Mike Gallagher

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NBA Slump Busters

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

There are a handful of busters who are slumping this season, but you've probably heard thousands of patience clichés or quotes in your life. Genius is eternal patience. Patience is bitter, but the fruit it sweet.  Abused patience turns to fury. Blah blah blah.


More often than not, patience is usually the best course of action when it comes to your top picks in fantasy hoops not panning out off the bat. Even if you’ve come to the conclusion that you know the pick you made won’t be on your team at some point, it’s all about value. Fantasy owners can’t just sell a guy after he has nine bad games. You’d have no leverage when it comes to making a sales pitch. It’s kind of like buying a car. Why would someone want to buy a car you’re already tired of in a brief period of time? If that that shiny, off-color blue Al Jefferson is making you dissatisfied, then why would I think it’s going to be any different with me?


Big Al isn’t the only one that has been a letdown. He is probably the easiest one to recognize as a bust among players that were taken in the first two rounds, plus the fantasy community will unequivocally say how his value has been cut in half.


Here are a handful of guys that could join Jefferson on the used car lot with current diminished perceived value. Some of them might be able to appreciate in value while others could be headed down that long windy road of disappointment. 


These guys were some of the more popular answers I received on Twitter, so you can follow me @MikeSGallagher to join in on the fun.


Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $80,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Wednesday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $9,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Wednesday. Here's the link.


Al Jefferson – Let’s start with the obvious. Jefferson has played three games this year due to his sprained right ankle. He missed almost all of the preseason, but the Bobcats felt that playing him in the opener was the right decision. Well, they’ll likely be the first to tell you it was not. He missed five games after the opener, then played 30.5 minutes per game on Nov. 11 and 13, and now he’s missed three games and counting.


So why is it taking Jefferson so long to get it going after his ankle sprain? Well, this has been an issue before. In January 2012, he had an MRI on his right ankle and it revealed tendinitis. That wasn’t a serious injury and he actually only missed one game. Before that, he had a minor flare up with his right ankle back in 2007.


The big issue on his right ankle came back in 2006. Jefferson had bone chips removed during the offseason after a year in which he missed a lot of games due to ankle soreness. Sure, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but considering the size of Jefferson, there is plenty to be worried about.


He looked really hobbled last week against the Celtics in the second half of the game. You know those people that go for “runs” and they’re “running” at about a walking speed? That’s more or less how Jefferson looked. He ran out of gas and he wasn’t going for any rebounds in the second half.


If you have Jefferson, I’d suggest trying to trade him in a month or so after he gets some form of value going.


Larry SandersLarry Sanders is probably the bust of the year for the early part of the season for a slew of reasons. Of course, the headliner is how he’s going to miss close to two months with thumb surgery for a bar fight. As a side note, this is one of the better Kevin Garnett interviews when he says “bar fight” like 10 times.


Even before the back-breaking news of his surgery, Sanders’ value was taking a nosedive. Coach Larry Drew was playing lead-footed Zaza Pachulia more minutes and it wasn’t really clear why. Well, the opener was clear because of foul trouble, but there was no explanation after that. Coach Drew has always been the type of coach that doesn’t like unfamiliar situations, so perhaps he wanted to have the coaching staff get their hands on him before letting him loose.


Although, Sanders was playing horribly, so while he want to blame it on Drew, it’s on Larry in almost every facet. Sanders didn’t make a shot wasn’t right at the rim – he has two dunks and two layups made all year – and his turnover rate was way up while his usage rate was about the same. He was also terrible on defense and his man shot 66.6 percent from the field and his rebounding rate dropped 7.6 percent compared to last year.


All this bad stuff aside, he still has to be held in all leagues. Sanders doesn’t get a lot of credit for his offense, but only 67 percent of his shots were assisted last year. Compare that to guys like Blake Griffin at 77.7, Serge Ibaka at 78.0 and Chris Bosh at 91.5 this season. To be clear, he’s not the offensive asset those guys are, he’s just not completely inept on that end. He’s one of the league’s best shot blockers and having that kind of production can go a long way for fantasy owners.


Danny Green – It’s been a bumpy ride for the Spurs in general. Their older guys get plenty of rest during the season, so conventional wisdom suggested that the 26-year-old Green would be in for a big year. He was off to a terrible start, but things have improved. In the first four games, Green averaged a paltry 3.5 points and 0.5 triples. Since then, his averages are much better with 2.8 triples and 12.0 points.


The Spurs haven’t really been their traditional offense this season. They rank just 19th in 3-point attempts – an area that’s been a huge strength. They’re ranked at least seventh in each of the prior three seasons in that category and they haven’t really lost any of their shooters. They’ve only really lost Matt Bonner (calf) and Gary Neal, but Marco Belinelli should more than negate that.


Green has been money in percentages and he could get better. He isn’t being aggressive at all and only 11.4 percent of his shots have come in the restricted area. That’s down from the 20.0 percent last season and that has affected his lack of free throws. He’s 100 percent from the line, but he’s 3-of-3 on the season. Pretty sad, right? Kevin Durant can do that in two possessions.


As alluded to, the aging Spurs give Green an awful lot of hope down the stretch. Everyone knows they’re going to rest Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan more frequently. He should be able to get it going in no time.


Derrick Rose – Rose created all the hype in the preseason and gave a lot of fantasy owners amnesia. He missed 525 days of basketball that actually counted and people may have not grasped how big of an issue that is. He missed Friday’s game last week due to a hamstring strain suffered on a Monday and missing the game should come as no surprise. Think about it from the Bulls’ perspective. If your franchise player needed 1.5 years to get over an injury that takes nine months to come back from, why would they want him to come back at less than 100 percent even if it's minor? The team didn’t even give him an MRI to check on any tearing from his strained hamstring, so four days off not doing the trick seems excessive. Personally, I’ve pulled my quad more times than I can count, and I’ll be able to hoop it up the next day.


This is nothing more than a conjecture, but almost any other player would have suited up in Rose’s condition. It’s not Rose’s fault, and I'm not questioning his toughness at all. It’s just the way the Bulls are going to treat him. Things could get worse as the Bulls get ready for the postseason, too. Basically, they’re going to treat him like Tim Duncan over the last 45 days of the season.


The health concerns haven’t been the only thing wrong with Rose. He has suddenly stopped being aggressive. Before the third quarter of Monday’s game, Rose went 10 quarters without going to the free throw line. He’s taking more mid-range shots, which account for 24.9 percent of his attempts and that’s not his style. Specifically, Rose’s main issue is on pull-up shots, but he’s drastically improved lately. Back on Nov. 8, he was shooting 4.0 percent on those, but he’s upped it all the way to 25.5 percent today. His production shouldn’t be far behind.


If you have Rose, I’d look to trade him around Christmas and have a Happy New Year with someone else on your team.


Jonas Valanciunas – Another guy that should have broken out this year. Coach Dwane Casey put the Lithuanian in handcuffs for the first two weeks of the season, but he finally is letting the second-year guy loose a bit.


In his last four games, Valanciunas averaged 30.8 minutes per game. Before that, he played just 24.3 minutes per contest. Even with the minute increase, his production hasn’t been there, which is a surprise after his outstanding finish last year. In April, he averaged 14.9 points, 5.9 boards and 2.4 blocks. For whatever reason, the blocks have evaporated this year. His defense in the post and on pick-and-roll has been solid, so it's not for a lack of effort. Although, the 3.6 fouls per game is a little high considering the blocks aren’t there at 1.0 per game. The bottom line is the blocks should definitely be on the rise like his rebounds have been so far.


On offense, he continues to live in the paint with 78.4 percent of his shots coming from within eight feet. That’s encouraging and is an indicator that his season shooting of 50.0 percent from the field might be on the low side. His weak area on offense has been his 2-of-13 on shots from 8-16 feet. He’s not that bad and he has a nice stroke, so that seems a little fluky. Considering he’s shooting 80 percent from the line this year, JV is going to be one of the best big men in percentages.


It’s ridiculous that people are cutting JV. He still has upside and the Raptors should get on Rudy Gay for taking so many bad shots.


Kawhi Leonard – Another Spur that has really been off to a slow start. Although, despite being a “bust” by many, he’s still putting up fifth-round value. How? Kawhi is a smart, efficient scorer, making 52.5 percent of his 10.1 attempts per game this season. His coach has a lot to do with that.


As mentioned in the Green section, the Spurs live on 3-pointers. In particular, Kawhi is a corner-trey guy and that really hasn’t been the case this season. Last year he hit 52 triples in the corner on 43.0 percent. This year, he’s only making 31.2 percent from the corners and is a big reason why he’s shooting 28.0 percent from downtown overall. He’s been able to keep his shooting percentage high by getting – and succeeding – at the rim. He’s shooting 43.5 percent of his shots from within eight feet and he’s making an absurd 68.2 percent of those, an area in which he made just 59.9 percent last season. Contrary to his low points numbers, he’s a better scorer than he's showing in this young season.


His minutes are a little low at just 28.1 per game, but the Spurs smoked the Knicks, Sixers and Wizards in three games last week and Kawhi didn’t play more than 24 minutes in each of those. If you take those away, his average would be 29.9, which will likely be going up once the Spurs try to keep Duncan, Parker and Ginobili fresh.


Simply put, I’d be surprised to see Kawhi not have second- or third-round value at the end of the season.


Kemba Walker – He’s turned into the rookie version of himself and like most guards, it starts in the paint. He’s making just 42.0 percent from within eight feet and only 28.9 percent of his shots are coming from that area, both well below the NBA average. In his rookie season, he more or less had the same numbers and it resulted in an abominable 36.6 percent from the field. On the other hand, he was much better last year, making 49.8 percent of his shots from within eight feet and those shots accounting for 37.8 percent of his total.


If he’s able to get back to 42.3 percent from the field last year and he keeps up his production at the free-throw and 3-point lines, his 14.6 points per game would jump up to 18.0 points, which would be above his 17.7 from last season. It all comes down to being able to hit shots. Simple, right?


He can’t be this bad. Missing shots at the rim is an easy fix and he should definitely be able to improve on his 5.1 drives per game, which ranks just 38th in the NBA.  That was an area of strength in the preseason, so he should be able to get it going soon.


Victor Oladipo – VO has been more like TO, am I right? He is turning the ball over 4.0 times per game in just 25.5 minutes per game. Obviously, that ranks him first in turnovers per 48 minutes among players that are logging at least 12.5 minutes per game. He is just being ridiculously careless. Oladipo ranks 88th in the league in passes per game, so if they kept a pass:turnover ratio stat, he’d probably be ranked last among players that make at least 10 passes per game. He has to get coached up there.


He has to stop shooting mid-range jumpers, too. Oladipo’s game is built on getting to the basket and 25.7 percent of his shots have been 2-pointers outside of the paint -- an unacceptable number for a guy with his skills to get to the rack. He shot 60 percent at Indiana last year while only shooting 40 percent from downtown, so he needs to revert back to his ways from college. Interestingly, he’s shooting 37.5 percent from downtown, which seems almost unsustainable.


The Magic as a whole have been solid and could actually become a bit of a fantasy factory. They rank 11th in pace and that could rise a bit with Tobias Harris coming back. Oladipo is going to take his lumps for the next month and he probably won’t really get it figured out until February. Although, the next week or so will be his low point on value. The time to trade for him is now.


Jeff Green – His offensive game is in shambles and his season shooting of 43.4 percent from the field doesn’t even really tell the story. If not for making 65.5 percent of his buckets in transition, he might be below 40 percent. Green ranks fourth in the NBA in transition buckets, by the way (per Synergy). He’s shooting just 27.5 percent on his pull-ups and ranks just 61st in drives per game. Green was extremely aggressive last year, but for some reason, he’s not getting to the basket nearly as much.


Why? It could be due to the setup of the Boston offense. Coach Brad Stevens leaves his power forward outside of the paint a lot and that might be why defenses have been able to key in on Green. Hopefully the use of Jared Sullinger can help Green. When Sully is on the court, 38.2 percent of Green’s shots come from within the restricted area vs. just 28.3 percent when he’s not with the Ohio State product.


One of the more head-scratching splits has been Green’s numbers at forward vs. at shooting guard. Strangely, he’s been worse at forward this year, making just 42.2 percent from the field vs. his respectable 45.7 percent at shooting guard. As a guard, he has higher averages in blocks, boards, free throw attempts and points. For some reason his rebounding rate is down, and that doesn’t really make sense either.


Hopefully, the Celtics allow him to get more chances in ISO since he’s pretty effective at getting his own shot. They are running a faster pace than last year with Doc Rivers, Green's usage rate is about the same and his minutes per game are similar to his 33.5 from after the break last season, as well. He’s one of the more inexplicable guys in this group, but there is just too much to like from him here.


The Brooklyn Nets – There was little reason to draft most of them and their entire starting five has been worse than expected. Joe Johnson is the only starter that hasn’t missed a game yet and there should be more DNPs on the way with the Nets playing 20 back-to-back sets. There are going to be a lot of DNPs for their first unit, especially now that Brook Lopez (ankle) is hurt.


Their system isn’t suited for fantasy either. They rank first in shots from 16-24 feet, have the third-fewest shots from within five feet and are taking the fifth-fewest attempts from downtown. This would not make Gregg Popovich happy. 


Kevin Garnett isn’t really worth owning in standard leagues and will be resting a ton, so not much analysis needed there. I'd also want nothing to do with Joe Johnson after proving he can't even step up with the entire team out on Saturday. Paul Pierce has looked a lot older and not being able to beat guys off the dribble has really hurt his ability to get good shots, so he’s probably not going to be able to get near his career 44.7 percent from the floor. He’s still worth owning in 12-team leagues, but he’s definitely a sell-high guy. When? The Nets don’t have a back-to-back set until Nov. 26, so The Truth owners might want to try and move them in like a week. They also have a B2B on Nov. 29. If you miss that window or the value doesn’t jump up, they actually don’t have another one until Dec. 12.

Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.

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