So it was a good morning and a bad morning.
I awoke to learn I had won $45 in Wednesday night’s big contest at DraftKings, finishing 1,730th out of 22,900 entrants to make a profit of $25 after my $20 entry fee. My lineup was anchored by Paul George (26 pts, 10 reb), Rajon Rondo (triple-double of 14 pts, 15 ast, 11 reb), Dirk Nowitzki (31 pts, 11 reb), Jeff Teague (14 pts, 10 ast), Kyle Lowry (23 pts, 8 ast) and Eric Gordon (26 pts). But I did not get much out of my scrubs, Metta World Peace and Willie Cauley-Stein, so my total of 301.75 fantasy points was 55.5 points shy of the winning total put up by a player named Euclid, who won $50,000 by going with Rondo, George, Ish Smith, Joe Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap and Evan Turner.
His key play was Ish Smith, who did not have a job on opening night but now sits fourth in the NBA in assists with 8.4 per game. Only 27 years old and in his sixth NBA season, Smith is playing for his 10th team. He can’t shoot and he can’t defend, but he is quick as lightning and knows how to run an offense. And he is hungry. You show me a team of 15 guys as hungry as Ish Smith, and I’ll show you a team of overachievers.
And you show me a guy who has the savvy to choose Ish Smith in a fantasy league, and I’ll show you a fantasy player with skill. Fantasy sports is a game of skill, period. It is not a game of chance. Is it gambling? Well, we could get into a whole discussion of semantics, but it most definitely is wagering. Last I looked, wagering was an enormous part of the American economic landscape.
My decision not to pick Smith was haunting me so much, I went for a long walk.
First stop was the convenience store, where I picked up the New York Post, perused the odds for this weekend’s NFL games, checked out the Best Bets at Aqueduct and examined the front-page story on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s decision to shut down Daily Fantasy Sports sites in New York. Headline: “Angry? You bet.” “Fantasy Fans on warpath over NY ban.”
Turns out Schneiderman’s ex-wife and political advisor, Jennifer Cunningham, is a lobbyist representing the company that runs the “Racino” portion of the Aqueduct horse track, where those who do not wish to watch the horses and the jockeys can instead wager their money on video blackjack, video roulette, baccarat, craps and sic bo.
The hypocrisy of what Schneiderman is trying to do was so frustrating, I looked for a diversion.
The convenience store did not have many healthy food choices to divert me, but they did offer a variety of other spending options.
For instance, there are 25 different types of scratch-off lottery tickets to play, ranging in price from $1 to $20.
A big illuminated sign was advertising the Powerball and MegaMillions jackpots.
The folks on line in front of me were playing a variety of Daily Numbers, both the three-digit and four-digit varieties.
Nobody seemed all that interested in playing the other daily games of Take 5 or Pick 10, and this particular establishment did not have a set-up to play QuickDraw, a keno-style game that resets every three minutes and is called “Crack TV” by those who have played it.
Have I mentioned Lotto and CashForLife? Apparently not.
Those, too, are jackpot games run by the New York State Lottery, which brings in $3.2 billion every year to the state treasury.
The thought occurred to me: Maybe take a drive over to New Jersey, where I can power up my smart phone and play online poker, blackjack, roulette and a bunch of other casino games.
But in order to do that, I would have to fork over $14 in cash to cross the George Washington Bridge. So I nixed that idea.
Instead, I walked back to the house, fired up the computer and decided to field a lineup in DraftKings before it becomes geoblocked. It cost me $3, and I have a chance tonight to win the $20,000 first prize. Thankfully, I can turn to our trusted Kent Williams for advice.
Three bucks. Yeah, I can afford that.
And for my three bucks, I get to build a team around Steph Curry, who has been running away with the MVP race since Opening Week.
Come Monday, unless DraftKings and FanDuel can find a way to defeat Mr. Schneiderman, my money will be no good on fantasy sports sites.
But I will still have 50 different gambling options at the local convenience store, all of which help pay the salaries of Mr. Schneiderman and others in the upstanding New York State government offices in Albany, where there has never, ever been any corruption.
One word: Argh!
On to the rankings.
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors. Remember when 50-40-90 was the supreme quest for a shooter? This kid is blowing those numbers out of the water. Averaging 31.9 points per game entering Thursday night’s tilt against Minnesota, the reigning MVP is shooting 52 percent overall, 43 percent from the 3-point line and nearly 92 percent from the line. He is second in the league in steals. He is top 20 in assists. Best of all, he never, ever ceases to be mesmerizing.
2. Blake Griffin, LA Clippers. He has reached at least 21 points in every game this season, reaching double figures in rebounds five times in the first eight games – and grabbing 9, 9 and 8 in the other three. Among power forwards, only Kenneth Faried (.629) has a better field goal percentage than Griffin’s .561. And he is shooting just a shade under 80 percent at the line, which is saying something for a guy with a career percentage of .659.
3. LeBron James, Cavaliers. They haven’t lost since opening night, he has played through a painful back injury, and maybe it’s just me, but it seems his greatness is now being taken for granted. Remember how a year ago he was all anyone wanted to talk about? Well, chances are if you are talking hoops around the water cooler this November, you are discussing a certain little guy from Oakland instead of the beastly specimen from Cleveland. Something to watch for: Hack-a-Bron. He is shooting a career-low 61 percent from the line.
4. Andre Drummond, Pistons. Sorry, LeBron. But this guy is unquestionably the Beast of the East. He began the week averaging better than 20 points and 20 rebounds, something that hasn’t been done by anyone since Wilt Chamberlain was at his peak. He is the new Dwight Howard for Stan Van Gundy, as Chris Bernucca points out in this excellent column on the Pistons’ strong start.
5. Russell Westbrook. When I turn on Thunder games, I don’t keep my eyes glued to Kevin Durant anymore. He is passe. I keep my eyes on Russ, who should duel with Rajon Rondo for most triple-doubles over the course of the season. He got one in Washington — the night Durant got hurt — in a mere 28 minutes. He is nearly two assists per game ahead of his closest pursuer, Rondo. And with Durant on the shelf for a while, I expect him to rise from sixth in the league in scoring and close the gap on Curry and James Harden.
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.