- John Cregan, 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.
Who will step up to fill the scoring, rebounding and defensive voids left behind by Elton Brand's ruptured Achilles tendon?
Obviously, this is not the best of times for the Clippers. Los Angeles' "other" team was left licking its wounds after a massively disappointing 2006-07 campaign, one in which they followed up an impressive playoff run in 2006 by missing the playoffs and returning to the lottery in 2007.
Then, with memories of the Theismann-esque crumpling of future franchise player Shaun Livingston still fresh, current franchise player Elton Brand decided to take on Chris Kaman in a game of one-on-one. The result? A ruptured Achilles tendon. I'm assuming Brand hurt himself playing on one foot in an attempt to make it a fair fight. Or Kaman won some sort of Internet promotion. By the way, the answer to the question for this column is not "Chris Kaman."
So, even before the opening tip, the Clippers, lovable underdogs that they are, find themselves without 40 percent of their starting lineup. At least Clipper Nation (some time back, they were actually included as part of President Bush's "Coalition of the Willing") can take solace in Brand's projected January return. But taking the long view, this is a roster in transition. Several players -- Corey Maggette, Ruben Patterson and Sam Cassell -- are in contract years, the backcourt is Paleolithic ... well, you get the picture.
Although all of this may be tough to swallow in reality, in fantasy this situation is going to present some opportunities for savvy owners. Let's take a look at the candidates to step up in Brand's absence.
For now, he will be the unquestioned No. 1 option on offense, and as previously mentioned, he is in a contract year. Of course, he is still injury-prone, shoots a low percentage on 3-pointers and doesn't really contribute outside of his scoring, but he will be the temporary leader of this team. In his defense, he's also been the victim of a rather schizophrenic role in the rotation and may still be traded by the deadline. In the immediate future, he's going to flirt with 20 points and seven rebounds per game. But I still wouldn't bite until the late fourth or early fifth round.
Ye gods! Yes, Brand's injury has brought the annually disappointing Thomas back onto the fantasy radar. I have to admit, I've been burned by Thomas several times over, and I've still taken a couple of late-round fliers on him in recent drafts. Why? Because as of now, he's going to be the Clippers' starting power forward. I know that just doesn't sound right, but there is potential for some nice statistical lines, since we know he can already score and shoot the 3 (a rarity on the Clippers). On top of that, he is being asked to "fill the void" by hitting the boards. Monitor his preseason output and look for him as an endgame gamble.
I know, he's a rookie, but only in Dominican Republic years. If Thomas falters -- not only a possibility, but also probably an eventuality -- Thornton will get the opportunity to become fantasy-worthy. He's had a nice preseason, meaning his chance could come sooner than later. Thornton's got real Roto-Drool skills, the kind that Eddie Griffin used to flash and Danny Granger still teases us with (note: in my vernacular, "Roto-Drool" refers to my reaction to someone who can block shots and hit 3-pointers. When I write about Shawn Marion, I have to wear a bib). Thornton could be a real steal in the later rounds and should be given a long look in keeper leagues.
If nothing else, sheer natural selection should dictate at least a slight uptick in his production. I'd place Kaman's statistical upside somewhere in the neighborhood of his 2005-06 pre-cap-killing-contract numbers: 12 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Not good for a No. 1 center, but OK as your No. 2.
Most people don't realize this, but Patterson had a real nice season in '06-07. Signed to a one-year deal in the wake of the Brand injury, Patterson will have plenty of motivation and get plenty of minutes. The problem? Even at his best, he's still not much of a statistical force. He's going to help the Clippers, but he's only a bench player in fantasy.
Entrenched at shooting guard, Cuttino Mobley may get more looks but is still strictly a one-trick pony for fantasy owners: 3-pointers and not much else. He's precisely the type of player I normally avoid, but you could do worse in the late rounds if your league has a shooting guard requirement.
I think the Clippers will benefit from having two solid veteran distributors at point guard (Livingston clearly wasn't ready to run the team night in and night out). I'm just worried that Sam Cassell and Brevin Knight may end up canceling out each other's fantasy value. If injury history, threat of a trade demand and age don't concern you -- and hey, why should they? -- Cassell is worth a look in a deeper league. But he's strictly a Hail Mary pick.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball writer for ESPN.com.
13hEthan Sherwood Strauss