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1. Kobe Bryant - LAL [SG]
If there is anything that Bryant has shown during his career, it is that he absolutely thrives on overcoming controversy and quieting his critics. His “trade me, trade me not” antics have those critics coming out of the woodwork, which is just how No. 24 seems to like it. Bryant was a bit slowed at the beginning of last year by offseason knee surgery that helped contribute to his lower scoring average in the first 50 games (28.8 ppg). However, he increased his output by almost eight points per game after the All-Star break (36.7 ppg), including a 40.4 ppg average for the entire month of March. He’s still taller, quicker, bigger, and/or jumps higher than almost all of his competition. When you add in his ridiculous skill level and ultra-competitive mindset, you come up with the number one shooting guard – perhaps even the number one player overall – in fantasy basketball. Assuming that Bryant doesn’t hold out this year as he’s threatening to, he should be on the verge of a monster season.
2. Andre Iguodala - PHI [SG,SF]
Iguodala finally got his chance to shine last season after the trade of Allen Iverson and the release of Chris Webber. He took advantage of it by shattering his career highs in scoring (18.2 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg). On the flip side, the increased offensive responsibilities led to career lows in turnovers (3.4 TO/game) and field goal percentage (44.7 percent). Iguodala should be more accustomed to the attention and responsibility this season and better prepared to use his awesome athleticism in a more controlled way, which could lead to an offensive explosion. When you throw in his strong rebounding and quick hands (2.0 spg), you’ve got the recipe for a Dwyane Wade-like all-around stat stuffer. And if he can ever start making a full three-pointer per game (0.6 per game for his career), he could add a dimension that even Wade hasn’t yet reached.
3. Dwyane Wade - MIA [SG]
Wade enters this season as a bit of a question mark, as all eyes will be on how he recovers from offseason shoulder and knee surgeries. When healthy, Wade uses his incredible combination of speed, explosiveness, and strength to fly by his opponents and get to the rim, but he’s equally adept at pulling back and draining the mid-range jumper. Wade was peaking in January and February before his injuries, averaging over 30 points to go with almost eight assists, more than five boards and almost four combined blocks and steals per game. The only thing missing from the repertoire is the consistent three-point shot, and he was even showing some signs of adding that to his game. With injuries denying him the ability to practice and improve during the offseason and likely causing him to miss the start of the year, he may slide a bit on draft day. However, his upside when healthy should still make him one of the first guards off of the board.
4. Vince Carter - NJN [SG]
Carter quietly put together perhaps the finest all-around season of his career in 2006-07, setting new career highs in rebounds (6.0 rpg) and assists (4.8 apg) while setting new five-year highs in field goal percentage and threes made. While it can be pointed out that this was a contract year for Carter, it should also be noted that these numbers were only slight improvements on his 2005-06 campaign and slightly below the Nets’ portion of his 2004-05 season, which means that last year wasn’t just a contract year anomaly. “Half-Man/Half-Amazing” has been healthy and motivated ever since he joined the Nets, having missed only three games total during his almost three years in Jersey (after missing 23 games per year during his last three in Toronto). With his running mates Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson still around, Carter’s role and output should remain at a high level this season as well.
5. Ray Allen - BOS [SG]
Allen is one of the more intriguing elite shooting guards this season because he has so many conflicting fantasy indicators. On the one hand, he is coming off of a season where he set a new career high in scoring, while also increasing his rebound and assist numbers that had sagged a bit during the past couple of seasons. On the other hand, he missed 27 games due to injury (and had offseason surgery on both ankles), is on the wrong side of 30 and has been traded from a Sonics team where he was the unquestioned number one option to a Celtics one in which he could be the third behind Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. But Allen proved in his Bucks days with the Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell that he’s capable of meshing his game with two other primary scorers. In fact, the presence of Garnett and Pierce should help take pressure off of Allen to initiate everything (preserving his health). It will also open up the court for what he does best: knocking down the trey. Allen could even improve on the more than three three-pointers per game he’s knocked down during the past couple seasons, and his field goal percentage will likely increase from the 44 percent range he’s shot as the main option in Seattle. (Allen shot 47 percent as one of three primary options in Milwaukee).
6. Michael Redd - MIL [SG,SF]
Redd continued his amazing run of increasing his scoring average in each of the last seven seasons (26.7 ppg), and also tied career highs in three-pointers made (2.2 threes/game) and steals (1.2 spg) while setting a four-year high in field goal percentage (46.5 percent). Unfortunately, Redd missed 29 games due to a knee injury after having missed only nine games total during the previous four years. Redd is still too limited in boards (3.7 rpg) and assists (2.3 apg) to be a complete fantasy stud, but he remains one of the best scoring/three-pointer/shooting percentage combos in the game. The re-signing of Maurice Williams should ensure some continuity in the Bucks’ offense and help Redd pick up where he left off.
7. Allen Iverson - DEN [PG,SG]
Iverson continues to be one of the better combinations of scoring and assists in fantasy basketball, but his scoring average dipped down to 24.8 ppg after he was traded to the Nuggets last season (an eight-year low). The question still remains whether Iverson and Carmelo Anthony can coexist as teammates while each maintains the numbers that fantasy owners are accustomed to seeing. Even with that question mark and the fact that he’s now 32 years old, Iverson’s still likely to put up big numbers in points, assists and steals this year in Denver fast-paced offense. It’s just a question of whether he’ll deliver first-round pick stats or if owners would be better served to wait until the second or third round to snag the Answer.
8. Joe Johnson - ATL [SG]
Johnson continued his meteoric rise towards the top of the fantasy heap last season, increasing his career high in scoring by almost five points (25.0 ppg) and setting a new best in field goal percentage (47.1 percent) while maintaining his strong all-around game (4-plus boards/4-plus assists/2-plus treys/1-plus steal per game). On the negative side, Johnson missed 25 games due to a calf injury, but that was after not having missed a game during the previous four seasons. The good news is that the calf injury should not linger into this season, and as a consequence of his absence, the team was able to get the draft pick that became Al Horford. Johnson is the unquestioned leader on a Hawks team that has a surprising amount of young talent. He looks poised to pick up his fantasy onslaught right where he left off.
9. Tracy McGrady - HOU [SG]
As usual, the main question mark for McGrady is the health of his aching back. McGrady played only 71 games last season, the third time in the last four years that he has missed at least 11 contests. McGrady showed that he still has the game to be among the fantasy elite when healthy, as he is one of the few players capable of averaging 25/5/5 while still contributing in three-pointers and steals. McGrady may never again approach his career season of 32.1 points per game now that he has to share the go-to role with Yao Ming, but McGrady’s career-high 6.5 assists per game in 2006-07 helped make up the slack. If McGrady’s back holds up enough for him to play at least 70 games this year (as opposed to the 47 he managed in 2005-06), he should put up numbers worthy of a late first-round pick.
10. Brandon Roy - POR [SG]
Roy was the runaway choice for Rookie of the Year during the 2006-07 campaign, leading all rookies with a 16.8 ppg scoring average to go with a very solid all-around floor game (4.4 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.0 threes/game, 45.6 percent FG, 83.8 percent FT). Roy really doesn’t have a discernible fantasy weakness, and he should play an even larger role in the offense with Zach Randolph, the Blazers’ leading scorer last season, now playing in New York. As funny as it sounds with a second year player, Roy is clearly the leader on a very young and talented Portland team. As the unquestioned go-to guy, Roy has a good chance to improve across the board as a sophomore.
11. Kevin Martin - SAC [SG]
Martin burst onto the scene last year after a quiet first two seasons, almost doubling his previous career high in scoring during his first full year as a starter. Martin is a quick, slim 6-7 shooting guard that likes to move without the ball and catch-and-shoot in the mold of a Rip Hamilton or Reggie Miller. He knocked down 1.6 treys per while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 84.4 percent from the line. At press time, Ron Artest remains on the Kings roster, but Martin is considered to be the foundation piece for the future, so look for him to play an even bigger role in Sacramento this year.
12. Ben Gordon - CHI [SG]
Gordon made a solid leap in production during his third year, setting new career highs in scoring (21.4 ppg), assists (3.6 apg), rebounds (3.1 rpg), field goal percentage (45.5 percent) and free throw percentage (86.4 percent). He still hasn’t quite grabbed a full-time starting gig, though, as he came off the bench in 31 of the 82 games that he played. There are also some concerns about Gordon’s size (6-2 shooting guard) and defensive ability, which have prevented him from getting any more than the 33 minutes per game he played last year. However, the Bulls have built their team such that they really need his scoring punch – he’s one of only three legitimate scorers on the team (with Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich). With lottery pick Joakim Noah joining other scoring-challenged and defensive-minded incumbents Ben Wallace and Tyrus Thomas on the frontline, the Bulls are hoping to make up for Gordon’s defensive shortcomings with extra shot-blocking. As a result, look for Gordon to continue to put up big numbers in this, a contract year.
13. Jason Terry - DAL [PG,SG]
Terry has been very consistent with his production during the last couple of years, providing a nice mix of scoring (16.7 ppg), assists (5.2 apg) and threes (2.0 treys/game) to go with excellent shooting percentages (48.4 percent FG, 80.4 percent FT). He is no longer the defensive player he once was, averaging barely one steal per as opposed to the almost two that he used to snatch in Atlanta. Nevertheless, Terry’s remaining stats are strong enough to make him a good option in the early-middle rounds. Plus, he’s played in at least 78 games during each of his eight years in the NBA, so he has a knack for remaining healthy over the grind of a long season.
14. Manu Ginobili - SAS [SG]
Ginobili put together his best roto season in 2006-07, bouncing back a bit from what had been a slightly disappointing 2005-06 campaign. This season, he posted career highs in scoring (16.5 ppg), field goal percentage (46.4 percent) and free throw percentage (86.0 percent) to go with his typical solid contributions in steals (1.5 spg), rebounds (4.4 rpg) and assists (3.5 apg). Ginobili still didn’t explode the way that some thought that he might after his dominant performance in the 2005 Playoffs, but unless he can get beyond the combination of nagging injuries (24 missed games during the last two seasons) and a lack of playing time (27.7 mpg), he may have maxed out his roto production. Ginobili is now past his 30th birthday, and with his relatively thin frame and aggressive style, perhaps he’s just not physically able to be a big-minutes superstar. Nevertheless, if he continues to produce even at last season’s pace, he’ll be an asset.
15. Ricky Davis - MIA [PG,SG]
Davis’ outlook can’t really be solidified until it becomes certain where he’ll play next season. With the Kevin Garnett trade touching off an apparent youth movement in Minnesota, it seems unlikely that they would continue to play a vet like Davis over the other young talent that they have on the team at his position - Corey Brewer, Rashad McCants and Gerald Green. Plus, the Wolves’ offense looks to be run through Al Jefferson and Randy Foye now, which would limit Davis’ usefulness, as he needs to have the ball to be effective. He is worth drafting no matter where he ends up, as he has been a consistent scorer with a solid all-around game (even as a sixth man in Boston). But unless he heads to another team that needs a starting shooting guard, it is unlikely that he’ll challenge for 20/5/5 like he has in the past.
Note: After press time, the Heat sent Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a first-round pick to Minnesota for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. To learn more about the fantasy impact, read here.
16. Jason Richardson - CHA [SG,SF]
Richardson should be poised to bounce back in a major way this season, after a knee injury and the emergence of Monta Ellis combined to lead to a four-year low in his scoring average and field goal percentage. On the Bobcats, Richardson should be the unquestioned number one option on offense, which should allow his scoring average to approach or surpass the 23.2 ppg mark he set in 2005-06. The real bonus is that his new teammates, led by Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton, have enough offensive talent to keep defenses honest and not allow them to key on J-Rich. Richardson’s size and athleticism allow him to be a strong rebounding guard. Plus, his long-range shot (2.2 three-pointers per game) and scoring ability make him one of the better fantasy options at guard in the NBA.