Is Shaquille O'Neal back to fantasy stardom?
Shaq is Baq?
It may be that Terry Porter and the Phoenix training staff have found the elixir of youth behind a mesa, it may be that Shaquille O'Neal is just hitting the energy drinks before each game, or it may be that this skipping the second game of back-to-backs thing really is working. Shaq put up another monster line last night with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists, leading the Suns in all three categories. His return on that late-round draft pick investment is looking pretty strong right now. The question is, how long will it last?
Shaq is already producing at a higher level than he did in all of the 2007-08 season. He has two 29-point games in the past week. Do you know how many times he scored this much last season? Zero. You have to scroll back to March 9, 2007, to find a game in which he scored 29 or more points in a game. Now he's done it twice in a week. In the four games since he sat against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 7, he has averaged 21.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.3 blocks on 62.7 percent shooting from the field and (shock) 63.6 percent from the line. This is elite production, and his owners must be simultaneously pinching themselves and asking what on Earth they should do with this unexpected bounty.
I'll tell you: Trade him. If you have any depth at all at center, trade him now. Yes, I could have waited until my next Grand Theft Roto column to tell you this, but to benefit from current events, you need to act in the present. Chances are you have some depth if you are in a single-center league. In most of my 12-team and smaller drafts, Shaq was selected as a third center. Look, it is clear Shaq is in better shape, and the plan to play him for only 60 games will ease the wear and tear over a grueling 82-game season. It's a great theory, and, best of all for current Shaq owners, it is paying off with immediate results. Here's the thing: While he may have less soreness in his joints and more spring in his step, none of this prevents the freak injury when Shaquille steps on a teammate's foot going for a rebound. It hasn't happened yet, but it probably will. Shaq has averaged just 53.3 games over the past three seasons. You are not likely to have a better chance to sell high than right now.
If you can't move the Big Aristotle in your league, plan your roster around the 17 remaining back-to-back sets on the Suns' schedule. Owners with weekly rosters will look forward to a lot of three-game weeks from O'Neal even when there are four Suns games on the calendar. Of particular note, the Suns have only one back-to-back scheduled in April, when head-to-head championships are in full swing.
Under the boards
A disturbing trend is developing in Detroit. Yes, Kwame Brown is starting. My colleague Seth Landman noted this in his Boxscore Blog for Thursday's games, and it appears we have moved from matchup anomaly to minor trend. Brown notched a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) in 28 minutes last night. How about the guys we thought would improve once Antonio McDyess was traded? Jason Maxiell played 11 minutes, and Amir Johnson didn't play at all. It could be that Michael Curry wants to use Brown against bigger frontlines like the Lakers, but this doesn't explain the start against the undersized Warriors. It is time for Johnson and Maxiell owners to move on in 12-team and smaller leagues. Greg Oden recorded his first double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) of the season to go with four blocks in 24 minutes. He also had four fouls, so he isn't likely to crack the 30-minute-per-game average immediately. Still, owners should move him back into their active lineups. Devin Harris had a huge line (30 points, 2 3-pointers, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals and a perfect 12-for-12 from the stripe) despite playing on a sore ankle. Harris had to have the ankle retaped at halftime and reported that it is still sore. He missed the previous three games with the sprain and owners should be wary of re-injury. Russell Westbrook put up the best line of his young career with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. It is just a matter of time before he takes over the starting gig at point guard for the Thunder. He's currently owned in just 14.8 percent of leagues. Just saying. Luke Ridnour (39 minutes, 14 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists) and Ramon Sessions (37 minutes, 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists) each played big minutes and produced quality numbers for their fantasy owners. Something is going to have to give when Michael Redd (ankle) comes back. I would hope it would be Sessions, but given the evil mind of Scott Skiles, the safer bet is Ridnour, even though he's the lesser player. Charlie Villanueva missed last night's game with a sore hamstring, and his replacement, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, filled in with a huge stat line: 19 points and 17 rebounds, plus a steal and a block. Deep leaguers should have him rostered already, and owners in smaller leagues (especially Villanueva owners) should think about jumping on him as well. He is a live body on the glass and has been hitting his free throws (24 of 30 over his last five games). Adam Morrison (15 points and 3 3-pointers) continues to flirt with fantasy relevance. The shot is looking good, and while we want to see more of this against teams who are not as shorthanded as the Jazz were last night, it is time to pay attention to the funky diabetic if you need help from downtown.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.