Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Knicks are in Second Place? That's Unpossible!

Except in the Fantlantic, A Fantasy Basketball League that Simulates the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference

To refresh your memories, the Fantlantic is the Fantasy Atlantic Division and it includes all five teams from the Atlantic Division (Boston, NY, NJ, Philly and Toronto) of the NBA's Eastern Conference. Each team is composed of the players currently on their roster and all players are active nightly so that all stats count. The Fantlantic lives on the Yahoo Fantasy Sports website and is a rotisserie league, meaning that rankings are tabulated by comparing the stats accumulated by each competing team in a variety of categories. The categories being scored in this league are field goals made, field goal percentage, free throws attempted, free throws made, free throw percentage, three-point shots made, three-point shooting percentage, points, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and turnovers. This is the maximum number of categories that Yahoo allows.

When we first looked at the Fantlantic everything was as it should have been. The fantasy standings mirrored the "reality" standings. The Celtics were dominant and had three of the top five fantasy players, the Knicks were bad and didn't have a single player in the top ten and the Nets had the other two players in the top five yet were horrendously underachieving as a team. There were no surpises and, frankly, I was worried that there would be nothing interesting to be gleaned from this league that I spent way too much time constructing.

But, after letting the Fantlantic marinate for a few weeks, some strange things happened. The differences between fantasy and reality basketball began to emerge. And, when we check in today there is true intrigue afoot as the New York Knickerbockers have moved up into SECOND PLACE in the Fantlantic. Perhaps the first step to becoming a better reality basketball team is becoming a better fantasy basketball team? After all, you can’t win over the course of the season if the numbers don’t add up. Now, that the Knicks are filling up a boxscore they need to learn poise down the stretch and all of the intangible things that keep them translating their Fantlantic progress to the officially sanctioned standings.

Standings

1. Celtics (53 points): The C' have extended their lead over the pack since we last checked in with the Fantlantic, even though they’ve dropped a few points (and few games) over the past month. Boston is still the best team but the sheen of dominance isn’t quite as lustrous as it once was. Nevertheless, Garnett and co. still lead the fantasy league in FG% and steals and rank second in FTM, FT%, 3PTM, 3PT% and assists.

2. Knicks (46 points): Without pesky things like losses muddying the fantasy ledger, the Knicks have used their recent run of better play to catapult themselves over three teams who remain above them in the actual standings. The hard-numbers used to tabulate these rankings confirm what anyone still left watching this team has seen: the Knicks are getting better. They are scoring more, they are taking higher percentage shots (well except for the Zach-hole), they are turning the ball over less and are racking up far more assists than they used to when everyone figured Marbury would just handle that whole passing-thing by himself. The most dramatic improvement has been in the points category, where the team has risen from last place into second. And, they are on pace to catch the Celtics, who lead this category. The last place slot in points-scored earlier in the season was particularly embarrassing for a team that starts four score-first players, and had started five until Marbury went down 10 games back. The Knicks lead all rebounding categories and are second in made field goals and free throw attempts. They're still last in assists, blocks and turnovers but they are improving everywhere else.

3. Nets (44 points): The emotional turmoil caused by Jason Kidd’s migraine problem has not translated to the Fantasy court just yet as the Nets have remained steadily lackluster in the Fantlantic. They still smelly faintly of tire fires and still hold down the same third place slot they had when we last looked in. The Nets hold, or share, 3 first place ranks (FTA, FT and assists) while being last in three other categories (FGM, FG% and FT%). I would expect these numbers to stay extreme once Kidd gets traded, with the exception of the assists number which should fall off dramatically. The five remaining figures (FTA, FT, FG%, FGM and FT%) are actually all connected. With Kidd becoming less of a factor and ultimately leaving you can figure that Vince will continue to chuck up enough shots to keep the team both first in FTA and FT (since he still gets the star treatment from the refs) and last in field goal percentage and the other efficiency stats.

4. 76ers (43 points): They're bad at most everything with two bright shining execptions. They have maintained their lead in the blocked shot department and somehow made the most field goals. They're last in all the 3PT shooting categories and I would imagine that the absence of Korver will ensure that doesn't change. Like the Celtics, there are no surprises here.

5. Raptors (39 points): Toronto must be the anti-Knicks when it comes to fantasy as their residency in the Fantlantic cellar is as confusing as the Knicks ascension. This is a team that is either the best or the worst on a statistical level. They rank first in more statistical categories than anyone else, leading the Fantlantic in FT%, 3PTM, 3PT% and turnovers. And, while they lead in all of those columns they are last in even more, ranking at the bottom in FTA, FTM, PTS, OReb, DReb and Reb. It would seem like they are a team whose poise and intangibles make them better than their raw production indicates while the Knicks lack of poise and intangibles makes them worse than their raw production indicates.

How did all of this happen you ask? Well, in fantasy basketball a team truly is the sum of parts and those parts have taken their teams only as far as their tangible output. There will be no place for Bruce Bowen on any team gunning for a fantasy league championship.

Top 15 Fantlantic Players (overall NBA rank according to Yahoo):

1. Kevin Garnett (8)

2. Chris Bosh (16) (+)
3. Jose Calderon (17) (+)
4. Andre Iguodala (18) (+)
5. Paul Pierce (29)
6. Jason Kidd (48) (-)
7. Samuel Dalembert (51) (+)
8. Ray Allen (53) (-)
9. Jamal Crawford (57) (+)
10. Anthony Parker (61)

11. Richard Jefferson (63) (-)
12. Vince Carter (64)
13. Jamario Moon (79) (+)

14. David Lee (84) (+)
15. Andre Miller (90) (+)


(+) means the player has moved up the rankings since we last peeked
(-) means the opposite

..other notable players include...

19. Zach Randolph (120) (+)

20. Nate Robinson (124) (+)
21. Sean Williams (130) (+)

23. Louis Williams (169) (-)
28. Quentin Richardson (194) (+)
30. Andrea Bargnani (208) (+)
37. Stephon Marbury (231) (-)
38. Fred Jones (235) (-)
40. Eddy Curry (252) (-)

44. Jared Jeffries (280) (+)
45. Josh Boone (287) (+)

And, still battling for the title of worst fantasy baller in the Fantlantic are two NJ Nets big men: Jason Collins and Jamal Magloire.


Stayed Tuned

Around the Internets

In which you will find new reasons to hate the Patriots

People from Boston think they're better than you. Each passing moment makes me want the Giants to win even more. And, I'm a Jets fan. IF only my wagering could make it so.

If disliking fans isn't your thing and you choose to focus on the field then please peruse this brief composition noting some of the ass-headedness of the New England Patriots.

And, lastly, your honor, please notice Exhibit Q when considering how arrogant the Patriots and their fans are.

Chatting up Chad

Knicks-related excerpts from today's chat with NBA-expert Chad Ford over at ESPN.com

Ill (san diego): do you think they will keep with the status quo or make a deal? gotta move either curry or zach and find a big with energy, hops and smarts. they have zero defensive presence in the paint and that is KILLING them.

Chad Ford: (1:34 PM ET ) I think they should try to move one of the two. Randolph has more talent but he has a bigger contract and more off the court baggage. Curry's a center and has a more palatable deal, but he doesn't rebound or play defense. Pick your poison. I'm not sure the Knicks could get a lot for either guy, but they might be able to get cap relief which could really benefit them in the summer of 2010. It's time to start looking ahead Knicks fans. Keep developing David Lee and Nate Robinson. Pick up high lottery picks the next two years and then get a major free agent in 2 years.

*
Bill sandiego: Didn't they trade that future pick that's unprotected in 2010????? Thomas is a master trader????

Chad Ford: (1:39 PM ET ) Yes, the Jazz will own the Knicks pick in 2010. But that still gives them two years, 2008 and 2009 to get a high pick.

*

Athan (san antonio): if the knicks get the #1 pick, how will isiah thomas screw it up?

Chad Ford: (1:45 PM ET ) Tyler Hansbrough with the NO. 1 pick

The Better Half

(ESPN has Erin Andrews, FOX has Pam Oliver, ABC has Michelle Tafoya and What Would Oakley Do? has Becca. Please join me in welcoming our first-ever sideline reporter/guest columnist. "The Better Half" will appear in this space each and every week and will feature the best, brightest and prettiest sports-related musings in all of the land in an attempt to explain what our girlfriends and wives are thinking when we ask them if they want to order wings before the Giants game starts.)

Episode 5
My Holiday Vacation
(Or, the latest story ever told)


One of the perks of my job is that I get vacation between Christmas and New Year’s Day. And, it’s not just days off that I get, it’s paid days off. Every year I fly to the Bay Area in California, my home home. I eat free meals, go on hikes and sit in my mom’s kitchen. Oh, and I don’t watch sports. This year’s trip was no different. It was relaxing and perfect.
But then I got back to New York and it was cold and I had no idea what was going on in the wide world of sports. It was unsettling. Three weeks later I still feel out of touch and the fact that feeling out of touch about sports makes me feel unsettled makes me even more unsettled. It’s complicated. Like Nancy’s life on “Weeds.” Except not at all like that and way less complicated.
The straw that really broke the bee’s bonnet was all the college football bowls happening when I was away. Rose, sugar, orange, banana, apple, kiwi—there were so many bowls! I didn’t even know what a bowl is and being away from a certain Mr. McSporty I wasn’t being forced to watch any so I wasn’t figuring it out. The only time I came close to watching sports was when my grandfather showed me how awesome it is to watch football on his giant HDTV.
For three weeks now, I’ve been back at my desk reading sports columns and blogs more than I want to admit, at least when I’m not looking at kittens in cups on cuteoverload.com, but nothing is really sticking. I’m hoping that the Super Bowl can get me back into the swing of things. I knew it was the playoffs the Sunday before last. We bought a lot of beer and it was nice beer so I could tell this was a big deal. And I know the Giants won, that the Super Bowl is soon, that Tom Brady buys flowers for one of his girlfriends and that I wish someone would buy me flowers. (That’s true. Ahem.) But I still don’t feel like I know what’s going on.
Who ended up being the winner of college football? Did they fire Isiah? When you feel part of something, the pain of feeling left out is disconcerting, even if you never wanted to be included in that thing in the first place. You know?

Magic believes in Knicks

Knicks may need actual magic for him to be right

Hall of Fame player and famous smoocher of Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson has, in speaking with Howard Beck at the Times and other reporters from other papers, thrown his support behind our Knickerbockers:
"They’re going to make the playoffs. I think that they’re going to be a tough eight or seven seed, too because you can see that they’ve turned the corner. Now everybody knows their roles, their minutes. I watch every game. I love the way Robinson is playing. Crawford has been one of my favorite players. I can see when teams are starting to make their run, and I think that they’ll settle in after the All-Star break and make their run. No way that I don’t see them making that eight, seven seed.”

I wonder if he actually believes this or if he still really trusts what Isiah tells him. Being less than five games out of the 7/8 slots heading into the second half isn't the worst place to be. That's Miami. Anyway, thanks Earvin.

Thursday's Starting Five

1. Michael Beasley. He said it would be and it was so. Future No. 1 pick Michael Beasley backed up his guarantee and led Kansas State to a HUGE win over the previously undefeated Kansas Jayhawks. He went 4-for-4 from behind the arc en route to 25 points. Shedding defenders that were coming at him in waves, the super frosh did everything. The third time that he got down on his knees during a stoppage in play and helped the staff towel off sweat from the floor is when I knew, for certain, that he is someone I would want on my team. He’s a monster and he cleans.

2. Lebron. He got a layup! That was all I could blurt out when it happened. Everyone knew that Lebron would get the ball in his hands with his club down by a point with 5.9 to go. I knew it. My roommate knew it. And, surely, all the Blazers knew it. And, in spite of that, he got a layup! Once again, LBJ has shown to be stronger and faster and more focused than anyone else. He actually outscored the entire Blazers team in the fourth quarter.

3. Baron Davis. After last year's postseason run, the Bearded One had re-entered the best point-guard debate and had grabbed a share of the spotlight along with his high-flying team. Fast-forward 7 months and a fellow named Paul, Chris Paul and his New Orleans Hornets team had stolen a lot of that thunder. Exacting some measure of revenge Davis hit the game-sealing 3 pointer as the Warriors beat the Hornets.

4. Allen Ivereson. By hitting 6 free throws in the last half minute he led the Nuggets to a come-from-behind win at Memphis.

5. Al Jefferson. He’s back in the starting five. And he's getting comfortable. The Rain Check had 26 and 20 as the Wolves beat the Bulls, convincingly.

Benched: David Beckham was notably absent from the first lineup picked by new England (which is different than New England) skipper Fabio Capello. Becks is stuck on 99 appearances and has made it known that, at the very least, he wants to hit the century mark. Complicating matters is that Capello and Beckham had a falling out when the two were paired at Real Madrid. In other words, Drama!

Skeleton Crew Can't Dance With Jazz

Knicks lose to Jazz, 89-100

Quentin Richardson only made it through six minutes. He had the flu.
Eddy Curry only made it through the first four minutes. He had the flu.
Fred Jones returned and got a little run. He still has the flu.
There was no Renaldo Balkman. He had the elbow-to-foreigner's-head-suspension.

The team never fully recovered from starting the game with Q and Curry in the lineup. Sluggish and discombobulated, the Knicks borrowed this first quarter from mid December. They were down quickly and didn't have any of the spark they showed the against the Warriors or Lakers. Maybe those two losses in games they could have won, demoralized the team. Or maybe it was just that two-fifths of the starting rotation was a running a fever. I don't know. All I know is that I was far more interested in the second half of the Kansas State v. Kansas game than the first half of the Knicks game.

Other things I do know:

1. David Lee was the only player to have +point differential during his minutes on the floor. And, having played over 37 minutes (third most behind Crawford and Randolph) this is no insignificant stat.

2. Mardy Collins needs to continue to play. And, improve. Fred Jones is a filler. Yes, he'll try hard and hustle but he is not the answer at the point. While Collins may not be either, now is the time to find out. Let him keep the 1 seat warm for Nate in the first few minutes and occassionally spell Crawford, shifting Nate to the 2. I'm fine with letting him struggle a bit if it will help the team sort out what they're doing at that position in '09.

3. Without Curry in the paint, this team works from the free throw line and out. Nate drives and kicks to Crawford or Crawford drives and kicks to Nate. Randolph takes flat-footed mid-range shots when the ball hits his hands. Without Curry in the paint the only high-percentage buckets we ever get are on coast-to-coast drives by Nate and dunks by Lee. At least, when Lee isn't getting his shot-blocked.

3. With Curry in the paint, we're not much better. But some of the perimeter shots are open.

4. There is no one on our team who can play like Deron Wiliams. Even when Nate or Jamal end up with double-digit assists it doesn't happen like when Deron does it. He manages a game when he is playing well, setting the tempo and changing it when necessary. To make matters worse (for the Knicks), the Jazz were able to sub Williams for Ronnie Brewer and not miss a beat. Meanwhile, our four-headed point guard monster (Nate, Jamal, Mardy, Fred) is haphazard and can only "control" a game when Nate is fast-forwarding past everyone, including his teammates.

5. The main structural flaw with the post-Marbury, post-dominant-Curry era is that our best two players are also are biggest problem. Nate and Jamal are far and away the driving force of the team, but their uneven play and poorly defined roles at the point is what keeps us from being able to execute our offense down the stretch.

6. There isn't too much to make of the almost comeback. It's the NBA. It's Fantastic. And, everyone makes a run.