With the NBA season now less than a week away and fantasy drafts 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 thing works: It's all about perceptions, expectations and reputation. Those players who I think will outperform our expectations end up on my "Love" list, while those who I think will fail to live up to their billing end up on the "Hate" side. I also consider this my personal list of targets and do-not-draft players. It's a simple premise, but don't confuse these lists for something they aren't.
You'll find Rajon Rondo 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. The problem is, based on his going rate in fantasy drafts (average draft position of 22.4), for me the price almost certainly will not be right.
Similarly, you'll find on Marcin Gortat on my "Love" list below. Does that mean I'm taking him over someone like LaMarcus Aldridge or Al Jefferson (who are not on the list)? Of course not. I love Gortat 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 fifth, or even sixth, round. Aldridge and Big Al are fairly valued, and therefore you won't find them on either list below.
This premise also works for those so-called sleepers or breakout players who aren't exactly sleepers anymore. You'll likely find Ty Lawson on every sleeper list available on the Internet, and more than a few people are calling John Wall a breakout candidate. 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 upon them this season.
So, without further ado, let's get right into Love/Hate for the 2011-12 season:
Players I Love
Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors (ADP: 13.3): Curry finished 10th on our Player Rater last season despite his so-called "down year" in which he battled a lingering ankle injury. If that's his downside, I'd be ecstatic to get Curry with an early second-round pick.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards (ADP 17.3): Will he make a Derrick Rose-like leap in his second year? That might be asking a bit much, but I don't bet against guys with Wall's elite talent and athleticism.
Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Sacramento Kings (ADP: 30.0): Let's list the players who have averaged 20/5/5 the past two seasons: LeBron James (twice), Kobe Bryant (2009-10) and Tyreke Evans (2009-10). That's a short list with good company that Tyreke finds himself on. After struggling through the 2010-11 season with a variety of injuries, Evans could provide fantastic return on investment if he can remain healthy this season.
Andre Iguodala, SF/SG, Philadelphia 76ers (ADP: 34.6): By all accounts, AI2 is looking and acting like more of a leader this year. With his ability to produce in multiple categories, I like Iguodala slightly better than similar players like Paul Pierce, Kevin Martin and Danny Granger (all of whom are drafted higher than him in recent fantasy drafts).
Joe Johnson, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks (ADP: 37.4): Atlanta's loss is Joe Johnson's gain. With Jamal Crawford in Portland, the Hawks will be forced to lean more heavily on JJ on the offensive end. Do not be surprised if he returns to form in 2011-12, and does anyone really think that the career 36.6 percent shooter from downtown will shoot a dismal 29.7 percent from behind the arc again this season?
Serge Ibaka, C/PF, Oklahoma City Thunder (ADP: 54.1): Is there a line on the amount of triple-doubles (points/rebounds/blocks) for Serge this season? If not, I'm setting it at 1.5 and taking the over. I should also note that he's one of a select group that can block shots and hit his free throws (75.0 percent). Did I mention that he is just 22 years of age and has improved dramatically in each of his first two professional seasons? OK, let me stop now before I get carried away.
JaVale McGee, C, Washington Wizards (ADP: 62.5): If he didn't shoot 58.3 percent from the free throw line, I'd be gushing about McGee as much as I am about Serge.
Ty Lawson, PG, Denver Nuggets (ADP: 53.6): Despite being stuck in a time-share with Raymond Felton, Lawson still managed to post 14.6 points, 6.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 3-pointers while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 85 percent from the line in 31 starts. Andre Miller is a nice veteran, but at this stage in his career, he's not nearly the threat to Lawson's playing time that Felton was. I'm expecting big things from Lawson as the full-time starter in Denver this season.
Marcin Gortat, C, Phoenix Suns (ADP: 60.5): I'll just go ahead and say it: At his ADP, Gortat is by far my favorite center target this year. Judging by where he's being drafted, it seems that a lot of folks are forgetting that Gortat was one of the league's best big men after the All-Star break last season with 15.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 28 games. Some may call it a fluke, but everything Gortat did in limited minutes as Dwight Howard's backup in Orlando suggested that this sort of production was imminent once he earned himself a starting gig.
Greg Monroe, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (ADP: 67.2): Monroe is showing up on almost everyone's sleeper lists and I'm fully on board the hype train after seeing him average a double-double with 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks after the All-Star break last season.
Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets (ADP: 71.7): I liked Gallinari even before we learned that Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith would be trapped overseas for much of the season, so you can imagine how I feel about him now that he'll be asked to pick up much of the slack on the offensive end.
Kris Humphries, PF, free agent (ADP: 101.4): I know he doesn't have a team yet, but if Humphries lands in a spot where he can earn quality minutes (with so many teams needing frontcourt help, I think he will), he'll be a big-time force on both the glass and the defensive end. Forget about his tumultuous offseason with the Kardashians; Kris averaged 14.1 points, 14.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 17 games after the All-Star break last season. That's some serious potential production that can be found in the late rounds, folks.
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers (ADP: 103.7): Before suffering an ankle injury that cost him much of the 2010-11 season, Varejao averaged 9.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.2 blocks in 31 contests. Not too bad considering you can find him after the 10th round in most fantasy drafts this year. With J.J. Hickson gone, Varejao is expected to earn heavy minutes in the Cavs' frontcourt.
Toney Douglas, PG/SG, New York Knicks (ADP: 107.1): A point guard in Mike D'Antoni's system with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire at his disposal? Yes, please. And yes, I wrote this after the Baron Davis signing.
Jeff Teague, PG, Atlanta Hawks (ADP: 116.7): With Kirk Hinrich injured, and Jamal Crawford in Portland, the Hawks will hand the keys to their offense to Teague. Teague looked solid in the postseason last year with 14.8 points, 4.2 assists and 1.0 steals in six games against the Bulls and could be a terrific late-round addition for those needing point guard help.
Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, New Orleans Hornets (ADP: 95.7): Like Teague, Jack is going to be a nice find late in fantasy drafts. Jack has averaged a solid 13.0 points, 5.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 3-pointers in 210 career starts. He may lack the upside of Teague, but he's the only option the Hornets have now that Chris Paul is gone.
DeJuan Blair, C/PF, San Antonio Spurs (ADP: 117.7): Gregg Popovich is notorious for resting his stars during normal seasons, so he'll certainly be looking to limit Tim Duncan's minutes with a brutal 66-game schedule on tap. Enter Blair, who has been ultra-productive on a per-minute basis throughout his career. Look for Blair to earn 25 minutes per game as Pop attempts to keep his aging stars fresh.
Jared Dudley, SF/SG, Phoenix Suns (ADP: 119.9): Some may be worried about Shannon Brown cutting into Dudley's playing time, but the Suns love Dudley's gritty defense and 3-point shooting, which should ensure that he gets plenty of run. After averaging 12.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 3-pointers in 28 games after the All-Star break, Dudley is primed for a breakout season.
Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets (undrafted): An undersized power forward in the mold of Paul Millsap, Faried has a good chance to earn quality minutes off the bench for the depleted Nuggets this season. There is serious sleeper potential here for a guy who is going undrafted in most standard fantasy leagues.
Players I Hate
Any PF or C who does not block shots (excluding Kevin Love, of course): I'll just go ahead and throw this out there as a blanket statement: Blocks are still the rarest fantasy category and owners put themselves in a big hole when they take a power forward or center who doesn't block shots. When I'm looking for big men in the middle of the draft, I'm almost always going to go with a guy who can block shots, like Gortat or McGee, over someone who can't, like David West or Luis Scola.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics (ADP: 22.9): If you've taken part in any drafts this year, you've probably noticed that Rondo flies off the draft board shortly after John Wall is selected. That's because he's widely considered the last of the elite point guards. But is he? He doesn't score (10.6), won't hit the 3-pointer (0.1) and his free throw percentage (56.8 percent) is horrendous. Look, I know he's a dominant assist and steal guy, and he rebounds pretty well for a guard, but don't panic when all of the elite PGs come off the board early. If you find yourself in this spot, grab a quality big man instead and take someone like Steve Nash, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday or Ty Lawson a round or two later.
Amare Stoudemire, C/PF, New York Knicks (ADP: 10.8): Don't get me wrong, I like Amare, I just don't like him as a first-rounder. How will he handle this grueling 66-game season with such limited depth behind him in the Knicks' frontcourt? Will Tyson Chandler steal some of his blocks and rebounds? There are just too many question marks for him to be a first-round pick.
Kevin Martin, SG, Houston Rockets (ADP: 27.8): Martin was a big contributor in scoring, 3-point shooting and free throw percentage last season, but he's averaged just 59.5 games over the past four seasons even after playing in 80 games last season. An incredible injury-risk/reward selection, I'd rather take my risks a little later in the draft than play roulette with Martin in the third round.
Andrew Bynum, C, Los Angeles Lakers (ADP: 43.6): There is no doubt that Bynum could be a top fantasy center if he can figure out a way to stay on the court. Problem is, he's starting the year with a five-game suspension and his troublesome knees have allowed him to play in an average of only 55.3 games in his six-year career. A major risk/reward type of player, Bynum would be a much better selection in the sixth or seventh round, if he makes it there.
Dorell Wright, SF, Golden State Warriors (ADP: 45.5): I'm not entirely convinced that Wright can recreate the magic that made him one of fantasy's best pickups last season. He is certainly a fine fantasy selection thanks to his statistical diversity, but I'd feel much more comfortable if I could get him a round later.
Raymond Felton, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (ADP: 49.4): I actually really like Felton's game. He's a prototypical point guard who contributes in all of the areas we'd expect him to. I can't, however, say that I like that he showed up to training camp with a few extra pounds. In a shortened season, we can't be waiting around for guys to get their game legs back. The addition of Jamal Crawford will also cut into some of his minutes and production.
Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks (ADP: 52.8): At 33 years of age, I fear that Jackson may be starting to lose a step. His numbers dipped nearly across the board last season and while fantasy owners put up with his 41.1 percent shooting from the floor in the past, I don't think they'll be willing to if his supporting numbers slip any further. I should note, by the way, that I was able to nab Jackson at 82nd overall in a recent 10-team draft, where I thought I found myself a pretty decent steal.
Ray Allen, SG, Boston Celtics (ADP: 53.6): This one sort of shocks me. I didn't expect that Ray-Ray would still be getting this kind of ADP love in fantasy leagues. Granted, he is still a quality scorer with great percentages and a deadly 3-point shot, but I'd pass on Allen and take Jason Terry or Marcus Thornton, who have similar numbers 20-25 picks later.
DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto Raptors (ADP: 74.2): DeRozan is a legit scorer and can help in the percentages, but any sleeper candidate of mine needs to do more than just score points. Wake me when he starts to contribute in multiple categories.
Jason Richardson, SG, Orlando Magic (ADP: 82.1): Richardson's numbers took a nosedive once he joined the Magic, suggesting that he wasn't entirely a great fit in Orlando. Perhaps he could be in line for a bounce back, but he appears to be more of a scorer and 3-point shooter at this stage in his career rather than the multicategory producer he once was.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and was named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.