Thursday, December 07, 2006

FANTASY NBA: Striking Before the Iron Gets Hot

In a competitive Fantasy NBA world, the free agency market can be cruel to slow-to-react shoppers. Recognizing who CAN be good before he actually starts producing is incredibly important, and it's an art of judgment and timing that helps you sift through all the unpredictability. The market is on the verge of getting hot, so it is now time to really do your homework; the breakdown below should help you get started.

Recommendations by Position:

Point Guards
Shaun Livingston, PG LA Clippers: If Livingston's on my team, he never makes it to the waiver wire in the first place. If he's there in your league, pick him up immediately. Sam Cassell is going to fade down the stretch, and Livingston is already putting up solid numbers (7.6 pts, 4.5 assists, 0.9 blocks) in spite of the 14-year veteran. What puts him to the top of the point guard free agent list is his length and ability to block shots; that will keep his value high until the triple-doubles start coming. Pick-up Potential: Daniel Gibson, Cleveland (consistent playing time, consistent production are keys); Sebastian Telfair, Boston (needs to shoot the ball better, more consistently); Chucky Atkins, Memphis (needs to keep up this pace, not die of old age).

Shooting Guards
Luther Head, PG/SG Houston Rockets: Head is shooting the lights out from 3-point range, and he won't be stopping anytime soon. He has a big man in the post in Yao Ming and a star in Tracy McGrady that can penetrate and kick and keep giving him open looks. Sure, his numbers across the board are a little weak, but there are only eight other players in fantasy basketball that average more 3's per game, and none of them are on your waiver wire. Pick-up Potential: Martell Webster, Portland (has upside, exceptional length and freedom to fire away from downtown); Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando (percentages, scoring are down, turnovers are up so far).

Small Forwards
Andrea Bargnani, SF/PF Toronto Raptors: Combines the field goal percentage and blocks of a power forward with the scoring and 3-point shooting of a small forward. Neither numbers by themselves are particularly impressive, but he's averaging 13 points, 1.0 block and 1.3 three-pointers a night in his last six games. To put thsoe numbers into perspective, there are four players in all of basketball that are averaging at least one block and one 3 per game for the year. Pick-up Potential: Chuck Hayes, Houston (not much scoring, but he's hitting the glass HARD); Martell Webster (see above).

Power Forwards
Craig Smith, SF/PF Minnesota: Smith's got to show better rebounding potential to warrant a pick-up, but if Kevin Garnett gets dealt, there are 12 more potential rebounds to go around. He is scoring points in limited minutes, but is very inconsistent in the rebounding and hustle categories. His value is directly tied into his potential on the boards though, so look for consistent 5+ rebound games and strike before anyone else does. Pick-up Potential: Al Jefferson, Boston (a better immediate pick than Smith); Travis Outlaw, Portland (just when he was getting better, he picked up five fouls and scored zero points in 10 minutes Wednesday).

LaMarcus Aldridge, SF/PF/C Portland: Multi-position eligibility is a nice bonus for a nice fantasy player. His rhythm was disrupted when he took an elbow to the mouth on Nov. 28, but he's averaged 9.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the four games since. His season percentages aren't bad, either - 53.9% from the floor, 80.8% from the line. Pick-up Potential: Alonzo Mourning, Miami (2.6 blocks per night is a big number); Mark Blount, Minnesota (it's likely no other free agent big man has better scoring prowess).

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