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Monday, November 9, 2009
Blocks, steals becoming even scarcer

By Brian McKitish
Special to ESPN.com

The Top 130

Note: Brian McKitish's top 130 are ranked for their expected performances in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that already have been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

RK. Name, Team (RK)
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (1)
2. Chris Paul, PG, NO (2)
3. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (3)
4. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (4)
5. Danny Granger, SF, IND (5)
6. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (6)
7. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (7)
8. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (8)
9. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (9)
10. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (10)
11. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (11)
12. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (14)
13. Brandon Roy, SG, POR (12)
14. Amar'e Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (13)
15. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (15)
16. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (17)
17. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (16)
18. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (18)
19. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (19)
20. Gilbert Arenas, PG, WAS (20)
21. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (21)
22. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (22)
23. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (24)
24. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (23)
25. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (26)
26. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (30)
27. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (31)
28. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (25)
29. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (28)
30. David West, PF, NO (32)
31. Caron Butler, SF, WAS (33)
32. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (34)
33. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (37)
34. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (29)
35. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (36)
36. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (44)
37. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (35)
38. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (39)
39. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (38)
40. Nene, C/PF, DEN (40)
41. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (41)
42. David Lee, PF/C, NY (43)
43. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (46)
44. Andris Biedrins, C, GS (42)
45. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, GS (47)
46. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (45)
47. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (48)
48. Al Harrington, PF, NY (49)
49. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (54)
50. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (52)
51. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (51)
52. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (50)
53. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (53)
54. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (56)
55. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (57)
56. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (59)
57. Antawn Jamison, PF, WAS (58)
58. Kevin Martin, SG, SAC (27)
59. Tony Parker, PG, SA (55)
60. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (60)
61. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (61)
62. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (63)
63. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (64)
64. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (68)
65. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (65)
66. Marcus Camby, C/PF, LAC (66)
67. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (67)
68. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (69)
69. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (70)
70. John Salmons, SG/SF, CHI (71)
71. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (77)
72. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (73)
73. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (74)
74. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (82)
75. Trevor Ariza, SF, HOU (78)
76. Andre Miller, PG, POR (83)
77. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (80)
78. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (72)
79. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHI (62)
80. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (81)
81. Michael Redd, SG, MIL (75)
82. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (87)
83. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (104)
84. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (88)
85. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (89)
86. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (91)
87. Mario Chalmers, PG, MIA (90)
88. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (93)
89. Richard Hamilton, SG, DET (86)
90. Charlie Villanueva, PF/SF, DET (95)
91. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (79)
92. Paul Millsap, PF, UTA (85)
93. Josh Howard, SG/SF, DAL (106)
94. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (98)
95. T.J. Ford, PG, IND (97)
96. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (94)
97. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (103)
98. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (109)
99. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (107)
100. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (105)
101. Greg Oden, C, POR (99)
102. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (114)
103. Anthony Randolph, PF/SF, GS (84)
104. Jermaine O'Neal, C, MIA (102)
105. Wilson Chandler, SF, NY (96)
106. Tyreke Evans, PG, SAC (108)
107. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (115)
108. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (110)
109. Ronnie Brewer, SG, UTA (112)
110. Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN (113)
111. Grant Hill, SF, PHO (101)
112. Mike Bibby, PG, ATL (92)
113. Spencer Hawes, C, SAC (119)
114. L. Barbosa, SG/PG, PHO (100)
115. Jason Thompson, PF, SAC (117)
116. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (122)
117. Andray Blatche, PF/C, WAS (120)
118. Randy Foye, SG/PG, WAS (124)
119. Brendan Haywood, C, WAS (180)
120. Danilo Gallinari, SF, NY (128)
121. Marvin Williams, SF, ATL (123)
122. Mike Miller, SG/SF, WAS (121)
123. Andres Nocioni, SF/PF, SAC (165)
124. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (133)
125. Udonis Haslem, PF, MIA (174)
126. Richard Jefferson, SF, SA (111)
127. Chris Duhon, PG, NY (126)
128. Larry Hughes, SG, NY (142)
129. Courtney Lee, SG, NJ (127)
130. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (141)

Shortly after my Dwight Howard strategy column was published, I had a spirited debate with some of my colleagues in the fantasy community regarding the dominance of Howard today versus that of Shaquille O'Neal in his prime. I was on an island in thinking that Howard today is far more valuable than Shaq ever was for fantasy purposes.

Now, at first glance, you might think I'm crazy, but you probably will think differently when you consider the most important word in fantasy: scarcity.

Back in Shaq's heyday, there was a ton of competition among big men, all of whom put up some monstrous fantasy seasons. Most of Shaq's biggest years came during the primes of players like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Jermaine O'Neal and Elton Brand. And let's not forget some of the two-category studs he had to compete against, like Big Ben Wallace, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. If you played fantasy hoops five to 10 years ago, you probably remember some of the silly numbers these guys put up year after year. The depth among power forwards and centers was simply off the charts. In fact, Shaq never led the league in total rebounds or blocks, a feat Howard achieved with relative ease last season, in both categories. That depth, of course, makes Shaq's dominance all the more impressive in real life, but it also devalued his fantasy contributions a little, given that there were a bunch of other well-rounded big men to choose from on draft day.

Howard, on the other hand, has much less competition. The power forwards and centers of this era, while still very good, are lacking a bit in the fantasy game compared to five to 10 years ago. Even the good ones don't block enough shots (Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, David Lee), don't rebound enough (Amare Stoudemire, Pau Gasol), are injury prone (Yao Ming, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, perhaps Al Jefferson), or are past their primes and on the downside of their careers (Duncan, Garnett, Brand). Even the specialists today are different. We don't have a Wallace or Mutombo type who can dominate in both boards and blocks. Our specialists in recent years are either rebounding specialists or shot-blocking specialists, not both.

It's not surprising, therefore, that among eligible players, only two grabbed 700-plus rebounds while blocking 150-plus shots last season. Two! They were Howard (of course) and Yao (who is out for the '09-10 season). In years past, we'd typically see about five to seven players reach those totals. I mean, that's an average of only 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks if that player suits up for all 82 games. So the question remains: Where have our dominant fantasy big men gone? And more importantly, what does it mean for your fantasy team?

The Data

Let's face it: The league has changed in a big way. Mike D'Antoni rejoined the NBA as a coach in 2003-04 and inspired a plethora of copycat, up-tempo offenses, strict hand-checking rules were enforced with more scrutiny, and a wave of athletic big men who could run the court replaced the traditional center types. Gone are the days of big men who hung out in the paint all day while posting huge numbers in both rebounds and blocks. Instead, we now have more wide-open offenses, and big men who are pushed farther and farther away from the paint on the defensive end as they are forced to defend a larger area.

As the league transformed, so did the fantasy landscape. If you were to rank the most scarce fantasy categories five years ago, blocks and 3-pointers would be by far the most scarce, followed by steals. Take a look at the average number of blocks, 3-pointers and steals per game in 2003-04:

Blocks: 10.1 per game
3-pointers: 10.4 per game
Steals: 15.9 per game

Today, the scarcity rankings are technically still the same, but thanks to the reasons outlined above, 3-pointers have skyrocketed while blocks and steals have trended downward. Take a look at the differences in average-per-game for 2008-09:

Blocks: 9.6 per game
3-pointers: 13.3 per game
Steals: 14.5 per game

Considering that there are 1,230 games played every season, that's a heck of a lot fewer blocks and steals, and a heck of a lot more 3-pointers. The visual of these trends this decade is equally stunning.

The growing gap between 3-pointers and blocks is striking, isn't it? And, given that not much has changed from last season, I'd expect that the current trends will continue. The gap likely won't get much larger, but these numbers should stay fairly constant for at least the next few seasons.

Fantasy Implications

Savvy fantasy owners will take this data and use it to their advantage. These are trends that have been going on for five years, but most fantasy owners still look at 3-pointers like they're as scarce as blocks. They're not, not even close. Not only do we need to place a bigger premium on big men who can rebound and block shots and anyone who is creating steals in bulk, but we also need to rethink whom we consider to be good 3-point shooters.

With that said, given the scarcity of blocks and quality big men in general these days, we need to start reevaluating our rosters, particularly our power forwards and centers. Perhaps it's time to start picking up specialists like Kendrick Perkins, Chris Andersen and Ronny Turiaf (when healthy) to bolster our blocks. It's far more valuable to have a guy like Perkins who will give you 2-plus blocks per game than it is to have a 3-point specialist like Peja Stojakovic or Rasheed Wallace giving you 2-plus 3-pointers per game. Obviously, it depends on your team needs and strengths, but Perkins and those like him will have much more of an impact on the shot-blocking category than Stojakovic and the like will have in the 3-point shooting category.

Similarly, thanks to the lack of depth at power forward and center, the following players might be more valuable than most folks give them credit for:

Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies: There's no way Gasol will continue his torrid pace (15.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks), but I'd advise against selling high unless you are going to get another guy who can rebound and blocks shots. As we've discovered, there just aren't that many players out there who can.

Joakim Noah, PF/C, Bulls: Noah is owned in most leagues (94.8 percent), but I doubt he's valued as highly as he should be. He's looking great in the early going with 11.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks through his first six games, and he's primed for a big season.

Roy Hibbert, C, Pacers: Hibbert (24.4 percent owned) is an old-school type of center. He won't run the court or extend the defense on the offensive end, but he will own the paint on the glass and in the shot-blocking department. He's played well enough to make us forget about Solomon Jones eating into his production, and you have to love his numbers so far: 11.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.

Greg Oden, C, Trail Blazers: Oden is both injury- and foul-prone, which is not a good combo, but he's proving to be a tremendous value when on the court with 8.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks through his first seven contests. Forget about any misgivings on the offensive end, and ride his boards and blocks until the next injury.

Brendan Haywood, C, Wizards: Haywood's numbers will dip slightly once Antawn Jamison returns to action, but he'll still be a fantastic rebounding and shot-blocking specialist as long as he's healthy. It's hard to believe that he's owned in just 12.1 percent of fantasy leagues, given that he's averaging 11.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks through his first six contests.

Erick Dampier, C, Mavericks: Let me preface this by saying that Dampier is a short-term stopgap only. He undoubtedly will come back down to earth once Drew Gooden returns, and he'll lose some value now that Josh Howard has returned to the lineup. But given the state of today's big men, why not pick him up and get as many boards and blocks out of him while he's putting up 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game?

Others to upgrade: You already know about these guys, but their shot-blocking abilities should make you value them a little more than you already do: Brook Lopez, Al Horford, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby (until they get hurt), Al Jefferson, Emeka Okafor and Andrew Bogut. Also, don't forget that if you can find some blocks outside of the traditional positions (PF/C), you are sitting pretty. That's why I'll give a little extra credit to guys like Josh Smith, LeBron James, Andrei Kirilenko, Gerald Wallace and Shawn Marion.

One final thought for you all this week. I didn't speak much to my rankings, but I will note one major change: Allen Iverson drops out of the top 130. He has left the Grizzlies for personal reasons and might not return. Even if he does, I don't think he'll be worth a roster spot, as he saw just 22.2 minutes and managed just 8.7 shot attempts in his first (perhaps only) three games with the team. As a result, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley get a little bump in the rankings.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com.