Hoops Lab: Don't rush to judgement

Andre Snellings

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This morning I watched SportsCenter and listened to sports radio, and learned that the Lakers are done. Kaput. Finite.

After all, they lost for the fourth time in their first five games … and they looked out of sync … and Kobe Bryant was giving Mike Brown frozen death stares … and no team has ever started the season by winning one or fewer of their first five games and gone on to win the title. So, it's obviously over. The Lakers might as well close up shop.

Or … not. Upon further review, perhaps there's a miniscule chance that the next 77 games might be more important to the overall season than the first five. I know it's a radical concept, but I'm going to go out on that limb and say that we shouldn't be ready to write anything in stone about a six month season when we're only one week in.

We live in the time of the "now", and I can certainly see how easy it can be to feel like what we're currently seeing is all that's important. I'm an analyst whose job it is to predict/project the whole season before it even begins, so I know the temptation to over-value those first few real data points. But you have to keep things in perspective or else you can end up making some terrible panic moves that a little patience would have prevented.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to ignore the first week. On the contrary, you should be paying a lot of attention. There's some good info there, and I certainly use it for my analysis. I'm just saying to keep things in perspective. For example, you know from my Hoops Lab last week that I came into the season extremely high on James Harden (in my preseason top-5 after news of the trade, currently No. 3 in the Rotowire cheat sheet), and that after that first game I felt a bit better about my prediction. But with that said, despite his ridiculous start, I was pretty confident that he wasn't going to score like Kobe in '06 for the whole season. In perspective, his history in OKC told me that he could produce in an elite way, and the hot start confirmed that he really had star quality … but he wouldn't necessarily be exactly the player of the first few games all season.

On the flip side, I was almost equally as high on Greg Monroe entering the season as I was Harden. Monroe was in the preseason top-10 on the Cheat Sheet, a prediction that has earned me more criticism from my readers than probably any other one this season. And three games in, Monroe was only averaging 10.7 points on 40 percent shooting from the field with seven boards. I admit, I was a bit nervous with my projections … but I didn't scrap them. After all, I have two full seasons of watching Monroe steadily improve, and I had good reasons to suggest that he was ready to breakout. I had to keep his start in perspective. Sure enough, in his last two games, Monroe has averaged 24 points (52% FG), 11 boards, 6.5 assists, and 2.5 combined steals/blocks. I also can't overrate these two games either, but this data fits much more with the previous history and makes me more confident that he is still the player I expected to see.

Every case is different. Another player that I predicted highly was Tyreke Evans … and he's on thin ice with me right now after his slow start. But that's because his prior history was already shaky. He disappointed last season, but I thought that he was ready to bounce back after a down year (much like Brandon Jennings bounced back last year, after a disappointing 2011). Five games in, though, Evans still hasn't figured it out yet this year. While I was holding steady on Monroe, Evans has about another week to straighten it out or else he's going to plummet down the Cheat Sheet.

And then there's the exact opposite case, when a player is playing almost inexplicably well and you have to decide whether you believe it. I expected Marcin Gortat to be a strong contributor. But averaging 4.2 blocks when his career average is 1.1 and his career high for a season is 1.5 … that I didn't expect. Are the blocks real? At the moment I still have to think there's some fluke there, but he's essentially bizarro-Evans where, if he maintains this for another week or two, he's going to shoot up the Cheat sheet.

The point is, it is invaluable to finally have some real game action to judge. And in cases where you can put that knowledge to use in a low-risk way (e.g. add/drops of fringe players or buy-low trades) you may be able to net an unheralded roto starter for the season on the cheap. But at the same time, we have to keep in perspective that we're only talking about the first of 24 weeks of this season … and that in most cases, we've got years of data from prior seasons to help us judge who a player (or a team) is. The Lakers' 1-4 start doesn't make them bums, any more than the Timberwolves' 3-1 start without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio means they'd be contenders without their two best players. It's early. We still have a lot of the story waiting to unfold.

Around the League

Underwhelming Nets: There was huge excitement for the Nets this year with their move to Brooklyn. They also gathered some fairly solid names in the fantasy community and put them all on one team: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez … pretty solid group, with enough non-overlapping skill sets that they should each be able to produce. Just like the Lakers, the Nets have been pretty underwhelming as a group to date. Unlike the Lakers (who obviously are struggling with the ill-fitting Princeton offense and lack of Steve Nash, in addition to the chemistry and athleticism questions), though, there's no obvious reason for the Nets' early meh-ness. Presumably, at some point, Wallace will get healthy and Williams will learn how to get the offense running smoother so the starters will stop shooting at 40% from the field as a group. This argues that they might be good buy low candidates right now. Because considering how non-all-around guys like Lopez and Johnson are, if they aren't scoring well (both volume and percentage) their roto value plummets, and their owners may soon be squirming. Johnson in particular should get better, as he's never averaged fewer than 16.7 points as a starter, and he's playing with the best point guard he's seen since 2005.

Flying high in Denver: The Nuggets, meanwhile, seem to be getting the team-roto-contributors theme correct. With Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets have four legitimate roto starters. Gallinari is struggling the most, but even after shooting 29.8% from the field for the first week (definitely going to bounce back), he's still averaging 14 points and seven rebounds, with three assists, 1.5 treys, and a block. They even have upside off the bench with JaVale McGee, Corey Brewer, and Andre Miller as rosterable players in deep leagues (Wilson Chandler too, once he's fully healthy and gets the rust knocked off). I really like Faried, who's an absolute beast and has the ability to average the 17 points and 12 rebounds that he's posted for the last few games.

Cousins rolling like Monroe: The other young big man besides Monroe that I projected with a near first-round grade was DeMarcus Cousins. Like Monroe, Cousins started slow (12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 combined steals/blocks his in first two games), but he has really picked it up (21.7 points, 13 rebounds, 3.7 steals/blocks in his last three games). And like Monroe, I think the recent work is more representative of what we'll see from him moving forward.

Gay and Ellis, good but don't fit: Rudy Gay (18.8 points, 36.8% FG, Yahoo! Rank 153) and Monta Ellis (17.3 points, 32.8% FG, Y! rank 162) are both good young scorers that simply don't fit well on their current teams. I've said this in the past, but it's still true this year: the Grizzlies need to be an inside-out squad with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol beating up opponents in the paint and perimeter guys like Mike Conley Jr. and Tony Allen contributing in other ways on the outside. This just isn't the team for Gay to be getting a heavy volume of shots on, and Gay always performs better individually when the offense is built around him. Similarly, Ellis is just too similar to backcourt mate Brandon Jennings. He doesn't handle the ball enough to get great assists, and he's not great at working off the ball to get jumpers … he just doesn't work well with Jennings. Now, I expect both of them to raise their FG% considerably from the combined 35% that they're shooting at the moment … but I just don't like them to produce as they have in the past with their current circumstances.

Granger down, West and George up: With Danny Granger (knee) out for the next three months, I really like Paul George and David West to pick up the slack. George was high in my preseason rankings (currently #17 on Cheat Sheet) because of his jack-of-all-trades nature, and he's upped the stat-stuffing with Granger out. Meanwhile, West's numbers were attenuated last season by his recovery from knee surgery. This year, as the main scoring option with more health, he should surpass the 17.4 ppg that we projected for him.

Mayo channeling inner Harden: While James Harden is getting all of the press, he's not the only 6th-man-turned-explosive-scorer in the backcourt this year. O.J. Mayo has averaged 29 points per game over his last three outings, taking advantage of a Mavs squad that needs scoring in Dirk Nowitzki's absence. He's a hard one to predict from here, because he's been touted as having superstar talent all the way back to his high school days but just never showed it. I'm not ready to buy him as one of the league's leading scorers yet, but his strong start does bode well that he can at least be a strong lieutenant once Dirk gets healthy … perhaps a richer man's Jason Terry from the last few years.

Asik another chairman of boards: Omer Asik was a per minute beast in limited time off the bench for Chicago the last couple of seasons, and the early returns are that he has maintained his production so far in bigger minutes in Houston. He's never going to be a scorer, but he has double-digit rebound ability (currently 14 rebounds per game) and two blocks potential (currently 1.3 blocks per game). He's a roto role player, but a potentially useful one at center.

Barnes has opportunity with Rush down: Harrison Barnes is one of the most enigmatic rookies because, like O.J. Mayo and DeMar Derozan before him, he was projected as a superstar since high school but didn't really dominate in college. Many liked Barnes as a potential sleeper this year due to his NBA-ready body and game, but he had to battle Brandon Rush all preseason for the starting gig and then had to fight with him for minutes. Rush is now out for the year with a torn ACL, which means that the court is open for Barnes to shine. If he has it in him.

New Additions

Al-Farouq Aminu (48% owned in Yahoo! Leagues): Aminu has been the most consistent Hornet this year, producing solidly while Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, and Austin Rivers have been missing games with injuries. Aminu is averaging a double-double with good defensive numbers so far, and people forget that he was a lottery pick a few years ago and is still only 22 years old.

Luke Ridnour (42% owned): Ridnour stayed at about this percentage owned all of last season, but he was pretty consistently a solid value option. With Ricky Rubio out, he is the starting point guard for the Wolves, and even after Rubio comes back, he will still be relied upon to play good minutes and contribute some scoring, assists, and threes.

Byron Mullens (39% owned): Mullens has been strong for two straight games, averaging 20 points with nine rebounds and four treys in that stretch. While those scoring and 3-pointer marks might not be sustainable, having a center with that kind of perimeter potential is very valuable.

Ramon Sessions (37% owned): From a tweet (@ProfessorDrz) that I sent: "Sessions (has averaged) 19.5 pts, 7.0 assists, 3.5 rebs, and 1.0 trey in his last two games. (He has a) rep for big numbers on bad teams, and (is getting) increased playing time off the bench with Henderson out."

Randy Foye (33% owned): Foye hits treys. He may not do anything else consistently well, but if he continues to knock down almost three treys per game, he will have good role player value this season.

Kevin Seraphin (30% owned): Seraphin is coming off the bench behind Emeka Okafor, but Seraphin is the one playing by-far the most minutes. He averaged 17.5 points and eight boards in back-to-back games against Boston this week. Seraphin is still only 22 years old and could grow into a larger role for the Wizards this season.

Larry Sanders (26% owned): Sanders is still coming off the bench behind Samuel Dalembert, but he's been getting the lion's share of the minutes at center and has been a nightly double-double threat while blocking about three shots per game.

Keeping up with the Professor

If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.

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