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1. Gilbert Arenas - WAS [PG]
Agent Zero has announced that he’ll opt out of his contract after the 2007-08 season. That makes this year one big audition for Arenas, which should be a scary proposition for opposing point guards league-wide. It seems inevitable that Arenas will win at least one scoring title before his career is over, and this could be the year. But don’t make the mistake of calling Arenas a shoot-first point guard. He’ll score as well or better than any other guard in the league, but he also manages to amass as many assists as a lot of those “pass-first” guys and rebound as well as some forwards. Throw in two steals a game and a ton of threes, all set in an up-tempo offense, and you’ve got the top point guard in fantasy. Don’t let last season’s knee injury scare you off; Arenas is expected to be fully healthy for the season opener.
2. Steve Nash - PHX [PG]
Phoenix fans can’t be thrilled about some of the Suns’ offseason moves. Team management made a number of moves – giving up draft picks, trading veteran contributors – exclusively aimed at saving money. On the plus side, general manager Steve Kerr managed to get out of luxury tax land without having to move Shawn Marion or Amare Stoudemire. That means Steve Nash goes into the 2007-08 season with all of his most dangerous weapons at his disposal. And that probably means another year of MVP-caliber numbers. For what it’s worth, according to our projections, Nash’s contribution in the assist category is bigger than any other player’s contribution in any single category. And his 50-plus field goal percentage and 45-plus three-point percentage at the point are unmatched.
3. Jason Kidd - NJN [PG]
We’ve given up on predicting that age will slow Jason Kidd down. Last year we thought Marcus Williams would cut into Kidd’s minutes and help New Jersey save him for the postseason. Kidd proved us wrong by playing 2,979 minutes in 80 games – his highest totals since the 2002-03 season. This year, you might be tempted to downgrade Kidd again. After all, he’s 34 years old, has a more-than-capable backup to take some of the pressure off, and he’s putting additional wear-and-tear on his body by playing for Team USA in the FIBA Americas Championship. Don’t fall for it. It’s all just a trick to make him appear human, when he’s clearly some sort of robot designed specifically to post triple-doubles.
4. Chris Paul - NOH [PG]
Chris Paul managed to put up elite numbers last season despite playing about half of it with a painful foot injury that eventually required surgery and with the best scoring option on his team, Peja Stojakovic, playing just 13 games. Imagine the numbers he’ll put up with healthy feet and teammates – close to 20 and nine with two-plus steals, excellent free throw shooting and a few three-pointers to boot. Another key will be having a healthy David West to dish to down low as well as Morris Peterson to knock it down from outside.
5. Deron Williams - UTA [PG,SG]
NBA point guards have a lot in common with NFL quarterbacks. Both positions require vision, anticipation and an uncanny knowledge of the game. And like quarterbacks, point guards do not tend to be hugely productive as rookies. Many people called Deron Williams a disappointment half way through his first year. But as a sophomore, he emerged as one of the NBA’s top points – increasing his scoring average from 10.8 to 16.2 ppg and more than doubling his assists, from 4.5 to 9.3 per game. Williams is a worthy heir to John Stockton in running Utah’s unstoppable pick-and-roll. If there’s a flaw in his fantasy portfolio, it’s the relatively pedestrian number of steals and average amount of three-pointers taken, but Williams will contribute a very strong field goal percentage for a point guard and has improved his stroke from the free throw line.
6. Chauncey Billups - DET [PG]
Detroit might be on the down side of its mini-dynasty, but don’t look to blame Billups. Billups continues to thrive in the more open offense installed by Flip Saunders; in the second year of Saunders’ regime, Billups put up the second-best point (17.0 ppg) and assist (7.2 apg) averages of his career. His play was rewarded with a four-year, $46 million extension during the offseason. Detroit might not be an elite team anymore, but we expect a few more years of excellent production out of Billups, particularly from behind the three-point arc and at the free throw line (better than 89 percent from the stripe during the last three seasons).
7. Baron Davis - GSW [PG]
Davis re-established himself as an NBA superstar last season, leading the Warriors to their first playoff birth since 1994 and a first-round upset of the Mavericks. But don’t let last season’s success blind you to the flaws that keep Davis from a top fantasy recommendation. First off, he’s notoriously brittle. In fact, he played in all 82 games back in 2001, but hasn’t appeared in more than 67 games since. He was limited to 63 games last season, due in part to arthroscopic knee surgery. Secondly, his shot selection leaves a lot to be desired, which can lead to some truly horrific shooting percentages. Davis hit just 85 threes on just 30.4 percent shooting last season. Both numbers were Davis’ worst in five years. One positive sign – his field goal percentage actually went up significantly, from 38.9 percent to 43.9 percent. That could be an indication that Davis is actually taking fewer bad shots under Don Nelson. If that trend continues, Davis’ name might actually return to a lot of fantasy top 10 lists.
8. Kirk Hinrich - CHI [PG,SG]
Hinrich has developed into one of the best all-around guards in the game and the unquestioned leader of a Bulls team that should contend for a conference title. The 2006-07 season was Hinrich’s best shooting season, as he set career highs in points and field goal, three point and free throw shooting percentage. Meanwhile, no less an authority than Miami coach Pat Riley called Hinrich one of the top defenders in the league. His scoring may decrease somewhat as Chicago’s other talented youngsters develop into more consistent threats on offense, but any decrease in points will likely be accompanied by an increase in assists.
9. Leandro Barbosa - PHX [PG,SG]
Arguably the fastest player in the league, Barbosa was supposed to be the guy who would spell Steve Nash and prevent the two-time MVP from burning out. Instead, he’s emerged as one of the league’s best bench scorers last season by averaging 18.1 points per game in just over 32 minutes and winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. Barbosa will knock down plenty of threes, and his percentages from the floor and the line are excellent for a hybrid guard. It will be interesting to see how the arrival of Grant Hill will impact Barbosa. On the one hand, Hill is expected to serve as the main ball handler and initiator of the offense when Nash gets a rest. That should allow Barbosa to play off the ball, where he’ll have more opportunities to score. On the other hand, the addition of a caliber player like Hill might cut into Barbosa’s overall minutes.
10. Mike Bibby - SAC [PG]
Bibby’s fantasy value for the 2007-08 season will depend a great deal on the uniform he’s wearing. At various times during the off-season, Bibby’s name has come up in trade rumors involving Miami, Cleveland and several other teams. Bibby is a good enough player that he’ll be valuable no matter where he lands, but his stock rises if he lands with a team that will play up-tempo and rely on guards for scoring. Bibby is not going to put up elite assist or steal numbers, but he’ll contribute a lot of threes and a good free throw percentage, even for a point guard. The best-case scenario for Bibby might actually be to stay with the Kings, where new coach Reggie Theus is expected to install the sort of sets favored by his old boss, Rick Pitino.
11. Andre Miller - PHI [PG]
Can’t you just picture Andre Miller talking to his teammates, referencing a movie he loved as a kid, and then realizing that none of his teammates were even alive in, say, 1980? He must spend a lot of time on the team plane feeling like the old man version of LeBron James in those Nike commercials. But being stuck on a rebuilding team with a bunch of kids doesn’t necessarily hurt Miller’s fantasy value. In 56 games after the trade from Denver, Miller posted a scoring average of 13.6 ppg (up from 13.0 with the Nuggets) and a slight decrease in steals (1.3 vs. 1.6) and boards (4.4 vs. 4.5). His assist totals suffered the most, dropping from 9.1 per game to 7.3 – likely due to the fact that he was passing to the likes of Kyle Korver and Steven Hunter instead of Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby. Those totals may increase as his teammates – particularly Andre Iguodala – continue to improve or if, as many expect, Miller is moved to a contender by the trade deadline.
12. Tony Parker - SAS [PG]
I wonder what Tony Parker has been up to this summer. Any clue? Do you think he’s had even 10 minutes free to work on his game? Not that his game needs a ton of work – Parker had arguably his best season as a pro in 2006-07, scoring 18.6 points per game (just 0.3 off his career high) and shooting 52 percent from the floor. Parker’s quickness allows him to get to the rim at will when matched up with a slower guard. Look how he exploited the matchup with Larry Hughes during the NBA Finals: 24.5 ppg average on 56.8 percent shooting and a Finals MVP award. The one weakness in his game is outside shooting – Parker canned just 15 threes on the season. That general unwillingness to even attempt outside shots helps account for the shooting percentage. Parker scores mostly on drives and layups. His assists totals won’t wow you either.
13. Mo Williams - MIL [PG,SG]
Re-signing Mo Williams is about the only thing that’s gone right for the Milwaukee Bucks this summer. At least Milwaukee has retained the services of one of the NBA’s more dynamic – and anonymous – young points. Williams’ production in 2006-07 exceeded that of guys like Stephon Marbury in just about every relevant category. Look for Williams to rise in these rankings during the next several years, as he’s just 24 years old with room for continued improvement.
14. Raymond Felton - CHA [PG,SG]
With Brevin Knight out of the picture, the Bobcats are officially Felton’s team this year. Felton finished the 2006-07 campaign with solid averages of 14.0 points, 3.4 boards and 7.0 assists, but a shaky 38.4 shooting percentage from the floor and 33.0 percent from three. You want higher numbers than that from an elite fantasy point guard, but Felton is young and has room to improve. The arrival of Jason Richardson – easily the best finisher Felton has played with in the NBA – could help pad his assist totals.
15. Randy Foye - MIN [PG,SG]
The trade of Kevin Garnett is obviously the T-Wolves’ biggest personnel move of the summer. But a couple of less-heralded roster changes indicate how much the club likes Foye. Minnesota traded Mike James to Houston for Juwan Howard. A few weeks later, they reached a buyout agreement with Troy Hudson. That effectively handed the keys to the offense to Foye. Here’s a glimpse of his potential. With KG out for the last two games of the year, Foye stepped up with 22.5 points, 8.5 boards, 5.5 assists, 2.5 treys and 2.0 steals per contest. Foye can shoot from outside and take defenders off the dribble at will; however, as the team’s full-time point, he’ll need to get used to initiating the offense. In any event, he’ll have many more opportunities to thrive in Garnett’s absence this year.