30 Questions: Big Z, Gooden and Hughes
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.
The Cavaliers are a mess. It seems strange to say this about a team with a playoff run that took them to the NBA Finals last season, but the team is not looking good. The Cavs are lucky that only the dim 25-watt bulb of the preseason is shining on their 1-7 record. All too soon the full glare of the regular season will expose the lack of depth facing this team. Cleveland is thin at center, point guard, power forward, shooting guard -- wait, am I about to list every position on the floor? Yeah, it's rough. You wouldn't think losing two solid but unspectacular players such as Varejao and Pavlovic could throw a Finals team off this much. The problem is that, although there are some quality starters on the team besides LeBron James, without depth on the bench, these players will be forced into more minutes, and that will haunt this team late in games. It already has this preseason.
Although gassed starters are no fun for fans of the team, they can make for good fantasy players. Several members of the Cavs stand to benefit if Varejao and Pavlovic remain abroad. Varejao averaged nearly 24 minutes per game in 2006-07 and Pavlovic nearly 23. Someone is going to have to fill that void. The guys I like to step up are well-known but have been devalued in this year's drafts.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas is going to see his numbers improve in the absence of the Brazilian Bobo. In my Draft Kit profile of Big Z, I wrote that, if Varejao moved on or sat out, Z would get more minutes, his value would increase: "His percentages are still there; he just needs more attempts for you to be able to take advantage of them." Indeed, Big Z shot 48.6 percent from the field and 80.7 percent from the line, excellent numbers for a center. The problem was the number of attempts. Ilgauskas has averaged 4.7 free-throw attempts over the course of his career; he attempted just 2.5 in 2006-07. His field goal attempts dropped more than one per game. Why? The increased speed of the game in the NBA does not favor classic pivotmen such as the Big Illy. On the flip side, when the Cavs play in the half court, smaller, faster centers will have a hard time handling the skilled load that is Ilgauskas. If Varejao remains abroad, I like Ilgauskas to improve on this past season's numbers to the tune of 14.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks with his typical excellent percentages. I don't see him getting much more than 30 minutes a game, but with his efficiency, he doesn't need big minutes to be effective as a fantasy center.
Drew Gooden is the other obvious player to benefit with Varejao out of the picture. He isn't fancy and is prone to disappearing from box scores, but he is capable of contributing solid overall numbers for his owners. As with Ilgauskas, I expect Gooden to play about 30 minutes per game -- as long as Varejao isn't with the team. In 31 minutes, we can project somewhere in the neighborhood of 12.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Gooden won't block shots (0.7 for his career), and his free-throw shooting is middling (he is a career 71.5 percent shooter), so his overall value will not match that of Ilgauskas.
Larry Hughes could be the biggest beneficiary of the holdouts. His value has plummeted since joining the Cavs. Injuries are a big part of the problem. He played in just 36 games two seasons ago and 70 this past season. The other issue is that his slashing style on offense hasn't fit well with LeBron. Both players are more effective when they are a threat to attack the rim. Unfortunately for Hughes, James is going to get the first nod every day of the week. None of this changes this season, but with fellow 2-guard Pavlovic not with the team and the team woefully thin at the point, Hughes will have minutes and scoring opportunities. His current average draft position is 117.5. That is pretty late for a guy who will average 15-16 points, 1.0 3-pointers, 4.0 dimes and 1.5 steals per game. The percentages will not be pretty, it is true, but at the end of your draft, why not take a guy who has guaranteed minutes and is helpful in multiple categories?
I don't see the Cavs coming out of the East this year -- not even if the holdouts return -- but as long as there are extra minutes to be had, the players I discussed could help you contend in your league. None of them will be spectacular -- that is LeBron's job -- but each should outperform his draft position with more minutes.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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