- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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Key Losses: None
This was a tough team to bracket into a starting lineup. The bench is rife with sleeper potential because there are so many ill-defined rotational situations.
At point guard, Acie Law is the future, but he'll probably enter the season second on the depth chart behind Speedy Claxton. Josh Childress is a very underrated fantasy player; he was a nice pickup in the second half of last season. But with Joe Johnson healthy, Childress will go back to the bench, and to the waiver wire in shallow leagues. Shelden Williams closed last season with a run of double-doubles, and is worth a last-round gamble.
Sleeper: Al Horford
Pick one -- I decided on Horford. He could end up qualifying at center and is more NBA-ready than a couple of veterans on Atlanta's roster.
Bust: Marvin Williams
Historically, this should be the year (his third) in which Marvin Williams becomes a solid starter. But if he should falter, Horford will scarf up his minutes, leaving the scraps to both Wiliiamses (Shelden and Marvin).
The Hawks are a graduate thesis arguing against the concept of co-ownership. Any fantasy owner could look at the Hawks roster and see that it is logjammed at multiple positions and crying out for a two-for-one trade. Even if the Amare Stoudemire rumors were more smoke than fire, I'd still be seeing red if I were a Hawks fan.
Joe Johnson lost half a season with a calf problem, but don't let that deter you on draft night -- draft with confidence in the early third round. As the Hawks' unquestioned go-to scorer, Johnson is capable of Paul Pierce-like production. He's the rare guard that rings up a lot of 3-pointers while boosting your field-goal percentage.
Due to his offensive surge (courtesy of Johnson's injury), Josh Smith may go a little too high in many drafts this season. Even with a refined offensive game, it will be hard for Smith to take the next step with such a crowded frontcourt. He's a great second-round pick, but the first round constitutes a reach.
Key Loss: Brevin Knight
Key Additon: Jason Richardson
If Matt Carroll ends up on the bench, he should still be a borderline fantasy contributor in 3-pointers. Adam Morrison is going to have to work hard to prove he's not Michael Jordan's next Kwame Brown. Until he proves otherwise, don't look to draft him.
Sleeper: Sean May
May needs to show he can remain on the court before he becomes draftable. But with a couple less-than-durable players ahead of him on the depth chart (Okafor, Brezec), he could get a chance sooner than later.
Bust: Gerald Wallace
It'd be easy to list Morrison here, but here's a stunning reversal: Owners at large finally caught on to Wallace's charms last year. This unfortunately destroyed his sleeper status -- anyone who still lists him as "under the radar" is not doing his/her job. Wallace is a top-15 talent when healthy. And therein lies the rub -- Wallace is never healthy. The good news is he played a career-high number of games last season. The bad news was it was only 72 games. He's become one of those players owners look to draft just for the benefit of looking well-informed. He also just got paid. I wouldn't pull the trigger until the early third round.
The Bobcats could end up having four or five draftable players this fantasy season. The only question for most of them lies in their ability to stay off of the trainer's table.
Because he languished for so long on the moribund Warriors, Richardson has always been a little underrated in fantasy. Throw in the fact that he's coming off of an injury-plagued campaign, and you're looking at someone who will probably go a round too late in drafts. If he ever improves his percentages, he'd be worthy of a fourth-round pick.
Now that assist machine Brevin Knight is on the other side of the continent, Raymond Felton is primed for a nice season. His drawback was and will continue to be an alarmingly Antoine Walker-like field-goal percentage. A lot of those are 3-pointers, but it still is an area he'll have to improve upon to move into elite point guard territory.
Emeka Okafor will never stack up toe to toe with Dwight Howard, but he is capable of putting up very serviceable numbers. He's too injury prone to rely on as your No. 1 option at center, but he makes for a reasonable risk in the late fourth/early fifth round.
Key Additions:: Smush Parker, Penny Hardaway
If the Heat fail to make a trade, prize free-agent acquisition Smush Parker (note the irony) will battle Jason Williams for minutes at point guard. In the pantheon of legendary battles, it should rank right up there with our invasion of Grenada.
Penny Hardaway's comeback is a nice story, but his fantasy potential dried up quite awhile ago. Alonzo Mourning wants to come back since he doesn't want to go out on a low note. If that's the case, he'll probably be back in 2009.
Sleeper: Dorell Wright
Due to the decimation of Miami's bench, this could be the year Wright steps up. I wouldn't draft him at this point, but he should be on your radar.
Bust: Antoine Walker
With James Posey gone, hall of fame percentage-killer Antoine Walker should be in back in the starting lineup. That's not good for his fantasy owners, fans of the Heat and basketball rims leaguewide.
When you get out bid by Milwaukee twice in the same offseason, you know you're in some modicum of trouble. Pat Riley's "the future was two years ago" edict won him a title, but these days, the Heat reside in fantasy Hooverville.
Dwyane Wade should make a November return from offseason surgery. But until he's proven he's reasonably ambulatory, it's hard for me to recommend him as a first-round pick. He's a reasonable second-round gamble.
If you find yourself willing to roll the dice on Shaquille O'Neal as your No. 1 center, take it as a sign that you should start preparing for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. At least you can always count on Udonis Haslem -- for about 10 points, 8 rebounds and precious little else. Still, he possesses a quality seldom seen on this roster: durability.
The best thing I can say about the Heat is that the situation is primed for someone to come out of the woodwork and become a fantasy option.
Key Addition: Rashard Lewis
Very few starting spots are solidified in Orlando, with only Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis guaranteed starting jobs. Whichever swingman loses the battle to start between Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick and Trevor Ariza will be a rare sixth man worth owning. If Nelson should falter, the pride of Puerto Rico, Carlos Arroyo, could push him for minutes. Arroyo has flashed nice numbers at times, and if things go south with Nelson, pick him up right away. Keyon Dooling could also be a factor here.
Sleeper: Trevor Ariza
This should be the year Ariza gets the chance to shed his "deep sleeper with upside" status. With Grant Hill gone, he'll be in line for more minutes, and people with his athleticism tend to be late fantasy bloomers.
Bust: Rashard Lewis
I'm not listing him here because I think he's going to have a bad season, but Lewis is coming off a heavily-hyped summer that may bump him up too high in many drafts. Don't start looking for him any earlier than the late second round, and hope he doesn't miss more than 5-10 games this season.
The Magic greatly overpaid for Lewis, just make sure you don't as well. Still, he's easily one of the most productive small forwards in fantasy. But in the end, it's hard to see him improving on his already gaudy numbers.
Howard is a top-25 pick with top-10 upside. The upside will arrive if he can refine his offensive game, which at this point still relies too much on raw athleticism. If new assistant Patrick Ewing can show him some moves, the sky is the limit -- you'd be looking at 20-plus points per game to go along with the double-digit rebounds and ample blocks. The other divot in his game is a somewhat Shaq-esque free-throw percentage. Until he improves that, it's hard to recommend him before the late second round.
Nelson was a pleasant surprise two years ago and something of a disappointment in 2006-07 (OK, a definite disappointment). The most troubling evidence of his regression was the drop in his 3-point percentage from 42 to 34 percent. However, Nelson is in a contract year. With extra motivation and a go-to veteran to feed the ball to, a return to his 2005-06 numbers should be a reasonable expectation -- the sixth round feels about right. Just make sure he's not your lead point guard.
Turkoglu has always been an interesting fantasy prospect. New head coach Stan Van Gundy has talked up a bigger role for him this season, At this point, I'd call him a mild sleeper pick.
Key Losses: Etan Thomas (open-heart surgery)
Darius Songaila rebounded nicely from back surgery and, given the minutes, could be a nice forward to have on your bench, especially following the news that Etan Thomas underwent open-heart surgery on Oct. 11. Antonio Daniels will be an immediate pickup if and when Arenas gets dinged. The Wizards' past two first-rounders, Oleksiy Pecherov and Nick Young, may end up on some fantasy benches by season's end.
Sleeper: Andray Blatche
Blatche's enterprising nightlife may make him an easy joke for hoops columnists at the moment, but behind all the personal mishaps lurks double-double potential.
Bust: Brendan Haywood
Haywood will tease fantasy owners (and Ernie Grunfeld) with a few nice lines here and there before making his annual descent to the realm of "perpetually disappointing."
The question was and is, "will it be worth drafting anyone outside of the big 3?" The answer has been and will be "no." With a strict edict to stay under the cap, the Wizards are built around their three stars – Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas.
You get the feeling that if the Wizards don't crack 50 wins, it may be Arenas' final season in D.C. Always maniacally motivated, he should step up his game yet another notch in 2007-08. He's a sure-fire first-round pick who will carry your team in points, 3-pointers and free-throw percentage, while throwing in a healthy portion of steals and assists. He'll knock your field-goal percentage down a bit, but the production is well worth it. Just keep an eye on how he responds to offseason knee surgery before bumping him up your boards.
Butler became a near-elite player last season, balancing points, rebounds and steals with unexpected contributions in assists and both percentage categories. He's played his way into being a top-30 pick.
Jamison is one of those forwards who always goes later in drafts than he should. He's not earth-shattering in any particular area, but is a nice anchor for a fantasy roster. Just make sure you're getting your blocks from someone else. And that person isn't Brendan Haywood.
37mMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon
NBA Free Agency Experts