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.
Taking into consideration Grant Hill's age (35) and lengthy injury history, it's hard to determine just how much value the former All-Star could have at this point in his career. Hill is all but guaranteed to miss 15-25 games a year (and that's being optimistic), but don't be fooled by all the injuries. Hill still has plenty left in the tank in terms of pure basketball skills, and in Phoenix, there's no better place for him to milk some more mileage out of his body. The Suns don't need Hill to be the "man,"and they certainly don't need him to log heavy minutes. That, of course, doesn't mean he won't log solid minutes (we're expecting around 25 minutes per game when he's healthy), but it does mean that Hill will have an easier time recovering from the aches and pains that are bound to plague him this season. Add in the fact that the Suns are the NBA's version of the Indianapolis Colts (anyone getting minutes is fantasy-worthy) and we're looking at a nice risk/reward sleeper to consider anywhere after the 10th round in a fantasy draft.
As we move deeper into training camp, two things have become clear. First, Hill is looking as healthy as he has in years. That's not to say that he won't miss time (he will), but it does mean that we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the former superstar. Second, it's looking more and more like Hill is going to get the nod as the starting small forward for Mike D'Antoni's squad.
The Suns are going to roll seven men deep, with Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire and Hill earning most of the minutes. Problem is, the Suns -- for all intents and purposes -- ran with a six-man rotation last season. For those keeping score at home, a healthy Hill means that someone is going to have to take a hit on the minutes front. And since we know it's not going to be Nash, Marion or Stoudemire (D'Antoni would be crazy to cut their minutes), that leaves us with three candidates:
Leandro Barbosa, SG/PG: I'd be lying if I said that Hill's presence isn't giving me a little anxiety about Barbosa's fantasy value this season. But after my initial semi-panic attack, I've finally come to my senses. Barbosa is too good (not to mention too quick) to keep off the court. Simply put, he's the perfect sixth man for the up-tempo Suns. Last season, the Brazilian Blur lit up the court to the tune of 18.1 points, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.4 three-pointers in just 32.7 minutes per game. That's a heck of a lot of production, and while I don't see him earning more minutes than he received last season, I cannot possibly fathom him seeing less. That said, now that the Suns have another playmaker in the lineup, we cannot expect Barbosa to be as productive with his minutes as he was last season. He'll still have a ton of value (remember, this is Phoenix we are talking about), but when it comes to picking between him and say, Kevin Martin, I'm going to take Martin, as a healthy Hill could slightly cut into Barbosa's value.
Boris Diaw, SF/PF: A lot of folks are super high on Diaw this season. Unlike last season, Diaw entered camp in shape and ready to play, which to many fantasy owners, is a sign that he's ready to return to his 2005-06 form. For those that don't remember, Diaw burst on the fantasy scene averaging 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in 35.5 mintues per game in 2005-06. Last season, a slightly overweight Diaw struggled to keep pace and fittingly turned into one of fantasy's biggest disappointments averaging just 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.5 blocks in 31.2 minutes per contest. This year's slimmed down version of Diaw should be able to do more on a per-minute basis, if only because he'll be better equipped to keep up with the tempo. Hill might cut into Diaw's minutes, but again, there should be enough opportunities (with injuries taken into account) for Diaw to find 30-32 minutes per contest. With those kind of minutes, we should expect stats somewhere along the lines of 10.5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.
Raja Bell, SG: If there's one player on the Suns roster who could stand to lose some minutes, it's Bell. That's not a knock on Bell (he's been a terrific player for the Suns), but the guy has averaged upwards of 37 minutes per game during the past two seasons. That's a heck of a lot of minutes, and even though Bell is a good defender, he's probably the least well-rounded offensive player in the lineup. Of course, we all know the Suns love offense, so it's not out of the question to see Bell drop down to around 33-35 minutes per game in order to clear some room for Hill. Don't get me wrong, Bell is still going to have plenty of fantasy value, but we should be ready to accept a minor dip in his production across the board.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.