Free agency is underway and it has been an exciting weekend. The Los Angeles Lakers have tried twice to acquire Chris Paul, only to be denied by David Stern. Dwight Howard appears to be headed out of Orlando. And the Mavericks surprisingly gave up their best defender, making it unlikely that they repeat as champions.
With the start of the NBA season means another year of fantasy basketball. The key to a successful fantasy season has nothing to do with the stars on your team. It comes down to the late-round picks, finding a diamond in the rough.
Last season Kevin Love went from being a solid fantasy player to a star. He is now one of the top power forwards in the league and will likely be a first-round pick in most drafts.
When it comes to picking fantasy sleepers there is a tendency to overreach. Both Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday had fantastic seasons last year. They took big strides forward and are poised for a big year.
Also, Derrick Williams and Kyrie Irving were both top five draft picks this year. They expect to have major roles with their respective teams going forward. However, they aren’t sleepers. It is expected that high draft picks will come in and help out the team immediately.
Corey Maggette may not seem like he is a sleeper by any sense of the word. He has been in the league since 1999. He has averaged over 20 points per game multiple times in his career, even though he is coming off his worst statistical season since 2001.
However, Maggette is poised for a big year for a number of reasons. First of all, if you take a look at the Charlotte Bobcats they have arguably the least-talented roster in the league. Next, Maggette is the only player on the team capable of creating his own shot. Finally, accordingly to coach Paul Silas, Maggette will be the focal point of the team’s offense.
Maggette will easily go back to being a 20-point scorer. He is great at getting to the free throw line, where he shoots 82 percent for his career. He will also provide rebounds and assists. Maggette is unlikely to be a source of threes, steals or blocks, but he will likely be undervalued in most drafts.
Danilo Gallinari gets the nod for much the same reason as Maggette. Gallinari has looked solid in his brief 2-year career, but expect him to make a huge leap forward this season.
Gallinari averaged 14.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 blocks and 1.4 threes per game after being traded to the Denver Nuggets last season. Those are respectable numbers, but it will be shocking if there isn’t an increase across the board.
The Nuggets enter the season missing Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler. All three players signed in China and won’t be permitted to come back to the NBA before March.
Add that to the fact that Nene appears ready to leave Denver. That leaves the Nuggets with a badly-depleted roster. George Karl will have no choice but to lean heavily on Gallinari, which will do wonders for his fantasy value.
The Atlanta Hawks are still looking for a long-term answer at point guard. Since passing on Chris Paul and Deron Williams, the Hawks have been unable to get consistent production from the one-spot.
The team tried both Kirk Hinrich and Mike Bibby last year, with mixed results. Hinrich is still on the roster and may begin the year as the starter, but don’t expect that to last.
Teague looked really good in the playoffs last year going head-to-head with Derrick Rose. Atlanta lost in five games, but Teague averaged 15.8 points, 4 assists and 1 steal, while shooting 55 percent from the field and 84 percent from the charity stripe.
After showing that type of development, coach Larry Drew would be crazy to leave Teague out of the starting lineup. The Hawks may have finally found their lead guard capable of guiding this team.
Greg Monroe was the seventh pick in last year’s draft out of Georgetown. He is a 6’11” forward/center with great hands and tremendous passing ability.
Monroe did not make much noise last season, averaging only 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. However, he was named to the All-Rookie Second Team and over the last two months of the season averaged almost 13 and 10.
The Pistons are in the middle of a rebuilding situation. There aren’t too many players with a defined role. Monroe is the exception.
With Chris Wilcox’s departure, Charlie Villanueva's perpetual underachievement and the possibility of Ben Wallace’s retirement/imprisonment, this all but guarantees Monroe will be in the Pistons starting frontcourt on opening night.
Iman Shumpert was a relative unknown until about a month before the 2011 NBA Draft. He is a 6’6” guard, drafted 17th overall by the New York Knicks out of Georgia Tech. Shumpert is more of a combo guard, so it remains unclear whether he will be able to transition to point guard at the NBA level but if he can make that leap he could become the lead guard for Mike D’Antoni.
The Knicks recently used their amnesty clause on Chauncy Billups in order to create enough cap space to sign Tyson Chandler. This gives New York one of the most talented front courts in the NBA. The problem, though is that the Knicks’ backcourt remains unproven.
Toney Douglas showed everyone last year he is not capable of running the point full time in the NBA. Douglas is a scoring guard and that doesn’t fit into D’Antoni’s system. As well, Mike Bibby looked like a shell of his former self. Bibby isn’t the man who led one of the most exciting offenses of the early decade in Sacramento.
This leaves Shumpert. If he can efficiently run the team’s offense he could quickly steal the starting job, and anyone who plays for D’Antoni is always valuable on a fantasy team.
The Knicks are rumored to be interested in Baron Davis should the Cleveland Cavaliers use their amnesty clause on him, which would affect any value Shumpert might have.
The Portland Trailblazers can’t catch a break. Greg Oden accepted the team’s one-year qualifying offer, yet it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready for the start of the season. As well, Brandon Roy has announced his retirement from the NBA.
A few years ago it looked like Portland would dominate the next decade in the NBA, but injuries have prevented that. Regardless, the team still has a lot of talent.
Nicolas Batum is entering his fourth year in the NBA and has improved every season. Batum spent time playing Euroleague ball during the lockout, earning Week 2 and Week 4 MVP honors.
Without Roy in the lineup Batum will receive more playing time. Gerald Wallace will likely start at the small forward position, but I’d expect the team to play a lot small ball with a frontcourt of Wallace, Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge. Batum will likely be able to provide 1.5 threes, one block and one steal a game, to go along with 15-18 points and five to seven rebounds.
The Toronto Raptors are in a rebuilding year. The team is unlikely to make any real noise and are focused on developing their young players, with an eye towards the future.
James Johnson entered the weekend expecting to play a major role for the Raptors this season. He was acquired from the Chicago Bulls at last year’s trade deadline and started all 25 games he played for the Raptors last year.
Johnson doesn’t do any one thing great, but he will provide fantasy teams help in a number of different categories. Last season he averaged 9.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, three assists, 1.1 blocks and one steal per game with the Raptors. The number may not jump off the page, but expect to see moderate increases as he grows more comfortable with his Toronto teammates.
One caveat with Johnson: The Raptors recently acquired Rasual Butler, signed Gary Forbes to an offer sheet (which Denver is not expected to match) and Linas Kleiza appears to be recovering from surgery quicker than expected. As a result, Johnson is no longer the only small forward on the roster. However, he is the most versatile, with more long-term potential, so I fully expect him to be the starter on opening day.
The Utah Jazz have one of the most crowded frontcourts in the NBA. This includes Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favours, Enes Canter and Mehmet Okur. I would expect at least one, if not two of these players to be moved before the end of the year.
However, as things stand today, the Jazz are very thin on the wing. Andrei Kirilenko is a free agent and it is unlikely he will return.
The only wing players Utah has under contract is Raja Bell, C.J. Miles, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward.
Bell is an aging veteran and has no place on this rebuilding roster. Miles and Burks will fight to see who starts at shooting guard. That leaves Hayward, and with no competition in sight he will likely start the season at the small forward spot. He is a solid three-point shooter and should see an increase in his stats across the board.
Jordan Crawford’s value as a fantasy player is dependent on the outcome of Nick Young’s contract negotiations. If Young is retained by the Washington Wizards then he will stay the team’s starting two-guard. If, however, he leaves via free agency Crawford will likely become the team’s starter.
Crawford is entering only his second season in the NBA and his name is probably foreign to most fans. Despite this he is a dynamic scorer and has a promising future in the NBA.
He split last season between Atlanta and Washington. He immediately saw an increase in his minutes once hitting the nation’s capital and this in turn increased his production.
For the season he averaged 11.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and almost one steal and one three-pointer per game.
However, over the last two months of the season when he played more than 34 minutes per game, his points, rebounds and assists all increased. If he becomes the starter Crawford will help any fantasy team and there is a good chance he will go undrafted in most leagues.
Paul George's sucess, like Crawford's, is dependent on his situation. As things stand today George will be the starting shooting guard for the Indiana Pacers when the season tips off in two weeks. That may change though, as the Pacers are rumored to have resumed trade talks with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Pacers and Grizzlies completed a trade last year at the deadline sending Josh McRoberts and a first-round pick to Memphis in exchange for O.J. Mayo. This trade was not completed, however, as the paperwork was submitted to the NBA office after the deadline.
These two teams have reportedly reopened discussions and if that is true Mayo will likely be in the starting lineup for the Pacers this season.
If the trade doesn’t go through George will be the team’s starter. George was considered to be one of the steals of the 2010 NBA Draft. He is a 6’8” guard/forward, who, along with Danny Granger, creates one of the most athletic wing tandems in the league. If George is starting he should average a three-pointer, a steal and a block per game, as well as 10-15 points and 5-7 rebounds.
As a bonus, keep your eye on both Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. Both of these guys played well for the Chicago Bulls last season. I would not recommend drafting either player, but given the history of injuries for both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah this is a situation that needs to be monitored
Those two players missed a combined 57 games last season. Boozer has also played less than 60 games four out of his nine seasons in the NBA. If either player goes down with an injury don’t expect Chicago to slow down, as both Gibson and Asik are more than capable of jumping into the starting lineup. The Bulls are poised to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference again this year.