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We knew LeBron James would be good but did anyone think heíd be this good this fast? In only his second year in the league, LeBron has supplanted Kevin Garnett as the overall No. 1 fantasy player in the league. While it is still debatable, itís going to be awfully tough to pass up on the 20-year-old superstar come draft day. It seemed like it would be hard for James to improve on his brilliant rookie season but he managed to increase his numbers in nearly every category, including an impressive improvement in his three-point shooting and field goal percentage. Averaging 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.4 threes last season, James could even improve on those numbers in his third season. Given his ability to dominate almost every single category without hurting you anywhere (other than turnovers) LeBron has to be considered the top fantasy producer in 2005-06.
Cavaliers Fantasy Preview
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Itís hard to believe that at just 26 years of age, Tracy McGrady is entering his ninth season as a pro. Many expected McGradyís numbers to drop when he was traded to the Rockets due to Jeff Van Gundyís defensive minded approach and while he did lose out on some scoring (25.7) and threes (1.7), he actually improved his field goal percentage from .417 to .431 and is still worthy of a first round pick in fantasy drafts. In his second year with the Rockets, we can reasonably expect T-Mac to improve on his threes and points as he becomes more comfortable playing with Yao Ming in Jeff Van Gundyís offensive scheme. Donít hesitate to grab McGrady in the mid-to-late first round in your fantasy draft this season.
Rockets Fantasy Preview
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There might not be two players in the league as similar as Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady in terms of fantasy statistics. With virtually the same stats in every category, itís basically a toss up when deciding between the two. While the Lakers struggled in the absence of Shaquille OíNeal
, Kobe Bryantís stats were as spectacular as ever as he set career highs in three pointers (2.0) and assists (6.0). Bryant is one of those players that contributes in every category and should be good for 27-30 points, six boards, six assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 threes and almost a block a game. Kobe is a sure fire first round pick that should be drafted either just before or just after Tracy McGrady.
Lakers Fantasy Preview
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In each of the last three seasons, Paul Pierce has averaged more than 20 points, six boards, four assists, 1.6 steals, 1.3 threes, and 0.5 blocks. Heís the total package and is one of the most consistent fantasy performers around. He has always had a knack for getting in the passing lane as he has never averaged less than 1.6 steals in a season. Pierce can score in a variety of ways, whether it is by draining the outside shot, driving to the basket or drawing a foul call. Heíll get to the line about eight times a game where heíll help your free throw percentage immensely shooting around 80 percent. Pierce is as close to a sure thing as anyone else in the league. Heís never missed considerable time due to injury and heís always posted tremendous stats in almost every fantasy category. He should be drafted in the early second round.
Celtics Fantasy Preview
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Allen makes the game look easy with his flawless jump shot and great instincts on the court. Despite leading his team to its best season in recent memory, Allen had a bit of a down year for fantasy owners. His points, threes and free throw percentage were on par with his career averages but his rebounds, assists and field goal percentage suffered minor declines. Despite this, Ray Allen is still an elite fantasy shooting guard as year in and year out he puts up 23-plus points, four boards, four assists and at least a steal a game. If you are looking to finish high in the standings in three-pointers, thereís no one better in the league to have than Allen who has hit on at least 2.5 threes a game in each of his last six seasons. As one of the best free throw shooters in the league, Allen gets to the line 5.5 times a game and can make a huge difference hitting on at least 88 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.
Sonics Fantasy Preview
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When Vince Carter is motivated, heís easily one of the best players in the NBA. With the Nets, Carter put up Tracy McGrady-esque numbers scoring 27 points with nearly six boards, five assists, 1.5 steals and 1.9 threes a game. These are the types of numbers one can expect from Carter if heís motivated and healthy. Itís no coincidence that playing with Jason Kidd
helped Carter regain his status as one of the NBAís top players. Keep in mind though that Carter played most of his games as a Net without Richard Jefferson
on the court. The return of Jefferson will decrease Carterís points but heíll still post his usual dominating numbers across the board. Injury risks and motivation problems will likely drop Carterís stock to somewhere near the middle of the second round. His talent and potential, however, is too much to pass up if he falls any lower than that in your fantasy draft.
Nets Fantasy Preview
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Hughes is coming off of a breakout season in which he averaged 22.0 points, 6.3 boards, 4.7 assists, 1.0 threes and 2.8 steals for the Washington Wizards. Keep in mind that Hughes posted these numbers with both Gilbert Arenas
and Antawn Jamison
taking shots away from him so he should be able to find shots and put up numbers even with LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskus
in the mix. It would be nearly impossible for Hughes to repeat his stats from last season but playing with James should help him come close. Hughes will be able to find more open shots as defenses key on James and will have another monster season for the Cavaliers. He will be a solid contributor in all categories and especially in steals, where he will challenge for the league lead.
Cavaliers Fantasy Preview
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A flashy player with great athleticism and the ability to jump out of the building, Jason Richardson has all the tools to be a superstar in the NBA. His style of play is reminiscent of a young Vince Carter with his high-flying dunks and ability to contribute in multiple categories. Now entering his fifth season as a pro, Richardson has gained valuable experience and has improved his game every single year. Next season just might be his best as he continues his growth as a basketball player. J-Rich is a great option for points (21.7), rebounds (5.9), assists (3.9), steals (1.5) and threes (1.7). Heís also done a much better job in shot selection culminating with a .446 field goal percentage last season. If thereís anything holding him back from becoming a fantasy superstar itís his dismal free throw percentage that stood at .693 last season.
Warriors Fantasy Preview
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After proving himself on the gameís biggest stage, Manu Ginobili is ready to make the jump from solid fantasy performer to elite status. At times he absolutely took over games in the playoffs, using his blazing speed to blow by defenders and create scoring opportunities. Although he only averaged 16 points, four rebounds and nearly four assists during the regular season, those numbers were weighed down by the fact that he played in less than 30 minutes a game. In the playoffs he received 33.6 minutes and responded by scoring 20.8 points with 5.8 boards, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.8 threes while shooting over 50 percent from the floor and near 80 percent from the line. Itís going to be hard not to give Manu upwards of 35 minutes this season and heíll reap the benefits of the increase in playing time.
Spurs Fantasy Preview
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Johnson became a fantasy star over the last two seasons with the Suns putting up 17.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.2 threes a game. Itís hard to tell exactly how Johnson will play without Steve Nash feeding him for open looks on the perimeter but heíll be asked to assume a large role for the rebuilding Hawks this season. As the point guard, Johnson will likely set a new career high in assists (previously 4.4 apg) and will rebound well out of the point guard slot. Heíll hit a bunch of threes but donít expect him to repeat last yearís performance from beyond the arc.
Hawks Fantasy Preview
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Up next: Small Forwards
Associate Editor Brian McKitish is an FSWA Award Winning Columnist and veteran of all three major fantasy sports. Look for his columns, "Workiní the Wire" and "Last Call" every Thursday and Friday throughout the NBA season.