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25. Paul George (9-cat: 16, ADP: End of 3rd Round) – Near the top of the hype list heading into this season, the hype has gotten more real as Danny Granger’s knee is still not yet 100 percent. Magic Johnson said it on a broadcast the other day and in a rare stroke of insight he pointed out that the Pacers may choose to pass the baton if Granger takes a while to get up to speed. Frank Vogel paved the way for that on Monday with a warning about a potential slow start, and while George won’t be the only beneficiary of such things he’ll be the first one. Still, though, as I’ve mentioned the Pacers are extremely deep and Gerald Green has been turning heads on a regular basis since he has arrived in Indy. I won’t blame anybody for having George higher, as 1-2 injuries could have him blasting holes in your opposition on a nightly basis. Saturday update: Danny Granger's knee situation is bad enough to move George up to the top-end of the third round. My sense is that Granger plays through the injury, but George's floor just rose by about a round as he'll get a bigger workload and/or be the man on the perimeter for the Pacers.
26. Al Horford (9-cat: 25, ADP: Early 3rd Round) – The calf injury from earlier in the week turned out to be minor, and it’s all systems go for Horford who put up top-25 value on a per-game basis in 2010-11. And with Joe Johnson gone, all three of Horford, Josh Smith, and Jeff Teague are going to enjoy more touches. He would be higher if not for some concerns about the year off, but is otherwise a rock solid pick in the third round.
27. Ersan Ilyasova (9-cat: 14, ADP: Late 5th Round) – I’m a believer, if anything because the erratic Scott Skiles will have a hard time benching him after the Bucks signed him to a long-term big money deal. Of course, the hook here is the top-20 value he had as a starter last season in just 29 mpg. Now the career 44.5% shooter is not going to shoot 53% like he did during that span, but he’ll shoot closer to the 49% he averaged last season. He’s simply more accurate now. Otherwise, all of his counting stats during that binge were in a normal range, and the only issue is whether or not he gets minutes – and I think he will.
28. Anthony Davis (9-cat: 7, ADP: Mid 4th Round) – I’m itching to bump him up the rankings even further with New Orleans looking like they need to hold local tryouts. Outside of Greivis Vasquez, Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers (ankle), and Eric Gordon (knee) if he can ever get healthy, the Hornets don’t have anybody else to put the ball in the hole. To start his evaluation I looked at Serge Ibaka’s numbers from last season (9.1 PPG, 7.5 REBs, 0.5 STLs, 3.7 BLKs, 53.5% FGs, 66.1% FTs on 1.8 FTA/gm), and looking at Davis’ numbers from Kentucky (14.2 PPG, 10.4 REBs, 1.4 STLs, 4.7 BLKs, 62.3% FGs, 70.9% FTs on 5.1 FTA/gm) I can’t see how Davis doesn’t meet or beat most of them in the NBA. Ibaka was a top-24 play in 8-cat leagues this year, and unlike Ibaka the No. 1 overall pick is going to get as much run as he can handle. On top of that, it looks like the offense is going to be run through him a whole lot more than people thought heading into the preseason. And unlike Ibaka last year, he looks green-lighted to shoot from 3-point distance.
29. Nicolas Batum (9-cat: 17, ADP: Mid 4th Round) – A slow start to the preseason may have curbed some of the enthusiasm, but that should end after his 27-point outing on Monday. I get a lot of questions about whether he or Paul George is the better play this season, and I have them very close as you will see, but the lack of depth in Portland compared to the Pacers’ logjams is the difference here. Batum was a top-36 play in 8-cat leagues in April last year and a top-45 play after Nate McMillan was fired, and Portland didn’t pay all that money to have him maintain the status quo. Saturday update: You'll notice that Batum has fallen behind both George and Davis. First, on George, the big knock on him has been the log-jam in Indy, but that might clear up now that Danny Granger's knee isn't looking so great. As for Davis, he's been electric during the preseason and he would be ranked higher if not for normal rookie risks. He's shown enough to go above Batum, and if you want to reach for Davis I'm not gonna stop you.
30. Paul Pierce (9-cat: 36, ADP: Mid 4th Round) – It’s easy to fall into the axiom that young players are good and old players are bad, and looking around the fantasy landscape across all sports it seems we’re seeing a lot of swings and misses because it. Especially in the case of players that shy away from contact and know how to handle themselves on the court (Tim Duncan comes to mind), they can stay healthy and productive even if their minutes are managed. In Boston, Doc Rivers isn’t going to risk anything with his key vets and while that may work against them at times, it keeps them healthy over the long haul. And what’s unique about Bean Town is that they lack the depth to take the ball out of their primary playmakers’ hands, so Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett are going to remain extremely productive as long as they stay on the court. I have Pierce, as rock solid as they come when it comes to producing, ahead of Paul George and it’s yet again a question of Indy’s depth and the chance George slides a bit as a result. With Pierce, we know what’s coming down the chute.
31. Marc Gasol (9-cat: 24, ADP: End of 2nd Round) – Underrated in real life, and perhaps underrated on this list, my primary concern about his value heading into this year is that some of his numbers give the impression that he has plateaued. He played 36.5 mpg last season, finishing with top-15 cumulative value and top-30 per-game value in 8-cat formats, and taking a larger role in the offense he saw his FG% dip 4.5 points to 48.2% on the heels of three more shot attempts per game. That type of drop isn’t a shock when players take on more shot attempts, and maybe he regresses back to the mean (52.8 career FG%), but the real issue is whether or not we should be counting on his durability or such a heavy workload. At a center position that is usually exposed to more injury risks, it’s fair to wonder if the Grizzlies don’t back off a bit especially now that Darrell Arthur (leg) is back in the fold at some point.
32. Greg Monroe (9-cat: 37, ADP: Mid 3rd Round) – Monroe peaked in the middle of last season but appeared to run out of gas down the stretch, which may be why he isn’t gaining more attention in fantasy quarters. Nobody is really down on him, though, and his ADP reflects owners’ optimism but don’t be surprised if he slips every once in a while in drafts. The lack of blocks (0.7) can be a point of frustration, but beyond that there isn’t much to complain about beyond his free throw shooting, which improved nearly 12 percent over his rookie mark of 62.2 percent. That seems like a point in his favor on the surface, but when you look more closely you see that he steadily dropped from 80 percent in February to 62 percent in April. While a step backwards there could inhibit his upside, Monroe is a relatively safe play in the third round and in the fourth round he’ll be a steal.
33. Rajon Rondo (9-cat: 70, ADP: Late 2nd Round) – Keeping in mind that these are Roto rankings, owners are free to move him up their draft boards if they want to employ a punting strategy with points, free throws, and turnovers. The main problem with Rondo that has eroded his value over the years has been his waning efficiency, which includes a two-year drop in FG% of six percentage points and last year a 0.5 drop in steals per game to 1.8. Yes, he’s going to take on more responsibility with Ray Allen out, but it’s hard to project a big jump knowing that he is already fully integrated into the offense. Throw in some questions about his durability and you get a ranking that is more conservative than some I’ve seen around the way.
34. Jrue Holiday (9-cat: 49, ADP: Mid 5th Round) – Don’t be surprised if this ranking creeps upward, as Holiday and his coaches have shown in the preseason that he is going to run things and might end up as the team’s No. 1 option if Andrew Bynum (knee) doesn’t get his act together. Any concerns about Evan Turner raining on his parade by taking over the Andre Iguodala role have been quieted by Turner’s nagging injuries and quiet preseason. Holiday posted top-45 value on a per-game basis in 10-11 before disappointing owners last year, and with Iguodala gone he could be the common thread on a lot of winning fantasy squads.
35. Monta Ellis (9-cat: 61, ADP: Mid 4th Round) – Ellis was surprisingly easy to project this year, as his numbers in Milwaukee were virtually identical to his Golden State numbers except for two notable differences – his scoring and his 3-point shot. He lost 4.3 ppg and 0.8 threes after the trade, which isn’t surprising given the fact he had to find a way to play next to Brandon Jennings, which actually turned out to be a pretty good arrangement on offense. Naturally, Ellis has already shown this preseason that he’s ready to hit the three, while putting up a handful of big lines. He posted top-35 value last season despite the late season swoon, and if he gets the 3-point shooting ironed out he has top-15 upside.
36. Dwight Howard (9-cat: 63, ADP: Mid 2nd Round) – Howard’s ADP will probably rise now that he is back on the court, and keeping in mind this is a Roto list owners will have to adjust for Head-to-Head leagues in which a free throw punting strategy is employed. He put up top-35 value on a per-game basis last season, and has a real chance to improve his field goal percentage, blocks, and even his scoring in a best-case scenario. The downside is that the Lakers have plenty of cooks in the kitchen and they limit his minutes a bit to protect their investment.
37. Dirk Nowitzki (9-cat: 44, ADP: Mid 2nd Round) – This ADP is influenced by early drafts that didn’t account for his recent surgery, and like Kevin Love ranking him is a bit of a chore. Before considering any knee injury, we can see that he posted No. 22 per-game value last season after a slow start. A six-point drop in field goal percentage last season to 45.7% matched the eye-test, as Dirk couldn’t get shots off as well as he could during the Mavs' title run. The most recent news indicated that he had a less invasive surgery that could result in a three-week timeline rather than six weeks, though Dirk held a press conference that was in all likelihood setup to manage everybody’s expectations. If the surgery was indeed on the lighter side, it bodes well for Dirk’s chances to return to his normal self at a faster rate, and in a best-case scenario it will help him bounce back shooting the ball, too. This ranking is going to wobble, and if he clears this hurdle with flying colors then there aren’t too many players with his durability and consistency.
38. Andre Iguodala (9-cat: 38, ADP: End of 3rd Round) – Everybody is enamored with Iggy, and I for one have miscalculated his ability to fend off what looked to be a brutal knee/Achilles’ combo from two years back. Watching him in the Olympics it was clear that all of his athleticism was intact, and moving into Denver’s potent offense Iguodala has made everybody from fantasy owners to Nuggets coaches giddy with optimism. Last season saw him post top-36 value, and if George Karl has anything to do with it he’ll take a small step forward. I’d have him higher if I wasn’t still concerned about his odometer, as well as the deep bench Karl has to spell Iggy with if he chooses.
39. Wesley Matthews (9-cat: 29, ADP: 6th Round) – It’s pretty crazy how low under the radar he is flying, as he posted top-45 8-cat cumulative value in a down year and turned it on down the stretch with top-22 per-game value after Nate McMillan was fired. His low ranking has as much to do with the guys ahead of him as it does himself, as it’s a tough road to hoe fighting for space in the early rounds. The Blazers are going to rely on their core unit more than all but a few teams in the league, and the addition of PG Damian Lillard is going to make life easier. Matthews has not missed a game in his three-year career, but he has probably traded in some long-term durability after he slogged through a severe ankle injury that’s over a year old. Still, though, he has that warrior mentality that fantasy owners can’t get enough of.
40. Stephen Curry (9-cat: 40, ADP: Mid to Late 3rd Round) -- This ADP may be worthless as we've seen Curry go off the board early and late, and as we saw earlier in the week his value can turn on a dime, unlike his ankle. There is one school of thought that I have not accounted for here, and that is that an owner can take Curry earlier if they commit to handcuffing him with Jarrett Jack. And owners needing a stash at PG would be wise to take Jack and block said owners' attempts at going big AND having a safety blanket. As for Curry's standalone value, this is total guesswork since it's anybody's guess when his ankle will split in half on the court. Measuring the risk, I looked to place Curry just ahead of players that projected to be about 2-3 rounds behind his expected value. With the potential to be a top-5 fantasy play on a per-game basis, a potential 30 rank advantage in the tough-to-crack elite section of the big board is a pretty good ROI. Even though I trust the Warriors about as far as I can throw Don Nelson, we have to take some of what they said about the injury not being serious at face value. With 10-15 missed games, Curry still has a shot at outproducing some of the names below.
41. David Lee (9-cat: 41, ADP: Early 4th Round) -- Lee is about as consistent as they come right now, unless your league counts turnstile defense or statuesque rotations as a category. He posted top-30 value on a per-game basis last season, and prior to Andrew Bogut's predictable ankle issues I had Lee taking an incremental hit in value to accommodate for Bogut's presence. I'm going to hold off on moving him up until Bogut is threatening to miss weeks and not days.
42. Marcin Gortat (9-cat: 30, ADP: Mid 4th Round) -- Aside from some poor foul shooting, Gortat's numbers were simply an extension of the two additional minutes he received (32) per game. And playing all 66 games last year, the newly named Polish Gazelle knocked on the door of second round value in 8-cat formats. The only difference between this year and last is the PG position, where Steve Nash is replaced by Goran Dragic, who likes to score a bit more than Nash but has no shortage of passing skill. If anything, the penetration and athleticism that Dragic brings to the table could create more open layups for Gortat. His minutes are virtually guaranteed with Channing Frye (heart) out for the year, and we like his chances of duplicating or improving upon last year's numbers.
43. Klay Thompson (9-cat: 50, ADP: Mid 5th Round) -- I'm a bit surprised at this ADP because I've seen him go earlier in a bunch of drafts, and the hype surrounding Thompson is about as hot as it gets. His team and their media outlets have made him the GSW poster boy, and Mark Jackson has worked hand-in-hand with management to make sure that Thompson has an ultra green light. More than most franchises, owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have their 'guys,' and they will stop at nothing to show to the world that they got it right and/or hang out with David Lee at the Cheesecake Factory one night. This is the long way of saying that he's money in the bank, and offensively he is already a top scorer in the league with tremendous upside. Defensive issues included, it would be a shock if Thompson doesn't play 32-35 mpg and produce for owners on a nightly basis. He posted top-40 value as a starter down the stretch as options No. 1, 2, and 3 for the Dubs, and that's the only bad thing I have to say about his fantasy value this year. He won't get that type of freedom or play in nearly as much garbage action, so I've projected his per-game numbers to take about a one round hit.
44. Ryan Anderson (9-cat: 32, ADP: Early 5th Round) -- I gave a preview of this in the opening, but it was funny to hear analysts everywhere talk about Dwight Howard's impact on Ryan Anderson shooting threes, despite a clear lack of a post game and defense that tended to play him straight up. So I looked at every 3-pointer he made and watched for anything that could be remotely considered evidence that Howard had assisted in creating the shot. Frankly, Howard did very little to impact Anderson's 3-point shooting, and the real impetus for those threes came as the Magic's solid passing unit continuously found Anderson in the pattern, who is excellent at getting open by simply breaking at the precise moment defensive attention is being spent elsewhere. About halfway through the near 200 3PMs I had seen enough, and immediately began worrying about the Hornets' sticky finger ball-handling crew. 'No Pass' Austin Rivers, 'No Pass' Eric Gordon, and no veterans like Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and J.J. Redick to deliver him the ball. Anderson talked about his struggles a few days ago, and improved the next time out to 4-of-12 from the field, echoing all of this sentiment by explaining that he's not a one-on-one player. In a few ways, the longer Rivers and Gordon are off the court the better it will be for Anderson, who is more likely to be fed by the cast of youngsters than the two so-called franchise players. I do believe that Anderson could see up to three rounds chopped off of his top-30 value from last season, but he'll probably land somewhere in the middle of that spread. Saturday update: A couple of better outings showed that his upside does actually exist as a matter of evidence, as the absence of that had pushed him down the board a few days ago.
45. Damian Lillard (9-cat: 81, ADP: Late 5th Round) -- Man this guy can play. Yes, we're going to have tough stretches with the rookie and nobody can expect him to come in and dominate, but he has the skillset to do just that. Play too far off and he can stick the three, come too close and he's by you. The preseason numbers have been there, and the entire team has warmed to him as their floor general going forward. Flanked by shooter and scorers at arguably every starting position, I'm not certain that in a few days I won't have him climbing just a bit higher on this list.
46. Raymond Felton (9-cat: 67, ADP: Mid to Late 6th Round) -- Ironically, the man Lillard replaced in Portland goes right behind him on The 150, and enters the season as the butt of jokes and object of hate amongst many in the media. As a result, you may have heard some not so flattering things. Well, here are the facts. He had top-25 value in April and top-33 value once Nate McMillan was fired. He admitted he came into camp as a tub of lard, and he was just awful at times, especially when teams stopped covering his 3-point shot. Nate McMillan's teams have always had some sort of underlying frustration that boils over, and Felton was the most recent example of that as he and his teammates rolled over for Nate Dogg and exploded under interim coach Caleb Kanales. All of this points to two issues that can and will improve Felton's outlook, which are his conditioning and his state of mind. Back in New York, he has arrived in camp in shape and has played good, aggressive basketball. When Amare Stoudemire returns, he has a strong connection with him on the pick-and-roll. He and Melo seem to get along, and I'm sorry but 93-year old Jason Kidd isn't cutting into Dough Boy's diet of minutes and touches. We saw him post top-20 per-game value back in New York in 2010-11, and along with the post-McMillan numbers he has upside, a decent floor, and he's durable with about three games missed per year in seven seasons.
47. Andrew Bynum (9-cat: 71, ADP: 16th Overall) -- I'm pretty shocked that his ADP is still this high, so needless to say I won't have him anywhere. Following Wednesday's news that he's not going to play until he's pain free, and us having knowledge that his conditioning is as bad as the reports say it is, he carries even more risk than Stephen Curry because we don't know if he'll be able to post those big elite numbers whenever he's healthy. I used the same concept to rank Bynum as I used with Curry and others that have opened the year with serious injury risk, looking to earn about three rounds of expected value above and beyond what is available on the board when it's my turn to make a decision on the risk. When you factor in Bynum's well-below-par intangibles, effort, leadership, etc., I'm willing to let somebody else get the best of me on a decision to pass.
48. Marcus Thornton (9-cat: 42, ADP: Mid 5th Round) -- Lil' Buckets might need a name change to Big Buckets, as he is quickly becoming one of the league's most underrated big shot makers. Thornton is easily the Kings' best scorer and though management and the coach have created a sloppy mess of a situation, he is luckily a constant that can get his offense regardless of what sort of chaos is being orchestrated. It would be crazy for him not to come off the bench so Tyreke can start and get half of his minutes at his preferred SG position. Likewise, it would also behoove Thornton to be the primary gunner for the second unit where ball-stoppers Evans and DeMarcus Cousins can't salt his game. Regardless, whether he starts or not, Thornton is going to play 32-34 mpg. Matching his No. 42 per-game ranking last season should be an even-money bet.