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Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Early free-agent fantasy impact

By Brian McKitish
Special to ESPN.com

Whether you love or hate free agency, you cannot deny that the NBA's free-agent signing period generates a serious buzz. Of course, this is nothing compared to what we'll see next season when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh & Co. hit the market. Still, this season's crop of free agents is nothing to scoff at. We've already had some big signings with Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace on the move, and more are sure to follow in the coming weeks. And as the free-agent dominoes continue to fall into place, we'll be here to help break down the fantasy implications as we move closer to the start of the 2009-10 fantasy season on ESPN.com. Here are some of the biggest free-agent signings thus far.

Ben Gordon
Ben Gordon has produced in crowded backcourts before, and it should be no different in Motown.
Ben Gordon, SG, Pistons: Detroit wasted no time getting to work with two quick and somewhat surprising moves to lock up Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. The deals signaled a major shift in philosophy for the once-defensive-minded Pistons. Gordon and Villanueva surely can get it done on offense, but both have been criticized for their lack of effort and ability on defense. The Pistons' new coach, John Kuester, may be forced into playing a more up-tempo style because the team can't get very far with the "defense wins championships" philosophy when Charlie and Gordon are on the court. If things work out that way, this could end up being good news for the fantasy prospects of just about everyone involved in Detroit.

I don't see Gordon's fantasy value changing much. Allen Iverson is on his way out, and Gordon could end up taking on the familiar sixth-man role that he played in Chicago. It might seem like a bit of a logjam with Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton around, but Gordon had no problem putting up 20.7 points and 2.1 3-pointers per game in an overly crowded backcourt situation in Chicago.

Hamilton could see a decline in stats across the board with Gordon taking away some of his touches, but Stuckey's assists could rise as a result of the deals. With Villanueva and Gordon around, Stuckey has more offensive weapons at his disposal, but he is a combo guard by trade and will need to learn how to become more of a pure point for the new-look Pistons.

Charlie Villanueva, SF/PF, Pistons: Because the Pistons spent $40 million to lock him up -- and Rasheed Wallace went green in Boston -- Villanueva is all but assured of seeing heavy minutes at power forward for his new squad. Once a high-risk player in fantasy leagues thanks to his inconsistent minutes and production, Villanueva just became slightly less risky because he'll have more security on the minutes front. Charlie V averaged 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers once he became a full-time starter (47 games) for Milwaukee in 2008-09, and he'll be a starter from day one with his new team.

Rasheed Wallace, PF/C, Celtics: Despite his age (he'll turn 35 in September), Rasheed still has game. He's a great defender in the paint and can extend his offensive game beyond the 3-point line, making him a tough guy for the opposition to match up against. And with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen around to keep his attitude in check, Wallace shouldn't have much problems succeeding in Boston. For fantasy purposes, he will see fewer shots in the star-studded Boston lineup. His point totals may slide a bit, but that doesn't mean his value won't remain high. Wallace easily should improve on his 41.9 percent shooting from the floor, as he'll be more selective with his shots and see more open looks. He also posted a versatile 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.3 blocks and 1.7 3-pointers in Detroit this past season, and he should be able to duplicate that performance in Boston.

Wallace's arrival shouldn't have too much of an impact on the Big Three. Garnett, Pierce and Allen will still get their touches, though Doc Rivers might be able to rest them a little more. It will be interesting to see how Rajon Rondo's stats will be affected. He'll have one more weapon to dish to on the perimeter, but that may limit his scoring just a bit. I'll call that a wash for now and will still expect big things from Rondo heading into next season.

Hedo Turkoglu, SF/SG, Raptors: Turkoglu instantly makes Toronto better, but we'll have to wait to learn how he will mesh with his new team. Turkoglu is at his best when he can act as a playmaker from the forward position, but Jose Calderon is a pass-first point guard, and the Raptors won't need Turk to create as much as he did in Orlando. Turkoglu handed out an average of 4.9 assists last season, a number that's sure to go down as Calderon runs the show. I'm not terribly worried about Turkoglu's value other than his assists; in fact, he'll probably increase his scoring output.

Although Shawn Marion likely is headed out of town, Andrea Bargnani could see slightly depressed stats thanks to Turkoglu's arrival. Bargnani had his best season as a pro last season with 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers, but he might get fewer opportunities on the offensive end with Turkoglu around.

Ron Artest
Ron Artest, right, will team up with Kobe Bryant, but how will his numbers be affected?
Ron Artest, SF, Lakers: Much has already been said about Ron Artest's joining the Lakers, but I'll reserve most of my judgment until I see how the rest of the summer plays out for the Lakers. If Lamar Odom stays, I won't be too optimistic about the fantasy value of either Artest or Odom. That is not to say that they won't have value, but there simply won't be enough balls to go around in Los Angeles for everyone to get his touches. If Odom goes, Artest easily can settle in as the third offensive option and should post numbers similar to what he did in Houston, with perhaps fewer points but an improved shooting percentage from the floor. He should be able to continue his improved 3-point shooting (2.2 3-pointers per game), as opposing defenses will leave him open from time to time while they focus on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

Trevor Ariza, SF, Rockets: Not only is Ron Artest gone, but the Rockets could miss both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady thanks to injuries for at least the beginning of the season (if not the entire season). Suddenly, the Rockets have become a team with limited offensive options, and Ariza immediately could become a go-to player on the offensive end. And although Ariza is much better suited as a role player, his fantasy owners could be in for a treat in 2009-10. In Houston, he'll see more minutes than ever, which will lead to a corresponding jump in statistics across the board. Expect career highs in every relevant fantasy category, but be careful with his field goal percentage because he'll likely struggle mightily from the floor with the additional attention that he didn't receive as a role player.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com.