- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NBA team. Be sure to check out the 30 Questions Index to see them all.
With an embarrassment of riches at the forward position, which Hawks forward (besides Josh Smith) has the best chance of breaking out this season?
The Atlanta Hawks turned some heads back in June when they selected yet another forward (their fifth in the first round since 2004) with the third overall pick in the NBA draft. It was particularly perplexing due to the fact that the draft's best point guard, Mike Conley Jr., was still on the board at the time. Perplexing or not, one cannot fault the Hawks for going with Al Horford while addressing their point guard issues a few picks later with the selection of Acie Law, a perfectly capable point guard.
I'm sure you heard the buzz after Atlanta took Horford: "Another forward, huh?" Horford now joins an athletic crew of exciting youngsters that includes Smith, Josh Childress, Marvin Williams and (cough) Shelden Williams. Add in the fact that Joe Johnson could also swing to small forward at times, and we're looking at quite the logjam. The problem for us fantasy folks is that there's a heck of a lot of upside here, with a few potential breakout candidates. But not all of these guys can possibly break out, can they?
As far as I'm concerned, Smith had his breakout season a year ago, and judging by his average draft position, I don't think anyone would disagree. You don't need me to tell you that J-Smoove is going to be a monster this season, so we'll leave him out of the discussion. And while we're at it, we'll cross a line through Shelden Williams' name as well. Atlanta all but admitted that they made a mistake on Williams when they grabbed Horford in the draft, further proven by the breakdown of minutes in the preseason -- 17.6 for Williams compared to 29.0 for Horford. That leaves us with three players -- Childress, Marvin Williams and Horford -- vying for our fantasy love.
Of the three, the one creating the most buzz in training camp has been Marvin Williams. In fact, I don't think I've had a conversation about Atlanta without someone telling me to "watch out for Marvin Williams this year." Well, I've been watching, but I'm not exactly sure why. I'll buy his status as a breakout candidate so long as we're only talking about his ability to score points and get to the free-throw line. Anything more than that, and you'll have to do some serious convincing. To me, we first start seeing signs of a breakout when a player gets his first opportunity with extended minutes. Williams got a ton of minutes last season (34.0, to be exact) and he failed to do much of anything with them. Take a look at his averages: 13.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.2 3-pointers on 43.3 percent shooting from the floor and 81.5 percent shooting from the line. Outside of the scoring and free-throw shooting, those are fairly empty stats, don't you think? Well, he's at it again in the preseason, averaging an impressive 18.0 points, but complementing that with just 4.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.6 steals. He has yet to block a shot or hit a 3-pointer in his five preseason games. As a consolation prize, Williams has been quite efficient, hitting on 50 percent of his shots from the floor and 87.8 from the line. He's also been able to get to the line 8.2 times per game in the preseason, so it appears as though he'll be a major contributor in that area. Unfortunately, Marvin will need to do more than just score and hit free throws before he makes it onto my breakout list. Don't get me wrong, he's looking like he'll make major strides on the offensive end this season, and he should be a nice fantasy contributor. But at the same time, I'm not going to reach for him just because he's lighting up the scoreboard right now.
Though Marvin may be creating the most buzz, I'm far more interested in Childress. Statistically speaking, Childress reminds me a little of Luol Deng. Let's take a look at Childress' numbers last season compared to Deng's in 2005-06 (the season before Deng broke out).
Childress averaged 13 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor and 79.5 percent from the line last season. Deng in '05-06? He put up a similar 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.3 3-pointers on 46.3 percent from the floor and 75.0 percent from the line. Now, I'm not saying Childress is as talented as Deng, but if I'm looking for a breakout candidate among Atlanta's forwards, I'm looking at Childress.
As for Horford, well, I like the kid quite a bit. He's anything but "just another forward" for the Hawks. In fact, he's the only one of his kind in this Hawks lineup. Horford can do the dirty work in the paint, a trait that no other Hawks forward can boast. And that, my friends, means he'll be getting plenty of minutes in his rookie season. He's already proving his worth in preseason action, averaging 10 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 0.8 blocks in 29 minutes per game, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was able to put up similar numbers in the regular season.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.