Atlantic Division team previews
Sleeper: Rajon Rondo
In 10 games in April, he averaged 13.0 points, 5.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals. He did that while shooting 55 percent from the floor and playing 36 minutes per night. He's not going to give you 3s this season, but he'll give you everything else.
Bust: Ray Allen
From a fantasy perspective, you may want to lay off Allen in the early rounds of drafts. He's been putting up huge fantasy numbers for years as the best offensive player on his team, but this should be the year Ray (and his numbers) eases into a more complementary role.
In the case of the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, looking at last season may do us more harm than good. Other than Pierce, Danny Ainge basically turned over the entire roster. The Celtics have gone from a terrible, 24-win group to a team with an eye on a championship. Besides Pierce, the Celtics had only one really useful fantasy player last season, Al Jefferson, and he'll be putting up those excellent numbers in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.
This season, to put it mildly, things should be different. The last time Garnett had a supporting cast like this, he put up 24 points, 14 boards and 5 assists per game along with 2-plus blocks and more than a steal per game. Look for fewer points, but more assists. For years, Antoine Walker racked up assists on great post-entry passes to Pierce for layups. Garnett has the height and skill to be much better at this. As a bonus, he should play some center, and be eligible there for fantasy at some point. As for Pierce and Ray Allen, I'd expect their numbers to go down a bit as Doc Rivers tries to keep them fresh for the stretch run. This is the sort of team that can be tough on fantasy owners -- a group of veterans who need to save their legs for the postseason. Injuries could be an issue with this group; Pierce and Ray Allen both spent large chunks of last season in street clothes. As such, it'll be important to keep an eye on the reserves. Guys like Posey and House should be good sources of 3s and Tony Allen, if healthy, could be a phenomenal source of steals. As the season wears on, look for Leon Powe to turn into an occasional double-double guy off the bench behind Perkins. Powe may even end up starting at power forward while Garnett moves to center, depending on matchups. I wouldn't expect much out of rookies Gabe Pruitt or Glen Davis, but Davis, in particular, looked good enough in summer league play that anything is possible. The big question here is Rajon Rondo. If he can continue playing the way he played down the stretch last season, he could be a top-five guy in both assists and steals and, in general, a huge force in fantasy.
New Jersey Nets
Key Losses: Mikki Moore, Eddie House, Clifford Robinson, Hassan Adams
Sleeper: Sean Williams
By the end of the season, the rookie big man will be getting big minutes for the Nets. Last season at Boston College, when he wasn't suspended, Williams blocked 75 shots in 15 games and seemed to improve a bit on the offensive end. Look for him to be buried on the depth chart to start the season, but eventually rise to the top of the Nets' terrible big-man rotation.
Bust: Richard Jefferson
Jefferson is a good player when he's on the floor, but he's always hurt. In two of the past three seasons, he's missed huge chunks of time. On top of that, when he plays hurt, his shooting percentages go down and he stops rebounding. You need more than just scoring out of your small forward, and there are far safer options out there than RJ.
Jason Kidd's 2006-07 season was one of the finest of his career. Playing in 80 games, he averaged 13.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 1.6 steals. Vince Carter was similarly remarkable, averaging 25/6/5, while adding a steal and knocking down plenty of 3s. Beyond that, the Nets were largely fantasy-irrelevant. Jefferson spent the majority of the season hurt or playing hurt, and Nenad Krstic played in only 26 games. The big surprise was Mikki Moore. In 55 games as a starter, Moore put up 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the floor. Now Moore is gone, and if Krstic can't stay healthy, that production will have to come from somewhere else.
What does all this mean for this season? Well, statistically, I think we know what to expect at this point from Kidd and Carter. When they are healthy, which they were last season, they are huge fantasy contributors. But go take a look at their career numbers, and pay careful attention to the column titled "Games Played." If Carter plays more than 60 games this season, it will be the first time in his career that he's had three consecutive seasons with that many games played. Also, last season was a contract year for Vince, and I won't be surprised if his effort isn't the same with a new deal in hand. I'm less worried about Kidd, but the point is both these guys are on the wrong side of 30 and injuries should not surprise us in either case. Last year's starting center, Jason Collins, should be pushed out of the rotation eventually as the season wears on. He's useless on offense, and rookie Sean Williams will turn into a better option on defense anyway. Krstic could put up similar numbers to last season (think 16 points, 7 boards, 50 percent shooting), but he's clearly a major injury risk as well (26 games played in '06-07). Magloire, a former All-Star, has not put together a decent, healthy season since '03-04. He's a great rebounder and could average a double-double to start the season, but I'm dubious about whether such a thing could last. Instead, take a flier on some of the Nets' promising youngsters in the late rounds of deep drafts. Josh Boone, Antoine Wright and Marcus Williams all have loads of talent, but didn't do much statistically in limited opportunities last season. Still, I like the talent of all three, and Marcus Williams, in particular, could become an important fantasy player if Kidd goes down for any extended period. I also like Bostjan Nachbar, a backup small forward who shot 42 percent on 3s last season. He and Wright should each get an extended look if Jefferson misses a lot of time again, and it seems Nachbar will at least be a part of the rotation in either case.
New York Knicks
Sleeper: Renaldo Balkman
Usually we don't talk about defense (unless it's steals and blocks) in fantasy basketball, but Balkman will get minutes because someone has to play D on this team. In his final 11 games, Balkman averaged 10 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 steals in just over 27 minutes per night.
Bust: David Lee
Lee averaged 10 points and 10 boards on 60 percent shooting last season. Those are good fantasy numbers for a backup forward. Unfortunately, he played in only about two-thirds of his team's games. With Z-Bo in the fold as the starter at power forward, it looks as though Lee's minutes will be squeezed well below the 30 he averaged last season, and he could very well fade into fantasy irrelevance.
Last season, the story was injuries. Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, Lee, Robinson and Francis all missed significant time. In fantasy, though, the bigger story was the one guy who didn't miss any time: Eddy Curry. Curry can't rebound, he turns it over as if he were a point guard and, for a guy who plays center, his 0.5 blocks per game hardly inspire confidence. But we all need a center on our fantasy team, and he scored 20 points per game last season on almost 58 percent shooting. This season, we'll have to look out for how Randolph and Curry can coexist. There are legitimate questions about whether the Knicks will be able to defend anyone, and in crunch time, it remains to be seen who will get the ball (or even be on the floor). Randolph has a long history of injuries, and Curry's conditioning has been a career-long concern. That said, I think these two should absolutely eat up opposing Eastern Conference big men. Expect plenty of points out of Curry and Randolph, and plenty of boards out of Randolph. I'm more concerned about how the rest of the offense will work.
Marbury's best skill is his penetration, and with Curry and Randolph on the floor, the paint could be too clogged for him to drive. His numbers should look a lot like last season's, so you'd probably be wise to let someone else rely on the Knicks' backcourt for fantasy purposes. If you can get them later in drafts, Crawford and Richardson are the Knicks' best options at the 2 and 3, respectively. Each could be a good source of 3s and points, but they'll hurt you most everywhere else (Richardson is a great rebounder for a guard, but the back woes scare me). A better bet may be Nate Robinson, who was hitting over 40 percent of his 3s during the second half. Also intriguing is Mardy Collins, a big point guard who played pretty well (approximately 15 points, 7 boards, 6 dimes and 2 steals per game) in April when Isiah gave him 45 minutes a night. I don't see him playing much unless people get hurt, though. Same goes for Randolph Morris, who may be worth looking at in the event that Curry doesn't stay healthy for another full season. I don't expect anything beyond some decent defense out of Jared Jeffries; he's irrelevant as far as fantasy is concerned. First-round pick Wilson Chandler could end up beating out Jeffries if he gets any run. He's a good athlete and is probably already better than Jeffries on the offensive end.
Sleeper: Jason Smith
I don't see a whole lot of points coming from the Philly starters at power forward and center. Both Evans and Dalembert are good rebounders and active defenders, but neither can really score the ball. Smith could be the answer to this problem. His speed will let him get up and down the floor well, which should mean plenty of open looks from Andre Miller. He also shot a high percentage in college, and can play with his back to the basket. It's risky to expect much from a rookie, but Smith could be a good fit in Philly.
Bust: Reggie Evans
Granted, Philly didn't give up much to get Reggie -- just Steven Hunter and Bobby Jones. But if the 76ers are expecting much out of Evans, they may be in trouble. Despite his tremendous rebounding (best per-minute rate in the NBA), he gives you absolutely nothing in any other category. In addition, his lack of size could make it tough for him to play a lot of minutes without picking up fouls. He'll get a chance to prove himself, but Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith have too much potential to sit on the bench behind him for long.
In order to predict what may happen this year, we need to focus on what happened last season after the Iverson-for-Miller trade. Miller is a great facilitator on offense, and his presence seemed to help many of the 76ers on the offensive end. He should duplicate his post-trade numbers this season (14 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists) and is worth owning, in part, because of his astonishing durability -- he has never played in fewer than 80 games in a season. After the trade, Iguodala made the leap from useful to elite in fantasy. After averaging 14 points per game in November (with Iverson), he never averaged fewer than 18 in a month for the rest of the season (after the trade). Compared to the previous season, he nearly doubled his assists from 3.1 to 5.7 in similar minutes. Iggy is also becoming a well-rounded scorer (37 percent on 3s after the All-Star break). He could average 20 points, 6 boards and 6 dimes, as well as huge numbers in steals and increased shooting percentages as he becomes more comfortable with Miller running the point. Korver showed improvement as well, especially in relying less on the 3 and in getting to the foul line, where he shot over 90 percent. He's still a huge contributor in 3s, and learning to score in other ways should allow him to continue to shoot a high percentage from long range. Expect two-plus 3s per game to go along with 15 points and four rebounds.
I wouldn't expect similar improvements from Dalembert. His numbers go up slightly each season as his minutes increase, but he's hardly more efficient than he was three seasons ago. He's still a good source of blocks, rebounds, and field goal percentage, but he'll hurt you elsewhere. I mentioned Smith as a possible rookie sleeper, but Young could be just as good just as quickly. He played only one year in college, and he's still pretty raw, but he's a versatile scorer and is athletic enough that he could be a factor on defense. Recent free-agent signing Calvin Booth could steal some minutes from Dalembert, but he won't help you in fantasy. I would read that signing more as a lack of confidence in Dalembert than anything else. Finally, Rodney Carney could be an interesting scoring option off the bench, but the rookies, Smith and Young, have more upside.
Key Losses: Morris Peterson
Sleeper: Jose Calderon
In the second half of the '06-07 season, Calderon's per-40-minute averages were 16 points and 10 assists on 50 percent shooting (40 percent on 3s) to go along with two steals and only three turnovers. Unfortunately, he played only 21 minutes per game, splitting time with T.J. Ford. If Calderon's minutes go up, or if Ford gets hurt, Calderon could be one of the better fantasy options at point guard.
Bust: Jason Kapono
Kapono made 108 3-pointers last season. That is a very useful number in fantasy, and some people will probably draft him this season hoping for similar production. The problem is, Kapono doesn't give you much else. If you think he'll hit 51.4 percent of his 3s again this season, then he might be worth drafting late, but I'm going to assume he shoots somewhere in the vicinity of his career average of 46 percent and has far fewer attempts as well.
Last season's Raptors won 47 games, which was good enough for first place in the putrid Atlantic Division. Chris Bosh kept improving, and they got great point guard play out of Ford and Calderon. Garbajosa, Bargnani and Parker all were extremely useful sources of 3-pointers, but beyond these contributions, the Raptors were largely irrelevant in fantasy.
I'm expecting bigger things this season. For one, Bosh should have another terrific season; this team is getting better, and he's at the center of it. I think he'll improve slightly and average somewhere around 24 points and 11 rebounds, with his customary 50 percent shooting and more than one block per game. Bargnani is going to keep improving as well. He'll grab more rebounds as he gets more comfortable with the physicality of the NBA, and his ability to shoot over the top of the defense will allow him to continue to maintain a high percentage. As for the point guards, I'd expect similar production to last season's from both Ford and Calderon. Ford's the starter, and he's a good one, but Calderon is the one with higher upside. Ford should once again average around 14 points, 8 assists and more than one steal, but his shooting percentages and lack of 3-point skill could make him a bit of a liability. Parker, like Bargnani, has had a full season to adjust to the NBA, and his numbers were far better during the second half of last season. He's a great shooter, and he started all 73 games he played in, so you don't need to worry about his minutes. Garbajosa is an intriguing player if you find yourself looking for some 3-point shooting out of the center spot. His eligibility there makes him someone you have to look at. However, he broke his leg in March, and while he played for Spain in the recent European championship, there's talk that he might need more surgery. Keep an eye on this as the season gets closer, as he could be a good player to pick up for added depth at center. Finally, keep an eye on how the Raptors use Baston during the preseason. He is long and athletic, and he could be a valuable source of blocks if he gets solid minutes.