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Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Updated: July 14, 5:08 PM ET
Fantasy Spin: McGrady to Houston

by Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Games

The deal: Orlando sends Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to Houston for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.

Is the blockbuster McGrady-for-Francis deal one giant leap for the Rockets and Magic but one small step for fantasy owners?

Quite possibly.

It's always big news when two elite fantasy players -- both ranked among the FBA Player Rater's top 25 this season -- swap homes, but the impact isn't as profound in fantasy leagues as it is elsewhere in the basketball world. McGrady was a statistical star in Orlando and will remain one in Houston. The same goes for Francis in Orlando. So any fantasy analysis is really a measure of degrees of greatness.

Orlando Spin
Steve Francis
Orlando Magic
79 16.6 5.5 6.2 1.8 0.9
Steve Francis: In what was viewed by many fantasy owners as a disappointing season, Francis still ranked 25th on the Player Rater. That's a testament to his ability to contribute in categories beyond points, in which he averaged a career-worst 16.6 ppg. He's averaged at least six assists and five rebounds in all five NBA seasons, and 1.5 steals in four of five seasons. The good news for Francis in this deal is that after averaging a career-worst 14.1 shots per game under Jeff Van Gundy, he suddenly has a very real chance to top his career-high mark of 17.7 shots per game.

Rookie Dwight Howard won't be ready to carry a big offensive load and outside of Keith Bogans and Drew Gooden, the Magic don't have many other returning scoring threats. But add rookie Jameer Nelson's presence to Francis' own offensive burden, and the veteran may have a tough time continuing that string of seasons averaging at least six assists a game. More points and more 3-pointers weighed against fewer assists adds up to a net fantasy gain for Francis, but perhaps not enough of one to vault him back into the top 10.

Cuttino Mobley: Hardly a throw-in, Mobley averaged 15.8 ppg last season for Houston. Possessing a scaled-down version of Francis' all-around game, he ranked 36th on the Player Rater and sixth among shooting guards. A 20-ppg scorer as recently as the 2001-02 season, Mobley should get more shots in Orlando than he did under Van Gundy last season ... if he gets the minutes. One of the league's ironmen, Mobley averaged better than 40 minutes a game in each of the last three seasons. Can he do that sharing a backcourt with Francis, Nelson and DeShawn Stevenson? Even as the clear second option, he may have to settle for 35 minutes a night. That would be enough to likely match last season's contributions but perhaps not exceed them.

Kelvin Cato: Steven Hunter led the Magic with 1.2 blocks per game last season and Juwan Howard led the team with 7.0 rebounds per game. Cato should eclipse both of those figures this season. He's nothing special on the offensive end and isn't in Ben Wallace's league when it comes to defensive fantasy contributions, but something in the neighborhood of 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game would vault him into the top 10 among fantasy centers -- fighting for roster space with the likes of Jamaal Magloire and Mark Blount.

Others: Adding both Francis and Mobley hurts Nelson's already limited fantasy potential. Chances are he'll still be a part of the guard rotation, but don't count on him averaging more than 18-20 minutes and three or four assists per game. The same goes for Stevenson, who averaged 13.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg and a steal in the last six games.

Houston Spin
Tracy McGrady
Houston Rockets
67 28.0 6.0 5.5 1.4 2.6
Tracy McGrady: Based on per-game averages, McGrady was fantasy's third-best player last season. His value takes a hit when you factor in durability, but he's still a clear first-round fantasy pick, probably in the first half of the round.

So can he average 23 or 24 shots a game for a team that Van Gundy seems intent on running through Yao Ming? Don't bet against it. Sure, Van Gundy hasn't produced many contenders for the scoring crown, but removing both Francis and Mobley opens up a lot of shots. Ming will deservedly get more looks and Howard will get shots, but the rest of the roster is noticeably short of scorers. And an increased offensive role for Ming should open up plenty of 3-point looks for McGrady, who cemented his place at the top of the fantasy pecking order by increasing his 3-point production the last two seasons. McGrady's value can't get much higher than it already is, but don't let the Van Gundy naysayers convince you he'll lose much value, either.

Juwan Howard: While McGrady is going to get his looks, Howard could very well be a statistical victim of Van Gundy's system. On an Orlando team starved for offense, Howard averaged 14.4 shots per game last season. That's two fewer shots than Francis averaged for the Rockets. Howard is going to shoot less for the Rockets, and considering he brings little else to the table from a fantasy perspective, that spells the end of his usefulness.

Tyronn Lue: The veteran point guard could be a useful fantasy spare part if he gets 30-35 minutes to post assists, 3-pointers and a few steals, but that all depends on what the Rockets do during the rest of the offseason. If, as rumored, they make a play for Derek Fisher, Lue returns to the bench and fantasy oblivion.

Others: It's all about Ming, who averaged 17.5 ppg last season despite taking just 12.5 shots per game. Now entrenched as option 1A or 1B, Ming should bump that average up to 20 ppg and merit a place in every fantasy draft's first round.