Where's the real Josh Smith?

March, 27, 2008
I watched the Celtics-Suns game on ESPN last night and, my goodness, the Celtics' defense was ridiculous in the second half. After being owned by Amare Stoudemire in the first half, the Celtics tightened up their rotations played great ball-denial defense. Kevin Garnett (30 points) made Amare work on defense in the second half as well. You'll notice that the Suns shot 55.9 percent as a team. The problem wasn't their shooting, it was getting shots at all. The Suns took a paltry 68 shots the entire game. Compare this with the 83.1 they average per game. This explains many of the poor numbers put up by Suns players.

There was no fast break for the Suns. No fast breaking translates to no scoring for Leandro Barbosa. He ended up with just two points. His owners can understandably be disappointed, but this night does not suggest a trend, just a pattern. Teams that prevent the fast break will limit Barbosa. Those that do not will be punished by him.

Where have you gone, Josh Smith? Ordinarily, a reliable second-half stud, J-Smoove has been gelded in the second half of this season. Don't believe me? Look at the numbers. He is in decline in most categories since the All-Star break. Check the pre-/post-break splits. points (17.7/16.4), blocks (3.1/2.4), steals (1.9/0.8) and assists (3.8/2.5). Only his rebounds have improved in the counting categories (7.8/9.2). Last night, he went for just seven points, seven rebounds, three assists, no steals and three blocks. Look, people, if I am spelling out the numbers instead of using digits, there is a problem.

Mike Bibby (16 points, two 3-pointers and three assists) left last night's game with a sprained thumb and may miss Friday's game. I will have more for you on this injury in Thursday's Occupational Hazard.

Best point guard in the NBA ... most valuable player in fantasy ... Twenty assists to one turnover last night. Who connects the dots? Chris Paul. Sometimes the writing comes easy. Give Paul an assist there as well.

The same day the Chicago Sun-Times reported that he would be limited by a sore groin the rest of the season, Thabo Sefolosha put up his best line in nearly two weeks: 20 points, four 3-pointers, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Can you count on this going forward? No more than you can count on the fantasy production of any Bull going forward. There is no more inconsistent team in the league.

Chris Bosh has been back for four games and it really hasn't put much of a damper on Rasho Nesterovic's numbers. Nesterovic put up 15 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks last night against the Pistons, of all teams. Despite everyone (myself included) thinking that Nesterovic's numbers would nosedive after Bosh returned, it hasn't been the case. He has averaged 13.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 56.1 percent shooting from the field in his past five games, including the four since Bosh returned. At this point, I cannot recommend against picking up Nesterovic for your head-to-head playoffs. There aren't too many players sitting on your league's waiver wire who will outperform these numbers. Yes, I realize that Nesterovic could disappear tomorrow. But, really, that should have happened four games ago and it hasn't.

Also of note in last night's Raptors-Pistons game was Rodney Stuckey's line. In his Daily Notes column on Wednesday, Seth Landman mentioned how Stuckey has been putting up good numbers since Richard Hamilton went down. Well, he came through last night with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in 31 minutes. As Seth said, look for more of the same against the Heat as Rip sits.

Devin Harris is averaging 6.6 assists as a member of the Nets versus 5.3 as a Maverick. This trend was on full display last night as Harris delivered 15 dimes to teammates in the Nets' 124-117 victory over the Pacers. Conversely, Jason Kidd is averaging 9.2 assists on the Mavs against 10.4 as a Net. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it may also be the style of the Mavs offense suppresses assists from the point guards, to the tune of about 1.2 per game.

OK, here's a question for you: Where do you draft Mike Dunleavy next fall? Me? I have him pegged as a solid fourth-rounder. Look, the talent was always there; the head never was as a Warrior. Are you scoffing at my fourth-round suggestion? My friends, if you had drafted Dunleavy in the fourth round in a 10-team league this season, you would still be getting better value than his draft position. Dunleavy is currently ranked 27th in ESPN's Player Rater and is sure to climb higher after last night's 33 points, five 3-pointers, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Dunleavy will fall past the fourth round in most drafts next season, and those who get him after that will be one step closer to winning their leagues.

When Ricky Davis finds himself the lead option on a really bad team, good things happen for his owners. Take last night, when he posted 28 points, seven 3-pointers, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. It wasn't enough for the Heat to topple the almost equally inadequate Knicks, but as a fantasy owner I doubt you care much about that.

Tracy McGrady (23 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists) put up a nice line, except for the 9-for-25 from the field. Still, I think his owners will take the near triple-double. He repeatedly found Luis Scola open and the Spaniard responded with a huge night: 18 points and a career-high 18 rebounds.

After several weeks of torturing his owners, Chris Kaman finally made his return to the hardwood. He posted a modest 16 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes, but looked mobile enough to convince me that he should be over the back pain that sidelined him for weeks.

I hearby nominate Juan Carlos Navarro as the most frustrating player to own in fantasy basketball. Injury prone guys are one thing, but players who are healthy but wildly inconsistent take the cake for me. Because there is no reliable explanation for their up-and-down play, it is nearly impossible to effectively strategize how to use them. The past two weeks, JCN was killing it. He had a string of six straight games in double figures with mucho 3-pointers. This week? Next to nada. Last night was an improvement on Monday's abomination and he only put up nine points in 17 minutes. One explanation: Javaris Crittenton's minutes are increasing -- he played 25 last night -- and this is cutting into Navarro's playing time.

There is no better player to help you from the free-throw line than Kevin Martin. He went 16-for-16 last night en route to 36 points.

Nick Collison is a must-grab for owners in need of rebounding. He is owned in just 33.7 percent of ESPN leagues but will continue to pile up the rebounds as long as Chris Wilcox (sprained right pinkie) misses time. Last night, Collison snared 21 rebounds and is averaging 13.2 per game in his past five.

It is likely that Kobe would have added to his team-high 27 points had he not been ejected from last night's game after protesting a foul call. If your league doesn't count technicals -- don't laugh, I have been in leagues that do -- it might surprise you to see what a liability Kobe is in this category. Currently, he leads the league in technicals with 15 and has been among the league, er, leaders in this category since the 2005-06 season, when he was second with 15 behind the reliably volatile Rasheed Wallace, who was tagged with 17. You know what? On second thought, feel free to laugh at me for having played in leagues that count technicals. The geek boundary will always be pushed and the result is almost always someone laughing at you.

Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.



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