- Guy Lake
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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.
How will Scott Skiles distribute the minutes among the Bulls' bigs and will any of them emerge as money fantasy players?
Everything that follows in this column presumes that the Bulls' current roster remains intact. This isn't because I don't think John Paxson has the stones to make a huge play for Kobe Bryant, it's because even if I was sure some kind of deal would come about, I couldn't write about it from a fantasy perspective until all the players were named. So rather than speculate -- hey, that's what the online comments are for in Henry Abbott's TrueHoop -- I will look at things as they now stand. It's not like we won't be all over it if Chicago is involved in a blockbuster. We live for that sort of thing around here.
Looking at center and power forward in Chicago, there is a lot to think about as a fantasy player. We have the youth movement: Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah are intriguing fantasy players, but their status and minutes with the team are unknown. There is the old guard: Ben Wallace is back but how valuable is he? Then there is the new old guy: Joe Smith could be a starter at power forward. Will he help or hinder the development of the youngsters? And last, but not least, there is the sixth man: Andres Nocioni has proven to be a nice fantasy play at both small and power forward. How does he fit into the picture?
Let's start with center. We know that Wallace will start. The question is what he will do for fantasy teams this season. As I documented in my position profile, Big Ben has been getting smaller every year. No, not in stature; he is the same jacked, headband-wearing, funkadelicious force he always has been. However, his numbers have been in steady decline over the past few seasons. He barely notched 2.0 blocks per game last season (marking five years of decline in this category) and the rebounds (10.7 per game, sixth in the NBA), while still very good last season, have been falling for four years and are slipping back into mortal territory. You can't blame the minutes. Wallace's 35 per game were almost the same as the season before. He is just getting older and fantasy owners should expect less from him this season. I would be far from shocked if he failed to clear 10 boards or two blocks per game this year. And I suspect he will sit a lot more now that the Bulls have some depth.
Which brings us to Noah. I see Noah playing more center than power forward. This is just as well given his size (6 feet, 11 inches to Thomas' 6-9) and his crooked jumper. Bulls fans are going to love this guy. He will be all over the floor and his energy will allow Skiles to rest Wallace more than he did last season. Noah is a smart player. If you watched him as a collegian, you know he has a knack for finding open shooters and is trustworthy with the ball in his hands. For this reason, he is a better play than Wallace at the offensive end. I wouldn't worry too much about his gyro-jumper; you are as likely to see it as you are to see Daisuke Matsuzaka throw his famed pitch, and he hasn't done so since before midseason. Leave Noah undrafted for now but be ready to move in if his energetic, smart play get him more minutes at Big Ben's expense.
So, what about power forward? Thomas looks like he will get the first shot at starting for the Bulls here. He is a phenomenal leaper and has very quick hands, both of which will lead to a lot of steals and blocks. The problem is, Thomas fouls too quickly (once every 5.8 minutes) to stay on the floor long enough to capitalize. If he can cool out on the hand-jiving, he will be a regular contributor to his owners' blocks and steals. I love that he is the likely starter at the 4 and I expect him to hit or slightly exceed the ESPN projections (9.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.0 blocks), which makes him worthy in the later rounds of mid-sized drafts. Smith will be the steadying influence to Thomas's wild style. He can score on the block, but to characterize him as a threat is like characterizing Dennis Kucinich as a threat to become the Democratic nominee for president. Smith will get some minutes, especially when the Bulls need size inside and Thomas is in foul trouble, but he is not worth drafting.
The problem for the Bulls at both power forward and center is that none of these guys is dangerous on the block. Of all the guys who play the 4 or 5, Nocioni is by far the best scorer, but he is primarily a jump-shooter. He will get minutes as the sixth man and play both the power forward and small forward positions depending on matchups. In fact, of all the players I have covered, he is almost certainly the best fantasy value. He should score in the mid-teens, grab 6-7 rebounds and average more than a 3-pointer per game with nice percentages, and he won't cost much to get. If you are looking for scoring in the post from the Bulls, look at Luol Deng. While he scored the vast majority of his points from midrange, I expect to see him in the post more this season to address this need for the Bulls.
So, in the end, I have to say no, there are no "money" big men for the Bulls. Thomas and Nocioni offer the best value, relative to draft position, but there is no one here who is worth reaching for.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.