Living the Fantasy: Sound Asleep

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By NBA TV's Rick Kamla

Freaks, life is ultra-kind as we get back to living the fantasy on NBA.com.

I've got Public Enemy's “Fear of a Black Planet” providing the soundtrack, my 3-year-old and 19-month-old sons providing the daily entertainment, and my boys from the Suns and Mavs providing the inspiration.

Did you watch the Mavs and Suns in TNT's late game on Thursday?

If you did, you saw a playoff game in November, as last year's Western Conference finalists entered the game a combined 1-8.

If you did, you saw the mental toughness and versatility that propelled Dallas into last year's Finals.

If you did, you saw Jerry Stackhouse step up with 23 points for the injured Josh Howard (out two weeks with a second-degree sprain of his ankle).

If you did, you saw Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on 11-of-19) outplay his best buddy Steve Nash (20 points, nine assists, 10 turnovers).

If you did, you saw fantasy sensation Leandro Barbosa can five threes in reaching 30 points for the second time in six games.

If you did, you saw Amare Stoudemire look great one minute and rusty the next. There were at least two instances where the ball simply slipped out of his hands, telling me he has yet to adjust to the new ball in game situations.

Dirk's Mavs and Amare's Suns may have been a combined 1-9 entering Thursday's game, but it was played like a Western Conference Finals game.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
If you did, you saw Doug Collins' striking blond hair back for another season.

If you did, you saw the beginning of the season for Boris Diaw, who had 13 points, five assists, and four rebounds in 35 minutes. Hey, it’s a start.

If you did, you heard Collins referring to Jalen Rose as this year's Tim Thomas. Great call.

If you did, you saw ... sorry, freaks, "Welcome to the Terrordome" just grabbed my attention and forced me to involuntarily rock out.

If you did, you saw why the NBA has a) changed the hand-checking rules and b) instituted the no-tolerance policy regarding bickering with the officials.

First of all, the Suns and Mavericks were the first — or among the first — to figure out that the new-and-improved NBA is about sweet shooting, overall skill level, basketball IQ, and team speed. I love the new hands-off rules that allow the league's fastest players to get where they want to go and do what they were born to do — bring the crowd to its feet. The Suns and Mavs were on the cutting edge of this movement and both teams were in rare form on Thursday night.

Simply put, it was exactly the run-and-gun game commissioner David Stern wants to see — and I share that vision.

Why wouldn't you want to prioritize shotmaking and playmaking while penalizing overly physical play that only benefits the players who aren't quite as good?

The Mavs beat the Suns 119-112 in Phoenix for their first win of the season. The Mavs emerged from Chapter One of the league's best rivalry with a 1-4 record, while the Suns limped out with a record of 1-5. Despite their combined 2-9 launch to the 06-07 season, both teams are destined for 50+ wins, a cushy playoff seeding, and the resumption of their rivalry in the playoffs for a third straight.

I said it before the season and I will not be deterred by the Suns' struggles or the Heat's mediocre start: the Suns and Heat will meet in June in what shall go down as the Sunscreen Series. Deep down, neither of these teams give a (bleep) about November, so chill out and remind yourself that the NBA season is the grandest grind of them all.

In Thursday's thriller, you also saw the positive effect of the new no-tolerance rule regarding whining about a call perceived by a player and/or coach to be incorrect.

Avery Johnson, who was tossed earlier this season, was biting his lip all night. He did incur one tech, but didn’t run his overheating car off the road. It was as if he had learned from his earlier ejection and adjusted his behavior accordingly. See, Rasheed. If you have class, it can be done.

You also saw several players get whistled for a foul or violation that they didn't necessarily agree with, yet they controlled their emotions, respected the refs, and ran back to play defense on the other end. Again, that is the way Stern wants the game played—and I share that vision.

Before we dive into the fantasy of it all, there's one more point I want to make. Rasheed Wallace has been quoted recently as saying "It's just another Sheed Wallace Rule" and "(David's) trying to turn us into robots". Vintage Sheed, indeed. But as Stern has contended, the no-tolerance law is designed to curb the whining, not the emotion, of the players.

Hey, Sheed, Kamla has one word of advice for you: Shush.
Melissa Majchrzak /NBAE/Getty Images
"The game should not be unfairly burdened with whining and complaining," Stern told reporters gathered in Boston on Nov. 1. "That doesn't mean we're taking the emotion out of it. The great ones played with emotion. Did anyone have more emotion than Bill Russell? There was just a different way of asserting yourself. And, at the end of the day, I think our players will thank us for getting this aspect of the game out of the way."

Many of the players who were outspoken against the dress code have since admitted they have come around on the idea, so why not the no-tolerance rule as well?

As most of you know, I'm almost always on the side of the players. I am Tony Parker-quick in getting their backs on TV, radio, and here in this space. That said, Stern is right on the money with this one and the players will see the wisdom of his ways soon enough.

Freaks, it's great to be back firing from the top of the key once again, and we’re back to tip off this season with a look at the 10 most disappointing sleepers through the first week-and-a-half of the 06-07 season.

Most of the top sleepers have let down their fantasy owners during the first fortnight, but I'm here to calm your concerns like a shrink wearing argyle socks and $500 frames.

[Editor's note: Players ranked according to their level of disappointment. All stats through Thursday's work.]

10. Deron Williams, Jazz: Williams is 10 outta 10 on this list because he's only been a slight disappointment. ("Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man" is vintage Flavor Flav. Maybe his best rap ever.) I'm cool with the 13.2 points, 6.4 assists, 47 percent from the field, and 100 percent from the line. However, I'm far from cool with one steal per game and 0-for-7 three-point shooting.

I made Deron the third pick in the fifth round of the League Freak draft because he nailed 1.7 threes per game in the second half last year. Jerry Sloan is in Deron's head right now in terms of shot selection and decision making, so let the kid generate some confidence and he'll start taking the necessary risks to rock in fantasy leagues.

9. Darko Milicic, Magic: I definitely had Darko tabbed as a sleeper coming in, but I wasn't head over heels in love with his prospects because of the lingering presence of Iron Man Tony Battie, who never misses a game. Darko has had his moments this season, showing you the flashes that made him the second overall pick in 2003. Sadly, however, logging 18.4 minutes a game has limited his averages to 6.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks.

I allow only 10 roster spots (six starters) in my 12-team, HTH, 8-cat league. (“War at 33 1/3" is rap meets techno. Forgot how killer this song is.) Here's the deal with Darko. If you have an expansive roster with 4-7 bench players, I recommend hanging in there because his shot blocking and smooth shooting give him huge fantasy upside. However, if you gotta get production out of every dude RIGHT NOW or if your roster size is small, Darko is probably waiver wire material.

8. Sebastian Telfair, Celtics: Telfair went off for 24 points on the strength of four threes a few nights back against the Wizards, but he's been brutal in every other game. Through four games he's averaging 10.3 points, 2.8 assists, 1.5 threes, and 0.3 steals. Other than the threes, that's grossly below average. Telfair is a 50-80 guy at this point, but the percentages always seem to cancel each other out in HTH leagues so I don't put much stock in that.

In short, Telfair just simply isn't a pass-first point guard and I don't know if Doc Rivers will be successful in converting him. If Telfair is still on your roster, he's hanging on by a thread.

7. Dwight Howard, Magic: Howard's average draft position was 20th so he isn't a true sleeper, but in terms of our expectation for him to leap from 15-12 to 20-15, he's sleeper-ish. Sadly, those dreams may have to be tabled till next season because it's the same old perimeter (bleep) again this year. With apologies to Jameer Nelson, Carlos Arroyo, Keyon Dooling, Grant Hill, and Hedo Turkoglu, it's time to stop looking to get off and time to start getting it to the big fella.

Seriously, freaks, do Nelson and Arroyo really think they're going to shoot Orlando into the playoffs?

Rick wanted us to use this photo to show everyone who on the Magic is vertically closer to the hoop.
Fernando Medina /NBAE/Getty Images
Dwight is the former No. 1 overall pick, Dwight is the ManChild, and Dwight needs the rock to take this team to the next level.

Through five games, Howard is attempting 7.4 shots per game. No, that is not a misprint. I repeat: 7.4 shots per game. I can't believe it either. That average should be doubled. At current, Howard is posting a rock solid 13.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 59 percent from the floor, but I'm not settling for anything less than 20-15 this year.

Brian Hill and Orlando's guards are officially on notice.

6. Jameer Nelson, Magic: Wow, how about the Magic having three sleepers on this list of disappointments. Somewhat miraculously, Orlando is 3-2 entering Friday's work. Unfortunately, Jameer didn't enjoy the same success during opening week as Borat. (I don't know about you, but I did not see Da Ali G blowing up like THIS. The reported payday for his next project makes Kevin Garnett look underpaid.)

Anyway, Nelson may have saved his starting job Wednesday with an 18-point performance in 29 minutes of work. Jameer was 8-of-12 for the game after shooting a combined 6-of-15 in the previous two games, and he'll need more of the plus-50-percent shooting to keep the scorching-hot Carlos Arroyo (20-of-27 over the last three games) on the bench.

Going forward, I think a lot of us had Nelson overrated and Arroyo underrated, as the Face of the Puerto Rican National Team is going to vulture minutes and stats all season long. I would be looking to deal Nelson at the earliest possible moment.

5. Troy Murphy, Warriors: Andrew Bogut and Murphy were my favorite sleeper centers and both have been weird to start the season. But in Murphy's case, his first six games belong in The Twilight Zone. It started out with an 11-13 double-double against the Lakers and he racked up 20 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and two threes on Thursday against the Hornets.

Grimly, however, games two through five took Murphy to the depths of basketball hell, as this noted double-double man failed to grab a single rebound in two of those games. Do-do-do-do...Do-do-do-do... Murphy's rough start could be attributed to his sweaty facemask or the learning curve with Don Nelson's system, but there's not a doubt in my mind he will build on Thursday's success and have a terrific season.

4. Raymond Felton, Bobcats: Felton was my favorite sleeper guard entering the season, but it's been the Brevin Knight Show through four games. Knight is posting the numbers I thought we'd get from Felton: 16.3 points, 7.0 assists, and 4.8 rebounds. Meanwhile, Felton's three-cat line has resembled that of an average player: 13.8 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.3 rebounds.

As he showed us last season, Felton is not an average player, but he is surrounded by much more talent this year. Emeka Okafor is healthy and leading the team with 16.8 points per game while Adam Morrison is averaging 15, so it isn't hard to understand why Felton is taking two fewer shots per game (11-9). Felton will remain solid, as he's ripping a steal and canning 1.5 threes per game, but he may not take the quantum leap many of us expected.

3. Josh Smith, Hawks: Josh tore the league a new one in the second half last season, averaging 15 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.1 blocks, 1.03 steals, and 1.1 threes. As such, the fantasy world is bummed about his averages of 10.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.0 steals, and .75 threes to start the 06-07 season.

I went out on a limb, ranking Smith ahead of several superstars who I'd rather not name right now for the sake of preserving any credibility I may have built along the way.

My guess is that Smith is easing his way into the season and that his stat lines will start resembling his second half from a year ago. That said, we are talking about sleepers, who don't always take the leap we took for granted, so cross your fingers that Josh can start turning in double-doubles with 3+ blocks per game. If that isn't the case, I was wrong and I'm sorry.

2. Speedy Claxton, Hawks: Speedy has been downright brutal through the first week-plus of the season, but we gotta cut the dude some slack because his broken left hand robbed him of all but one week of the preseason. Most players had five weeks to get sharp, but Speedy had one week.

I'm not down on Speedy at all. I mean, you can't start him right now, but you certainly shouldn't be dropping him or anything crazy like that.

Tyronn Lue was a bad man the other night in Cleveland when he dropped 19 & 11 in the Hawks' overtime victory, but I highly doubt he keeps rocking the hardwood to that sweet tune every night. That's the book on Lue, so leave him on waivers and wait it out with Speedy, who will give you the dimes and thefts eventually.

1. Gerald Wallace, Bobcats: I promoted Wallace as a second-round pick coming into the season, but he's playing like a fantasy reserve through the first four games, averaging 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks with only one three-pointer. The lack of defense is the BIG buzzkill because we're talking about the third player in NBA history to average 2+ blocks and 2+ steals in a season (Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson).

However, a closer look at the game log tells us he played only 14 minutes on opening night because of the mid-air collision with Danny Granger. Also, he managed only 28 minutes against Cleveland because he fouled out trying to harass LeBron James. Then, on Wednesday, he generated nothing on the D because he was assigned to Paul Pierce, who enjoyed a night for the ages.

So it's been a rough start to the season for Wallace. So what. Keep playing him and the stats will come.

Fight the Power...