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Fantasy-league draft highlights major NBA movers

The local team with the most top-100 picks was the Clippers, with five; the Lakers had four.

October 18, 2009|MARK HEISLER

My fantasy league held its draft last week . . . .

No, wait! Come back!

I know what you're thinking, here come 24 inches of our madcap, gag-me-with-a-spoon adventures as we try to break each others', uh, wills.

To give the readers a break, I'm leaving us out of it.

Nevertheless, in the preseason, when no one is sure what anything means, our draft at least beats talk radio, where fans are trying to figure out if the Lakers will win 81, 82 or 83.

Not that our league isn't half schnook too. (I was 10th out of 14 last season, but my opponents know the bad breaks I got. Before I lost it, I mean.)

Good fantasy players can be way ahead of the curve, such as ESPN maven Matthew Berry, who has as good a handle on what's going on across sports as any of the network's experts who played those sports.

There are also a growing number of Moneyball-type math guys, such as ESPN's John Hollinger, whose Player Efficiency Ratings are now quoted by some general managers.

Mathematicians have revolutionized baseball, emphasizing taking pitches and drawing walks with new stats like OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), resulting in more scoring, longer games and a revenge-of-the-nerds ascent in front offices at the expense of people who played the game.

Unlike baseball, basketball is fluid. Alex Rodriguez's at-bats are enhanced, not diminished, by the success of Derek Jeter hitting ahead of him. Any shot Kobe Bryant takes is one less for Pau Gasol.

Hollinger and math guys are still interesting because, like good fantasy players, they spend a lot of time . . . or their lives . . . reality-testing the game.

(Not that anyone has figured out an OPS-like stat to compare NBA players. Hollinger's PER tilts heavily toward big men with high shooting percentages, which must be why this fall he projected Brandan Wright at No. 43, with Paul Pierce at 59, JaVale McGee at 73, Derrick Rose at 103, Eric Gordon at 129 and Aaron Brooks at 198.)

Fantasy also values cold numbers over real-world values like unselfishness, tilting toward players on bad teams, especially ones that play fast, such as Golden State's Stephen Jackson, and stars with lesser supporting casts, such as LeBron James. James is in a class of his own, Bryant has dropped off as the Lakers have gotten good, and Jackson, the defrocked captain, is worth having, at least until he makes the Warriors crazy enough to give him away.

Still, ongoing fantasy drafts such as ours highlighted some major movers, for example:

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City -- Now in some top fives. Playing for the Thunder helps, but this is remarkable after two seasons.

Rajon Rondo, Boston -- Still can't shoot a lick, but averaged a triple-double in last spring's playoffs. Went No. 28 before All-Stars Jose Calderon (29), Tony Parker (36), Jason Kidd (37) and Jameer Nelson (41), and rookie of the year Rose (35).

More top guys yet to be All-Stars -- Deron Williams, Utah (10); Al Jefferson, Minnesota (13); Andre Iguodala , Philadelphia (17); Gerald Wallace, Charlotte (22); David Lee, New York (25) and Brook Lopez, New Jersey (27).

So much for staying in school: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City -- Not yet 21, he showed enough as a rookie despite shooting 40% and leading the league in turnovers to go No. 47. That was ahead of Rashard Lewis (51), Baron Davis (53) and Vince Carter (55).

School's out (cont.): Kevin Love, Minnesota -- Will harvest rebounds when he gets back from a broken hand, went No. 57 before Al Horford (59) and Shaquille O'Neal (82).

I'll have the Freedom Fries: Joakim Noah, Chicago -- The high-strung son of temperamental French tennis star Yannick Noah made a big move last spring. Went No. 73, ahead of O'Neal and Greg Oden (106).

Nice knowing you: Trevor Ariza, Houston -- Finished No. 74 last season, rated 97 by Yahoo for this one, went No. 136 in our draft. Because Lakers writers make up half our league, it's not a good sign.

Their hopes ride on him: Oden, Portland -- Disappointing as a rookie when we drafted him 51 (and I traded for him). Just went No. 106 but playing well this preseason (when I traded for him).

Dynasty rides on him: Andrew Bynum, Lakers -- The player who can take them from good to great went No. 62 last season, all but disappeared last spring, but went 62 again. If the draft had been a week later, it would have been higher.

Local team with most top-100 picks, the Clippers -- With five: Davis (53), Marcus Camby (54), Eric Gordon (64), Chris Kaman (72) and Blake Griffin (79); to the Lakers' four: Bryant (8), Gasol (14), Bynum (62) and Ron Artest (87).

Still Kwame after all these years: Kwame Brown, Detroit -- With 150 NBA starting slots and 196 players going in our draft, the Pistons' starting center wasn't taken, though Eddy Curry and David Andersen were. Did I mention half of us are Lakers writers and covered Kwame?

NoMotown -- The first Piston, Charlie Villanueva (56), is now backing up undrafted Ben Wallace while recovering from an injury, possibly to his thumbs after over-tweeting. The only other Piston in our top 125 was Ben Gordon (79). ESPN experts have Detroit No. 2 in East, which would rival the miracle of the loaves and fishes.


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