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1. Kevin Garnett - BOS [PF]
Quick - Name an Eastern Conference big man who stands a better-than-average chance of playing credible defense on KG. I’m waiting. Next question – what’s scarier? Kevin Garnett with something to prove or Kevin Garnett in the frontcourt-challenged East? Could KG already be a run-away favorite for this season’s MVP? Consider KG back in the “first overall pick” argument and pencil him in for 20-10-5 to go along with his steals, blocks and good percentages.
2. Dirk Nowitzki - DAL [PF]
Nowitzki is one of the best players in the league, and in this case, the best keeps getting better. He averaged 24.6 points per game with 8.9 boards and set career highs in shooting from the field (50.2 percent), from three (41.6 percent) and from the line (90.4 percent) while leading the Mavs to a 67-win season and winning the MVP award. The only blemish? Dallas’ unsightly first-round playoff loss to Golden State, which we imagine will only motivate him even more. From a fantasy perspective, it’s worth noting that he’s shooting (and therefore making) less threes (72 last year, down from 110 in 2005-06), and blocking less shots (0.8 per game last year, down from his career high of 1.5 in 2004-05). Even so, he’s going to keep contributing in both categories while scoring, rebounding and giving you an enormous boost from the floor and the line (due to the high volume of attempts from both).
3. Chris Bosh - TOR [PF]
The credit for Toronto’s surprising run to last year’s Atlantic Division title gets spread around pretty well. GM Bryan Colangelo gets credit for bringing the Phoenix offense north of the border. Sam Mitchell gets props for installing the system and getting a bunch of Euroleague veterans to excel in the NBA. T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon get love too. But what about Chris Bosh? The NBA’s most unsung superstar keyed Toronto’s run with an outstanding season, posting career-best averages of 22.6 points and 10.7 boards, while shooting 49.6 percent from the floor. Durability is a minor concern, though, as Bosh missed 13 games last season due to knee and ankle injuries. On the positive side, he regularly slides over to the pivot and may qualify at center in many leagues.
4. Tim Duncan - SAS [PF]
If you want to discuss the best power forwards of all time, Tim Duncan has to be in the conversation. Many would argue he is the conversation. But when fantasy value is considered, the game changes a bit. Duncan is one of several NBA big men – Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace are two other great examples – who fall very close to the “hurt more than they help” range due to hideous free throw shooting. Duncan’s percentage (63.7 percent in 2006-07) isn’t nearly as bad as those other guys, but he gets to the line a lot and has a significant impact on your team’s overall number. We certainly won’t tell you not to draft a 20-10-3 power forward; however, just bear in mind that Timmy’s fantasy value isn’t the same as his value to the Spurs.
5. Al Jefferson - MIN [PF]
Jefferson had better develop into the All-Star that many think he’ll become. Otherwise, his name will go down in history with people like Jim Fregosi (traded for Nolan Ryan) and the Andrew Lang/Tim Perry/Jeff Hornacek combo that went to Philly in return for Charles Barkley. He was well on his way to that level last season, regularly topping the 20-point and 10-rebound marks and finishing with a 16-and-11 season average. Moreover, Jefferson averaged 1.5 blocks per game in 34 minutes, and the ability to block shots often separates the elite fantasy big men from the productive, but floor-bound Carlos Boozers and Zach Randolphs. Jefferson also improved his free throw shooting to 68 percent last year, but anything under 72 percent or so still qualifies as a liability, even from a big man. Two other notes of caution: Jefferson played only 69 games last year due to knee and ankle issues, and he’ll be facing much stiffer competition on a nightly basis now that he’s playing in the West.
6. Carlos Boozer - UTA [PF]
Not so long ago, the Jazz were desperate to get rid of Boozer, as the world’s slowest-healing hamstring injury sidelined the former Dookie for 82 games over two seasons. Now? He’s a team leader who posted a 20-and-10 season, received an All-Star nod and powered the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals (where the magic ran out due to Tim Duncan-related issues). Even Boozer’s much-maligned recuperative powers came through last season, allowing him to return much sooner than expected from a hairline fracture in his left leg. We’re looking forward to another season of double-doubles with excellent field goal shooting. Just keep in mind that Boozer is a slight liability at the free throw line, and he won’t block a shot to save his life.
7. Lamar Odom - LAL [PF]
Will Odom ever play to his considerable potential while forced to share the ball with Kobe Bryant? Will he get the chance to try? Odom’s name continues to surface in a number of trade rumors. A possible scenario would ship him to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal – it’d be fun to see what Odom could do in the wide-open offense the Pacers are expected to run under new coach Jim O’Brien. Odom is an excellent passing big man, plus he can score and rebound. His free throw shooting needs work though, and he marginally contributes in the scarce blocks, steals, and threes categories. Wherever he winds up this year, it’ll be better than Odom’s 2006-07 season, which started just after the sudden death of his six-month-old son and ended with a torn labrum and shoulder surgery.
8. Antawn Jamison - WAS [PF]
Jamison’s situation exemplifies the importance of “fit” to an NBA player’s success. At 6-9 and 223 pounds, he’s on the smaller side for an NBA power forward, and he doesn’t sport the back-to-the-basket game of the prototype four. H might be considered a ‘tweener on another team – too big and slow to play the three but not big enough to play inside. Yet on the Wizards, he’s a star. Washington’s active run-and-gun offense allows Jamison to float out to the perimeter, where he’s an excellent three-point shooter (36.4 percent in 2006-07) and a matchup nightmare for plodders like most traditional NBA fours. As more of a perimeter player, Jamison won’t net you the big rebound or block numbers you’d like to see from a power forward, but he’ll make up that value with the threes. Just make sure you pair him with a center who boards well.
9. Jermaine O'Neal - IND [PF]
I’m going to try to summarize Jermaine O’Neal’s recent communications with media. “I want to be traded. Well, not really. Only if the Pacers are rebuilding. But it’s sort of obvious that the Pacers are rebuilding, so what I’m doing is saying I want to be traded without actually saying it. Oh, and if I am going to be traded, the Nets and Lakers sure look nice.” It is hard to project O’Neal’s value, simply because we really don’t know which uniform he’ll be wearing come November. So let’s make some guesses based on the leading contenders. On the Lakers, he’d have to share the ball with Kobe. He’d be the best big man to play with Bryant since that other O’Neal left town, but we don’t think the Lakers would have the same “pound the ball inside” commitment they had during Shaq’s reign. Call a trade to LA a downgrade for JO. In Jersey, on the other hand, he’d get to play with Jason Kidd, which means a lot of easy baskets. It’s rare that I’ll use these words in this sequence, but a trip to New Jersey would be a positive development. Ironically, though, the best option for O’Neal’s fantasy value may very well be staying put. Jim O’Brien’s system will allow O’Neal tons of scoring opportunities with the quick-paced offense in place.
10. Zach Randolph - NYK [PF]
In the wake of his trade to the Knicks, many writers have expressed concern about Randolph’s ability to co-exist with New York’s other low-post monster, Eddy Curry. We don’t share that concern. Why not? Randolph is the better of the two players by a fairly significant margin. While Curry is more or less locked in as a back-to-the-basket scorer on the low block, Randolph has the ability to able to step out and consistently hit the mid-range jumper. And unlike Curry, whose lack of rebounding ability is legendary, Randolph will hit the boards (10.1 per game last season). Assuming he stays out of trouble (which is by no means a sure thing, especially with the Manhattan nightlife calling), look for Randolph to meet or exceed his Portland numbers this season.
11. David West - NOH [PF]
West would probably be considered a superstar if he could just stay on the court. West emerged from the shadow of P.J. Brown in 2005 and shocked people by nearly tripling his scoring average (17.1 ppg, up from 6.2 ppg the previous season). However, he was one of several key Hornets hit with injuries in 2006-07. Inflammation in his right elbow required arthroscopic surgery. A sprained ankle hobbled him for weeks. In all, he was limited to 52 games – a very productive 18.3 ppg and 8.1 rpg in those games – but he missed a third of the season. On the plus side, none of his injuries appear to be the chronic, lingering kind that cause long-term problems. With Chris Paul feeding him the rock and Tyson Chandler covering his back on the defensive end, look for West to put up numbers comparable with better known and hyped fours – so long as he can stay on the court.
12. Rasheed Wallace - DET [PF]
Wallace might be the most versatile big man in the NBA, equally comfortable in the paint or out on the three-point arc. The shift from Larry Brown’s half-court sets to Flip Saunders’ more open scheme pushed ‘Sheed further up the list of fantasy elites by making the three-pointer a larger part of his game. Wallace’s numbers were down pretty much across the board in 2006-07 – his 12.3 ppg average was his lowest since his rookie year – which may have been due to the fact that he played the bulk of the season with a lingering ankle injury. Look for a rebound in his numbers this season.
13. Andrea Bargnani - TOR [SF,PF]
It was the Raptors’ bad luck to land the #1 overall draft pick in a year without a LeBron or an Oden or a Duncan. But don’t let that color your perception of Bargnani, who should emerge as a very productive fantasy player this season and beyond. Unlike other European imports – teammate Jorge Garbajosa, for example – Bargnani isn’t what you’d call a veteran of the Euroleague. He’s just 21 years old and faces the same growing pains that any other young NBA big man will face. The Raptors have brought him along slowly, starting him just twice during his rookie year. Don’t misinterpret that as disappointment with his progress – Bargnani has tremendous potential. Instead, look at the numbers he posted when given starter-type minutes during Toronto’s playoff tilt against the Nets. In the last three games of that series, Bargnani averaged 40.3 minutes and posted 17.0 points, 5.0 boards, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He’s also a tremendously versatile player, who is able to line up at either forward position or in the middle.
14. Al Harrington - GSW [SF,PF,C]
The marriage between Harrington – an enormously skilled and flexible player with the size to play the middle and the athleticism to play the perimeter – and Don Nelson – a mad scientist of a coach with tremendous creativity for deploying players and creating matchups – seems perfect. Harrington’s arrival in Oakland at midseason didn’t really pay immediate fantasy dividends, though. His minutes per game average actually decreased slightly (32.3 as a Warrior vs. 33.6 as a Pacer), points and assists per game increased a bit (17.0 vs. 15.9 in points, 2.3 vs. 1.4 in dimes) and rebounding showed no real change either way (6.4 as a Warrior, 6.3 rpg as a Pacer). To some degree, that merely shows the difficulties associated with midseason trades. NBA teams have very little real practice time during the season, making it that much harder for new arrivals to adjust. The trade should pay real dividends this season, after Harrington has a full training camp with the Warriors. A note of caution, though: Nelson’s creativity and flexibility can be a double-edged sword. A player like Harrington might serve as a “point forward” some nights, initiating the offense and running near triple-double numbers. The next night he might see limited minutes because Nelson wants to exploit a matchup using one of his bench players. Don’t be surprised by big fluctuations in Harrington’s game-by-game totals.
15. David Lee - NYK [PF]
In his second season, the energetic Lee emerged as a Madison Square Garden fan favorite and one of the NBA’s top rebounders, averaging 10.4 boards and 10.7 points (scored mostly on putbacks) in just 29.8 minutes a game. He’s an also excellent complement to center Eddy Curry, who is a great scorer but an awful defender and rebounder. When the Zach Randolph trade was announced, you could almost hear Knick fans groaning, “What about David Lee?” Fear not. While the Randolph trade will keep Lee out of the starting lineup, that really hasn’t had a negative impact on his value to date. Lee is clearly a big part of Isiah Thomas’ plans going forward – according to various reports, Thomas absolutely refused to include Lee in any blockbuster trade offers this summer. We expect that he’ll continue to see around 30 minutes per game backing up Randolph, Curry and even play small forward on occasion. We also expect that he’ll be in the mix for the Sixth Man of the Year award. The ankle and leg issues that cost Lee the last several weeks of the season shouldn’t be an issue come November.