- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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Preseason games may not count in the standings on or the stat sheet, but they sure count with fantasy hoops owners. Don't take my word for it -- just check out ESPN.com's Live Draft Results tool. Many of the stars of this NBA preseason -- including Anthony Morrow, Roy Hibbert and Greg Oden -- are seeing their draft stock soar with their promising performances.
I suppose this is where I should get on you about taking exhibition games too seriously. And I will air my skepticisms about some of these trendy late picks in a bit. Right now, though, I'm thinking of something Adam Madison wrote recently in the course of covering our ESPN.com fantasy hoops team's first mock draft. Adam's basic point is that, toward the end of a draft, why not go for upside? In standard 10-team leagues, if your 12th- or 13th-round pick is a bust, you have the benefit of a large free-agent pool. Odds are you can easily replace a reach pick or two with acceptably useful players.
With that in mind, I can hardly fault ESPN.com gamers for reaching for the likes of Hibbert, Morrow, Andres Nocioni and Brandon Rush. And, as of this writing, these four are by far the biggest draft movers. To be sure, we are talking end-of-draft options here, as each of these players currently maintains an average draft position (ADP) of 120 or higher. Still, there's definitely upside. For instance, the sudden interest in Nocioni is easily explained. A weight-room accident will sideline Francisco Garcia for at least four months, and Noc, who's always been able to produce when he gets regular playing time, figures to assume the available minutes in Sacramento.
Let's look at some other big movers.
Piling on the Bandwagon
Gilbert Arenas, PG, Washington Wizards (ADP: 29.7, seventh among point guards): Over the past week Arenas has essentially jumped two spots (plus 1.8). That may not sound like much, but no one else in the Live Draft Results top 60 has seen such a spike in his ADP. With Arenas, it isn't so much his preseason numbers -- though he did go 9-for-11 in a 24-point performance against the Pistons on Oct. 13 -- it's that his knee seems healthy. The Agent Zero act may be behind him, but if he's 80 percent of what he was two seasons ago, when he approached 30 points, three 3-pointers and two steals with six assists thrown in, you'll be thrilled to get him with the 30th pick.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers (ADP: 78.5, 19th among power forwards): Coming off of a 23-point, seven-rebound showing in San Antonio on Oct. 14, the rookie is the biggest mover (plus 5.1) in the top 100. However, since we're talking about preseason games, you should also note his previous two outings, when Griffin racked up five fouls while playing barely 20 minutes. As polished as Griffin is, he'll still have a learning curve as a pro, and he'll still have to get his minutes behind veterans Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby. I like Griffin, sure, but I prefer a clear starter like Boris Diaw (ADP: 74.2) or Kevin Love (ADP: 81.2).
Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers (ADP: 102.3, 16th among centers): If you haven't been slavishly following the box scores, let me give you this glimpse of Oden's preseason: 18 points and nine rebounds versus the Kings, 20 points and 12 boards the next night again against the Kings, seven points and eight boards versus the Clippers, and 17 points, 13 boards and three blocks versus the Suns. As I noted in my Northwest Division preview, Oden has slimmed down, and he seems more comfortable heading into his second season. Though he made a Griffin-like leap (plus 5.4) this week, on my board Oden is comfortably in the top 90.
Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers (ADP: 121.0, 29th among centers): Even while he was playing in Taiwan and China, you noticed Hibbert; back-to-back 20-point games with a total 12 blocks does have a way of getting a fantasy owner's attention. Moreover, these efforts didn't come completely out of nowhere. Hibbert showed progress toward the end of his rookie season by averaging 11.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in April. I'll be honest though: I'm not yet sure what to make of Hibbert. Jeff Foster, who skipped the Far East trip due to back problems, is still viewed as the Pacers' starter. However, with 24-plus minutes, Hibbert is probably good for two blocks a night. Your end-of-draft gamble on Hibbert might not work out, but it's a good risk to take.
Anthony Morrow, SG, Golden State Warriors (ADP: 121.2, 31st among shooting guards): As if we didn't already know that he can score in bunches, already this preseason Morrow has dropped 30 points on the Suns and 32 on the Clippers (while playing all 48 minutes). On top of that, the rapidly deteriorating situation between the Warriors and Stephen Jackson seems to provide a tantalizing opening for Morrow to see consistent playing time. Morrow is another of those low-risk, high-reward end-of-draft fliers, but I'll probably pass here. I just find myself suddenly weary of Don Nelson's impulsiveness.
Brandon Rush, SG, Indiana Pacers (ADP: 128.8, 35th among shooting guards): Like his teammate Hibbert, Rush capped his rookie season with a big April (16.3 points and 2.1 3s on 52.8 percent shooting). With the injured Mike Dunleavy at least a month away from being able to practice, only veteran Dahntay Jones seems to stand between Rush and the starting lineup. Still, with Danny Granger, T.J. Ford and Troy Murphy ahead of him in the offense, I'm not sure how many touches Rush will get. He could be a double-figures scorer with up to 1.5 3s, but if you're looking for upside in a standard league, you should be able to do better.
Jumping off the Bandwagon
Josh Howard, SG/SF, Dallas Mavericks (ADP: 89.2, 22nd among shooting guards): Howard continues to recover after having major offseason ankle surgery. Though he says he's still in pain and it's possible he won't play at all in the preseason, there are encouraging signs. Just this week he was cleared for contact drills and participated in his first scrimmage. Howard slipped about three spots (minus 2.8) this week. Keep checking for updates, but for now, I think you have him about where he should be.
Mike Miller, SG/SF, Washington Wizards (ADP: 124.1, 33rd among shooting guards): Yeah, I sometimes get excited about preseason performances, too. After showing little through his first four games, Miller scorched the Cavaliers for 24 points, including five 3s, on Oct. 14. I could more easily explain symmetric multiprocessing than I could Miller's inexplicably unproductive 2008-09 season in Minnesota, but I'll give the pony-tailed sharpshooter the benefit of the doubt. He should start, and he won't have to carry the load offensively. The Wizards just seem like a good fit for him. For 2009-10, I think Miller approximates the 16-point, two-triple scorer from his last season in Memphis.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com
Neil Tardy analyzes the past week's drafting trends and interprets how fantasy drafters are reacting to preseason news and performances.