Lewis showing no signs of improvement

December, 11, 2009

Vince Carter has been a disappointment in fantasy leagues this season -- can you believe he's ranked just 91st when you sort by averages? -- but on Thursday he showed signs of turning it around, scoring 34 points and getting to the line 12 times against the Jazz. He took more than double the shots of his next-closest teammate, Dwight Howard, and wasn't shy from beyond the arc either, hoisting 11 3-pointers and making five. For one of the most consistent performers of the past decade or so, this performance may offer a large sigh of relief for his owners. His field goal percentage couldn't stay below 42 percent all season, could it?

Assuming Carter ends up reverting to his career norms, this performance -- a season high in scoring -- may end up as the turning point. So, then, is it fair to wonder about his teammate, Rashard Lewis, yet? Lewis was a virtual dud, scoring 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting. All of his conversions were from beyond the arc, fortunately, but in the end he was outplayed by Ryan Anderson (16 points, 4-of-7 from 3-point land) off the bench after Lewis picked up two early fouls. I feel that Lewis' slow start has mostly been brushed under the rug due to his 10-game suspension to begin the season, and to this point, he has shot significantly below his career field goal percentage of .458. Then again, he shot below 44 percent last season and hasn't been above the 46 percent mark since his days in Seattle, so shouldn't there be some worry?

If not, allow me to create some. Watching the game, a very good reason as to Lewis' struggles dawned on me: Carter is much more assertive than Hedo Turkoglu. It was one of those "duh!" moments, but it explains a lot. When Turkoglu controlled the ball, he was looking to create for others; Carter possesses enough athletic ability to create for himself. And you might not guess it off the top of your head, but the Magic are fifth in offensive efficiency, they have a lot of firepower. If Carter is not going to give Lewis as many open looks, is Lewis going to be assertive enough to create for himself?

So far the answer is no. Despite coming from a bad team where he was free to dominate the ball, Carter is averaging more shot attempts than he did with the Nets. It's Lewis' attempts that have suffered, down more than one per game from last season, along with minor decreases in his 3-point and free throw attempts. Not to belabor the issue, but the point is this: can we really be sure Lewis is going to bounce back to his previously established level? He's never been the most assertive guy anyway. And will things get even worse when Jameer Nelson returns? Yes, it's still early, and good players can and often do learn to assimilate to their surroundings, but there also becomes a point where there are just too many mouths to feed, too.

Looking Back

Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets: 40 points (16-28 FG, 6-7 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 3-pointers against the Pistons.
Ben Wallace, Pistons: 8 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals versus the Nuggets.
Deron Williams, Jazz: 32 points (12-15 FT), 15 assists, 8 rebounds against the Magic.
Caron Butler, Wizards: 10 points (3-10 FG), 8 rebounds, 5 assists against the Celtics.
Paul Pierce, Celtics: 12 points (2-8 FG, 6-10 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 assists against the Wizards.
Jason Williams, Magic: 2 points (1-5 FG), 5 assists, 3 turnovers against the Jazz.

I am a big fan of players who get to the line, so let's give a shout out to Rodney Stuckey, who worked his way to the charity stripe 15 times versus the Nuggets. Unfortunately, he made only 11, but it helped him need just 14 shots to get his 25 points. … With two more blocks Thursday, Chris Andersen now has at least one block in 10 straight games, piling up 26 in that span. Get 'em while they're hot. … Does anyone know why Charlie Villanueva (27 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists) is coming off the bench? Or does that make it worse that he still can't stop fouling (four in 34 minutes)? His foul rate is worse than you imagine, too, when you factor in that the Pistons play the slowest pace in the NBA. … He may not ever win a Most Improved Player award, but has anyone noticed how much Kendrick Perkins has improved his game in the past few years? He posted another great line against the Wizards, double-doubling with 16 points and 11 rebounds while chipping in two blocks. His ownership has increased more than 19 percent in the past week, and yes, I think he is the real deal. … There's a lot of talk about Gilbert Arenas' comeback year, but how about this: where are the steals? To me, that is the biggest statistical indication he is not fully confident (or healthy), and despite his 25-point, eight-assist outburst versus the stingy Celtics D, he still did not pick up a swipe. What's the point of killing my field goal percentage if you don't provide a ton of other goodies to make up for it? … OK, Caron Butler's poor shooting is inexplicable at this point. What is going on? Sure, going 3-for-10 against the Celtics is somewhat defensible, but he also had Ray Allen on him for much of the game. He has shot 42.1 percent or worse against the illustrious defenses of the Pistons, Raptors and Bucks in his prior three games. Keep the faith, but also keep him benched.

Looking Ahead

• Friday: You'll have a ton of options with 11 games being played, so note that the Blazers-Cavaliers and Bobcats-Spurs games could be low-scoring due to the slow paces the teams play at, along with the high quality of defenses all four teams possess. That lack of upside could be your "tie-breaker" when deciding between players. … The Nets-Pacers and Timberwolves-Lakers, on the other hand, should be up-tempo. … The 76ers are the only team in basketball allowing their opponent to shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, so give the Rockets' perimeter players a substantial boost. … Jamal Crawford against the sieve-like Raptors defense could be an explosive combination in favor of Crawford. … Similarly, Stephen Curry could abuse Derrick Rose, who is virtually nonexistent on the defensive end. And let's hope Anthony Randolph gets some more run, too, as he matches up well against the Bulls.

• Saturday: Caron Butler may not be doing much from the field, but if you need free throw percentage, the Pacers foul more than any other team in the NBA. … Speaking of fouls, Rodney Stuckey could have another free throw parade against the Warriors, who are second-to-last in opponents' free throw attempts. … Derrick Rose should probably be benched versus Rajon Rondo and the Celtics' defense; you could probably say the same about John Salmons, too. … Wild and crazy box scores may result after the Suns-Nuggets and Timberwolves-Kings contests, as all four of those teams love to run and rank in the top eight in pace.

• Sunday: No team allows more 3-point attempts than the Raptors, and only two teams allow a worse percentage. Once again, your Rockets make good plays. … The Hawks allow the second-fewest free throw attempts per game, which could force Devin Harris into a lot of bad shots, killing your field goal percentage along the way. … Another point guard who might kill your field goal percentage is Russell Westbrook, who faces the No. 2-ranked field goal percentage in the Cavs. They also shut down the perimeter (.333 opponents' 3-point percentage), which is bad news for Jeff Green. … The Heat may rank fourth in field goal defense, but they tend to foul a lot (24th in free throw attempts), so Zach Randolph should still get his.

Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.



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