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Team Preview: Houston Rockets

On paper, the Rockets looked like a team that should have been contending with Dallas and San Antonio last year.  Their top two guys, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, were perhaps the best 1-2 in terms of talent in the league.  They had an inconsistent but exciting point guard in Rafer Alston, a couple solid vets in David Wesley and Juwan Howard, and a couple exciting youngsters in Chuck Hayes and Luther Head.  The final record?  34-48. Yikes!  Tracy McGrady’s back limited him to 47 games, Yao played only 57, and Stromile Swift ruined everyone’s life, as usual.  When you’re as top-heavy as the Rockets, injuries to your big guys can kill your season, and that’s just what happened.  The one big change on the roster occurred when the Rockets sent Stromile Swft and Rudy Gay to the Grizzlies for Shane Battier.  Let’s see what that’ll mean for the team:

The Stud: Yao Ming, C
Yao enjoyed perhaps his best stretch as a pro last year after the All-Star break, where he put up 25.7/11.6 with 1.8 blocks on 54/88 shooting.  That run let him finish the year with his first 20+ scoring average and his first double-digit rebounding season.  That was the good news.  The bad news was he missed significant time for the first time in his career, then broke his foot at the end of the season.  However, he was back to his dominating self at the world championships this summer, so it seems that he’s fully recovered.  Yao was #15 on the average player rater, but his draft value is a little better than that because 1) there’s no reason to think he won’t play 80+ games this year and 2) he’s a center.  I think he’s a fine late-first round pick this year, and if he falls to the second somehow you shouldn’t think twice.

The Support: Tracy McGrady, GF
Poor Tracy.  He’s long been one of my favorite NBA players, but last year just didn’t go so well for him.  He had major problems with chronic … back pain.  Chronic as in, “doesn’t go away.”  That’s enough to push McGrady out of the first round and possibly well into the second.  It’s just way too early to tell for McGrady right now.  He’s obviously a first-round talent but we’re going to have to see how camp goes before really judging his value.  If everything goes OK, I still wouldn’t advise taking him before the mid-second round.  He has yet to play 80 games in his nine year career, and there’s no reason to think that he’ll change that trend this year.

The Supporting Support: Shane Battier, SF
Battier is one of my favorite targets this year.  In Memphis, even though he got plenty of minutes he was never better than their 5th scoring option.  That changes this year in Houston, where he’ll be sitting solidly in the 3 spot behind McGrady and Yao.  He won’t see a huge uptick in stats but he doesn’t really need one.  The basics are all there – steals, blocks, threes, and FG%, – for Battier to be a great roster filler, but he always played below his offensive potential in Memphis.  Here’s an interesting statistic:  168 players played over 25 minutes per game last year.  Battier’s 0.22 FGA per minute ranked 157th out of those 168.  Of the 107 players who topped 30 mpg, that FGA per minute was only better than defensive stalwarts Bruce Bowen and Ben Wallace.  Battier may not be an offensive stud, but he is certainly not the liability that he was treated like in Memphis.  Look for him to find his offensive abilities utilized more often in Houston, with numbers like 15/8 with maybe 2 threes and over a steal and a block apiece.  I’ll be looking to draft him in the fifth round.

The Sleeper: Chuck Hayes
Hayes may only do one thing well, but he does it REALLY well.  Hayes’ per-minute rebounding rate (one every three minutes) is good enough for sixth among players who played more than thirty games last year.  It’s better than KG, Ben Wallace, and Tim Duncan.  The kid can rebound.  He’s not worth drafting, but he’ll be one to keep a close eye on early in the year.  If he can find a spot in the rotation and maybe another stat to excel in, he’ll be an interesting player.

The Slacker: Rafer Alston
12 points, 6 assists, 1.5 steals and threes … oh, if only that were the whole story.  But, there’s the matter of his 38% from the field, and his unforgivable 70% from the line.  Also, he’s going to see a hit in points and, probably, assists if Yao and McGrady stay healthy this year.  And there’s no way he plays almost 39 mpg this year, either.  Save yourself about three rounds and take Luke Ridnour instead.

Double Dribbles: Somehow, Juwan Howard saw 32 mpg last year.  He didn’t have any value.  Hopefully he stays on the bench in favor of Hayes and Battier this year … Casey Jacobsen is back.  He, youngster Luther Head and rookie Steve Novak will attempt to fill the void left by David Wesley, and none of these guys should have value … Kirk Snyder is just buried here.  He’s not worth your time.

Team Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers made the right move by not trading Allen Iverson. There’s just no reason to trade your best, most popular player when you won’t get even half value in return and you’ll still be stuck in salary cap hell because of the Chris Webber and Samuel Dalembert contracts. So AI will be back to put up more insane numbers on a mediocre team. One reason they’ll be mediocre is that this is a thin team, which is especially dangerous since Iverson and Webber aren’t exactly the most durable players. Thin rosters mean lots of minutes for the starters, so keep that in mind when dealing with the Sixers.

The Stud: Allen Iverson, PG
It might have been his best season yet, which is truly remarkable for a player like Iverson who has endured his share of physical hardships throughout his 10-year career. Iverson’s 33 ppg was a career high and his nearly 45% from the field was his best mark since his second season. It was also a pretty healthy season for Iverson. He missed two sets of four games each before sitting out the season’s final two contests, finishing with 72 games on the season, which is just about the best-case scenario with AI. The great thing about Iverson is that he may miss games, but if he’s out there, he’s playing. In three of the four games right before and after Iverson missed contests, he played 51, 46 and 42 minutes. After a summer of rumors Iverson is still in Philly, so don’t expect much to change. It would be asking a lot for Iverson to repeat his excellent shooting, but after dropping to a career-low 1.9 spg last season it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number jump back to the 2.5 range. He’s certainly worthy of a first-round pick, but if you can snag him around the snake portion of the first/second rounds, that’s probably where he fits best.

The Support: Andre Igoudala, GF
His numbers improved across the board, but it was mostly a result of seeing five extra minutes per game. His rebound, assist, steal and block rates all declined from his rookie season and it’s not like he asserted himself as much more of a scorer. But there’s still plenty reason to be hopeful for an Igoudala breakout. All of the ingredients are still there – durability (82 games in both seasons), tons of minutes (wouldn’t be surprising to see him push 40 mpg this year), a well-rounded game with no real weakness and one category in which he could possibly be dominant (steals). He finished 45/61 on the player rater last year (total/average) which puts him in roughly the fifth round in a 12-team league. It’s very likely you’ll be able to grab him there, maybe even a round later. Igoudala’s the perfect kind of guy to target in those middle rounds. That’s when I like to look for low-downside guys that I can plug into my lineup all year and not worry about. There’s no reason to think Igoudala will put up numbers any worse than what he did last year. It may very well be the case that he’s no superstar, perhaps not even an all-star, and that he won’t improve much on last year. I don’t necessarily believe that, but even if that’s the case you know that in the end the numbers will be there. And his chances of breaking out as a 22 year-old in his third season, who has two seasons of experience are probably pretty decent.

The Supporting Support: Chris Webber, PF
Give the man credit – he missed just three of the season’s first 75 games before sitting out the final four, making it his healthiest season since the 99-00 campaign. He finished at #38 on the player rater and was likely one of the bargains of your draft, dropping into at least the 50s. We had him ranked #58 and said he could be the steal of the draft … but probably not. Well, I guess we were right on both ends, since Mike James probably took steal of the draft honors. Everyone is onto Webber by this point, and you won’t find anyone taking him in the first 40 picks of your draft. It was a bit of a bounce back for Webber after a couple of tumultuous seasons, but he didn’t really play all that much better, he just played more, averaging a robust 38.6 mpg. Webber’s strengths and weaknesses are pretty well-defined by now. When he plays you know what you’re going to get – around 20/10, bad shooting for a PF and passable steals and blocks. That’s plenty valuable. It’s all about how often he’ll be on the court. If he starts slipping and you think you can manage without him should he miss 40 games or so, there’s no reason not to go for it.

The Sleeper: Samuel Dalembert, C
There’s a saying we have here at FBB. “Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” That basically sums up Dalembert, but we’re willing to give him another chance as one of those post-hype sleepers that may have burned enough people so that he’ll slip in drafts. Dalembert’s been a mega-tease for three seasons now and hasn’t shown any real improvement, but in his defense he hasn’t really been given the opportunity. Mo Cheeks botched this situation miserably last year. Dalembert was on his way to fulfilling the expectations of his huge contract – well as close as he could considering the absurdity of the deal – after getting off to a slow start and missing the first 13 games due to injury. In January he averaged 11 and 11 with 3.4 blocks on 61% shooting and a solid 75% from the line. Those are simply ridiculous fantasy numbers. But then a minor ankle sprain knocked him out for three games and the $60 million man came back to find that he lost his starting job to Stephen Hunter, a guy the Sixers traded to New Orleans two weeks earlier but had to take back after he failed a physical. Nonsensical stuff. Dalembert was entirely ineffective coming off the bench for the next month, went to the press with his disillusionment and didn’t really impress after getting his starting job back for the final few weeks. Despite missing 16 games and averaging just 26.7 mpg, Dalembert still blocked the eighth most shots in the league, so he’s plenty fantasy relevant. Getting just 30-32 mpg consistently could very easily make Dalembert a top 50 fantasy player. Hey, it could happen. Or we could be fooled again.

The Slacker: Kyle Korver, SF
Dalembert may be a specialist, but he at least offers pretty modest value in FG% and boards in addition to his blocks. Korver, meanwhile, is a true one-category player. Sure, he shoots 85% from the line, but AI is likely to shoot as many free throws in one game as Korver will in a month. Korver was terrible at the start of the season and got better as it went on, leaving hope that he might show improvement this year, but it seems pretty clear that what you see is what you get. A heavy-brow dude who hits his share of 3s and does nothing else. He managed to finish at #72 on the player rater, but it was a 72/98, meaning his durability gave him much of his value. If it gets late in the draft and you find yourself in need of 3s, Korver could be a fit. Ideally he’s someone you keep on your bench and plug in when an injury hits, just to be sure you get one category of solid production from the replacement.

Double Dribbles: Willie Greene should be back to full strength and is line to be a hot pick up should AI go down. He filled that role a few years ago and is always worth plugging in should that scenario arise. The 76ers don’t have a particularly deep backcourt and he’d see plenty of minutes in those games … Stephen Hunter didn’t show much at all last year. After averaging 1.3 bpg in just 13.8 mpg in Phoenix in 04-05 he looked like he could be a nice source of cheap blocks if he got the PT. But in 19 mpg last season he averaged just 1.1 bpg. He’s a ridiculously high percentage shooter, but won’t ever shoot enough to make a real difference and will take it back with his few attempts at the line. He’s that bad … He didn’t play much, but Shavlik Randolph showed a nice aggressiveness on the boards when he did. Should Webber go down, Randolph might be the one plugged into the lineup. Man, that’s a pretty scary thought.

Team Preview: Sacramento Kings

The Kings will be one of the more interesting teams to watch from a fantasy perspective this season. During the Rick Adelman era, the Kings were a goldmine for fantasy production. They played a high-scoring brand of basketball and Adelman used a short rotation that saw his best players receive very healthy minutes. Eric Musselman has a reputation as a defensive coach, but in the first seasons at Golden State, the Warriors were the second highest scoring team in the league. So we’ll see if he once again adjusts to the type of team he inherits, because this certainly is not a team full of defensive stoppers.

The Stud: Mike Bibby, PG
Regular readers of FBB know that I’ve always been a fan of Bibby. Consistency from the PG position is a wonderful thing to have and Bibby delivers it with the best of them. Last year saw him pick up much more of scoring slack, averaging a career high 21.1 ppg and 2.3 3pg, while his assist numbers dropped back down to his Sacramento norm of around 5.4 per game. Bibby is certainly more in the Jason Terry camp when it comes to PG, but you know that going on, so you can plan accordingly. You must note a disturbing trend in Bibby’s stats, though. In four consecutive seasons, his FGA have increased, while his FG% has decreased, dropping to 43.2% last season, his lowest mark since his rookie year. This has gone from a strength of Bibby’s to a slight weakness. Bibby finished at #26 on the player rater last year, no doubt helped by the fact that he played the 9th most total minutes in the league. His average rater position was #36, but staying healthy is a skill and Bibby has suffered just one serious injury in his eight-year career and he almost never misses random games. He’s as good a bet for 80 games as there is, and that’s certainly something you want from a pick in the first three rounds.

The Support: Brad Miller, C
Miller has turned in three consistent seasons with the Kings, but I’ll admit that I’m worried about him this year. Despite appearing in a career-high 79 games last season, he showed some warning signs. He averaged by far the lowest rebounding rate of his career, his lowest block rate since coming to Sacramento and his lowest FTA rate. A career-high assist rate shows that Miller is truly transitioning to a more perimeter-oriented big man. His 49.5% from the field was still very solid, but well off his previous two seasons in Sacramento. Miller is 30 years old, with an injury history and is coming off an especially healthy season. His all-around numbers can’t be underestimated and he should remain a premium player. Because of his center eligibility he won’t be a bargain. Spending a third round pick on a fragile center who doesn’t block shots isn’t really my thing. I don’t like avoiding players, because drafts can take many different turns, but I doubt Miller will be on my team this season.

The Supporting Support: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, F
What an odd fall from fantasy grace it’s been for Abdur-Rahim. Throughout his first eight years in the league there was no more consistent player than Abdur-Rahim. You knew exactly what you were getting from him, and you knew his team would suck. Ever since his trade from Atlanta it’s been quite rocky, though. He was never comfortable in the mess that was Portland and lost his starting job to Kenny Thomas after breaking his jaw last year. His track record remains strong, but he’s 30 years old now and it’s been two and half seasons since he has put up consistent top numbers. Thomas and Corliss Williamson are still around to push him for minutes. For Abdur-Rahim it’s all about the minutes and Musselman’s preference.

The Sleeper: Kevin Martin, SG
Martin was one of the better free agent pickups of last season and is line for a starting job out of the gate this year, so he likely won’t be too much of a sleeper. He started 41 games last season and saw a healthy 33.8 mpg in those contests, thanks to Adelman. Martin is in the same mold as Tayshaun Prince and Josh Howard, late first round picks who emerged to show off impressive all-around games. If Martin continues to attempt 3s like he did last year, he’ll maintain his value. What’s most important is that he holds off new acquisition John Salmons and second-year player Francisco Garcia for the majority of the minutes at the two. If he can do that, he’s still young and smart enough to show continued improvement across the board.

The Slacker: Ron Artest, SF
Possibly the first player on the team to get drafted is the slacker? Sure, why not? From a basketball standpoint, it was nice to simply see Artest stay on the court for a few consecutive months once he landed in Sacramento. You can’t say his troubles are behind him – if we consider staying physically health a skill, then maybe we have to consider staying mentally healthy a skill as well. Not so sure Artest has mastered that skill. You saw that Artest shot a truly dismal 38.3% from the field with the Kings, right? He won’t be that bad again, but remember that he is a 41.6% career shooter. He will hurt you there, big time. Artest enjoyed launching 3s once he got to Sacramento, although we’ll see if Musselman lets him continue to do so. He attempted 5 3pg with the Kings, hitting on just 30%. That’s not going to help you win many games. Artest is a near lock to be in the top 10 in the league in steals but I think he’s overrated for fantasy purposes even though he’ll receive tons of minutes.

Double Dribbles: Francisco Garcia should probably be the sleeper. With his modest abilities in 3s, steals and blocks he has the makings of a poor man’s Tayshaun Prince, and is another one of those late first rounders that could pan out. It’ll take injuries to give him value and he wasn’t all that impressive in 11 starts last season, but Garcia is someone who can fill up a stat sheet … It’s hard to blame the Kings for not giving Abdur-Rahim his starting job back because Kenny Thomas deserved to be out there. He turned in an incredibly efficient season, shooting a career-high 50.5%, including 52.3% as a starter. He’s more of a ESPN bottom line player than a great fantasy player. You’ll like seeing that “SAC Thomas: 14 points, 11 rebounds” crawl across the screen, but there won’t be much else to like … John Salmons finally landed in Sacramento after it looked like he was definitely going to Toronto, then definitely going to Phoenix. If the minutes are there – which they almost certainly won’t be – he’s a decent end of roster guy.

Team Preview: Dallas Mavericks

You know, a ton of people might hate on Mark Cuban, but you have to admit he’s made some pretty good decisions regarding his team.  He made a tough call in letting Steve Nash go a few years ago, but it seems to have been for the best, as Dirk Nowitzki became a true team leader and took the Mavs all the way to the NBA finals last year.  Cuban also has found some gems, like left-for-dead Desagana Diop, and even has found useful roles for guys well past their primes, like Jerry Stackhouse.  You can’t win ‘em all (Erick Dampier, for example), but give Cuban some credit – his team was the best in a pretty talented West last year.  As for fantasy, they’ve got one of the most solid fantasy players in the league in Dirk, but behind him there’s so much talent that often, minutes are hard to find:

The Stud: Dirk Nowitzki, PF
Dirk is one of the safest picks you can make in your fantasy draft, which is why he won’t fall out of the top 5 in most leagues.  While his defensive numbers fell a bit last year, Dirk shot up the charts in his percentages.  I say, let ‘em have a couple of blocks.  If you draft Dirk, you are well on your way to leading your league in FT%.  His 90% is 5% better than any other PF or C (Yao Ming is next at 85), and he gets to the line over seven times a game.  Throw in his 1.4 threes and potential for over a block and a steal, plus (oh yeah) his 26 points and 9 boards, and really the only spot you don’t have covered with your first round pick is assists.  He’s a great first rounder to pair with one of the second-round PGs.

The Support: Jason Terry, PG
I’m actually pretty lukewarm on Terry this year.  Yes he can fill it up from outside, evidenced by his 2.1 threes last year.  But he’s really a huge liability in assists (only 3.8 last year), and that’s just not something you can afford to have with a PG1.  Terry certainly CAN pass the ball, but with the emergence of Devin Harris in the playoffs, and the acquisition of Anthony Johnson, Terry will likely spend even more of his time playing off the ball this season.  His points and threes mean that he might cost you as much as a fourth round pick, but I’d make sure I had a strong assists guy so that I could play Terry at G or Utility before drafting him.

The Supporting Support: Josh Howard, F
Howard, too has to be considered over-rated going into this season.  I think he’s a great player, but he’s a guy that will be taken a couple of rounds too early in most drafts.  I occasionally check out the Yahoo! Big Board to see what they’re saying about value, and Howard is interesting.  In two so-called “experts drafts” (note that FBB did not get an invite, so “expert” is a dubious term at best), Howard went 73rd and 67th overall. My question: why?  He was 86th on the Average Player Rater, and he missed 23 games, putting him at 116 on the Total Player Rater.  It’s not like his missed time was a one-time deal, either – he missed 15 games in his rookie year, and 6 in his sophomore campaign.  He’s certainly not going to see many more minutes that the 32 he saw last year.  He’s not a standout in any one category.  I’d hold off until at least the ninth round or so before drafting him – but someone else will probably take him around the seventh.

The Sleeper: Devin Harris, PG
Harris could be overvalued because of his explosion in the playoffs last year, but I think he might live up to his hype.  The trades of Marquis Daniels and Darrell Armstrong clear things up a bit for Harris, even if Anthony Johnson was added in one of the deals.  Johnson certainly won’t play the combined 38.5 mpg that Armstrong and Daniels had, and Jason Terry will likely fill a lot of those minutes that Daniels played at SG.  Harris, however, while he had a great postseason, also had a couple of concerning games.  Specifically, I’m worried about games three and five against San Antonio, where he played a total of 68 minutes, and dished out a total of ZERO assists.  Still, if he gets 30 mpg, he should contribute enough in points and steals – and a few assists – that he’ll be worth a late-round pick.

The Slacker: Jerry Stackhouse, GF
There are a ton of candidates for “slacker” on the Mavs, but we’ll pick Jerry Stackhouse for the second year in a row, because he’s got the most “perceived” value of the group.  In late rounds, a name guy who still scores double digits will look pretty good, but a closer look shows that Stackhouse provides almost no value outside of the points and a nice FT%.  Fewer than three boards and assists, less than one steal and one three, and a terrible FG% means that Stack will do more harm than good for your squad, and shouldn’t be drafted.

Double Dribbles: Erick Dampier has the potential to be a “slacker,” but right now expectations are so low that he just doesn’t qualify … Dasagana Diop – this year’s Adonal Foyle?  I mean, other than the original Adonal Foyle … a couple of injuries could open up serious minutes for Maurice Ager, and if so he could be a nice sleeper pick but he’s not worth drafting … Devean George should steal minutes from teammates, but that’s about it … Anthony Johnson may have had value last year in Indiana but he’ll struggle to see enough minutes in Dallas.

Team Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Don’t look now, but the Atlanta Hawks doubled their win total in 2005-06.  Their big offseason acquisition worked out as well as they possibly could have hoped, their youngsters developed, and they signed a pretty decent player to a not-so-crippling contract this summer.  Despite their troubles in the front office, it’s been a not-too-bad 12 months on and around the court for the Hawks.  Well, as not-too-bad as you could hope for with a 26-win team.  From a fantasy perspective, they’ve got about four or five guys who could qualify as “sleepers” on the Hawks.  One of them has to emerge, right?  Especially with the departure of Al Harrington?  Let’s see if we can figure out who’s the best candidate.

The Stud: Joe Johnson, G
The Joe Johnson experiment went about as well as anyone could have imagined last year.  Sure he turned the ball over plenty, but he also put up 20/4/6 with 1.6 threes and 1.3 steals and is really making a case to be a second round pick.  The only major question mark is how Speedy Claxton’s presence will affect Johnson’s numbers.  He should take a moderate his in assists, but make no mistake – regardless of who’s at the point officially, Johnson is the main ball handler in Atlanta.  If anything, a true point next to him will allow Johnson to free himself up off the ball for more open jumpers.  I’d look for him to maintain at least 5 assists, while maybe even improving to over 2 threes a game.  I think you have to consider him in the second round – where in the second round, we’ll address that in our mock draft next month.

The Support: Josh Smith, GF
Josh Smith is going to be one of the most popular picks in fantasy basketball this fall, and with good reason.  His post-break stats last year, 15/8/4 with 1 three, 1 steal, and THREE blocks?  The percentages aren’t too great, but those are some crazy numbers.  He is going to be at the top of everyone’s sleeper lists this year, and honestly, if you really want him, you’re going to have to overpay.  If he maintains his pace from last year, he’s a third round pick, maybe fourth, but that’s a big “if” that early in the draft.  Regardless of his true value, that’s likely where you’re going to have to go to draft him.  If you’re feeling real confident with your team after the opening few rounds, I’d say go for it, because he’ll be off the board by the fifth.

The Supporting Support: Speedy Claxton, PG
Claxton is the other guy that everyone is really high on for Atlanta, and he’s another guy that you’re likely going to have to overpay for this year.  He’s a classic “guy who you heard a lot about in the offseason” type, which generally inflates value, and he’s also going to get a lot of attention because he’s moving right into the starting PG spot.  The last time he had the starting spot, when he was in Golden State, he put up decent numbers (13/6 with 2 steals), but nothing too flashy and certainly nothing to suggest that he’s a PG1 or even a top PG2.   I think somebody’s going to reach for him in the 5th or 6th round, but I think his limit is more a Brevin Knight type – and that’s a top limit.  I’d hold off until the 8th round or so.

The Sleeper: Marvin Williams, F
Josh Smith is the sexy pick, but Marvin Williams is the smart risk.  Williams might get lost in the Hawks discussion, but make no mistake – the minutes and points that belonged to Al Harrington are now going to go to Williams.  The toughest thing to figure out with Williams is if he’ll try any threes this year.  He shot them occasionally early on last year, but only hit one after February.  There’s not much to suggest that Williams will excel in any one category, but you should be able to get him pretty late in the game that he’ll be a safe bet.  My guess is he’ll get around 35 mpg, and put up number around 14/8 with a steal, .7 blocks and .7 3’s.  Something like what Charlie Villanueva did last year.  If you can grab in him the late rounds, I’d say go for it.

The Slacker: Zaza Pachulia, FC
Pachulia is one of those guys who really lands on fantasy teams for one reason – his center eligibility.  He scores a bit, rebounds nicely, and doesn’t do much else, but in the late rounds of your draft he was worth a flyer if you need a center.  However, now that the Hawks have beefed up there front line – well, at least they signed Lorenzen Wright, Pachulia will likely see a drop in minutes to somewhere around 20-25 per game, which is enough to take him out of any fantasy value.

Double Dribbles: This is a make-or-break year for Josh Childress in terms of fantasy value.  After a promising rookie campaign, last year he showed essentially no improvement.  The basics are there for a solid roster filler – good FG%, ok boards and steals, and the occasional three, but he needs just a slight uptick in all of them to really have any value.  He’ll never be anything spectacular but just slight improvement makes him a nice utility guy … Lorenzen Wright tops out as a poor third center, and now that he’s behind Pachulia he should have no value … I like Shelden Williams coming out of college, but his poor performance in the summer leagues and the crowded front court means that he’ll struggle to see much court time … Salim Stoudamire can certainly shoot the ball, but he’ll need an injury or two to see enough court time to have value.  He’ll be worth watching for teams that really need threes late in the year.

Team Preview: Denver Nuggets

Denver’s an interesting team from a fantasy perspective. It was one of the highest scoring squads in the league last season, but had only three true fantasy options. Carmelo Anthony is the unquestioned centerpiece of this team for as long as he wants to be but remains out of the top realm of fantasy superstars. The Nuggets frontcourt is packed, but almost exclusively with fragile players, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see different guys have lots of value at different points in the season.

The Stud: Carmelo Anthony, SF
The question now is this – is there anything left that he can do to take his fantasy game to the next level? I don’t doubt that Carmelo will continue to blossom into a true superstar in real life, but I just wonder if he can do anything else to raise him above “complementary star” status for fantasy purposes. You couldn’t have asked for more last year. After a sophomore season in which he showed negligible gains, Anthony raised his shooting percentage a full five points to 48%, which on nearly 20 shots a game gave him serious value in that category and helped him average 26.5 ppg. He also became more aggressive, getting to the free throw line nearly 9 times a game, and hitting a career high 81%. But those categories are where all of Anthony’s value lie. After three seasons it’s becoming pretty clear that he’s not an effective three-point shooter, and his attempts and percentage have dropped every year. His rebound rate saw a sharp drop last season and he’s simply mediocre, given his position, at assists, steals and blocks. His durability, youth and unquestioned alpha dog status are all great positives. Due to his lack of a dominant secondary skill, though, I can’t recommend taking him before the third round.

The Support: Marcus Camby, C
You don’t get a much more typical Marcus Camby season than last year’s campaign. Out of this world production when healthy, but good luck figuring out when that will be. Camby had one stretch, mostly in January, in which he missed 15 consecutive games. Fine – fantasy owners can deal with prolonged absences. But there were 11 other instances of him missing at least one game, sprinkled throughout the season. That’s when things get really frustrating, especially for those in weekly leagues. If anyone is worth it though, Camby might be that guy. Even with missing 26 games, he finished at #42 on the player rater, and was the #11 player by averages. That’s first round production. After two seasons in which he played 138 total games – the highest two-season stretch of his career – Camby regressed last year, but at least his performance didn’t. He set career highs in rebound and steal rates and posted his best scoring and block rates this decade. He’s proven to be an elite fantasy talent when on the court, with rebound/steal/block numbers that only Ben Wallace can come close to matching. He remains the ultimate risk-reward choice. Counting on him for more than 60 games might be pushing it, but he’s proven he’s worth it for those 60 games. Unless you plan on having three solid centers, I’d probably let someone else take Camby. Throwing some scrub at center for at least 20 games doesn’t appeal to me, but if he’s still sitting there in the fourth round, it’s going to be tempting.

The Supporting Support: Andre Miller, PG
Boring, consistent, effective. That’s Andre Miller. I love a player who stays healthy, and Miller has missed all of three games in his seven year career. He finished last season at #48 on the player rater, which puts him at a borderline 4th/5th round value in 12-team leagues. His durability helps him place that high, so in terms of day to day performance he’s not quite as high (see his #63 spot on the player rater by averages). Miller saw a welcome bump in assists last season, jumping from 6.9 to 8.2 per game, his highest total since his ridiculous 01-02 season. Everything else was exactly where you’d expect it to be, except for a serious dip in FT%, from 84% to 74%, which hurt even more since he had 1.5 more attempts per game than in 04-05. Likely just a blip, and likely you can fill in Miller’s stat line right now and not be too far off – 14/4/7.5 with 1.5 steals on 46/80 shooting. I like him starting in the fifth round as a #2 PG. If you find yourself without a PG early, I’d avoid reaching for him in the 4th round. You still need to get the best value that early.

The Sleeper: J.R. Smith, SG
Sleeper, sure, but at the same time a much bigger Beware of Overhyped Sleeper. Here’s what he has working for him – the inside track on the starting SG job for last year’s fifth-highest scoring team, a team that desperately wants someone who can light it up from the outside. Besides that, there’s not too much working for him except youth and the possibility that he’ll show dramatic improvement. Last year’s ongoing spat with Byron Scott rendered his 05-06 pretty much a lost season, as he didn’t really get a chance to improve on his rookie campaign. Smith has yet to prove himself as an outside threat. He did improve to 37% (from 29%) behind the arc last year, but he is still a career 39% shooter overall and 32% from long range. For a big guard he’s been particularly disappointing on the boards and his steals numbers have been average. The departures of both DeMarr Johnson and Ruben Patterson make it more likely that Smith will see regular minutes, even with the presence of Earl Boykins. And as well all know, PT can make up for skill deficiencies. If it looks like he’s going to be the starter, he’s worth a late-round selection, but guys like this almost always go a round or two earlier than they should and end up disappointing.

The Slacker: Kenyon Martin, PF
There’s just nothing to like about K-Mart right now. He’s basically become Stromile Swift except with chronic knee problems, a worse attitude and no center eligibility. The comparison works because the two were the first two picks in the 2000 draft and both have failed to live up to the hype of those early draft positions. Well, you know what? That draft sucked! Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Mike Miller, DeMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm. Those were the rest of the first seven picks. In most years K-Mart would have likely been simply an mid-to-upper lottery pick, and it would be a lot easier to accept his mediocre play. Martin’s knee problems aren’t going away, and it doesn’t seem likely that his issues with George Karl will either. A rumored deal to Portland for Zach Randolph would just put him in another tumultuous environment. And it’s of course worth noting that Martin has never averaged 17 points or 10 rebounds in a season.

Double Dribbles: If there was a fantasy league for most overpaid people in the world, Nene would be a great asset. In fantasy basketball, though, he’s still just an unproven big man in a crowded frontcourt who is coming off major surgery. We’ll see if he can make any improvements over his established level of play after a whole season off. He’s part of a very fragile but very full frontcourt. With all of the bodies around the Nuggets might want to limit the minutes of their big investment as the season begins. Don’t expect too much too soon from Nene … Earl Boykins has established himself as one of the most reliable bench player in the league in his three years with the Nuggets. That doesn’t mean he’s a particularly valuable fantasy asset. He’s simply a 25-minute player and doesn’t do enough in those 25 minutes to merit much roster consideration. His FG% is brutal and he doesn’t grab too many steals … Reggie Evans is a rebounding machine, but that’s it. Even if he found himself in the starting lineup it would be tough to justify getting him into most lineups … There are worse points/rebounds guys around than Joe Smith, but he seems to be near the end of the road, as both his games and minutes have dropped in recent years. The Denver frontcourt is a situation to watch, as Eduardo Najera is also in the mix as one of six bigs. It’s possible that only Camby will have value. Until he gets hurt, of course.

Offseason Overview: Washington Wizards

It’s no secret that we are Washington, DC area natives here at FBB.  As such, we are huge Washington Wizards fans, and nothing has pleased us more than to see the Wiz turn from Les Boulez into a legitimate NBA team over the past few years.   Gilbert Arenas – FBB’s hands-down favorite NBA player – has been spurned yet again, this time both by himself (for missing 2 crucial free throws in the playoffs), LeBron (for trash talking during said free throws), and Team USA (for not playing him enough before he got hurt).   Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler complete a fine nucleus next to the Silent Assassin.  After the big three, though, things get a little fishy.   The Wiz may be improved simply by getting Jared Jeffries off the roster, but the fact of the matter is that one (if not two) of the role players is going to have to step it up big time in order for the Wiz to crack the top 4 in the East.   Let’s see if we can find a hidden gem:

The Stud: Gilbert Arenas, PG

Last season Gilbert Arenas went from a really good player to a team-leading stud.   His 29.3 ppg ranked 4th in the league, he shot a respectable 44% from the field, hit 2.5 3′s and got to the line 10 times a game.  Aside from scoring, he chipped in 6.1 assists and his 2.0 steals were good enough to tie him for 5th in the league.  That said, he also led the league in turnovers with 3.7, and his 3.5 rebounds were his lowest since his rookie season.   Gilbert does have his quirks (like going a full half without taking a shot every so often), but he’s a fine pick in the mid-late first round (a bit later in the first for leagues that count turnovers).   You have to like a guy who says stuff like this: “”I can’t wait to play the Suns and Portland. Against Portland, Nate McMillan, I’m going to try to score 100 in two games and against D’Antoni, I’m going to score 100 in two games. I’m going to try.”   He’s also been healthy for 2 straight seasons after missing significant time with a groin injury in ’04.  He re-aggravated his groin this summer, which is a concern and worth watching, but he should be fine to start the season.

The Support: Antawn Jamison, F

Jamison had an interesting year last year.  He started off on fire, averaging a double-double in November.   Then he stopped being able to shoot the ball at all in December, shooting 36.2% that month.  But once the New Year came along, he figured himself out and was a monster from the arc, shooting 54% from three in January and February and really settling into a groove.   By the time it was all over he’d nearly doubled his career high in threes (1.8), and set a career high in boards with 9.3.  He then beat the odds and managed to make the Team USA Roster and spent a couple months working (hopefully) on his defense with FBB-hated Coach K.   I actually like Jamison to reach the high bar he set for himself last year.  Eddie Jordan seems to like him, and the slight changes to the Wizards roster shouldn’t have much effect on his PT.   Still, I can’t recommend taking Antawn any sooner than the 5th round.  The fact is, he’s really only a big benefit in three categories, he doesn’t block enough shots to be effective as a PF, and his FT% is surprisingly low for a jumpshot guy like he is.   The points, boards and threes could push someone to take him in the fourth or even late third, but the lack of anything else means he’s really a mid-round guy.

The Supporting Support: Caron Butler

You’ve gotta give Ernie Grunfeld credit – he absolutely fleeced the Lakers last summer when he got Butler and Chucky Atkins in exchange for Kwame Brown.   After a failed attempt at being a sixth man, Butler was in the starting lineup by the end of December and rolled from there.  Caron is a great guy to take in the middle rounds of fantasy leagues and is certainly a guy I’ll be targeting in the sixth or seventh rounds.   Besides a disappointing sophomore year, he’s been a consistent producer.  Look for typical Caron numbers: 16/5 with 1.5 steals, and a plus at FT% and threes.   That’s good roster filler right there.

The Sleeper: Darius Songaila

It’s no secret that going in to the offseason the Wizards needed to find a big man.   Instead, they got the next best thing in Songaila, who has a chance to be a great fit in Eddie Jordan’s offense.  Jordan has a poor relationship with Brendan Haywood, and Etan Thomas doesn’t belong on the floor for more than the 15mpg he got last year.   I think it’s very possible that Jordan could use a small lineup featuring Songaila at center for long stretches this season.  He can hit a jumper from the high post, and that’s a big bonus in Jordan’s motion offense.  If he can get himself on the court for 30 mpg, Songaila should be good for 14/8 with a steal and good percentages.  If you can get him late (and you should be able to), he’s not a bad flyer to take.

The Slacker: Brendan Haywood

It pains my heart to put Brendan here, but the facts are the facts.  I keep waiting for him to break out of his shell, but it’s just never going to happen.   Five years after entering the league, Haywood is pretty much exactly the same as when he entered.  Check out the stats from his second season and compare them with last year.   He saw the exact same amount of minutes – 23.8.  What did an extra three years of experience get him?  1.1 more points, .9 more boards, .2 FEWER blocks, .4 MORE turnovers, WORSE free throw percentage … oh, Brendan.  On the plus side, he does that awesome put-back dunk every once in awhile, but you don’t get style points in fantasy.

Double Dribbles: 

After a hideous start to the year, Antonio Daniels really found himself in the second half.   Unfortunately I’m not sure that he’ll be consistent enough to be worth having on your roster, but if an injury pops up for any of the big three, he’ll be counted on for scoring and worth picking up … FA Pickup DeShawn Stevenson puts up some of the emptiest box scores in the NBA.   He could play 48 mpg and not be worth owning … This is the last shot for Jarvis Hayes, but I’m not sure where he’ll get the PT to really make an impact … Etan Thomas has solidified his role as a decent bench player but he’s just not a 30 mpg kinda guy, which is what he needs to have any value.

Team Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

Suddenly, losing in the first round doesn’t seem so bad. That’s what two straight seasons of missing the playoffs will do. The Wolves are a franchise without a plan, signing noted bums such as Michael Olowokandi and Marko Jaric to substantial deals and drafting poorly year after year. They hope that Randy Foye can reverse that trend, but they probably hoped the same thing with Rashad McCants. There’s a good chance that Ricky Davis and Mike James will get to continue their me-first ways, as there really aren’t too many scoring options on the team. Those two and KG are likely to supply most of the numbers, which is obviously good news for their fantasy values.

The Stud: Kevin Garnett, F
KG is merely a fantasy beast now. For many years he was the beast. But for the first time in a while, KG won’t even be under consideration for the top pick. That said, he’s a good bet as anyone in the #2 slot, and for the first time in years he may actually be undervalued. The only major difference in Garnett’s game last year was in assists, where he saw a steep drop from 5.7 to 4.1 per game. His boards were also down, but points, steals and blocks were right where you’d expect them while he saw a large jump in FG%. He averaged at least 5 apg in six straight seasons before last, so it’s reasonable to expect a return to his established levels even if the offense won’t be run through him quite as much with gunners Ricky Davis and Mike James around. I see no reason to expect any sort of significant dropoff from Garnett. He’s remained remarkably healthy throughout his career. (He sat out the final six meaningless contests, his first missed action since the 01-02 season.). That said, there’s a better chance of a 10% drop across the board than a 10% jump. Nobody would argue with you for taking KG with the #2 pick this year. But at the same time, nobody would argue if you passed on him at #5.

The Support: Ricky Davis, GF
It was a pretty great season for Ricky Davis. BV and I had a bet as to whose 10th round pick would be more valuable – his (Davis) or mine (Eddie Jones). It was close for a while, but Davis stayed strong the entire year, finishing 49th on the player rater, far ahead of Jones at 70. But that illustrates the value of a player like Davis. If you know what to look for, those breakout swingmen will be there in the late rounds. Davis will be a mid-round pick this year and will likely return a fine value, but he’s not worth reaching for, even with his 20/5/5 potential. It’s worth nothing that Davis shot 47% in his parts of three seasons with the Celtics and he has shot 43.4% over the rest of his career, including just 42.9% with the Wolves last season.

The Supporting Support: Mike James, PG
The 2005-2006 version of Larry Hughes, James played like a man possessed in his contract year. He was solid in the season’s first couple of months, picked it up in January and went on one of the most improbable recent stretches of dominant play after the all-star break, averaging 24.6/3.6/6.5 with 2.9 3s and 1.2 steals on 47% and 85% shooting. Basically, he was Ray Allen with a few more assists over that stretch, and it catapulted him to the #24 spot on the player rater. All of this from someone who may very well have gone undrafted in your league, and a perfect example of why it pays to be active on the free agent list early in the season. You can’t ignore the fact that James averaged 41 mpg over that monster stretch and averaged 37 mpg overall. His rate statistics were actually pretty much in line with his performance over the past few seasons, save a dramatic increase in scoring. It’s always hard to predict what follows a season like this, but some drop has to be expected. James’s draft position could be one of the most volatile. He’ll almost certainly be the Wolves starting PG, but it remains to be seen how many minutes he’ll play and how he’ll adapt to his new squad. As a top 25 player last year, you could probably defend taking him in the 4th round, and he could fall as low as the 7th.

The Sleeper: Randy Foye, G
It’s hard to call one of the favorites for rookie of the year a sleeper, but there’s nobody else on the team who really fits the bill. Foye should battle Trenton Hassell for the starting SG job, and the result of that competition will go a long way to determining Foye’s draft position. I’m always wary of rookies, under any circumstance, and the fact that Foye shot just 41% at Villanova last year with a mediocre assist/turnover rate doesn’t get me too excited. But it’s all about opportunity, and should Foye get the opportunity you can count on him to at least fire up a decent amount of 3s.

The Slacker: Eddie Griffin, FC/Marko Jaric, G
The two pillars of the DM Tower of Fantasy Basketball Hatred. Both of these guys had typical seasons last year. Griffin did block the 10th most shots in the league while appearing in 70 games, so at the very least he was a source of cheap blocks. But he was taken at the end of the sixth round in my league. His had his monthly breakout game and would quickly revert to old form before disappearing completely for most of the second half of the season. He’s done this for four seasons now. If you really need to spend your last pick of the draft on him, fine. Anything else is a waste. Mark Jaric, I actually drafted this bum last year. Jaric is tempting because he can contribute in 3s, assists and steals, but he never actually does because he’s not a good basketball player, so he doesn’t get to play all that much. Jaric was especially ineffective last year and eventually lost his starting job. Only five years left on that contract! Mike James should supplant him as the starter. Drafting either one of these guys is like punching yourself in the face.

Double Dribbles: Mark Blount was mildly effective, in his Mark Blount way, after coming over from Boston. This means he had some decent scoring games, but didn’t grab many boards, blocked a shot here and there, and turned the ball over a whole lot (although not nearly as much as with Boston). His durability (81 games) and solid shooting helped make him the 100th best player, meaning he was a serviceable #2 center in deep leagues. If he’s one of your centers, you better be getting help in boards and blocks elsewhere … Trenton Hassell falls into the same category as guys like Bruce Bowen and Quinton Ross – defensive specialist SFs with nothing resembling fantasy value

Team Preview: Charlotte Bobcats

You know, for a team that only won 27 games last year, the Charlotte Bobcats sure did have a bunch of fantasy contributors.  At least six Bobcats were worth starting for more than a couple of games at some point, but now that everyone’s healthy and they’ve got one of the most heralded rookies in the game, someone is going to be on the outside looking in. Still, I count six ‘Cats that could/should be taken on draft day.  And there are injury risks all over this squad, though, so maybe everyone will get their chance yet again.  Also, not that you need to know this, but the Bobcats are my big-time sleeper team in the East.  I think they’re playoff bound.  Anyhow:

The Stud: Raymond Felton, PG
I might get some slack for putting Felton here in place of the next two guys, but I’m a huge Felton fan going into 2006-07.  His second half stats last year were pretty much right on par with Kirk Hinrich, a solid PG who should be drafted in the fourth round or so this year.  Consider the fact that he was a rookie putting up those numbers, and Felton has the potential to make “The Leap” this year.  He showed the ability to play both the 1 and the 2 last year, so he’ll be on the court for at least 30 mpg regardless of who else is healthy.  Felton is a spectacular value pick if you can get him in the 6th round or later, and if you’re real confident, he’s worth looking at in the fourth or fifth.

The Support: Gerald Wallace, SF
Wallace is one of the few guys who can be extremely valuable just for his defensive numbers.  He’s basically Shawn Marion lite – a guy whose real value lies in his defense but he helps in other places as well.  What really separates him from the Matrix are three things:  One, his free throw shooting is abysmal.  He’s never gotten out of the mid-sixties, and that’s a problem for a slasher who gets to the line 5 times a game.  Another serious concern is that the closest he’s come to playing a full season was 2 years ago when he played 70 games with the Bobcats.  He’s missed over 25 games each season other than that one.  Finally, he’s got the potential to be a one-year wonder.  Steals and blocks can swing pretty wide from one year to the next, and he might have just lucked out a little last year. Two years ago he only had 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals, much more pedestrian numbers.  So don’t expect a guaranteed 2+ blocks and steals when you take him on draft day.  Wallace may be overvalued because of these factors, and I’d stay away until at least the 5th round, with apologies to John Hollinger.

The Supporting Support: Brevin Knight, PG
Brevin Knight will go down in infamy here at FBB as a throw-in in an incredibly glorious trade I made with DM last year, where I totally robbed him blind.  Yeah, you heard me DM.  But Knight is an interesting guy to have.  He’s a total steals and assists machine, and is a prototypical PG except that he absolutely refuses to shoot 3-pointers.  The Bobcats were trying to trade him this offseason to make more room for Felton, but the lack of good offers combined with his ability to play alongside Felton meant Knight stays in Charlotte.  If he gets 30 mpg, he’s worth drafting as a PG2, maybe in the 7th or 8th rounds.  If not, he’s not going to have enough value to be a starter on your team.

The Sleeper: Emeka Okafor, FC
Okafor is coming two fairly disappointing years in a row.  His rookie campaign was solid, but unspectacular, and then last year he severely sprained his ankle and only played in 26 games.  He’s been a big disappointment in blocks, where he was absolutely dominant in college but so far has been fairly mediocre in the pros.  His FG% has also been surprisingly putrid, particularly for a C, and he’s never been solid from the stripe.  All that said, Okafor could be a great value pick this year.  He’s a poor man’s Tim Duncan, and at 24 still has time to “break out.”  Now that Wallace and Felton have established themselves as offensive threats, and Adam Morrison offense as well, opposing defenses won’t be able to clamp down on Okafor in the post, and that means he should improve his FG%.  He’s not your typical sleeper but he could be very undervalued going into drafts this year.  He’s worth thinking about in the 4th round, especially if you don’t have a center at that point.

The Slacker: Adam Morrison
Now, don’t get me wrong.  Adam Morrison is my (and many others’) preseason pick for ROY.  He can score, and that’s what the Bobcats are going to let him do.  He played very well in the summer leagues and should have a nice rookie campaign.  But here’s the problem: other than points, I’m not sure that Morrison will help your team much at all.  His FG% in school was a respectable 49% but that should take a hit in the NBA.  His FT% should come in right around 80, which will help a bit, and he could hit upwards of 2 3’s a night.  If everything goes right, he should be a Mike Miller type, but with fewer rebounds and maybe – maybe – a few more points.  The other issue is that he’s got a world of hype surrounding him, which will surely inflate his draft stock.  I can see him going as early as the 6th round or so, when really he doesn’t deserve a look before the 8th or 10th round.  If you’re drafting him as a positional starter, I think you’re going to be disappointed.  But if he falls to where you’re drafting for a utility or bench spot, then he’s a nice pick.

Double Dribbles:  Sean May showed flashes his rookie year and looked great in the summer leagues, and should Okafor re-sprain his ankle could be in line for a nice season, but I don’t know that he’s worth drafting … Primoz Brezec is just average at everything, and that’s when he’s getting plenty of minutes – I wouldn’t expect him to play as much this year if everyone else is healthy … Matt Carroll may have value at the end of the year if you’re desperate for threes, but he’s not draftable.

Team Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

It was a fantastic season for L.A.’s “other” team as they broke an eight-year playoff drought and came within one game of advancing to the conference finals. Sam Cassell brought leadership and intangibles, but it was Elton Brand’s ascension to the league’s upper echelon of superstars that was the true difference. The cast remains largely the same, with Tim Thomas being the only new face. That means the roles should be similar to last year, but the Clippers are certainly worth watching in the preseason as PT battles are expected between Thomas and Corey Maggette and Sam Cassell and Shaun Livingston.

The Stud: Elton Brand, PF
Fantasy nerds like us have known for a while that Elton Brand is a star, but last year was when everyone else finally caught on. He took his already all-star worthy game and raised it to MVP levels and led the Clippers to their first playoff appearance in nine years, while finishing the season #3 on the player rater, behind only Shawn Marion and LeBron James. The big jumps were in scoring and FG%, especially the latter. He shot an astounding 52.7% from the floor on just over 18 attempts per game, putting him behind only Shaquille O’Neal and Tony Parker in terms of value in that category. He blocked the third most shots in the league, grabbed the sixth most rebounds (cumulative numbers, here) and scored the 11th most points. He appeared in 79 games, which is exactly what you want from your star player. Just a dominant campaign by any measure. It’s somewhat hard to believe that Brand will be entering his eighth season in the league, but he’s still just 27 years old. He’s in his prime and while an ever-so-slight regression can be expected, he remains one of the surest bets out there. Be happy to snatch him up in the second half of the first round.

The Support: Chris Kaman, C
He’s often ridiculed (and deservedly so) for the way he looks and acts, but his owners last year certainly didn’t mind. At a position that perennially lacks consistent options, Kaman proved to be a legitimate #1 center. He has improved each season in the league and there’s no reason to expect anything different this year. He was healthy all season and finished at #51 on the player rater, finishing in the top 10 in boards and top 20 in FG% and blocks, which is what you’re looking for in a center. Kaman does turn the ball over a lot, especially for a big man, and you can expect a drop in FT% after he raised it by 11 percent last season. It would be nice to see him block just a few more shots, but his rate has remained steady through all three seasons, so don’t expect it. Instead, just hope he maintains his gains in FG%. There’s nobody behind Kaman who should really threaten him for minutes, so if he can keep his foul problems under control it wouldn’t be surprising to see him push 35 mpg. Start considering him in the fifth round in 12-team leagues.

The Supporting Support: Cuttino Mobley, SG
Mobley’s one of those unexciting players who usually drops farther than he should in the draft because he doesn’t have monster upside, and he then ends up providing decent value. He’s a very durable player who always seems to get major minutes. He finished a respectable #67 on the player rater last year (6th round value), but his season could be considered a disappointment, actually. After averaging at least five 3PA per game in three of the four previous seasons, I expected that trend to continue in Los Angeles. Instead, the Clippers attempted the second fewest 3s in the league (behind only the Magic) and Mobley connected on just 1.1 per game while hitting only 34%. He took a more passive role on the team, attempting fewer shots overall, not just from behind the arc. Expect more of the same from Mobley this season. As usual, he makes a fine, steadying pick in the middle rounds.

The Sleeper: Corey Maggette, GF
OK, we might be stretching it by calling Maggette a sleeper, but the arrival of Tim Thomas – not to mention Maggette’s injury history and the fact that he came off the bench to end the season – has some people wondering what Maggette’s role will be. Maggette has now played seven seasons as a pro and has topped 70 games just twice, but had always appeared in at last 63 before last year’s disastrous 32-game campaign. He deserves his tag as injury-prone. But the talent remains, as Maggette remains one of the league’s most explosive scorers and best fantasy assets from the free throw line. He doesn’t really help out anywhere else, although he is a solid rebounder for a SG/SF. Swingmen like Maggette who don’t help in any of the scarce categories aren’t always the best values, but there aren’t going to be many people sitting there in the sixth or seventh round that averaged 22 ppg just two seasons ago. Players like Maggette burn you when you take them too early, but once a solid foundation is set, he’s the kind of guy who can help put you over the top if things go right.

The Slacker: Tim Thomas, F
You’re not going to be the one to fall for it, are you? Please don’t be that guy. Please. We’ll feel like we didn’t do our job here at FBB. Year in and year out, Thomas is one of the biggest disappointments around. If he stopped being a disappointment lately, it’s because everyone finally gave up expecting anything from him. So don’t let 26 games and an impressive playoff run in a system that perfectly caters to his skills change your opinion of him. (All of that during a contract push, too.) Go back and read the Cuttino Mobley blurb. The Clippers attempted the second fewest 3s in the league last year, and that’s the only category in which Thomas is a real asset. He’s still a career 44% shooter who stands 6’10” yet doesn’t grab many boards or block many shots. He has his $24 million now, so don’t be surprised to see him revert to his habits that made him such a favorite of Scott Skiles (among others).

Double Dribbles: You’ll notice that the point guard situation went unaddressed above. That’s because we’re still waiting to see how the Sam Cassell/Shaun Livingston battle shakes out. Cassell was fantastic last season and while he may have received a bit too much credit for the Clippers success, he was obviously a huge part in their turnaround. He did slow down as the season wore on but still finished at #50 on the player rater despite enduring his worst shooting season this decade. We can be fairly sure that Cassell won’t improve on last season’s numbers and that he won’t receive as many minutes. That makes him a risky pick, but no more risky than Livingston … It was encouraging to see Livingston remain completely healthy after missing the season’s first 21 games last year. That almost helped to offset the fact that he didn’t really show any statistical improvement outside of a welcome drop in turnover rate and a slight improvement in FG%. The assists are nice, but he’s still nowhere near the level of Brevin Knight, Andre Miller or Jason Kidd. His height makes him better than average in rebounds and blocks at his position. It might be that both Cassell and Livingston average around 30 mpg this season, which would make both of them borderline fantasy options … Quinton Ross is one of the Eric Snow Memorial All-Stars, completely without value even with significant playing time. His fantasy relevance is tied into how many minutes he takes away from everybody listed above.