SleepersDecember 30, 2006

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Sleeper Watch

By Jamaal Gilbert

During Kevin Garnett’s 12-year career on the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team has struggled to pair him with a worthy frontcourt mate – someone to grab rebounds, follow up missed shots and guard the back side of the rim. This season, however, center Mark Blount has experienced a resurgence that has been key to the Wolves’ improved defense and overall ability to compete in the Western Conference.

In the past, the team relied on the likes of journeyman Rasho Nesterovic, retiree Ervin Johnson and former number one draft pick/human disaster Michael Olowokandi to fill this need, and all but Nesterovic failed miserably. Even he struggled to put up seven rebounds a game, and the team has been taken to the woodshed nightly without an inside presence for the past eight years.

In search of a way to get rid of Wally Sczcerbiak a season ago because of irreconcilable differences with “The Big Ticket”, the Minnesota front office received Blount, Justin Reed, Marcus Banks, and Ricky Davis from Boston, and the dividends are paying handsomely.

Davis has emerged as option “2a” beside Mike James this year, and was the key component to the trade a year ago. Forward Justin Reed combines with rookie power forward Craig Smith to spell the big men, while point guard Marcus Banks signed with Phoenix in the offseason. The wild card in the trade was Blount, a throw-in that Boston felt no longer fit into its future plans.

Long considered a “soft,” second-rate center, Blount has flourished in his first full season with the team, showing signs of returning to the form he showed in 2003 – a contract year – when he put up 10.3 points, over seven rebounds, and 1.29 blocks a night. This season, the six-year veteran has tossed in 11.4 points, six boards, and over a block per game while displaying increased comfort in the Timberwolves offense. Take a look at his last eight games, where he’s ratcheted up his game to the tune of 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, and nearly a steal per game, while shooting a excellent 56 percent from the field in just over 33 minutes.

More important than an increase in scoring is his aggressiveness on the glass and with regard to changing shots in the lane. In 25 contests this year, Blount has posted 10 multi-block games and two double-doubles, compared to 19 multi-block games and two double-doubles in all of last year (81 games played). In addition, the University of Pittsburgh product has dropped his turnovers per 48 minutes by 0.5 in 2006, becoming a more reliable all-around option for his team. Even local sports talk radio personality Paul Allen called him “the best center the Wolves have ever had.”

With guaranteed minutes, the confidence of his coaching staff, and an excellent schedule the rest of the way for the Wolves, all roads lead to a solid finish for Blount and a great pickup for fantasy owners in any format.

Jamaal Gilbert is an aspiring sportswriter who contributes regularly and is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Jamaal in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of jamastaballa.
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