Key departures: None
Sleeper: Kendrick Perkins
Lost in the excitement over the Celts' acquisition of Rasheed Wallace is the fact that the incumbent at center is a pretty darn good player in his own right. Perkins made some waves in the Eastern Conference semifinals, giving all-NBA big man Dwight Howard all he could handle in the post, but that's not the sort of thing that shows up on the stat sheet and draws attention in fantasy leagues. Perkins is currently being drafted 145th in your average ESPN.com fantasy league, which makes him a fantastic value when you consider that he finished ranked 81st at the end of last season.
Now, the skeptics will point out that the circumstances of last season's iteration of the Celtics forced Perkins to play more minutes than a player of his caliber really should, and with a healthy Kevin Garnett, a newly acquired Rasheed Wallace and an improving Glen Davis pushing him for minutes, Perk's sure to see fewer minutes this time around. Well, I'll point out to you instead that Perkins didn't only improve his raw numbers in rebounds and blocks last season, he improved his rates in those stats as well. Even if his minutes drop back down to 25 per game, the worst-case scenario is that he gets you 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and shoots 56 percent from the floor. This team is built for the postseason, and as such, it'd be a mistake to imagine Garnett and Wallace playing huge minutes all season. They'll miss games, and Perk, like last season, will mop up the minutes. Perhaps he's not the most exciting fantasy option out there, but of all the Celtics, he's the one most likely to outperform his current average draft position (ADP).
Bust: Kevin Garnett
I realize I'm not going out on a limb here, but Garnett has to be the Celtic with the most bust potential. For one thing, he has been the first Celtic off the board in most drafts, going 20th on average. For another thing, he's coming off the most injury-plagued season of his career and will turn 34 before the playoffs roll around. Garnett, for the first time, saw a major drop-off in efficiency last season even when he did play, and he's playing fewer minutes than he ever has, too.
What's more, the Celtics, as discussed above, with a big-man rotation including Wallace, Perkins and Davis, have no real reason to push KG. They'll likely make the playoffs no matter what they do, and that's when they need to be healthy and play the Big Ticket big minutes. Sure, he'll be the across-the-board contributor he's always been, and he could probably finish in the top 50 in his sleep, but as far as I'm concerned, the upside of guys like Brook Lopez and Josh Smith is more valuable at this stage than the assumption of steady productivity that comes with a guy like Garnett. Garnett, if you draft him in the top 25, is a major risk on which you're staking the success of your whole team, and this season, I just don't think he's worth it.
The Celtics have quite a few players who will be relevant in fantasy leagues this season, and the fact that most of their blue-chippers are on the wrong side of 30 means they'll probably cause us quite a few headaches. At the same time, there's some real opportunity here, especially in deeper leagues. Marquis Daniels is a good defender who may see some action backing up Rajon Rondo at the point alongside undersized 2-guard Eddie House. Daniels will also get time behind Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and could see enough minutes to rack up better than 10 points, three assists and a steal, which would certainly make him worth owning in deep leagues.
Wallace probably won't see the 32 minutes per game he saw last season, but he'll still be a fantastic source of blocks and 3-pointers, which remains a pretty rare combination. Davis will come into this season with some hype after his performance in last season's playoffs, but unless there's an injury to Perkins, Garnett or Wallace (not unlikely) he'll end up south of 25 minutes per game, and won't block enough shots to be worth owning in any leagues.
The one Celtic definitely on the upswing, of course, is Rondo, but with an ADP of 27, he's probably being drafted right where he should be; to make the leap into the top 20, he's going to have to start making 3s and free throws, neither of which seems likely in the immediate future.
Sleeper: Chris Douglas-Roberts
Take a look at that starting five up there. Pretty ugly, right? You know very well that Bobby Simmons is not the New Jersey Nets' ideal starting small forward, and I don't think Jarvis Hayes is making anyone too excited, either. Case in point: In the Nets' first preseason game against the Knicks, Douglas-Roberts led the team in minutes with 33. Now, part of that was due to Courtney Lee's being out with a sore foot, but the other part of it is that Douglas-Roberts could be used as a small forward and would probably be the best the team has at the position, despite his lack of experience.
With a year of experience under his belt and plenty of promise as a scorer, Douglas-Roberts should see his role slowly increase as the season goes on, and since starting 2-guard Lee is more of a spot-up shooter, CDR's ability to create his own looks should fit in quite well.
Bust: Devin Harris
People are expecting big things out of Harris this season, but it's worth bearing in mind that he's had some trouble staying on the court the past two seasons. That's because his offense is entirely predicated on throwing himself into the lane and getting to the foul line. It's a great way to score points efficiently, but it's a bad way to remain able-bodied. Harris also won't have the benefit of having Vince Carter alongside him to take some of the pressure off. He's going to continue putting up big numbers when he plays, but he might lose some of the efficiency that makes him so good, and if that's the case, he'll likely be worth a little less than the top-30 pick you'll probably have to spend to get him.
The Nets are going to be an awful team this season. The reason that list of "notable reserves" above is so long is that it's difficult to say who matters on this team. None of those players is very good, so each of them will probably get a shot at some point as the season wears on. The best thing you can do here is ride the hot hand, as the minutes have to get eaten up by someone, and whoever gets them will likely produce more than a player of his caliber should.
That said, Brook Lopez and Harris (and, to a lesser extent, Lee) have clearly defined roles, and we can reasonably expect them to be relevant in fantasy leagues all season. Beyond those three, there isn't another Nets player I'd draft in a standard fantasy league. In deeper leagues or keeper leagues, Terrence Williams and Douglas-Roberts are probably both worth a shot, especially if they continue to see a lot of action in the preseason. As always, Sean Williams remains worth owning if he gets at least 20 minutes per game, because he's a preternaturally great shot-blocker, but you don't need to worry about picking him up until it happens.
Sleeper: Danilo Gallinari
One can't focus too much on position with this team, given that the coach is Mike D'Antoni, so try not to sweat the fact that Gallinari has Wilson Chandler and Al Harrington ahead of him on the depth chart. D'Antoni's never been the type to let defensive matchups get in the way of which players he puts on the floor, and if Gallinari shows some of the promise that made the Knicks use a lottery pick on him a year ago, he'll get minutes.
In addition, he's a 6-foot-10 forward who can score from anywhere on the floor, and he's probably the best pure shooter on the team (which, actually, isn't saying much). With this sort of skill set, and the back problems that hung him up last season hopefully behind him, Gallinari's a good bet to surprise some people going forward. If he does, he'll be a good source of scoring and should provide some 3-point shooting. In deep and keeper leagues, go ahead and draft him with your final pick; he's one of the only players the Knicks are committed to beyond this season, so it stands to reason they'll give him every chance to contribute.
Bust: Al Harrington
Harrington is currently ranked just inside the top 50 based on his ADP, but the odds that he puts together a season as good as he did last season are quite low. He'll still make a ton of 3-pointers, which is a nice benefit considering the fact that he plays power forward, but he negates a lot of the benefits by not rebounding, not blocking shots and shooting a very low percentage from the floor compared with other big men. I wouldn't plan on him becoming a rebounder all of a sudden, either. His rebound rate last season declined from the previous season, and he's still playing alongside rebounding machine David Lee.
In addition, the Knicks are most definitely a team in flux, and it's hard to say whether their personnel at the start of the season will resemble their personnel at the finish. That's always the risk in taking players whose numbers are entirely dependent on their system. Harrington's been playing the past few seasons for the Warriors and the Knicks, teams that allow players to pretty much roam free on the offensive end. If he goes elsewhere, his numbers will plummet, and fast. Are you willing to use your top-50 pick on a guy who reached his ceiling last season, turns 30 this season, and will totally bomb if he gets traded, or if a better option comes along (say, Gallinari)?
As D'Antoni proved last season, he can make some decidedly mediocre players into fantasy studs, even if it's just for a year or two. There's probably some value here again, too, as whoever gets minutes on this team is going to produce some pretty useful fantasy stats.
Unfortunately, this is a team full of really average players, so at the start of the season it's hard to say exactly which guys are going to blow up. Chris Duhon was an impact fantasy player for much of last season, but the fact that he's not built to play 35 minutes a game for a whole NBA season ended up catching up with him, and he tailed off at the end. Chandler showed flashes of really good play throughout the season, but finished with a player efficiency rating (PER) significantly below the league average. Can you depend on players like this to continue seeing well over 30 minutes per game? If not, will they have any value if they start seeing fewer?
Besides Lee and, to a lesser extent, Harrington, it seems to me that the prudent move is to save these guys for the end of the draft, and see what's left. It seems like people are aware of this, too. Duhon and Nate Robinson, for example, finished 53rd and 54th on the Player Rater last season, but are ranked 139th and 110th, respectively, based on their ADPs this time around. There's likely some value in those gaps, but it's just not worth betting on until you know a little bit more about how the minutes will shake out this time around.
Sleeper: Thaddeus Young
Perhaps it's a cop-out to consider a guy a sleeper when everyone agrees that he's an awesome player. Also, I think I've had Young as one of my sleepers since he was in middle school or something. That said, all signs point to this being a huge year for Thad. He's slowly turning himself into a guy who can make 3-pointers on a team that needs them so badly it went out and acquired Jason Kapono. He's also become extremely proficient at racking up steals, and is a very efficient scorer from the floor.
The real reason he might make a leap in fantasy, however, is the fact that he could get enough minutes at power forward to gain eligibility there. If that happens, he's going to be a stretch power forward who gets you steals and has all the shots -- think a more athletic Antawn Jamison -- on a team that's going to play really fast under new coach Eddie Jordan. Young's current ADP is 76, but I'd be pretty surprised if he doesn't finish out the season in the top 60, possibly higher.
Bust: Lou Williams
It's not that I think he's going to drastically underperform his current ADP of 116. I think that if he stays healthy, he'll definitely be one of the 116 best fantasy players. But taking a look at the list below him, I'd rather have guards like Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, Kirk Hinrich, Leandro Barbosa … the list goes on. Williams has a rep as a guy who can really light it up, and that's true, but he scores his points without being a good shooter from long range, and he's only average from the stripe.
Of course, since he's the starting point guard, there's some upside in assists, but Andre Iguodala is by far the better option in terms of creating shots for other guys, and I'm skeptical that Williams will be any more ready to run the point than incoming rookie Jrue Holiday already is. If you want scoring and steals, go ahead and take Williams, just don't bet the farm on his helping you in any other stats, the way the other guards on the list above will.
This version of the 76ers has some serious fantasy upside. Going back to the previous paragraph, the upshot of Williams being a questionable point guard is that Iguodala may end up racking up even more assists than he usually does. In addition, Holiday is one of those lucky rookies who slips a little in the draft and finds himself on a good team that just might need him quite a bit. He's not quite worth drafting at this point, because all the talk is that Williams is going to get every chance to prove himself, but as the season wears on, I wouldn't be surprised to see Holiday's size and defense win the day.
In the frontcourt, Kapono looks to be coming off the bench behind Young at small forward, but when the Sixers go small, they'll likely play him alongside Young. If Kapono gets more than 20 minutes per game, he'll be worth owning in deep leagues as a 3-point specialist, because this team needs outside shooting more than anything else. Elton Brand could get center eligibility if the Sixers go small often enough, which would boost his value even more. Brand is going 30th on average, but has been a top-10 fantasy player in the past. If he's healthy, he's going to have a monster season. Samuel Dalembert had a disappointing enough season in '08-09 that all of these small lineup scenarios are in play, but remember, even with 25 minutes per game, Dalembert will get enough blocks and rebounds to be worth owning in most leagues, and he has the added bonus of not being a terrible free throw shooter.
Projected starting lineup
PG/SG: Jarrett Jack
SG: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Rasho Nesterovic
Sleeper: DeMar DeRozan
I was tempted to put Jarrett Jack here, because I think he's being severely undervalued in drafts and will probably see more minutes backing up Jose Calderon and Marco Belinelli than people think. However, DeRozan is one rookie I think finds himself in the interesting position of being on a pretty good team that could really use his services. DeRozan's being drafted in only 2.3 percent of leagues at the moment, so the odds that you can swoop in and grab him in the final round of your draft are pretty good, and the payoff could be fantastic.
The comments out of camp are to the effect that the Raptors want to bring him along slowly, so he might not produce much the first month or so, but I simply don't think Belinelli is starting 2-guard material, and eventually DeRozan's talent will probably win the day. More importantly, his athleticism and potential on the defensive end will be extremely useful alongside Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon. His leaping ability and quickness give DeRozan the potential to be useful in steals and blocks, and he seems to have enough range to be a threat for 3s as well. In keeper leagues, he's definitely worth a look, but I wouldn't hesitate to use my final pick on him in just about any league.
Bust: Hedo Turkoglu
At the moment, Hedo's being drafted 61st on average, ahead of guys like Emeka Okafor, Tyrus Thomas, Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Andre Miller (just to give a starting five of guys you aren't drafting ahead of Turkoglu but should). He finished lower than 61st last season, in a season in which he pretty much had total control over his team's offense, played 77 games, and played 36.6 minutes per game. Oh, also, he'll turn 31 this season. Remind me what the upside here is? What in the world makes anyone think he's going to be better this season than he was last season?
Please do not fall into this trap. Remember, before 2007-08, Turkoglu had never averaged better than 14.9 points or 3.2 assists per game. Taking a look at his efficiency ratings over the course of his career, he pretty consistently hovers around the average, and his production tends to depend on minutes more than anything. However, from 2007-08 to 2008-09, there's a major drop-off, and John Hollinger's system is projecting him for another drop-off this time around. What's more, the Raptors just drafted an extremely promising rookie in DeRozan who can play Turkoglu's position, and with Calderon and Chris Bosh, the Raptors don't need Turkoglu's point guard skills from the small forward spot in the desperate way the Magic did last season. He's just way too overvalued right now in fantasy; don't be the one who pays too much.
The Raptors are an extremely interesting team, but much of their success will depend on what happens at the shooting guard position. Right now, it appears Belinelli will get the nod to start the season, but as I said above, it's hard to imagine it will last, giving Jack and DeRozan some major sleeper value.
In the frontcourt, the big question is whether Andrea Bargnani can improve on his successful third season. He's such a good shooter, and if he can add some more rebounds to his line, he'll start looking like a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki. If he trails off again, like he did after his rookie season, Amir Johnson starts to look like a major sleeper who can help you in blocks and rebounds off the bench. As always, though, the fantasy studs on this team are Bosh and Calderon, and if those guys stay healthy, they'll both be top-20 fantasy players for sure.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.