Positional preview: Point guards
The 2011-12 NBA season offers few fond memories for fantasy owners. For two months, the lockout kept us from the game we love. Then the compressed schedule (at least we figure that's what it was) contributed to a spate of major injuries to our key players.
On the bright side, last season sure was a good one for point guards.
Now, this season should be also be excellent for point guards, but there's a big difference: Bargains at this position will be much tougher to come by this time around.
Last December, players like Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, Kyrie Irving and Brandon Jennings could be drafted anywhere from pick 45 to 75. These four all ended up delivering top-30 production. With the emergence of these young talents -- along with the improvement of Russell Westbrook and the continued excellence of, among others, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash -- I don't think I'm going out on a limb in suggesting that we could see as many as 14 point guards (if you count Monta Ellis) going in the first 50 picks of most drafts.
You certainly don't need me to demonstrate how integral point guards are to the fantasy game, but I will share my approach. I view assists, steals and blocks as the toughest stats to get. Since point guards provide two of those three valuable cats, I'll be drafting them early and often. In 10-team leagues, I expect to take two point guards among my first four picks. And if the players I really want are available, I'll have no problem taking two point guards among my first three picks.
Here's a rough sketch of point guards and their fantasy prospects heading into the NBA preseason:
Top of the draft: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams
You know how good these guys are. I'll just repeat a point I introduced elsewhere in this draft kit: Westbrook should be a factor from distance this season. I believe he not only tops 1.0 3-pointers per game for the first time, he approaches 1.5.
The Emerging: Ty Lawson, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings, Mike Conley
I love Lawson, but in this group, I'll be following Irving most closely in the preseason. First off, Irving seems fully recovered after breaking his right hand back in July. He participated in a 5-on-5 scrimmage at the Cleveland Cavaliers' practice facility on Sept. 24. I question, though, whether the hype is getting a bit overheated on Irving. Please understand, I'm not discounting his immense talent or his potential to take another leap forward. However, I do wonder if it's realistic for him to improve upon last season's assist (5.4) and steal (1.1) numbers, given that he doesn't appear to have any other offensively gifted players around him. Certainly Irving is capable of big things, but for this season, if he doesn't improve in these two categories, how can he be worth a top-20 pick?
Elite assists: Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash
Nash is on a new team, and it almost feels like Rondo is as well. Incredible as he was in the postseason (17.3 points, 11.9 assists, 2.4 steals), Rondo still gives you little in 3s and hurts you at the line. Of course, at age 26, he can still improve. Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Nash can still be a fantasy force with the Los Angeles Lakers, but with a new team running an offense that presumably won't be centered around him, I wonder if Nash's days of double-digit assists are finally behind him.
Wall is expected to miss the first month of the season due to what's described as the early stages of a stress issue in his left knee. I was definitely intrigued by a healthy Wall this season, but now, pending further information about his rehabilitation, I won't consider him any earlier than pick 75. Of course I'm sure we'll also be following Steph Curry's progress in the preseason. As of this writing, he's been cleared to play. Let's wait and see. At least Parker apparently has no lingering issues stemming from the early-summer club fight that left him with a scratched cornea.
As the person who wrote this, I shouldn't be nervous about Dragic, but for some reason I am. Dragic figures to have more talent surrounding him with the Phoenix Suns (Marcin Gortat, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Jared Dudley are the other projected starters) than he did at the close of last season with the Houston Rockets. Still, it's a different story when you've signed the big contract and must deal with expectations. I guess that explains my nerves. To make me feel better, though, I'll behold these numbers once more: 18.0 points, 8.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.8 3s, 49.0 percent shooting, 83.9 percent from the line. That's what Dragic averaged in 28 starts last season. He'll either be this season's biggest fantasy bargain or its biggest bust. Right now, I can't imagine any other outcome.
We could spend a lot of time on this group. It was Lowry's health problems that gave Dragic his opportunity, but let's not forget how stellar Lowry was in four categories (6.6 assists, 86.4 percent from the line, 1.6 steals and 1.7 3s) before he had to step aside. Meanwhile, at least a few NBA observers believe that Lillard could eclipse Anthony Davis for ROY. Finally, to refresh your memory, back in 2009-10, in Mo Williams' last season as a full-time starting point guard, he averaged 15.8 points, 5.3 assists and 2.3 3s. (Yes, having LeBron James as a teammate did help.)
I like every player in this group. Evans is supposedly coming to camp in better shape, while fantasy owners who've waited years for Williams to see 30-plus minutes a night again should be thrilled by his move to the revamped Atlanta Hawks. Those two, along with Stuckey (another player I've discussed elsewhere in the draft kit), strike me as solid value picks.
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has said he expects Rubio to return before Christmas. Knowing nothing about the structure of the human knee but knowing something about both Taylor's judgment and, especially, the Wolves' astonishing history of catastrophe, I'll suggest that Rubio returns no sooner than mid-January. Even if Taylor is right, you can't expect Rubio to play starter's minutes immediately upon his return, and even when he's playing starter's minutes again, he likely won't be as productive as he was during his rookie campaign. I can see drafting and stashing Rubio in some formats, but I doubt I'll do it. The ACL injuries to, and slow recoveries of, Al Jefferson and David West remain fresh in my mind. So I'll pass this time around and hope Rubio is full strength by 2013-14. Long story short, don't overlook Luke Ridnour in your drafts and auctions.
As for Rose, his recovery seems to be going well, but he's still not expected to play before March, if at all this season.
I expect improvement from Teague and Knight, and I'm curious to see how Holiday handles the opportunity to lob the ball into Andrew Bynum. But perhaps the biggest intrigue here is with the Sacramento Kings, who added Aaron Brooks during the summer. For now though, I'm looking at Thomas' impressive line in 37 starts as a rookie -- 14.8 points, 5.4 assists, 1.6 3s and percentages of 47.7 and 84.1 -- and assuming he still has the prime gig.
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