- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Some might say that seeing the Oklahoma City Thunder up close is not really a treat, but I quite enjoyed their presence in Philadelphia on Saturday -- especially the way the team avoided playing defense.
For our purposes in fantasy hoops, there's not a ton of talent on the former Seattle SuperSonics, but fantasy owners still should pay attention. But because only one of their players is owned in a significant number of ESPN leagues, I'd say few owners are paying attention.
Heading into Tuesday night, four NBA teams had managed to win just one measly game each in the first two-plus weeks of the season. I won't predict that Fred Carter's infamous 1973 76ers (9-73 record) are about to get pushed out of the record books, but the Wizards, Timberwolves, Clippers and Thunder are, well, bad. They've combined for four wins and 33 losses. I'll take the under on the potential for each team to earn 20 wins this season. The Thunder look particularly weak, however.
I'm convinced that fantasy owners don't care so much about the actual results of NBA games. Instead, they just want to see their players put up stats. It's not a coincidence that the best NBA teams also tend to feature the best players. A good NBA team needs to score points and rebound well, and it is generally well-balanced. The Boston Celtics have three stars and other helpful personnel such as a point guard and a shot-blocker. The Oklahoma City Thunder certainly don't fit those criteria. It'll be a really long year for coach P.J. Carlesimo's crew.
I can't find too many sleepers on the Celtics, Lakers or even the for-real Atlanta Hawks. But on the Thunder, I see a few players who I think will make a difference in fantasy this season. Don't give up on bad teams. They typically have a few valuable nuggets you can enjoy.
Jeff Green can be better than Kevin Durant: I'm talking only from a fantasy hoops sense, really. But hey, Green was the best player on his team Saturday night, hitting 10 of 15 field goals and adding a few rebounds, 3s and steals. Durant didn't have a great weekend in New York and Philly, hitting only 14 of 39 shots and committing only one fewer turnover than he had rebounds and assists combined, but I do understand that he probably wasn't 100 percent after missing a game with a sore ankle. On Monday night, Durant bounced back with a nice game, but Green still got his shots. Impressed with Green and still disappointed in Durant from his rookie season, I began to wonder whether Green might actually end up the better fantasy option this season. Why is that such a crazy statement?
Like Durant, Green won't hit a great percentage from the field, but he has some range and hits the boards. Durant does not. In fact, the more I thought about this, I realized that the only things Durant does much better than Green are score and hit free throws, at least for now. In the future, I expect Durant to be a star, and I compare his current statistical prowess to that of a young Carmelo Anthony. However, Durant was a top-30 player on draft day, and Green isn't even owned in 30 percent of ESPN leagues. Something is amiss there. I wouldn't dump Durant, who likely still will earn his 22 points per game (with little else), but Green had averaged 19 points and 7 rebounds his past four games entering Monday. If Durant continues to be a one-dimensional scorer, and there's no reason to think that will change this season, Green could pass him in value if he goes for 17 and 7 with the occasional 3 and steal, numbers that I think are very possible as he matures. Sure, Durant has the big name, but Green is the far better value.
Russell Westbrook has that Rafer Alston look: It's only a matter of time before spunky Earl Watson assumes the Brevin Knight role on a team's bench or is used as trade fodder in the spring to open up cap space or gain a draft pick. Watson can't shoot from the field or the line, and Johan Petro has more steals. This is purely a case where the rookie Westbrook is being protected until he's ready to start and play more minutes. I'm not sure what Carlesimo is waiting for. Westbrook had a big game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, scoring 19 points and adding 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Against Philly, he made some nice passes, but let's face it, this isn't a team of finishers, and the Thunder didn't run much. On Monday, he garnered 5 steals. Even now, with limited time, Westbrook is averaging 12 points and 3 assists and shooting 83 percent from the line. Houston's Alston, who did nothing special against the Thunder on Monday, is owned in 79.8 percent of leagues while averaging 9 points, 4 assists, a similar field goal percentage and fewer steals. Meanwhile, Westbrook is owned in 15 percent of ESPN leagues. If you want a potential 14 and 6 guy, don't wait much longer.
Robert Swift soon will be known for more than his hair: I read somewhere that Swift got his second haircut in three years recently. The guy certainly is something to look at, with all the tattoos and some of his red hair left. I don't know which disappointed me more: the missing 12 inches of hair or his play. He does have some ability, though. I chuckled while watching him against the 76ers on Saturday as he played a listless 14 minutes, grabbing one rebound and looking as if he'd rather be somewhere else. But he's a legit 7-footer, and he's only 22 years old. He looked better Monday. Swift missed five games because of a hand injury the first week-plus and hasn't done much since. But I remember watching him in 2005-06 (yes, a few years ago, but he was only 20 then), and he is capable of double-doubles with blocked shots. He's huge. Carlesimo says he wants to slowly get Swift more minutes, and as time goes on I could see that the kid would be useful in deeper leagues. It's not as if the Sonics -- um, sorry, the Thunder -- have much in the middle.
Others from one-win teams: I can't find many players on the Timberwolves whom I expect to suddenly break out and emerge. They are what they are. Randy Foye is already 82 percent owned, and once he pushes Sebastian Telfair out of the way, the sky is the limit. Foye can be Minnesota's No. 2 scorer. I'm always a fan of Ryan Gomes, but we've probably seen his best, and his minutes will be sporadic. For the Clippers, Ricky Davis is off to a horrible start, but he'll be one of those players who gets added -- and dropped -- by half your league at various points this season. I want to name Eric Gordon as someone to watch, especially as the Clippers lose every night, but he'll be just a shooter. Then there are the Wizards. I won't discuss 20-year-old center JaVale McGee too much because Neil Tardy's Forecaster and Adam Madison's Hardcore columns covered him ably, but don't forget about Andray Blatche. I don't know what's wrong with Blatche, a turnover machine who isn't blocking shots or doing anything right. Also, because Antonio Daniels is playing horribly, and now hurt, keep an eye on Juan Dixon.
James (Manila, Philippines): "Hi, Eric. What do you think about this trade? I would be giving up LeBron James, Roger Mason and Thaddeus Young for Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade and Andris Biedrins. Would I win this trade? Our league is a nine-category league with turnovers. I'm losing in rebounds and assists and a little bit in blocks and steals. Would the other team accept this trade? Or should I put in Josh Howard instead of Thad Young? I hope you can help me out."
Karabell: First of all, I have no idea whether the other team would accept the deal. I rarely try to invade the mind of the fantasy owner, though I'd say I'd take seriously any deal in which I would be getting James, a top-three player. Of course, in this trade you'd probably get the other team's first two picks this season and a legit sleeper in Biedrins, who isn't going away. LeBron is awesome, but you're robbing the guy. Mason is putting up numbers for the Spurs, but when Tony Parker and, eventually, Manu Ginobili return, it should temper Mason's stats. He's a short-term add. Young is scoring enough to lead the 76ers, but he's the fifth-best player in the trade. I'd slip in Howard instead of Young and see whether that entices your trade partner.
Brian (Cleveland): "Eric, love your columns and mailbags. I have an unusual question. I play in a fantasy basketball league with only one stat: points scored. You start three forwards/centers and two guards. Anyway, all fantasy advice is geared for roto-type leagues, so I'm wondering, taking only points into consideration, who are some guys to target who may be struggling to score right now, or that you see an uptick in the PPG coming? Any help would be appreciated."
Karabell: Wow, a league in which all you care about are points! That certainly would change the way we think about fantasy hoops, no? Starting at the top, Kobe Bryant and Amare Stoudemire have more in them than 24 points a night. Rudy Gay's field goal percentage is due to go up soon, and that will improve his value. Yao Ming will get up to 20 points per game, especially if this Tracy McGrady injury is serious. Baron Davis and Elton Brand won't each score only 15 points per game for long, and I would buy low on Mike Miller, Andre Iguodala, J.R. Smith and Randy Foye, if you're talking about scoring points.
I can't get to more questions in this column, but if you want fantasy basketball questions answered, check out my chat session each Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. It's not just for fantasy football. Have a great week.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
4hBy Ian O'Connor
7hFantasy Football Insiders