- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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The first day of NBA free agency was quite an eventful one, as Golden State point guard Baron Davis switched Pacific Division teams with shocking quickness and seemingly, little hesitation. His pilgrimage down the coast of California to join the Los Angeles Clippers will certainly change the fortunes of others in fantasy basketball, but how much?
Davis finished No. 6 on ESPN's Player Rater in 2007-08, averaging 21.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.1 3-pointers per game, a monster season and arguably the best of his career, especially considering he didn't miss any games. Davis missed 19 games the previous year and hadn't played a full season since 2001-02. This is likely what made him the No. 35 pick, on average, in ESPN live drafts, as opposed to the top-20 player his statistics dictated. It's risky to spend such a high pick on a brittle player, but Davis overcame that this past season.
The Clippers were predictably horrible, as Elton Brand missed all but eight games, Cuttino Mobley looked old and only Chris Kaman exceeded expectations. Things will look a lot different with an All-Star scoring point guard leading the way. Sam Cassell, Brevin Knight, Dan Dickau and Smush Parker each got chances to start at the point in 2007-08, but none were particularly effective. Cassell averaged in double-digits for a few months, but couldn't defend, didn't hit 3s and didn't want to be there. Knight can pass, but can't shoot. Dickau is well traveled for a reason. Davis is a fantasy monster, and now the Clippers just need to build around him and possibly copy the Warriors' system of running constantly, which clearly favored Davis' game.
Having Brand back healthy is critical as well. Like Davis, Brand opted out of his contract on Monday, and it's expected that being able to play with Davis will be the clincher to luring him back, possibly at a cheaper annual price. Teams like the 76ers and Grizzlies, loaded with cap room, are going to be disappointed. Brand missed most of the season with a torn Achilles tendon, but before that he was one of the few players in the league capable of averaging 20 points, 10 boards and two blocks per game, numbers worthy of a top 10 pick. Kaman should see his numbers drop with Brand back, and rookie Eric Gordon will help Davis with the perimeter shooting with Knight resuming backup point guard duties. Sophomore Al Thornton is primed to replace Corey Maggette at small forward and should make strides, as well. This is quite the starting lineup, but it's still unclear how much Shaun Livingston can contribute, if he returns at all, but the fact that Davis received a five-year deal isn't exactly a sign of support in that direction.
The Clippers, who on Monday night were faced with the prospect of losing Brand and having no offensive options at the point, should contend for a playoff spot right away with a pair of top 20 players. In ESPN.com Fantasy's top 75, released this past week, Brand was our No. 14 player, with Davis a spot behind. I don't see any reason to adjust the value of either player, though some might argue the Clippers won't run as much as the Warriors did, thus compromising Davis' value. I say he can produce those numbers again.
Meanwhile, Don Nelson and the Warriors are reeling. Earlier on Tuesday, Davis was still telling friends and the media that he wanted to stay with Golden State. The Warriors do have money to spend on the open market, but there aren't any point guards like Davis available, unless Gilbert Arenas switches gears and returns to the Bay. It's difficult to analyze the Warriors at this point, because we don't know if Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, among others, will be re-signed.
The Warriors do have interesting young talent that needs to be cultivated, like Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli, but they aren't point guards, so reinforcements will need to be brought in. Let's assume the Warriors have to bring Ellis back. This is a player fantasy owners can expect to increase production. As it was, the shooting guard averaged 20.2 points per game, but he increased his scoring average from 18.7 to 22.8 after the All-Star break, and could be in line for an even greater increase if the ball is in his hands more. Ellis was listed as our No. 42 player, but depending on who surrounds him, he could emerge as a third- or fourth-rounder.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com Fantasy.
14mEthan Sherwood Strauss