Ah, the Phoenix Suns. A fantasy playerâ€™s best friend. The team that turns waiver wire fodder like Raja Bell and Boris Diaw into legit stars. To say Phoenix didnâ€™t miss Amare Stoudemire would be extremely laughable, but the team did make it right back to the Western Conference finals, although they did so after winning eight fewer games in the regular season. Stoudemire is obviously the biggest item with the Suns this season. Will he be back? Will he really be back? If heâ€™s back, how will his presence affect players such as Diaw and Bell who had breakout years in his absence last season? Call me optimistic, but I think everyone can get along just fine. Itâ€™s worth noting that the Suns did add some quality depth this offseason. Four players averaged 35.5 or more mpg last season, but now the bench has solid backups like Leonard Barbosa, Marcus Banks, the Jones twins, Kurt Thomas and Eric Piatkowski.
The Stud: Shawn Marion, F
The Matrix was far and away the fantasy MVP last season. He established career highs, in points, rebounds and blocks, but where the bulk of his added value came was FG%. He never shot above 48%, but raised it to 52.5% last season. That gave him a 2.49 value in FG% on the player rater, compared to a 0.79 value in 04-05. That, plus averaging 40+ minutes in 81 games helped him finish an easy 1/1 on the player rater. The only possible weakness in Marionâ€™s fantasy game is assists, but for someone who is probably slotted at PF, his near 2 per game is fine. And itâ€™s not just that heâ€™s well-rounded; heâ€™s dominant in FG%, rebounds, steals and blocks. There really arenâ€™t any more superlatives you can throw his way at this point. Heâ€™s been (just about) the best with Amare, heâ€™s been the best without Amare. Marion is as upper echelon a fantasy stud as they come. Depending on your personal preference, you might consider taking LeBron, Kobe or KG before Marion. But if youâ€™re picking fifth and the Matrix is still sitting there, you are a lucky, lucky dude.
The Support: Steve Nash, PG
Some day people will indeed look back at this era of basketball â€“ the LeBron, Dwyane, Kobe era coming out of the Shaq, Duncan, Garnett era â€“ and look at the MVP list and say, â€œSteve Nash won back-to-back MVP awards?! What the hell were those people thinking?!â€ Still, thereâ€™s no denying that Nash has been spectacular the past few seasons and thereâ€™s no reason to expect much change this season. His assists dropped ever-so-slightly, although that has more to do with Boris Diawâ€™s emergence than Amare Stoudemireâ€™s absence, as some of us predicted. He still had 100 more assists than anyone else in the league, so itâ€™s hard to complain, especially since me made up for it with a career high 18.9 ppg while establishing a new high of 51.2% from the field and matching his career-high with 1.9 3pg, and even setting an easy career-high with 4.2 rpg. He also set a career-high with 3.5 turnovers per game, so for those of you unfortunate souls who count turnovers, Nash is obviously a liability there as only our boy Gilbert Arenas had more than him. So you want to penalize a guy because he plays for a fast-tempo team and is a great playmaker? I will just never understand leagues that count turnovers and have head-to-head championships in the last week of the season. NEVER. Nash finished 8/9 on the player rater last year, but heâ€™s very borderline as a first round pick in 12-team leagues. Nashâ€™s back problems havenâ€™t caused him to miss much time at all the past few seasons, but heâ€™s still 32 years old with plenty of mileage. Heâ€™s fine in the second, but Iâ€™d go for a younger stud in the first.
The Supporting Support: Boris Diaw, FC
If anyone tells you they saw that coming, they are just lying. Thereâ€™s no other way around it. Diaw went from being one of the Eric Snow Memorial All-Stars in Atlanta â€“ as in, absolutely no value even with the minutes â€“ to an every night triple-double threat who finished 28/37 last season. Truly one of the most remarkable out-of-nowhere breakout seasons ever. Anytime a player comes out of absolutely nowhere with a season like Diaw did last year, there are always red flags when it comes to his draft position the next season. But there seems to be little reason to expect too much of a decline from Diaw this season. He was great enough last year that heâ€™s earned himself quite a bit of slack if he doesnâ€™t get off to a great start. Heâ€™s not going to find himself on the bench if he has a few bad games. He still plays for the most fantasy-friendly team in the league, and while minutes might be at more of a premium this year as Phoenix has improved its depth, Diawâ€™s ability to play all five positions will certainly keep him on the court plenty. Speaking of positions, Diaw is perhaps the only player in fantasy history to go from qualifying at point guard one season to qualifying at center the next season. You wonâ€™t get much more than a block per game from Diaw, but that doesnâ€™t stop him from being a top option in the middle. The big question is whether he can keep up the production with Amare around. Diawâ€™s not a guy who needs to take shots to have value, so everything should be fine. It might take a third-round pick to land Diaw, and while thereâ€™s a good chance heâ€™ll be a fine return on that, but itâ€™s be understandable if you were hesitant at that point.
The Sleeper: Jumaine Jones, SF
This could be a match made in heaven. Jones will have to work his way into minutes, but if he manages to do that, he could help you out. Jones is one of those young veterans, a journeyman whoâ€™s now on his sixth team, but heâ€™s just 27 years old. The guy simply loves to shoot 3s, and heâ€™s going to the perfect team for that. Over the past two seasons, 49% of his attempts have been from long range. Last season he hit 1.5 3pg â€“ and attempted 4.4 per game â€“ while averaging just 27.5 mpg. Now heâ€™s going to a team that took 265 more 3s than the team with next most. Itâ€™s true that James Jones â€“ and yes, someone in your league will probably confuse the two at some point this season â€“ does basically the same thing. But Jumaine has a knack for working his way into more PT as the season progresses, and Phoenix is the one team where 30 mpg isnâ€™t necessarily a prerequisite for having fantasy value, especially if youâ€™re looking for a three-point specialist. Doubtful heâ€™ll worth drafting, but if the opportunity presents itself, heâ€™ll be worth a pickup.
The Slacker: Amare Stoudemire, FC
Look, I love Amare as much as you do. In fact, Iâ€™m pretty sure I love him more than you do. His performance in the series against San Antonio a couple years ago was one of those stretches of play that Iâ€™ll always remember. The man is simply a beast. Or at least he was. Might he still be? Sure. Are you willing to risk a second â€“ or maybe even first â€“ round pick to find out, when there are plenty of sure things left on the board? Well, thatâ€™s your call. Personally, I only go for sure things in the first two rounds. I basically want a guarantee of 80 games at absolute peak performance. And itâ€™s just not possible to say thatâ€™s the case right now with Stoudemire. If he is indeed back to his old self, then there are few better players to have on your squad. After all, he did finish at #6 on the player rater in 04-05, and has center eligibility to boot. Weâ€™re not doctors â€“ no, really, weâ€™re not â€“ but it seems like if anyone is capable of coming all the way back from a serious injury like this, it would be a young, athletic player like Stoudmire. At the same time, heâ€™s a player who more than anyone relies on explosiveness. The bottom line is that we just donâ€™t know. Stoudemire has the dangerous combo of tremendously appealing flash and upside and a huge health question mark. Players like those can still help you if you can get them at a discount. Thatâ€™s not too likely with Stoudemire.
Double Dribbles: Raja Bell might be the first player taken who was relegated to the double dribbles section of his teamâ€™s preview. Sorry, Raja, nothing personal, Phoenix is just a fantasy goldmine and youâ€™re not a sleeper or a slacker. Bell sure took the system in Phoenix and put in 2.5 3pg last season after never even averaging 1 per game previously. Only Ray Allen made more 3s last year. He finished 53/68 on the player rater, largely on the strength of his 3s. He was pretty ordinary everywhere else. Iâ€™m slightly down on Bell because I donâ€™t think heâ€™ll see 37.5 mpg again, so he might not make the best mid-round selection â€¦ Last preseason Bell and James Jones were the two hot sleepers for Phoenix, and as the season grew closer people became more enamored with Jones. Oops. He was benched as a starter after four games and started a bunch more over the course of the season but never really got going. Iâ€™m not a big fan, especially with that other J. Jones on board â€¦ Leonardo Barbosaâ€™s an explosive scorer who hits his share of 3s, as does just about everyone on Phoenix. Heâ€™s much more of a SG than PG, but can handle time at both since Diaw is around. He has problems staying healthy, and with Marcus Banks around now, his chances of seeing 30 mpg arenâ€™t as good. Thatâ€™s the number he needs to have fantasy value â€¦ Speaking of Marcus Banks, Phoenix can give anyone fantasy value, but heâ€™ll need to be out on the court. Banks has never been much of a three-point shooter, so it will be interesting to see if he adds that to his repertoire in Phoenix â€¦ Kurt Thomas was an immense disappointment as a fill-in for Stoudemire, as he just didnâ€™t fit in with the teamâ€™s fast-paced style. If he couldnâ€™t find any value without Amare around, itâ€™s hard to see him having any with the big man back.
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