This week, we are reviewing three players with some fantasy and fan baggage. Judging from ESPN's Most Added/Dropped tool, all three have received recent attention from owners. For one reason or another, the love has been less than unconditional. This is as it should be. After all, you aren't marrying these players; you are using them. Using them for their stats, only to discard them when they cease to give you what you need. Makes the fantasy owner seem kind of cold, doesn't it?
Well, we are here to see whether you should warm your hearts to Joakim Noah, Ricky Davis and Kendrick Perkins. Noah's flamboyant behavior as a Florida Gator annoyed a ton of college basketball fans, especially those at opposing SEC schools. This season, he has gotten into it with both of his coaches and, even less wisely, Ben Wallace. And his teammates voted for him to serve an extra day of suspension. Indeed, Noah's path to redemption might be shortest through the realm of fantasy basketball.
Davis has won few fans over the years. The perception of him as a selfish, shoot-first, er, shooting guard has been a constant, hence the nickname "Ricky Buckets." You can argue that he has been misunderstood, but many fans never will forgive his ill-advised attempt at a triple-double back in March 2003.
Perkins is disliked not so much for his on-court play or off-court persona but for his inability to provide consistent fantasy value. This is especially true of Celtics loyalists who overvalued his abilities.
Joakim Noah, PF, Bulls
Guy: For Real. Maybe the Sideshow Bob hairstyle annoys you; actually, I know it does. Maybe the crooked form on his jumper offends your sense of basketball purity. Perhaps the petulant look he makes when a call goes against him drives you to distraction (although, to be fair, this could be true of almost every player in the league). Whatever the reason, you probably don't like Noah -- unless, that is, you received your degree from a certain school in Gainesville, Fla., or are an dedicated tennis fan from the '80s. I am here to tell you, funky fro or not, Noah deserves your love. No one has benefited more from the trade with Cleveland than Noah, including Larry Hughes. Hughes is back to his hives-inducing shot selection, and his numbers are down across the board since his initial splash with the Bulls. Noah, on the other hand, is consistently getting better. In his past five games, he averaged 8.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.4 blocks on 45.7 percent shooting from the field and, most remarkably, 92.3 percent from the line. Yes, Noah shot 12-of-13 from the line in those games. And the 30.2 minutes per game he has put up this month are not going away. He will be inconsistent -- Tuesday night proved it -- but he is capable of big nights, as we saw Thursday, when he grabbed 20 rebounds. If you need help with big-man numbers, you won't do a lot better than Noah off the wire, unless for some reason Perkins still is available.
Mac: For Real. Given the stats Guy just threw at you, I'm somewhat surprised Noah is owned in only 27.0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. These are some nice numbers, people. And even though he might come back down to earth from the free-throw line, he actually could improve the rest of his numbers, particularly his steals and blocks. On the season, Noah has averaged 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in just 18.1 minutes. Now that he is seeing nearly 30 minutes per night, we're looking at a kid who could average a double-double with 1.3 steals and a block the rest of the way. What's not to like about that? Under different circumstances, I probably would have a more negative outlook here, but I always love young, upside-type players on bad teams in the second half of the season. And with Tyrus Thomas acting a fool, there isn't much threat of anyone sneaking up and stealing Noah's minutes down the stretch.
Ricky Davis, SG/SF, Heat
Mac: For Real. If there's anybody who is used to playing on a losing team, it's Davis. Does anyone else remember when Davis averaged 20.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.9 3-pointers for the 17-65 Cavaliers in 2002-03? How about last season, when he put up 17.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, a steal and 1.5 3-pointers for the 32-50 Timberwolves? Simply put, Davis has a history of putting up dominant stats for terrible teams. Now, I know what you are thinking: Davis has been on a terrible team all season, and all he has been able to manage thus far is 13.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.4 3-pointers. But there is a slight difference here. Davis is used to having the ball in his hands quite a bit when he is on a bad team. However, Dwyane Wade has been dominating the ball in Miami, and Davis hasn't been able to be his typical "slashing" self. Let's call it the Larry Hughes effect.
In any case, with Wade now out for the season and Marcus Banks possibly out two weeks, you can bet Davis is going to have the ball in his hands pretty much all the time. And I won't be surprised if he comes out and averages about 18-19 points, four rebounds, five assists, 1.2 steals and 1.5 3-pointers the rest of the season. Those are some lofty projections, I know, but Davis averaged 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.8 3-pointers in his past five games. And who else (other than Shawn Marion) is going to challenge Davis for these stats? Surely not Mark Blount or Jason Williams. Daequan Cook does have some upside, but even if Cook goes off from time to time, he still is not much of a threat to Davis' value.
Guy: For Real. Buckets. Davis likes to get buckets, and he had better do so on this Wade-less Heat team. I have to completely agree with Mac on this. Davis is the one healthy guy left on the Heat who can create his own shot, and you better believe he will. The only other legit threat the Heat have is Marion, who is an excellent finisher, but he cannot create off the dribble. Davis is up to 70.3 percent owned, but that number should be closer to 100 percent. Bad teams can have good fantasy players. Mac also mentioned Cook as a guy who could score along with Davis. Deeper-league owners should be on this kid. He has the perfect formula for rookie success: no pressure, since Miami's season is lost; lots of opportunity, since the Heat at present can suit up only seven healthy players; and the ability to shoot when teams converge on Marion and Davis. For the next few weeks Cook, Davis and Marion will be the Heat's offense. Udonis Haslem continues to reaggravate his ankle sprain every time he comes back, Banks is out for up to two weeks with a strained hamstring, Williams doesn't have much left and Blount's poor defense so irritates Pat Riley I can't see him getting many looks.
Kendrick Perkins, C, Celtics
Mac: For Real. For months now, we have been talking about how Doc Rivers likely will limit the minutes of his "Big Three" down the stretch, but it seemed unclear who would benefit when that time came. Well, I think we found our answer. Many might not have noticed, but Kevin Garnett (31.8 minutes), Paul Pierce (29.6 minutes) and Ray Allen (33.6 minutes) already are starting to see depressed minutes in the month of March, and it's Perkins who has been picking up the slack with 29.0 minutes per game. He averaged 11.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and a ridiculous 3.6 blocks in his past five games, which is more than just picking up slack he's dominating. His percentage owned in ESPN fantasy leagues has skyrocketed (up 74.1 percent to 77.8 percent owned), and rightfully so. Remember, Perkins still is a young kid (he is just 23), and he showed flashes of upside in previous seasons (at least in terms of rebounds and blocks) prior to the arrivals of Garnett and Allen. As a starter last season, he averaged just 4.9 points per game, but he was able to grab 5.9 rebounds and block 1.4 shots in 23.9 minutes, which projects to about 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 30 minutes per night. Clearly there is upside here, and with his recent increase in minutes, Perkins should be a beast both on the boards and in the shot-blocking department for the rest of the season.
Guy: For Real. Perkins has, in the past few weeks, transformed himself into the prototypical No. 2 center for fantasy basketball. That is, he scores in the low double-digits, inhales rebounds like Takeru Kobayashi does hot dogs on Coney Island and blocks shots by the bucketful. He is playing like a No. 1 center for deeper leagues. I think this trend will continue. As the second-youngest Celtics starter, he will continue to get minutes while the vets (Garnett, Allen and Pierce) get their rest before the playoffs. Perkins has shown flashes before, as Mac mentioned, but never has been able to sustain them, and this has made people wary of him. But now owners are flocking to him. They should be confident they will continue to see the same level of defense. Not only will Perkins see about 30 minutes per game, he won't foul out as much when he does. In the two previous seasons, he averaged a foul every 6.7 minutes (2005-06) and 7.3 minutes (2006-07). For the month of March, he is fouling once every 8.0 minutes. This rate is sustainable at 30 minutes per game, and this is all his owners need to get good blocks and rebounds from him.
Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Both were finalists for the FSWA 2007 Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year.