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Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies (46.6 percent owned): News of Conley's new starting gig spread like wildfire last week, and given his name recognition, many fantasy owners have already jumped on the bandwagon. Smart move. With the Grizzlies' dismal 9-23 record, head coach Marc Iavaroni has finally committed to a youth movement, and his first order of business was to insert Conley into the starting lineup. Incumbent starter Damon Stoudamire hasn't taken the news well, and although he reportedly isn't causing any locker-room problems, he is seeking a trade or a buyout now that he's third on the depth chart behind Conley and second-year man Kyle Lowry. Iavaroni's insistence on the youth movement, combined with Stoudamire's reaction, leads me to believe that Conley will be a permanent fixture in the starting lineup for the Grizzlies. Lowry will push Conley for minutes as the primary backup, but if Memphis saw Lowry as their future, they would have handed him the starting gig long before Conley returned from his shoulder injury.
So now that we know Conley is all but guaranteed a starting spot and 30-plus minutes per game for the foreseeable future, what can we expect out of him? There are plenty of positives, namely his quickness and ball distribution skills. There are also plenty of negatives, like his shaky jump shot and poor free-throw shooting. Sounds a lot like Rajon Rondo, doesn't it? In fact, Conley's numbers as a starter are nearly identical to Rondo's. Sure, it's a small sample size, but I think it will be representative of his talents when everything is said and done this season. Conley has averaged 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.3 3-pointers in three games as a starter compared to Rondo's averages of 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.1 3-pointers on the season. For my money, both Rondo and Conley should be owned in most fantasy leagues, but fantasy owners should be aware that Conley won't be a great percentage guy, nor will he score many points or help out from downtown this season.
|Randy Foye hopes to be making signature moves on the court soon.|
Joe Smith, PF, Bulls (23.9 percent owned): There is no doubt that veteran Joe Smith has increased his fantasy value since Jim Boylan took over for Scott Skiles late last month. Smith has averaged 15.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.5 blocks in six games with Boylan at the helm, and appears to be a lock to earn minutes in the mid-to-high 20s as a starter going forward. Smith may be getting up there in age (32), but he can still score, especially given the fact that the Bulls have limited offensive options in their defensive-minded frontcourt. I'm not so sure he'll continue to block shots at such a high rate -- Smith hasn't blocked more than a shot per game since 2003-04 -- but the scoring and efficiency should continue. If his blocks don't continue, he'll only be an option in deeper leagues, but he will be a solid "glue guy" for anyone in need of points, rebounds and percentages. Also of note in Chicago is Andres Nocioni (42.6 percent owned), who will be the main beneficiary if Luol Deng is forced to miss any more time with his Achilles injury.
Despite averaging 18.6 points, 1.2 steals and 3.0 3-pointers in 31.0 minutes during his past five games, Nate Robinson is currently owned in just 10 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues. Surely those numbers could help someone in deeper formats, or even standard formats for that matter. I understand the hesitation in picking up a Knick, but why not ride the kid while he's hot? Grab him now; just be ready to dump him if he goes cold or if Isiah decides to tinker with the lineup.
Chucky Atkins returned to the Nuggets lineup eight games ago, but has been worked in slowly in his return from a groin injury. Atkins, who is averaging just 4.5 points, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.3 3-pointers in 18.9 minutes, has been slowed by the presence of Anthony Carter. The 32-year-old Carter (25.5 percent owned) has been able to hold off Atkins with averages of 8.2 points, 5.5 assists and 1.3 steals as a starter this season. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Carter is still a decent option in deeper formats, but be aware that Atkins could easily surmount him as the starter at any moment.
Sticking with the Nuggets, Kenyon Martin (38.4 percent owned) returned from a hamstring injury to grab seven rebounds and block seven shots on Thursday night. He followed that up with an 11-point, 5-rebound, 1-block effort on Friday night and once again looks strong in the Denver frontcourt. Martin has been surprisingly effective on the defensive end when healthy this season, and should be a nice pickup for anyone in need of boards, steals and blocks. Of course, you'll have to be willing to deal with his injuries, which is the only thing holding him back from being a candidate in standard fantasy formats.
Andrea Bargnani (53.2 percent owned) is starting again for the Raptors, but is still offering only moderate value due to some serious inconsistency. Over his past five games, Bargnani has posted the following point totals: 11, 0, 17, 25 and 4. If you can deal with the ups and downs, that translates into averages of 11.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.8 3-pointers and a block per game during that span. On the season, Bargnani is averaging 13.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 1.7 3-pointers in 16 games as a starter, so there is definitely some upside here. Still, he's only an option in deeper formats at the moment, due to the aforementioned inconsistency.
Bargnani isn't the only Raptor whose value is on the upswing. Rookie Jamario Moon (8.4 percent owned) has it going again, averaging 9.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, a steal and 1.8 blocks per game during his past five. Now might be the time to reacquire Moon if you let him go earlier in the month.
Not many noticed, but Brandan Wright started his first game for Golden State on Friday night. Wright played just 7 minutes, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Don Nelson said this after the game: "I think he's going to be really good, so we've got to get his nose wet and see what he can do."
I'm not sure how much we can trust Nellie at this point, and it doesn't make much sense to put an inexperienced project in Wright out on the court for more than 10-15 minutes per night, but it's definitely time to put Wright on your watch list just in case. The kid has serious potential, and it doesn't hurt to look.
Michael Finley (60.7 percent owned) was a big addition earlier this week, but he will likely become irrelevant now that Manu Ginobili has returned to the lineup. If you grabbed Finley this week, be sure to let him go for one of the new hot pickups.
A lot of folks are super high on Detroit rookie Rodney Stuckey, and I'm one of them, but I can't see him having much fantasy value in anything other than deeper formats at the moment. Stuckey is getting extra run in blowout victories but isn't yet trusted in close contests (as evidenced by his four minutes in Saturday's loss to the Celtics). I am expecting the Pistons to give Stuckey more run as the season progresses, but unless there's an injury, he'll be an option in only the deepest of leagues.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.