“Stew should be served warm, in large portions, with tasty ingredients.”
–Ancient cooking proverb
Hello and welcome to the fifth season of Roundball Stew, a place where you can hopefully find some words and sentences that help out your fantasy hoops team every week. With the season already three days old, and the first weekend of 2012-13 upon us, let’s dive directly into the discussion:
You probably don’t need me to tell you that Damian Lillard is nasty, but I’m gonna do it anyway. We all saw Lillard’s line from his NBA debut (23 points, 11 assists), but in case you didn’t see it via televised pictures, it’s worth noting that this debut was highly impressive to watch as well. (Side note: Is there such thing as an unimpressive 23-point, 11-assist game? Probably not.) Nevertheless, Lillard looked smooth and confident running the Portland offense. One play that stood out was an on-the-run one-handed dish to hit LaMarcus Aldridge in stride for a layup. Yes, it was just one assist, but it highlighted a bigger trend with Lillard: He doesn't look like a player who's going through a big adjustment. On the contrary, the NBA game and his style already seem like a great fit.
It’s always nice when a player has no real competition at his position (as is the case for Lillard this year). It’s even better when that player can really play. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lillard post a decent impersonation of Kyrie Irving’s Rookie of the Year campaign (18.5 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.4 3s), though I would probably peg Lillard for less points and more assists.
And then there’s this, from Portland writer John Canzano on Wednesday:
“I was in the tunnel as the Blazers left the court after the win... Damian Lillard was stone-faced cold. Not celebrating. Not even smiling.”
This should be fun to watch.
Follow me on Twitter: @MattStroup
Speaking of point guards with very little competition for minutes, say hello to Greivis Vasquez. Unlike Lillard, Vasquez is not a guy whose game frequently jumps off your TV screen, but the New Orleans PG – who posted an 8-6-13 line in 38 minutes in the opener – is in line to play a ton of minutes this year. Why? Because Jarrett Jack is gone, and Austin Rivers is currently starting at shooting guard due to Eric Gordon’s magical never-healing knee. Last season as a starter, Vasquez averaged 12.0 ppg, 7.0 apg, 1.1 spg and 0.8 3s, and though the upside isn’t monstrous, there’s room for improvement with a heavy pile of minutes this year.
Early thoughts on the Lakers (and specifically Steve Nash): The Los Angeles Lake Show is one of two teams we’ve already seen twice as of Friday (along with the Spurs), and though you never want to overreact after two games, I will say this: I don’t like this Princeton offense for Steve Nash.
That’s not to say that Nash (4.5 ppg, 4.0 apg through two games) can’t find a way to get numbers – and he obviously would have had better stats had he not left with a first-half shin bruise on Wednesday – but there’s a lot of passing through Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in this offense, which leaves Nash as a part-time observer rather than full-time facilitator. With that said, maybe it’s a comfort issue – after all, Nash did say on Thursday that he expects he’ll find ways to assert himself going forward. Obviously he has earned the benefit of the doubt on that, and I still think he’ll be fine in the long run, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see his numbers land closer to the 12 ppg, 9 apg range rather than the 15-16 ppg, 11 apg he posted in recent years in Phoenix.
Re: Kenneth Faried – don’t panic. A lot of fantasy owners drafted Faried expecting a full-blown Manimal explosion from day one, but he started his season with a somewhat smelly six points and seven rebounds in just 17 minutes on Wednesday. That last part is obviously the disconcerting thing, as most of us were anticipating about twice that many minutes from Faried on a nightly basis.
But to reiterate what I said in bold ink a second ago, it’s way too soon to panic. George Karl made clear that Faried wasn’t injured, instead saying “In a catch-up situation, I don't think Kenneth is our best option.” It’s a somewhat odd explanation, and all I can think is that it's some sort of motivational tactic by Karl. Whatever the case, I would expect Faried to begin tearing down rebounds in short order. If we’re still talking about his minutes five games from now, then it will be a problem. I don’t think it will be.
Ersan Ilyasova: an anagram for Nasal I.E. Savory. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but coming up with it took longer than you might expect. As for Ilyasova, whose Bucks play for the first time on Friday, my expectations are high. He looked ready to go when I saw him play during the preseason, his new contract confirms that he’s an unquestioned focal point in Milwaukee and his jumper, if slightly unorthodox, is more or less buttery. From Feb. 17 onward last year (the 32 games he spent in the starting lineup to finish the season), Ilyasova averaged 16.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 0.8 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.1 3s (53.8 percent from the field, 80.5 percent from the line), numbers that made him the No. 8 player in Basketball Monster’s 9-category rankings during that stretch. He won’t dominate in any one category, but Mr. I.E. Savory is quietly headed for a very productive campaign.
Why Jamal Crawford’s big opener (29 points, 10-of-14 shooting) caught my attention: Last season in Portland, Crawford only topped 28 points two times. And his 10-of-14 shooting night on Wednesday was better than any shooting game he had last year. So what, you say – he’s a streaky shooter who just happened to get hot, right? I would agree to some extent, but I can’t help but think about Crawford’s big night in the wake of his statement that “This summer was actually the first summer I worked on my game. I usually just play off of raw talent.”
Granted, the quote linked above could be filed away as something stemming from a preseason puff piece, but it caught my attention as perhaps something a little bit more substantial. And when you consider a new regimen along with the fact that Crawford was miscast as a sometimes backup point guard in Portland last season, I can see this being the year that he returns to elite sixth-man status. Quite simply, he’s on a team where the offense often goes stagnant, and the Clippers need him to provide a big boost off the bench. It may be hard for Crawford to sustain 17 or 18 ppg once Chauncey Billups is back, but I think he’s headed for a nice bounce-back year (15-plus ppg with solid threes, and what should be a clear improvement on last season’s disappointing – even for Crawford – 38.4 percent from the field).
On the Raptors: I’m impressed with rookie center Jonas Valanciunas (12 points, 10 boards, one block on Wednesday). He’ll probably have some nights where he struggles with foul trouble/gets demolished by stronger opponents, but he’s got a nice touch around the basket and already seems to have a good rapport with Kyle Lowry.
And speaking of Lowry, I’m not really concerned about Jose Calderon (15 points, three assists in 26 minutes on Friday) eating into his value. Obviously it’s easy to say that after Lowry posted a 21-7-8 line in 36 minutes in the opener, but it’s nice to see him healthy and ready to return to elite status. (Remember: Lowry was posting first-round caliber stats before tapering off due to injury last year.)
In closing, it may go without saying, but don’t be concerned if your team is off to a slow start. Entering Friday night, seven teams in the league still hadn’t played a single game (the Nets, Knicks, Bucks, Bobcats, Magic, Hawks and T’Wolves). With that many teams yet to play, there are probably some fantasy owners out there who had yet to record a single stat as of Friday. I understand the impulse to be impatient and do something ill-advised with your roster. You must fight it like a rattlesnake that has invaded your garage.
With this column appearing on Fridays for the first time in its history, we will close each week with recommendations of
Things to Do This Weekend!
1) Grill kielbasa, attempt to eat only one bite (a powerful exercise in discipline and self-control);
2) In honor of NYC Marathon, have your own “movie marathon,” in which you watch the same film 26.2 times;
3) Watch copious amounts of basketball, football; scream at TV.