When you're looking for frontcourt help in the late-third or early-fourth round, do you go with the steady David Lee of the New York Knicks or pin your hopes on Elton Brand to return to his 2006-07 form in his second season with the Philadelphia 76ers?

Lee simply more reliable

By Josh Whitling

ESPN.com

(Archive)

On the surface, this is a relatively simple one-on-one. Elton Brand is an injury risk with high upside, and David Lee is a safe pick near his ceiling. Simple as that, right?

Nope. Forget injuries. My stance is too easy to defend if I just fall back on the idea that I think Brand will play in fewer than 60 games, so let's assume he's healthy all season.

Brand's explosiveness has diminished since the Achilles injury that limited him to playing only nine games in 2007-08, and at 30 years old, it's unreasonable to expect it to return to peak form. He also will take a while to get into true game shape, not the best fit for a new coach, Eddie Jordan, who will attempt to start strong with the Sixers. Playing on a team without a true point guard will allow him to score at a high rate, and Brand could even top 20 points per game with a good field goal percentage. But he won't be in the 50s anymore because he can't create as many high-percentage shots and doesn't have an adept passer to find him when open.

In the end (in an injury-free vacuum), this debate boils down to blocks. Those who think Brand is ready to bounce back and be at his best are likely to expect around two blocks per game. But check this: In his 29 games since his Achilles injury in 2007, Brand has had 10 games (34.4 percent) with zero blocks. In all of 2006-07, he had 10 games with zero blocks out of 81 played (12.3 percent). The explosiveness isn't there. Temper your expectations to a block and a half, and I expect even less. Do not draft Brand to anchor your team in the blocks category.

Lee is the best rebounding non-superhero in the league. Do draft Lee to anchor your team in the rebounding category. Brand began his career as one of the game's best rebounders, topping double digits in each of his first five seasons and averaging almost 11 boards per game during that span. But he's hit double digits in just one of the five seasons since and is averaging just more than nine per game in that span. Brand is no longer a beast on the boards.

Lee's other fantastic feature is his field goal percentage. Finding "studs" in percentages is challenging in fantasy, and Lee was 3.23 standard deviations above average in field goal percentage. I value him for this just as much as for his boards, and think his free throws will get back above 80 percent, as they were in the two seasons before last season.

Lee's contract-year status provides extra incentive for big-time stats, even in the peripherals of steals and blocks. The Knicks' frontcourt lacks toughness, rebounding and hustle. Eddy Curry and Darko Milicic are really the only other big men on the squad, as Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler don't really fit the description. Lee will be on the floor all the time, which will reflect in his stats, and if we see an increase in per-minute productivity, his numbers will be insane.

His lack of blocks is painful, but the one steal per game from a center-eligible player eases the discomfort if you're forced to start him there, and the best strategy with Lee is to draft him to start at forward or utility. Then you'll have a player who played 162 games the past two seasons, contributes insanely in two categories without hurting you anywhere, should improve this year and is reliable. Sounds like an ideal fourth-round pick to me, and although I'm avoiding Brand in drafts, I'm targeting Lee.

Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

Reward outweighs risk with Brand

By Seth Landman

ESPN.com

(Archive)

I doubt I am alone in feeling that one of the great mysteries of this NBA season is this: Just what sort of player, in the present moment, is Elton Brand? The present moment, after all, perhaps even more than the future, harbors a great deal of mystery.

Brand, you'll remember, was not only one of the best fantasy players around just three seasons ago but also one of the best basketball players in the world, period. But yes, that was three years ago, and since then, he's played in a grand total of 37 games. Still, last season's terrible performance was a worst-case scenario; Brand averaged just shy of 14 points and 9 rebounds to go with 1.6 blocks. He did not shoot well from the floor (45 percent), but it's reasonable to assume that had a lot to do with playing for a new team and being injured.

Brand is still learning a new system, as the 76ers have a new coach in Eddie Jordan. Fortunately for fans of fantasy-Brand, Jordan's teams tend to play up-tempo, and Brand is the sort of player who potentially should be able to fit into a variety of styles. What's more, it's not as though the competition to be the Sixers' best big man is stiff. Brand is light-years ahead of Samuel Dalembert, and Marreese Speights, although promising, is definitely not there on defense or as a passer quite yet.

All of that adds up to major minutes for Brand if -- and admittedly, it's a big if -- he can stay healthy. Yes, he's 30 years old, but we're talking about one of the most consistently great big men of the past decade. This decision comes down to whether you believe he has a few more decent years in him, and I believe he does.

Of course, the other thing to consider here is, What sort of player is David Lee? Well, that much we know pretty well at this point. Lee has been exceptionally durable the past two seasons, is only 26 years old and averaged right around 16 points and 12 rebounds last season. Here's the thing, though: He doesn't block shots, and he doesn't make 3-pointers. So with Lee, you're buying points, rebounds, field goal percentage and maybe one steal per game. That's it.

Brand, I'll remind you, is able to put up more points, similar rebounds and about seven or eight times as many blocks. And more importantly, Brand is quite simply the better player. He was one of the best players in the league when he was playing on bad teams, and he has been the best player on some pretty good teams here and there as well. In many ways, Lee is a product of his system, and one has to be a little wary of the risk of drafting a player whose value would take an enormous hit were he to get traded to almost any another team.

Ultimately, although Lee is probably the safer choice, Brand's upside and ability to be one of the best shot-blockers in the league make the potential reward outweigh the risk. All things being equal, I'd take Brand every time.

Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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