Finally, the most hyped NBA season since the days of Jordan is upon us. Tonight’s game between the Heat and the Celtics is already being billed as a preview of the Eastern Conference Championship and floor seats for the game are going for over $3,000. If you have been paying too much attention to the MLB Playoffs and your fantasy football team, this column is for you. The following is run down of each team in each conference from first to 15th with a special fantasy focus section for studs, duds and sleepers on each team. Enjoy; I know I will this season.
The “new big three” have dominated the offseason now that LeBron James and Chris Bosh have joined Dwayne Wade in South Beach. 70 wins is definitely in play with just those three and even though new addition Mike Miller is out until January, he will eventually play a valuable roll on this team. Bit players Carlos Arroyo, Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony, James Jones and Eddie House will all see time with Arroyo and Anthony joining the starting lineup to start the season. Miami also recently signed Jerry Stackhouse to try and fill Miller’s void for the time being. Udonis Haslem is one of the main holdovers from last year’s squad and could end up starting by the end of the season. Zydrunas Ilguaskas was also brought in to provide depth at the center position.
Fantasy Studs: James, Wade, Bosh
Duds: Chalmers, Anothony
Sleeper: Haslem, Miller (Once he returns from injury)
The Magic kept most of their pieces from last year aside from Matt Barnes, but did add Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon. Dwight Howard remains the focal point and is a top-five player in the league. Jameer Nelson looks to rebound from an injury riddled season while Rashad Lewis hopes to rebound from just an underwhelming one. Vince Carter is far from the player he was in Toronto, but does provide a veteran presence, much in the mold of Ray Allen. Marcin Gortat will back up Howard while Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson will provide depth along the front line. J.J. Reddick is one of the best 3-point specialists in the league.
Sleeper: Reddick (if Carter goes down), Lewis (look for a bounce-back season)
After coming within just a few minutes of the Championship last season, the Celtics realized it was the inside game that cost them and went out and added two veteran O’Neal centers: Shaquille and Jermaine. Both will fill fin or Kendrick Perkins as he rehabs his knee injury and will provide depth in the playoffs. Along with the Magic, the Celtics are one of the deepest teams in the league. The original big three is still intact and presumably all healthy for the first time since 2007. Rajon Rondo has developed into one of the top-five point guards in the league and looks to improve more this season. The improved depth is evident in holdovers Glen Davis, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels along with new additions Delonte West and Von Wafer. The draft class was also a good one with the selections of Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody.
Duds: Both O’Neals
Sleepers: Garnett, Pierce (most people think they are just too old)
The Hawks are a team who did not do much in the offseason roster wise, but did make the coaching change from Mike Woodson to Larry Drew. His new motion offense should benefit all players and hopefully push the team further in the playoffs this year. Joe Johnson is the consummate All-Star and constantly underrated. Josh Smith is one of the best shot-blockers in the league and after he finally abandoned the 3-point shot last year, improved his field-goal percentage immensely. Al Horford is a guy to look out for as he is an intense rebounder with an offensive game and can run the floor. Marvin Williams should be the player to benefit the most from Drew’s new offensive scheme. Jamal Crawford comes back to defend his sixth-man of the year title and second year point guard Jeff Teague will push Mike Bibby for the starting gig. Jordan Crawford, the team’s first round draft pick has a phenomenal offensive game, but would need an injury to Johnson or Crawford to make a mark.
Studs: Johnson, Smith, Horford
Sleepers: Williams, Teague
The Bulls missed out on LeBron and Stoudemire but got the consolation prize of Carlos Boozer. Unfortunately he is now injured and will miss the first few months of the season. The team will rest on the shoulders of Derrick Rose who should take another step in his development this year. Joakim Noah is becoming one of the best centers of the league with his abundant energy and defensive presence. Luol Deng will be the third offensive option and needs to stay healthy to really make an impact. Taj Gibson will fill in for Boozer while he is down. Ronnie Brewer was brought in to be the starting two guard but an injury has allowed Keith Bogans to take the starting job. Kyle Korver was also brought in from Utah and should be the sixth man off the bench.
Studs: Noah, Rose
Duds: Bogans (don’t let the starting job fool you)
The Bucks made a giant leap last year to the playoffs with the additions of Brandon Jennings and John Salmons. The injury to Andrew Bogut hurt the team down the stretch and even though he is not 100 percent healthy yet, he will improve as the season goes on. Jennings is still raw and does not shoot at a great percentage, but will continue to grow into his game rapidly. Salmons has missed the preseason but should round into shape soon. The Bucks are undersized aside from Bogut, but are deep. Drew Gooden, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Ersan Ilyasova will all get time at power forward while Carlos Delfino has laid claim to the the starting small forward job. Corey Maggette was the big offseason addition, and while he does add scoring, his lack of defense may not fit well with Scott Skiles scheme.
Duds: Mbah A Moute
Sleepers: Delfino, Salmons (don’t let the missed preseason sway you)
The Pacers are an interesting team and could make the playoffs this year. The trade that sent Troy Murphy to New Jersey finally gives Indy a legit point guard in Darren Collison. It could take the former UCLA product some time to figure out the offense, but he should be a top-10 option by the end of the year. The season really depends on the health of Danny Granger. A top-10 player overall when he is healthy, he is bound to miss at least 10 games and has already missed preseason action. Mike Dunleavy is also healthy and should provide solid production off the bench or in the starting lineup. Roy Hibbert is a player primed for a breakout season. There is really no one else to take time from him and he could come close to averaging a double-double with two blocks a game. Josh McRoberts has been handed the starting power forward gig but could lose time to a deep rotation. T.J. Ford, Brandon Rush, Paul George, James Posey, Jeff Foster, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Lance Stephonson and A.J. Price form a solid bench.
Studs: Granger, Collison
Sleepers: Hibbert, George (if anything happens to Granger)
The Pistons had a tough 2009-10 and hope to return to the playoffs this season. They still lack a true superstar but are deep enough to make it back in a weaker Eastern Conference. Richard Hamilton and his facemask hope to come back healthy and form a solid backcourt with Rodney Stuckey. Tayshaun Prince was awful last season and will need to step his game up with Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva at forward. Ben Wallace is back in the middle but should eventually split time with former Georgetown star Greg Monroe. Speaking of former BIG EAST stars, Ben Gordon is back and hopes to regain his sixth-man, gunner form. Hard to believe we talk about Tracy McGrady as a sixth man, but if he can get healthy he could make the difference for this team late in the season.
Studs: sorry, none on this team
Duds: McGrady (too much of an injury risk)
Sleepers: Daye (really could be great), Hamilton, Stuckey, Villanueva, Monroe (yes all of them)
So Michael Jordan and Larry Brown run a team. How could you not pull for them?The Bobcats are much better as a fantasy team, but will need someone to really step up for them to make the playoffs. Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson should carry the scoring load. D.J. Augstin takes over at point guard and while he many not rack up assists he will shoot plenty of threes. Boris Diaw is the starting power forward and may be one of the best passing big men in the league. Tyrus “The Human Pogo Stick” Thomas will be fun to watch this season and could prove to be a great sixth man. Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop and MJ’s former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown will man the pivot.
Sleeper: Thomas (could be gold if he starts), Augustin
No. 1 overall pick John Wall has made Washington relevant even with all of Gilbert Arenas’ antics last year. The two of them make a very intriguing backcourt if they can get over Arenas’ past transgressions. The Wizards also boast two of the most intriguing young big men in the Association. Andray Blatche has locked down the power forward spot and JaVale McGee looked great in his time with the national team. Josh Howard hopes to return in a couple months while Al Thornton holds down his spot. The reserves are interesting with Kirk Hinrich and Yi Jianlian, both of whom has started for the majority of their careers.
Duds: Arenas (he could be overshadowed by Wall)
Sleepers: Blatche, McGee, Hinrich
The Sixers have a new coach in Doug Collins and hope to get as much as they can out of Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. Young players Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams will be asked to play bigger roles this year. They also traded Samuel Dalembert for Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni, both of whom should contribute immediately. In the draft, they took Evan Turner No. 2 overall, but with Iguodala and Holiday in the backcourt, he will need to play very well in order to contribute early.
Duds: Brand (needs to stay healthy)
New York Knicks
The Knicks added prized free agent Amar’e Stourdemire and only retained Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and Bill Walker from last year. Stoudemire, Gallinari and Chandler should join former UNC standout and Bobcat poing guard Raymond Felton in the starting lineup. Toney Douglas and Roger Mason could start if coach Mike D’Antoni decides to go small or Timofey Mozgov and Rony Turiaf at center if they go big. Anthony Randolph is an intriguing prospect but is extremely raw. Stourdemire will have to truly carry this team on his back for them to make the Playoffs.
Duds: Chandler (still not sure if he’s playing SG or PF; may have value late in season.)
New Jersey Nets
New owner Michail Prochorov brings a new era to the Nets, who have stated they want to be in contention for a championship very soon; just not this season. Brook Lopez has quickly become a topflight center and even though Devin Harris has not lived up to the hype of the Jason Kidd trade, he is one of the better scoring point guards in the league when he is healthy. Newly acquired Troy Murphy is as solid when they come at power forward; when he’s healthy. Expect Terrence Williams to take a jump in year two. He is proving to be a triple-double threat any time he gets the minutes. Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Kris Humphries, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro and first rounder Derrick Favors are all new this year. Morrow will probably start at shooting guard while Favors should see playing time as an extremely talented one-year college player.
Duds: Murphy (new system and injury risk)
The bottom two teams in the east are the two teams that lost out on the biggest superstars. The post-Bosh era begins and all spotlights point to former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani. While he is no Dirk Nowtizki, he is a very talented seven footer who can shoot from outside, but the help is just not there yet. DeMar DeRozan begins year No. 2 in the NBA after his one college season. Another talented, young player, but he is not ready to step up to All-Star level yet. Toronto is probably the team with the greatest European feel to it, but that will not translate to postseason success this year.
Duds: too many
The Cavs really could go from first to worst in 2010-11. We will find out early how much LeBron James really means to a team. At first glance this would appear to Antawn Jamison’s team, but word has come down that he will come off the bench in favor of J.J. Hickson. Hickson has amazing potential and should pair well with starting center Anderson Varejao. Much of the scoring load will fall on Mo Williams who pairs with former Milwaukee Bucks teammate Ramon Sessions. Remember, neither really thrived when they played together before. Boobie Gison will launch a lot of threes while Anthony Parker and Leon Powe will be relied on for solid minutes.
That does it for the Eastern Conference. Check in this afternoon for the Western Conference.
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