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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Second-half fortunes for All-Star Weekend participants

By Eric Karabell
ESPN.com

If Terrell Owens was an NBA player, I'm guessing he'd be owned in about 90 percent of ESPN leagues. No, really, the guy has skills, right? We know that in the fantasy basketball world the stats should be the reason why players are owned, but often name value makes owners do crazy things. See McGrady, Tracy. Would Owens be able to score 20 points a night, block the occasional shot and shoot with decent percentages? Probably not, unless he was a member of the Warriors or Kings and in shootouts every night, but let's not let the statistical truth get in the way of a potentially good story. Owens dunking at All-Star Weekend should be a staple of the celebrity game. Oh wait, it already is?

The fact that Owens, Nate Robinson dunking over Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal dancing with the JabbaWockeeZ are the main stories people are talking about from this weekend is a bit hard to believe, but welcome to the NBA! I'm not trying to rip All-Star Weekend at all. It's actually kind of entertaining. Did anything happen at the Pro Bowl a week earlier that one would call entertaining? Did Manny Ramirez throw a touchdown pass, Jeff Feagles dunk over Julius Peppers or Peyton Manning perform ballet? I think not.

All-Star Weekend was fun, as long as you didn't take it too seriously, and especially if you got to watch some of your favorite fantasy players in action. When I watched the events, I couldn't help but think about the second half of the season and what tides might turn for some of the players we were watching. By the way, the second half began a while ago, so don't wait any longer to make the big decisions you need to alter your team. The All-Star break doesn't actually fall halfway through the season, but unlike baseball, in which there's plenty of time left, in the NBA the end is clearly in sight. In one of my leagues, the playoffs start this week!

Kevin Durant, SF/SG, Thunder: We know he's a fantasy monster -- as if the fact he zoomed into the No. 6 spot on our Player Rater wasn't proof enough -- but look how he scored at will in the Saturday youngsters game. I know, defense wasn't a priority all weekend, especially against actual rookies, but still, nobody else hit 17 of 25 shots. How good can things get for Durant? Well, the fact that he's getting 30 points a night anytime he wants is nice, but look at the way he's filling up the stat sheet in other areas. It took Carmelo Anthony years to do that. Durant has been hauling in double-digit rebounds occasionally and getting assists, steals and 3s, all signs he's getting better and better. I say he passes Kobe Bryant and Danny Granger soon and ends up a top-three player for the season, which after his relatively slow and disappointing start would be quite a feat. Trade for him with the utmost confidence, and even when the Thunder do build around him, he'll be a first-rounder in 2009 drafts.

Michael Beasley
The Shawn Marion trade could mean greater opportunity for Michael Beasley.
Michael Beasley, PF, Heat: While Durant was doing his thing, Miami's Beasley tried to match him point for point. He couldn't, obviously, but it was nice to see the recent No. 2 draft pick at least try to keep up with the No. 2 pick from two drafts ago. The Heat is not the most interesting team to watch, I think, because it's basically the Dwyane Wade Show and little else. In essence, Beasley would have been better off on about 25 other teams. He seems to force his shots mostly, like he was early in Saturday's game, and most nights other members of the Heat don't score enough points to matter. I like the Shawn Marion-Jermaine O'Neal trade for Beasley, because I think he'll get a chance to show his athleticism more, get better shots, but still, this is Wade's team. On Saturday, it wasn't. This is the type of rookie you should count on in the final two months of the season. I don't think he'll hit a rookie wall, and he's certainly capable of scoring more than he has so far. It was nice to see him shooting with confidence, even though Durant was better.

Daequan Cook, SG, Heat: I rarely think the long-distance shootout means anything for fantasy. Sometimes we see some really good shooters just have an off night and they embarrass themselves. Other times someone gets ridiculously hot for a round, then can't sustain it as the competition goes on. None of it matters, though, because there's obviously a big difference between Cook and Rashard Lewis in the real world. I mean, Jason Kapono just about made it a three-peat in this competition, and got compared to sharpshooters like Larry Bird! I don't think there's any question that Cook -- who won this weekend and pushed two-time champ Kapono to the side -- can shoot the lights out, but at some point these guys have to emerge as more, don't they? Well, no, they do not. Three-time winner Craig Hodges was who he was, never becoming a big scorer or helpful passer. Cook and Kapono have fantasy value, but don't let the fact you saw them perform well on the big stage overrate them.

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal has shown he still has something left in the tank this season, even on stage.
Shaquille O'Neal, C, Suns: He's gone from someone who wouldn't get looked at in our October drafts to a nearly universally owned player putting up totally legit numbers. Sure, it might be his last gasp, but it's a legit gasp. I know there are many O'Neal owners out there who refuse to trust the big fella due to his recent injury and motivation history. A month ago, I wrote glowingly about O'Neal and the conversation area lit up with nasty remarks. Why believe in O'Neal now, how many times must he burn us? And am I more enamored with him because he danced so well with the JabbaWockeeZ? First of all, any chance I can get to write the word JabbaWockeeZ -- or better yet, say it on TV -- I'm going to. Second, I continue to trust him, and think the awkward weekend coaching change and potential for team restructuring could actually help. O'Neal hit eight of nine field goals in 11 minutes Sunday because all he had to do was dunk. If Steve Nash can stay on the floor, we'll see more of this in the final eight weeks, especially if Amare Stoudemire doesn't get dealt for expiring contracts. C'mon, Suns, make a run for it with what you've got.

Mo Williams, PG, Cavaliers: Some took my comments in last week's column as being anti-Mo, but that wasn't the point at all. Williams is having a nice season and he's clearly a critical part of the Cavaliers' machine, but my point (one of them) was he's not having his best fantasy season, and Ray Allen had better fantasy stats. I don't think these points are debatable. This goes back to an important point of this weekly column: This is about fantasy basketball. I can take the negative comments, and I'm never going to fire back, but nobody was saying Brandon Roy isn't a deserving All-Star, Devin Harris isn't having a breakout season or David Lee is really an All-Star on par with Dwight Howard. Fantasy performance doesn't always mirror real life, and how Williams contributes to the Cavaliers just isn't relevant to fantasy hoops. Anyway, Williams was one of the few East players to represent well Sunday, hitting a few 3s and ending up a plus-one for the evening. Compare that to poor defenseless Devin Harris, who was a minus-31! Williams closed the season's "first half" with 44 points, fueled by seven 3-pointers, and I don't think there's any question what his motivation was in that win against the Suns. I'm not calling him a sell-high option, because nobody expects 44 points every night. If you own Williams, you're likely happy with his production, and I don't see it ending. I'd like a few more assists per game, but don't expect it. I can celebrate a good player, but the point of this column is also to separate fantasy and reality.

Brandon Roy, SG, Trail Blazers: I got the feeling he was going to have a nice night when Kobe Bryant talked in pregame about how he didn't expect to play many minutes, deferring to the likes of younger folks like Roy to take over and show what they can do. Then Bryant goes out and takes every other shot in the first quarter, ultimately sharing MVP honors with his good pal Shaq. Roy did get a West-high 31 minutes and he did well with them, hitting all but one of his eight shots, adding five rebounds, five assists and nary a turnover. I know it was a defenseless All-Star Game -- is there any other kind? -- but he looked like a future star out there, if not a current one. Roy's overall stats are still a tad conservative for what people believe he is, but he's emerging into a top-20 fantasy player. I know most people think he's already a top-20 NBA player, and I agree he is, but he's not quite there in fantasy. I think he gets there in the final two months, as the Blazers make a nice run at the No. 2 seed in the West, with or without the rookie in the middle. Where was he this weekend? Oh, don't ask.

Ray Allen, SG, Celtics: His shot looked a bit off Sunday, but what did you expect? Frankly, after Allen hyperextended his right thumb in the Celtics' second-to-last game before the break, I was surprised he played at all. Many fantasy owners are going to pick Allen as a sell-high guy for the second half, mainly because they don't believe he's a top-10 player overall, but will this thumb injury scare prospective buyers off? Well, currently our Player Rater has him at No. 9, so enjoy that leverage while you can. Allen's been around long enough to know how to compensate for an injured thumb, but if it takes anything away from his shot, all bets are off. It's not like he can add a few rebounds or assists to his game to compensate. I'd be careful about trading for him.

Your thoughts

Bob (Cleveland): "Eric, a few weeks ago I dealt for Rodney Stuckey, expecting him to become a future star, and so far in February he hasn't looked good at all. I blame Allen Iverson, really, and I know you do as well. Please confirm this for me."

Karabell: Sorry, I forgot a fourth thing making the rounds as big weekend news. The Answer did away with his signature cornrows. You know, I've been thinking of doing the same thing. Anyway, Bob, I agree with you on Stuckey. There's still only one basketball to go around, and Stuckey hasn't seemed as big a part of the game plan in the small sample size that has been this month. Is it really Iverson's fault, is Stuckey not who we thought he was or are the struggling Pistons just trying new things?

I found it sad watching Iverson on Sunday, as he had more assists than points, looking more distributor than scorer and missing three of his four shots. Remember the old All-Star games when he'd never stop shooting? I kind of miss those days. It's like when Alex Rodriguez talks about this long-ago loosey-goosey era when there was a different baseball culture and players had a different mindset. Anyway, Iverson seemed friskier than normal in the games before the break, hitting for 27, 25 and 28 points. I think he knows the Pistons can do better if he doesn't shoot too much, but that doesn't mean Iverson will adhere. Remember, he's playing for a contract. I think the Pistons are in danger of missing the playoffs, and Iverson wants to make a point. I'd expect more points and assists the rest of the way, but a low field goal percentage, and for Stuckey's breakout January to have to take a back seat when the future Hall of Famer decides he needs to shoot more.

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.