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Thursday, July 10, 2003
Updated: July 11, 1:01 PM ET
Fantasy Spin: Karl Malone joins Lakers

by Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Games

Karl Malone
Power Forward

The news keeps getting worse for fantasy owners and fans of 28 NBA teams. Adding Karl Malone to a Lakers lineup that includes Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton will give the team's roster as much name recognition as any in the history of the game. It also does little for their collective fantasy fortunes.

Toronto's Antonio Davis averaged 13.9 points per game last season, the most of any team's fourth-leading scorer. Davis took 12.1 shots per game playing alongside Vince Carter, Morris Peterson and Voshon Lenard, Toronto's three leading scorers. No offense to those Raptors, but they aren't Bryant, O'Neal and Payton. There's no reason to think Malone is any more the fourth option than Payton, but it doesn't matter who fills what role. Simply by being in Los Angeles together, they guarantee neither will get anywhere close to the field goal attempts to which they are accustomed. Working with per game averages since O'Neal missed 15 games, Bryant and O'Neal took 49.8 percent of the Lakers' field goals. Even if that number drops to 40 percent -- hurting both Bryant and O'Neal's fantasy productivity in the process -- there won't be enough shots for both Malone and Payton to average 15 or 16 shots per game.

It's also worth remembering while plotting your draft strategy that Malone's fantasy value had already started to slip. A career 51.7 percent shooter from the floor, Malone shot 45.8 percent the last two seasons. And after averaging double-digit rebounds in nine of his first 10 seasons, he has hovered in single digits each of the last five seasons, including a career low 7.8 boards per game last season. Where Malone's fantasy game has improved in recent seasons is assists; he averaged a career-best 4.7 assists in 2002-03. That came while sharing court time with John Stockton, but now Malone must share with two big assist producers in Payton and Bryant, plus a gifted low-post passer in O'Neal. Again, math comes into play. There simply aren't enough potential assists for Malone to avoid a substantial decline.

So with fewer shots leading to fewer points, age and O'Neal's presence leading to fewer rebounds and other distributors cutting his assists, what's left? We started by mentioning Antonio Davis, and Davis' line -- 13.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.5 apg -- isn't a bad projection. Unfortunately, while Davis boosted his fantasy stock by blocking better than a shot per game, Malone hasn't done that since 1994-95.

Malone may get his ring with the Lakers, but drafting him earlier than the seventh or eighth round of a fantasy draft won't lead to many championships.