2010-11 NBA Preview: Western Conference

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.

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are back and looking for a three-peat in 2011. Bryant’s offseason surgery will slow him down at the start but he should be fine by the playoffs. Pau Gasol is one of the best pivot men in the business and Ron Artest and Lamar Odom bring some real versatility to this team. Andrew Bynum is the big question mark due to injury as usual. If he is healthy this team should be considered a favorite for the title, however he is not. Derek Fisher is back at the point but will lose time to newcomer Steve Blake. New additions Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff join Shannon Brown, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic on the bench. Rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter are intriguing prospects but should not have an impact this year.

Studs: Bryant, Gasol

Duds: Bynum

Sleepers: Odom (will start with Bynum down), Blake (could start for Fisher by end of season)

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs appear to be loaded this year and should have no problem grabbing the two seed in the West. Dirk Nowitzki is a top-5 player and Jason Kidd still runs an offense just as well as anyone. Look for Caron Butler to find his groove again in his first full season with Dallas. Jason “The Jet” Terry will be gunning off the bench while offseason addition Tyson Chandler will split time with Brendan Haywood at center. Don’t forget about Shawn Marion who will now come off the bench. The sleeper here is Roddy Beaubois even though he is hurt right now. Once he is healthy he should take over the starting two-guard role. Rookie Dominique Jones and J.J. Barea will hold it down until he returns.

Studs: Nowitzki

Duds: Haywood, Chandler (will cancel each other out)

Sleepers: Butler (down after an injury plagued year), Beaubois

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are the New England Patriots of the NBA. They are always competitive under Greg Popovich and rotate in new, younger players when they need to but rely on the strength of Tim Duncan (Tom Brady) in crunch time. It is one of the older teams in the league but San Antone does have a good influx of talent. Manu Ginobili will start and appears healthy; same goes for Tony Parker. Richard Jefferson looks to rebound from an atrocious first season with the Spurs. Former Pitt Panther DeJuan Blair will start at center and is one of the better sleepers this year. Rookie Tiago Splitter has finally made his way to the NBA and will back up both Blair and Duncan. George Hill is very interesting as rumors swirled in the offseason that Parker could be traded, making hill the starting 1. Keep an eye on this situation. Rookie James Anderson, newcomer Bobby Simmons and old-reliable, Matt Bonner make up the rest of the bench.

Studs: Duncan

Duds: Jefferson (needs to prove last year was a fluke)

Sleepers: Blair, Hill

Oklahoma City Thunder

How good is Kevin Durant? Good enough to take this team to the Western Conference Finals? Possibly. They sky is the limit for the Durantula. He does not have to do it alone however, as Russel Westbrook proved this summer at the World Championships. Jeff Green is the number three option on this team and is just a solid player that does it all. James Harden will start the season as the sixth man but could eventually beat out Thabo Sefolosha for the starting job. Serge Ibaka should start at center while Nenad Krstic rehabs from injury and Nick Collison will backup both the 4 and the 5. Don’t expect too much from Cole Aldrich who has had major issues staying out of foul trouble in the preseason. Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook and Mo Peterson will all see time off the bench.

Studs: Durant, Westbrook

Duds: Sefolosha, Krstic

Sleepers: Harden, Green (could end up being a stud)

Utah Jazz

The Jazz looked to be in turmoil after losing Mehmet Okur to injury and Carlos Boozer to the Bulls, but ended up possibly coming out better than they went in after traded for Al Jefferson. Big Al will team up with Deron Williams to make this a very exciting team. Both players should be primed for huge years. Paul Millsap also moves into the starting lineup and should be solid at the 4. Andrei Kirilenko is finally healthy hopes to return to his 2006-07 form. Raja Bell is the new starting shooting guard and will be great on the defensive end and from the three-point line. Rookie Gordon Hayward may actually see some playing time while Earl Watson will back up Williams.

Studs: Williams, Jefferson

Duds: Okur (may lose starting job)

Sleepers: Bell

Portland Trailblazers

Portland always seems to be on the cusp of making a run and this year is no different. Health is a huge factor for the Blazers. It is Brandon Roy’s team and they need him healthy to make it deep into the playoffs. Same goes for Marcus Camby who is back at center. LaMarcus Aldridge has been a solid power forward for a couple years now, but needs to take a jump forward for this team to challenge the top three. Andre Miller suits this team well at the point while Nicolas Batum appears ready to grab hold of the starting small forward spot with the departures of Martel Webster and Travis Outlaw. Portland paid a lot for Wes Matthews in the offseason but he should be a sixth man on this squad. Rudy Fernandez is still with the Blazers and appears to have accepted his role off the bench. Greg Oden is also still there but cannot be counted on for anything until January.

Studs: Roy

Duds: Oden

Sleepers: Batum, Fernandez (if they end up dealing him)

Houston Rockets

The Rockets have a talented and deep roster, but need Yao Ming healthy for them to truly contend. Rick Adelman has already stated that Yao will not play more than 24 minutes in a game and will not play on back-to-back days. This caps the potential of the team in 2010-11. Kevin Martin begins his first full season in Houston and if he can stay healthy, he could potentially be looking at an All-Star year. However, he has not made it through and entire season unscathed yet. Aaron Brooks had a coming out party last year and while he will continue to be productive, there are just too many mouths to feed. Luis Scola proved he can play last year but will lose time to new addition Brad Miller (who will also back up Yao) and rookie Patrick Patterson. Shane Battier will start at small forward while Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee (brought over in the Trevor Ariza deal) will fight for minutes.

Studs: none (unless Martin stays healthy)

Duds: Yao (not worth the risk)

Sleepers: Budinger (if he gets the minutes)

Denver Nuggets

Believe it or not, Carmelo Anthony is still on the Nuggets. As long as he is, this team has a chance at the Playoffs. The potential of a trade still remains and must be monitored throughout the season. Chauncey Billups still maintains the moniker of “Mr. Big Shot” and will need to keep it for the team to be successful. Nene has been one of the better centers in the West over the past few years and appears to be over the injuries that plagued him in the past. Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith will split time at the 2 and Shelden Williams will fill in at the 4 while Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson and Al Harrington are out with injuries. Harrington could play on opening night, but Martin and Anderson will be out for at least a few months. Ty Lawson is a great player but needs an injury to see significant playing time.

Studs: Anthony

Duds: Martin

Sleepers: Lawson (needs playing time)

Phoenix Suns

Steve Nash has openly questioned where this team is going after letting Amar’e Stoudemire go and filling his spot with more small forwards than the St. John’s 2011-12 recruiting class. Hedo Turkoglu could play out of position at the 4, but has not looked good in the preseason. Hakim Warrick looks likely to take over the spot. Jason Richardson is back and in a contract year, which bodes well for his outlook. The Suns also traded for Josh Childress who will see a lot of playing time once he gets over a fractured finger tip. Robin Lopez and Channing Frye play exact opposite styles but actually compliment each other well in the post. Grant Hill is still healthy but is another year older and will try and hold off Childress, Turkoglu, Jared Dudley and last year’s first rounder Earl Clark for playing time. If this team can find an identity early, they should make the playoffs.

Studs: Nash

Duds: Turkoglu (has not played well since he left Orlando)

Sleepers: Childress, Warrick

New Orleans Hornets

All summer it appeared there was no way that Chris Paul would remain on the Hornets, but on Opening Night he will be in uniform and Darren Collison will not. Collison was shipped to Indiana while Trevor Ariza arrives in NOLA. He should form a fun pairing with Paul as they alley-oop up and down the floor. David West and Emeka Okafor return on the front line and should be very productive as long as they can remain on the court and off the sidelines. Marco Belinelli is the new starting shooting guard after Marcus Thornton has fallen hard into the doghouse. The Hornets also traded a first round pick last week to bring in Jerryd Bayless, who could end up filling Collison’s old role quite well. Peja Stojakovic is strictly a gunner off the bench.

Studs: Paul

Duds: Thornton

Sleepers: Bayless (monitor playing time closely in the first month)

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizz proved they are no longer a doormat last year and have one of the steadiest lineups in the League. Rudy Gay is back as the $80 million man while Zach Randolph racks up fantasy stats every night. O.J. Mayo is an exciting player but will need to take the next step in his development in order for this team to compete for a playoff spot. Mike Conley will also need to improve upon last year’s solid season and has looked good in the preseason. Marc Gasol, the burly younger brother of Pau, is a banger down low and an excellent rebounder but may lose some time to Hasheem Thabeet. Former Celtic Tony Allen, rookie Xavier Henry, Darrell Arthur, Sam Young and DeMarre Carroll round out the rotation.

Studs: Randolph

Duds: you can’t go wrong with any of their starters

Sleepers: Henry (deep sleeper; do not draft), Thabeet

Los Angeles Clippers

Most Clipper fans hear this every year, but for the first time in a long time, things are looking up for the other LA team. Blake Griffin is healthy after missing his true rookie season and should compete for Rookie of the Year honors with John Wall. Griffin will pair with Chris Kaman to form and intimidating front line. Eric Gordon got to showcase his skills over the summer at the World Championships needs to do more than just score. The key to this team is Baron Davis. If he plays well, and usually does when the team is winning and the fans are into it, the Clippers could make a run at the final playoff seed in the West. The bench is formidable with Randy Foye, Eric Bledsoe, Ryan Gomes and Al-Farouq Aminu joing holdovers Craig Smith and DeAndre Jordan. Rausal Butler should be the starter at small forward on opening night.

Studs: Griffin

Duds: Butler (small forward could become a fluid position for this team)

Sleepers: Aminu (played very well in preseason, could claim SF spot)

Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry’s squad has new uni’s and new life in 2010-11 but will need a lot of help to push for the playoffs this season. Curry was a top-five fantasy player last year and opened a lot of eyes of basketball pundits on the court as well. The former Davidson star combines with Monta Ellis to form possibly the quickest backcourt in the Association. The Warriors traded for David Lee in the offseason and expect him to fit seamlessly into their up-tempo offense. Andris Biedrins will be the starting center, but after an injury plagued 2009-10 and a tough preseason, he is showing a lot of rust. Reggie Williams, Dorrell Wright and Vladimir Radmonovic will all fight for playing time at the three, with Williams holding the best potential for a breakout year.

Studs: Curry, Ellis, Lee

Duds: Biedrins

Sleepers: Williams

Sacramento Kings

The Kings are officially Tyreke Evans’ team. Unfortunately, there is not enough around him for this squad to make a run this year. Carl Landry was a good addition at the deadline last season and early indications are that anyone who had the chance to draft DeMarcus Cousins and didn’t, made a big mistake. This issue in SacTo is that there are too many players for too few positions. Holdover Jason Thompson started for much of last season and the squad traded for Samuel Dalembert who will significantly cut into Cousins playing time once he is healthy. Small forward is also a wash. Donte Greene will start, but Omri Casspi, Fancisco Garcia and Antoine Wright will also see time. The only other position that is firmly entrenched is Beno Udrih at point guard.

Studs: Evans

Duds: Greene (too many other players)

Sleepers: Cousins (could prove to be too good not to play)

Minnesota Timeberwolves

Could a team featuring Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley really be picked anywhere but last? Believe it or not, both will have fantasy value this year but it will not translate to wins on the court. Kevin Love has been an absolute beast in the preseason and should become the face of the franchise. Luke Ridnour will hold down the point guard job until Jonny Flynn returns from offseason surgery. First rounder Wes Johnson, newcomer Martell Webster and holdover Corey Brewer have all been injured this preseason and it looks as though Wayne Ellington will start at shooting guard. Each of these players should have value at some point this year, but it will cancel each other out.

Studs: Love

Duds: Brewer

Sleepers: Johnson

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2010-11 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

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.

Eastern Conference

Miami Heat

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)

Orlando Magic

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.

Studs: Howard

Duds: Richardson

Sleeper: Reddick (if Carter goes down), Lewis (look for a bounce-back season)

Boston Celtics

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.

Studs: Rondo

Duds: Both O’Neals

Sleepers: Garnett, Pierce (most people think they are just too old)

Atlanta Hawks

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

Duds: Bibby

Sleepers: Williams, Teague

Chicago Bulls

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)

Sleeper: Brewer

Milwaukee Bucks

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.

Studs: Jennings

Duds: Mbah A Moute

Sleepers: Delfino, Salmons (don’t let the missed preseason sway you)

Indiana Pacers

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

Duds: McRoberts

Sleepers: Hibbert, George (if anything happens to Granger)

Detroit Pistons

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)

Charlotte Bobcats

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.

Studs: Wallace

Duds: Mohammed

Sleeper: Thomas (could be gold if he starts), Augustin

Washington Wizards

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.

Studs: Wall

Duds: Arenas (he could be overshadowed by Wall)

Sleepers: Blatche, McGee, Hinrich

Philadelphia 76ers

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.

Studs: Iguodala

Duds: Brand (needs to stay healthy)

Sleepers: Holiday

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.

Studs: Stourdemire

Duds: Chandler (still not sure if he’s playing SG or PF; may have value late in season.)

Sleeper: Randolph

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.

Studs: Lopez

Duds: Murphy (new system and injury risk)

Sleepers: Williams

Toronto Raptors

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.

Studs: Bargnani

Duds: too many

Sleeper: DeRozan

Cleveland Cavaliers

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.

Studs: None

Duds: Parker

Sleepers: Hickson

That does it for the Eastern Conference. Check in this afternoon for the Western Conference.