Ben Zani, Rotowire.com

I'm so utterly glad that the Christmas season is over. I've heard my fill of carols, am completely over fighting through holiday crowds at the mall, and have probably put on 10 pounds of fatty Christmas dinners after spending the previous 11 months dieting down like a prizefighter. Moreover, my Celtics had their 19-game winning streak unceremoniously ended on Christmas Day, and my Patriots somehow didn't make the playoffs despite earning an 11-5 record. In other news, I'm developing a cold, there's a ton of snow on the ground, and I'm a bit gassy.

But, on the bright side, my Pick One entry finally performed up to snuff after eight weeks of relative mediocrity. I had an inkling that my Pick One fortunes would be turning around after lucking into Brandon Roy's 52-point game the week before, but this past week gave me my first 200-point week, and in only six days to boot. Rodney Stuckey somehow put up 40. Jermaine O'Neal had a 47-PRA night. Even Jameer Nelson, who had burned me earlier in the season, showed his Holiday kindness by giving me 34 PRA on Monday night. So, now that I think of it, maybe the Christmas season wasn't all that bad after all. Besides, I did get that Tim Tebow jersey I was asking for.

So what changed? What pushed me from the low-70s in Pick One percentile to the lower 80s, all in the span of six days? Well, ironically, I have NBA.com to thank. For, you see, I've finally found out how to properly utilize that friendly little "Stats" tab at the top of your NBA.com menu bar.

"Ben, you seriously mean to tell me that you didn't examine stats the last year and a half while making picks? Whatever they're paying you, it's far too much," you're probably saying to yourself. But nay, good reader, I stated that I learned how to properly use the Stats tab to my advantage as a Pick One player.

What does proper use mean? To me, it means using the friendly little "Splits" drop-down menu to show me things like the NBA's top PRA players over their last five games, who's been playing best in December, who grabs the most rebounds at Portland, who has the highest field goal percentage at home against the Clippers, etc.. That Splits tab gives you more than a hundred different lenses through which to analyze the statistics of NBA players, and, as Pick One players, we realize that stats are what it's all about.

Let's, for the sake of argument, look at the "Last 5 Games" split, and use PRA as the statistical filter. You'll see the obvious suspects at the top - D-Wade, Kobe, LeBron, but it's the names farther down that interest me the most as a Pick One player. For example, Nate Robinson's PRA over his last five games is a staggering 36.0. That's 10.5 over his season average and approaching a week where he has favorable matchups against Charlotte and Indiana coming up. Also on that list are names like Emeka Okafor, Shaquille O'Neal, and Mehmet Okur, all playing well above their season averages over a recent stretch.

The "Last 5 Games" has been my favorite statistical split to use over recent weeks, but others that I've found useful are the Last 10 Games, PRA on the Road, and even the splits against particular divisions. For example, Chris Bosh seems to really get up for Southeast Division games, as he's posted an average PRA of 43.3 in his seven Southeast Division contests. Meanwhile, his PRA is 10 less against the Atlantic Division, so those that haven't used Bosh may want to save him for a night against a Washington or a Miami rather than against the Celtics.

So in conclusion, stats are fun, stats are your friend, and stats don't make you spend 20 minutes just to get out of the Best Buy parking lot. So utilize the Splits section of the Stats page, and watch your Pick One performance go up.

Ringing in the New Picks…

Date: Monday, December 29, 2008
Player: Kosta Koufos - UTA [C] (T-Mobile Rookie)
Opposition: vs. Philadelphia
2007-08 Averages: 4.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.5 APG (8.2 PRA)
General Thoughts: Paul Millsap is out for the next week with a sprained knee ligament. Mehmet Okur has sat out the last three games with a back problem. Carlos Boozer hasn't played in more than a month. Therefore, the Jazz' low post minutes, almost by default, go to the rookie out of Ohio State, who had 18 points and eight rebounds in his first significant action of the season on Friday night against Dallas. The Sixers are similarly banged up down low, and given that Koufos earns double PRA points as a T-Mobile Rookie, now is the time to use the young seven footer.

Date: Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Player: Nate Robinson - NYK [PG, SG]
Opposition: @ Charlotte
2007-08 Averages: 17.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.0APG (25.5 PRA)
General Thoughts: As I mentioned above, Robinson has been playing out of his mind lately, averaging a PRA of 36.0 over his last five. In fact, the miniature guard has averagdd 26.0 points in that time span, despite only starting two of his last five games. With Jamal Crawford now gone, Robinson has become the primary backcourt beneficiary of Mike D'Antoni's PRA-friendly system, so use him now against the Bobcats while he's scoring at will.

Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Player: Stephen Jackson - GSW [SF, SG]
Opposition: @ Oklahoma City
2007-08 Averages: 19.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 5.9 APG (29.4 PRA)
General Thoughts: Jackson returned from injury to torture my Celtics on Friday night, going off for 28 and 7 in a 99-89 win that will certainly be discussed at my therapist's office this week. In that game, Jackson looked healthy and eager to take over the Alpha Dog role on the Warriors that had been missing with the injuries to Corey Maggette and now Jamal Crawford. The Thunder are just downright ugly, and Jackson should have a field day against them. Furthermore, I simply can't get enough of the "Stephen Jackson for Mayor" artwork in the new FreeDarko basketball book, which I'd highly recommend to any hardcore basketball fan.

Date: Thursday, January 1, 2009
Player: No Games Played, New Year's Day
General Thoughts: A word of advice: a bottle of Gatorade, a burrito and a bag of Sour Cream and Onion chips will help you avoid any hangover that may be caused by cheap New Year's Eve champagne. Listen to me now, and thank me later. And yes, it feels weird to write 2009.

Date: Friday, January 2, 2009
Player: Boris Diaw - CHA [PF, SF]
Opposition: vs. Chicago
2007-08 Averages: 9.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.9 APG (17.8 PRA)
General Thoughts: Diaw may be the most surprising member of the "Last 5 Games" top 50 PRA club, as he's embraced his new Charlotte digs to the tune of 28.8 PRA over his last five. He's worked well with Emeka Okafor, contributed in a number of statistical categories, and generally seems to be adjusting wonderfully to not having to cede minutes to Amar'e Stoudemire anymore. This pick runs against my trend of picking those in favorable matchups as Milwaukee is actually a decent defensive team, but Diaw contributes in so many ways that he'll find a way to earn PRA without necessarily having to load up in any one area.

Date: Saturday, January 3, 2009
Player: Mario Chalmers - MIA [PG] (T-Mobile Rookie)
Opposition: vs. New Jersey
2007-08 Averages: 9.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.5 APG (17.2 PRA)
General Thoughts: For all the accolades being heaped upon Devin Harris for being the league's most improved player thus far this season and emerging as a top scorer, few have noticed how his presence has turned the Nets into a defensively suspect team. The Nets are sixth worst in the league in points allowed and seventh-worst in opponent assists. Chalmers, meanwhile, has steadily improved throughout the season, his numbers climbing significantly each month. Chalmers has a PRA of 22.2 over his last five, which is doubled in Pick One because he's a rookie. There really isn't a bad time to pick Chalmers, but he's definitely a strong selection against the Nets.

Date: Sunday, January 4, 2009
Player: Derek Fisher - LAL [PG]
Opposition: vs. Portland
2007-08 Averages: 11.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.3 APG (16.9 PRA)
General Thoughts: Sunday has become my "take a flier on a veteran" day of the week this year, and that tradition continues with the selection of Fisher here against the Blazers. My selection of Fisher has everything to do with the fact that his backup, Jordan Farmar, recently had knee surgery, causing Fisher to log more minutes and get more offensive opportunities than he'd usually get. Fisher is notoriously streaky - he's just as liable to score five points as he is to score 20, but since it's "What The Heck, I'll Risk It" Sunday, I'll risk it with the Laker veteran before he starts to break down from playing so much time.


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