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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Fantasy Spin: O'Neal to Miami

by Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Games

The deal: Shaquille O'Neal for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant.

Most fantasy owners wish the folks in their league would throw around top talent like NBA general managers are chucking it around this summer. Five of the top 29 players in fantasy basketball have changed teams since the end of the season, and it's beginning to look like double digits isn't out of the question.

O'Neal, Odom, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis and Steve Nash will have new uniforms next season, and Kobe Bryant, Kenyon Martin, Vince Carter and perhaps even Jason Kidd could be headed for similar relocations.

It's difficult to accurately gauge the fantasy impact of O'Neal's move to Miami without knowing if the Lakers will build around Bryant or their new arrivals, but both possibilities are included in this spin.

Los Angeles Spin
Lamar Odom
Los Angeles Lakers
80 17.1 9.7 4.1 1.0 0.8
Lamar Odom: In a city that knows a thing or two about complete makeovers, Lamar Odom's transformation may still leave some fans flabbergasted. No more jokes about Cheech and Chong or potential endorsement deals from Doritos. The prodigal son returns not as an unreliable enigma but as a battle-tested multi-skilled fantasy star -- 23rd on the last season's FBA Player Rater. Displaying his statistical versatility, Odom -- who twice averaged better than five assists per game in a season -- moved inside for the size-starved Heat and averaged a career-best 9.7 rebounds to go along with 17.1 points. He's not a prolific 3-point shooter, but Odom really can do at least a little bit of everything that matters in fantasy.

So what happens to Odom's upwardly mobile stock now that he's on the Lakers? Not surprisingly, it depends on Bryant. Odom averaged 14.1 shots per game last season, the exact number Shaq averaged alongside Bryant. But with Butler and Grant in tow, not to mention the return of Gary Payton and Bryant shooting more, no single player is likely to match O'Neal's attempts. And since Odom has proven to be a pretty consistent 44-percent shooter, he's going to have a tough time averaging more than 15 or 16 points. He should be able to maintain last season's rebounding numbers on a team with more depth on the wing than in the paint and should see enough playmaking duties to match his career average of 4.5 assists if Payton needs occasional rests and Derek Fisher leaves town. In other words, Odom should be able to overcome a few less points to tread water as a late third-round fantasy pick.

Caron Butler: No player on either side of the deal has more boom-or-bust potential than Butler. If Bryant leaves and the Lakers need scoring options, Butler could find himself playing 35-plus minutes a night and carrying a major offensive burden along with Odom and Payton. If Bryant stays, he'll be fighting for minutes off the bench with Devean George, Luke Walton and Kareem Rush. Sort of a poor man's Carmelo Anthony, Butler enjoyed a successful rookie season but didn't have nearly the fantasy impact of last year's rookie stars. He doesn't yet have 3-point range, isn't a threat for assists and shoots a poor percentage from the field -- hitting just 41 percent of his shots as a rookie and 38 percent during an injury-plagued sophomore season. But Butler proved he can score if given enough shots and is a fantasy-plus in steals.

Brian Grant: Before we beat up too much on Grant for having to go up against the Western Conference's big bodies on a regular basis, remember one of those bodies is now in Miami, and Grant actually averaged more rebounds against Western Conference teams than Eastern Conference teams last season. But enough with defending him. Grant isn't a very good fantasy player, and that's not going to change in Los Angeles. He doesn't put up blocks or steals and has averaged better than 12.1 points per game just once in the last nine seasons. His only trick is rebounding, and even that slipped to 6.9 boards per game last season. His rebounds may well bounce back to eight or nine per game this season, but it's also possible all those seasons of physical abuse in the paint are taking their toll.

Others: Bryant, Bryant, Bryant. Without Kobe, shots open up not only for the new arrivals but for Rush, George and even Walton. But fans thinking of Walton's coming out party against the Pistons should check those expectations, no matter what. Adding a true small forward in Butler and another forward with tremendous passing skills in Odom limits the role Walton can play. On the inside, Stanislav Medvedenko is an intriguing prospect in deep fantasy leagues if he stays with the Lakers. Playing heavy minutes with O'Neal out of action, Medvedenko averaged 14.3 points. 7.3 rebounds and 0.9 steals in 15 January games. His paltry block totals are a fantasy concern, but centers with scoring potential are rare commodities in any fantasy league.

Miami Spin
Shaquille O'Neal
Miami Heat
67 21.5 11.5 2.9 0.5 2.5
Shaquille O'Neal: Clearly the most dominant center of his generation, Shaq remains a fantasy enigma. Even based on per-game averages last season -- negating the negative impact of his missed games -- O'Neal ranked behind both Brad Miller and Ben Wallace at center. Why? Because it's impossible to win, or often even compete, in free-throw percentage with O'Neal on your fantasy roster. So even if you're willing to assume that Shaq enters the season healthy and motivated to stay in shape in his new surroundings, it's an enormous risk to build your team around him.

Those warnings aside, Shaq makes a tempting fantasy target in Miami. Accommodating for both the arrivals of Payton and Karl Malone and Bryant's desire to hoist shots, he averaged a career-worst 14.1 shots per game last season. He had averaged at least 18.1 shots per game in each of preceding 10 seasons. It's just a hunch, but Shaq won't defer to anyone in Miami, even Dwyane Wade. He's going to average much closer to his career average of 27.1 points per game than last season's 21.5 points per game. Throw in 11 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and a dominant field-goal percentage, and someone in your league will gamble on O'Neal with a top-five pick.

Others: Here's where the fun begins, as the Heat scramble to replace three players who combined for more than 90 minutes a night.

Wade would make a better sidekick for Shaq if he had a 3-point shot, but if Shaq can average 20 points next to Kobe, there's no reason Wade can't average 20 points next to Shaq. Teams made the rookie prove himself over and over last season. They got burned and fantasy owners reaped the benefits. With O'Neal drawing heavy attention, Wade gets another chance to do it all over again this season. ... Eddie Jones does one thing well these days: shoot 3-pointers. Guess what guards who play with O'Neal get lots and lots of? Jones should be able to average 16 or 17 points a game and close to three 3-pointers per game. ... If that seems like a lot of points to come from three guys, it's because there aren't many other options in Miami. Forward Malik Allen has some promise, but he won't get close enough to averaging a double-double to sniff fantasy relevance.