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16. Charlie Villanueva - MIL [PF]
Raptors executive Bryan Colangelo shocked many when, counter to decades of NBA conventional wisdom, he traded a promising young big man in Villanueva straight-up for point guard T.J. Ford. Colangelo was vindicated – in year one, at least – when Ford led the Raptors to the Atlantic Division title while Villanueva missed 43 games due to a parade of injuries. Expected back at 100 percent to start the regular season, Villanueva is hoping to prove that Colangelo really did make a mistake. Villanueva has size, but at 6-11 and just 230 pounds, his physique is best described as “slight.” That being the case, it’s reasonable to suspect that he won’t be able to take the pounding a full-time power forward receives on a night-in, night-out basis from beasts like Zach Randolph, Emeka Okafor and Dwight Howard. That, combined with the defensive focus expected from Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak, might mean that Villanueva will be deployed primarily as a scorer off the bench for the foreseeable future.
17. Darko Milicic - MEM [PF]
Okay, so maybe Joe Dumars should have taken Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. But be that as it may, Milicic is still just 22 years old, he’s a shot-blocker and he’s moving to a team whose fast-paced tempo should generate plenty of possessions and subsequent rebounds, put-backs and blocks. Just keep in mind that if he struggles, the team can move Pau Gasol to center and slide Hakim Warrick in at the four. Still, we have to think Milicic will get good minutes early on and finally get an extended chance to show he’s not a complete bust as a No. 2 pick.
18. Tyrus Thomas - CHI [SF,PF]
Thomas was buried behind P.J. Brown for much of his rookie season, but showed flashes of tremendous ability – though mostly in garbage time. Brown is now gone, but another veteran – Joe Smith – has been signed in his place. We’ll consider that a big “vote of no confidence” in Thomas’ ability to take over the job full-time, at least for now. Look for minor improvement, but nothing earth-shattering.
19. Boris Diaw - PHX [SF,PF]
During the 2005-06 season, Diaw came out of nowhere to emerge as one of the most valuable fantasy options in the NBA with his “point guard numbers from a guy who qualifies at center” stats. The Suns rewarded him with a fat contract. He responded with… a fat body. Diaw reported to camp out of shape and struggled to regain his form. During the second half of the 2006-07 campaign, he was limited by a nagging back injury. He’ll have ample opportunity to redeem himself this year. With Kurt Thomas gone, Diaw’s versatility – his ability to play all three frontcourt positions – will be even more important.
20. Hakim Warrick - MEM [PF]
We love almost everything about Warrick’s game. He has size and length. He runs like a gazelle and jumps like a pogo stick. He’s fearless inside and is an ideal fit for a running offense. On any given night, he’s 20-and-10 waiting to happen. One problem. The Grizzlies have a healthy Pau Gasol and a recently signed Darko Milicic. If we assume that Gasol starts at forward and Milicic at center – or vice versa – that leaves Warrick as a bench player, which will limit his minutes and, by extension, his production. He’ll still be a nice fantasy player, just not as nice as he might be in another situation. One caveat: if Milicic struggles – which certainly isn’t impossible - new coach Marc Iavaroni could shift Gasol to center and play Warrick as the starting four. Warrick thrived when Memphis used that alignment towards the end of last season.
21. Chris Wilcox - SEA [PF]
Few NBA big men have the physical gifts that Chris Wilcox can boast. He has that incredibly rare combination of size (6-10) and jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism that had teams drooling when he entered the draft out of Maryland in 2002. But he hasn’t become the dominant big man many expected he would be. One problem could be the position. His best spot on the floor is probably power forward, but he’s been deployed as a center more often than not out of necessity during the years, forced to play inside and defend bigger men. Another problem could be the system. Wilcox would be an incredible fit for a team that will get out and run. The half-court offense is not where Wilcox will excel. If trade rumors involving Wilcox start flying again, pay particular attention to his destination. If it looks as if he’ll land on a team that will let him run the floor and defend big forwards – or if new Seattle coach P.J. Carlesimo deploys him that way in the preseason – consider it a sign and draft accordingly.
22. Drew Gooden - CLE [PF]
Look at the numbers put up by key members of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and LeBron James becomes more and more impressive. Gooden is an excellent example. Cleveland’s power forward doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, posting season averages of just 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.3 blocks. Those numbers are due in part to Gooden’s job-share – he averaged just 28 minutes per game, splitting time with Anderson Varejao and Donyell Marshall. Varejao was one of the Cavs that drew notice for his performance during the Playoffs. Assuming he re-signs with the Cavs, he could cut further into Gooden’s playing time this season.
23. Nene - DEN [PF]
We’ll call last season – Nene’s first season back from the torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2005-06 campaign – as his “working the rust off” period. This season, we expect him to start earning the massive contract he signed just days before tearing his ACL three minutes into the 2005 season opener. Nene had a reasonably productive half-season once he worked his way back into playing shape. The Nuggets brought him along slowly during the first half, bringing him off the bench. He averaged 8.0 points in 17 minutes in November, 6.25 points in 18.5 minutes in December, and 9.5 points in 19.3 minutes during January. He returned to the starting lineup in February and posted averages of 14.9 points and 8.0 rebounds in 32.3 minutes from that point on. He’ll never be a primary option on offense – not while he’s sharing the floor with Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and the rest – but the Nuggets’ quick pace generates enough possessions that even their fourth and fifth options should produce solid fantasy numbers.
24. Jorge Garbajosa - TOR [SF,PF]
Andrea Bargnani was the top draft pick and got all the hype. But the European import who really keyed the Raptors’ surprising turnaround and run to the Atlantic Division crown was Euroleague veteran Jorge Garbajosa. A do-everything forward and “glue guy” in the mode of Houston’s Shane Battier, Garbajosa was expected to back up superstar Chris Bosh at power forward and, as such, not play a major role. But he quickly won a starting job, essentially pushing Morris Peterson out of Toronto. He appeared in 67 games for the Raptors, starting 60 of those games, before suffering a gruesome ankle injury in late March. (He should be recovered in time for training camp.) Don’t expect huge numbers from Garbajosa. He may start games at either forward position and provide depth all over the front court. He’ll pass well, rebound and sink the occasional three. Every once in a while, he’ll step up and score 15-20 points when the match-ups and opportunities present themselves. But more often, he’ll simply make the players around him better – a quality that’s invaluable in the NBA but difficult to track as a fantasy statistic.
25. Luis Scola - HOU [SF,PF]
Acquired from the Spurs this summer, the 6-9 Scola, who was the Spanish League MVP last season and one of the stars of Argentina’s gold medal-winning national team, is a versatile offensive player and can the mid-range jumper or score in the post. He’s also a good ball-handler for his size and an excellent passer. He’ll give the Rockets more offensive flexibility and could conceivably push Chuck Hayes out of a job.
26. Sean May - CHA [PF]
May has played in the NBA for two years, but the “games played” line on his stat sheet hasn’t changed much since he left the North Carolina Tar Heels. He played in just 23 games during his rookie season and in 35 games last year, missing the rest due to an array of knee injuries. When on the floor, May has a terrific jump shot and an arsenal of low-post moves most forwards his age can only dream about. He’s worth a late-round flyer on potential alone, but his injury history is very hard to ignore.
*** UPDATE - Oct. 7: Sean May will miss the entire 2007-08 season due to microfracture surgery.
27. Chuck Hayes - HOU [PF]
You hear it every year during the coverage of the pre-draft camps: if a player can do one thing very well, he can make an NBA roster. Hayes is a perfect example. He’s not much of a scorer. He definitely doesn’t have the ideal size for an NBA power forward. But he gets rebounds. And he does it well enough to have earned a four-year extension from the Rockets. From a fantasy perspective, however, the deck is stacked against him. We’d like Hayes as a fantasy player much more if Jeff Van Gundy were still the Rockets coach, and if Luis Scola were still in San Antonio. Van Gundy gave Hayes 43 starts last year. Rick Adelman seems less likely to give that much run to such a limited player, especially when he has the gifted Argentine forward Scola to play the four. We envision Hayes settling into a role similar to that of the Knicks’ David Lee – a high-energy bench player who just might grab enough boards to be fantasy-relevant, even in that limited role.
28. Al Horford - ATL [PF,C]
Horford was generally regarded as the most NBA-ready and polished of the lottery prospects in the 2007 NBA Draft. The Hawks had better hope so, because in drafting Horford they passed yet another top point guard prospect (Mike Conley Jr.) to grab yet another forward. How does Horford fit in with all of Atlanta’s other fours and fives? He’s stronger and more of an inside player than Josh Smith or Marvin Williams, but more athletic and mobile than Shelden Williams or Zaza Pachulia. He’ll likely be able to log productive minutes at the four and five from the season opener on, and should be starting at power forward by the early 2008. Don’t be surprised if Atlanta looks to move one of the other big men to clear space for their prized rookie to operate.
29. Udonis Haslem - MIA [PF]
Haslem’s role on a fantasy team is remarkably similar to his role on the Heat – he’s a steady source of rebounds, little scoring and nice field goal numbers. Steady. Not spectacular. Haslem could be slightly more valuable as the season opens, as Miami coach Pat Riley has been known to ask him to pick up some of the scoring load when other players are unavailable. With Dwyane Wade expected to start this season in street clothes, Haslem’s number will be called more often.
30. Paul Millsap - UTA [SF,PF]
Utah coach Jerry Sloan rarely gives rookies the opportunity to make a major contribution, which makes the emergence of unheralded Millsap last season all the more remarkable. Millsap stepped into the void left by injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer and carved out a niche as an active defensive forward. Utah is loaded in the frontcourt, so Millsap won’t win a starting job any time soon. But like David Lee and one or two others, he’s productive enough on a per-minute basis to help teams in most formats, even in limited playing time.