Big Picture: Counting Blessings

Happy Thanksgiving! What could be better than liberal portions of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, cranberries, and pumpkin pie? All of that with sports all day as the accompaniment, of course. Get your fill of food and the company of your friends and family, and enjoy the two football and two basketball games today, but be safe – make sure that you don't make any questionable add/drops for your fantasy teams while in a tryptophan-induced haze.

Count your blessings: Early season surprises
Marcus Camby (C, Denver) – Camby is a nice player and is usually a steady source of rebounds and blocks, but 16.9 points, 13.9 boards, 3.3 blocks and the No. 1 ranking in the Yahoo! game was not expected.

Ricky Davis (GF, Boston) – Davis is starting for the first time since joining the Celtics, and is enjoying a career season – 21.4 points, 4.9 boards, 6.1 assists, 1.1 threes, and 2.2 steals have him among the top 20 fantasy players.

Mehmet Okur (FC, Utah) – Injuries to Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko have allowed Okur to emerge as a fantasy force – 51 percent shooting, 19.8 points, 1.5 threes, and 8.5 rebounds as the fourth-highest ranked center in the Yahoo! game.

Chris Paul (G, New Orleans/Oklahoma City) – Even if you figured Paul to do well in his rookie season, his production to this point – 17.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 2.1 steals – has gone above and beyond expectations.

Mike James (PG, Toronto) – The pre-season trade of James and Rafer Alston was supposed to be a boon for Alston, but it's been the opposite. Alston has been hobbled and a fantasy non-factor while James has been on fire to the tune of 17.5 points on 48 percent shooting, 1.7 threes, and 5.0 assists.

Alonzo Mourning (C, Miami) – Zo has been a stud since taking over for the injured Shaquille O'Neal and has been arguably the best waiver pickup of the early season – he has averaged 11.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, and 59 percent shooting in his nine starts.

Eddie Jones (GF, Memphis) – Jones was expected to be a casualty of the Memphis rotation, but is averaging a career-best 2.6 threes with 14.3 points and 1.5 steals in 32 minutes per game.

Random Observations

Sam Cassell, at age 36, is playing like he did back when he was only 34. It's hard to believe that it was just two season's ago when Cassell had a banner year for the Timberwolves and fantasy owners. Last season's debacle of injury and poor performance made it difficult for fantasy owners, including myself, to gain perspective. Cassell was assumed to be the backup to Shaun Livingston this year until a back injury in late October shelved Livingston and opened the door for Cassell – to say Cassell has capitalized on the situation would be an understatement.

He has been one of the top fantasy point guards of the early season, and the 9-2 Clippers are playing as well as anyone in the league thanks in large part to strong play from Cassell. Cassell has meshed well with his new team and vice-versa – of particular importance to a player with as dynamic and outspoken a personality as he has. Even when Livingston returns from injury – he is scheduled to undergo an MRI next week to determine his status – don't expect him to steal minutes from Cassell, who has been the Clipper's catalyst thus far.

  • The pre-fantasy draft questions concerning the Sixers this season, most notably superstars Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, were many. Fantasy owners were concerned about which Webber would show up – the one who averaged career-lows in essentially everything after being dealt to the Sixers last year or some semblance of the 20/10/5 Webber of old? Equally troubling was the prospect of Webber's assertiveness on the offensive end bringing down the equally-assertive Iverson's game. Would there be room for the two of them? So far, the answer is yes.

Webber struggled last season adjusting to the way Philadelphia played under then-coach Jim O'Brien in an offense exclusively run through Iverson – this season, Maurice Cheeks has tailored the team's offense to make sure that both superstars get plenty of touches, and the results have been positive for both players. Iverson hasn't missed a beat – his turnovers are down and his shooting percentage is up thanks to being able to delegate some of the playmaking to Webber. Webber's own numbers are eerily similar to the stat-sheet stuffers he's put up in years past. The Sixers' team scoring is up and they are currently in first place in the Atlantic Division at 7-6. Look for more of the same from these two studs going forward.

Lineup Changes
Gerald Wallace, Jason Williams, and J.R. Smith returned to starting lineups last night, Wallace in spectacular fashion … Luther Head is starting for the Rockets with Rafer Alston out. He has, at the very least, played himself into regular minutes if he does not continue to start when Alston returns, likely by the weekend … Boris Diaw started at center opposite Yao Ming last night – in what should have been a mismatch for the Rockets, Diaw out-produced Yao's line by a wide margin. It's anyone's guess what combination of players Mike D'Antoni will start on a given night … Tyronn Lue and Josh Smith returned to the Hawks' starting lineup with Joe Johnson, Al Harrington, and Zaza Pachulia, and the result was a win over the Celtics. Expect last night's lineup to stick and Salim Stoudamire to continue to see big minutes as a reserve … Laron Profit was in the starting lineup for the Lakers in Kwame Brown's first game out on Sunday, but played only 18 minutes – Lamar Odom moved to power forward. … Jeff Foster had his first practice on Tuesday, but is a long way from meaningful court time – the practice was his first action in six months … Doug Christie is mulling retirement, and Jerry Stackhouse is still a long way from returning from his knee injury – Marquis Daniels is in Dallas' starting lineup to stay … Jamal Crawford has started the Knicks' past three games in place of Quentin Richardson, but it remains to be seen which one or if both will start when Q-Rich is back at full strength … Keyon Dooling started in place of the injured Steve Francis Wednesday night, but Francis likely will be back in the lineup on Friday.

Stat(s) of the Week
Antawn Jamison's six steals (11/19 @ New Jersey) are an NBA game high to this point. With Larry Hughes patrolling the passing lanes in Cleveland, Jamison is averaging a career-high 1.8 steals. That's not the only area where he is producing beyond his typical results, however - Jamison is also averaging career-highs in boards (9.8) and threes (1.4), and has his scoring back above twenty per game (20.9).

Stat-Line of the Week
LeBron James (11/19 @ Philadelphia) – 36 points (14-24 FG, 8-10 FT), 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 5 turnovers
LeBron finally had one of those games that fantasy owners were hoping would come in bunches this season, registering his first triple-double of the year in the Cavaliers' 123-120 win over the Sixers. James was on the court for 47 of the game's 48 minutes.