Pacific Division Team Previews
Key Loss: Jason Richardson
Key Additions: Brandan Wright, Marco Belinelli, Austin Croshere
Projected Starting Lineup
C: Andris Biedrins
PF: Al Harrington
SF: Stephen Jackson
SG: Monta Ellis
PG: Baron Davis
Bench Contributors: Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, Brandan Wright, Marco Belinelli
Sleeper: Mickael Pietrus
The Warriors are crowded around the perimeter, and last season it seemed that whoever they plugged in would put up major stats. But Pietrus is the best of the bunch, likely better than even the starter, Stephen Jackson, though Jackson's starting position is not quite up for grabs. Pietrus is mostly known as a defensive whiz, which always guarantees him playing time, along with his ability to play two positions. But the 25-year-old Pietrus finally blossomed offensively last season, shooting 48.8 percent from the field, including 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. Pietrus still isn't great offensively and may never be, but improvement is nice to see, and his real value comes in his steal and block potential. Most importantly, Pietrus is likely in the best position to take advantage of any injury. If Baron Davis got hurt -- knock on wood -- Monta Ellis would see much more playing time at point guard, which conveniently would move Pietrus to shooting guard. Toss in continued motivation to improve his game (contract year) and Pietrus should have significant value at various points in the season.
Bust: Al Harrington
The main problem with Harrington is that he doesn't contribute in any of the normal categories you would expect from a big man. His field goal percentage floats around 45 percent, he doesn't even get half a block per game, and only once has he averaged even seven rebounds per game. The couple of pluses are the copious amounts of 3-pointers from a big man, and his newfound center eligibility (check your league to make sure), but the added 3s also represent a risk: If he can't shoot 43.3 percent from beyond the arc again (his career 3-point percentage is 34.7 percent), his field goal percentage will truly plummet. Harrington has always found himself in foul trouble when forced to bang with bigger men, and that also cuts on his potential; by fouling 3½ times per game, his minutes will forever stay limited. Essentially you're left with a player who is good, but not great, in points and 3s, but treads water or worse in every other category, and that's not conducive to a winning fantasy team.
Don Nelson made Golden State a fantasy hotbed last season, and as long as he is around, the Warriors' fast-paced offense (first in the NBA with 97.6 possessions per game) will continue to provide value to all five starters, and maybe even some bench players. The one thing Nelson can work on is the efficiency of the offense; despite finishing second in points per game, the Warriors were just 10th in offensive efficiency. That is the scary part about the Warriors, though, as there is still room for growth. The team as a whole is quite young, and in such a high-tempo offense there is little worry that any of the key players will flat-out disappear, with respect to performance. Whoever gets minutes will produce in fantasy circles, guaranteed.
The Warriors only assembled their current core of players midseason, and traded Jason Richardson this offseason to acquire the rights to Brandan Wright, so much of what will happen is open to interpretation. Nelson has his favorites and fantasy players are subjective to his whims; no one projected Andris Biedrins to become a borderline No. 1 center. But now that Nelson has shaped the team in his image, the primary beneficiaries float to the surface. Ellis, in terms of an efficient real-life basketball player, wasn't great but he has yet to even turn 22, and his in-season growth is a positive sign of things to come, and shipping out Richardson to make room for him shows the commitment the team has to him. Davis is going to be an elite fantasy performer as long as he's healthy. Biedrins has all the potential in the world -- he's just 21 -- and may be the only true NBA center on the roster, but until he controls his foul problem, his fantasy potential is fairly limited. The true intrigue occurs with the Stephen Jackson, Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes trio; while I predict Pietrus to have the most value by the end of the season, the reality is that it will be the cause of much inconsistency and headaches. The Warriors are a team that requires much observation, as so much simply can't be predicted before the season when the players themselves have few defined positions, the coach is creative and the players are young.
Key Loss: Shaun Livingston (injury)
Key Additions: Ruben Patterson, Al Thornton, Brevin Knight
Projected Starting Lineup
C: Chris Kaman
PF: Al Thornton
SF: Corey Maggette
SG: Cuttino Mobley
PG: Sam Cassell
Bench Contributors: Brevin Knight, Ruben Patterson, Tim Thomas
Sleeper: Chris Kaman
Kaman went Erick Dampier on the league, totally flopping after a superb 2005-06 that maybe not-so-coincidentally occurred in a contract year. The Kaman of '05-06 looked ready to blossom into one of the five best centers for the next half-decade; the Kaman of '06-07 was maybe the most inconsistent player in the league and regressed in all facets of the game. The good news is that Kaman is just 25, and has reportedly been working hard in the offseason to improve. The loss of Elton Brand for at least the first half of the season, and maybe the entire season, makes Kaman the No. 1 low-post option for the Clippers. With a consistent offensive role, Kaman should become more consistent as a player -- most players do play better overall when they score more -- and Kaman shoots free throws well for a big man. The primary thing that will hold Kaman back is his foul problems -- he averaged 3.4 fouls in 29 minutes per game last season -- but with nary a proven viable option behind him, Kaman's going to get an opportunity to play through his foul troubles. It worked for Yao Ming and Al Jefferson. Outside of Corey Maggette and maybe Sam Cassell, Kaman is the only Clipper who has demonstrated he can create his own shot, and Kaman has a shot to be a fantasy monster as a result.
Bust: Cuttino Mobley
Despite logging more than 36 minutes per game in 78 games, Mobley no longer stands out as a player. Now 32, all those years of obscene minutes appear to be catching up with him, and he is slowly declining into just a shooter and little else. The signing of Ruben Patterson, in addition to the presence of defensive stopper Quinton Ross, is an indication Mobley should see his minutes decline this season. Mobley should still log 30-plus minutes simply because he is the only shooting guard who can, well, shoot -- neither Patterson nor Ross even bothers to attempt 3s. But without the open looks that Brand provided, Mobley can be more easily exposed, and he has been on a steady decline for the past couple of years nonetheless. All the upside has been tapped out of him, and you don't want to be the guy who drafted Mobley one year too late.
The Clippers' inactivity in the offseason a year ago doomed them, as the 2005-06 edition of the team was successful primarily because it was a perfect storm of most of the core group of players having career seasons. Brand, Cassell and Kaman all were at the top of their games that season, but by standing pat the Clippers risked regression to the mean and injuries, both of which occurred last season. The devastating injuries to both Shaun Livingston (torn ACL, PCL, MCL and lateral meniscus, and dislocated patella and tibia-femoral joint) and Brand (ruptured Achilles tendon) puts the former's career in question and the latter's season at risk, so the Clippers may as well start planning for 2008-09 in the ultracompetitive Western Conference. Fortunately for fantasy addicts, injuries represent opportunity, and opportunity represents value.
Kaman and Maggette will have to carry the team, and both should be fantasy studs of their highest positional order. The former is likely to be undervalued based on his off season, and while everyone is expecting great things from Maggette, that doesn't mean he won't deliver on them, though he remains a perpetual injury risk. The loss of Brand for at least half of the season opens up a huge opportunity for Al Thornton, though. It is always hard to project rookies, but unless Aaron Williams revives from the dead or the Clippers sign a power forward by the time the season starts, the only other player on the Clippers' roster who will take minutes from Thornton is Tim Thomas, and power forward is not Thomas' natural position. Thornton has too many faults to be a fantasy stud -- he's rather undersized, was not a great rebounder in college and had a porous assist-to-turnover ratio -- but at age 23 is more of a finished product than most rookies (good for this season, bad for long-term growth), is quite athletic and possesses an adept outside game. Cassell and Brevin Knight always produce when healthy, and either can be a fantasy monster if one is healthy while the other is hurt. For the end of your bench, a high-risk, high-reward guy is solid. The Clippers' potential is in the frontcourt, and they have to hope that can keep them alive until -- and if -- Brand is able to make a complete return.
Key Loss: Smush Parker
Key Addition: Derek Fisher
Projected Starting Lineup
C - Andrew Bynum
PF - Lamar Odom
SF - Luke Walton
SG - Kobe Bryant
PG - Derek Fisher
Bench Contributors: Kwame Brown, Jordan Farmar, Vladimir Radmanovic
Sleeper: Luke Walton
A mini-Boris Diaw (or the real thing, considering the original's drop in production), Walton's key to success was finally developing some semblance of an offensive game. It started from outside, as he shot 38.7 percent from beyond the arc while attempting 2.1 3-pointers per game. That, combined with the obvious defensive attention paid to Kobe Bryant, allowed Walton to show off his improved inside game with an array of surprising moves. Before, teams could just play off Walton and force him to shoot; now actually a threat, his superb passing was more effective in the triangle offense. There is the risk that his performance was contract-driven, and at age 27 he's not brimming with potential, but if he can manage to stay decent offensively, he makes for a versatile forward who only helps in roto leagues.
Bust: Vladimir Radmanovic
Radmanovic has often been a sleeper candidate of sorts in fantasy circles for a handful of years now, and as a shooter playing next to Bryant and Lamar Odom, he had decent expectations entering the '06-07 season as a solid third option. A disastrous season spent adjusting to the triangle offense and dealing with a separated shoulder followed. It may not be too early to call the five-year contract the Lakers gave Radmanovic a bust. Brian Cook does what Radmanovic does, but better, and does it for less than $25 million over the next four seasons. Toss in the aforementioned Walton and then Maurice Evans off the bench and it's hard to see Radmanovic carving a niche for himself.
The public perception of the Lakers boils down to Bryant and friends, with Odom popping up every now and then, but last season showed some glimpses of some true fantasy potential to come this season. While Odom was injured for an extended period of time for the second time in his Lakers career, this time someone -- Walton -- actually stepped up. More impressive, Walton stuck even when Odom returned, showing his improvement was more than simple opportunity, but also growth as a player. Rumors danced around all offseason about Kobe getting some elite help, from Jermaine O'Neal to Kevin Garnett, but this is the Lakers' roster for another season, flawed as it may be. That may not be sexy enough for the media, but it does offer players who showed potential last season a chance to parlay that into something substantial this season.
One of those players is Andrew Bynum, who has surpassed expectations in each of his two seasons in the NBA. The once-questionable first-round pick now looks like the last hope for Kobe, and his progression as a player will essentially sum up the direction of the franchise. Bynum was incredibly effective when he played, and averaged nearly nine points a game and seven rebounds with 1.6 blocks per game in his 53 starts. Given he averaged just under 26 minutes per game in those starts, the sky is the limit for Bynum as soon as he can cut down on the fouls (3.0 per game). The Lakers have enough big men to take the load off Bynum -- Kwame Brown, Ronny Turiaf and maybe even Chris Mihm will all be in the mix -- but at the same time none of those players is good enough to limit Bynum's minutes if his potential forces Phil Jackson to play him. Most of the other fantasy stats will go to Kobe and Odom; the triangle isn't the most favorable offense for fantasy. Derek Fisher rejoins the Lakers, but as the season goes on expect Jordan Farmar to make more of an impact and to take more of Fisher's minutes, and if everything goes well, Fisher will be the placeholder now so Farmar can take over next season. Just as with the real-life Lakers, patience must be exercised; with Kobe and Odom around, every other player is going to go through inconsistent stretches and much growth will occur in-season. The depth outside of the starters is weak, even given 30 minutes a game few of the bench players would be valuable, so if Bynum, Walton, and to a lesser extent, Farmar don't develop and perform as expected, or injury strikes, it will be a long season.
Key Loss: Kurt Thomas
Key Addition: Grant Hill
Projected Starting Lineup
C: Amare Stoudemire PF: Shawn Marion SF: Boris Diaw SG: Raja Bell PG: Steve Nash
Bench Contributors: Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill
Sleeper: Boris Diaw
Diaw struggled to adapt with the return of Amare Stoudemire, but there is still some hope for a rebound. First, Diaw is just 25, so it's not as though the skills displayed two seasons ago have dissipated. In many ways, Diaw represents the key to the Suns' championship hopes. At this point, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell and, for the most part, Stoudemire are known quantities. It is the multifaceted threat of Diaw that really gives the Suns an unmatched offensive balance and can simultaneously make the team less reliant on Nash. Also, Diaw, under contract for five seasons at $45 million, is going to get the opportunity to prove himself all over again. Diaw comes at a discount, so it basically boils down to whether you believe a 25-year-old with immense basketball skills can adjust and bounce back.
Bust: Shawn Marion
Entering last season, it wasn't hard to make a case Marion was the top fantasy basketball player, as the only category he was below average in was assists, and at least he made up for that with his low turnovers. The return of Stoudemire last season made the frontcourt quite crowded, and the Suns could afford to tax Marion less. Marion averaged more than 37 minutes last season compared to 40-plus the season before, and his points and rebounds dropped substantially. Marion is a bust in the sense that last season was an aberration; the truth is probably where his career averages lie, at about 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. And with Stoudemire expected to fill a bigger role, the possibility of a Diaw rebound, and the addition of Grant Hill adding more offense than the departing Kurt Thomas ever provided, Marion's never going to have another season like his 2005-06 again.
The Suns won 61 games, second best in the NBA, while reassimilating a rehabbing Stoudemire of sorts to the lineup. Stoudemire played in all 82 games and gradually improved during the course of the season and averaged 25.3 points in the playoffs, so even though the Suns fell short in the playoffs again, the season should nonetheless be considered a great success. The one aspect of the team that disappointed was really simply one player: Diaw. He did not successfully transition his game with the return of Stoudemire, and was more lethargic and inconsistent as the season went on, as his pre- and post-All-Star break splits suggest. With up-to-par performances from every other key player, the easiest area for team improvement comes in the form of Diaw.
Replacing Thomas with Hill is a roughly lateral move; the Suns strengthen their perimeter game and can make up for the loss inside with a bigger role from Stoudemire and a better performance by Diaw. If Diaw disappoints again, Hill represents security who can replace much of Diaw's passing and also adds a threat from the perimeter. Hill averaged five three throws per game last season, while Stoudemire was the only Sun to average over 3.1 free throws per game. Hill averaged over 30 minutes per game last season, compared to Kurt Thomas' 18, and while Hill will not be asked to play as much on the Suns, the fact that he has that capability is a plus that gives the Suns more flexibility. Overall the Suns should be much like last season, just with Stoudemire playing more minutes with Diaw the lone X factor. To that end, expect Marion's disappointing performance, relatively speaking, to continue. Stoudemire, Marion and Diaw cannot simultaneously put up big numbers, and the Suns are a better team when they can ask and receive more from Diaw at the expense of some of Marion's productivity. The lone worry for the Suns would be the lack of potential. The roster mostly deals with known quantities with little room for growth, and with Leandro Barbosa making his leap last season, any drop-off from their stable of players would be difficult to make up from within. But for an 61-win team, only a little push is needed to get over the top.
Key Loss: Corliss Williamson
Key Additions: Mikki Moore, Spencer Hawes
Projected Starting Lineup
C: Brad Miller PF: Shareef Abdur-Rahim SF: Ron Artest SG: Kevin Martin PG: Mike Bibby
Bench Contributors: Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, Kenny Thomas, Mikki Moore
Sleeper: Brad Miller
Pardon the pun, but Brad Miller never got off on a good foot last season, battling plantar fasciitis from the get-go en route to a miserable season. Miller went from logging 37 minutes per game in 2005-06 to averaging slightly more than 28 minutes last season, playing in 63 games but rarely being healthy. Miller stayed off his foot the entire summer, and while that may mean some initial rust in the early stages of the season, in the long term it should mean health. When healthy, Miller is one of the best fantasy centers. Unlike your prototypical center, Miller doesn't get a lot of blocks, but instead makes up for it in assists -- he averaged 3.6 assists per game despite his struggles, and averaged 4.7 the season before -- and by shooting nearly 80 percent from the line in his career. Miller should be quite underrated on draft day, so even if he doesn't return to his form of old, he has plenty of margin for error to return a positive investment.
Bust: Shareef Abdur-Rahim
By this point, Abdur-Rahim has proved that if he's not one of the primary scoring options, he's simply not going to have any value. The Kings appear to have no interest in giving him considerable minutes, and with the signing of Mikki Moore and the presence of Kenny Thomas, the situation isn't going to better itself. Abdur-Rahim is now on the wrong side of 30, and his lack of blocks is especially harmful now that he doesn't touch the ball enough to offset it with his great free-throw percentage. Even when an injury to Thomas presented Abdur-Rahim an extended opportunity to carve out a role, it was Corliss Williamson who impinged on his value. The Kings have clear-cut, above-average options at every position except power forward, but they don't seem to mind throwing as many bodies as possible at power forward.
While zero of the core players from last season's 33-49 team have changed, the Kings actually look pretty good on paper. Kevin Martin, to the shock of about everyone, went from a good scoring option off the bench to one of the most efficient shooters in the entire NBA and a 20-point scorer. Martin is no fluke; he got to the line 7.1 times per game, shot 38.1 percent on 3-pointers, and averaged just 1.7 turnovers, and the Kings have enough offensive balance to prevent Martin from taking on too much on offense. But Martin's surprising season was essentially canceled out by a down year from Mike Bibby. The usually consistent Bibby was just never right all season, shooting a hair better than 40 percent and averaging fewer than five assists for the first time in his career. Despite playing in all 82 games last season, Bibby played hurt often, although that alone is not an adequate reason for his down year. The Kings reportedly shopped Bibby around during the summer and new head coach Reggie Theus will be emphasizing defense, never Bibby's strong suit, so Bibby has a lot to prove.
While the Kings have above-average depth at most positions -- John Salmons and Francisco Garcia would be capable fill-ins as starters for a dozen or so games if injuries occur -- for the most part the starters, if healthy, will log heavy minutes and be significant fantasy contributors. The aforementioned Miller has gone to great lengths to get rid of his foot problem, and if so should be a relatively safe No. 1 center. If not, the Kings have thrown in multiple bodies at the frontcourt positions rather than hand the majority of the playing time to one player, so you can safely ignore the backups when it comes to fantasy value. For all of his problems, Ron Artest is one of the toughest NBA players, and, outside of his seven-game suspension to begin the season, should be firmly entrenched at small forward sans a trade. With neither Martin or Bibby injury-prone, the extent of the Kings' fantasy value is tied into their starters. The fantasy value lies in the perceived value of Miller and Bibby, both of whom are coming off poor seasons, but have a track record of sustained success. Offensively the Kings are explosive, and should have the kind of offense this season they were expected to have in '06-07.