Now that's more like it from Dwyane Wade.
Before Thursday, Wade hadn't been shooting very well from the field in the past week, but he was doing something spectacular nonetheless, getting to the free throw line 55 times in three games, hitting all but five of those shots. Is this some sort of modern record? Might be, but let's deal with the fantasy impact and figure out if it's even something we wanted.
Wade is someone I not only didn't target back in October's drafts, but avoided, mainly because of the injury questions. Little did I know that I would end up drafting plenty of others who would torture my teams with their own injury issues, like Gilbert Arenas, Vince Carter, Kevin Martin and even Tim Duncan, but I do not own Wade anywhere, best I can tell. No, I don't. I don't have that many fantasy hoops teams, I'm just used to saying "best I can tell" because in football and baseball, well, that's the case.
When I see players get to the line at a rate like this, there could be a number of factors to explain it. Years of watching Allen Iverson on a daily basis convinced me of these factors. Sometimes players under the weather or slowed by injury take a special interest in drawing fouls, to make it easier for them to score. Iverson was always dealing with some ailment, though he usually played anyway. Other times the player just can't get his outside shot to fall, or he sees a favorable matchup. Every matchup was pretty much good for Iverson, and he's not a particularly good 3-point shooter, so half the time he'd just drive. Wade looks healthy to me at this point, and with the other players on the Miami Heat struggling, I wonder if this is his way of carrying the team like Iverson had to do for so many seasons in Philly.
While free throw percentage is the category in ESPN leagues, and not free throws made, I know many of you do have this category in your leagues, as do I, and Wade's big week is interesting nonetheless. In the ESPN leagues, hitting 50 of 55 freebies can carry that stat, even owning a stat-killer like Dwight Howard. You know how we say owning Ichiro Suzuki can make up for an Adam Dunn in batting average, but Barry Bonds can't? It's because Suzuki would bat so many times his hits have greater impact on the category than Bonds, who spent half his time walking. In cumulative formats, well, considering that the league leaders in getting to the line barely go double-digits, then Wade doing this is like getting two for one there.
The league leaders in free throws attempted per game also feature some of the league's top scorers. Orlando's Howard might be second only to LeBron James in scoring if he could learn how to hit his free throws. After Howard, Wade is second and James third in attempts per game, and Iverson, Richard Jefferson and Kobe Bryant also spend plenty of time at the line. Sacramento's injured Martin, another player I seem to have on just about every team, is fourth in the league in free throw attempts per game, and No. 6 in scoring when his hamstring erupted. A year ago, Martin went to the line 7.1 times per game. This season it's 9.8. Wanna score a lot of points? Get to the line more.
Wade's doing that, and I figured at some point his run of extreme free-throw shooting will revert to the mean, which kind of happened Thursday, when he went only 12 times, making 10. Before this past week, Wade had been to the line more than 13 times only once all season, and in that game he shot 4-of-17 from the field. Ouch. While fantasy owners appreciate the points Wade scores even on the tough shooting nights, those nasty shooting nights don't help anyone, even if the guy takes 20 free throws.
So, what would I rather have, Dwight Howard making his field goals and hurting my free throw percentage, or Wade having a ghastly field goal percentage and toeing the line more than Bill Clinton at a college sorority house? I'll take what Howard does, personally, which is why I was glad to see the good Wade return on Thursday night with his best game in a while.
I generally don't draft free-throw shooters, because we know who the good and bad guys are at this, but field goal percentage is a stat that sees more fluctuation. Once in a while you will have to pick up a Jason Kapono or Antonio McDyess just because they make the shots they take, to balance out the gunners, but how often do you really grab Sasha Vujacic or Keyon Dooling for their free throw prowess? You don't.
So, while we marvel at the rate Wade was getting to the line, I'd argue he's doing more harm than good for your fantasy team because of 14-for-39 field goal shooting. On Thursday night, he nailed 15-of-23 field goals, and for those Wade owners who didn't bother following the early games this week or during the previous weekend, you might not even realize those poor field goal games. I did.
While I still won't be trading for Wade, I do say, welcome back, Dwyane.
One more note on the Heat, if you don't mind. We might have seen the end of the line for Alonzo Mourning, who tore his knee in Wednesday's game. I had just marveled in Monday's hoops blog about how Mourning was the league leader in blocks per 48 minutes, and then he suffers what might be a career-ending injury in the next game. Yikes. If Wade falls victim in his next game, we might have to shut down this jinx blog.
Mourning will miss the rest of the season, at the least, and he'll be 38 in a few months, so maybe it's time we stop expecting him to make miraculous comebacks. He's already done that before. If this is the end of his remarkable career, let's remember those seasons of 20 and 10 with 3 blocks, because there aren't that many players who can do that. Currently nobody is doing this, though man-child Dwight Howard is close. Mourning either did it or came really close for his first eight seasons with Charlotte and Miami. Four years to the day after his kidney transplant, on Wednesday night, Mourning was still helping fantasy hoops owners, though as a blocked shot specialist. He's being dropped by anyone who had him now, but that's fantasy hoops, a cruel world where the next per-minute blocks guy, say Andray Blatche, is only a click away.
Jeff (Shiga, Japan): "Eric, I am in last place in points and assists. Available on waivers are Rudy Gay, Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy. I was thinking about signing one of them and cutting Lamar Odom. Do you see Odom turning his season around, or should I drop him? If so, who should I pick up?"
Eric: All three of the guys you mention on free agency should be owned, unless this is a six-team league. I do realize that some of you are, in fact, in very shallow leagues, however, and no question is a silly one! Gay is scoring 20 points a night, and helps in rebounds and steals. Hinrich had a triple-double recently and should be the best of this bunch in assists, and Dunleavy is having his best season. Odom is playing much better lately, with three points-boards double-doubles this week, but he's not passing much. I'd tell you to grab the best players you can and trade for need, and Gay is having the best season. Can't you trade Odom and someone else for the best player in the deal? If not, get the Grizzlies' star.
Paymon (Pensacola, Fla.): "Eric, great work. In a 10-team, eight-category keeper league, I made the following blockbuster deal and would like your expert opinion on it. I sent Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Brewer off and in return I got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Elton Brand. How did I do? My thinking was that I would send the declining KG (not declining skills but he no longer has to carry a team) while his name still had the big value for the future (and present) of the league in LBJ. Your thoughts?"
Eric: Um, wow. That's a major trade. While James is the best player in the deal, I would argue that Garnett's decline isn't exactly sharp, and Wade is playing some terrific ball of late. The key to the deal is probably Brand, and I expect a full recovery for him and solid numbers next season. Brewer is in his sophomore season and with the talent around him, I don't see him becoming more of a fantasy star as the season goes on, or next season. In terms of keeper value, you did well, and because James can be so dominant, I'd make this trade for the rest of this season as well.
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