Commentary

Central Division fantasy team previews

Updated: October 7, 2008, 1:42 PM ET
By Josh Whitling | Special to ESPN.com

Other division previews: Atlantic | Southeast | Southwest | Northwest | Pacific

Key addition: Derrick Rose

Key loss: Chris Duhon

Projected starting lineup
PF: Drew Gooden
SF: Luol Deng
C: Joakim Noah
PG: Kirk Hinrich
SG: Larry Hughes

Notable reserves
PG Derrick Rose
SG Ben Gordon
PF Tyrus Thomas
SF/PF Andres Nocioni
SG/SF Thabo Sefolosha

Sleeper: Kirk Hinrich
Hinrich struggled last season and is being widely dismissed this season. That's because the Bulls drafted Derrick Rose and because people forget Hinrich used to be one of the better fantasy point guards. Many assume that the addition of Rose will diminish Hinrich's value. But Chris Duhon forced him to play out of position last season, and the Bulls' starting lineup was a carousel. Still, Hinrich still managed to average 6 assists, 1 3-pointer and 1.2 steals per game even though he played fewer minutes. With the loss of Duhon and fragility of Larry Hughes, the Bulls will need a veteran leader in the backcourt. Plus, Hinrich has never played fewer than 75 games. Capitalize upon people's low expectations and draft Hinrich. His numbers should be much closer to those of two seasons ago.

Bust: Andres Nocioni
High 3-point totals often seduce fantasy owners, and Nocioni's 1.5 3s per game is an enticing stat. But he's never earned a consistent starting role after several years of trying. So with the team focused on developing Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, Nocioni likely will end up being the odd man out in the Bulls' frontcourt. He doesn't provide enough rebounds, steals or blocks (5.1, 0.4, 0.5 for his career, respectively) to be considered a multiple-category player, so he's basically useful for only 3s and free throws. That's not enough to persuade me to draft a player. His numbers were down significantly after the addition of Gooden last season, and March and April were the only months in which he did not average 20 minutes per game. Nocioni will be a victim of the Bulls' depth.

Fantasy outlook
If hoops were a 9-on-9 game, the Bulls would be set, but their depth comes at the expense of having a clear go-to guy and team leader. Luol Deng had a disappointing, injury-plagued campaign last season, but it's a safe bet he'll bounce back and put up numbers far closer to those from the 2006-07 season. He should come at a bargain in the draft and is worth pouncing upon, much like Hinrich. How he'll mesh with Rose will be important for the Bulls' future. I plan to monitor their chemistry throughout the season and draft him in many leagues if people are expecting a repeat performance of last year's downer.

Another of the team's weaknesses is scoring in the paint, which will force Joakim Noah's hand. Noah's 0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks in just 20 minutes per game last season proved he can handle the defensive end of the game. His performance also provided a glimpse of his fantasy potential. But the Bulls need him to score and rebound, as do fantasy owners who plan on drafting him. He'll improve, and although he won't average a double-double, he could make 10 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 steals and blocks per game, making him a solid No. 2 center.

Tyrus Thomas is the most exciting of the bench players, but it'll be a while before he's able to contribute much more than steals and blocks. He will put up an impressive combination of those and, with increased playing time, should have no problem averaging more than 1.5 blocks and close to a steal per game.

Thabo Sefolosha was all over the lineup last season, but in February, when he averaged more than 31 minutes per game, he averaged 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 3s, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks. He's versatile and is one Larry Hughes injury away from another step forward this season. His potential makes him a nice sleeper, and his defense will earn him increased playing time. Drew Gooden played better after the trade last season than he ever did in Cleveland, averaging 14 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.7 steals while shooting 81 percent from the stripe. Those numbers are his ceiling this year. Although I don't see him matching them for 82 games, he's in line for his best season as a pro.

Demetris Nichols is a deep sleeper in the 3-point department, as he attempted 13 3s in 47 total minutes of play last season. Disaster would have to strike the Bulls' roster for him to be relevant, but he has the tools to be a fantasy specialist.

Key additions: Mo Williams, J.J. Hickson

Key losses: Joe Smith, Devin Brown, Damon Jones

Projected starting lineup
PF: Ben Wallace
SF: LeBron James
C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
PG: Mo Williams
SG: Sasha Pavlovic

Notable reserves
PG/SG Delonte West
PG Daniel Gibson
PF/C Anderson Varejao
SG/SF Wally Szczerbiak

Sleeper: Anderson Varejao
With Ben Wallace past his prime, Z on the downward swing, no Joe Smith and no contract holdout, Anderson Varejao is primed for his best season yet. He'll back up Big Ben and Z at the 4 and 5, although he should see at least 30 minutes per game and could crack the starting lineup at some point. He's nice off the bench because of the quick energy he provides, and even though his scoring is terrible, he should flirt with double-digit rebounds, a steal and a block this season. Both Wallace and Ilgauskas have enough question marks surrounding them to indicate a potentially huge opportunity for Varejao.

Bust: Sasha Pavlovic
Ben Wallace's name easily could go here, but after his terrible statistical output last season, the bar already is set too low for him to burst people's expectations. Pavlovic is just 24 and has seen his minutes increase in each of the past three seasons. He's in the mix for the starting shooting guard role for the Cavs and entered the preseason at the top of their depth chart. But don't let that fool you into thinking he's a legitimate fantasy player. Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson will make it hard for him to average any more than the 23 minutes per game he did last season. He has terrible percentages (for example, his .362 field-goal percentage and .688 free-throw percentage last season), no clear money category and more competition this year. Don't waste a late-round flier just because he's listed as the starter next to LeBron on the depth chart. I predict more productivity out of West, Szczerbiak and Gibson.

Fantasy outlook
Delonte West is a more complete player than Daniel Gibson, but with all the attention LeBron attracts, Gibson's deadly long-range game is invaluable to the team because he sees wide-open looks. West will see enough minutes at both guard positions to warrant fringe fantasy value this season. He plays much better defense than Szczerbiak, whom I see as his primary competition for the shooting guard role. West averaged 10.3 points, 1.1 steals, 1.1 3s, 4.5 assists and 0.7 blocks after the trade last season, primarily as the starting point guard. He'll see less time there thanks to the addition of Mo Williams, so his assists will go down. Still, he should take on more of a scoring role and is a nice source of 3s and steals, and his impressive block totals for a guard always are a delightful garnish.

Szczerbiak actually played worse after being traded to Cleveland last season, largely thanks to uncharacteristic shooting woes. His numbers should be closer to what they were with the Sonics (R.I.P.) last season, as he's too good of a shooter to play that badly, plus he'll see minutes. The addition of Mo Williams might lower LeBron's assist totals, but LeBron's turnovers also should decrease as a result. In leagues that count turnovers, LeBron comes with his baggage (free-throw and turnover woes), and even though I'd draft him No. 1 in every league imaginable, the addition of Williams is even more reason to draft him in leagues that consider turnovers.

Williams' numbers should be close to what he put up in Milwaukee, with a slight increase because he'll play alongside the King. I don't see a huge change in Williams' value, though, as he already logged big minutes and was relied upon heavily in Milwaukee. He'll have similar numbers.

After an injury-riddled start to his career, Ilgauskas has missed an average of fewer than four games per season his past six years. His combination of efficient scoring, excellent free-throw shooting and solid blocks and rebounds makes him a legitimate No. 1 center, but if he's on your roster, have Plan B in mind in case this is the year the camel's back breaks. Regardless, I think his minutes will decrease slightly, from about 30 per game to 27, and his statistics will respond accordingly.

Rookie J.J. Hickson was a summer league darling, averaging 19.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. But it isn't summer anymore, and he's a few years away from contributing consistently on the NBA level.

Key additions: Kwame Brown, Walter Sharpe

Key loss: Jarvis Hayes

Projected starting lineup
PF: Antonio McDyess
SF: Tayshaun Prince
C: Rasheed Wallace
PG: Chauncey Billups
SG: Richard Hamilton

Notable reserves
PG/SG Rodney Stuckey
PF/C Jason Maxiell
PF Amir Johnson

Sleeper: Amir Johnson
This former D-League superstar is brimming with fantasy goodness and just needs an opportunity to be a serious force in the blocks department. One of the last vestiges of the straight-outta-high school days, Johnson averaged 18.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game in 22 D-League contests in 2006-07, and his 20-point, 12-rebound, 4-block and 3-steal performance in a game this past April provides a glimpse into his potential. His 5.12 blocks per 48 minutes were second in the league behind Alonzo Mourning among players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game. The dominoes will have to fall in his favor for Johnson to get the minutes to be fantasy-worthy. But if he can average 20 minutes, he has the tools to attain more than two blocks per game.

Bust: Kwame Brown
Brown has been a bum ever since the No. 1 overall pick was wasted on him. Don't let the intrigue of a change in scenery fool you into thinking that he'll finally put it together, and you should not waste a draft pick on him. Two of the team's most promising youngsters need minutes at power forward, and Antonio McDyess will retain his minutes as well. Brown might block about a shot per game, but his free-throw percentage is awful (.412 with the Grizzlies and .406 with the Lakers last year), and he's had plenty of chances to prove himself. He hasn't.

Fantasy outlook
The Pistons' backcourt is as steady as they come, and Rodney Stuckey should breathe some life into it and give opposing teams something unexpected. After he impressed in the postseason last year, Stuckey has become a hot name, but it'll take an injury to Chauncey Billups or Rip Hamilton for him to get serious run. Stuckey's minutes should increase as he backs up Chauncey and Rip, but he'll have his shooting woes and thus is a year or two away from making the leap. He has nice upside, but the hype might have come early for him, and I'd rather spend a speculative draft pick on a player who has a chance of cracking the starting rotation without the benefit of an injury.

Antonio McDyess was awesome last year, but the Pistons have to open up minutes for both Maxiell and Johnson while trying to keep McDyess healthy, so his stats should dip with his reduced minutes. Some of his rebounds, and perhaps his starting job, will go to Maxiell, who'll average 25-30 minutes and provide blocks and boards while scoring efficiently. Even though I do prefer Johnson's ceiling, Maxiell is ready to play big minutes now. Both have been groomed well to be the future frontcourt for the Pistons, and I'm excited to see their continued growth. You know what to expect from Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace, although Sheed's rebounding and scoring numbers have become a liability if you start him at center. His 3s, blocks and steals still make him an impact fantasy player, but he's the type of you must build around. The Walters -- rookie Sharpe and the Argentinean playboy Herrmann -- both challenge our spelling abilities, but neither will achieve fantasy viability because of the solidness of the Pistons' rotation.

Key additions: T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush, Maceo Baston

Key loss: Jermaine O'Neal

Projected starting lineup
PF: Troy Murphy
SF: Danny Granger
C: Jeff Foster
PG: T.J. Ford
SG: Mike Dunleavy

Notable reserves
PG Jarrett Jack
SG/SF Brandon Rush
SF Shawne Williams
SG/SF Marquis Daniels
PG Jamaal Tinsley

Sleeper: Troy Murphy
With Jermaine O'Neal out of the picture, Murphy should start at power forward and play some at center as well. He has a rare combination of rebounding and 3-point-shooting ability, and when looking for sleepers I always home in on those looking to see a jump in playing time. Murphy should top 30 minutes per game, which should put him around 16 points, 9 rebounds and 1.5 3s with a great free-throw percentage for a big man (career 78 percent). He doesn't steal or block (0.6 and 0.4 for his career, respectively), so it's dangerous to start him at center, but as a forward or utility player, he addresses unique needs and will come relatively cheap on draft day.

Bust: T.J. Ford
Everything hinges on his health. If he can stay on the floor, he'll put up huge assist numbers. He easily could put up around eight per game and be among the league leaders. But he doesn't shoot 3s or rack up steals, and I find it hard to believe he'll be on the floor for 82 games. His fragility means there's little chance he'll top 30 minutes per game anyway, as the team has capable enough backups to limit his playing time. He'll improve upon last season's numbers because last season he found himself in a complete time-share and was hobbled by injuries. But don't expect his stats to skyrocket or for him to be a workhorse for his new squad.

Fantasy outlook
Danny Granger filed a restraining order against me last season, so I can't expound upon his virtues for long, but he's a legit second-rounder who will continue his ascent into the upper echelon of fantasy players. With the team in desperate need of inside scoring, he'll have to take it to the paint more, so he could have a higher field-goal percentage and more free-throw attempts. I'm trying not to leave a draft without him or Rudy Gay on my team.

Mike Dunleavy Jr. went crazy last year, and even though I think he's for real, he'll likely have a tough time shooting 42.4 percent from behind the arc, so his 3-point totals should dip a bit. The ability to start him at shooting guard makes him valuable, because it's a position that often lacks multiple-category contributors like Dunleavy.

Roy Hibbert will be part of the Pacers' rotation as a rookie and will block a shot here and there. But he wasn't able to be a dominant scorer or rebounder in college (the 7-foot-2 center averaged just 13.4 points and 6.3 rebounds his senior season), so I don't see him having fantasy success, especially not this season.

Jeff Foster has proven to be a capable rebounder and will fend off Hibbert, and with O'Neal gone, he could have the best season of his career. Jamaal Tinsley's value is all dependent upon which team he ends up playing for, and if he gets minutes, he's proven to be able to put up dazzling fantasy numbers. If his situation is still undecided come draft day and he's hanging around at the very end, stashing him could prove a wise move, but his impact on the Pacers will be negligible.

Jarrett Jack will see time at both guard positions much like he did in Portland and will put up similar numbers while blocking Brandon Rush from having fantasy value as a rookie. Shawne Williams has an enticing set of fantasy tools, as he averaged 0.7 3s, 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks in 14 minutes per game last season. He's mired behind Granger, Dunleavy and Murphy, but has the potential for crazy numbers if given the minutes. Williams likely won't earn enough to contribute unless injuries occur, but he will be on my watch list all season thanks to his propensity to contribute in the trifecta of glorious fantasy categories.

Key additions: Joe Alexander, Luke Ridnour

Key losses: Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons, Desmond Mason, Mo Williams

Projected starting lineup
PF: Charlie Villanueva
SF: Richard Jefferson
C: Andrew Bogut
PG: Ramon Sessions
SG: Michael Redd

Notable reserves
PG Luke Ridnour
SF Joe Alexander
SG Charlie Bell
PG Tyronn Lue

Sleeper: Charlie Villanueva
With Jianlian in his way last season, Cholly averaged just 24 minutes per game and started in 31 contests. Those numbers are sure to improve this season. He could flirt with a steal, a block and a 3-pointer. He also should see increased scoring because defenses will focus on Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson while Andrew Bogut clogs up space in the paint. Villanueva has the skill set that translates well to the fantasy game, and if this is the year he tops 30 minutes per game, I want him on my team.

Bust: Ramon Sessions
It's hard to choose one Bucks player, because I don't see anybody's value plummeting. But many have lofty expectations for Sessions based upon a small sample size from last season (7.5 assists per game in 17 contests, seven as a starter), and I don't expect that type of performance if he's given regular minutes. Luke Ridnour has his deficiencies, but he can facilitate and earn steals despite his allergy to defense. He will challenge Sessions for playing time along with Tyronn Lue and Charlie Bell, another reason I'm skeptical of Sessions' performance. Plus, Sessions attempted just seven 3-pointers all last season, and it's almost a fantasy necessity that point guards shoot 3s. He also averaged just 8.1 points per game, making him look more like an assists specialist than a starting fantasy point guard. He's a nice young player, but based upon the hype, I'd rather draft someone more proven, more well-rounded and less surrounded by competition.

Fantasy outlook
Andrew Bogut's free-throw percentage is crippling (.587 last season), but his overall stats increased and his blocks jumped through the roof last season from 0.5 to 1.7 per game. His points and rebounds should continue to go up, and he's magnificent from the floor, averaging 53 percent for his career. But his free-throw shooting is bad enough that it's important to compensate for it during the draft if you do end up choosing him.

Richard Jefferson should put up similar stats as he did in New Jersey last season, when he averaged 22.6 points per game. He's accustomed to sharing the court with another big scorer, and Redd's unselfish nature should bring out the best in him. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jefferson were to follow up last year's performance with another career year.

As for Redd? His scoring likely will take a dip, but his assists should continue to improve as they did last season. Redd is developing into more of an all-around player. Before the NBA draft, everybody had a crush on the intriguing Joe Alexander, who then went on to be the most disappointing player in the summer league. A player with his type of raw ability who relies upon his frenetic engine takes time to develop, and I don't see him doing anything significant in his rookie campaign other than providing a few highlight-reel dunks. Ridnour's greatest success as a pro came when he had Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen at his disposal, and he finds himself in a similar situation with Redd and Jefferson. He'll likely share time with Sessions, which is the worst-case fantasy scenario because it hurts both of their values.

Ridnour's numbers will be better than those of last season in Seattle, where the game got to his head. A change of scenery is just what he needs, and he should provide some assists and steals. Charlie Bell fizzled last year, but the departure of Mo Williams should open up playing time in the backcourt. He can even play a little small forward and should find enough time filling in the gaps to improve upon last season's disappointing campaign and move closer to the 13.5 points, 1.5 3s and 1.2 steals he averaged two seasons ago.

Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

Josh Whitling

Fantasy Basketball
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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