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Mother lode or fool's gold?


Ever since the beginning of the 2008-09 season whenever people talk about freeagents in the NBA the conversation is geared toward the summer of 2010. To be honest, I can't blame them. With Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh just a few of the marquee names that will be available starting on July 1, the natural tendency is to focus on what is probably the best free agent class in the history of the NBA. Well, here at MLFG we feel that the 2009 free agents need a little loving since they were barely acknowledged last summer with the frenzy over the 2010 class at full tilt. This week we will take a look at three of the more prominent free agents from the 2009 class to see what their prospects are for fantasy success in the second half of the season.

Through 46 games: 32.5 MPG, 12.4 PTS, 40.3 FG%, 79 FT%, 73 3PT, 4.3 AST, 4.5 REB, 0.6 STL, 0.5 BLK

After nearly landing with the Portland Traill Blazers, Turkoglu signed a five-year, $53-million dollar contract in July with the Toronto Raptors. The move was seen as a huge win for the Raptors, who were trying to become competitive again after a 33-win season in 2008-09. Turkoglu, however, has not worked out as planned so far in Toronto and has been the target of criticism from Raptors fans and the Toronto media. Can Turkoglu have a strong last two and a half months of the season and help the Raptors and fantasy owners in the process?

Tamer: The general consensus in Toronto is that Turkoglu is not the same player as he was last year. This could not be farther from the truth. The only reason his production is down compared to 2008-09 is because he is taking fewer shots and playing fewer minutes. Let's look at the decrease in shots first. Last year Turkoglu took 18.4 shots per game. This year he is taking only 13.4 shots per game. His field-goal and free-throw percentages are only down slightly compared to last year (41.3 percent from the field and 80.7 percent from the line last year), so the 4.4 points per game drop in his scoring average can be directly attributed to the fact that he is shooting less from the field and free-throw line. I don't see this changing because Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani are the clear No. 1 and 2 offensive options on the Raptors, and their shot attempts per game demonstrate this fact (Bosh averages 25.1 shots per game and Bargnani gets his fair share at 16.9 shots per game).

Last year Turkoglu was more of a focus in the Orlando offense since he was second behind Dwight Howard in shots per game. The drop in his assists, rebounds, threes, and steals per game are due to the decrease in his minutes by 4.1 per game. To Turkoglu's credit he is actually blocking more shots this year (last year he only blocked 0.2 shots per game), turning the ball over less (2.6 per game last year compared to 1.8 per game this year) and the decrease in his threes per game is an infinitesimal 0.1 per game because he is shooting a better percentage from beyond the arc this season.

I don't see Turkoglu's minutes increasing because the Raptors have actually played better this season when Turkoglu has played less. In October and November, Turkoglu averaged 34.5 minutes per game and the Raptors were 7-11 during this stretch. In December and January, Turkoglu averaged 31.3 minutes per game and the Raptors turned their season around by going 19-11 in these two months. The Raptors aren't going to mess with a formula that has been working, namely keeping Turkoglu's minutes around 30 per game and getting bench players involved.

What you've seen so far from Turkoglu this season is what you are going to get for the rest of the season. For a player who was on average drafted in the fifth round this makes him Fool's Gold all the way.

Trevor: Oh Hedo, what did you do? After spurning the Blazers at the last minute in order to go north of the border ,Turkoglu has turned in a disappointing season. As frustrated as the Blazers must have been I'm sure they are smiling now. Well, OK, considering the injuries to pretty much their entire team they probably aren't actually smiling, but maybe there's a slight smirk coming from the Rose City. Toronto had the idea of creating a visually appealing, free-flowing offense built around international players, but they forgot about the defensive end of the floor, and as a result have struggled this year.

So will Turkoglu turn things around and start producing like he did in Orlando? That's asking for a bit much, but there is a very good chance that we will see a much better performance from Hedo after the All-Star break. While I wouldn't call him an All-Star caliber player, he is much more gifted than his numbers suggest. Eventually, talent will win out. If Toronto expects to keep Chris Bosh they need to get everything they can out of their big free-agent signing and prove they can go places in the future. Personally I think that Turkoglu is up to the challenge, and gets a Mother Lode from me.

Through 50 games: 30 MPG, 13.3 PTS, 44.8 FG%, 81.7 FT%, 11 3PT, 5.2 AST, 3 REB, 0.9 STL

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After considering a variety of free agents, the Blazers ultimately settled on Miller in late July, when they signed him to a three-year, $21-million dollar contract. Even with the financial commitment made by the Blazers to Miller, he was in a timeshare with Steve Blake for the first two months of the season. Miller started getting big minutes in January and his numbers improved because of it. Will Miller continue to satisfy his fantasy owners for the rest of the season or was January just a tease?

Tamer: What was Nate McMillan thinking coming out of training camp? The Blazers front office provides McMillan with one of the more consistent, efficient point guards in the NBA and he decides to insert Steve Blake in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season? Did I miss something? Besides being a better three-point shooter, Blake is a lesser player in every other facet of the point guard position compared to Miller. In addition, while Blake has come off the bench at times during his NBA career, entering this season Miller had started all but one game since his second year in the league. As expected, Miller struggled in his new role and Blake was underwhelming as the starter.

Well, McMillan finally came to his senses in mid-December when he inserted Miller in the starting lineup for good. His minutes were still inconsistent for the rest of the month but in January he started getting the 36 minutes a game he has been accustomed to for most of his career. With Miller finally back in his comfort zone, January turned into his coming out party for the 2009-10 season. In 15 games, he averaged 18.8 points, 6.7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.2 steals while shooting exactly 50 percent from the field and 83.1 percent from the line. See what happens, Nate, when you don't mess with a good thing. While I would not expect his January numbers for the rest of the season, he should match what he did last year in Philadelphia over the Blazers' final 32 games. If you polled fantasy owners who drafted Miller in the preseason they would be more then happy with 2008-09 Miller. Because of this, he gets a Mother Lode from me.

Trevor: I completely agree with Tamer here. Fantasy owners (myself included) were banging their heads against their keyboards in frustration with Nate McMillan. Miller was their big free agent acquisition and the guy that was supposed to take some of the pressure off of Brandon Roy, but McMillan stuck him on the bench. And not just on the bench, but on the bench behind the ho-hum Steve Blake. It was a monumentally poor decision, but as I mentioned earlier talent usually wins out. It took longer than anyone expected, but Miller's talent has finally won out and patient fantasy owners have been rewarded with the kind of stats they were expecting all along. Things look sunny from here on out, and Miller gets a Mother Lode from me.

Through 45 games: 27 MPG, 13.8 PTS, 43.8 FG%, 80.6 FT%, 54 3PT, 5.4 REB, 0.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.8 BLK

After having a career year with the Milwaukee Bucks last season, Villanueva was rewarded in free agency when the Detroit Pistons inked him to a five-year, $35 million dollar contract. Villanueva has struggled in his first season as a Piston much to the chagrin of fantasy owners who drafted him. Will Villanueva be able to salvage his season or continue to underachieve?

Tamer: Villanueva is one of those players who is overrated by many fantasy owners because he does something most power forwards don't do, namely, hit threes and shoot a high percentage from the line. Fantasy owners overlook the fact that Villanueva shoots a low percentage from the field because of his three-point shooting and also does not get to the line all that much so his high free-throw percentage is not as influential as it could be. In addition, unlike most top fantasy power forwards he is not a great rebounder. With this said, if you take Villanueva for what he is and don't overrate him I think you will be pleasantly surprised with his production for the rest of the season.

The Pistons are going nowhere this season. They will look to play their younger players down the stretch to see what they have for 2010-11 and beyond. Fortunately for Villanueva owners, two of the players that he battles for playing time with are Chris Wilcox and Ben Wallace. Both of these guys are not part of the Pistons' future so I see their minutes decreasing in favor of more playing time for Villanueva. I would expect him to average over 30 minutes per game for the rest of the season which should give his numbers a nice boost. In addition, in his last two seasons with the Bucks, Villanueva was a slow starter but really picked up his production after the first of the year. This year he did have a strong November but struggled mightily in December and has once again turned it around after New Year's Day. In January, he averaged 14.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 threes, one steal, and 0.8 blocks while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 79.3 percent from the line. These numbers don't exactly jump off the page but they are certainly better then his season averages. I expect Villanueva to continue his trend as a strong finisher and this combined with increased minutes will make him a Mother Lode player for the rest of the season.

Trevor: Someone please explain this to me. Joe Dumars traded Chauncey Billups, aka the heart and soul of the team, for Allen Iverson's expiring contract. Dumars did this based on the idea that he could rebuild with the cap space he would receive as a result. Then he re-signed Rip Hamilton to a four-year deal, and spent his cap space on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, the latter of which plays the same position as Hamilton. Really, Joe? That was your big splash in free agency, landing two guys who are above average but will never be All-Stars?

Don't get me wrong, Villanueva is a versatile player and would be a welcome addition to any team, but he just doesn't have the talent to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him. Fantasy owners were expecting Charlie to step into his new role in Detroit and increase his stats across the board, but it just hasn't happened. Part of it has been a lack of minutes that he has received, but five rebounds and 43 percent shooting is not acceptable from a power forward in this league. I don't see Charlie turning things around, and as such have to give him a Fool's Gold.

*All stats up to date as of 2/2/10