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Fantasy Basketball

Tyler Cowen discussed fantasy scenarios where the Spurs don't just stomp everyone:

My second fantasy is that Larry Hughes (and not Lamar Odom) is the Scottie Pippen-in-waiting. LeBron James will continue his path to being the next Michael Jordan. Donyell Marshall will hold up and they will trade their stiff and slow center (don't expect me to spell his name) for a dynamic front court player. Offer up your own NBA fantasy in the comments, if you wish...

That hope looks pretty dead tonight. The Spurs are just ridiculously good. It's up to Detroit or Indiana.

November 5, 2005 | Permalink


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Ernie Grunfeld looks like a genius. He got rid of Brown, who looks like a dud again, and Hughes, who's not as good as Caron Butler. There are about 50 guys in the NBA as good as Hughes.

Posted by: bagmania | Nov 5, 2005 6:51:18 AM

Don't discount the Heat. They crushed Memphis, a playoff team, on the road in their opener. And notwithstanding their home opening loss to Indiana (a 3 point loss when O'Neal was injured in the fourth quarter), Miami is crazy talented and deep. The criticism that became fashionable after the Heat overhauled its roster this summer -- they won't gel, too many players will want the ball, not enough outside shooting -- is silly. Their shooters never had open looks like they'll get with O'Neal and Wade demanding attention. And maybe they won't gel, but O'Neal keeps most players (besides K. Bryant) in line. Assuming they gel, look out.
How far they go this year depends on whether O'Neal stays healthy.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 5, 2005 6:58:06 AM

No doubt about it -- Miami's a good team in principle. But my sense is that Shaq's aged past the point where he can really be a dominating force 24/7. If the stars align correctly, he could be at 100 percent throughout the playoffs in which case the Heat are obviously a force to be reckoned with. But I doubt it'll happen.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Nov 5, 2005 11:48:22 AM

Nobody denies that Miami will be a good team. The question is if they will be better than last year. I doubt it.

Posted by: Carlos | Nov 5, 2005 11:53:31 AM

"Assuming they gel, look out."

That's another thing that nobody disputes, but it's a pretty big assumption. Don't forget the will-Riles-replace-Van-Gundy soap opera that could easily return at almost any point during the season.

Posted by: Haggai | Nov 5, 2005 12:55:15 PM

I don't think the Heat need Shaq 24/7. They didn't need him to beat the Wiz in the playoffs last year. He sat out the final two games of the series and Miami still swept. Miami is very deep at center. Behind Shaq they have both Zo and Michael Doleac.

Posted by: Just Karl | Nov 5, 2005 2:27:33 PM

I keep hearing that O'Neal is too old and too fragile. Maybe. Anyone can be injured, even players in their prime. But I think it's a mistake to assume that O'Neal is at some inevitable tipping point, for two reasons: (a) he's playing at an extraordinary level (he was No. 2 in MVP voting last year, and probably should have been No. 1), (b) Riley knows how to manage big men long into their careers, e.g., Kareem Abdul Jabbar (as additional evidence, consider the fact that, upon acquiring O'Neal, Riley asked him to lose a ton of weight (to prolong his career), and O'Neal obliged). And keep in mind that, in addition to becoming more talented this offseason, Miami became younger, too. They've also selected some stud prospects in the last few drafts that will soon pay dividends (W. Simean, D. Wright). Maybe they'll fall on their face or regress -- it's possibe, I suppose -- but I think Miami will be a great team.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 5, 2005 2:38:25 PM

"Ernie Grunfeld looks like a genius. ... There are about 50 guys in the NBA as good as Hughes."

Grunfield does indeed look good at this point.

It's not so much that Hughes is average. I actually think he's pretty good. The problem is that slashing medium height players without a great outside shot just aren't that valuable a commodity.

Hughes is good. But I wouldn't throw a max contract at him. Denver is going to face a similar problem with a player with a similar body and game - Carmelo. These guys can do their jobs very well and still not be the cornerstone of a champion.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 5, 2005 5:14:27 PM

"But my sense is that Shaq's aged past the point where he can really be a dominating force 24/7"

Shaquille is getting too old were he a guard. But big guys can continue being very, very productive well into their 30's. He's never going to be the player he was 5 years ago again, but the Heat don't need him to be that to contend for a title.


"The Spurs are just ridiculously good. It's up to Detroit or Indiana."

There are four and a half teams who are serious title contenders. Eliminate the "half", which is Houston, and you're left with:

San Antonio

We're all going to have preferences within those four. Matthew thinks Miami is the weakest while I think Detroit is the weakest. But the truth is that you eliminate one of those four from serious consideration at this point only out of ignorance.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 5, 2005 5:23:08 PM

"But my sense is that Shaq's aged past the point where he can really be a dominating force 24/7"

Or to put it another way:

If you were a GM, and you could pick any one player to be on your team for this current year only to try to win a championship. Without a moment of doubt, you'd pass up Timmy, you'd pass up Kobe, you'd pass up LeBron, and you'd pick the 33 year old Big Fella.

It wouldn't be a difficult decision.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 5, 2005 5:26:23 PM


I don't understand why you would skip over Timmy, a younger, better player who has won the same amount of championships with far worse supporting casts than Shaq. Shaq is still a force obviously, but Timmy is and has always been a greater force. Shaq's just a better quote and more visually dominating. Who knows how many championships Duncan would have had he been paired with Kobe rather than a past-his-prime Robinson, Sean Elliot, or scattershot Parker and growing Ginobli.

I suppose no one would complain too vehemently if you picked Shaq, but to me Duncan is the man.


Posted by: Carl | Nov 5, 2005 5:37:14 PM

It's true that Shaq is only 33 and that big men age at a slower pace than other players, but most guys his size and age start getting injured more frequently, and he's never been super healthy to start with. I wouldn't be surprised if he plays just 50 games.

Posted by: Carlos | Nov 5, 2005 5:58:59 PM

Agreed that Shaq seems to be breaking down. Part of his problem is that he just weighs so much - he's not even a regular 7-footer. He's a gigantic 7-footer.

If it were up to me, if I had to pick one player for this season only, I'd pick Duncan. If I to pick one player for one GAME only, I'd pick Shaq. As long as Shaq is relatively healthy for the playoffs, though, the Heat should be good.

I'm still not going crazy over the Spurs. I found it unbelieveable that all of the analysts at ESPN.com picked the Spurs to win the championship. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Wow.

Posted by: Al | Nov 6, 2005 1:36:36 AM

Shaq being hurt and missing some time is probably good so he's healthy for a run in the playoffs.

Posted by: dbt | Nov 6, 2005 3:41:25 AM

Er, I wouldn't say that getting hurt now will help him stay healthier in the long run. It'll take him a little while to get back into game shape once he does return, and that recovery period will run its own injury risks as well, not to mention any lingering effects from the injured ankle that could still be around for the rest of the season.

Posted by: Haggai | Nov 6, 2005 11:20:26 AM

Well, look, not to get too banal about it, but whether you would pick Duncan or Shaq is going to have to depend on who else is on your team. Part of what does make Shaq, despite health and conditioning questions, so extraordinarily valuable is that there are very few close substitutes for him. The dropoff from Shaq to other true centers is enormous, whereas there are several really excellent power forwards (Duncan, Garnett, Nowitzky, Kirilenko, Gasol, the other O'Neal). The only center nearly as productive as Shaq last year was Amare who wasn't playing a traditional center role.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Nov 6, 2005 11:46:44 AM

I'm not sure the drop off from Shaq to Yao is much greater than the drop from Duncan to O'Neal.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Nov 6, 2005 5:41:56 PM

It's not so much the dropoff from Shaq to Yao, but the dropoff from Shaq to the tenth best ranked center (Brendan Haywood, if you rate centers by Hollinger's PER). In the case of power forwards, you go from Garnett to Shareef Abdur Rahim. There are only a handful of really good centers, but many more good power forwards.

Posted by: Carlos | Nov 6, 2005 6:53:05 PM

"The only center nearly as productive as Shaq last year was Amare who wasn't playing a traditional center role."

Quite true.

It's really a drag that Amare blew out his knee. Amare wasn't a traditional center, but he was very much a center.

Shaquille was unstoppable down low by virtue of his having been born on a planet with significantly higher gravity than Earth's. Amare was unstoppable by virtue of of his being able to jump over a house.

Amare's knee difficulties are such a shame because they imperil what made him so special in the first place.


In a related story, I've been hearing that Shaquille put on weight this year in an effort to create an actual black hole. The concept being that if anyone tries to foul him in the closing minutes of a tight game, by touching Shaq, the opposing player will penetrate the black hole's event horizon and will be sucked into the singularity.

Heat team officials are concerned, however, that any effort by Dwayne Wade to chest bump Shaquille in a moment of exuberance could result in Wade's disappearance in a burst of gamma rays.


The Lakers are actually pretty interesting to watch this year. While it seemed far fetched that Phil Jackson and Kobe could create an elite team based around a really good shooting guard - recreating the Jordanaires - they do look awfully good early on. And they're awfully fun to watch.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 7, 2005 3:10:23 AM

I'm not convinced that the Lakers are for real. They've certainly proved that they're better than Denver right now, but the jury's still out beyond that.

Posted by: Haggai | Nov 7, 2005 1:26:58 PM

"I'm not convinced that the Lakers are for real. They've certainly proved that they're better than Denver right now, but the jury's still out beyond that."

No doubt. They're definitely not a serious contender this year.

But they're a team with some potential. Don't forget how weak the West is this year - especially with McGrady now semi-doubtful as being able to carry the heavy load the Rockets would need him to do. If the Lakers keep it together, they could sneak ahead of some teams like Seattle did last year.

And they're an interesting team to watch. Kobe could put up some monster numbers this year. I could easily see Kobe getting 34-35ppg, given how much both he and Phil want to run the offense through him.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 7, 2005 3:59:52 PM

Oops - Spurs got stomped by the Mavs!

See what happens when you base conclusions on one game?

The Spurs' awewome defense couldn't contain...Dirk Nowitski. Manu just plained flopped.

Wow, the Spurs look aweful. What happened?

Posted by: blah | Nov 7, 2005 4:36:10 PM

If the Lakers keep it together, they could sneak ahead of some teams like Seattle did last year.

I can see them making the playoffs if everything gels pretty well, but I don't think they'll do as well as Seattle did last year, i.e. winning their division.

Posted by: Haggai | Nov 7, 2005 4:42:37 PM

No one thinks the Nets have a chance? Despite the best backcourt?

Granted, they have a weak frontcourt, but if Kristic steps up, they have enough 4 men that good coaching can overcome that.

Really, what the Nets are missing is a real 3 point threat. If they had that, I think it'd be hard to not consider them contenders.

Posted by: Justin | Nov 7, 2005 4:46:21 PM

Yes, Matthew said here that he thought the Nets could have a strong team this year.

I (as resident Nets fan) of course agreed. And so far Krstic and Jefferson have looked very good.

Posted by: Al | Nov 7, 2005 7:12:09 PM

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