It’s a good thing it’s fantasy football draft season, because it is D-E-A-D in basketball-land.
Everybody in the NBA is on vacation and that’ll likely hold true for another week or so. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the bigger stories of the past two weeks.
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The Committee in Charlotte
The Democratic National Committee is meeting in Charlotte this week, and I’d venture to guess that most of you would rather talk about the point guard committee there than wait to see how the DNC will top Clint Eastwood’s rendition of Grandpa Simpson. So far, the early polls show that incumbent Kemba Walker will hold off Ramon Sessions, as reports out of Charlotte have consistently named him the starter – though we haven’t heard anything official out of the team. Like most things politics these days, this looks like a committee to avoid.
Star Struck in San Antonio
I’m bound by the laws of karma to tell you all how high I am on Kawhi Leonard, but I was secretly hoping the reports out of San Antonio would be lukewarm so the hype machine wouldn’t cut into my profits. After all, he posted eighth and fifth round value in 8- and 9-cat leagues cumulatively last season despite playing just 24 minutes per game, but wasn’t particularly useful in such an inconsistent and limited role. With all of the makings of a sleeper pick with early round upside, Gregg Popovich took the first step toward ruining the surprise by saying that Leonard would be “the future face of the Spurs” and that he would be a “star.” Pop is right. Already boasting elite defensive chops, Leonard has improved his deficient areas and approaches the game correctly. I’m willing to climb the boards to match Leonard’s rising average draft position (ADP) as high as I can conceivably see him going.
Give That Man a Hand
Second-year point guard Kyrie Irving made a rookie mistake when he broke his hand punching a wall, but all signs point to him being ready to go to start the year. Already finishing last year with No. 17 overall value in 8-cat leagues on a per-game basis according to BasketballMonster.com, the sky truly is the limit here and a top-10 finish is probably a bit more likely than a coin toss.
Back in Blatche
Andray Blatche, at 26 years old, is apparently struggling to find himself a market. But with news that Nets coach Avery Johnson will meet with him, and that Blatche is willing to play for the veteran’s minimum, it sounds like he’ll get a second chance in the association. A few weeks back that didn’t seem like a foregone conclusion. It would take a sweetheart scenario for Blatche to have fantasy value, but if he gets his act together in between the ears the upside is theoretically there.
Sam Amick is one of the better NBA writers around, which is probably why he made the leap from local Kings writer to SI.com newsbreaker. He recently released a report that doubled as a fantasy owner’s guide to injured big-name players. Bang the link to see what I mean, but here are the highlights:
Derrick Rose (knee surgery): His recovery is “coming along great,” but nobody including owner Jerry Reinsdorf is going to push the franchise player here. Missing the entire season isn’t being ruled out, but on the brighter side his rehabilitation has allowed him to do some things with his upper body and in general that he would not have been able to do if he was healthy.
Joakim Noah (ankle) and Luol Deng (wrist): The NBA media is a funny creature, and it doesn’t get any better than their inability to criticize a coach that they’ve voted into a Coach of the Year award. The most recent submission to this file is Tom ‘no pain, no gain’ Thibodeau, who coached his team into a pulp all season long.
Thibodeau consistently plays guys through injuries and, inexplicably, he plays them heavy minutes while they’re injured. He believes that if you’re not playing on the edge, that you lose that edge. And the theory has gone about as well as one would imagine. Rose’s stabilizing muscles didn’t hold when he landed awkwardly on his knee, which is what happens when one misses action like Rose did after getting pushed through injuries. The same thing happened to Noah and Deng, and while Deng made it through the end of the year both of them were a mess all year long.
Now Amick has been told by the Bulls’ organization that Noah will be “100 percent” by the start of the season, and Deng was outright defiant when talking about whether or not he was injured still. Instead of getting some much-needed rest, Deng played for Great Britain and while he looked good – he could have used the time off as much as anybody in the league.
As the Bulls have become the New England Patriots of the NBA with their injury reporting, and because Thibodeau’s methods aren’t likely to improve, I don’t know how much I can trust either player even if they start the year at ‘100 percent.’
Dwight Howard (back): Howard decided to have back surgery when things imploded in Orlando, so the question about whether or not he could have waited and played in the playoffs will always linger. Now that he went under the knife, though, there are questions about whether or not he will be healthy to start the year. There’s too much smoke here with regards to Howard's early exit, not to mention a Lakers team that just traded away Andrew Bynum to get the big man – for me to worry too much about this injury for now.
Chris Paul (thumb): Amick writes that Paul is “likely to miss the most important preseason in franchise history,” which is of course a reference to the fact that he has just this year to go on his contract. For fantasy purposes, Paul thumbed his nose at my concerns about his knee last year. But for the record, I always opined that if he had problems that they would start in this season, and going off on a tangent I think we all have to re-evaluate how we look at knee injuries in light of the various knee treatments going on overseas. Too many guys that could barely run in 2009-10 are reversing the trend, but don’t go running to grab Brandon Roy. That dude’s knee is shredded, unfortunately. In light of last year’s showing, I’ll be approaching Paul with only a yellow flag for injury risk – mostly bucking my prediction from the prior year. As for his thumb, we're not worried about it much, if at all.
Chauncey Billups (Achilles): Billups is shooting to return in time for the regular season according to Amick, and whether we’re talking about age, injury risk, or the bench depth behind him there is plenty of reason to strike him out on your cheat sheets. I kind of like looking at Billups as a reverse psychology late-round flier type, however, assuming he doesn’t get overdrafted based on name recognition.
Ricky Rubio (knee surgery): Rubio will be out at least until December according to Wolves owner Glen Taylor. "The doctors said he was progressing faster than normal, and normal was supposed to be in January,” said Taylor. “Faster than normal would be December. He's going to start running and stuff in a few weeks." This could be a guy selling tickets, but the reports have consistently been positive about Rubio’s knee. A 35.7 percent field goal percentage couldn’t stop him from providing top-40 value in 8-cat leagues, and particularly in playoff leagues owners should keep a close eye on him. He could be underdrafted this season because of all of the uncertainty.
Andrew Bogut (ankle): Amick reports that Bogut only began light jogging last week, and it will likely be “another couple of weeks” before he can go full speed on a court. Bogut added that he doesn’t expect to be ‘100 percent’ by the start of training camp and that he may miss at least some preseason games. With the weight of the Monta Ellis trade bearing down on the entire organization, and in particular on Bogut, I could see the management taking any number of approaches here. They could rush to get him on the court or they could pamper him to keep him in play, and with the Warriors’ recent history of decision-making in the front office it’s fair to question whether or not they’ll make the right call. None of this will change the fact that he is a mid-round value guy with huge injury risk, but if he falls into the later rounds he’ll be well worth that risk.
Stephen Curry (ankle): One of the reasons we can’t trust the Warriors’ coaches or front office is Curry, who was inexplicably trotted out on a bad wheel and eventually paid the price in terms of his health and his future earning power in the league. He told reporters that he had “no doubt” that he would be fully healthy to start the year, and that he has yet to take part in five-on-five action this summer. That’s exactly what we want to hear out of him, and by virtue of that he may be a bit undervalued this season after burning owners so badly last year.