NBA Notebook: Early power forward rankings
During the past few weeks, we've been preparing for the upcoming fantasy hoops season by taking an early look at some preseason positional rankings. This week we'll be looking at the power forwards, which used to be one of the deepest positions in the fantasy game. This year, however, it looks quite thin. In fact, we seem to be lacking quality big men in general this season. Think about it, many of the elite big men either have injury concerns (Chris Bosh, Yao Ming, Jermaine O'Neal, Marcus Camby, Emeka Okafor, Samuel Dalembert, Lamar Odom and now Elton Brand) or they don't block as many shots as we'd expect (Carlos Boozer, Zach Randolph, David West and Antawn Jamison). And let's not forget all those free-throw percentage drainers (Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, plus a whole host of others). Granted, the free-throw percentage thing has been a problem for quite some time, but there seems to be only a handful of top-notch big men that can provide the security you're looking for in a high draft pick.
KG is an easy choice here as the No. 1 power forward. In fact, one could even make the case for Garnett as the No. 1 overall fantasy player in the game now that he's in the weaker Eastern Conference and actually has a team that is serious about winning. He's been so consistent over the years -- not to mention, injury-free -- that he has to be considered the safest pick in any fantasy draft.
I have to say, I'm down on Dirk this year. I love his percentages and the fact that he's as consistent as anyone in the game -- and that's why he's still ranked where he is -- but am I the only one noticing his declining steal, block, rebound and 3-point numbers? Go ahead, take a look at his stats, and tell me you're not concerned. Right now I have him ranked seventh overall in leagues that count turnovers and 10th overall in leagues that do not count turnovers, which is kind of low compared to where other folks are ranking him.
If Bosh doesn't prove that he's completely recovered from his plantar fasciitis issue, he easily could drop out of Tier 1. Plantar fasciitis scares me, as it's been known to limit some serious hoopsters in the past. Make sure you get a good look at Mr. Bosh in the preseason before deciding to make him the centerpiece of your fantasy squad.
Regular readers of my column are well aware of my man crush on Jefferson, so I'll spare you a long rant about his talents. I'll just let his second half stats do the talking: 19.8 points, 11.5 boards, 1.1 steals and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 55.4 percent from the floor. Enough said.
6. Jermaine O'Neal 7. Carlos Boozer 8. Antawn Jamison 9. Emeka Okafor
Only two things stop O'Neal from moving up a tier, and that's his propensity for injury and his subpar percentage from the field for a player his size. O'Neal is a major talent, and provides second-round stats when healthy, but his inability to stay on the court makes him a risk/reward gamble in fantasy leagues.
Boozer is a 20/10 machine, and for that we love him, but his lack of blocks makes him somewhat of a liability at the power forward spot. Since Boozer has been prone to injury in the past, we only can look at him as a slightly better, less out-of-control version of Zach Randolph.
10. Lamar Odom 11. David West 12. Zach Randolph 13. Rasheed Wallace
To be fair to the folks listed here, Tiers 2 and 3 are very close in value. The real drop-off in talent will show itself down in Tier 4.
Odom is a multi-category monster, and the only real problem for him is that he has a hard time shaking the injury bug. Grab him in Round 4 or 5, but be aware that he'll probably miss some time due to injury at some point this season.
West won't score or board as much as Zach Randolph, but he will create a few more steals, block a few more shots and turn the ball over less. To me, the extra steals and blocks (even though West doesn't excel in those categories either) make up for the more prevalent points and boards that Randolph provides.
As you can see, there's a pretty decent-sized drop in production after Rasheed Wallace when it comes to the power forward position. I like all the guys listed in Tier 4, but none strike me as locks. LaMarcus Aldridge has the most upside of the group, especially now that Greg Oden is done for the season. He'll get a ton of minutes -- probably at center -- where he potentially could score 15 points with 8 boards and 1.5 blocks per game for the Blazers. His name is too well known to be considered a sleeper, but there's still a good chance that he'll still outperform your expectations this season.
Villanueva burned a ton of owners last season, but all of his issues stemmed from a lingering shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. Now that he's healthy again, Charlie V could be in for a bounce-back season. He will have some competition from a similar player in Yi Jianlian, but the Bucks will find minutes for Villanueva, and he has the potential to put up 15 points and 7 boards with a steal, block and 3-pointer thrown in for good measure.
There's no debating that Lee's stats will suffer due to the addition of Zach Randolph. The Knicks will find a way to get Lee on the court, but one has to be concerned about his ability to produce the same per-minute stats that he put up last season now that Z-Bo will command the rock and eat up boards under the glass.
The Suns -- and fantasy owners -- will be happy to hear that Diaw lost 10 pounds over the offseason. It's hard to deny that Diaw came into camp out of shape last season, and never fully recovered as he looked slower and slightly less athletic a year after his breakout 2005-06 campaign. Now that he's lost the weight, Diaw is looking like a solid sleeper for the upcoming season. He will have to fend off Grant Hill for minutes, but anyone can produce in Phoenix, and Diaw still has the skills that made him such a fantasy stud two years back.
Get a good look at both Nene Hilario in Denver and Luis Scola in Houston during preseason training camp. Nene easily could be ranked higher than this, but will have to prove that his knee is fully healthy before he is. Scola, on the other hand, already has a fan in Rick Adelman, and could do very well for the new-look Rockets. Scola averaged 15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks for Euroleague powerhouse Tau Ceramica last season. He probably won't be able to put up 15 points per game, but the rest of the numbers should be attainable, given how well big men have fared with Rick Adelman at the helm.
Thomas gets a big boost in value with Elton Brand down, as he's likely to be the starting power forward for the Clippers. He'll be a very nice 3-point specialist for fantasy squads this season.
I'm loving Frye this season as he's likely to start alongside Aldridge in the Blazers frontcourt. Expect something along the lines of 13 points, 8 rebounds and a block per game to go along with tremendous percentages.
A lot of folks love Marvin Williams' upside, but I was quite disappointed in his performance last season. He earned plenty of minutes (34.0), but failed to show an ability to dominate in any one category. He doesn't hit 3's, and didn't prove to be a major contributor on the defensive end, notching just 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game on the season. Sure, he has some upside, but not nearly as much as a guy like Tyrus Thomas. Thomas is a total freak, and there's a very good possibility that he'll outproduce his ranking here this season.
Haslem, Abdur-Rahim and McDyess won't provide much upside, but they're all solid role players who can help balance out a fantasy squad. If you're looking for upside here -- and that's exactly what you should be doing as we get this low in the rankings -- look at Millsap, Varejao, May and Maxiell. Millsap is my favorite of the group, as he proved to be a major force on the glass and on the defensive end in limited minutes last season. Look for Millsap to earn more minutes this season, and he has the potential to skyrocket up this list if the Jazz end up cutting ties with Andrei Kirilenko.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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