- 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.
How bad have the Jazz had it at shooting guard? Well, let's just say this; I don't think I've drafted a shooting guard out of Utah this decade. Seriously. The last Jazz shooting guard I had on my roster must have been Jeff Hornacek in the late '90s. Well, maybe I had Bryon Russell at one point or another, but even so, we're going back quite a bit to find some names. The past five years, all we've had to choose from has been Gordan Giricek (who has never been a great fantasy option) and the pre-Steve Nash version of Raja Bell. Needless to say, if there's one area where Utah can improve, it's at shooting guard. And improve the Jazz will, as they have recognized their weakness and secured themselves not one, but two quality candidates to help fill the void. We are, of course, speaking of Utah's first-round draft picks from 2006 and 2007: Ronnie Brewer and Morris Almond.
Before we get to Brewer and Almond, let's try to get a feel for what one of these two might be able to accomplish as a starter in this Utah lineup. There's no debating that this Jazz offense is a three-man show with Deron Williams (16.2 PPG), Mehmet Okur (17.6 PPG) and Carlos Boozer (20.9 PPG) leading the way. In 2006-07, the Jazz found a little offense in Matt Harpring (11.6 PPG) and Derek Fisher (10.1 PPG), but with Fisher gone and Harpring struggling with a troublesome knee injury, there seems to be an opportunity for someone to step in and fill the void. Of course, with the way he's progressing, we can and should expect Williams to shoulder more of the offensive load this season. And let's not forget about Andrei Kirilenko, who averaged more than 15 points per game for three straight years before the debacle last season. Even so, there's still plenty of minutes and production up for grabs, especially if Harpring's knee injury is as bad as it sounds (Fisher and Harpring averaged a combined 52 minutes and 21 points per game last season). And that, my friends, is where Brewer and/or Almond fit in.
Coming into training camp, Brewer and Almond were expected to battle it out for the only vacant starting spot in Utah. That battle, however, lasted only a few games as Brewer's inspired play has made him a virtual lock for the starting gig. Jerry Sloan hasn't officially announced it yet, but there's no way he's keeping Brewer off the court this season. In fact, outside Williams, Brewer has been Utah's most impressive player in the preseason, with averages of 17.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting an efficient 59.3 percent from the floor and 92.5 percent from the line. Add in that Sloan has never been too fond of rookies -- something Brewer learned firsthand last season -- and all signs are pointing to the second-year man out of Arkansas.
Like many Utah rookies through the years, Brewer really got a raw deal last season, seeing the court for only 12 minutes per game. That's simply not enough for a player who proved to be an electric scorer (averaging 18.4 points per game) and a disruptive force on the defensive end (2.6 steals per game) in his college days at Arkansas. Now that Brewer is in his second year -- and seems to be earning Sloan's trust -- we can realistically expect to see his minutes jump all the way up to near 30 per game. And with that kind of minutes, Brewer easily could average 14 points and about two steals per game while shooting close to or even better than 50 percent from the floor. Brewer is turning into one of my favorite sleeper candidates this season, so if you're looking for points, steals or field goal percentage in mid-to-late rounds, be sure to consider what Brewer might be able to do with his newfound minutes.
Almond, on the other hand, should be fantasy-worthy only if the Jazz run into a string of injuries this season. He's a lights-out shooter from downtown, and a nice fit for this offense (the Jazz hit just 4.3 3-pointers per game last season), but he's still a rookie, and he already is starting to fall victim to Sloan's rookie treatment, seeing an average of just 15.3 minutes in his past three preseason games. Don't get me wrong, Almond has a nice future here, but with Brewer coming on strong, he's likely to be buried on the bench for much of his rookie season.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.
Brian McKitish looks at the Utah Jazz's starting shooting guard candidates and notes that they could find a fantasy sleeper there.