If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then there is much to be fond of in Portland and San Antonio. Both teams squared off last night without two of the biggest names on either squad: Greg Oden (sprained foot) and Manu Ginobili (ankle). Of the two, the Spurs looked the worse for the absence. The team is relying heavily on Tony Parker (24 points, 11 assists) and Tim Duncan (27 points, 10 rebounds). Both played well, but with Parker as the only player in black and white capable of creating his own shots and shots for others, it led to some poor shots by the Spurs. Parker looked fantastic and even hit his free throws (4-for-4). His speed is all the way back and he was very precise on his passes. The no-look wraparound to Duncan in the fourth quarter was particularly impressive. Look for a bump in assists from Parker this season. In addition to hitting Duncan inside, he was expert at identifying open jump-shooters on his drives.
Outside of Duncan and Parker, Roger Mason (14 points, 2 3-pointers, 4 assists) was the most impressive Spur. He shot 6-of-7 from the field and even created a little off the dribble, a surprise to those of us who watched him last season. Four assists? He matched or exceeded this number just 10 times in 86 games (including the playoffs) last season. Mason is looking like a nice add in deeper leagues, at least until Ginobili is back.
It's going to take a while to figure out exactly what we are dealing with fantasy-wise with the Blazers. The one constant is Brandon Roy (26 points, 1 3-pointer, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals). When healthy, this guy is going to be steady source of fantasy goodness. If you watched LaMarcus Aldridge last season, you probably had concerns that he was turning into a soft big man who would settle for jumpers instead of working the ball inside. He has the range, after all, and who wouldn't prefer shooting untouched from 20 feet instead of banging with Tim Duncan? Last night, however, he was scoring more in the post and less off jumpers. Six of his 10 field goals came from within 10 feet. This bodes well not just for his field goal percentage but also for his jump-shooting teammates, as they will have better spacing on the floor with Aldridge working the post.
Rookie Nicolas Batum was impressive in his 22 minutes, scoring in transition and outside. He is a high-energy player, not unlike Travis Outlaw, and if Batum's play continues to improve, Outlaw could see his minutes affected. The Trail Blazers have played two of the better defensive teams in the Lakers and Spurs; let's see how they do against average and inferior defenses before we make any assumptions about the offensive potential of this team. Last night's showing was solid, and lesser-owned players like Batum (0.3 percent), Rudy Fernandez (38.6) and Travis Outlaw (37.9 percent) bear watching even in shallower leagues.
Under the boards
Don't go crazy about Andrea Bargnani's big line (19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks); he did put these numbers up against the Warriors. On several occasions he blew past the ADD defense of Brandon Wright for easy layups. Give "Il Mago" his due, though; he played well. Let's see how he does against a more focused defense before declaring it a comeback. Al Harrington and Don Nelson let bygones be bygones. Harrington played nearly 46 minutes and had the green light for most of those minutes, scoring 26 points with 6-of-12 shooting from downtown. If this is how he plays after declaring he wants to be traded, his owners can feel safe starting him. Baron Davis left the game in the first half with a sore left hip and did not return. This obviously bears watching to see whether he will miss any additional time. Al Thornton (30 points, 11 rebounds) tried to pick up Baron's slack, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Nuggets. Note that Thornton played 48 minutes and Ricky Davis got very little court time. Nene Hilario is making the owners who took him late in their drafts (ADP of 108.0) look smart. He went for 22 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal on 10-of-15 shooting from the field. Note that he did foul out for the second consecutive game. No one from the Bulls turned in a good fantasy line. This is to be expected against the Celtics, who look no less motivated after winning the championship last season. Tyrus Thomas in particular was brutalized, shooting 2-of-17 from the field. While he didn't put up a great line, it is worth noting that Darrell Arthur (28 minutes, 0 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks) got the start over Darko Milicic for the Grizzlies. He should be added in 12-team and deeper leagues.