You’re getting an NBA fantasy preview extravaganza for four reasons:
1. My readers keep begging me for help and, frankly, I don’t blame them. They’re coming to the right place. Remember when the toothpicks dropped on the diner floor in “Rain Man” and Raymond immediately counted them up (246) as everyone’s jaws dropped? That’s me with fantasy hoops. I’m a savant. I didn’t ask for these powers, I just have them.
2. Our lead fantasy expert, Matthew “Don’t Call Me Matt” Berry, spends most of his time these days breaking down the NFL, doing daily podcasts, filming TV spots, pretending to laugh at Merril Hoge’s jokes, putting on makeup in the men’s room in Building 4, pumping out NFL advice and showing up at bars in the Hartford area wearing a homemade “TMR” football jersey that says “ESPN CAMPUS” on the front and “TMR No. 1” on the back. Do you think he really gives a crap about the 2008-09 NBA season? He’s all about football right now. You need a friend. You need an expert. You need me.
3. John Hollinger wrote a “Breakout Years” column recently in which he unveiled his big sleeper of 2009 … Utah’s Ronnie Brewer. Ronnie Brewer? Really? I can’t let this stand. When one of my colleagues announces a breakout sleeper and that breakout sleeper can’t fully bend his shooting elbow, that’s when I have to intervene.
PLAY FANTASY BASKETBALL
ESPN Radio Fantasy Tip-Off Special
Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb and Doug Gottlieb help you get set for the fantasy basketball season.
• Chris Paul vs. LeBron James
4. Because I’m so confident about winning the first B.S. Report SimmonBerry Fantasy Challenge (note: the draft is Sunday night, and the podcasts in which Berry and I narrowed down the field and picked the winners are here and here) that I’m just unveiling my favorite picks right now. I don’t care. It’s not going to matter.
Here’s my top 60, with sleepers and stay-away guys tacked on later as a special bonus, free of charge.
TIER I: THE STUD OF STUDS
1. LeBron James
You know what you’re getting at this point: A 30-7-7, 82 games and the comfort of knowing the most indestructible basketball force alive is anchoring your team. It’s difficult to place him in any kind of historical perspective for fantasy, but let’s try. Remember when I created the “42 Club” in 2006 for stars who averaged at least 42 per playoff game in combined points, rebounds and assists? (Note: In the irony of ironies, Dirk Nowitzki, the subject of that column, fell just shy of the 42 Club when he imploded in the Finals.) Well, I thought I would create a “42.4 Club” for every regular season since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.
Why 42.4 and not 42? Because we couldn’t leave out Larry Legend’s magnificent ’86 season and Bernard King’s transcendent ’85 season (tragically cut short by a knee injury), and, more importantly, the number 42.4 allows us to leave out three of Karl Malone’s six 42 Club seasons (’88, ’92 and ’93). I fully support any statistical tweak that undermines the Mailman historically, even if we have to lose two Kareem/Hakeem seasons in the process. Anyway, here’s the 42.4 Club.
Michael Jordan (eight times): 46.9 (’87), 46.4 (’88), 48.5 (’89), 46.8 (’90), 43.0 (’91), 42.6 (’92), 45.8 (’93).
Larry Bird (four times): 45.8 (’85), 42.4 (’86), 44.9 (’87), 46.3 (’88).
Shaquille O’Neal (four times): 45.9 (’94), 43.4 (’95), 47.1 (’00), 45.1 (’01).
Moses Malone (four times): 43.4 (’79), 42.1 (’80), 44.2 (’81), 47.6 (’82).
Charles Barkley (three times): 42.5 (’87), 42.4 (’88), 45.9 (’93).
Kobe Bryant (three times): 42.8 (’03), 45.2 (’06), 42.4 (’07).
Karl Malone (three times): 42.5 (’89), 45.0 (’90), 44.1 (’91).
Magic Johnson (twice): 42.5 (’87), 43.2 (’89).
LeBron James (twice): 45.0 (’06), 45.1 (’08).
Hakeem Olajuwon (twice): 42.6 (’93), 42.8 (’94).
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice): 43.4 (’77), 43.0 (’78).
Allen Iverson (twice): 42.6 (’05), 43.6 (’06).
Kevin Garnett (twice): 42.4 (’03), 43.1 (’04).
David Robinson (once): 45.3 (’94).
Bernard King (once): 42.4 (’85).
Chris Webber (once): 42.4 (’01).
Look, it’s not a perfect stat: Tim Duncan was the best player alive in 2002 and 2003 and didn’t make the cut; Bill Walton was the best player alive in ’77 and didn’t make it; and pure point guards (Nash, Kidd, Stockton, Chris Paul, etc.) will never adequately get their due here. On the other hand, 15 of the 32 MVP seasons from that stretch doubled as 42.4 Club seasons, and if you were going to pick the 30 best players since 1977, everyone from the 42.4 Club would make the cut except C-Webb. In modern times, if you’re averaging anything better than 42.4 for an entire season, even if it’s just one season, people are going to remember you.
Which brings us to young LeBron. Jordan’s 48.5 in 1989 was the modern high for the 42.4 Club. This season or next, I predict LeBron will break that mark with something like a 32-9-8. But how high can he go? Will he break 50? What about Oscar territory with a 33-10-10? There’s an excellent chance LeBron James will have the greatest fantasy season since Kareem submitted a jaw-dropping 35-17-5 in 1972 — back when we didn’t keep track of blocks and steals and nobody even knew what “fantasy” was — and there’s a decent chance Bron could unleash that season on a very good (and slightly underrated) Cleveland team. Anyway, I think you should draft him first in your fantasy draft. That’s my expert opinion.
TIER II: THE CROP’S CREAM
JUST TRUST ME …
My top 10 “Please, for the love of God, just stay away!” list:
1. Shaq: Entering his “Kareem in ’88” phase.
2. T.J. Ford: Setting you up for a tantalizing first few weeks before his inevitable injury.
3. Jermaine O’Neal: I will explain why in my NBA preview next week.
4. Jamal Crawford: A mortal lock to get traded.
5. Zydrunas Ilgauskas: The Cavs finally realize they’re better off playing up-tempo.
6. Richard Jefferson: Overachieved statistically last season because of the situation.
7. Boris Diaw: Did he gain 30 pounds for a movie role or something? Boris, put the brie down! Just put it down!
8. Al Harrington: Do you realize this is his 10th NBA season? It’s not going to happen.
9. Al Thornton, Andray Blatche: Not yet. Not even close.
10. Sam Dalembert: If things go wrong in Philly, he’s the logical scapegoat.
2. Dwyane Wade
Loved him in the Olympics, loved him in the preseason, love him for a monster comeback season that will be the athletic equivalent of “Still D.R.E.” I’m thinking something like 29.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 5.8 apg and a slew of “D-Wade is back and better than ever!” stories starting in late November. You watch.
3. Amare Stoudemire
The home run pick since he is headed for a vintage Karl Malone season (something like a 29-10). If he counts as a center in your league, definitely move him above Wade. And if you’re worried about his knees, I saw him in person for a Clips-Suns game Tuesday and kept thinking the same thing for two hours: Fantasy force … fantasy force … fantasy force …
4. Chris Paul
Something weird happened with him this year — he’s so much fun to watch that he became slightly overrated as a fantasy guy. For instance, ESPN.com has him ranked second. Really? Let’s say he averages a 21-12 with three steals and world-class shooting percentages. If that’s what I’m getting from the No. 2 pick in my draft, I’m losing my league. Do not take him before here.
5. Dwight Howard
The best and safest center option: You know he’s giving you 82 games and a 21-14 with two blocks per game and 60 percent shooting … and that’s a worst-case scenario. Now if we could only figure out how the NBA’s No. 5 fantasy guy and best rebounder was the inferior big man in both medal-round games this August. I still haven’t gotten over that one.
6. Kobe Bryant
Did you know Kobe’s odometer passed 1,000 career games (including playoffs) last spring? If we have learned anything through 62 NBA seasons other than “It’s not a good idea to start five white guys” and “Don’t hire Isiah Thomas,” it’s this: No matter how great a perimeter player you are, your statistical fade will commence soon after you hit the 1,000-game mark. It’s inevitable. When it happens to Hollywood actresses, they can get a tummy tuck, a face-lift, Botox and implants for their saggy breasts. We don’t have those things for NBA players. In Kobe’s case, watch a Lakers game from 2000-2002 (back when he had his hops) and watch him now; he doesn’t have the same explosiveness in his legs anymore, and unlike Michael Jordan, he never developed a power low-post game to give himself a second life. The Celtics shut Kobe down in the Finals simply by staying in front of him, forcing him to hoist jumpers and collapsing on him every time he attacked the basket. He didn’t have a Plan B. That’s why the Lakers lost, and that’s why Kobe checked out near the end of the second quarter of Game 6 and started thinking about the Olympics.
So that’s one problem. The other? Kobe will be forced to do more accommodating than ever to make up for the Lakers’ quirky roster. Gasol needs 14-15 shots a game or he’ll start sulking like he did in Memphis. Bynum needs his share of touches because he’s trying to prove he’s worth $70 million. Then you have Odom, who’s heading into a contract season and already griping because he’d help them more by coming off the bench, something he doesn’t want to do because, again, he’s in a contract season. Play all three at the same time, and the middle will be too clogged for Kobe, which means you can expect the following things: tons of sarcastic head shaking, tons of 20-footers and more than a few moments when Kobe angrily waves one of them out of the paint with his patented, “These guys are so dumb, I can’t stand it” sneer. As a kicker, their best lineup remains Fisher and Vujacic at the guards, Kobe at the 3, and Gasol with Odom or Bynum up front … which allows opponents to defend Kobe with bigger players and opens the door for more spotty offensive efforts from Kobe like what we witnessed in the 2008 Finals.
And here’s where the Olympics killed Black Mamba. With a free summer, he could have devoted two solid months to getting stronger and mastering that same fallaway turnaround that carried Jordan to those last three titles. Instead, he’s coming back as the exact same guy we watched last season — right down to his injured pinkie — only he’s a year older and coming off a 103-game season plus the Olympics. This is all a complicated way of saying that you should be careful about building your 2009 fantasy team around Kobe Bryant.
(P.S.: If LeBron ever gets serious one summer and masters that MJ turnaround instead of doing his multimedia routine, it’s all over. We will have to fold the league. Let’s hope nobody shows him this column.)
7. Dirk Nowitzki
The first-ever “Eff-You Avery!” season. Take him here unless you hate German forwards who will average a 26-9 and a 40-50-90 in the three shooting-percentage categories.
TIER III: STUDS WITH QUESTION MARKS
8. Josh Smith
Only because he just got paid. Also, you normally would project young guys to keep climbing statistically, but how can that happen in Smith’s case? He gets his numbers through energy, hustle and athleticism. He can’t shoot. He has no low-post moves. He’s not a natural rebounder. He’s an OK passer who makes a ton of turnovers. How is he topping a 17-8 with a couple of blocks every game? I don’t see it. And that’s before we bring up the possibility of his tanking the first two months to get Mike Woodson fired. I am staying away. You can do what you want.
9. Tim Duncan
Only because he, too, is hitting the 1,000-game mark this season. I like him more than usual this season because it’s a weaker Spurs team (too many role players and Ginobili recovering from ankle surgery), which means they’ll have to lean on Duncan early for bigger numbers than usual. Normally, he’s on cruise control until February. Not this time. I predict an inordinate amount of 25-15 games in his last great fantasy season.
10. Al Jefferson
Only because … actually, I can’t think of a reason other than that he has never officially “done it” before. He’s the Marshawn Lynch of the “eight to 12” range.
11. Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson (tie)
Only because the 2009 Nuggets roster is a worse idea than “Paris Hilton’s New BFF.” We’ll delve into this next week.
13. Steve Nash
Only because he turns 35 in February, and Phoenix wants to start cutting his minutes. His numbers will dip dramatically this season or next. It’s inevitable. Research the careers of any great modern point guard — they hit 35 and their numbers go down, period, without exception, end of story.
14. Deron Williams
Only because of conflicting reports about the severity of his sprained ankle. He shouldn’t go lower than this. By the way, we need to stop comparing Williams to Paul. It’s just dumb. This is not Pacino versus De Niro. This is not Brady versus Manning. This isn’t even Morris versus Slater. Williams has a chance to go down as one of the best point guards of his generation. Paul has a chance to go down as one of the best 25 players ever. Big difference.
TIER IV: THE FEEL-GOOD PICKS
15. Joe Johnson
16. Chris Bosh
17. Caron Butler
All I can tell you is that I spent a solid 25 minutes deciding on that order. I wish I were making that up. Expect career years from all three guys.
18. Jose Calderon
How do you say “Ready to be unleashed!” in Spanish? Preparado unleashado? If he stays healthy and doesn’t put up better numbers than Nash this season, I’m giving you a full refund for this column.
19. Carlos Boozer
I like that he’s in a contract year more than I’m afraid of his getting traded, if that makes sense.
19. Kevin Martin
The next Mitch Richmond, right down to the team, the stats and the lottery appearances. By the way, congrats to David Thorpe for officially breaking my ESPN.com name-drop record with Jimmy Kimmel by mentioning Kevin Martin for the 485th time last week. The good news is I just tied him again. So if you’re scoring at home, here’s the ESPN.com career name-drop leaderboard:
- 1. David Thorpe/Kevin Martin, 485
1. Bill Simmons/Jimmy Kimmel, 485
3. Rob Ryder/”The Warriors,” 373
4. Marc Stein/Bill Simmons, 172
5. Chad Ford/Joe Dumars, 159
WEEK 8 NFL PICKS
RAVENS (-7) over Raiders
Cards (+4) over PANTHERS
COWBOYS (-2.5) over Bucs
Redskins (-8) over LIONS
DOLPHINS (+1.5) over Bills
Rams (+7.5) over PATRIOTS
Chargers (-3.5) over Saints
Chiefs (+13.5) over JETS
Falcons (+9) over EAGLES
JAGUARS (-7) over Browns
TEXANS (-9) over Bengals
Giants (+3) over STEELERS
NINERS (-5) over Seahawks
TITANS (-3.5) over Colts
Last Week: 8-6
SPORTS GAL’S PICKS
Balt -7, Zona +4, Dal -2.5, Wash -8, Buf -1.5, NE -7.5, NO +3.5, KC +13.5, Phi -9, Cle +7, Hou -9, NYG +3, SF -5, Ten -3.5
Last Week 8-6
21. Kevin Durant
Allow me to put my passionate man-crush for him on the back burner and shift to Hubie Brown’s patented first-person plural tense: We know that, as a 19-year-old rookie mired in the worst possible situation on the worst possible team, he averaged 20 points a game with 4.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists. We know that is his basement statistically; he cannot do worse, and, if anything, second-year guys always make a leap. We also know his team is better, and he is in a better situation playing in front of a packed house for the Bennett City Hijackers, as reprehensible as that situation might be from a karmic standpoint …
So, what’s a realistic line for him this season: 23.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 44 percent FG and 89 percent FT? Seems reasonable, right? And what if he starts nailing 3s? I am woozy already.
22. Corey Maggette
There’s a lot to like here for fantasy purposes: He’s selfish; he’s playing NellieBall; he’s dying to stick it to Mike Dunleavy Sr.; he doesn’t have to worry about Crash Ellis stealing shots from him for at least three months; and best of all, he’s the best guy on a lottery team. Who has more experience with that role than Corey? As a fantasy owner, I am absolutely ready for Maggette. Get ready for a lot of “20/20 Flash” moments like this: “The Warriors lost to Phoenix, 125-117, despite 42 points from Corey Maggette …”
23. Brandon Roy
Love him. Especially if he’s playing point at crunch time (and it looks as if he will).
24. Paul Pierce
Placed significant pressure on himself in the summer/preseason with that “Like it or not, we won the title and that means I’m one of the elite guys in the league” crap (which he never should have said, but whatever). The bad news: The A-list guys will be coming after him. The good news: He’s a competitive guy who found a little extra swagger in June and should feed off those challenges. He’s headed for a bigger fantasy season than you might think.
25. Rudy Gay
In the latest Us Weekly, Hugh Hefner discussed the Shannon twins (his latest girlfriends) and described them as “delightfully young.” I feel the same way about the 2009 Grizzlies, regardless of how poorly they were built or how bad some of Chris Wallace’s moves were. They’re delightfully young. And Gay remains their best player. I’m feeling a 22-7-3 from him this season.
TIER V: BUYERS BEWARE
26. Elton Brand
Coming off a ruptured Achilles, which everyone seems to be forgetting because we were all so busy doing backflips that Philly spent $83 million to reunite the top two scorers on a 27-win Clippers team from 2003. He also looked terrible in the preseason. Repeat: terrible. But, hey, don’t let me spoil the party.
27. Kevin Garnett
Just finished a season in which he passed the 1,000-game mark, played for nine solid months (including a record 26 playoff games) and inexplicably stopped rebounding as the season went along. I see him settling into an “I’m just putting up a 17-9 and worrying about carrying us defensively” phase. Then again, ANY-THANG IS POSS-AH-BULLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
28. Baron Davis
“First year of a big contract” + “history of injuries” + “signed with the most jinxed franchise in the league” = “I am not going near him.”
(No offense, Baron. I look at it this way — I already dropped some serious cash on Clips season tickets, and if you get hurt, I’m screwed for another lost season highlighted by Wetzel Pretzel purchases, Jim Goldstein sightings and halftime conversations in the Clippers’ media room with Joe Safety while I wait for him to walk away so I can steal Aquafina waters from the fridge. Do I really want you killing my fantasy season, too? Now come on my podcast already.)
29. Pau Gasol
The Bynum component worries me. Just a little.
30. Shawn Marion
The Kate Hudson of this year’s fantasy draft — a great name on paper until you get a good look at him and wonder what the hell happened. I’ll tell you what happened: He doesn’t have Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni in his life anymore. Hey, Shawn, best of luck being the Matrix with Marcus Banks and Mario Chalmers running the show. That should work out great.
TIER VI: MISSIONARY POSITION GUYS
31. David West
32. Antawn Jamison
33. Andre Iguodala
34. Danny Granger
35. Rashard Lewis
36. Mike Dunleavy
37. Hedo Turkoglu
My explanation: You know what you’re getting with each guy, you’re not totally excited about it, you can’t go wrong with whomever you take, but you need to bang out a pick because it’s something to do. Let’s just move on.
TIER VII: CRAPS TABLE GUYS, PART 1
Important note: Sadly, one of these guys might do well and win your fantasy league for whoever takes him. It’s unfortunate. I’d like to apologize in advance for talking you out of them.
38. Vince Carter
He’s saying and doing all the right things. Hell, he might actually have a huge season. I’m just not taking him. Ever. There’s nothing worse than letting your guard down with Fantasy Vince, then inadvertently catching the “SportsCenter” highlight of him rolling around under the basket as if he has been gunned down by an assassin. No thanks.
39. Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson (tie)
Mainly because that Bobcats team frightens me: The pieces don’t fit, the franchise itself is an absolute mess, the fans don’t care, MJ spends more time on the driving range than on the ESPN.com Trade Machine and, beyond that, I think Larry Brown’s ship sailed about four years ago in a “Jeffrey Tambor right after ‘Arrested Development’ got canceled” kind of way. But hey, any time you can lock up Matt Carroll and Emeka Okafor for a combined $100 million, you gotta do it.
41. Marcus Camby
Coasting through his Clippers tenure so far with “It has been two months and I still can’t believe Denver effing traded me” vigor. And he turns 35 during the season. Stay away. Please. I’m begging you.
42. Yao Ming
Forget that he missed at least 25 games in each of the past three seasons or that supertall guys age worse than porn stars or that he doesn’t fit in with the speed/defense/athleticism/flexibility Rockets at all unless they’re planning on using him the way Cleveland uses Ilgauskas … which means Yao will play 25 minutes a game, slow them down and force them to play the wrong style. I happened to catch him lumbering around in a preseason game and sent the following texts to torture my buddy who loves the Rockets: “When did you sign Gheorghe Muresan?” … “Is there any reason you guys dipped his sneakers in concrete?” … “He’s going to get dunked on so many times this year that we should start calling him ‘The Big Coffee.'” … “Can you have Yao’s translator send me the Chinese letters for ‘Ewing Theory?'”
My buddy’s eventual response: “White flag!”
TIER VIII: THE WORLD-CLASS SLEEPERS
43. Al Horford
This is 12 spots too high. I don’t care. I love this guy.
44. David Lee
Born to play for Mike D’Antoni.
45. Mehmet Okur
Best shape of his life, saying and doing all the right things, headed for a career season. If your 2008-09 fantasy center is Memo instead of Yao or Camby, the next few months of your life will be considerably less stressful. And, yes, you could get him about 15 picks later than this.
46. Michael Beasley
He’s going to score. More easily than you think. By the way, I’m talking about basketball.
47. Derrick Rose
I never imagined it would happen this soon, but much to everyone’s delight in Chicago, the Bulls simply can’t keep him off the floor. Did you see him torch Jason Kidd and the Mavs the other night? I’d be infinitely more excited if not for the long and tortured history of rookie fantasy point guards. OK, I’m still excited.
TIER IX: CRAPS TABLE GUYS, PART 2
48. Michael Redd
My main fear: I think he’s getting traded before the February deadline. Probably to Cleveland. Probably in one of those “Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract, Sasha Pavlovic, cap fodder and two crappy No. 1s for Redd and Dan Gadzuric’s awful contract” fire sales, a financial hit that nobody would absorb in the NBA right now except for Dallas and Cleveland. And Dallas doesn’t have the No. 1s to swing the deal. Which means Redd is headed for a complementary role in Cleveland. Which means his numbers will drop just in time for your fantasy playoffs.
49. Ron Artest
Going from a pressure-free “Go ahead, shoot any time you want, we suck anyway” situation in Sacramento to “We need you to give us defense and intensity and maybe even play power forward when we go smallball, and by the way, if you screw up or have a meltdown, our much-anticipated title run is screwed” in Houston. I’m a little dubious. And, yes, the fact that I gave Houston’s three best guys “Watch out!” status should give you an idea of how I’m feeling about the 2008-09 Rockets.
50. Jason Kidd
Firmly entrenched in the John Stockton Memorial “I’m not as good as I once was, I can’t guard anyone, I look exactly the same as I did 10 years ago so you’re probably a little deceived by my deterioration, and even though it’s boring to take me, dammit, I can still help your fantasy team!” stage of his career.
51. Chauncey Billups
Subtle signs of deterioration last season coupled with Rodney Stuckey’s breath on his neck. We’ve seen the best of him.
52. Lamar Odom
Put it this way: I won’t be taking him.
TIER X: JUST PLAIN SOLID
53. Rasheed Wallace
Contract year! New coach! Contract year! New coach! Contract year! New coach!
54. Andrew Bogut
Before everything’s said and done, we’ll remember him as the greatest Aussie basketball player ever. Narrowly edging Andrew Gaze.
55. Stephen Jackson
I have a weird feeling Nellie is going to talk himself into the whole “Captain Jack playing point forward” thing with Crash Ellis out. Which would be good for fantasy purposes, right?
56. Tony Parker
Headed for one of those random Better Than Usual fantasy seasons. Love when that happens.
57. Chris Kaman
He’s the Clippers center you want. Not Camby.
58. Devin Harris
The over-under for Dallas fans realizing, “My God, Avery Johnson was the problem last season, only we lost a potential All-Star point guard for an over-the-hill future Hall of Famer making five times as much money before we realized it” is Dec. 20. I have the under.
TIER XI: THE WILD CARDS
59. Tracy McGrady
Beyond last season’s statistical drop and his nasty habit of missing 11-16 games every season, T-Mac is already battling various injuries and turns 30 this season. He’s also playing for a deep team that doesn’t really need him until April. Too risky. Let someone else take him.
60. Greg Oden
If Oden can stay on the court, I can’t imagine his averaging less than a 12-10 with 2.5 blocks and 60 percent shooting. He’s like Erick Dampier on his best possible day. I swear, that wasn’t a dig. He’s only 20.
BIG NAMES WHO DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT
Again, that Sixers team worries me. Too many expectations, too many guys making big money, too many guys who have never won anything, not enough crunch-time guys … and here’s Miller entering a contract season without an extension after everyone else got paid. Yikes.
As soon as one thing goes wrong, the Dallas fans will turn on him, and that will be that. While we’re here, I’d like to put “getting high with Josh Howard” up there with “hooking up with Monica Lewinsky,” “getting into a bar melee with Ron Artest,” “lending money to Raffaello Follieri” and anything else that could conceivably happen to any of us while assuming surreal historical overtones as it was happening.
Oden and Fernandez will cut into his rebounds and points juuuuuuuuuust enough that he’s not worth taking until the middle rounds.
Can’t go wrong with a 17-3-3 and 40-plus on 3s, as long as it’s the sixth round or later.
The rich man’s Emeka Okafor.
The poor man’s Tyson Chandler.
Manu Ginobili and Crash Ellis
Don’t forget about these guys. By the way, if I had to rank the “most memorable moments Involving a moped in my lifetime,” Ellis’ accident and subsequent cover-up ranks just ahead of Hubie and his friends trashing Billie Jean Davy’s brother’s Honda Elite.
As for everyone else …
MY FAVORITE SEMI-SLEEPERS
Headed for a 16-10, 40 percent from 3-point territory and a ton of minutes. My single favorite “Guy with sixth-round value you can get in the 10th round.”
Anything less than a 12-5-7 with 49 percent FG shooting and two-plus steals per game would be disappointing. By the way, after spending $21 million on a Doc Rivers extension and making Tom Thibodeau one of the league’s richest assistants, the Celtics still had to bring Sam Cassell back because Cassell and Ray Allen are the only two people who can get through to Rondo. I thought that was funny.
A potential late bloomer getting all of Josh “Hey, did you know they’re paying for my taxes and I have a personal butler?” Childress’ minutes now. And if that’s not enough, can’t you just envision the first round of “We know Atlanta screwed up with Chris Paul, but guess what, Marvin Williams turned out to be pretty good himself!” stories? Like that will make Hawks fans feel better.
Our second beneficiary of D’AntoniBall, as crazy as that sounds. I would have ranked him in the top 50 if he weren’t Zach Randolph.
Really jumped out at me in the preseason. If he doesn’t average 10-plus rebounds a game and two “Here’s somethin’ for your mama!” dunks per week, then I don’t know anything.
Another “Wow, he got better!” preseason guy.
I’m not a huge fan, but it sure seems as if he’s getting minutes, shots, touches and everything else for a lousy Kings team. When you’re running your offense through John Salmons, you’re basically announcing to the league, “This is a rebuilding year.”
Received so much “He’s a sleeper!” attention that he vaulted into this group. Let’s hope it didn’t go to his head. By the way, we needed a quality “Thaddeus” in our lives, didn’t we? I’ve been waiting for, like, 20 years.
Sometimes it’s this simple: Orlando doesn’t have a quality backup for him. More minutes = better stats. Thank God I’m here.
MY FAVORITE LEGITIMATE SLEEPERS
They turned the Grizzlies over to him for better and worse. And I think it’s the right move. Even if I did hate that trade and think it was inane.
The winner of the 2008-09 Subtle But Effective Free-Agent Acquisition Award. He’ll play 40 minutes a game, drain 3s, guard the other team’s best scorer and be eligible at two fantasy positions any time Orlando has four games in a given week.
The winner of the “I get to play point guard for Mike D’Antoni and put up absurdly disproportionate numbers to my actual talent!” award.
Don’t thank me, thank the Bobcats for passing on someone who will draw double-teams so they could pick a 5-foot-10 backup point guard. Which reminds me …
He has become underrated because everyone thinks his job is in jeopardy. It’s not.
Yao Muresan’s backup. ‘Nuff said.
The Fred Taylor of the NBA, someone who always seems to end up starting for somebody’s fantasy team even though it seems completely improbable at the draft.
Fell off everyone’s radar because of the Rose pick.
He’ll average a 13-3-4 off the bench and has major “what if Billups or Hamilton gets hurt?” upside. Hey, which team would turn down a “Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince and Amir Johnson for Carmelo” trade? Doesn’t Joe Dumars have to swing for the fences at some point? Or is he happy running the Atlanta Braves II?
Hakim Warrick, Ricky Davis, Bassy Telfair, Ramon Sessions, Wilson Chandler, Brandon Bass, Carl Landry
This season’s candidates to become the mid-November, “Damn, I would have drafted him, but I thought [fill in the crappy guy] was starting for them!” guy who becomes the first waiver pick. At gunpoint, I’d go with Ricky.
Unable to appear on this list even though I tried to talk myself into them: Nene (I can’t trust him to stay healthy); J.R. Smith (too much hype, not enough shots to go around); Ronnie Brewer (jinxed by Hollinger); Andris Biedrins (I just don’t see why he’ll be any better this year than he was last year when he can’t shoot); Luke Ridnour (it all sounds good until you remember that he sucks); Mike Conley (too many PGs on that team); Andrea Bargnani (sorry, a few good preseason games isn’t suckering me in).
MY FAVORITE LATE-ROUND UNDERCOVER SLEEPERS
Take him late, stash him on your bench, wait two months, then you’ll have something. I like the Jefferson-Love combo. Eventually.
Sadly, Shaq is just about washed up and already considering a Reverse David Beckham in Europe someday … which means someone else has to give Phoenix 30 minutes a game at center. I could absolutely see Lopez averaging a 10-8 this season. This seems like a good time to mention that Phoenix has two big guys with hair straight out of the WNBA: Lopez and Louis Amundson. Not a good sign for the Suns’ title hopes.
Unleashed some jaw-dropping box scores in the preseason. You can’t go wrong with someone who once re-enacted the Brendan Fraser-Matt Damon shower fight from “School Ties” with Malik Rose.
A comeback year for my bro.
If Captain Jack plays point forward, that means we’ll be getting more Azubuike than you think. And frankly, my life always needed a little more Kelenna Azubuike in it.
Much to everyone’s chagrin, he could end up playing big minutes if something ever happened to Pierce or Ray Allen. And yes, when we’ve reached the point of a fantasy column when I’m trying to talk myself into Tony Allen’s upside, it’s time to wrap things up.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.