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Fantasy Fix: King James & Co.

The basketball season is as good as over, so let's hand out a few awards.

I fully intended to give my fantasy MVP award to someone other than SF LeBron James, specifically SG/SF Kevin Durant, though I thought even SF Carmelo Anthony and PF Dirk Nowitzki made their own good cases for much of the season. Durant, the only player other than James to score more than 2,000 points thus far (2,007 to LeBron's 2,048 through Monday), is ever so close in all categories and a far better free-throw shooter, but in a game that's all numbers, you've got to go with King James.

Incidentally, I was at the old ball gym on Madison last Friday night when James and the Cavaliers came to town, and the king looked pretty much like an average citizen for most of the first half as the depleted Bulls stayed close. He turned the ball over three times in a short stretch and took a handful of awkward shots. Yet, in the second half and particularly in the fourth quarter, he suddenly couldn't miss, whether shooting, rebounding or passing. He finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. During free throws by other players, he gabbed with the Cavs' bench or made eye contact with the crowd, and in most cases when the ball was in play, hung back on defense looking a bit disinterested until you realized he was in exactly the right place for a jump shot rebound. Overall, it seemed like he could have scored 50 and logged another triple-double if he felt the need.

So, LeBron James is my MVP. Better luck to Durant next year; he still played himself into a top three pick in the next fantasy draft. Here's the rest:

Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Smith, SF/PF. On the strength of blocks (140 through Monday) and steals (119) and a decent number of rebounds (604), I'll go with Smith over C Dwight Howard or the surprisingly resilient C Andrew Bogut.

Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans, PG/SG. Very close call with Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings really having posted the better and more memorable single game performances and streaks, but Evans has played with incredible consistency every week, averaging 20.3 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game and 5.6 assists.

Most Surprising Fantasy Player: David Lee, PF/C. He was already good coming into this year, but 20.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG and a .552 field goal success rate - the latter stat better than anyone in the top 20, including LeBron James - turned Lee from a borderline top 50 player back in October into a top five player at the end of this season.

Most Disappointing Fantasy Player: Jose Calderon, PG. Drafted around the end of the second round or beginning of the third round in most leagues, Calderon looks a long way from being the up-and-comer who looked as good as PG heroes Steve Nash and Deron Willams two years ago. He's averaging a full three assists per game fewer than last year, and is barely staying in double digits scoring-wise, with 10.8 PPG. He also went from a 98% free throw shooter in 68 games last year to 80% currently. Explain that drop.

That's it for our fantasy basketball analysis this season. If you're headed into the last round or two of your league playoffs, good luck.

Fantasy Baseball
The second coming of Nolan Ryan didn't last long: 100 mph-plus thrower Stephen Strasburg has already been sent to the minors by the Washington Nationals. Of course, it won't be long before he's back up in the bigs, but his delayed arrival on fantasy stat sheets no doubt left a few owners shaking their heads for drafting him a bit too early.

Drafting starters is tough because the widely-held belief is that head-to-head fantasy leagues are won on the mound by teams with huge pitching staffs that they can keep on constant rotation. Yet, most years feature few starters worth a top 40 pick. This year is indeed different, as noted some weeks ago, but in 10-team leagues, you can still count on rounds four and five being key for recruiting starting pitchers.

Here's a brief look at a few starting pitchers ranked outside the top 40 who might be worth watching:

Mid-rounders with the best chance to win 20 games (although 19 is the new 20 in today's MLB):

Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee: Surprised? Though he had control problems at times last year, he can dominate a game. This year, he'll have a legendary closer (Trevor Hoffman) backing him up for a full season and a lineup that mixes awesome power, blinding speed and good contact.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis: Nineteen wins last year and still underrated, you can get him in the middle rounds of almost any league.

Jon Lester, Boston: Won 15 games last year, has great control and a powerful lineup giving him an edge.

Mid-rounders with the best chance for 225 strikeouts (no, really):

Javier Vazquez, Yankees: He's always among the league leaders, and though White Sox fans know he can buckle under pressure, the World Champs will give him a push.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado: Kicked it into high gear with the rest of the Rockies after a managerial change last season. This year, I predict18 wins, 230 strikeouts and a 3.10 ERA, along with a lot of Cy Young votes.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Control can be a problem, but 185 strikeouts in 171 innings last year makes 225 look easy if reaches 200 or so innings.

And while we're visiting the mound, we should probably take a look at relief pitchers. The top names in this category tend to get shuffled every year, and success is so hard to predict. I like to look beyond the top names for late-round value:

Late-rounder RPs with the best chance for 30 saves:

Mike Gonzalez, Baltimore: He of the funky motion, Gonzalez will be the Orioles' closer from Opening Day and should easily pass 30 saves.

Matt Lindstrom, Houston: He was a chic pick last year with Florida, but injury and a couple blown assignments early on pushed him out of the job. This year, he'll play for a middling team, but assuming he's healthy, he should make the most of his chances.

Chris Perez, Cleveland: A risky call here for another guy with a so-so team, but Perez, once touted as the possible closer in St. Louis, has been having a good spring. Kerry Wood will be disabled (surprise!) for the start of the season, and I think a strong start by Perez allows him to keep the closer job.

Expert Wire
* Roto Arcade examines the battle to become the Yankees' fifth starter. It looks like the job is going to Phil Hughes, so fantasy owners who really want him should think a couple rounds earlier than planned.

* Forbes goes deep in ranking starting pitchers, all the way to Jonathan Sanchez at No. 50. Interesting that former Cub Rich Harden makes the list but Carlos Zambrano doesn't.

* USA Today has a story on "Super-U" (for utility player) Ben Zobrist. He made my top 40 partly on versatility, but more on his power, solid batting average and base-stealing ability. Also, turns out baseball's next potential Super-U - Sean Rodriguez (Can we call him "S-Rod" yet?) - also plays in Tampa.

* Bleacher Report has a report on "The Sub-2.50 ERA Curse." If it holds true, Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez and Chris Carpenter won't be as good this year as last year. I'll buy this theory for the first two, but not the other two.

* SB Nation ranks the second half of the top 50 outfielders. That's where you'll find B.J. Upton, consensus first round pick in 2009 and not even among the top 25 outfielders in 2010. That's a far way to fall, and I've got to believe he'll deliver a much better season than that.


Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. Comments welcome. You can also read his about his split sports fan personality at SwingsBothWays, which isn't about what it sounds like it's about.

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Posted on Nov 26, 2021