also probably play it safe with any injury.

Knowing this, guys you're going to want to watch will include Carlos Boozer (ankle), Luol Deng (workload), Rajon Rondo (legs, feet, pinkie), Paul Pierce (age), Kevin Garnett (age, calf, knees), Dwyane Wade (entire body), Chris Bosh (ankle), Hedo Turkoglu (age), Gilbert Arenas (knee, calf), J.J. Redick (abdominal), Al Horford (ankle, back), Joe Johnson (dead legs), Kirk Hinrich (calf, other), Andre Iguodala (knee, Achilles), Elton Brand (age, finger), Chauncey Billups (thigh, knee), and Amare Stoudemire (age, ankle).

Like their counterparts in the West, each one will have their own unique circumstance, and while Boozer, Rondo, and Iguodala are dealing with injuries now, they appear to be heading toward playing or staying on the court. Other than Redick and Arenas, who are not playing, the rest are suiting up and each holds their own unique chance of rest. Potential beneficiaries in this group include Kurt Thomas, Delonte West, Glen Davis, Jeff Green, Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson, Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Toney Douglas, and Carmelo Anthony. Am I saying to adjust the value of any of these guys tremendously? No, but in some cases like Glen Davis, the situation makes a borderline player somebody comfortable to own in a 12-team league.

The remaining group of teams competing for the No. 8 spot in the playoffs is a truly sad bunch. The Pacers and Bobcats would have trouble in the NCAA tournament right now, while Scott Skiles took a trip to Bizarro World and is playing every starter 40 minutes per game and winning. The Pacers have no real shutdown risk outside of Danny Granger, who has no injury right now but looks and acts like a guy that wants out of Indy. I told a reader on Twitter the other day, when that day comes, he will be the next Rashard Lewis. Regardless, being the team in front, predicting a shutdown for him just isn't in the cards, at least for now. But for the Bobcats and Bucks, we have a few strong cases.

Stephen Jackson – He's gutting out a hamstring injury and pushing it too hard. The situation is simple here, as Gerald Henderson probably isn't worth starting if Jackson is on the court, and rang up second round 8-cat value for a stretch while Jackson was out. That stretch was a very small sample size, but the point is clear. D.J. Augustin actually takes a hit if Jackson is out, because he can't shake defenses that can focus on him.

Andrew Bogut – He's a risk whether or not the Bucks are in the chase. His elbow needs just one wrong hit, the rest of his body isn't showing up on the radar but could at any time, and his migraine headaches can pop up out of nowhere. Larry Sanders would get another shot to start if Bogut goes down, assuming Drew Gooden doesn't return and start, with the fantasy attention going to the guy that starts. The entire bunch of Bucks get a slight boost if Bogut goes out after touches get distributed, albeit in a more inefficient way.

Ersan Ilyasova – He is one of the keys to the success of Carlos Delfino and John Salmons, as when he returns he usually gobbles up at least 20 minutes per game and some of their outside looks. He is doing light work right now, and similarly to Delfino, he could be thrown right back into the fire. On the other hand, should the Bucks lose a stretch of games, they will opt for a more cautious approach which would be a god-send for owners.

The Other Guys – This group of Bucks is about as wild as cards go, as they could join the rotation with significant minutes, or be shutdown and excluded. Corey Maggette has no current injury that we're aware of, but his knee and then his back were recently hurt, but as far as we know he's simply out of the rotation. Anybody who has played fantasy basketball in the last year knows that this could change at any moment if he is healthy. Drew Gooden wants to return by March 23, and while he will be out of game-shape, a 20+ minute addition to the rotation is to be expected once he returns. And don't forget Michael Redd, who busted his hump to return to action when most other players would have taken their millions and ran. Don't think that Skiles isn't going to toss him 10-15 minutes because of the veteran contributions he can make. As you can see, there's a lot going on in Milwaukee, as Delfino and Salmons could go from fantasy title contributors to pariahs in a flash.

Moving toward the bottom of the standings, the Pistons, Nets, Raptors, Wizards, and Cavaliers are playing for ping pong balls, the future, or because their contract forces them to. I've written about John Kuester in a few places over the last week, and I'm not going there here. I'd rather let Ashy Larry hold my wallet than try to explain what he's going to do next. And other than the Wizards, who have something special brewing under Flip Saunders, the rest of the group is your standard out-of-the-playoffs bunch. They're all coached by guys that have various issues, but no team mutiny or early fishing trips are being planned in the open. The Cavs have the No. 1 lottery position all wrapped up, and for some poor kid's sakes, I hope they don't end up with the top pick. As mentioned, the Wizards have a chance to go up or down in the ping pong sweepstakes, but as you'll see they're a special case. Here are the shutdown candidates, excluding any Pistons:

Deron Williams – My personal opinion is that there is only ambiguity here to sell tickets and to keep his teammates or fans from labeling him soft. He needs the rest, and my guess is that outside of an outright shutdown, that he only plays in a few games here and there. Regardless, as if it needs explanation, Jordan Farmar should be owned in all leagues, with his 17 assists last night the early reward. The rewards also trickle down to Sundaita Gaines, who could become relevant if Farmar's ankle acts up. Don't think that the multi-year deal for him wasn't noticed around here, too.

Jose Calderon – He's been quietly productive since a barrage of minor injuries through the middle of the year, but as an injury-prone and somewhat old player, I've been watching out for any signs of slowdown. It doesn't hurt, either, that the Raps like Jerryd Bayless but know that he needs to develop into a true PG to have any real value for them.

Amir Johnson – He has played through ankle and back injuries that other guys would have sat through. Unfortunately, a three-headed PF monster has emerged in Toronto, so the guy everybody wants to see on the court, (Ed Davis), will be passed over by Jay Triano for Reggie Evans. And of course, that's what every 20-49 team should be doing this time of year.

Baron Davis – He might be the NBA's biggest shutdown candidate, even if you believe his talk about wanting to join Drew Carey for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame before setting LeBron James jerseys on fire at Dan Gilbert's house. Knee, back, personal – you name it, he's got it. Make sure Ramon Sessions is owned, even if it's to keep your opponent from using him against you.

Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson – Both are playing right now, but both are older and may or may not factor into the team's future plans. Parker's back and Gibson's quad have both been concerns, not to mention the ever-mysterious issues in Gibson's personal life, but both are a Byron Scott brain-burner from letting the younger guys play. Factor in Semih Erden's absence, and somebody from the group of (in no order) Manny Harris, Alonzo Gee, Christian Eyenga, or Luke Harangody is going to land on the radar.

Welcome to Washington – Flip Saunders may have been a bit more impassioned this season, and players may be a bit less aggressive with him due to his mother's passing, but the knock on his teams has always been lack of discipline due to his door-mat status. Enter JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young, and John Wall, each with their own unique issues. McGee thinks he has arrived but he hasn't earned anything yet, Young may have set a record for ill-advised shots by a guy with little to no playing time before this season, Blatche believes he is a No. 1 in this league but plays like a No. 3, and Wall goes between heady rookie talent and entitled top pick way too much for my liking. What do they have in common? None of them want to be associated with the losing on the court.

I'm hopeful that Wall will play out the string, but I'm not convinced he will. Young played on a bad knee all year long because of the success he was enjoying, so I'm not hopeful for his return. As for Blatche, the stories of his disdain for doing anything team-centric make it hard for me to believe he would risk any injury to join the losing parade, and I also wonder if the team simply wants him to go away. After all, the youngsters are playing with effort right now – why mess it up? It's no coincidence that JaVale McGee is enjoying his most consistent stretch, while Jordan Crawford and Trevor Booker dive around the court and produce. All three should be owned for the chance that Blatche and Young don't make it back, which is good enough to gamble on right now in 12-team leagues.

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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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