Unpossiblog- LA Lakers: Fantasy Plague?
Lakers 119, Suns 98. What an amazing display of heart, hustle, and execution by the Lakers. They manhandled Phoenix Suns, who are most experts pick to win it all this year. And it wasn’t just that they beat the Suns. They made them look like a lottery team, while the Lakers themselves played like championship contenders. Passing, cutting, shooting, team defense…the Lakers did it all, and without Lamar Odom no less. Mitch Kupchak must have a smug “told you so” grin on his face. After all, Kupchak has said time and again that he thinks this team can win 50 games, and after last night who can really argue with him?
Yes, it’s all good in Laker land right now. The Lakers just beat one of their biggest rivals, while adding fuel to the already blazing competitive fire via a war of words between coaches Phil Jackson and Mike D’Antoni. The front office has refused to cave on Kobe’s trade demands, giving credibility to their claim that they would not trade him for less than full market value. Meanwhile, Chicago, LA’s most probable trading partner, is floundering. Their fans chanted “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” during the 4th quarter of their loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers…I’m sure Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Tyrus Thomas (the main pieces involved in various Kobe trade scenarios) enjoyed that.
As a fan I am on cloud 9. The team ball that the Lakers displayed was something akin to basketball nirvana. If the Lakers could play with that kind of teamwork all season they would be a true contender in the West. As a fan, I hope with all my heart that it happens.
As a fantasy owner I wish just as hard that it doesn’t. The Lakers team ball and lockdown D may have been aesthetically pleasing, but in terms of fantasy basketball it was a train wreck of a game. Kobe produced, but not at his normal 30+ points, 5+ assists, 6 rebound level. In fact, the Lakers best player may well have been Vladimir Radmonovic, but fantasy owners can’t count on him to knock down 4 threes a game on a consistent basis.
The Suns, meanwhile, are a team that has no less than 7 players who should be on fantasy rosters, yet the Lakers defense, coupled with Phoenix’s fatigue following a late night in Seattle, lead to only 2 Suns players (Barbosa and Marion) putting up fantasy worthy stats. Incredibly, the Lakers limited Amare Stoudemire to just 1 rebound, and Steve Nash to only 3 assists. Who could have seen that coming? Smart money would have said that neither of those things happened all year long, and yet the Lakers defense made both those improbable feats occur in the same game.
The Lakers ran 12 players at the Suns, which gave them plenty of fresh players to spend energy on the defensive end. If the second unit of Andrew Bynum, Radmonovic, Jordan Farmar, Mo Evans, and Sasha Vujacic continues to play well, we could see a situation similar to the one in Memphis a few seasons ago, when their second unit was strong enough to get major minutes. Of course, a player has to get minutes to produce, and in Memphis the effect of such a rotation was the massive drop in fantasy value for anyone not named Pau Gasol.
Admittedly, the Lakers played great basketball, while the Suns were off all night. It’s unlikely that LA is able to perform at that high of a level consistently throughout the season. However, if the Lakers can continue to play solid team defense and get a solid contribution from their second unit they could very well be the fantasy equivalent of a plague. With minutes spread far too thin to have many fantasy relevant Lakers, and a defense aggressive and energized enough to ensure a poor performance for their opponent’s fantasy studs, they would kill the fantasy stats for any and every game they played in.
Ok, enough doom and gloom. Yes, it is just one game, so realistically there is nothing to worry about just yet. Let’s wait to see if Farmar, Vlad, and co. can continue their production against a team that plays defense, unlike Phoenix. Until then, fantasy owners need to keep their fingers crossed that the Lakers team oriented performance will be a rare occurrence, just as Lakers fans need to hope that it won’t.
PS: My NBA.com blogs should be starting up within a few weeks, so I will keep everyone updated.