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Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Are You For Real?: Bass, Hawes, Murray

By Guy Lake and Brian McKitish
Special to ESPN.com

Injury creates opportunity. While the buckling of Dirk Nowitzki may have driven many owners to thoughts of warm baths and long knives (or at least their recent baseball drafts), there are opportunities for savvy owners. Will Brandon Bass duplicate Dirk's production? Of course not. But he does offer skills and owners should be ready to jump on this. Two other players who have recently come into minutes are Spencer Hawes of the Kings and Ronald "Flip" Murray of the Pacers. We will look at all three of these late bloomers and let you know if they can help you make a push in the playoffs or the stretch runs of your roto leagues.

Brandon Bass
Brandon Bass is 32-for-46 from the field (69.6 percent) in the past five games in which he played at least 20 minutes.

Brandon Bass, PF, Mavericks

Guy: Not Real. Now that Dirk Nowitzki is sidelined indefinitely, someone is going to need to fill his 36.2 minutes per game. No one player is going to fill his production, of course, but those are a lot of minutes. The Mavs have several options. They could go small, shifting Josh Howard or Devean George to the four spot. This move could help the Mavs stretch defenses as George and/or Howard can pull opposing power forwards outside. Of course, they would be overmatched against big athletic power forwards, and there are a few of those in the West. Another option would be to go bigger with Malik Allen. Allen is a better defender against big 4s than Howard or George, yet he can also step out and hit 18-footers. The downside? He is Malik Allen and, though a solid reserve, he lacks an inside scoring game, which the Mavs would like with a more traditionally-sized power forward.

At 6-foot-8, Bass is short for a power forward, but he will not seem small because he's 240 pounds with great leaping ability. While Bass struggled against taller players earlier in his career (shooting 40.0 and 34.1 percent from the field his previous two seasons), this season he is shooting 49.2 percent, suggesting he has made the adjustment. I like Bass to get most of Dirk's minutes for a couple of reasons. First, he plays with energy. The Mavs have been playing excellent defense, as always, but their offense has been stagnant even with Nowitzki. Bass brings an explosive inside presence that the team has lacked. Jason Kidd has experience with leapers possessing soft hands. Bass is all that, plus he's mobile and a strong finisher. Second, he makes free throws. If you are active inside player, you better hit your free throws. Bass does, to the tune of 81.8 percent this season. Third, he plays intense defense. He may be small for a 4, but Bass gets after people. Again, he will bring more energy than any of the other candidates. Last, we know that owner Mark Cuban is a big fan. Rumors from Dallas suggest that Cuban has been upset with how few minutes Bass has been getting. Last I heard, the guy has some pull, and really, there aren't any good arguments against Bass getting more time.

The problem with these arguments? Coach Avery Johnson isn't listening to them. Last night, Malik Allen got the start and the bulk of the minutes. While I can see Johnson switching things up based on matchups -- like against the small-balling Warriors -- this was our first look at his cards. It looks like Allen is going to be the man. His upside is lower than Bass'. I cannot recommend him, but as long as he is getting the starts, I can't recommend Brandon Bass either.

Mac: For Real. People, meet my newest man crush. Truthfully, I've been crushing on Bass for quite some time now, but due to his lack of minutes I just haven't been able to pimp him. And as Guy mentions above, Bass should be one of the primary beneficiaries of Dirk's injury because his playing time should skyrocket. The Mavs may start off with Allen, but Bass is the high-energy guy they need to get on the court in order to overcome the absence of Nowitzki. If given enough playing time, Bass can help fantasy owners in a variety of ways. He can score, rebound and block shots while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line. He should easily receive 25-plus minutes per game in Dirk's absence, and he's done quite well when seeing that kind of run: 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and a block in 16 games. Those numbers are even better when we look at his five games with 30-plus minutes: 14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and a block. Bass is the kind of player that I can talk about until I'm blue in the face, but you still won't fully appreciate his skills and energy unless you actually watch him play. I'll leave you with a little highlight clip of Bass, and you can make your own decision as to whether you think this dude is for real.

Spencer Hawes, C, Kings

Mac: For Real. I'll admit, I was skeptical of Hawes' game prior to the season, but I've since sweetened on him, mostly due to his per-minute production. Hawes is averaging just 4.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.5 blocks this season, but that's in a mere 10.9 minutes per game. Project those numbers to reflect his production in 30 minutes and you'll see a guy who could be averaging 11.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Not too shabby, and if you look at his numbers in games which he's actually seen 20-plus minutes, you'll be just as impressed: 10.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in eight contests. This is a tough one because Hawes' value is strictly tied to Brad Miller's health. If Miller is healthy, Hawes is fairly useless. But if Miller misses some more time with his elbow injury, Hawes could find himself in the starting lineup like he did on Saturday when he went off for 19 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. It's all about Miller's health, because I'm fairly certain that Hawes is going to produce if he's on the court for 25-30 minutes a night. He's a risky acquisition, I know, but the reward is high and that's a gamble I'm willing to take given Miller's balky elbow. I just don't see a reason for the Kings to run Miller out there on a night-to-night basis when they should really be getting a better look at their center of the future.

Guy: Not Real. The only way Hawes is going to have fantasy value is if Miller shuts it down. It could happen. We all know Miller is playing through right elbow bursitis and the Kings are playing for next year. In short, the basic ingredients are in place. The problem is that if Miller plays even modest minutes, it is going to kill Hawes' value. Witness Sunday's game. Miller labored through his 30 minutes (five minutes below his season average) and Hawes got the scraps: 18 minutes, 6 points and 2 rebounds. Hawes has some offensive game. He can score in the post and face up. His defense is starting to come along as well. His three blocks on Saturday were encouraging but not something to bank on. The Sacramento Bee has reported it will take defense from Hawes to earn consistent minutes. Well, that and the absence of Miller. As we saw on Sunday, that is far from certain. We will see increased minutes for Hawes, but it is unlikely he sees the 38 minutes that led to career highs in points (19) and rebounds (12) against Memphis again. I think 20 minutes per game are likely, but that won't be enough to make him for real in my book.

Ronald Murray
Ronald Murray is streaky with his shot, but can provide immediate help in steals.

Ronald Murray, SG/PG, Pacers

Mac: For Real. Some die-hard fantasy gamers will remember Flip from his days in Seattle, where he always used to be a quality short-term pickup when injuries hit the Sonics. Despite his offensive talents and solid play as an injury replacement, Murray has never been able find his niche as a full-time starter in the NBA. Nonetheless, Flip has proven in the past to be a versatile fantasy force whenever he has received quality minutes on the court. Evidence of this can be seen through his career averages as a starter (76 games): 14.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 3-pointers. With Jamaal Tinsley out for the season and Travis Diener in a shooting slump, Murray has staked his claim as the starting point guard for the Pacers, and has averaged 12.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.6 3-pointers in five starts thus far. Flip is considered a "combo guard", but his talents are better suited at the 2 rather than the point. Therefore, his assist totals may be low for a typical point guard, but his contributions in points, steals and 3-pointers will make up for his seemingly low assist totals. Some may be worried that Murray could lose his starting job if Diener breaks out of his slump, but the Pacers are 4-1 since inserting him in the starting lineup, and I can't see them messing with this mini streak given that they're in a dogfight for the final playoff spot in the East. With that said, Murray is going to log heavy minutes down the stretch for the Pacers, and we should expect him to put up nice numbers in points, steals and 3-pointers while adding around four assists per game.

Guy: For Real. I agree with most of what Mac says above. Murray will score and poke many balls away from the opposition. He is a versatile scorer, able to put the ball through the basket from the 3-point line all the way to the rim. The Pacers have decided that Diener isn't for real and his minutes have dried up like David Hasselhoff at the Betty Ford Clinic. The minutes are going to be there because there is no one else to take them. I disagree with Mac about one thing, though. I do not anticipate many 3-pointers from Murray. He can hit them, but does most of his scoring when he slashes to the hoop or pulls up from midrange. To expect more than the 0.5 he has averaged this season would be a mistake. He has never averaged more than 0.8 (2003-04) in a season and is shooting 28.6 percent from deep this year. He can hit the occasional 3-pointer, but owners looking for more regular production in this category should look elsewhere. Those of you in need of scoring and steals with a sprinkling of assists and a dash of 3-pointers should grab Flip. He is owned in just 15.8 percent of ESPN leagues, and while that figure is climbing -- it was 6.9 percent yesterday -- it is still too low.

Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Both were finalists for the FSWA 2007 Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year.