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Searching for fantasy clues in NBA preseason box scores

 

By Adam Hoff

 

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that preseason games don’t mean a whole lot in any sport.  The primary goal for each player and team is to get on the same page and build up stamina while avoiding an injury.  That said, the NBA preseason can still be a valuable teaching tool for fantasy.  We get a hint at what rotations coaches might use (although playing team is horribly skewed), we see how players are adapting to new teams, coaches, and teammates, and every once in a while we get a glimpse at what a previously unproven player might bring to the table in regard to stuffing the stat sheet.  Last year Gerald Wallace was a popular sleeper pick based on his athleticism and the flashes of scoring ability he showed while a member of the Kings.  However, it was his constant accumulation of blocks and steals in the preseason that really shed some light.  Had Wallace not been injured for much of last season he would have been a monster because of those blocks and steals.  So let’s take a quick look around after the first week of preseason games and see if there are any lessons to be learned.

 

James Jones could be the next Kyle Korver.  The Phoenix Suns made numerous personnel moves this summer, but one of the overlooked transactions may provide an opportunity for James Jones to become a fantasy favorite.  He’s getting big minutes at small forward for the Suns and taking advantage, accumulating 18 points and three treys in each of the first two games.  Plus – just as he did during his short stint as a starter in Indiana last year – he’s getting some boards, steals, and blocks.  If he even gets 80% of Q’s minutes and threes from a season ago, he becomes a fantasy steal in the same vein as Kyle Korver last year. 

 

Chris Paul is for real.  The best fantasy point guards are the guys that constantly give you a variety of stats.  Points and assists are nice, but the guys who are always a threat to get multiple steals, threes, and rebounds are the players that populate my rosters.  You can have Tony Parker, I’ll take Chris Paul.  He hasn’t drawn much added attention during the preseason because the minutes, points, and assists have been modest, but he’s had multiple threes and steals in every game so far.  Perfect. 

 

Handle new Rockets with caution.  Any smart fantasy owner knows that Jeff Van Gundy can be a bit of a loose cannon when it comes to sticking with a rotation.  When you factor in that Stromile Swift (issues with health, intensity, and fundamentals) and Rafer Alston (issues with attitude, mental stability, and decision-making) are the new guys in this instance, there is even more reason to worry.  Swift has only played in one preseason game thus far, so it is too early to panic, but despite his solid line (15 points, 4 boards, 3 blocks), it is worth noting that Juwan Howard got the start and the majority of the minutes at the power forward spot.  Not good.  It remains to be seen whether this is simply because Swift was easing back into the action or if Beetlejuice really does prefer the brutal Howard as his starter, but the difference between Swift being a 35 mpg starter and a 24 mpg reserve is night and day.  As for Alston, he had two nice games and then got slapped with a DNP-Coach’s Decision last night.  I have no idea why, but I also know that rookie Luther Head is getting rave reviews.  Look, I love both of these guys as sleeper picks too, but just play it safe.  Knock them down a round on your draft sheet, have a backup plan, something. 

 

Avoid Bogut.  There’s a chance that the Bucks will be stubborn on this one and do whatever it takes to validate their selection of Andrew Bogut with the first pick.  If you think that is going to happen, then draft him, because it is not uncommon for teams to engineer stats to make certain players look better.  That said, the game last week against the Pistons showed me all I needed to see.  Ben Wallace absolutely manhandled Bogut.  Big Benny Wallace pushed Bogut around, got him in foul trouble, and only allowed him to take four shots in 24 minutes (he missed them all).  I think big men want to make a statement by shutting the cocky Australian down, as if they needed any help.  I see long nights for Bogut and the very real possibility that he gets minutes slashed at some point for Dan Gadzuric and Joe Smith.  Believe it. 

 

(While we’re here, Ben Wallace looks like he has returned to his 2002-2003 form.  He has been a great leader and player the last two years, but a bit of a disappointment in fantasy.  I think he gets back to 13-15 boards a night and tallies close to 125 steals and 200 blocks for the season.)

 

Same old Michael Redd.  In his first two preseason games Redd has made over 50% of his shots and scored some points, but he has a grand total of four rebounds, four assists, and no steals or blocks.  The Bucks need a more well-rounded game from Redd, and so do fantasy owners.  Don’t take Redd before the fifth round.

 

“Sweetney for Sleeper!”  I might have missed a sleeper in my recent column: Michael Sweetney of the Bulls.  Last night he got the start at power forward and posted 17 points and 7 boards.  Not only that, he got to the line for 15 free throw attempts.  This after going for 10 points and 13 boards off the bench two nights earlier.  It looks like he might be the guy on the low block for the Bulls (sparing us the pain of watching Othella Harrington occupy that role), which is great news.  Sweetney was a bit of a sleeper pick last year, so you have the added benefit that a handful of fantasy owners will be “bored with him” since they have been there and done that. 

 

(Speaking of missed sleepers from the column, throw Mike James on that list as well.  If he gets 30-35 minutes a game as the starting point guard for the Raptors, you can count on 15 points and six assists a night with close to 150 threes and 100 steals for the season.  All at bargain basement prices!)

 

Mike Miller is in midseason form.  A notoriously slow starter, Miller has it revved up nice and early this year.  Always one of my favorite “value” fantasy players, Miller has his long range stroke dialed in, going an incredible 9-for-15 from behind the arc through his first three preseason games.  The Grizzlies don’t have many scorers on the roster, so this could be the year he pours in 16+ a game and goes over 175 threes for the season.  We’ve moved beyond “Don’t Sell!” (an Arrested Development joke for you) into “buy” territory with the former Gator.  (Check out his numbers from April of last year – 18.7 ppg, 2.6 threes per game – for the best case scenario.)

 

Speaking of the Grizzlies.  Where rookies are considered it seems that Bogut, Paul, Deron Williams, and Ray Felton are the only ones getting serious attention in drafts.  It might be time to through Hakim Warrick into the mix.  He’s scored in double-digits in every preseason game so far and is averaging 27 minutes and 14 points a night.  He could be a poor man’s Shawn Marion in the making and it might be worth stashing him on the bench and waiting for Pau Gasol to go out with his first eyelash injury. 

 

Richard Jefferson looks terrific.  Sometimes the best thing you can get from a preseason game is to ignore the stats (although RJ went 6-for-9 with 18 points last night) and just watch a guy.  Especially when that guy is coming back from an injury.  Jefferson looks fantastic.  He seems quicker than he did last year and has the look of someone that is happy to let Vince Carter take all the 25-foot bombs and shot clock beating fadeaways while he goes back to finishing fast breaks with dunks and coming off curls for short jumpers.  Expect Jefferson’s FG% to rise dramatically and for his fantasy stock to follow suit. 

 

Dwight Howard is at the crazy next level.  I wondered if it would be Year 2 or Year 3 when Howard become a dominant force, but we might already have the answer.  In 24 minutes last night he went for 19 points (on 7-9 shooting), 9 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.  Yikes.  It is obvious that Chris Jent wants to continue getting Howard the ball more (DH got four more shots per game after Jent took over for Johnny Davis last year) and equally obvious that Howard wants to continue getting it.  He could go from the 12-10-2 guy he was last year to a 20-12-2.5 guy in just one year.  Seriously.  I’m taking him late in round three/early in round four, waiting 10 days for center eligibility to kick in, and never looking back. 

 

Stay away from the PG situation in Orlando.  You all know I would never endorse Keyon Dooling no matter what the situation, but avoid Jameer Nelson as well.  Sure he had nice numbers last year when he got big minutes and is the rare PG that gives you solid boards to go with threes, steals, assists, and points, but the starting point guard spot is just in too much flux right now in the Magic Kingdom.  Dooling, Nelson, and Steve Francis have all started there through three games and for some reason DeShawn Stevenson has decided to start trying on the defensive end, so there is a push to get him time at the 2  This means Francis would have to move over and play more at the point … until he gets traded, which should take place around late November.  Just wait for this mess to sort itself out. 

 

Mo Pete Alert!  I’m not completely bailing on my selection of Peterson as a sleeper pick, but his starting gig at the shooting guard spot suddenly looks shaky.  Both Matt Bonner and rookie Charlie Villanueva are defying all logic this preseason by playing a lot and playing well.  They are getting the minutes at small forward, which is pushing Jalen Rose to the 2 and Mo Pete to the bench.  Monitor this one.

 

Allen Iverson loves Mo Cheeks.  I’ll admit, I purposefully set this up so that I could have back-to-back headings featuring the name “Mo.  Plus, this one isn’t really a secret.  We’ve already had our first Iverson/Practice story this year, discussing his newfound love for the activity.  However, the real proof that AI loves his new coach and is happier than he’s ever been is in his production.  He’s logging more points than minutes played (80 points in 74 minutes though three games), dishing out assists, shooting 57% from the floor, and generally destroying people.  What superstar does that in the preseason?  It doesn’t seem possible, but if AI can remain healthy, he appears poised for an even better season than last year (one of the greatest in NBA history, by the way, proof of which is on my blog.)

 

The self-proclaimed “Wild Animal” is indeed an animal in fantasy.  Ron Artest has been going in the fourth round of most fantasy drafts.  The only possible explanation for that is that people are worried about another incident (for good reason), because it is obvious that when he is on the court, he is one of the 15 best fantasy players in the game.  After playing only 12 minutes in the preseason opener, Artest has tallied over 30 minutes and 23 points in each of the last two games (both Indiana wins) while stuffing the stat sheet in every category.  He’s going to lead the Pacers in scoring, finish in the top five in the NBA in steals, grab 7 boards a game, shoot close to 50%, and hit over 100 threes.  You might want to draft him. 

 

Luke may have the force.  From Seattle’s Friday night game against Phoenix: 34 minutes, 18 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block, 1 three, 50% FG, 100% FT.  Are you kidding me?  Those are Baron Davis numbers.  It looks like the big minutes and absence of Antonio Daniels really might mean that huge things are in store for Ridnour.  Bump him up a few places on your cheat sheet. 

 

That’s all for now.  I’ll keep tabs on the action and report back.  Enjoy your fantasy drafts!

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com and a member of The Fantasy Sports Writers of America.  He can be reached at wis.insider@gmail.com.

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