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Mac, I did want to let you know that I am getting you something very special this year. I know it's supposed to be a surprise, but I am getting you your very own Stretch Armstrong doll, er, action figure. I know you lost the one you had as a kid, and this replacement might go a long way to helping you overcome your addiction to long-armed NBA players.
In keeping with spoiled surprises, we have decided to take a look at this December's surprise gifts. We will be unwrapping three players who have been on many of your must-have lists. Mac and I don't know if you have been naughty or nice, but we do have an idea whether DeShawn Stevenson, Larry Hughes and Craig Smith will be in the long run. If you have picked up any of these guys, we will let you know if they're the equivalent of coal in your stocking or an original 1976 vintage Stretch Armstrong in near-mint condition.
Guy: Not Real. We are witnessing Stevenson's coming-out party. The awkward part is this is his eighth season in the NBA, making him the "40-year-old virgin" of fantasy pickups. Honestly, has anyone owned this guy in any league, ever, before this season? If so, I have to ask why. His career averages whisper "irrelevant:" 8.3 points, 0.3 3-pointers, 3.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 43.0 percent shooting from the field and 67.6 percent shooting from the line. So, no scoring, no 3s, good on-the-ball defense but no numbers to show for it and poor shooting percentages. That has made him Bruce Bowen without the 3-pointers.
So what has changed? Well, all of a sudden, our man DeShawn is killing it from long range. He hit 3.2 3s per game over his past five games. He told the Washington Post it took him a while to get into rhythm and he didn't get a lot of shots with Gilbert Arenas playing. But with Arenas and Antonio Daniels out, Stevenson says, "Now I'm catching the ball, and if it's there, I'm going to shoot it." The team is sharing the ball, and the open man is getting the shot. That has been Stevenson the past few games. If you have the space and need 3-pointers, add Stevenson. But don't dismiss the previous seven years of work, either. This is a nice run, and you should enjoy it while it lasts. But don't expect it to last. If he keeps hitting from deep, teams will start devising a game plan for him, which they haven't been doing so far. When that happens, it remains to be seen if Stevenson and the Wizards will be able to adjust. I'm not saying it's impossible, but seven years of history is hard to overlook.
Mac: Not Real. Funny you should ask whether anybody has owned Stevenson, Guy. I actually have owned Stevenson in the past. I'm not proud of it, but I was going through a rough stretch of my life and Stevenson was there for me back in April 2005, man. Yes, it's true, DeShawn Stevenson actually went off for 18.3 points, 3.4 assists and 2.2 3-pointers per game as a member of the Magic that glorious April. Sounds a lot like his current hot streak, huh? The numbers are mysteriously close to what Stevenson averaged -- 17.8 points, 3.8 assists, 4.0 3-pointers and a steal -- over his past four contests. The problem here is that Stevenson never has shown the ability to sustain this sort of production for longer than 10 to 15 games. To be fair, he has improved his long-range shooting in recent years, hitting 40.4 percent of his 3-pointers last season. But he still is just a career 33.8 percent shooter from behind the arc. Stevenson's improvement from downtown last year had a lot to do with the fact that opposing defenses focused on containing the Wizards' myriad of other shooters, which gave Stevenson plenty of open looks on the perimeter. As Guy notes above, one must think DeShawn will not be nearly as efficient once opposing defenses adjust to his game.
It's impossible not to like what DeShawn is doing right now. I've always believed that anyone can have value if given enough minutes and placed in the right situation, and right now, Stevenson has both things going for him. There's no doubt he has definite short-term value while Daniels mends, but don't expect him to be a long-term solution to your problems.
Guy: Not Real. Just as Mac and I were deciding whom to cover this week, Hughes had a pair of insane games, scoring 22 points Dec. 8 and 36 on Dec. 11. With those two explosions, Hughes suddenly became a hot add in ESPN leagues. At the moment, the fantasy owners' ardor has cooled somewhat, but Hughes still is up 69.6 percent in ownership. After those two incendiary showings, Hughes turned in back-to-back nine-point efforts and a six-point game, in which, to paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, we wished a six turned out to be nine. In short, Hughes remains the hot-and-cold player he has been since he joined the Cavaliers. Some analysts pointed to him playing at his natural position of shooting guard as the reason for the sudden improvement. The numbers don't support this. Last season, in 18 games at the point, Hughes averaged 15.9 points, 0.9 3-pointers, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 37.8 percent shooting from the field. In 68 games at shooting guard, Hughes averaged 13.6 points, 1.1 3-pointers, 3.1 assists, and 1.2 steals on 39.3 percent shooting from the field. Sorry, but I am not seeing the improvement there. The Cavs are LeBron James' team, and they operate best when he has the ball in his hands, slashing to the hoop and creating for teammates. Hughes also works best as a slasher, but there just isn't room enough for him to do so, and he isn't a good enough shooter to make his living behind the 3-point line. Hughes is an illusion, and one you would do best to ignore.
Mac: Not Real. I'm with Guy on this one. I'm not sure why some folks still are holding on to hope that Hughes can return to his glory days. I mean, 2004-05 was three seasons ago, and Hughes simply hasn't come close to matching the 22.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.0 3-pointers he put up in his last season in Washington. In fact, when looking at Hughes' full body of work, he's really had only two good years, surrounded by a bunch of mediocre and injury-prone seasons. Granted, Hughes has been slowed by injuries often during his career, but he has been disappointing in recent years even when he hasn't been on the shelf. Last year, Hughes was able to stay healthy enough to play in 70 games, and he averaged 14.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 3-pointers in 37 minutes per game. Those are solid numbers, definitely making him worthy of a roster spot in fantasy leagues, but definitely not the type of production fantasy owners expected out of a healthy Hughes. I don't think the problem is talent -- he has plenty of that -- nor is it the fact that he has another superstar in the lineup (he did just fine playing alongside Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison in Washington). It's more likely that there's just not enough room for Hughes to operate the way he wants to with a similar player around. As Guy noted above, Hughes and LeBron both are at their best when slashing to the basket, and since LeBron is much better at his craft, Hughes will have to reinvent himself if he wants to become the player we all thought he would be in Cleveland. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon.
Guy: Not Real. I like Smith as a player. He is a relentless, although undersized, dynamo in the paint, hence his nickname ("Rhino"), and he absolutely can tear it up on any given night. We have seen two 30-plus-point nights from Smith in just more than a week, including a 36-point explosion against the Wizards on Dec. 11. He has extended his range from his rookie season and still shoots a high percentage from the field (58.3 percent). Plus, in nine December games, he has shot 79.4 percent from the line. So what's not to like? There are a couple of things, really. The first and most obvious is his playing time. As a starter, he averages 29.8 minutes, 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. The thing is, he has started just six games and his coach, Randy Wittman, has not settled on Smith as a starter. It's not a vote of confidence to have Michael Doleac starting in front of you, which happened to Smith on Monday night. The other issue facing Smith's owners is his lack of statistical depth. He is solid in the scoring and percentage categories but contributes next to nothing everywhere else. His 0.2 assists per game are comical. Even big Eddy Curry averages three times that many assists per game. Eddy Curry! His rebounding is close to Curry-like -- as in, not good -- at 6.6 rebounds per 30 minutes (Curry is 5.5). So if you have rebounds, blocks and steals covered, Smith is a decent end-of-the-bench add. But if you need more than scoring and good percentages, look elsewhere.
Mac: For Real. With a few caveats, of course. Smith's "for realness" really depends on how well he meshes with your fantasy team. If you need a big man who can block shots, you shouldn't be interested in Smith. But if you're looking for a guy who is highly efficient from the floor and can put the ball in the basket, Smith would be a valuable addition in most fantasy formats. While it's true that he's not a great rebounder for a big man, he's still solid, and he has the potential to pull down seven or eight boards a game if given a consistent 30 minutes per night. Smith has been extremely inconsistent of late but still is averaging 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.6 steals while shooting 59.2 percent from the floor in 28.4 minutes per game during the month of December. While we'd like to see more rebounds and steals, know that Smith can do better in both categories. Remember, he did average 11.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and a steal during the month of April last year, which is significant because that was the only month in which he saw extended minutes during his rookie season. He clearly has the talent, but the biggest issue facing Smith right now is his inconsistency, which often is brought on by his fluctuating minutes. Part of that is Smith's own fault; he has gotten in early foul trouble in many of his recent "off" nights. The foul trouble is a bit of a concern, but I really believe Randy Wittman is ready to make Smith his full-time starting power forward. I'm still not sure where the whole "starting Michael Doleac" thing fits in, but the Wolves really have no one else in the paint, so even if Wittman isn't sold on Smith now, he will be in just a few weeks' time. That said, if Smith is getting 30 minutes a night (and I think he will), he should be able to drop 15 points, pull down 7-8 rebounds and create almost a steal per game, which would make him quite valuable in most fantasy formats.
Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com, while Mac can be contacted at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.