With the NBA season just weeks away and fantasy drafts almost in full swing, it's time for another edition of Love/Hate, fantasy hoops style.
For the uninitiated, here's how the whole Love/Hate things works: It's all about perceptions, expectations and reputation, and it's not your typical sleepers-and-busts column. Those players I think will outperform our expectations end up on my Love list, while those I think will fail to live up to their billing end up on the Hate side. It's a simple premise, but don't confuse these lists for something they aren't.
You'll find Troy Murphy on my Hate list below, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't welcome him on my squad with open arms if the price was right. Problem is, based on his stats last season and asking price in early fantasy drafts, the price almost certainly will not be right.
Similarly, you'll find Russell Westbrook on my Love list below. Does that mean I'm taking him over someone like Chauncey Billups or Devin Harris (who are not on the Love list)? Of course not. I love Westbrook for a variety of reasons, but I love him mostly because he's a potential third- or fourth-round value who can be found in the late fifth or early sixth round. Billups and Harris, however, are fairly valued, and therefore, you won't find them on either list below.
This premise also works for those so-called "sleepers" who aren't exactly sleepers anymore. You'll likely find Anthony Randolph and Lou Williams on every sleeper list available on the interwebs. Problem is, everyone is talking about them, and absolutely no one is sleeping on them. Still, you'll see that they are two guys I love. Why? Well, I think they'll live up to the hype, despite the lofty expectations that have been placed on them this season.
Guys I love
Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics: Sure, he doesn't hit any 3-pointers and won't shoot well from the line, but he was one of only five players to average at least seven assists and 1.5 steals per game last season. The others: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Jason Kidd. Not bad company, and at 23 years of age, he's still improving. That's a scary thought.
Kevin Garnett, PF, Celtics: Is there anyone out there who doesn't think KG will come out with a chip on his shoulder this season? Apparently lots of folks, because Garnett fell to the mid-third round in our latest mock draft. He's 33 now, but he still has something left in the tank, and he's a great value find if you can get him in the third round.
Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, Bobcats: Improved free throw shooting and rebounding make him one of the better swingmen in the game, but he's still fairly underrated in the fantasy game, thanks to his somewhat lengthy injury history. "Crash" managed to avoid major injury in 2008-09 and is well worth the risk if he can do it again in 2009-10.
D.J. Augustin, PG, Bobcats: At some point this season, Augustin will get his minutes, and look out when he does. This is a kid who averaged 17.8 points, 5.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.6 3-pointers in 12 starts as a rookie. Like I said, look out!
Boris Diaw, SF/PF, Bobcats: I'm not sure everyone truly appreciates what Diaw did after joining the Bobcats last season. How does 15.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.2 3-pointers sound? Yeah, I love this guy.
The Chicago Bulls: Yep, the whole team. Well, every starter at least, except for maybe Brad Miller, who I think might take a slight backseat to Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas this season. Derrick Rose still needs to prove to me that he can be a fantasy stud without contributing much in 3-pointers and steals, but he has the potential to improve and it wouldn't be surprising in the least to see him make a Kevin Durant-like leap in his second season.
LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers: Since I'm one of the only so-called "experts" saying James should be the No. 1 pick over Chris Paul, I kind of have to list him here. Nothing against CP3 -- I love him, too -- but James is the perfect building block for any fantasy roster and dominates more categories across the board than Paul does.
Anthony Parker, SG, Cavaliers: In 12-team or deeper leagues, Parker looks like a fantastic find at the end of a draft. He'll find plenty of open looks with LeBron drawing defenses, and he's a deadly sharpshooter from downtown at 41.5 percent from long distance in his career.
Shawn Marion, SF/PF, Mavericks: I'm not yet proclaiming a renaissance for the former first-round fantasy stud, but he sure looks rejuvenated in preseason play. Unfortunately, he's slowly making his way up draft boards in many leagues, and if that trend continues, Marion easily could turn into a "hate" over the next two weeks. However, with the latest news that he'll miss the next seven to 10 days with a calf injury, he sticks in the love section, mostly because the injury will prevent him from becoming overhyped before the season starts.
J.R. Smith, SG, Nuggets: You know why if you watched any Nuggets playoff games last season. Smith was, at times, the best player on the court for both teams during postseason play, and the Nuggets were at their best when he was on the court. George Karl knows this, so Smith's minutes should stabilize this season. He'll still be inconsistent at times, but he is primed for a big year.
Rodney Stuckey, PG, Pistons: There hasn't been much talk about last season's predraft darling, has there? I smell a post-hype breakout year.
Anthony Randolph, SF/PF, Warriors: Only Don Nelson's crazy lineup changes stand in the way of a breakout season for Randolph. Fortunately, Nellie has been all about his 20-year-old phenom early this preseason, and it looks like Randolph is going to log heavy minutes for the fantasy-friendly Warriors. Not only is he a potential fantasy stud, but he also is slowly gaining on Al Jefferson on my man-crush meter.
Shane Battier, SF, Rockets: Because somebody needs to get stats in Houston. With Yao Ming out and Tracy McGrady's status still in limbo, Battier is a near lock to return to his pre-Ron Artest numbers and could post his best fantasy season yet.
Aaron Brooks, PG, Rockets: Still underrated even after a surprising postseason run (16.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.1 3-pointers in 13 games), Brooks looks like a nice late option for 3-pointers and points on an offensively challenged Rockets squad.
Roy Hibbert, C, Pacers: Boards and blocks, fellas. Boards and blocks.
Eric Gordon, SG, Clippers: Forget about the points and 3s (although those are nice, too) -- Gordon's most redeeming quality is his ability to get to the line in bulk. He knocks down 85.4 percent there. He found himself on the charity stripe five times per game as a starter last season, and you have to love the fact that he already is talking about getting to the line more this season.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat: Still underrated even after averaging 4.9 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.4 3-pointers as a rookie. How many players averaged more than 1.9 steals and a 3-pointer per game last season? Three: Dwyane Wade, Jason Kidd and Chalmers.
Al Jefferson, C, Timberwolves: See Randolph, Anthony. Jefferson was my original man-crush. He also was one of only two players to average more than 20 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 2008-09. Dwight Howard and Big Al, that's it. Yao Ming and Tim Duncan were the only other players who were even close. Given that Yao is out for the season and Duncan is on the downside of his career, Big Al looks like the second best big man in the league to me. Sorry -- I just can't rank Amar'e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh or Pau Gasol over my boy when they're swatting only about a shot per game.
Kevin Love, PF, Timberwolves: Just check out his offensive rebounding numbers in his rookie season: 3.4 per game in just 25.3 minutes. You know who that's better than? Everyone. Not even Dwight Howard could match Love's per-minute production on the offensive glass.
Corey Brewer, SG/SF, Timberwolves: As a deep sleeper in 12-team or deeper leagues only.
Hakim Warrick, PF, Bucks: Somebody has to score for the Bucks in the paint; I'm betting that someone will be Warrick.
Brook Lopez, C, Nets: See Jefferson, Al. Most of today's big men are not great shot-blockers. Lopez can block shots and hit his free throws, which is not something we find too often in the NBA. If that's not reason enough to love him, I don't know what is.
Wilson Chandler, SF, Knicks: For future reference, anyone who has the potential to put up a line of 1/1/1 in steals/blocks/3s is all right with me. Chandler was pretty close last season with 14.4 points, 5.4 boards, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers. I think he gets his 1/1/1 this season.
Chris Duhon, PG, Knicks: So he hit a wall at the end of last season. That didn't stop him from averaging 12.5 points, 8.0 assists, 1.7 3-pointers and a steal before the All-Star break. Grab him for the first half, then trade him away when he's at peak value.
Darko Milicic, C, Knicks: I'll give him one last shot.
Emeka Okafor, C, Hornets: Never underestimate the power of Chris Paul. Okafor should get back to his 14-15 points, 10-plus rebounds and 1.7 blocks with Paul spreading the love.
Julian Wright, SF/PF, Hornets: I might be a year early on this one, but Wright has all the tools to be a big-time steal and block threat in the league. He'll have his chance to prove me right this season, so you can't go wrong using a late pick on his upside.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder: Better than Derrick Rose (in fantasy only, of course). Yep, I said it.
Dwight Howard, C, Magic: There are 4,000-plus words devoted to this topic here.
Jameer Nelson, PG, Magic: Jameer was in the midst of a career season before a shoulder injury threw him off course in 2008-09. He'll be back where he left off before the injury, and the substitution of Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter should lead to a career high in assists for Nelson.
Lou Williams, PG/SG, 76ers: His per-minute numbers suggest he'll average around 16.2 points, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals and a 3-pointer in 30 minutes per game. He should see somewhere around 32-34 minutes as the starting point guard for the Sixers. Simple mathematics tells me he'll be pretty solid this season.
Leandro Barbosa, SG, Suns: Remember when Barbosa averaged 18.1 points, 1.2 steals and 2.4 3-pointers in 2006-07? Don't be surprised if he approaches those numbers in 2009-10 now that the Suns have gone back to their run-and-gun style of play.
Greg Oden, C, Trail Blazers: I am buying what he's selling us this preseason, and he's well worth the risk if you can find him late in your draft (and you can).
Tyreke Evans, PG, Kings: Minutes and opportunity typically equal success, even for rookie point gaurds. Evans will get his chance to produce right away, and I'm betting he'll be the most productive fantasy rookie by the end of the season.
Jason Thompson, PF, Kings: I wish he blocked more shots on a consistent basis, but I won't argue with his 2008-09 second-half numbers: 12.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He'll be leaned on heavily in the Kings' frontcourt and should be able to post those averages for a full season this time around.
Jose Calderon, PG, Raptors: Missing 14 games hurt Calderon on the Player Rater last season, but he was a top-20 fantasy player if you look at the averages. He's going behind guys like Chauncey Billups, Devin Harris and even Rajon Rondo (at times) in drafts, but is just as good, if not better, when healthy.
Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, Raptors: Blocks, 3s and free throw percentage? Where do I sign up?
Paul Millsap, PF, Jazz: See Boozer, Carlos, in the hate section.
Guys I hate
Rasheed Wallace, PF/C, Celtics: This is not groundbreaking stuff here, but I still see Wallace going far too high in fantasy drafts. Where is he going to get his touches with KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo all operating at a high level? He is a role player now and should be considered the same in fantasy leagues.
Tyson Chandler, C, Bobcats: Big men who don't score and don't block shots don't belong on your fantasy roster. Unless it's after Round 12 and you're desperate for boards.
Delonte West, SG, Cavaliers: Forget about his off-the-court issues; West was going to struggle to duplicate his numbers this season anyway now that Anthony Parker is in town. In fact, Parker might be the better late-round fantasy pickup.
Josh Howard, SG/SF, Mavericks: Not only am I less than thrilled at the lack of progress he's making with his injured ankle, but Shawn Marion's presence hurts Howard more than it hurts any other Maverick. It could be a long season for Howard owners.
Nene, PF/C, Nuggets: This is a tough one because I never like to pay for a career year, but I also think Nene will have somewhat of a solid season. He's a good grab if you can get him after Round 5, but he's a "hate" if he's selected any earlier.
Richard Hamilton, SG, Pistons: With almost no low-post scoring presence, most of the Pistons' scoring will come from their guards. Unfortunately, it's a little crowded in that backcourt. Hamilton might take a back seat offensively to Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon. I think I'll pass this season since he's never been much of a fantasy player outside of his scoring and percentages.
Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, Warriors: Remember what happened to Jamal Crawford when he got on Don Nelson's bad side? I'm not saying that will definitely happen here, but do you really want to risk a mid-round selection to find out?
Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Warriors: I'm still somewhat torn on the rookie, but it's not a good sign that Monta Ellis doesn't think he can play with Curry. It's also not a good sign that Curry was just 8-for-32 from the field in his first three preseason games. Beware of the field goal percentage, folks.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Rockets: It's strange hating on Ariza because I've loved him for so long, but I think folks are expecting too much out of him this season. He'll turn in a career season, no doubt, but I think he'll struggle offensively, particularly with his efficiency from the floor, as he'll face more defensive attention than ever before. He'll likely be among the league leaders in steals, but be ready for the hit you'll take in field goal percentage.
Troy Murphy, PF/C, Pacers: I don't know about you, but I'm not paying for his career year. Let's face it: Murphy played well over his head last season. He shot a career-best 47.5 percent from the floor (44.3 percent career) and 45.0 percent from behind the 3-point line (39.7 percent career). And now that Roy Hibbert might steal some of his rebounding thunder, I'm not liking Murphy until at least the late fifth/early sixth round. Unfortunately, he's going in the late third or early fourth round these days. No thanks, not at that price.
Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers: Lack of blocks and poor free throw shooting hurt Griffin's fantasy prospects, although I will say he'll be a great midseason trade target when the Clippers are out of the playoff race and he's earning big-time minutes in the second half.
Ron Artest/Lamar Odom, Lakers: There's not enough ball in L.A. for Kobe, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Artest and Odom to get their numbers. Something has to give here, and that doesn't bode well for Artest or Odom.
The Memphis Grizzlies: Good luck trying to figure out who's going to produce in Memphis. O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay should be fairly safe, but don't expect them to reproduce last season's numbers with Allen Iverson and Zach Randolph in town. Marc Gasol and Hasheem Thabeet likely will cancel each other out in the middle, and I'm not sure what to think about Mike Conley. Conley was a beast in the second half last season, but Iverson's presence is a scary thought for potential Conley owners.
Jonny Flynn/Ramon Sessions, Timberwolves: I hate time-shares, and I'm not sure either of these two will do enough to separate from the pack. Most folks are higher on Sessions than Flynn, but I don't think the Wolves spent a high pick on Flynn for him to ride the pine. I'm staying away from both until the very late rounds.
Michael Redd, SG, Bucks: Even if he manages to stay on the court for the full season (which is doubtful at this point), Redd's numbers have been in steady decline over the past three seasons. Most troubling is his inability to get to the free throw line as much as in years past. Redd needs to be dominant at the line to be a big-time fantasy player, and he's not dominating there when he's at the charity stripe only 4.9 times per game.
Andre Miller, PG, Trail Blazers: I'm not sure exactly what is going on with Miller and coach Nate McMillan, but I'm not going to risk a mid-round draft pick to find out. Take Mo Williams, Jameer Nelson or Tony Parker instead and let someone else deal with the drama in Portland.
Tim Duncan, PF/C, Spurs: Duncan is one of the few true big men who still blocks shots, but that doesn't calm my fears about his declining per-minute numbers, particularly in the shot-blocking department. At 33 years of age, Duncan clearly is on the downside of his career. He'll still be solid, but I'd rather pass on him and take someone like Brook Lopez a little later in the draft.
Carlos Boozer, PF, Jazz: There's nothing worse than big men who manage only 0.2 blocks per game. It doesn't help that Boozer has played in fewer than 40 games twice in his past four seasons, and has a beast, Paul Millsap, cutting into his minutes and production.
Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison, Wizards: I know Gilbert Arenas is supposed to magically turn into a pass-first point guard and all, but even if he does, is there enough ball to go around in Washington? Butler and Jamison did a lot of damage with Gilbert out of the lineup over the past couple of seasons, but savvy fantasy owners will take a look at their numbers back in 2006-07 when Arenas was healthy. They still have great numbers, but nothing near what they've been doing with "Agent Zero" out. Also, I'm always surprised at the lack of attention paid to Butler's somewhat shaky injury history. He's missed far more games than Gerald Wallace (58 to 41) over the past three seasons, but somehow he avoids the same stigma that follows Crash around.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.