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Friday, August 6, 2004
Fantasy Spin: Payton to Celtics

by Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Edge

The deal: Gary Payton and Rick Fox for Chris Mihm, Marcus Banks, Chucky Atkins and other considerations.

Danny Ainge has a plan, but good luck deciphering what it is. Seemingly in a rebuilding mode after a successful draft, Ainge acquired a very veteran running mate for Paul Pierce by taking Payton off Los Angeles' hands.

Will Payton run free now that he's escaped the triangle, or is he little more than a few steps closer to the Hall of Fame in nearby Springfield?

Boston Spin
Gary Payton
Boston Celtics
82 14.6 4.2 5.5 1.2 0.7
Gary Payton: So it appears Payton got over that whole championship fixation. After one disastrous season in Los Angeles, he heads to Boston with a lot to prove on the stat sheet for a team desperately in need of a sidekick for Paul Pierce. The question for fantasy owners last season was whether or not there would be enough stats to go around for Payton, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone. There were not, and Payton went from a third-round pick in an average fantasy draft to scraping the bottom of the top 50 on the FBA Player Rater. Time and role shouldn't be issues with the Celtics, but Payton now faces the stigma of a playoff run in which he appeared at times to be on his last legs.

So does a starring role in Boston negate last season's performance and restore Payton's fantasy value, or is he a mid-round talent carrying an early-round price tag?

Let's not forget that Payton averaged 20 points per game as recently as the 2002-03 season and was a top-50 fantasy players last season, despite his lowest averages in points, assists, steals, minutes and field goal attempts since the 1992-93 season. Yes, there are things he will no longer do, even in the best of scenarios. Payton averaged two-plus steals per game in eight of his first nine seasons but failed to reach that mark in any of the last five seasons. He averaged as least one 3-pointer per game in five consecutive seasons beginning in 1995 but hasn't done it since that run ended. Those were the things, that when added to the rest of his statistical profile, made Payton a first-round talent.

But all that's required for a return to prominence as one of the top five or six point guards in fantasy basketball are points, assists and some rebounds. There will be plenty of shots available alongside Pierce, Jiri Welsch, Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, so improving from last season's 12.4 attempts per game to his career mark of 15.4 attempts per game won't be a problem. Pierce likes the ball in his hands and may siphon away some of Payton's assists, but this isn't the Lakers' triangle offense, and Payton -- whose assist numbers actually improved with age prior to last season -- should bounce back in that category. Throw in his standard four boards and game and it's not a bad fantasy picture.

Is Payton what the Celtics need at this point in their rebuilding/reloading/restructuring? Maybe not. But that doesn't mean he won't be able to bounce back with a fantasy season worthy of third-round consideration.

Rick Fox: Fox's best fantasy contribution remains his marriage to wife Vanessa Williams. He was a role player in Los Angeles and will remain a role player on a Boston team with a glut of small forwards that could fill the Ted Williams Tunnel.

Others: The Celtics asked Pierce to do too much with Antoine Walker out of the mix, and while fantasy owners got a career high in assists out of him, the pressure showed in his abysmal field goal percentage. Even if it costs him an assist per game, Payton's arrival could actually make Pierce a more valuable fantasy threat thanks to an improved field goal percentage and better looks from behind the arc. ... Fox's arrival further crowds the mix at forward, hurting Davis, Walter McCarty, Jumaine Jones and even Welsch.

Los Angeles Spin
The Lakers needed a big man. They got Mihm. Only time will tell if those things bear any relation to each other.

Chris Mihm: And you thought Pete Myers had a rough go of it replacing Michael Jordan in Chicago after No. 23's first retirement. Mihm won't be asked to fill Shaq's shoes, but the presence of Payton in this deal means he's likely to be associated with the roster purge for the remainder of his career. For fantasy purposes, it would be better if the Lakers were just to throw Mihm to the wolves (or the Wolves) for 35 minutes a night. Instead, he'll split time in the post with Vlade Divac, Brian Grant and Stanislav Medvedenko. Mihm has some fantasy skill -- four double-doubles last season and 10 double-digit rebound games -- but it doesn't look like he'll get enough minutes to separate himself from the fantasy waiver wire.

Marcus Banks: Welcome to Los Angeles, Marcus. Too bad you brought Atkins with you. As of Friday, Banks and Atkins are the only true point guards on the roster. Then again, ask Payton or Derek Fisher about playing point on a team with Kobe Bryant. Being a first-round point guard traded by the Celtics isn't a bad thing -- ask Chauncey Billups -- but Banks needs to prove he's a better shooter than last season's 31-percent mark from behind the arc suggests. Fisher was a marginal fantasy talent with 30-plus minutes a night, and Banks isn't yet as good as Fisher. Upside? Yes. Worthy of a place on your draft board? No.

Chucky Atkins: Banks has more potential, but Atkins may well be the team's starting point guard when the season begins. In many ways a Fisher clone, Atkins can hit 3-pointers and distribute the ball in an efficient manner -- meaning he might average 4.5 assists but won't ever be confused with Jason Kidd. If he beats out Banks in the preseason, he could match the numbers he posted in 24 games with the Celtics last season: 12.0 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.6 3pg.

Others: Caron Butler's arrival was bad news for Luke Walton, but Payton's departure gives Bill's kid a new lease on life. With little depth at point guard, the Lakers may choose to play without a conventional point and utilize Walton's passing skills alongside Bryant. If so, it puts Walton back on the fantasy radar after his big playoff splash. ... Divac wasn't going to play 35 minutes a night anyway, but Mihm's arrival limits his fantasy potential. ... Might Brian Grant actually be able to play power forward? Routinely asked to play as a very undersized center, Grant may slide to forward with Divac and Mihm around. That won't make him a quality offensive player, but it improves his fantasy stock to the point he's worth consideration as a rebounder in the last round of a deep draft.