The first official free-agent signing day has come and gone without much fanfare. Most of the big news items were merely formalities, as we already knew the fate of Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Rashard Lewis, Jason Kapono and Grant Hill. The Charlotte Bobcats made the biggest headlines by re-signing their leading scorer and best athlete, Gerald Wallace. How well the new Cats perform will rely heavily on team chemistry and their ability to stay healthy, but it's hard to argue with how good this team looks on paper. With Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Wallace and Emeka Okafor leading the way -- and with Sean May, Walter Herrmann, Matt Carroll and (cough) Adam Morrison filling specific roles -- the Bobcats should (at least on paper) be in line for a playoff berth in 2007-08. Right now, I foresee a starting lineup consisting of:
Assuming everyone can stay healthy, that's a solid lineup, especially considering the position flexibility of Wallace and Richardson (Wallace can play at the 2, 3 or 4, while Richardson can line up at the 2 or the 3). Richardson will likely become the go-to guy on the offensive end, and he'll probably surpass Wallace as the team's leading scorer. But Wallace will still be a fantasy stud, and he should still able to able to score around 18 points per game when he's healthy enough to be on the court. It's hard not to like Felton now that he has more weapons at his disposal; he should surely see a slight bump in assists with scorers like J-Rich and Gerald filling the lane. Re-signing Wallace will put a damper on Herrmann's fantasy prospects, but it might not be as bad as you think. Look for him to settle in as the sixth man, and he'll still earn his fair share of starts given the shaky injury history of almost everyone in the starting lineup.
The Memphis Grizzlies made the only other big signing of the week by nabbing Darko Milicic from the Orlando Magic. Say what you will about Darko, but realize that the guy is just 22 years old and still has plenty of upside. The problem is, everyone keeps comparing him to the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. We have to start looking at him for who he is, not who he was drafted ahead of. He probably won't ever live up to his high draft selection, but that won't stop him from becoming a productive NBA player. I'm liking Darko with the new-look Grizzlies. He can run the floor, a must for new head coach Marc Iavaroni, and he'll be a nice sidekick to Pau Gasol in the Grizzlies frontcourt. Although neither player can be considered a banger, it's going to be pretty tough to get a shot up with those two shot-blockers roaming the paint. On the offensive end, Darko still has some work to do, but as my colleague over at TalentedMrRoto.com, Guy Lake, pointed out in a recent discussion, Darko could benefit greatly from Pau's sweet inside passing skills.
Summer League Notes
Before we jump into summer league action, it's important to note that you shouldn't place too much emphasis on what's going on in Vegas or Orlando. I'm sure by now you've heard the story of Greg Ostertag owning Tim Duncan in Duncan's first summer league game back in the day (as always, TrueHoop has the real story). Fact is, it's way too early to get all bent out of shape over a player not performing well, and it's certainly way too early to proclaim someone a stud based on a few summer league games. That said, we can't completely write the games off, either. After all, these games are played for a reason (to evaluate talent), and of course there's always a fantasy angle.
J.J. Redick, SG, Magic: Redick and Marcus Banks are perfect examples of why I don't place too much emphasis on summer league action. Redick, however, could actually have some value this season if the Magic don't sign a shooting guard on the free-agent market. It's possible that they'll try to move Hedo Turkoglu over to the 2, but if they don't, Redick won't have much competition between Keith Bogans and Keyon Dooling for the starting shooting guard spot. Still, even if he's starting and getting minutes, I wouldn't expect much from Redick fantasy-wise other than 3s, points and free-throw percentage. For more on Redick, check out this column by David Thorpe.
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C, Trail Blazers: Maybe Aldridge will benefit more than Greg Oden from Zach Randolph's departure. Aldridge is showing off some nice offensive moves this summer (21.0 points, 11.0 boards and 3.0 blocks per game), and he is the Blazers' most polished offensive post player at the moment. At first, I wasn't sure how the minutes would break down between Aldridge and Channing Frye, but now that I think about it, Aldridge can also spell Oden at center, and that flexibility will ensure that he sees enough minutes in 2007-08.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Grizzlies: Kyle Lowry 1, Mike Conley Jr. 0. That's how I see it after the first week of hoops in Vegas. Many laughed when I suggested a position battle or time-share in Memphis in my fantasy draft analysis, but after seeing Lowry all over the court, and obviously fully recovered from the wrist injury he suffered last season, it's clear that a time-share is a distinct possibility here. For those keeping track, in their three summer contests, Lowry has averaged 18.0 points, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals, while Conley has averaged 11.0 points, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals.
Marco Belinelli, SG, Warriors: Averaging 25.0 points, 3.0 3-pointers and 1.7 steals in three games, Belinelli may be the most impressive player at the Vegas Summer League. I'm pretty high on the kid, but let's slow down a little on calling him a threat to Monta Ellis. Didn't anyone see Ellis last year? I know Belinelli is a perfect fit for Don Nelson's offense, but Ellis is just as perfect, and he's simply a better player at this point. Nellie, assuming he's back with the Warriors, is just going to have to find enough playing time for both of these ultra-talented guards.
Renaldo Balkman, SF, Knicks: How can you not love this dude? Seriously, he has game. He's unorthodox, but he's all over the court, and he has already racked up six steals and four blocks in just two summer league performances. He has defensive stopper written all over him, and if he gets enough playing time, he'll be a nice contributor in steals and blocks. Stay tuned in the preseason and be ready to pounce on him as a late-round sleeper if it looks like he'll be getting minutes.
Tyrus Thomas, F, Bulls: Check out these averages from Thomas in the Pepsi Pro Summer League in Orlando: 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 4.7 blocks per game! That's what we call upside, folks. Let's just hope and pray that he can secure 25-30 minutes per game this season, because he's going to be a fantasy monster once he's fully developed.
Marcus Williams, PG, Nets: Williams performed in spurts last year, and he's continuing to show that he deserves minutes with his play in the Pepsi Pro Summer League. With averages of 18.5 points, 5.0 boards, 4.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.5 threes in four summer games, it's pretty clear that Williams will be a nice late-round gamble in deeper fantasy formats.
Other Summer Studs: Randy Foye, Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey, Kareem Rush, Spencer Hawes, Francisco Garcia, Justin Williams, Aaron Brooks, Alando Tucker, Louis Williams, Rodney Carney and Craig Smith.
Greg Oden, C, Trail Blazers: By now, you've probably already heard that Oden will not be participating in the Vegas Summer League the rest of the way. No, not because he's already amassed enough personal fouls to disqualify him for the remainder of the schedule; he simply needs his tonsils out. It's a shame because I wanted to see more of him. One of the things that struck me while watching a few of the Blazers' summer games was that Oden was moving a little slower than I remembered in college. Are the players at this level quicker or is Oden just dealing with the effects of his ailing tonsils? Jason Quick of The Oregonian suggests that Oden's celebrity profile has him a little sluggish between his photo shoots and interviews. That's a scary thought, because if Oden is tired now, how will he look when we're in Game 62 with 20 more left to play? Just something to keep in mind, since he's never played this many games in a season before. As for his play on the court, it wasn't great, and it's clear that his offensive game still needs some work. We'll also have to keep a close eye on his foul troubles. If he continues to rack up fouls at such a high rate, we're going to have to lower our expectations for the upcoming season.
Kevin Durant, F, SuperSonics: Durant's inauspicious start might have some worried, but not me. So he's not rebounding or shooting well, big deal. Here's why I'm still impressed: Despite the fact that his shot is off, he's still scoring points. That's a quality I look for in a scorer: the ability to put up points even when the shots aren't falling. His ability to get to the free-throw line, and hit more than 80 percent of his foul shots, will keep Durant in the money in the scoring department. Either way, this is exactly why we don't place too much importance on summer league performances. Durant's slow start should not affect his fantasy draft value whatsoever.
Yi Jianlian, F, Bucks: It has been quite the roller-coaster ride for Yi this summer. After scoring 23 points in a matchup with Rudy Gay last Friday, Yi followed that up with a nine-point effort on Saturday, then bounced back to drop 20 on Cleveland on Sunday before putting up a stinker (just three points against the Knicks on Tuesday). He is young and inexperienced, and that's exactly the type of inconsistency we are likely to see out of him this year, assuming he signs with the Bucks. Still, after checking out a few of his games, it's pretty clear that the kid can play. The most encouraging sign is that he has blocked 1.4 shots per contest, which is something many experts thought he wouldn't be able to do against better competition.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics: With his speed and professional experience, one would expect Rondo to be lighting up the Vegas Summer League. Unfortunately he's not, and that's a clear sign that he may not be fully ready to take the reigns as the floor general in Boston next season. Fantasy fans shouldn't worry much, though, because with Delonte West gone, Rondo has a stranglehold on the starting position. There's just no way he won't be a very good option for assists and steals this year.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.