Yeah, yeah, Wednesday was the big night of debuts for recently traded NBA players, as Shaquille O'Neal looked big and slow in a loss to the Lakers, Jason Kidd got schooled by one of the two point guards averaging more assists this season than he is and, of course, Trenton Hassell looked invigorated by his deal to the Nets, playing 22 strong minutes.
Meanwhile, a guy dealt a month ago is on the best team in the league, and he's making the largest impact of any of the players dealt. It doesn't mean he's a star, however. Pau Gasol kind of sleepwalked through 39 games with the Memphis Grizzlies, even though he was scoring nearly 19 points per night and being a top-50 fantasy option. Since the dump, er, I mean trade to Los Angeles, Gasol has raised his scoring to 21.9 points per game, and shot .651 from the field. He still blocks an occasional shot, still rebounds some, and if you get extra points for what players do in their postseason, hop aboard, because Kobe's taking this team all the way.
Gasol was the No. 9 pick on average in ESPN live drafts this season, and I have to admit, I thought that was nuts. Even with the center eligibility, I wasn't taking Gasol that high. I thought Dwight Howard was going to emerge, and he has, and I would have taken Howard ahead of Gasol. In one of my drafts, I held the ninth pick, and the guy ahead of me was clearly on auto-pilot. Because ESPN had ranked Gasol one spot ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, I was hoping Gasol would go there, and I would get Nowitzki. Mission accomplished.
In retrospect, Chris Paul would have been the better pick, since he is the No. 2 player in all of fantasy, but I got him in Round 2 anyway. That head-to-head team is going to be the top seed in the playoffs. Then again, I could have been stuck with Gilbert Arenas. I missed the playoffs in my 30-team league. As I told a friend the other day, I enjoyed that league for about a week, then Arenas got hurt and it was all over.
While it seems odd to say, if you take out injuries from the picture, do you know who the biggest first-round bust of the fantasy season is? It's Gasol. Yep, I don't like saying it either, because on the surface and because of nights like Wednesday he's putting up big numbers, but other than Arenas, there only three original top-10 picks who aren't currently in the top 10 on our Player Rater.
One is Nowitzki, who comes in at No. 11. No big deal. In fact, he's going to improve now that Kidd is feeding him the ball.
The other two are Gasol, barely a top-50 player for the season, and Kevin Garnett, who comes in at No. 26. His numbers are fine, but missing nine games as fantasy owners prep for the head-to-head playoffs tends to hurt. Can I make a case for going with Gasol over Garnett the rest of the way? Not really. I like Gasol, and the athletic way he controls the paint, but Garnett does more things. This is where fantasy value can help you. There are probably owners in your league who think Gasol is a top-20 player, and they're willing to pay for that. Meanwhile, the great Hedo Turkoglu actually is a top-20 player, but in one of my leagues I saw him dealt for three underwhelming players, two of them Knicks. I was angry. Angry I hadn't made that deal.
Fantasy is generally about buying low and selling high, and after one night of the three biggest Western Conference acquisitions playing, I say this:
• Buy Jason Kidd. He looked a bit nervous to me, and it didn't help he had to open with the league's top point guard. That's right, even over everyone's favorite MVP, Steve Nash. In real life, CP3 is a terrific defender, as those nine steals showed. Kidd is averaging more than 10 assists per game, and I ultimately think that number will go up a bit. Since Wednesday was a bad night, your window of opportunity to buy low is until his next game, which might feature 15 assists.
• Sell Shaquille O'Neal. The final stats were fine, really, and I do think he's going to attempt to be a shot-blocking presence, but it's going to be easy to get this guy in foul trouble. Even if you give him a week or a month to get in better shape, which I don't think is the problem, I just don't think he's capable of consistent double-doubles, or high shot-blocking totals. Surely there's someone in your league who disagrees. O'Neal is up to 90.3 percent owned. The guy Shaq left behind in Miami, Mark Blount, is owned in half as many leagues and will likely put up similar numbers. It's all about the value.
• Sell Pau Gasol. He's on a winner now, and he seems to have more of a spring in his step, but he's still the biggest first-round healthy bust this season, and that's not going to change. Perception was wrong about him in October, and it still is because of nights like Wednesday when he hits his shots, but doesn't get more rebounds than Ronny Turiaf and Jordan Farmar. Hey, Gasol impressed me, but I never said I wouldn't deal him for a better fantasy player.