Fantasy Basketball 2012: Stray Observations of the Fantasy Basketball Landscape

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Yesterday, I made the pilgrimage to Yahoo! and ESPN to try my hand at some mock drafts. Part of this journey was to prepare myself for a few upcoming fantasy leagues -- including one you'll be reading about extensively in the near future (#teaserzomg!) -- but mostly it was to see if the industry had really accepted Ron Artest's ridiculous, and awesome, name change to "Metta World Peace." It certainly looks that way.

Artest, by the way, is something of an anomaly, besides the part where's totally crazy. He's fully capable of being a consistent fantasy performer, like he was in Chicago, Indiana, Sacramento and Houston, but he's become irrelevant in L.A. He's like a fancy flower (let's say a chrysanthemum, or whatever). You can't just plant him around Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant and expect him to produce usable fantasy numbers like he used to. He has to be nurtured, groomed, handed the ball on a regular basis, allowed to take a wacky shot or two.

In Phil Jackson's ball-movement-heavy system, he never had a chance to be useful. But Artest, or Mr. Peace as I guess I should start calling him, has a chance to have something of a renaissance this year. If Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol really are traded for Chris Paul, as should be expected, that, along with the departure of Shannon Brown, frees him up tremendously on the depth chart. Suddenly the Lakers will be pressed for forwards, meaning Artest could see a nice upswing in minutes. Then consider that having Paul around could help him get open shots, and that his new coach, Mike Brown, has all the clout of a substitute gym teacher, and Artest could again find himself on fantasy rosters with stats similar to Tony Allen.

Could he be a Top 100 player? No, no, no, no, no. And you'll notice that I used the word "could" a lot, because Artest is a completely unpredictable person who's just as likely to run into a crowd and punch someone in the face as he is to become a bigger piece of the offense. This is the guy who once asked for a vacation in the middle of the season so he could work on a record label. Still, there's enough moving parts around him that if you're in a deep league and are pressed for steals, he's well worth your consideration.

For some other random thoughts I had as I scrolled through ESPN and Yahoo!, including who's considered the worst player in the league on both sites, click on the jump...

  • Wade is a what? Yahoo! is ridiculously lenient with its dual eligibility granting. Dwyane Wade is listed as point guard and a shooting guard. LeBron is a SF and a PF. Zach Randolph is a PF and a C. This baffles me. Yes, these players play at these secondary positions occasionally. But it's completely inconsistent with the way Yahoo! handles position eligibility in other sports. This is the same site that has incredibly stringent guidelines in baseball, the same site that patently refused to recognize C.J. Spiller as a wide receiver even when that was the only position he was getting reps at. And yet, LeBron James is considered a power forward just because he plays there maybe once out of every five games? Seriously?
  • And virtually every power forward is also listed as a center in Yahoo!, which makes building a team a hell of a lot more convenient, even if it reduces a lot of the strategy. With ESPN, centers are like an endangered species. You have to hunt for them, seek them out, build specifically around them. But with Yahoo!, Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer are pretty much the only power forwards not also considered centers. I find it a tad cheap personally.
  • So, who are the losers? One of the interesting parts of doing a mock draft is seeing who's been designated the WORST FANTASY PLAYER IN THE NBA. I always look to see who's dead last in the rankings, simply because the guys running Yahoo! and ESPN, when making their projections, had to have come to a consensus towards the end of a process that a certain player not only is the worst player in the NBA, but is worse than the numerous free-agents out there who aren't even on a team. This person is deemed inferior to other players even when it comes to sitting on a couch, not playing basketball. To be the last man ranked is truly to be the most irrelevant, least-regarded soul still remotely associated with the league.
  • ESPN gave that distinction to Tanguy Ngombo, who came in dead last at No. 724, just ahead of Nikola Mirotic (who?) and Rockets center Donatas Motiejunas (no idea). Players 711-724 were ranked alphabetically, but that's not important right now. Ngombo, you may recall, was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft by the Timberwolves, but was later ruled ineligible when it was discovered he was actually 27 years old. Oddly, ESPN erroneously lists Ngombo as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, who at one point held his draft rights after getting him in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks. A 27-year-old out-of-work ineligible fraud, someone David Kahn once sought after, is a solid choice to be known as the worst player in the league.
  • Yahoo's league-wide roster isn't nearly as expansive as ESPN's (more on that later). It only goes up to 467 players, and bringing in the rear at No. 467 is the illustrious Luke Babbitt, narrowly edging out Eddy Curry, John Lucas, Avery Bradley, and Byron Mullens. Babbitt, to be fair, really, really sucks. He played in just 24 games last season with the Blazers, but what he did in those games was so unimpressive that if zombies ever do walk the earth, I imagine the first thing a reincarnated James Naismith would do is shamble over to his house, ring his doorbell, wait for Babbitt to answer the door and then slap him repeatedly in the face for tainting the sport he created. Babbitt averaged 1.5 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.3 assists in 24 games, or 137 minutes. The shooting percentages tell the story. Babbitt made a mere 15 of 55 shot attempts (27.3%), 3 of 16 three-point attempts (18.8%), and 3 of 9 free-throw attempts (33.3%) last year. I realize he didn't have much time to perform, but I can only have sympathy for numbers that dreadful if it turned out he was wearing a blindfold last season as some sort of hazing ritual.
  • In both Yahoo! and ESPN, the worst player in the league is listed as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. If that doesn't epitomize how bad things are right now in Portland, I don't know what does.
  • What's really crazy is that both Ngombo and Babbitt are pretty well owned on the sites in which they're dead last -- although maybe that's intentional. Babbitt is owned in 1% of Yahoo! leagues, and Ngombo can be found in 0.8% of ESPN leagues, meaning of course that 1% of all Yahoo! leagues and 0.8% of all ESPN leagues feature a really, really, unspeakably bad fantasy team.
  • Yes, I think I will pick Rasheed Wallace in the 15th round. If you're curious why ESPN's NBA player database is 257 names longer than Yahoo's, it's because ESPN, for whatever reason, takes longer to update its list of active players than Yahoo! does. Personally, I love that about ESPN, because it allows us to add recently-retired players like Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, if only for the novelty of it since they aren't exactly producing stats nowadays. Other notable inactive names you can find on the ESPN waiver wire are Stephon Marbury, Javaris Crittenton, Speedy Claxton, Gerald blow-out-a-cupcake-during-a-dunk Green, Ruben Patterson ("The Kobe Stopper"), Michael Ruffin (woo-hoo!), Damon Stoudemire ("Mighty Mouse"), Antoine Walker (shimmy shake), Steve Francis ("The Franchise"), Wally Szczerbiak, Yao Ming, Fred Jones (won two pretty irrelevant dunk contests), Desmond Mason (ditto), Shaq, Tyrone Lue, Mark "Mad Dog"Madsen, Damon Jones, Brevin Knight, Allen Iverson (might come back), Larry Hughes, Matt Harpring, Adonal Foyle, Austin Chroshere, Sam looks-like-Gollum Cassell, Ricky Davis, Michael Finley, and Rafer Alston ("Skip to my Lou").
  • My favorite though is Darrell Armstrong. A former point guard for the Orlando Magic, he was my absolute favorite player growing up because I'd never seen anyone put as much effort into a game as he did. No one ran more than him. No one dove for more balls, or took more charges or had a longer endurance. He got by in the NBA by being the Pete Rose of basketball, and so when I got the chance at the end of last year, I added him to as many of my teams as possible in the short period after the end of the season when you can make moves. He's been out of the league since 2008, and who know's how many more years he'll be listed on the waiver wire, so please, if you can spare the move, add this 43-year-old retired player to your fantasy team. If Tanguy Ngombo is owned in 0.8% of leagues, Armstrong at least desires 0.9% ownership.
  • Keep those Nuggets on your watch list. In both ESPN and Yahoo!, the three Denver Nuggets players who are currently in China -- J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler -- are all buried in the rankings. I'm not suggesting you should draft any of these people, but they'll all be back in the league by March, and Chandler in particular is a player who should be universally-owned the second he returns to the league. If you have a spare spot on your roster and aren't interested in adding Darrell Armstrong, give Chandler a shot. It's a three-month wait, but getting a player of his quality for free could be the difference between winning and losing in the long run -- especially in deeper leagues.
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