- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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Despite what many may have you believe, Josh Childress bolting to Europe wasn't the only news in the NBA this week. The ever popular Vegas Summer League concluded while the Rocky Mountain Revue started up in Utah. And let's not forget the Golden State Warriors, who made some moves to help bolster their depleted bench for a relatively low price.
Just a week ago, the Warriors bench was the laughingstock of the league. Not anymore. Not only did they swipe Ronny Turiaf from the Lakers to help out on the glass, but they also found a potential coup in the Marcus Williams deal, and kept Kelenna Azubuike in the process. Not a bad week for the Warriors, I'd say. Let's take a look at how the roster moves will affect the fantasy landscape on the league's most fantasy-friendly team.
Marcus Williams, PG, Warriors: Congrats Mr. Williams, you've officially been put on sleeper watch. Marcus Williams heading to Golden State may make more fantasy waves than one might think. First, I have always been a fan of Williams' fantasy potential. Here's a kid that can score, dish, steal, knock down the 3-pointer and hit on 80 percent from the charity stripe. Basically, he's the quintessential fantasy point guard if he can secure ample minutes. What's not to like? He didn't see much playing time in his first two seasons, but when he did, he flashed some real nice potential. Consider this: In seven starts last season, Williams averaged 11.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.9 3-pointers in 30.4 minutes per game. I know it's a small sample size, but his per-minute production supports the thought that he's about 15 minutes away from being a productive fantasy point guard. Last season, he averaged just 5.9 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals and a 3-pointer per game, but did so in only 16.2 minutes. Prorate those numbers to 32 minutes per game and we get 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.0 3-pointers and a steal per game. Not too shabby, eh?
That he now has an opportunity to play for the fantasy-friendly Warriors and has a chance to increase his playing time make him all the more attractive heading into the 2008-09 season. While it's true that the Warriors have made nice moves to bolster their bench, they still have a fairly shallow roster, and Williams could immediately be their sixth man to start the season. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Williams takes over as the starting point guard for Don Nelson at some point this season. Nellie is a fickle dude, and if there's one thing we know about him it's that he likes to tinker with his lineups. Williams could easily be the starter, and even if he isn't, I don't think he'll have a hard time finding 30 minutes per game for the Warriors this season. This is a great opportunity for the youngster and a great buying opportunity for fantasy owners in the later rounds of fantasy drafts.
Some may think that the Williams signing could negatively affect this year's golden boy, Monta Ellis. Let them think that. Ellis is the man in Golden State now, and he's going to get his no matter who else is on the court. The addition of Williams may actually help Ellis in that it will take some pressure off of him in his transition to point guard.
Ronny Turiaf, PF/C, Warriors: Don't make the mistake of thinking that Turiaf is suddenly going to morph into a well-rounded fantasy player now that he has an opportunity for increased minutes in Golden State. He's a two-category guy (blocks and rebounds) and that's about all. And, not to be a downer, but his rebounding numbers aren't as strong as many may think. He pulled down 3.9 boards in 18.7 minutes per game, which would translate into a pedestrian 6.3 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. That said, he shouldn't have a hard time gobbling up boards in Golden State when he's on the court. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, the Warriors play an up-and-down style that will create more rebounding opportunities. Second, let's face it; there isn't much competition for rebounds in Golden State. I don't think he'll be a great rebounder, but he should be able to grab six or seven boards per game in his new role.
In what Turiaf should excel, however, is the shot-blocking category. He swatted 1.4 shots per game in '07-08, and that number should improve to 1.8-2.0 per game with increased minutes in Golden State. Speaking of minutes, how many should we expect Turiaf to receive under Don Nelson? Turiaf is tough and more experienced than Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph, and he figures to be the first big man off the bench for Nellie. Unfortunately, Turiaf is also as foul prone as they come, and I'm not sure if he'll curb his bad habit with his new club. With that said, I think 25 minutes is the max for Turiaf, and we're probably looking at a guy who will be a shot-blocking specialist only in most fantasy formats.
The addition of Turiaf will make more of an impact on Golden State's two youngsters -- Wright and Randolph -- than it will on the incumbents, Andris Biedrins and Al Harrington. Wright and Randolph certainly have plenty of potential, but with Turiaf eating up minutes off the bench, I'm afraid that you may have to hold off on marking them down as high-upside sleepers for 2008-09.
So long Josh Childress
There is no doubt that Josh Childress took a step back last year, at least in terms of his fantasy prowess. Much of that had to do with declining minutes rather than declining skills, but he lost some fantasy steam nonetheless. Still, that doesn't mean that he won't be missed among the fantasy crowd. Childress was a solid role player in fantasy leagues. He provided great percentages with points, rebounds and steals mixed in. Now that he's headed overseas for at least a year, what do we make of the fantasy landscape in Atlanta?
I suspect that the knee-jerk reaction to Childress' departure will be to jump on the Marvin Williams bandwagon. As one of the league's best off the bench, Childress cut into some of Williams' minutes and production in 2007-08, so in theory we should expect Williams to make a big splash this season. Be careful, though. Many predicted a similar type of breakout last year and came away severely disappointed. With averages of 14.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and a steal in 34.5 minutes per game, Williams was unable to prove that he can be anything other than a mediocre fantasy option in the NBA. Sure he can score, and he'll get to the free-throw line a ton, but where are the big steal numbers, where are the blocks and where are the 3-pointers? This is a prime example of what I like to call "empty stats." They look pretty good on paper, but don't do much to help your fantasy squad. Marvin is still just 22, so there's plenty of time for him to revamp his game, but he already gets a bunch of minutes, and I'm not liking his per-minute production in any category other than points and free throw percentage. That said, I'm not going to stand here and tell you that he won't gain some value with Childress gone. Someone has to help compensate for the loss of Childress, and Williams will increase his production. Just not as much as many think.
I would attempt to pimp the next guy in line off the bench for the Hawks, but I'm looking at the roster, and I don't see much, in number or in talent. The Hawks currently have an eight-man roster, so we have to expect a few moves in the future. Right now, I'd give the edge to Acie Law off the bench as the sixth man. Yes, Mike Bibby is ahead of him on the depth chart, but he is the sixth-best player in this lineup, and I could see the Hawks going with both point guards on the floor from time to time. Still, I don't like what I'm seeing on the Hawks bench from a fantasy perspective, so it's going to be a heavy dose of the starters in Atlanta this season. And that means a whole lot of Joe Johnson, who I loved before this, but love even more now. JJ was a super stud once Mike Bibby joined the roster last season (23.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.5 3-pointers with 47.5 percent from the floor and 80.3 percent from the line after the All Star Break), and I'm expecting him to pick up most of the slack for the departed Childress.
Summer League notes
Last week, we discussed how the rookie class has fared in the NBA summer leagues, and if you've been a reader of mine for a while, you already know that I find rookies to be vastly overrated fantasy prospects. I'd much rather take a risk on a second- or third-year breakout player than take my chances with the rooks. I love watching "veterans" hoop it up with the rookies during the summer. Now with a year of experience under their belts, they get a chance to mentor the younger players while showcasing their skills for the upcoming season. Three second-year players, in particular, have caught my eye:
Wilson Chandler, F, Knicks: I'm not sure anyone can tell you how the rotation is going to work under Mike D'Antoni, but if Wilson Chandler has his way, he'll be a fixture in the Knicks lineup in 2008-09. Chandler showed some sleeper potential last season when he got his first opportunity for extended minutes in April. In 28.3 minutes per game, Chandler averaged a solid 12.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers per game. There's some multi-category potential there, and you have to like the fact that he contributed modestly in steals, blocks and 3-pointers. Chandler has only increased his sleeper status this summer, earning great reviews from his head coach. In Vegas, he averaged 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game, but more importantly, he displayed a confidence and maturity that should carry over into the regular season. There are still a lot of lineup issues that need to be worked out in New York before we start calling Chandler a sleeper candidate, but he's done more than enough to make me tune in during training camp to see where he stands in the rotation.
Al Thornton, F, Clippers: You have to love it when a player who was mostly a scorer in his rookie season comes out and dedicates his summer to improving his defense, rebounding and distributing. And that's exactly what Thornton has done this offseason. Not only did he look great in Vegas, but he also started to show signs of refining all of the raw skill that everyone raved about when he came into the league a year ago. At 24, he's a bit old for a second-year player, but no one can doubt the talent that this kid oozes. As evidence, we can point to his second-half splits in his rookie season: 16.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 3-pointers in 34.4 minutes per game. Those are fantastic numbers for a rookie, and Thornton should build on that success (and his success in Vegas) in his sophomore season. With Corey Maggette gone, the Clips are going to lean heavily on Thornton, meaning a ton of minutes are headed his way. And that, my friends, makes Thornton a prime candidate to break out in a big way in 2008-09.
Thaddeus Young, SF, 76ers: The Philadelphia media is still in their honeymoon phase in the wake of the Elton Brand signing, so you'll be hard pressed to find any negative news coming out of Philly these days. And honestly, there's not much negative to say about this Sixers squad at the moment. Marreese Speights and Jason Smith impressed in Vegas, but the one guy who's creating all the buzz is second-year man Thaddeus Young. When Young first arrived in the NBA, many believed that he would be at least two or three years away from realizing his potential. But Young showed rapid improvement in his rookie season, earning quality minutes both as a starter and off the bench in the second half of the season. He averaged 10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 26.5 minutes after the All-Star break, and flashed potential that had fantasy owners drooling at the thought of what he might look like a few years down the line. Given the way he's progressing, we might not have to wait much longer until he realizes his full potential.
Despite still being a young gun at 20 years old, Young acted like a seasoned vet in Vegas. Showing his maturity, Young has focused on improving not just his outside jump shot (working with former gunner Mark Price) and ballhandling skills, but also his overall knowledge of the game. Stats in the summer leagues do not matter much, but it is worth it to mention that he led the team in scoring and steals with 18.8 points and 1.6 steals per game. He'll come into the 2008-09 season as the unquestioned starting small forward, and he'll have the luxury of easing into the role, as he has a lot of help around him to help with the transition. The downside of playing alongside players like Brand and Andre Iguodala, however, is that he may not have the opportunities that a guy like Al Thornton will have in Los Angeles. But Young is so talented that he's still a favorite breakout candidate of mine, despite the fact that he'll have a lot of competition for stats in Philadelphia.
Brian McKitish is an award-winning fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
6mEthan Sherwood Strauss