If you hadn’t noticed, the lockout has bred a pretty ugly brand of basketball. I mentioned this before the season started, and I don’t know that it will help owners by repeating it, but I think this is a year the more experienced owner has an advantage over newer players. I could be wrong, but with the condensed schedule, lack of training camp, nagging injuries, and most importantly – teams struggling to find their rhythm – if you have a keen eye for what is going on you can clean up. Last night we saw some of those gyrations in Phoenix, Sacramento, New Orleans, and San Antonio, and everywhere else teams are still playing out their training camps on the backs of paying customers. I’m not going to complain, though, I can’t get enough of it.
Now let’s get on top of it.
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SUNNY SIDE UP
The Suns shook up their starting lineup last night by bringing Ronnie Price and Markieff Morris into the fold, only to see both of them become non-factors during their win at Madison Square Garden. The word for Alvin Gentry’s strategy was ‘experiment,’ and the fact that the Suns won makes for some interesting decision-making for him going forward. The first decision on the tip of everybody’s tongue is what to do with Morris after he played just six minutes due to the flu.
I spent time on this in yesterday’s Dose, and gave Channing Frye no more than a week or two to get his act together before getting benched. With Gentry beating me to the punch, Frye responded with a nice little serviceable game with Morris out. He scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting (including three treys) with four rebounds and four blocks in 25 minutes off the bench. Most importantly, he did his job when he was on the floor and hit wide-open shots.
With the win, Gentry could look at it one of two ways. One, he could figure that Frye played well and deserves his spot back, and on the other hand he could decide that Frye played better in a bench role. The takeaway is this that Frye earned a slight win in his position battle, even though his opponent wasn’t there to stick up for himself. I’d hold off on dropping Frye until we see how it plays out. As for Morris, I wouldn’t add him with the understanding that he’s guaranteed the starting job. He may very well get it, but he missed his window to gain separation.
As for Price, it’s doubtful that Gentry started him with any designs on playing him heavy minutes, in what would have been a disastrous backcourt defense between Price and Steve Nash. I believe Gentry is searching for any combination of guys that will work offensively, and basically anything to provide a spark. That spark came last night in the form of Shannon Brown, who like Frye wasn’t great, but he hit key shots and got out in transition a smidge. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting with two threes, two steals, and not much else. Checking out his defense I didn’t see much effort or intangibles, and the guy he’d be stealing business from, Jared Dudley, was sat to the tune of 17 scoreless minutes. Dudley missed four shot attempts and was neither good nor bad when in the game, and I think the appropriate word would be ‘invisible.’ While the Suns won with Brown playing a supporting role, I didn’t see the game as a ‘loss’ for Dudley in the position battle as much as it being a ‘did not participate.’ I won’t be dropping him after the result, and Brown needs to show that he’s not a one-hit wonder before I’ll consider an add.
Marcus Camby (ankle) did not play but could have in an emergency, and the talk last night following Nicolas Batum’s eye injury was whether or not he should be dropped in advance of the pending log-jam. I think the answer is no, because owners have to at least see how Batum responds when Camby returns. Batum was feared to have an orbital bone injury but X-rays returned negative and he thinks that he will play on Friday against the Raptors.
Jamal Crawford hit 8-of-22 shots against his old Hawks teammates for 22 points with three rebounds, five assists, a steal, a block, and two treys in 30 minutes, while Raymond Felton was benched down the stretch and finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting with eight assists and a three. Nobody, including Felton, is concerned about his job security, and he makes for a sneaky, albeit risky buy low target. He’s shooting 34.6 percent from the field (15.6% from deep) and averaging just 10.3 points per game. The rest of his numbers are fairly normal, and while I’m not expecting tons of scoring his stat lines will get much healthier as his shooting regresses back to the mean. And after Nate McMillan ripped into his team for their effort, and the team responded by singing Kumbaya in the locker room afterwards, there is a nice one-day break for owners to try to pluck the plucky point guard that has no real competition for minutes right now.
THE Z-BONE IS CONNECTED TO THE FANTASY BONE
It goes without saying when a team’s main cog goes down that the rest of the fantasy threats will step up, and in Memphis the injury to Zach Randolph is paying huge fantasy dividends. Mike Conley scored 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting with four treys, 10 assists, two steals, and a block last night, as he is putting up second round value in both 8- and 9-cat formats. Marc Gasol is even hotter right now and scored 22 points with 12 boards, seven dimes, a steal, and a block, and has top-9 value in both formats, as well. Conley is buoying his value with a 92.9 percent mark from the charity stripe and 2.5 steals per game, both well above his career averages, while Gasol is blocking 2.5 shots per game and seeing bumps across the board in his counting stats. Neither is shooting at rates too incredibly different than their norms, which means this is value that doesn’t have huge statistical strings attached. The savvy owner will want to see what they can return in a trade before it becomes obvious that Randolph will return. 3-4 weeks before Randolph returns to action is ideal.
BREAK ME OFF
Rajon Rondo is a little bit indestructible, but as he fell on his right (shooting) wrist I thought the thing was broken. X-rays returned negative and he tried to ask back into the game, and his post-game interview revealed a guy that didn’t seem hurt. If he was hurt, I doubt he really cares.
OLD MAN GAME
Danilo Gallinari disappeared last night, taking just three shots on his way to a three-point, five-rebound night, while Andre Miller came off the bench and went off for a season-high 28 points with eight rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, and three 3-point shots. Miller, unhappy about coming off the bench but still loved by his coach (and presumably his teammates), has taken backup PG production to a whole new level with averages of 10.5 points, 3.5 boards, 6.4 assists, and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes per game. He’s even hitting 0.5 threes per game, all while providing eighth round value. Miller should be owned in all 12-team formats because he’s clearly not there to carry Ty Lawson’s bags, nor is he a major threat to Lawson’s value, either. It’s the rare two-headed situation that works.
As for Gallo, it’s fair to wonder how his ankle is holding up. He looked very passive and while one could simply say it was a function of Miller’s big night, I’m guessing it’s the former. We’re not panicking over it by any means, but it’s information that is good to know.
THE FULL MONTY
Trevor Ariza (groin) returned to action in a big way last night after an eight-game absence, scoring 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting with five rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and a block in 40 minutes. Is he worth an add after this? Of course, but remember that you’ve seen this movie before and the butler did it. Jarrett Jack continued to pour it on with a season-high 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting (4-of-4 from deep). There’s nothing to see here – he’s still killing it. Where owners have focused their attention, however, is the frontcourt position battle that has turned into a quagmire. Carl Landry has face-planted over the last 10 days and played just nine minutes last night, but the wrath of Monty Williams has now extended to Chris Kaman (21 minutes) and Emeka Okafor (23 minutes), too. Jason Smith, who has admittedly looked more athletic this season than last, started and scored 14 points with six rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes. I wouldn’t blame owners for dropping Kaman or Okafor, as Monty has a history of constantly toying with players’ minutes. It’s sort of ironic that as a Nate McMillan disciple that he’s doing the same thing his mentor did, and one day he’ll pull out of it, just as McMillan has. It’s a young coach thing.