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Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Are You For Real?: Brand's, Arenas' pending impact

By Guy Lake and Brian McKitish
Special to ESPN.com

We are mixing it up a bit this week. We are going to look at two big-name players who are looking to rejoin their teams within the next month. Gilbert Arenas could be back immediately following the All-Star break, and Elton Brand should be a few weeks behind. Rather than simply breaking down whether we think these guys are for real or not, we are going to look at the impact their returns might have on their teammates. Who wins and who loses on each squad? A lot will depend on how each player is used upon his return. Here's what we think will go down.

Elton Brand, PF, Clippers

Guy: If you read last Friday's Occupational Hazard, you saw Brand was just cleared to begin more strenuous running and jumping exercises, and a late February or early March return looks likely, barring a setback.

So what happens then? I expect Brand to be worked back somewhat slowly. Do not look for 38 minutes per game immediately. There are a couple of fairly obvious reasons for this, but let's run through them. The Clippers are not going to be in the playoff hunt; the rejuvenated Kings are in much better position to make a run, and then there's Houston, Utah and Portland to get past. Brand is the Clippers' franchise player, and since they have no shot at the playoffs, I don't see him playing heavy minutes. This will be especially true the first few weeks he is back.

Nonetheless, Brand's return is going to affect multiple Clippers players. Chris Kaman immediately comes to mind. Kaman is having the best season of his career, and I don't see the Clippers tossing the playbook in the trash when Brand is back. Will Kaman lose some touches? Yes. Will his numbers dip? Yes. Is he going to become the 12-point, 9-rebound guy he was before? No way.

There are two reasons Kaman is killing it this season: One is greater opportunity, and the other is his vast improvement. He now is a much better defender, blocking more shots (3.0 versus 1.5 last season) while fouling less (3.2 versus 3.3 last season). He has extended his range out to 15 feet and is highly effective on either block in the post. He no longer noodles with the ball when he gets an entry pass. He commits. Brand eventually will be the No. 1 option on offense, but he will play in the high post a lot more than Kaman -- it's easier on his ankle and something he already excels at -- allowing both to do their thing. Think 15 and 12 for Kaman after Brand is back.

Tim Thomas, on the other hand, will lose a lot. He will head back to the bench as the sixth man. His minutes and shot attempts will decline. The same will be true for Al Thornton, who is fantasy marginalia anyhow. Corey Maggette will see a decline in shot attempts and overall value. The lane will not be nearly as wide open with Brand in the post as it is with Thomas. Maggette's increase of 3.0 field goal attempts per game from last season will not last. Look for him to return to 16-17 points per game and little else when Brand is back.

For Real: Kaman, Brand
Not Real: Maggette, Thomas, Thornton
Unchanged: Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley

Mac: Whoa there, Guy. I like Kaman just as much as anyone, but 15 and 12? I don't know, man, but that seems a little optimistic to me. Yes, he is looking like he has improved his skills, and yes, he seems more athletic than before, but how much of his great season is related to the fact that he is the only big man the Clippers have right now? They have no one else. I mean, when Maggette is your second-leading rebounder, you know you have problems. Once Brand returns, there is going to be another big body in the paint competing for all of those rebounds and blocks. And it's not just any big body; this is Brand we are talking about, a guy whose career averages stand at 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. I'm just not sure how well Kaman is going to deal with that transition.

Here's the good news, Guy. You are right about Kaman's skill set. He is coming into his own, and it's not like he has never shown promise before. Remember, a lot of folks (myself included) were super high on the dude after he posted 11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 32.8 minutes per game in 2005-06. Of course, last season turned into a debacle, but I'll give him a pass since he was limited by a variety of injuries for much of the season.

So what can we expect from a fully healthy Kaman alongside a fully healthy Brand? I'm thinking something a little more conservative, like 13-14 points, 10-11 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, which is a far cry from the monster 17/14/3 numbers he currently is putting up, but still puts him among the elite centers in the league.

As for Brand, if all goes well with his recovery process, I think we can expect to see him on the court a little more than most people think. A lot of people like to compare his injury status to that of Pau Gasol a year ago. Not a bad analogy, if you ask me. Like Brand, Gasol was coming off a serious injury and was coming back to a team that had no shot at a playoff appearance, but that didn't stop Memphis from using him. Granted, Gasol came back much earlier (December), but he averaged 38.0 minutes per game in the second half, and that was when the Grizzlies were smack in the middle of the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant sweepstakes. As much as we would like to think teams tank games on purpose for better draft picks, that is not always the case. We also should remember that Brand is the franchise player here, and teams that resort to the "youth movement" rarely bench their biggest stars. It's the Maggettes and Cassells of the world who are at risk, not a guy like Brand.

For Real: Brand, Kaman (his value will dip, but he still will be an elite center)
Not Real: Maggette, Thomas
Unchanged: Thornton, Cassell, Mobley

Gilbert Arenas, PG, Wizards

Mac: I must admit, I'm a frequent visitor to Gilbert Arenas' blog on NBA.com. Not only is it a fun read, but it also is a great way to get the inside info on his recovery process. Just two weeks ago, Arenas posted this little ditty: "I plan on coming back. I'm going to be working out with the team. I'm going to be going full blast after All-Star." And Monday, he gave us some more insight: "Right now I'm just trying to lose the weight and try to get in shape. We have a machine called the 'Ultra G' and I can run two or three miles on it a day and only put 30 percent of my body weight on my knees. I walk with 50 percent and run with 30 percent. I can run two miles and not feel anything." Sounds like he is getting close, and while his whole "going full blast" bit should be taken with a grain of salt, I don't like to doubt guys who are as talented as Arenas.

Remember, Arenas is looking for a big payday at season's end, so if you think he's not going to go all out to get back on the court and prove his worth, think again. The only way he is getting the contract he wants at season's end is if he gets back on the court and proves he is healthy. With that said, this guy is not only ultra-talented, but he also is ultra-motivated, and that makes for a dangerous combo in this game. I know there is a lot of skepticism surrounding his return, but I'm pretty confident he will back up his talk and be on the court shortly after the All Star break. In fact, I'll even go so far as to recommend trading for him at this point of the fantasy season, depending on your circumstances.

It likely will take Arenas a week or two to get his game back up to snuff, but with the Wizards in the playoff hunt, you can bet they will try to get their biggest star on the court as much as possible. With that in mind, the first fantasy player we have to worry about is Antonio Daniels. Daniels has been great as Gilbert's replacement, but there is no question he will lose all of his fantasy value once Arenas returns.

Caron Butler, Season Comparison

Caron Butler has had a career year, especially from 3-point land, with Gilbert Arenas out for all but eight games.

Season
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3-pt FG
2007-08
21.9
6.9
4.3
48.1
1.1
2006-07
19.1
7.4
3.7
46.3
0.3
Now, I know that proclaiming Daniels the big loser here isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff, so let's ask a more challenging question: How will Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison be affected? Both played alongside Arenas last season, so we already have a decent idea of what to expect, right? Take a look to the right at their 2006-07 numbers alongside their 2007-08 numbers:

I don't know about you, but those stats look pretty similar to me. Granted, both players are scoring more, but it's not enough of an increase to make a big deal out of it. I mean, it's not going to kill your team if they both go back to scoring slightly less than 20 points per game, is it? Looking at these numbers, it's pretty clear that both players are solid bets to maintain a good portion of their current value. The only real concern here (other than the small decrease in points scored) is that Butler might suffer a minor hit from behind the arc when Arenas returns. Butler really has come into his own as a long-distance shooter this season, but I highly doubt he will be able to get free for 3.0 attempts per game with Arenas taking some of his shots. Still, Butler is a stud with or without the 3s, so there's not too much to worry about (unless his left hip flexor injury is more serious than expected).

Antawn Jamison, Season Comparison

Antawn Jamison has enjoyed an uptick in scoring and rebounding in Arenas' absence.

Season
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3-pt FG
2007-08
21.3
10.4
1.7
44.0
1.6
2006-07
19.8
8.0
1.9
45.0
2.0
For Real: Arenas, Butler, Jamison
Not Real: Daniels
Unchanged: Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson

Guy: I am sure Mac would like you to think he pretty much nailed it above, but there are few things he, ahem, overlooked. And, no, I am not bitter about his rough treatment of my Kaman man-crush. Regarding Butler and Jamison, Butler will be more affected. I expect Arenas to launch a lot more jumpers and drive less with the knee when he first returns. This could last a few weeks and is exactly what we saw when Dwyane Wade returned from his injuries this season. With Arenas jacking from outside, the Wizards will need Butler to emphasize his slashing and cut back on the outside shooting and playmaking. These will be Arenas' responsibilities.

Other than Daniels, the player I expect to be hurt the most by Arenas' return is Brendan Haywood. So long as Arenas has been a Wizard, Haywood has been an afterthought on offense. Actually, until this season, he has been an afterthought his whole career. Haywood is averaging a career-high 7.2 shots per game. Look for that number to drop to about 5.5 per game and for his scoring to decrease. If Arenas' return helps the Wizards move a little more up-tempo, Andray Blatche also could see more minutes at Haywood's expense. However, Blatche has been so up and down, I cannot recommend him based only on this speculation.

Opposing offenses will shine with Arenas back. In eight games with Arenas on the court, opponents averaged 98.8 points per game. Since then, the team has allowed 96.7. But that number is deceiving, as the team went through an adjustment period in the weeks following Arenas' injury; opponents averaged 105.1 points per game in November after Gilbert went down. Since then, it has been a very different story, with teams averaging 94.2 points per game in December and 94.3 in January.

So, who specifically benefits with Arenas back? Unsurprisingly, it is opposing point guards, who, according to hoopsstats.com, are averaging only 16.0 points per game against the Wizards, the stingiest mark in the league this season. Last season, the team ranked 23rd, allowing 20.4 points per game to opposing point guards. So, not only can Arenas owners celebrate when he returns, so can owners of opposing point guards.

For Real: Arenas, Butler, Jamison, opposing point guards
Not Real: Daniels, Haywood, Roger Mason
Unchanged: Stevenson

Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com, while Mac can be found at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.