Welcome to "Are You For Real?"
For those of you unfamiliar, every week we will look at players who are getting hyped and those who are getting lead-piped in the court of public opinion. With message boards clotting up with panic at every box score, an arbiter is needed. And so we are here. We will look deep into the players' souls (er, statistics) and divine whether they are worthy of your fantasy teams. Please let us know who you would like to see covered and we will do our best to break them down.
This week, in honor of All Hallow's Eve, we are going to unmask three players who dressed up as superheroes this preseason. The numbers Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marvin Williams put up were great, but the people want to know: Are You For Real?
Howard was lights-out during preseason action, averaging a beastly 17.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 3.0 blocks in just 26.3 minutes per game. We're afraid to even think about what those numbers would look like given his usual 37 minutes per game. Rumors of his vastly improved free-throw percentage have hit the mainstream (thanks in part to this YouTube clip), and Howard's value has skyrocketed as a result. So Mr. Howard, we know you're a stud, but you've created such a fantasy buzz that we still must ask: Dwight Howard, are you for real?
Mac: For real. What I love most about Howard is that the kid seems to have a great head on his shoulders. He's willing to learn, and more importantly, has the drive to improve the weak areas of his game. It's pretty rare to find a 21-year-old with that kind of mind-set, especially considering he's already dominating the competition in the NBA. What's his upside? It's limitless really, but I'm thinking something along the lines of 20 points and 12.5 rebounds to go along with a steal and 2.5 blocks per game in 2007-08. Is that enough to offset his Shaq-esque free-throw percentage (58.6 percent in 2006-07)? For me it is, especially considering that he has the potential to be much improved in that area. Howard will never be a great free-throw shooter, but his form isn't terrible. I mean, he gets decent arc and backspin on his shots, so it's not like he's tossing line drives up there all game like Shaq. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say that Howard will be able to knock down 65-70 percent of his free throws this season.
Guy: For real. "He will never be a great free-throw shooter." Go out on a limb there, Big Mac. Understand that last season, Brian was trying to convince me that Howard was a lock to shoot 70 percent after seeing his success with Team USA. Didn't happen. Howard actually started shooting well last year, hitting 66.7 percent of his free throws in November and December. The decline started as soon as the NBA went back to the leather ball. The video Brian shared is impressive (though I have to admit to straying over to this off-key attraction sometime after Howard's 16th consecutive free throw). Unlike the star of my video, Howard is an amazing talent. Rashard Lewis will spread the floor in the half court and coach Stan Van Gundy's vow to go more up-tempo will only help Howard's offense. With Rashard outside, I don't see Howard having to force the issue as often inside, and this should reduce his turnovers. I agree with Brian's projections (even the 60-plus percent from the line) if not his choice in YouTube videos. For real.
Timber! That was the sound in the Pacific Northwest when the news about Greg Oden's microfracture surgery hit the papers. Don't be too sad. After all, without timber you can't build houses or cabinets or ... you get my point. Without that cry of timber you probably don't get the level of hype that now surrounds Aldridge. It was a strong preseason for Aldridge. He averaged 27.3 minutes, 56.2 percent from the field, 87.5 percent from the line, 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. So, with Aldridge (and not Oden) looking like the main man in the middle, we have to ask: LaMarcus Aldridge, are you for real?
Guy: For real. While many fantasy players loved the idea of Aldridge roaming free with Oden commanding attention down low, they should not be put off by the idea of LaMarcus playing center or power forward without him. In March, Aldridge put up 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks with 51.9 percent shooting from the field and 73.0 percent from the line in 30.5 minutes per game as a starting center. With Channing Frye shooting away and pulling defenders out of the paint and Aldridge's own ability to hit midrange jumpers, I am not worried about the offense. He cleans the offensive glass (almost half his rebounds were on the offensive end last season), boosting his points and field-goal percentage with easy putbacks. His free-throw shooting form has looked great in the preseason, and he will get you a block and half per game. I see Aldridge as a third-round talent available in the fifth or sixth round. If you need more convincing, check out my 30 Questions column on Aldridge and Portland.
Mac: For Real. Well, Guy, that's quite the glowing review on Aldridge. I'm with you, man, but something just doesn't sit right with me about him. Maybe I just have questions about his ability to stay healthy throughout the grueling NBA season. Those concerns, however, are not enough to keep me away from the talented big man. Aldridge has unveiled a wide variety of impressive post moves since last season, but forget about his point-scoring ability -- the most impressive part of his fantasy game has to be his ability to hit his free throws. There aren't too many big men in the game who can block shots and keep a respectable free-throw percentage, so Aldridge offers a serious comparative advantage there. It should be noted that Aldridge hit on just 65 percent of his foul shots during his time at the University of Texas, but he has steadily improved, knocking down 72.2 percent last season and hitting 35-of-40 during the preseason.
Through all of our conversations, with our colleagues at ESPN and with our readers, the one name that has consistently popped up has been Marvin Williams. There's little doubt that a lot of folks have high hopes for the 21-year-old out of North Carolina, especially after Williams lit up the scoreboard for 17.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 53.7 percent from the floor and 86.0 percent from the line during preseason action. With Marvin looking at a potential breakout season, the only question left to ask is: Marvin Williams, are you for real?
Mac: Not real. Marvin, where are the steals, blocks and 3s, my man? When Williams first came into the league he looked like one of those guys who had limitless upside in the fantasy game. But after seeing him average just 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.2 3-pointers in 34.0 minutes per game last season, I'm starting to sour on his fantasy prospects. To be fair, Marvin did show off his ability to put the ball in the basket (13.1 ppg) and get to the free-throw line (81.5 percent in 4.1 attempts per game), but he'll have to do more than score and hit free throws to make my list of breakout players. Don't get me wrong, I believe in Williams' offensive game and I think he'll impress on offense this season, but he still doesn't strike my fancy in the fantasy game. In fact, I'd much rather own his teammate, Josh Childress, who will offer much more than just points and percentages.
Guy: Not real. As much improvement as Williams has shown this preseason, it's not enough to earn our coveted designation of "for real." Like Aldridge and Howard, I actually think Williams' numbers will translate in the regular season, so that isn't the problem. The problem is the numbers themselves. If he makes good on his high scoring and high percentages, that means he contributes in just three categories. Williams doesn't board, steal or block shots, and he doesn't shoot 3s. That's fine for the end of the draft, especially if you have a Dwight Howard on your team, but otherwise stay away. I am with Mac on this; I would far prefer to have Childress' multi-category contributions over Marvin's on my squad.
Next week, we will look at who busts out in Week 1 and determine the veracity of their numbers. If you have players you want us to cover, submit them to the comments.
Brian McKitish and Guy Lake are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com.