In a shocking departure from form, Mac and I are going to investigate the relative merits of three players to whom owners are starting to pay attention to.
Chris Webber is back with the team he started with, playing for the coach who sent him on his itinerant way through the NBA. Can Nellieball resuscitate the value of Webber? Should fantasy owners jump in after him?
T.J. Ford was a question mark to come back at all this season after his spinal cord injury in December. While he was gone his former backup put up freakishly efficient numbers as a starter. Now T.J. is back. Will he regain his minutes or his starting job?
Marcus Banks is unowned in all but a few Marianas Trench leagues and the 2.9 percent of ESPN owners who have him, only added him this week. Will the move to Miami give Banks a shot at regular minutes? Should fantasy owners take a chance on him?
Chris Webber, PF, Warriors
Guy: Not Real. Not now anyhow. Having watched Webber in his first couple of games this season, I can tell you the man is not in shape to run with the Warriors just yet. Here are his minutes for each game played so far: 12.5, 14.3, 13.6. Here are his foul totals for those games: 3, 1, 3. With the exception of the Sacramento game, Webber is picking up fouls at a brisk pace. But, he is not a guy who typically has had foul trouble. For his career, he has averaged 3.3 fouls in 37.3 minutes per game. This season, he is at 2.3 fouls in 13.5 minutes. When you are late on rotations and slow to react, you are going to foul. And have you seen Webber? He looks like Baby Huey out there. It is going to take him at least a month before he is in the kind of shape he needs to be on this team, or your team for that matter. I am not saying Webber will have no value this season -- though unlike Mac, I hold that this is a distinct possibility -- I am saying he has no value now and is unlikely to have any until mid-March at the earliest. Webber is a skilled high-post player. He can reliably hit jumpers from the elbow and has always been an adept passer. This won't matter if he can't stay on the floor. Don Nelson originally planned to start Webber at power forward and have him split time between that position and center. Nelson has already reversed course, telling the San Jose Mercury News and others that Webber would play center only. Andris Biedrins is much more efficient on offense and a far better defender. I simply cannot see Webber stealing regular minutes.
Mac: Not Real. C-Webb is an intriguing character to me. Prior to signing with Golden State, I had absolutely no faith in his return -- in the fantasy game, anyway. To me, there were too many questions about his age, his legs and his inability (or unwillingness) to play in the paint. But something changed for me when he decided to pack up and head to California. Maybe it was Don Nelson's so-called love for him, but I actually started to think that he might have value. My feeling is this -- if Webber is going to have fantasy value, Golden State is the best place for him. Given his age, it may be tough for him to keep up with the fast pace of the Warriors, but there are a few qualities that make him a great fit for this squad. First, he's a tremendous passer for his size -- a trait the Warriors can use in the run and gun. Second, Golden State's style of play will allow him to hang out on the perimeter and won't force him to take the ball inside. This may affect his rebounding totals, but not nearly as much as you might think. There are plenty of long boards to be had in the up-tempo style. Finally, C-Webb's patented 15-18 foot jumper could be deadly in this offense, provided he sees the court enough. And that's the only true problem here. Will Webber's conditioning and durability allow him to earn enough minutes to make a difference in the fantasy game? I'm betting not, though I am holding some hope he can make a splash sometime in March.
T.J. Ford, PG, Raptors
Mac: Not Real. Don't get me wrong, T.J. is going to be a fine fantasy option going forward; he's just not going to live up to the same expectations we had prior to his injury. Sorry, folks, but Jose Calderon is simply too talented to keep off the court. Earlier in the season, it was Ford who earned 27.1 minutes per game through the first month of the season, while Calderon was forced to sit at the "kiddie" table with just 25.1 minutes. Since then, Calderon has become one of the NBA's best pure point guards, averaging 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 3-pointers. In 35 starts he kept his turnovers low (1.8 per game) and his percentages high (53.1 percent from the floor and 91.6 percent from the line). With the league's most efficient point guard ahead of him on the depth chart, it may be hard for Ford to match his averages as a starter (14 games) -- 14.7 points, 7.2 assists and 1.3 steals in 27.5 minutes.
One might think that things could get a little crowded in the Raptors backcourt, and it probably will. Here's what I envision happening going forward: Calderon will see a slight dip in minutes and production, but should continue to start while earning 31-33 minutes per game. Ford, on the other hand, will take on Calderon's old role off the bench and should earn about 24-26 minutes per game. Now, don't think for a second that Ford won't have value just because he's taking a hit in minutes. He will still score, steal and dish off the bench, but his averages are likely to be closer to 11-13 points, 5-6 assists and 1.0-1.2 steals. That will make him a slightly more productive version of Rajon Rondo (when Kevin Garnett is healthy) and Mike Conley. Both Conley and Rondo are real enough in my book, so Ford is a worthy acquisition in fantasy leagues, just be sure not to expect the same one that dominated earlier in the season.
Guy: For Real. In the preseason, Mac and I joked that Jose Calderon was the best backup point guard in fantasy and that he would have more value than many starters. We weren't anticipating Ford's injury costing him so much time, but we weren't shocked either. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and we can safely say, T.J. Ford is the best backup point guard in fantasy. Looking at Mac's projections above, I am taking the lower set of numbers. I think 11 points, five assists and a little over a steal are likely. Ford is more of scorer than Calderon, but his minutes will be watched closely. In his first few games back, Ford has not shown his scoring knack. The assists, however, are there. With the wealth of outside shooters in Toronto, Ford just needs to be able to penetrate to generate assists. Judging from the 13 assists he bagged in 22 minutes against the Timberwolves on Sunday, Ford can still drive and dish. He did hurt his wrist in that game, however, and was forced to leave Monday's game against the Spurs after just eight minutes. The All-Star break will benefit Ford, who will no doubt be practicing his jumper. I expect more highly efficient play from Ford in the second half. As a waiver add -- Ford's ownership has gone up 36.8 percent this week -- he is a tremendous value and, while he will always be an injury risk, he is for real so long as he logs 25 minutes per game.
Marcus Banks, PG, Heat
Mac: For Real. But only in deeper leagues. By most accounts, Banks will eventually see a good bundle of minutes with his new team. Pat Riley has already expressed an interest in getting Banks on the court, and he should be able to secure 27-30 minutes as soon as he's able to get comfortable with Miami's offense. With minutes like these, Banks should be able to contribute modestly in points, assists and steals, but will leave a lot to be desired in other categories. For his career, Banks has not seen the court all that often, so we'll have to look at his averages as a starter in order to get a feel for what the kid can do with extended minutes. In 35 career starts, he averaged 11.4 points, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.4 3-pointers in 32.1 minutes per game. Not bad, but certainly not someone we should be falling all over ourselves to acquire. It is possible that Banks will be able to knock down more 3-balls in Miami, as Dwyane Wade will be able to draw defenses and kick it outside to a wide open Banks. Unfortunately, Wade's presence will both help and hurt Banks. Sure, he'll be able to hit more 3s, but that will come at the expense of some assists. Technically, Wade is considered a shooting guard, but he acts like a point guard, and his control over both the rock and the offense in Miami inevitably will hurt Banks' assist potential. That said, Banks still looks like a solid pickup in deeper fantasy formats -- especially for those that need a jolt in the steals category.
Guy: Not Real. Though I will say guys in deep leagues in need of 3-pointers should take a chance. Looking at the starting stats Mac collected above, the discerning reader might ask why on earth I am recommending Banks for 3-pointers. Averaging 0.4 deep balls as a starter isn't that phenomenal. However, he is a better long ball shooter than those numbers would indicate. Banks is averaging 1.0 3-pointers in just over 13 minutes per game this season. The move to Miami will not suppress Banks' 3-point shooting. It will improve it. Heat point guards aren't asked to do much in the team's offense but they do shoot 3-pointers (5.3 per game, 11th most in the NBA). Banks will play more than 13 minutes per game with the Heat and we will not see a repeat of any of the 23 DNP-CDs he logged with the Suns. For all that, owners in mid-sized and smaller leagues (12 teams or fewer) can safely pass on Banks. He won't start getting 20-plus minutes until late February and unlike Mac, I do not see him getting 27-30 minutes per game this season unless Jason Williams is traded. I never recommend adding a player while speculating on possible trades -- not that this is what Mac is doing. I like Banks as a sleeper for deep leagues and I think there is a chance he becomes useful as a bench player for mid-sized leagues, but there is no reason to jump on him now.
Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com while Mac can be found at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.