With the NBA season just a few weeks 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 whom 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 Blake Griffin 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, for me the price almost certainly will not be right.
Similarly, you'll find on Kenneth Faried on my "Love" list below. Does that mean I'm taking him over someone like Greg Monroe, who is not on the list? Of course not. I love Faried for a variety of reasons, but I love him mostly because he's a potential fourth-round value who can be found in the sixth round. I consider Monroe to be fairly valued, and therefore you won't find him on either list.
This premise also works for those so-called sleepers or breakout players who aren't exactly sleepers anymore. You'll likely find Derrick Favors on every sleeper list available on the Internet, and more than a few people are calling Kyrie Irving and Ty Lawson breakout candidates. Problem is, everyone is talking about them, and absolutely no one is sleeping on them. Still, you'll see that they are 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.
Players I Love
Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets: Making a repeat appearance in this space for the second straight year, the "Manimal" was one of my favorite rookies in 2011-12 with 11.7 points, 8.4 boards, 0.9 steals and 1.0 blocks in only 25.2 minutes per game after the All-Star break. With more minutes on the way in 2012-13, Faried is primed to break out in a big way.
Ty Lawson, PG/SG, Denver Nuggets: Lawson may have finished 19th on our Player Rater last season, but for some reason he's still not considered an "elite" point guard by many in the fantasy community. That's likely to change this season as Lawson is set to deliver his second consecutive top-20 fantasy season.
Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns: Maybe I thought that people would be more excited about a guy who posted 18.0 points, 8.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.8 3-pointers in 28 starts last year, but it sure seems like folks have been hesitant to pull the trigger on Dragic in the third round this year. He was always a per-minute stud prior to his breakout last season, so I'm anticipating big things from the 26-year-old in his first season as a full-time starter.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: Just thought I should mention that I agree with the consensus that Kyrie makes the jump into elite fantasy status this season. This kid is the real deal.
Andre Iguodala, SF/SG, Denver Nuggets: Iggy has been underrated in fantasy circles for a few years now thanks to his somewhat pedestrian scoring numbers, but he'll be able to put up more points in Denver's fast paced offense this season. He'll be drafted after guys like Paul Pierce, Danny Granger and Joe Johnson, but I'm betting he has the best fantasy season of the group.
Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Hornets: I'll be absolutely shocked if Davis doesn't finish in the top five in the league in blocks as a rookie. In fact, I'm expecting him to compete with Serge Ibaka for the league lead.
Glen Davis, PF/C, Orlando Magic: Everyone's talking about Arron Afflalo in Orlando, but don't sleep on Davis, who averaged 16.4 points, 8.8 boards and 1.4 steals during the month of April with Dwight Howard sidelined last season. Someone has to score and rebound in Orlando.
JaVale McGee, C, Denver Nuggets: Just because he stars in blooper highlight reels on the Internet doesn't mean that he can't be a big asset to your fantasy team. McGee is one of the most productive big men in the league on a per-minute basis, which bodes well for his fantasy value with more minutes on the horizon in 2012-13.
Mo Williams, PG, Utah Jazz: Mo needs to stay healthy, but if he can, he'll provide nice value as a midround fantasy point guard. Don't forget, he's been quite productive as a starter during his career, with averages of 15.4 points, 5.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.5 3-pointers in 432 career starts.
Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz: Anyone who has seen Favors play can tell that the 21-year-old has an extremely bright future. He'll have to find a way to get enough minutes in a crowded frontcourt, but remember, this is a kid who averaged 9.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in only 22.8 minutes in 34 games after the All-Star break. With per-minute numbers like those, the Jazz won't be able to keep him in a reserve role for long.
Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks: One of the more underrated players in the league, Ilyasova averaged a super-productive 16.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.1 3-pointers in just 30.8 minutes per game after the All-Star break last season. Incredibly versatile, with the ability to contribute in nearly every fantasy category, Ilyasova makes for a great pickup in this season's drafts.
Louis Williams, PG/SG, Atlanta Hawks: He has been a per-minute warrior for most of his career, and fantasy owners should be pumped that he'll likely earn starter's minutes in Atlanta. If he's able to secure 30-plus minutes per game, he'll do big things as a scorer, 3-point shooter and steal artist.
Raymond Felton, PG, New York Knicks: Felton certainly isn't going to average 17.1 points, 9.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 3-pointers like he did during his last stint in New York, but he's going to be much better than the 11.4 points, 6.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 3-pointers he posted in Portland last season. I'm expecting something in between the two extremes, which would make him a quality midround fantasy point guard.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers: Rookie point guards have had quite a nice run in recent seasons, with players like Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans (he played point that season at least), Brandon Jennings, John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving all having success in their first professional seasons. Now, I'm not saying that Lillard is at the level of the aforementioned players, but he has an incredible opportunity as the unquestioned starter at the point in Portland.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings: My favorite stat from last season: According to Hoopdata.com, Cousins averaged a league-high 7.3 shots at the rim last season but converted on just 56.7 percent of those attempts. With that many opportunities so close to the rim, Cousins' 44.8 percent shooting from the floor is bound to go up. Cousins has first-round upside in fantasy leagues, but he can currently be found in the late second or early third rounds due to the aforementioned field goal percentage issues.
Paul George, SF/SG, Indiana Pacers: George and Nicholas Batum are two of my favorite targets when the draft gets to picks 40-50. Neither are quite household names yet, but they both offer a ton of upside with tremendous statistical diversity.
O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks: Only two years removed from posting 17 points with 1.2 steals and 1.7 3-pointers, Mayo gets new life in Dallas where he should provide a nice return on investment in the mid to late rounds.
Michael Beasley, SF, Phoenix Suns: Sure, Beasley has his problems, but don't forget that this is a guy who has averaged 16.7 points, 6.1 boards, 0.9 steals and 0.7 blocks as a starter in his career (177 starts). Beasley has been given the green light to shoot by head coach Alvin Gentry, which can only be a good sign for his fantasy value.
Omer Asik, C, Houston Rockets: Asik doesn't offer much on the offensive end, but he's a terrific defender who put up some stunning per-minute numbers for the Chicago Bulls last season. With 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in only 14.7 minutes per game last season, fantasy owners should be excited about Asik's prospects as a starter this year.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors: Valanciunas is only 20 years old, so he'll undoubtedly go through some growing pains in his rookie season, but the kid has loads of talent and upside which makes him a fantastic late-round gamble in fantasy drafts.
Players I Hate
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers: In theory, Blake's athleticism should eventually lead to some steals and blocks on the defensive end, but after two full seasons, he's averaging a disappointing 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. That, along with his subpar free throw shooting (52.1 percent), makes Griffin a player who's more style than substance in the fantasy game. That said, he's incredibly fun to own in fantasy leagues, so be sure to have the proper strategy if you plan on selecting him early.
Dwight Howard, C, Lakers: Don't get me wrong, Howard still does a lot of things well (points, boards, blocks, FG percentage), but even if he is 100 percent healthy, he's not going to be the No. 1 offensive option in Los Angeles, and he's no longer the most dominant shot-blocker in the game. With that in mind, I just can't justify drafting him in the first or second round when he is far and away the worst fantasy free throw shooter in the league.
Ryan Anderson, PF, New Orleans Hornets: Anderson is still going to be a great option for points, 3-pointers and free throw percentage in New Orleans, but I just don't see him duplicating the 16.1 points, 7.7 boards and 2.7 3-pointers he posted last year.
Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans Hornets: He can't help your fantasy team if he can't stay on the court, and Gordon has played in just 65 percent of his team's games in his four-year career. Oh, and he's already dealing with more knee issues in the preseason. No thanks!
Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets: Gallinari is a dynamic fantasy player when healthy, but he's dangerously close to earning the "injury-prone" label after dealing with various ailments over the past few seasons. And even if he manages to stay on the court, will the addition of Andre Iguodala cut into his touches?
Arron Afflalo, SG, Orlando Magic: Good players on bad teams are typically fantasy gold, and I actually think Afflalo will average career highs in points and 3-pointers, but I worry about his ability to produce in multiple categories. His field goal percentage is sure to drop as he'll command more attention from opposing defenses, and he's never been a great steals guy despite being a solid defender. Everyone seems to be labeling him a "sleeper," but I'm not going to reach for a guy who will only help me in points, 3-pointers and free throw percentage.
Tyreke Evans, PG/SG/SF, Sacramento Kings: As a former Tyreke supporter, it pains me to list him here, but I just can't ignore his pedestrian numbers after Isaiah Thomas joined the starting lineup last season. Evans wasn't terrible with 15.6 points, 4.4 boards, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game as a small forward, but that's nowhere near the 20/5/5 he posted as a rookie.
Manu Ginobili, SG, San Antonio Spurs: Few can match Manu's productivity on a per-minute basis, but that doesn't help too much when he's seeing only 23-25 minutes per game. Head coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for resting his aging stars, and that doesn't figure to change as Manu enters the season at age 35.
Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs: see Ginobili, Manu. Let's take a look at Timmy's minutes per game over the past 5 seasons: 34.0, 33.6, 31.3, 28.4, 28.2. Notice a trend? Duncan is so efficient on a per-minute basis that he's been able to hold onto some of his value in fantasy leagues, but how much longer will the 36-year-old with 15 years of NBA mileage continue to produce at such a high level?
Luis Scola, PF, Phoenix Suns: Scola should be able to produce as a scorer and rebounder in Phoenix, but his supporting numbers leave a lot to be desired. For his career, he has averaged just 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. He's a fine selection if you can get him late enough, but don't reach.