Mother's Lode or Fool's Gold? fantasy breakdown

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Tamer and Trevor turn MLFG upside down as they take a look at three star players who have struggled so far this season.

Tamer: Well, Trevor we are officially in the middle of the craziness that is the holiday season. Normality is replaced by holiday parties, hanging out with annoying family members, and buying gifts for people that you either barely know or don't even like. To celebrate the craziness of the holiday season, I thought we should get a little crazy with MLFG this week. Instead of evaluating fantasy players who are playing well let's flip it around and look at some top fantasy players who have struggled this season and determine whether or not they will turn it around or continue to disappoint. The three players we will take a look at are Al Jefferson, Caron Butler and Amar'e Stoudemire. All three were likely selected in the first or second round of fantasy drafts but they have played more like fourth or fifth round picks. So Trevor, let's pour some eggnog and put on our ugliest holiday sweater because it's time to do a reverse MLFG.

Trevor: 'Tis the season for spending money, Tamer. Fortunately, it's also the season for bargains. I found myself standing out in the cold at 3 a.m. on Black Friday searching for a few particular items at an extreme discount. I battled the elements and got up ridiculously early with no guarantee that there would be enough goodies left after the mass of crazy people ahead of me tore through the store. In the end my sacrifice paid off and I nabbed everything I was looking for.

While I was freezing my posterior off waiting in line I couldn't help but compare the situation to fantasy basketball. There are a few guys out there right now who can be had at a major discount, but they come with some risk. If you trade for them there is the chance they will leave you out in the cold and without the stats you were hoping for. The flip side is that your gamble could pay off and lead to a very Happy New Year for you. Come on Tamer, let's flip through the catalog and see which bargains we will be getting up ridiculously early for.

Through 16 games: 32.1 MPG, 15.8 PTS, 45.4 FG%, 72.2 FT%, 2.3 AST, 7.6 REB, 1.4 STL, 1.1 BLK

Coming into the season, Jefferson was expected to still be the same dominant player he was before missing the last 32 games of the 2008-09 season with a complete tear of the ACL in his right knee that required reconstructive surgery. Jefferson, however, has struggled mightily to regain his old form and in the process has disappointed the many fantasy owners who drafted him as their top pick late in the first round. Is Jefferson struggling because he is trying to get back into playing shape or is he simply not the same player he was before he tore up his right knee last February?

Tamer: Big Al has probably been the most disappointing fantasy player so far this season. He is averaging over seven less points per game and over three less rebounds per game compared to the 50 games he played in 2008-09. In addition, his shooting percentages are down across the board and he is playing almost five less minutes per game, probably because TWolves coach Kurt Rambis is trying to ease him back into the NBA game to protect his knee. Even with all the evidence suggesting that Jefferson won't be able regain his old form I am confident that he will do just that. Why? First of all, he is 24 not 34 so age won't hinder his ability to play like he did before the knee injury. Also, unlike in the 70's and 80's players today are able to bounce back from serious knee injuries quicker and more effectively. Jefferson is simply taking some time to get his knee stronger and readjust to the fast paced nature of the NBA game. Actually, Jefferson has slowly started to regain his old form, or so it seems, because quietly he has been producing better numbers as of late.

Over his last six games, Big Al is averaging 16.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. He is also shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 76.5 percent from the free throw line. All of these numbers are either better or virtually the same as the numbers he has put up for the entire season. In addition, except for the significant drop in points they are almost identical to what he did last season. As his knee gets stronger and he regains his explosiveness I see Jefferson averaging at least a 20 and 10 over the last 60 plus games of the season with strong shooting percentages and his usual contributions in the other categories. That sounds like a Mother Lode player to me.

Trevor: Most owners drafted Jefferson somewhere in between the 9th and 15th pick expecting to be getting the 20 and 10 beast that they saw before a knee injury ended his season last year. That beast hasn't reappeared though, leaving owners wondering if they are ever going to get the kind of production they need from the big man. I count myself among the unfortunate that drafted Jefferson and are now stuck wondering whether to deal him at a discounted rate or hold onto him in hopes that he turns it around. Personally, I'm of the opinion that he is going to turn it around, so I'm not selling him on the cheap. As the season progresses Al Jeff will become more and more confident in his knee and his numbers will rise accordingly. Take advantage of anxious owners and get him for pennies on the dollar, because Jefferson gets my vote of confidence and is a Mother Lode player to me.

Through 14 games: 37.4 MPG, 16.6 PTS, 41.7 FG%, 28.1 3PT%, 83.8 FT%, 1.1 AST, 7.0 REB, 1.4 STL

After two strong fantasy seasons in a row, Butler has fallen off considerably this year. Except for rebounds and turnovers, his numbers are weaker in every single fantasy category compared to the last two seasons. Will he be able to turn his season around and produce like he has the last two seasons or is he destined to disappoint fantasy owners this year?

Tamer: Coming into the season fantasy owners thought they knew what they had with Butler. He is going to miss 15 to 20 games a year with minor injuries but when he is on the court he will produce like a top 15 fantasy player. Well fantasy owners have been right so far on the injury front as Butler has already missed two games this year due to injury but they have been caught off guard by the surprising drop in his production. Some people have pointed to Gilbert Arenas being back in the mix as a big reason why Butler is not putting up the same numbers he did the last two seasons. This reasoning, however, does not make much sense when you look at Butler's numbers more closely. Arenas' presence has effected Butler's field goal attempt totals (14.2 this year compared to 16.2 in 2008-09 and 16.3 in 2007-08 when Arenas played in 15 games combined) which on the surface seems to explain his drop in scoring.

His shooting percentages, however, are down across the board as well which is just as big a factor in his drop in scoring as the decrease in his field goal attempts. Unlike with the field goal attempts, it is hard to blame the decrease in Butler's shooting percentages on Arenas. In addition, you would think that Butler would produce more assists with Arenas scoring 20 points per game, but instead his assists per game are by far the lowest of his career. I think the simple answer as to why Butler is struggling is that he is just off to a bad start. Barring the unlikely scenario that he is declining at the age of 29 with only 500 games played in his career I foresee Butler turning it around and providing fantasy owners with the production they expected coming into the season. Butler gets another Mother Lode from me.

Trevor: Here's the thing with Caron: he's a much more talented player than what he has shown so far. To assume that his numbers are going to stay at their current level would be downright foolish, because in the end talent usually shows itself. Adapting to a healthy Arenas can be tough, but in the end Caron's talent will show through and his numbers are going to improve. Now, will they go back to the numbers he put up last year? Probably not, as he doesn't have the ball in his hands enough to average over four assists per game again. However, if you are looking for steals and points Butler is worth the risk and will be a Mother Lode player for your squad.

Through 18 games: 33.8 MPG, 19.4 PTS, 58.5 FG%, 74.6 FT%, 6.8 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.2 BLK

Fantasy owners drafted Stoudemire late in the first round because they were expecting him to revert to his 2007-08 form when he averaged 25.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Instead he has not even approached his disappointing numbers from last year (Stoudemire averaged 21.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in 2008-09). Were fantasy owners too optimistic about Amar'e coming into the season or will they be rewarded by season's end for investing a first round pick in him?

Tamer: In the preseason, the thinking in fantasy circles was that Stoudemire would revert back to the numbers he put up in 2007-08 because he would be playing in an up tempo system once again. Don't forget that Stoudemire suffered the season ending eye injury last year only three days after Alvin Gentry was hired to replace Terry Porter. Stoudemire played only two games under Gentry so fantasy owners assumed that Amar'e struggled last year because he was out of place in Porter's controlled offensive system. Well what we have learned so far this year is that there is more then one way to run an up-tempo system. While former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni ran an up-tempo system that focused on Stoudemire being the dominant scorer, Gentry's system looks to have the scoring be more evenly distributed. This point is proven by comparing the Suns scoring statistics in 2007-08 to this year.

In 2007-08, Stoudemire averaged 8.3 points more than the Suns second leading scorer. Why? Well he averaged 15.3 field goal attempts per game which was 2.8 more then anyone else on the team. He also averaged 8.7 free throw attempts per game which is 5.7 more then Steve Nash who was second on the team (I discounted Shaquille O'Neal's 5.7 free throw attempts because he only played 28 games with the Suns that year). This year, Stoudemire is still the leading scorer but he is only two points ahead of Jason Richardson who is second on the team in scoring. The reason why Stoudemire has come back to the scoring pack, so to speak, is that his field goal attempts have dropped to 12.4 which is tied with Richardson and his free throw attempts have taken a dip as well down to 6.6 which leads Grant Hill and Nash by 3.7 attempts. Stoudemire has not lost his prolific scoring ability, he is simply not the go-to scorer on the Suns anymore and his decrease in shot attempts proves it. I do expect his rebounds to get back over eight per game because he has never averaged less then eight rebounds per game except for 2005-06 when he only played three games due to a severe knee injury. I don't, however, see him improving his scoring average much if at all over the rest of the season because of the Suns new offensive philosophy. Therefore, I have to say Stoudemire is Fool's Gold because the days of him being a 25 point per game player are over.

Trevor: The Suns are back to run and fun ball, Nash is firing on all cylinders, Shaq is gone and Stoudemire is in a contract year. All signs pointed to a monstrous season from the man they annoyingly call STAT. So what went wrong? Well, for one thing Amar'e doesn't seem to be quite the same as he was before this summer's eye surgery. His numbers are down in almost every category, and owners are wondering what the deal is. It's actually a very similar situation to the one that Al Jefferson is in, but with one key difference: the Suns are winning. The Wolves know that in order to get the team to be competitive they have to get Big Al going. The Suns, on the other hand, are thriving by spreading the ball around and having Amar'e shoot less than he has in the past. Good news for Suns fans, bad news for fantasy owners. Despite playing in Phoenix you will be left out in the cold if you gamble on Stoudemire. Amar'e gets a Fool's Gold from me.

*All Stats up to date as of 12/1/09