Southeast Division fantasy team previews
Key Loss: Josh Childress
SG/SF Maurice Evans
PG Acie Law
SG Ronald Murray
Sleeper: Mike Bibby
Bibby's numbers were deflated last season due to age, injuries and a change of scenery. Even at his best, Bibby has always been more about solid top-to-bottom production rather than flashy stat lines. As a result, he'll probably slip a round or two lower than he should.
Bust: Marvin Williams
Williams' value still seems to be inflated due to his high NBA draft position and collegiate pedigree. He still has plenty of upside, but has yet to display any ability to rise above the role of third or fourth fantasy forward.
Despite the defection of expatriate Josh Childress, Atlanta is still a team that brims with unexpected fantasy potential. The key to looking at these still-young Hawks is respecting their upside.
While the real-world impact of the loss of Childress could be large, in fantasy his loss loosens the logjam in the Hawks' frontcourt. Josh Smith has a new contract, but time will tell if he can mature into a true night-in, night-out superstar. With extra minutes, the question for Williams will be whether or not he can expand his production beyond points and rebounds. Al Horford will round out the front line and has the chance to become a top-10 fantasy center for years to come.
Bibby may resemble only a decent facsimile of his former fantasy-elite self, but he should be a reasonable lock to improve on his 2007-08 numbers. He'll still be solid, but don't bite on name value -- wait until the middle rounds.
Joe Johnson had an up-and-down campaign, but he benefited greatly from Bibby's addition. With Bibby distributing, and in a playoff push, Johnson had a great second half and saw a return to his sharpshooting days. There aren't many other players who can average 2.5 3-pointers a game while hitting at such a high clip.
Key Additions: D.J. Augustin
Key Losses: None
Sleeper: Sean May
If the steady yet oft-injured May ends up averaging more than 30 minutes per game, he could end up averaging close to a double-double. Nothing flashy, but a nice player to have on your bench in a best-case scenario.
Bust: Emeka Okafor
Okafor always seems to be the first center drafted in the middle rounds, usually around the time owners start panicking about not having a center. With Okafor, it's not about his numbers; it's about his ability to remain on the court.
Much like the Hawks, the Bobcats may not be an elite team -- even within the diminished Eastern Conference -- but they have intriguing young talent at several positions.
Jason Richardson has been a long-neglected fantasy commodity, with injuries and the Don Nelson Effect annually derailing borderline-elite seasons. After the trade to Charlotte, Richardson finally stayed healthy in 2007-08 and showed that he is a versatile stat-sheet stuffer worthy of an early pick.
Over the course of his young career, Gerald Wallace has gone from being unknown, to sorely underrated, then somewhat overrated. We all know he has stud capacity when ambulatory but therein lies the rub. Wallace played in only 62 games last season and is a mortal lock to remain south of 70 games in 2008-09.
Okafor managed to beat the injury bug last season, but that might have had more to do with a contract push than newfound durability. He's simply too much of an injury risk to be counted on as a No. 1 center. May is back, and he has shown double-double potential when healthy. If he can stay on the court, he'll prove himself worthy of a late-round roll of the dice. He's definitely a better gamble than perpetual fantasy tease Nazr Mohammed.
Charlotte must have been trying to throw a scare into Raymond Felton with its selection of D.J. Augustin. Felton is a steady, underrated performer, but we'll just have to see how the Bobcats manage their backcourt roles.
Key Losses: Jason Williams
Sleeper: Mario Chalmers
Chalmers fell into Miami's lap in the second round, and with so much offensive talent surrounding him, he is in a prime situation to have eventual fantasy value in his rookie season.
Bust: Chris Quinn
Quinn had a few big games down the stretch, but he should essentially be a placeholder for Chalmers.
In terms of production, the Heat are extremely front-loaded. They have a couple of absolute studs, a potential stud in the making and absolutely nothing else worthy of drafting, unless you're in a 15-team league with 20-man rosters. The problem is that their three stars -- Shawn Marion, Dwyane Wade and Michael Beasley -- all come with a diverse set of baggage.
Marion may be perpetually disgruntled, but he is in a contract year and should perform accordingly. Of the Heat's stars, he's the safest bet and could slightly slip in some drafts. Pounce accordingly. Wade had a great Olympic campaign, seemingly proving himself back, but just remember that a "healthy Dwyane Wade" is only a relative term.
Beasley is going to be a fun guy to have in your imaginary locker room. Just be prepared for a lot of rookie ups and downs, and pencil him in for two to three games' worth of suspensions for various transgressions committed in the name of said "fun." That stated, behind that childlike smile lurks absolutely monstrous fantasy potential.
Beyond those three, the pickings are slim. Quinn or Marcus Banks should begin the year as the starting point guard, but then should give way to Chalmers by Hanukkah. If Beasley goes off the reservation, Udonis Haslem should be able to fill in with his trademark 10 points, 8 rebounds and no blocks.
Key Additions: Mickael Pietrus
Sleeper: Mickael Pietrus
The ultra-athletic Pietrus has gobs of potential and is in line to receive the most consistent minutes of his career.
Bust: Jameer Nelson
Nelson is the clear-cut starter at point guard, but don't let the lack of competition fool you into thinking he's suddenly going to become anything more than a backup fantasy point guard.
The Magic are the rare team that has a draftable fantasy player at every spot in its starting lineup.
Heading up the talent is Dwight Howard, who assumed the mantle of "the new Shaq" with aplomb last season, absolutely dominating in several categories while simultaneously and single-handedly destroying his owners' free-throw percentage in the process.
Hedo Turkoglu finally delivered on years of fantasy promise and potential and put together an All-Star season in 2007-08. His emergence took Rashard Lewis' numbers down a peg, and there's no reason to doubt the same dynamic will play out this season.
With Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling both gone, Nelson seems to have sole custody of the Magic's point guard duties. Notoriously streaky, Nelson still can't hit the 3-pointer with any reliability, but he should be a solid late-round pick.
Like Turkoglu, Pietrus has long shown flashes of fantasy potential but has never been in the right situation to display it (that being anywhere but Golden State). Now locked in at shooting guard, Pietrus could possibly have pseudo-Gerald Wallace capabilities.
Key Losses: None
Sleeper: Andray Blatche
Blatche is an annual listing here for good reason: There are few young big men with his type of athleticism. All he needs is the minutes.
Bust: Gilbert Arenas
Arenas is worth a flier if he falls into the middle rounds, but remember you'll probably only get 55 games of production at best. At worst it could be a lost season.Fantasy Outlook
For the past two seasons, the Wizards' fantasy value has been determined by the gimpy knee of Gilbert Arenas. When he is in the lineup and injury-free, Arenas is a top-10 fantasy player. Conversely, because he dominates the ball, when he's on, everyone else's production suffers. Last season -- essentially a lost one for Agent Zero -- the Wizards actually became a more balanced fantasy team. And since Arenas is out until at least late December, you have to pay attention to who flourished in his absence in 2007-08.
Neglected beyond belief in most drafts, Antawn Jamison is a true 20-10 type who also hits the 3 and averages better than a steal per game. Caron Butler came into his own last season -- putting up solid numbers in every category but blocks -- before going down with various maladies. He's a nice, mild gamble in the second to third round.
Antonio Daniels will be solid in Arenas' absence, but he can't be counted on to be much more than a decent fantasy bench player. Brendan Haywood had a career year last season but won't be able to duplicate those numbers with the return of Etan Thomas.
The Wizards also have a developing young bench with a few players who bear watching (but not drafting). Blatche had one hot stretch as a starter in 2007-08 when he seemed to be putting it all together, but he quickly regressed when put back into a bench role. If Blatche or Nick Young gets more minutes, either one could creep up onto the fantasy radar.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN Fantasy Games.
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