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Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Who's the next Steve Nash?

By Eric Karabell
ESPN.com

I understand why and how Steve Nash won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards, even if I don't really agree with the reasoning. Good for Nash, I said at the time, but was he really the best player in the league? I rarely compare real life to fantasy in situations like these, and Nash wasn't the best in our game, but he had significant value. From a fantasy basketball point of view, Nash has been a first-rounder for years, not only for the obvious scoring and passing he does, but for another reason many in the fantasy world covet: The man can shoot like few others.

Steve Nash
Steve Nash is a career 43 percent shooter on 3-pointers.
These days, nagging injuries are starting to derail this wonderful shooter, and the numbers, while still good, aren't the same. Hey, I have no problem with someone getting 15 points and 8 assists per night, but that's not why I kept ranking Nash in the top 10. It's not why I did it this season, either. Most of us end up with a player or two who, for whatever reason, just can't shoot well from the field -- usually a guard or swingman. The big guys hit their shots; the little guys generally miss more. Having a guard who could hit half his field goal attempts was gold. Nash shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of his first four seasons since returning to Phoenix. His shooting is down a bit now, but he's not Rafer Alston, either. I'll take a 48 percent shooter any day.

The thing is, having a guard who hits his shots can really save a fantasy basketball team, and with Nash shooting 43 percent in December, I noticed that void on one of my head-to-head squads. Suddenly I was losing field goal percentage each week. Looking at Nash's December, I see why.

I'm not too worried about Nash struggling, and think he'll be turning things around pretty quick. He's not a kid, but he's not 40, either. He's not Brett Favre. If you own him, there seems little reason to deal him coming off a down month. But I did get to thinking when I saw a recent message board thread about good-shooting guards, and how Jameer Nelson was overachieving and would come down to earth any game now: We need our point guards to score, pass, hit shots from way downtown and pilfer the occasional steal, but when they unexpectedly shoot well, it's such a sweet bonus. Nash has always shot well. Is Nelson the new Nash?

There are other point guards who are big providers of field goal percentage, but is Nelson the one to rely on? Remember, if you own Alston and others of his bricklaying ilk, the best way to save the category is not merely to trade for Nash. It's to make sure Alston is also in the trade. Percentages don't move much after two months unless you unload the perpetrators who are hurting the team as well. On more than one occasion in the '90s, I brought John Stockton in to save my field goal percentage, while sending a flashy Kenny Anderson or Nick Van Exel packing to an unsuspecting owner who thought he was just losing a few assists.

Here are a few point guards vying to be the next Nash when it comes to field goal percentage:

Jameer Nelson, Magic: Why can't he keep shooting like this? With Dwight Howard taking up space and multiple defenders in the middle, I'm actually trying to figure out why Nelson didn't shoot better the past few years. He's got 3-point range all of a sudden, hitting twice as many 3s per game this season as his career average. That's the main reason he's unlikely to hit more than half his overall field goal attempts, but I don't expect him to shoot 43 percent the rest of the season, either. Nelson shot 56.8 percent in December; his 51 percent November would be plenty good enough. This is a breakout season for a guy I watched carry his team in college without shooting well. He's a more patient player now.

Rajon Rondo, Celtics: He's a smarter player this season, too, rarely taking poor shots, but the other thing with him is he doesn't shoot that much. Nelson, for example, is attempting 12.6 field goals per game; Rondo is at 8.3. Rondo's .517 field goal percentage is more likely to stick than Nelson's because Rondo doesn't try to hit 3s, but it also doesn't help a fantasy team quite as much because there are fewer attempts to contribute toward the overall average. Still, I have no complaints with Rondo, other than it would be nice if he scored more -- but he can't, not with that trio in place -- and hit his freebies better than Tim Duncan. I think we take for granted that our point guards hit free throws, but that can be a difference-maker as well. Rondo doesn't get to the line that much, so it's not a big deal.

Tony Parker, Spurs: I'm starting to sense a theme here. Hmmm, Nash is on a good team; Nelson's Magic are in first place; the Celtics are good; the Spurs win the title every other year. ... Yes, having a point guard who hits his shots is valuable to real teams, too! Parker is having a career season for scoring, assists and free throw percentage, and he's hitting nearly 50 percent of his field goals. For those who looked to deal him when Manu Ginobili returned, that appears to be overaggressive thinking. Parker might never get a Nash-like 10 dimes per game, and he's not a difference-maker from the line, but you know he'll always hit his field goals because he's a more aggressive driver than Kyle Busch.

Jose Calderon, Raptors: A very accurate shooter, Calderon has the best chance of this group to become the next Nash. He's a gifted passer who doesn't take wild shots; unlike Rondo and Parker, he's a serious 3-point threat (though Parker did beat Philly with a 3 the other day), and he has yet to miss a free throw! We're in January, and he's a perfect 72-for-72! Calderon is averaging 13 and 8.7; if it were 16 and 11, with his percentages he would garner first-round attention next season. Remember, Nash wasn't always a statistical monster. It happened in his late 20s.

Who are some point guards ready to make the jump to a nice field goal percentage? I looked at December numbers and some are legit, while others are misleading. For example, Mo Williams shot 53 percent for the month; so far in January he's 6-for-22, with only two 3-pointers and three assists. Derek Fisher shot nearly 50 percent for the month, but that's a mirage. He shot a more Fisher-like 37 percent in November. Jason Terry has been outstanding this season. If he ends up at his current .469 field goal percentage, be thankful. Andre Miller has shot better with Elton Brand out, but Brand will be back this month. How about Rodney Stuckey? He's off to a monster start in January, and doesn't risk his field goal percentage by trying 3-pointers, but after watching him recently I don't see him shooting 53 percent consistently, as he did in December.

Keep your eye on Beno Udrih; his December wasn't very good, but he shot .497 in November. I like John Salmons, but maybe the Kings should let Udrih run the show along with Kevin Martin. Devin Harris is shooting so much, it made sense his field goal percentage would plummet, and it has. By the way, I realize Jarrett Jack hasn't missed much in the past week, but he's a career 44 percent shooter for a reason. Sell high.

Your thoughts

Travis (Bowling Green, Ohio): "Eric, I got a trade sent to me today that would give me Greg Oden for Samuel Dalembert and I don't know what to do. On one hand, Dalembert has the ability to rebound but on the other Oden can rebound and he has more of a scoring ability. What should I do?"

Karabell: I'd take Oden, which is saying something because I haven't exactly been his biggest fan this season. Oden can do everything better than Dalembert, it's just a matter of staying healthy, avoiding foul trouble and getting enough minutes. Watching Dalembert play every night is so frustrating; even with Elton Brand out, he's really not stepping up at all. The 76ers are running more, but Sammy is barely playing. This is a good deal for you, because I think we all expect that at some point Oden will become a very, very good fantasy option. Right now he's teasing us, and a deal like this costs you so little.

Gerard (Sacramento): "Hello! I read your article (from last week) about injured players and underperformers. I own Carlos Boozer and I'm getting very impatient! I thought he was going to come back soon, but now it says he's going to have surgery on his knee. Is it time to drop him?"

Karabell: Pretty much the day I wrote that article it was announced Boozer was having surgery and would miss a lot more time, and now we're seeing those frustrated Boozer owners starting to cut their third-rounder. I would. It sure looks like a lost season. Since that article -- hey, a lot changes in a week -- the news got better for Mike Dunleavy, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas should be added to the drop list.

Al (North Carolina): "What do you think about Nenad Krstic in Oklahoma City? He is on a team now with time available."

Karabell: Krstic had a nice run with the Nets, bolted for a two-year contract in Russia, then decided he wanted to be back in the NBA. The Nets didn't match the Thunder offer sheet, a move few disagreed with. Oklahoma City desperately needs interior scoring, and Krstic can provide that, but I don't think we'll see 16.4 points and 6.8 boards, which is what he provided two seasons ago with New Jersey. His return has been delayed by visa issues, but when he does join the team he should get big minutes soon. The Thunder have a big-time scorer in place and an emerging point guard. I'd think Krstic could provide some immediate rebounding help, since the team leader is Jeff Green at 6.1 per game, but remember Krstic isn't a shot-blocker. He has never averaged even one per game despite being a 7-footer. I doubt he carries fantasy teams from here on out.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.