- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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Let's just say this hasn't been the best week and a half for the Western Conference. First the West loses Kevin Garnett to the Celtics, then Elton Brand goes down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. I feel for Clippers fans, I really do. But even worse, I feel for those who own Brand in keeper leagues. It's not a career-threatening injury, but are you really going to give up your 2007-08 season just to be able to keep Brand for 2008-09? I wouldn't.
There's some debate as to when Brand will be able to return to the court, but I'm not expecting anything until February at the earliest -- and even that is an optimistic timeline. Sure, it's possible that Brand could turn into this season's version of Pau Gasol, who missed the first six weeks of the 2006-07 season after breaking his foot during the summer only to come back strong and put up career-best averages nearly across the board. However, with an injury as serious as this, it's a bit of a long shot for Brand to do the same.
If Brand can make a swift recovery (remembering that the word "swift," in this case, means February), he'll definitely warrant a late-round selection in head-to-head leagues, since his missed time won't be as detrimental to your season as long as your team is strong enough to make the playoffs. I probably won't be drafting him in Rotisserie formats, but I might take a stab at him in the last few rounds -- and that's only if I feel that I have a deep enough team to have him eating up a roster spot at the end of my bench.
Needless to say, I'm not counting on much out of Brand this year, and without him, the Clippers just aren't a very good basketball team. Let's take a look at some of the players who will be directly affected by the injury:
Cuttino Mobley, SG: Mobley's fantasy stock has plummeted over the last few years (since he moved to L.A.), but the Brand injury could make him a quality sleeper this season. Mobley's biggest issue since joining the Clippers has been a lack of shots, not just from the floor, but also from behind the arc. In fact, the Clippers have ranked 29th in the league in attempted 3s in each of the past two seasons. That had a lot to do with the fact that their offense revolved around Brand in the paint. The Clips will have to reinvent themselves this season, and that might mean more 3-point attempts for Mobley and the rest of the squad. Cuttino will need to become more active on the offensive end, and since he has been able to maintain his shooting percentages over the past few years, I could see him easily averaging 15-16 points, 1.5 3-pointers and 1.2 steals per contest this season.
Corey Maggette, SF: Maggette is the big winner here, but that's assuming he doesn't get injured himself, as he's been known to do in the past. He was a major disappointment last year, averaging just 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.9 steals in only 30.6 minutes per game. But with Brand out, he'll not only see more minutes but also become the No. 1 offensive option on a team that doesn't have many scorers. I'm thinking we'll see something similar to his 2004-05 campaign, when he put up 22.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 36.9 minutes per game. Maggette's greatest fantasy strength is his ability to get to the free-throw line at a high rate; he's shooting 82.0 percent for his career. Now that he'll be the go-to guy on the offensive end, he should be able to get to the line 10 or more times per game, and he'll be a dominant force in the free-throw percentage category for any fantasy team.
Al Thornton, F: The Clippers probably have no shot at making the playoffs without Brand, which means they won't waste any time getting Thornton the minutes he needs to gain some experience. Thornton was one of the draft's most athletic players, and he has the pure talent to dominate at any level. I still think he has room for growth and for refining his game, but that doesn't mean he can't have fantasy value this year. Remember, this is a guy who averaged 19.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers per game while shooting .530 from the floor and .790 from the line at Florida State last year. The potential for multi-category production, combined with the fact that he'll most likely see 30-32 minutes per game this season, makes Thornton a quality sleeper candidate in fantasy leagues. Just be sure to remember that he'll be a high-risk/high-reward selection due to his lack of experience.
Tim Thomas, F: The Clips will have to acquire another power forward, but for now, the starting power forward job might belong to Tim Thomas. Thornton will also see some time at the 4, but Thomas could end up being a nice 3-point specialist now that it looks like he'll be seeing a slight increase in minutes. Thomas averaged 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.8 3s in 27.0 minutes per game last season, and although he won't help out in any other category, his ability to drain the 3-ball makes him a decent late-round selection in fantasy leagues.
Chris Kaman, C: I've been dreading writing this blurb all week. You see, Kaman burned me pretty bad last year. I had him pegged as a top fantasy center, I was wrong and I'll never forgive him for it. Sure, he struggled with injuries for most of the year, but he also didn't play particularly well even when he was healthy. He was just too slow to keep up with all the quick big men who have infiltrated the league in recent years. That said, it's always important to have a short memory when it comes to fantasy, right? I mean, who else is going to rebound on this team now that Brand is out? I'll still be cautious, but it's hard to deny that Kaman is looking like a nice little sleeper right now. He's reportedly worked pretty hard this summer in an effort to put last season behind him, and there's a good possibility that he'll put up better numbers than he did in 2005-06 when he averaged 11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
Brevin Knight/Sam Cassell, PGs: Add the Clippers to the growing list of teams that will be employing a two-headed point guard system this season. The newly acquired Knight will team with Cassell to form a solid but injury-prone duo. I hate time-shares, and I won't be dying to get my hands on either player, but I'm sure each will have stretches of solid value this season. I actually like Knight slightly better than Cassell, if only because I know he has the ability to put up quality assist and steal numbers in a time-share situation. Knight has been able to post 6.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game despite seeing just 26.5 minutes per night for his career. Cassell, on the other hand, hasn't fared as well with time-shares, but he likely will benefit from the loss of Brand by taking a more active role on the offensive end.
OK, I think I'm just about Clipper-ed out now. This team won't be any good, and that's actually good news for some of their fantasy players. You know what I always say about good players on bad teams, right?
Next week we'll take a look at the Memphis Grizzlies, including an in-depth feature on how Juan Carlos Navarro will fit in (assuming his trade is finalized by then). In the meantime, if you're dying for some Navarro news, check out Henry Abbott's blog, TrueHoop. It has plenty of interesting Navarro nuggets, and if you click here, you'll see that I've even gone through the trouble sorting out the Navarro blurbs for you. What a guy, huh?
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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