Friday, March 7, 2008

Tanking Casualties & Solutions - Part 1: Miami Heat & Minnesota Timberwolves

March is upon us and in the NBA that means teams are flipping into tank mode in order to secure better odds in the draft lottery. Over the next few weeks you can expect bad teams to make key players disappear from the starting lineup while giving bench warmers bigger minutes in the pursuit of landing the #1 pick.

Get ready for ambiguous injuries like stress fractures that suddenly shut a guy down for the remainder of the season. Be prepared for generic excuses ranging from "we don't want to risk further injury" and "we want him 100% for the start of training camp" to the dreaded "we're taking it day by day" which really means he could play now but to avoid bad press we are going to drag this out and shut him down for good with 3-4 games to play.

This widespread tanking couldn't come at a worse time for fantasy owners as we are now on the home stretch of the fantasy basketball season and approaching playoff time. As a public service to all nervous fantasy owners out there, FSE has put together a 5 part series documenting the potential impact tanking will have on the remainder of the fantasy basketball season.

This 4 part series will cover the teams with little to no hope of making the playoffs and those who may tank later in the season. When reviewing each team, we will focus on four key things:
  • Tanking status/potential - How bad do these teams want Michael Beasley?

  • The Departed - Who can we cross off the list.

  • Shut Down Candidates - Remember, this is for the good of the franchise... now put on your suit and act hurt.

  • Tanking Beneficiaries - Bench players that look to gain significant playing time down the stretch - in the spirit of Mardy Collins and Tarence Kinsey.

In part 1, we take a look at the Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves - the two teams who currently hold the worst records in basketball and have the best odds of landing the #1 pick in June.

#1 - Miami Heat - Current Lottery Odds: 25%

Tanking Status: Full Steam Ahead

Whenever your coach decides to take a few games off to go scout NCAA games, you know your season is lost. Impressively, Miami currently holds the NBA's worst record by one game over the Minnesota Timberwolves despite running out a decent starting lineup featuring two fantasy studs in Dwayne Wade and Shawn Marion.

The Departed

Dorell Wright - Just as he was developing into a nice all-around fantasy option, knee surgery ended his season.

Shut Down Candidates (Chance of being shutdown in parentheses)

Dwayne Wade (90%) - Wade is the franchise and is not a 100% healthy yet he has only missed 2 games since returning November 14th. He has enjoyed another solid season averaging around 24 points and 7 assists a night and has repeatedly said he will not shut down his season early. I give it two weeks before Riley has him in street clothes and bling on the bench.

Udonis Haslem (75%) - Haslem has battled nagging injuries all season and recently has been dealing with family issues. He has been a good fantasy contributor, putting up nearly a double-double averaging 12 points and 9 boards this year. He'll be one of those guys that gets phased out of the lineup quietly in the last two weeks.

Shawn Marion (30%) - Marion has struggled since arriving in Miami and he isn't the type of player that can win games on his own. Keep in mind thatMarion is able to opt out this summer, something Riley is hoping for as it will open up 17 million in cap space. Thus, showcasing Marion now could help drive up his value and allow Riley to complete the once impossible dream of clearing Shaq's monster contract off the books.

Tanking Beneficiaries

Ricky Davis - The Michael Jordan of the tanking season, no one can help a team land the #1 pick better than this guy. Cleveland Cavaliers fans are forever indebted to Davis for bringing home Lebron James with his remarkably selfish play and destructive ego during the 2002-03 campaign. Expect Davis to see 35+ minutes down the stretch and be a good source of scoring.

Marcus Banks - With Dwade looking on from the sidelines, Banks should see increasing minutes at point guard. He's a fast guard who should contribute in points, assists and maybe even threes.

Earl Barron - With Shaq gone and Haslem primed for shut down, that should leave some burn for Barron in future losing efforts. Barron has quietly been getting increasing playing time of late and could be a stopgap center option late in the season.

Chris Quinn - Is a good outside shooter that could help in three pointers, points and assists to a lesser extent.

#2 - Minnesota Timberwolves - Current Lottery Odds: 19.9%

Tanking Status: Been Tanking Since The KG Trade

During Kevin McHale's reign of terror in Minnesota the T'Wolves regressed to the point where trading Kevin Garnett became the feel good story of the summer. In return for Garnett, the T'Wolves got a young franchise-type center and the guarantee they would be one of the five worst teams in the NBA for the next 2-3 years. Something tells me Minnesota is going to land the top odds in the draft lottery over Miami even if it means having McHale suit up and let his arm pit hair flow freely once again.

The Departed

None

Shutdown Candidates

Al Jefferson (95%) - The only elite fantasy player or real-life player on the Minnesota roster, Jefferson has had a monster year averaging over 21 points, 11 rebounds and 1 block a night. Wednesday night, Jefferson injured his leg and missed the 4th quarter of the T'Wolves 39 point loss at Utah. This might be just the excuse the team needs to take him out of play, stay tuned.

Randy Foye (50%) - Foye represents the only other semblance of fantasy-relevant talent and I am not quite sure what the team will do with him. On the one hand, Foye is coming off injury that forced him to miss the first three months of the season. Thus, the team might want him risking further injury with nothing to play for. On the other hand, the last month of the season might be a good time to get Foye some experience at point guard. This is a toss up in my mind, but I'm leaning towards a late shutdown.

Tanking Beneficiaries

Sebastian Telfair - The pride of Coney Island has been putting up some pretty good numbers before the return of Randy Foye and has continued to be a productive assist man. If Foye is shutdown, Telfair will take on all point guard responsibilities and could be a strong backcourt option down the stretch.

Craig Smith - If Smith received 30+ minutes a night, he could be a Udonis Haslem clone and average 10-12 points and around 8 boards. Smith has played well in 3 March games thus far and look for him to have a bigger role going forward.

Kirk Snyder - Why McHale felt it necessary to deal young Gerald Green, one of the key pieces of the KG trade, to Houston for Kirk Snyder is beyond me. Regardless, Snyder has seen decent minutes in Minnesota so far, starting the last two games at SF averaging around 11 points and 5 rebounds. Snyder is also a good defensive player who can help in steals.

Chris Richard - After Al Jefferson is out of the lineup Richard might be the center of choice for the tanking T'Wolves. After a stint in the NBDL, Richard has returned to the pros and seen some increasing burn of late. Richard is a good rebounder who can score a little bit around the rim. He's a stopgap option at best.

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