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PLAYERS FROM SUN AND HEAT BRIGHTENED NBA SEASON

If your NBA fantasy team included more than one Phoenix player, you probably enjoyed a sunny season. If you had more than one starter from Miami, your squad put the heat on the pack.

Going into 2004-05, Phoenix forward Shawn Marion and Miami center Shaquille O'Neal were no-brainers. If they didn't go among the first handful of picks in your draft, either you weren't paying attention or there was too much free beer.

In general, Marion and O'Neal lived up to the expectations of premier picks. Marion, a 6-foot-7 stat-sheet stuffer, was one of only three players in the league to reach triple digit totals in assists, steals and blocked shots.

He had 154 assists, 162 steals and 119 blocks, turning the trick for the second consecutive season and the third time in his six-year career. He was joined by Minnesota's Kevin Garnett (466 assists, 121 steals, 112 blocks), who did it for the third straight year and the seventh time in 10 seasons, and Detroit's Ben Wallace (123 assists, 106 steals, 176 blocks), who accomplished the feat for an NBA-best fifth consecutive season.

O'Neal was his normal dominant self, increasing his scoring average to 22.9, from 21.5 as a Los Angeles Laker last season, and bettering his field goal percentage to .601 from .584.

The only blip on his radar screen continues to be foul shooting. The modern-day Wilt Chamberlain dipped to .461 this season from .490, putting him below break-even for the fourth time in his 13-season career. He has a way to go to outbrick Chamberlain, who was below .500 eight times in 13 seasons, including five in a row (1965-66 through 1969-70).

Wallace, on the other hand, extended his career-long streak of sub-.500 foul shooting seasons to nine with a .428 performance that actually raised his lifetime mark to .419 from .417. Despite his problems at the line and lack of scoring (9.7 points per game), Wallace finished 32nd with a 19.14 efficiency rating.

That statistic is the best measure of effectiveness for a fantasy player. It is determined by adding points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, then subtracting missed field goal attempts, missed free throws plus turnovers, then dividing by games played.

By this measure, two other Suns center Amare Stoudemire and point guard Steve Nash -- plus two other Heat players, point guard Dwyane Wade and forward Udonis Haslem, far exceeded their expectations.

Stoudemire was fourth in efficiency (26.76), despite being 19th in the Sporting News' preseason fantasy preseason rankings and 31st in CBS Sportsline.com's NBA Preview. He ranked among the top 18 in 23 categories this season. The third-year pro increased his scoring average to 26.0 from 20.6 and his field goal percentage to .559 from .475.

He played in 80 games after being limited to just 55 in 2003-04 because of foot problems. His value to the Suns was clear last year when the team went 11-12 before his injury and 7-20 with him out of the lineup.

But no one can argue that the presence of Nash, signed as a free agent in the offseason, wasn't the biggest ingredient to Stoudemire's emergence as a fantasy superstar.

Nash, considered by many a candidate for the NBA's Most Valuable Player, finished 15th in efficiency (22.08) while leading the league in assists (11.5) -- many of which went to the powerful Stoudemire. Nash was 53rd in Sportsline's preseason rankings, 66th in Sporting News.

Many expected Wade's production to increase with the addition of Shaq. But to this level? The second-year pro increased his scoring to 24.1 from 16.2, more than doubled his free throws (581 from 233) and almost tripled his blocked shots (82 from 34).

He brought back memories of late Boston Celtic Reggie Lewis with his ability to contribute blocked shots from the guard position. (Lewis averaged 90 from 1990-91 through 1992-93). Wade, a unanimous All-Rookie choice last season, finished 13th in efficiency (23.17).

Haslem, a second-year pro, wasn't on anybody's fantasy radar screen. But he increased his scoring (10.9 from 7.3), rebounding (9.1 from 6.3) and field goal percentage (.536 from .459) dramatically enough to finish 50th in efficiency (16.91).

MORE GOOD NEWS

Other major overachievers, at least according to the preseason rankings, included: Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas (tied for 16th in efficiency), Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh (29th), Denver Nuggets center Marcus Camby (tied for 27th), who managed to remain generally healthy for the second straight season for the first time as a pro. Camby, who played 66 games this season, has averaged 69 the last two after never appearing in more than 63 and averaging just 50 in his first seven years. Also this trio of forwards: the Cleveland Cavaliers' Drew Gooden (33rd), Golden State Warriors' Troy Murphy (37th) and Los Angeles Clippers' Bobby Simmons (48th).

TITLE HOPE KILLERS

Big underachievers in the fantasy world, either because of injuries, suspensions or poor performance, included: Portland Trail Blazers forward Zach Randolph, the Indiana Pacers' trio of Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson, New York Knicks guard Allan Houston, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Latrell Sprewell and guard Sam Cassell, New Jersey Nets forward Richard Jefferson and Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry.

CALL IT THE "M-V-G"

His Timberwolves missed the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season of 1995-96, but Garnett distanced himself from the rest of the fantasy field even though his numbers dipped slightly from his MVP season of 2003-04. Still, Garnett's efficiency rating of 31.96 was far better than the second-place finisher, Cleveland's super sophomore LeBron James (28.24). Picking strictly by position, this year's fantasy All-Star team includes Garnett and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki (third in efficiency at 28.13, and missed the triple century club by just three steals) at forwards, Stoudemire at center and James and Philadelphia's Allen Iverson (seventh, 24.87) at guards.

BUILDING BLOCKS

Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon is getting plenty of support for rookie of the year after leading his team to its first playoff berth since the Michael Jordan era, despite an 0-9 start. But Charlotte Bobcats center Emeka Okafor (35th, 18.32) and Orlando Magic forward Dwight Howard (40th, 17.88) were the top two fantasy rookies. The rest of the rookie All-Star squad includes Philadelphia guard Andre Iguodala and 19-year-old Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, who averaged 15.4 points during the final 18 games and blocked more shots (144) than Okafor (125) this season.
e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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