January 07, 2010

A common misconception in fantasy basketball, especially with novice owners, is that starters are always going to put up better fantasy numbers then players coming off the bench. You are selling yourself short, however, if you overlook the first player off the bench, the sixth man.

In this week's edition of MLFG we are going to look at three players who are either excelling or have excelled in the sixth man role. Lamar Odom and Jason Terry were starters for most of their careers but have transitioned into sixth men over the last couple of years. Carl Landry, on the other hand, has always come off the bench for the Rockets in his two-plus seasons in the NBA but moved up to sixth man status for the first time this season. Terry and Odom are having down seasons while Landry has put up tremendous numbers in his new role. Which of these players will deliver for fantasy owners as we move toward the second half of the fantasy season and which will disappoint?

Through 35 games: 33.7 MPG, 16.5 PTS, 43.4 FG%, 84.5 FT%, 55 3PT, 3.5 AST, 1.8 REB, 1.2 SSL, 0.10 BLK

After winning the Sixth Man of the Year award last season, Terry has struggled so far in 2009-10. His numbers are down in six categories and he has disappointed fantasy owners who were willing to pick him in the middle rounds of their draft. Can Terry turn it around or are his days as an elite sixth man coming to an end?

Tamer: Terry came into the season as a hot pick in fantasy drafts after what was probably his best season in a Mavericks uniform. While he hasn't been a disaster like John Salmons, Terry has not lived up to his ADP of 81.1 in Yahoo! 12-team leagues. I do, however, see him providing fantasy owners with value for the rest of the season. I am a big believer in the law of averages unless there are extenuating circumstances that explain why a certain player is struggling. In Terry's case, I don't think there are any extenuating circumstances. He is averaging exactly the same minutes as last year and by all accounts he is healthy. Some people may look at his age and think his skills are eroding. While he is 32-years old, he has only played in 891 games in his career. Players usually see their skills drop after they break the 1,000-game plateau.

When you look at some of the numbers he is putting up you have to think he will be better in 2010 than he was at the end of 2009. His 1.6 threes per game is his lowest total for threes per game since 2004-05. His field-goal percentage is the lowest it has been since 2003-04. He is averaging less than two rebounds per game for the first time in his career and his scoring average is the fourth lowest of his career. While I believe his assists, steals and free throw percentage will pretty much stay the same, expect an increase in his production in points, rebounds, threes made and field-goal percentage. While I don't expect the 2008-09 Terry to re-emerge, he should improve enough to get back into the Sixth Man of the Year race and out of the doghouse of fantasy owners. That is enough to get a Mother Lode from me.

Trevor: I've always been a big fan of Terry, and fondly remember the days when he was a solid second round pick in every fantasy draft. As he moved from Atlanta to Dallas, Jet saw his role change, and his fantasy value diminish somewhat, but over the years he has proven to be a fantastic source of threes, points, and steals while hitting at solid percentages from the line and the field.

Stats-wise, I usually found myself thinking of Terry as a more versatile Richard Hamilton. He's an underrated guard you can grab later in the draft who won't blow you away but won't disappoint you either, and has always been a target of mine. I'm sad to say that it looks like time is catching up to the Jet. What used to keep Terry's value high was his stellar percentage from the field. Once Jason Kidd made his return to the Mavs, Terry was able to focus solely on scoring, and last season he looked at ease with his role. This year, though, Terry's numbers are down in nearly every category, even though he is receiving the same number of minutes as last season. That's not to say that he isn't still a useful player, but this just isn't the same Terry that we have grown accustomed to seeing. I support the Mavs as long as they aren't playing the Lakers, and I whole-heartedly hope that Terry can turn things around. Until he does though he gets a Fool's Gold from me.

Through 35 games: 31.3 MPG, 9.5 PTS, 42.9 FG%, 64.8 FT%, 27 3PT, 9.5 REB, 3.7 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.8 BLK

After being a starter during his first nine years in the NBA, Odom became a sixth man for the first time in his career last year. Once fantasy owners got over the disappointment of Odom receiving eight less minutes per game compared to 2007-08 they realized he was still an effective fantasy player. Odom has continued to serve as the sixth man for the Lakers this year and has had a strange fantasy season with unexpected drop-offs in certain categories but solid increases in other categories. What do Tamer and Trevor think of Odom's season so far and what does he have in store for fantasy owners in 2010? Let's find out.

Tamer: Before I get into analyzing Odom's season, I want to be clear that Odom is the Lakers sixth man even though he has started almost 50 games for them since becoming their sixth man at the start of last year. The only reason he started those games was due to injuries to Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and, most recently, Ron Artest. With that said, when evaluating Odom's season you can only compare it to last season and not any of his first nine seasons when he was getting starter minutes. When you match up the two Odom has actually been better this year in rebounds (9.5 per game this year compared to 8.2 per game last year), assists (3.7 this year versus 2.6 last year), threes made (0.8 this year versus 0.4 last year) and free-throw percentage (64.8 percent this year compared to 62.3 percent last year). His numbers, however, are down in the other four categories, five if you count turnovers. The most startling drop is in his field-goal percentage given the fact that he has not shot lower then 46 percent from the field in any season since joining the Lakers in 2004-05 (I know I just broke my own rule here but percentages are different since they aren't tied into minutes).

Using the law of averages theory I applied with Terry, I expect him to shoot close to 50 percent for the rest of the season from the field. I also see his free throw percentage increasing even though it was around this level last year. Before last year he was a guy that would consistently shoot in the high 60's to low 70's from the free throw line. Expect Odom to approach 70 percent from the free-throw line going forward. With those two logical adjustments, all of a sudden you have a player who is performing better than last year. His rebounding, assist, and threes totals may drop a bit over the Lakers' last 47 games of the season but what's to say his blocks and steals don't increase. In addition, you would expect him to average double digits in points if his shooting percentages rise. All in all, Odom is having an OK fantasy season, and unless his shooting touch is eroding there is no reason to think that he can't outperform last season's totals for the rest of 2009-10. He gets a Mother Lode from me.

Trevor: Odom has been with the Lakers for six years, and as a faithful Lakers fan I have watched him play in nearly every one of those games. I've seen his highlights and lowlights, his awesome brilliance and his maddening incompetence. Through it all, I can say one thing about Odom: I don't understand him. He has the talent to be one of the top players in the league, yet for some reason he's just never put it all together. That's not to say that he isn't a good player, but Odom is arguably the most versatile player in the league. He's capable of playing four positions, has great court vision, and can rebound with the best of them. It's unfortunate that he doesn't have the drive and tenacity of a guy like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett.

Despite the wasted potential Odom is a quality player, but he is as inconsistent as they come and that hurts his fantasy value. Overall he puts up solid numbers, but the loaded Lakers can get by without a great performance from him. Essentially, what it all boils down to is this: if Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are healthy, Odom's fantasy value will be minimal. Not only are his minutes reduced but he can coast through some games and still win. If Odom is starting because Gasol or Bynum is injured he's a fantasy wrecking machine, capable of putting up triple-doubles. Since Gasol and Bynum are injured fairly often, Odom can be a nice guy to have on your bench just in case, but in terms of his fantasy value as a sixth man, I have to give him a Fool's Gold.

Through 35 games: 26.9 MPG, 16.9 PTS, 57.2 FG%, 86.5 FT%, 5.8 REB, 0.7 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.9 BLK

The third-year player out of Purdue has really taken his game to another level this year and is the leading candidate to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. From a fantasy perspective, he has wowed owners who were lucky enough to get him at the end of their draft or even off the waiver wire. Can Landry continue his torrid pace or will he ultimately slow down as the season moves along?

Tamer: If Landry walked into a room full of fantasy owners right now he would be greeted with a standing ovation. Not only is he leading the Sixth Man of the Year race, he is also competing with the likes of Chris Kaman and Marc Gasol -- among others -- as the player who has provided fantasy owners with the most value this season. I would love to jump onto the Landry bandwagon but I am hesitant to think that he will keep up this production all season long. The reason is that his minutes have increased by only 26 percent from last year (he averaged 21.3 minutes per game in 2008-09) but his production in points and blocks has increased by 84 percent and 120 percent, respectively. His shot attempts per game have also gone up dramatically. He is averaging 80 percent more field goal and free throw attempts combined this year compared to last year.

You can say these steep increases can be attributed to him growing as a player in his third season and getting more opportunities to score and block shots with Yao Ming out for the season. The problem with both theories is that the increase in production in these areas is so dramatic. That theory makes more sense if the increase was around 40 percent in each of these areas.

I am also skeptical of his free-throw percentage. He is shooting 86.5 percent from the free-throw line this season. That is 5.2 percent higher than last year and 20.4 percent higher than 2007-08. To be fair I can see him increasing his assist and rebound totals slightly because the percentage increases in both of those statistics compared to last year is only 16 percent for rebounds and 17 percent for assists. This will not offset the drop I expect in points, blocks and free-throw percentage. Expect about 13 points, seven rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 0.8 assists and a free-throw percentage around 80 percent for the rest of this season with his field goal-percentage and steals per game staying about the same.

The problem with fantasy basketball is that once an owner gets used to a players stats they get upset at any decrease in production. Landry will still be exceeding preseason expectations with these numbers but fantasy owners have come to expect the Landry they have seen through his first 35 games. With that said he gets probably my toughest Fool's Gold of the season.

Trevor: When the season began I had Luis Scola tabbed as the guy who would truly benefit from the injury to Yao. I never would have guessed that it actually would have been Landry, coming off the bench, who would end up with the biggest increase in fantasy value. If you look at Landry' stats they don't really wow you, but aside from assists and threes he does just enough to not be a negative impact on your squad. Then take a closer look at his percentages and you will see why so many owners are raving about him.

In terms of impact, Landry is the only player in the league in the top 10 in BOTH FG% and FT%. Percentages often get overlooked in favor of sexier stats like steals or blocks, but they count just as much and this season Landry is the man to turn to when the rest of your squad is throwing up bricks. I'm a big fan of guys with good percentages, and I'm kicking myself for not snagging Landry for my squad this year. I expect him to keep it up for the rest of the season, and give Landry a solid Mother Lode vote.

* All stats up to date as of 1/6/10

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