Pacific Division Fantasy Preview (Part I)
Today it’s the Pacific Division. This is a pretty good division fantasy-wise: there are three teams that play at a pretty good pace–Sacramento especially, who led the NBA in field goal attempts last season–plus the two Los Angeles teams who are very interesting in fantasy terms with some high quality players and some high quality play to boot. The Pacific teams shoot and make threes, and there are plenty of steals and blocks here. It’s also my preferred division to watch; I’m a night owl and last season found myself watching a lot of West Coast games despite being in the Eastern time zone (it’s after the kids are in bed, after all).
Obviously the Lakers are the class of the division in on-court terms, although there isn’t a Laker who doesn’t have some significant risk in view of his likely draft position. The Clippers were close to the Lakers last year (and probably a better team all said) but I don’t think they have done enough to stay close to them, and I don’t think they have a team that will jell together, either in fantasy terms or in the win column. They remain a lock to be a top-4 team in the West though.
The Warriors will be much improved, though not enough to be a playoff team. I probably think this because as a huge booster of Stephen Curry, I live more in hope than in reality. The Suns will be worse, not only for losing Steve Nash but also because I don’t like how their parts fit together. The Kings? Well, if you’re streaming, pick up guys facing the Kings.
Like Jeff with the Northwest, I am making “sleeper” picks of guys who look a good bet to outperform their average draft positions at Yahoo! and where I think a player is a particular must-draft I will identify him as such. Position eligibility is the Yahoo! default as well. This Part I of the preview looks at the Lakers and Clippers. For my thoughts on the Warriors, Suns and Kings, see Part II.
It is a bizarre result of their offseason that the Lakers have made themselves a better team while arguably making every single one of their players a worse fantasy option than they were last season. If there is only one thing I can say in this preview that I hope you take with you into your draft, it is this: beware the Lakers.
I think that in basketball terms this is a fabulous team. In fantasy terms, I think it has three second-round picks, only one of them particularly enticing, plus Steve Nash who is almost certain to be overdrafted. It’s a strange situation but there are some potential sleepers here that you should take some interest in. As always, teams that make a big splash end up with overvalued players at the draft. With the Lakers, though, there is a lot of close critical attention being paid to them in fantasy terms, and so their best players are slipping down in drafts, towards where their real value is. Which means that if people are avoiding Kobe Bryant in your auction, take advantage.
A big part of my lowered expectations for the Lakers is that their pace, never quick, will probably diminish even with the arrival of Mr. Seven Seconds Or Less. A big frontcourt with good offensive rebounders means that it will be in the Lakers’ interest to slow the pace; their good size and the ability of Kobe and Steve to create gives them a halfcourt advantage.
Best to Own
Kobe Bryant. Kobe is the king of the shooting guards. Among guys rated only at SG, Kobe is head, shoulders, and most of the chest above everyone else (the next-best SG-only in ADP is Marcus Thornton, who I take a very close look at in Part II). Kobe is also the Laker who will benefit most from Steve Nash’s wizardry. His efficiency will go up, and he will lead all SG-rated guys in points. But the biggest attraction is the potential upside. Kobe could end up getting more open shots than ever. If you’re drafting last in a 12-team league, get him with one of those two picks on the turn. Kobe’s potentially a very strong play because of the weakness of the elite at the SG position. At 34 with new star teammates, he is a huge risk, but the very best kind.
Dwight Howard. Always a difficult play because he forces you to pay more attention to FT% and A/T at other positions. He’s also hurting. The rebounding still makes him a must play, but he’ll have fewer boards to grab.
Pau Gasol. A lovely player, but a definite fantasy wild card. If you want to bet against Howard’s health, Gasol makes sense lower in the second round (his ADP is 22.6; this seems like a good spot). Look for his efficiency to increase with Nash in LA, though not as much as Kobe’s.
Steve Nash. He’s a terrific athlete, but I do not see Nash playing as much in volume terms with the Lakers as he has done recently with the Suns. The 82-game schedule, another year of age, and he’ll need to play less thanks to some big leads. Might be worth a fourth-round pick if you’re big-heavy; his turnovers could be way down.
When you have four guys that good, you won’t have any other solid contributors.
Jordan Hill. An interesting, high-efficiency player who is probably the fifth-best Laker. He’ll be deferring to better players, This might come back to bite me, but I’m avoiding him. But I don’t necessarily think you should; he is flying under the radar and if he gets a chance to play he should explode, even in this setup.
Players to Avoid
Antawn Jamison. May play a lot if Howard is hurt, rested or babied and should get quite a few minutes regardless despite not starting. He’s still pretty good, too. But he’s 36, his skills have eroded considerably, and he’s not a guy who will do much for you.
Metta World Peace. In real life as in fantasy, he’s a fascinating player but despite a nominal starting role and potentially some serious minutes (his defensive skills are more in demand when you’re ahead) he’s the only Laker likely to be a worse shooter.
Devin Ebanks. Might become a cheap source of blocks but doesn’t have the skills to be trusted on such a deep team. I think he’s well behind Hill.
High Risk/High Reward
Jodie Meeks. He probably won’t play enough but he’s a good player and if the Lakers do run, they may be doing it out of a three-guard set a lot.
Steve Blake. I think Blake is a pretty terrible player. Really terrible, even. But Steve Nash is not made of steel and boot leather, and being the point guard for this team is a heavenly opportunity. A very, very long shot.
The Clippers are a powerhouse and Chris Sheridan thinks they had an A+ offseason to boot, based on dumping Mo Williams and adding Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill. As I say those names, you can sort of see why a great group of additions in real terms is not necessarily a great group of additions in fantasy terms. However this does mean you have a good shot at some of the Clips’ complementary pieces in lower rounds.
Best to Own
Chris Paul. The best point guard thanks to FG%, FT%, assists, and especially steals and A/T. I love him and he’s a far safer bet than the other good point guards. The third-best player in roto; don’t let him slip past the third pick.
Blake Griffin. An ADP of 27.4 in Yahoo! makes Griffin a serious target. I think his already great rebounding will improve, and Griffin is getting better in the halfcourt. Free throws are a serious issue. The key with Griffin remains how his mental game catches up with his physical game. As players get used to him, they’ve become less afraid of his immense physical skills. That means that Griffin has to adjust. Watch him play, watch him rebound, watch him in the post, and trade him away or trade for him accordingly.
DeAndre Jordan. Jordan should get the ball more as his offensive game diversifies. His excellent FG% makes him your best friend if you have iffy shooters on the wings, but if he scores more he might hurt your free throw numbers. That said, his ADP of 89 at Yahoo! is probably too high. He’s a 9th-rounder, not a 7th.
Jamal Crawford. I found Crawford a profitable player to own in Atlanta and he could return to that status in LA, especially as Billups is a question mark. Should get lots of minutes anyway and lots of chances to bomb away from deep. I think his poor 3FG% in Portland was an aberration.
Chauncey Billups. Should be back soon. Age and health are question marks, otherwise his ADP of 134 means that you’ll get value when he plays. Should still score despite sharing a backcourt with Chris Paul.
Players to Avoid
Caron Butler. Butler hurt a lot of fantasy teams last year with poor shooting and his minutes should slide with Crawford and Grant Hill in LA.
Grant Hill. Takes remarkable care of himself, but competition for minutes and declining skills make me shy away.
Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf. The backups to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin might not play a lot.
High Risk/High Reward
Lamar Odom. This isn’t even one for the draft; Odom was beyond terrible last year. Keep an eye on his camp if you have a late draft though, and if he’s on the waiver wire in your league watch his early performances.
Matt Barnes. Barnes is a surprisingly good rebounder but he won’t play enough. Still, he helps in a lot of ways and could win the competition for minutes.
Thanks to Kimberly N for the Blake Griffin photo.