April 23, 2012

The season is not quite over, but when it comes to fantasy basketball awards, giving an NBA player recognition for something they did during the last week would be kind of like congratulating a sprinter for closing in on Usain Bolt a bit in the last 10 meters. Even if we were to throw in the last few games for Oklahoma City and Miami, there would still be room for debate for the league's fantasy NBA MVP.

Most Valuable Fantasy Player: The debate for who had a better fantasy season is pretty much the same as it was for who should have been the first pick at the beginning of the season. The choice comes down to LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Unlike the start of the season, though, we now have nearly 66 games worth of data with which to evaluate the two. According to Give Me The Rock's Player Rater, Durant was the best fantasy basketball player of the 2011-12 season. The Player Rater is designed for head-to-head leagues, but for this case, it seems the results are applicable to rotisserie leagues, as well. If you look across the stats, Durant makes up for the categories in which he lagged LeBron -- assists and steals -- with ones in which he beat him handily (twice as many threes; 8 percentage points higher from the line; nearly a half a block per game more). He's reliable, durable and plays a difficult position to fill. I'm sure we'll be back to the same debate come September and October, but for now, Durant is the Most Valuable Fantasy Player.

All-NBA Fantasy First Team: If you exclude Durant, the All-NBA Fantasy First Team falls nicely into place with LeBron at SF, Chris Paul, No. 3 on the season, at PG, followed by Kevin Love at No. 4 taking up the PF position. The center position is a bit of a surprise, but at No. 5, according to the Player Rater is Al Jefferson. Jefferson was drafted an average of 13th, so clearly fantasy owners knew this would be a good year for him, but he came through better than I think anyone could have expected with over 19 points, nearly 10 rebounds, high percentages (including 77 percent from the line; very good for a big man), and a remarkable 1.1 turnovers per game. Finally, at No. 6, we slot Dwyane Wade at the SG position. Even though he missed a lot more games than the five guys above him, he played enough that he deserves a spot on the fantasy first team with them.

Fantasy NBA Rookie of the Year: Another easy choice here: Kyrie Irving, ended up as the 32nd best fantasy player available, making him the clear choice for ROY with nearly 19 points, 5.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds (from a point guard!), and 1 steal per game. Irving also shot 46 percent from the field, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that he played for the Cavaliers, who don't have a lot of guys to take the defensive heat off of him. He also shot 88 percent from the line, which is a very good sign of things to come. The only downside to his game was the 3.2 turnovers, but he's a point guard, so high turnovers are to be expected, and when you consider he's a rookie, 3.2 turnovers really isn't that bad.

Most Disappointing Fantasy Player: There's a lot more room for debate when it comes to the Most Disappointing Player. Is it someone drafted high who ended up far below their average draft position? Is it someone drafted high who barely played because of injuries? Is it really fair to penalize someone just for getting injured? (Especially since owners should know who injury-prone players are and lower their expectations accordingly)

The first name that springs to mind is Dwight Howard, but perhaps my thoughts are overshadowed by his lengthy trade/extension controversy and his season-ending back surgery. Howard still played 54 games and ended up at No. 20 on the GMTR Player Rater on a per-game basis. After dismissing that initial hypothesis, I moved on to Stephen Curry and forced myself to ask whether I should have known better than to draft Curry despite his first two seasons of 80 and 74 games; numbers which clearly contradicted the fragility of his ankle. Well, somebody had to draft him, but it didn't have to be me, and to answer the question, yes, I should have known better. And anyone who drafted Curry should not be disappointed with the 26 games he played.

So if we move on to guys who just didn't perform and start from the top: Russell Westbrook dropped almost a full round from the 12th to 23rd selection, but Monta Ellis dropped even further, going from 16 to 43. Westbrook underperformed, but still ended up as a second-round player, while Ellis just couldn't find his groove after the fairly shocking trade that sent him to Milwaukee. Maybe it was the weather, or trying to co-exist on the court with Brandon Jennings was just too much to stomach. Either way, he still ended up 27 spots below his average draft position, and even though he played well alongside Curry in Golden State, I don't think it's right to fault him for something that he had no control over.

Strange how two of my top candidates are from the Warriors, because my selection for the actual Most Disappointing Fantasy Player is also from Golden State. Dorell Wright was drafted at 30, the middle of the third round, and ended up at 81, mid-seventh round. I was forced to tell people to keep hanging on to him week after week but things never got better. Wright managed a respectable 1.7 threes per game, but the rest of his game fell so far off the map that the Warriors were forced to cut his minutes from 38 to 27, and even that was overly generous.

Best Fantasy Sleeper: On the opposite end of the spectrum from Wright is Ryan Anderson. Granted, much of his success is due to the fact that he plays with Howard, who can draw 5-10 players at a time on any given play. When the defense looks like a Lebanese league game it's not hard to make a lot of three-pointers, and Anderson did, averaging a league leading 2.7 threes per game. He also grabbed 7.6 rebounds per game, made 88 percent of his free throws, and with so much catching and shooting, he kept his turnovers below 1 per game. All of that adds up to a place at No. 8 on the Player Rater -- a full 110 spots above his average draft position. No one else in the Top 10 can claim that kind of jump, and in the Top 50, only Ersan Ilyasova even comes close and he ended up just barely in the Top 50.

Congrats to the winners and better luck next time to all the losers. That applies to the players and the owners. Perhaps more so to the owners since the players at least have a real playoff after the regular season.

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