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Fantasy basketball

Posted by Ed Ryan December 18, 2008 05:54 AM

One of the most underrated secret weapons in fantasy basketball is not a player. He doesn’t score, rebound, hit threes, or hand out assists.

He’s a coach — Mike D’Antoni of the Knicks.

D’Antoni spent five seasons coaching in Phoenix before taking over the Knicks this year, and during those five seasons, his Suns were one of the most entertaining teams in basketball. They ran. They shot quickly. They rarely defended. And their players — notably Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amar’e Stoudemire — were top-level fantasy performers.

Even second-tier guys on the Suns, like Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa, were always worthy waiver-wire fill-ins because of the team they were on: They, too, had a chance to go off in any given week because they played for the Suns.

While this offensive explosion was occurring in Phoenix, the Knicks’ franchise was disintegrating. Busts such as Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury littered the roster, and the franchise became more and more of a laughingstock during Isiah Thomas’ tenure in the front office and on the sidelines.

So when the Knicks cleaned house last summer and brought in D’Antoni as coach, fantasy hoopsters cast a wary eye at the Knicks’ roster. Could D’Antoni’s up-and-down style work with this group? Then the Knicks started making moves. They signed Chris Duhon as their point guard. Curry and Marbury, still on the team, were not part of the Knicks’ plans and would not play until they were dealt or released.

The Knicks did have a few players — Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford, and David Lee — worthy of being drafted in your fantasy league, but no one knew what to expect. And then the games started, and it’s been like Phoenix all over again: The Knicks are winning games not by playing defense, but because they are able to outlast their opponents offensively.

New York is averaging 105 points per game (up nine points from last season), and the roster is loaded with relevant fantasy players. Lee, a force on the boards, has been steady. Randolph — whom I drafted — and Crawford were a huge part of the resurgence, but both were traded just under a month ago. Despite the trades, the Knicks haven’t missed a beat offensively, and fantasy owners with New York players have actually been helped because their roster is so shorthanded.

Suspensions, injuries, and an all-out refusal to use certain players have forced the Knicks to routinely use just eight guys per night. The player they received in return for Crawford, Al Harrington, has been an absolute force. In 10 games with the Knicks he’s averaging 26 points, eight rebounds, and two assists. It’s doubtful he’s still available in your league, but congratulations if you were savvy enough to claim him after the trade, because he’s the type of waiver-wire pickup that can put fantasy teams over the top. It’s doubtful he’d be piling up numbers close to this anywhere but in New York.

Other Knicks are also fantasy-worthy. Duhon seems to get more productive with each game, averages 40 minutes of playing time, and has averaged 16 points and 10 assists per game in December. Guard Nate Robinson is back from an injury and is certainly worth a look; he was averaging 17 points per game off the bench in the six games before getting hurt. An explosive athlete who also played football in college, Robinson is an ideal fit in D’Antoni’s system. Pick him up if you can.

Ed Ryan writes about fantasy sports and betting for OT and can be reached at ed_ryan@globe.com

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