Around the League
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 every now and again - unless they're extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time or role or skill level.
Greg Oden, C, POR - This past offseason marked the first time Oden was healthy enough to train during the summer. Instead of his usual rehab, Oden was able to work on his game with Blazers assistant coach Bill Bayno and former NBA player Brian Grant. And through three preseason games, the extra work appears to have paid off. Oden is averaging 15 points and 9.7 rebounds in 24 minutes per game this preseason. He's still trying to stave off Joel Przybilla for the starting gig, but it looks like Oden is ready to start living up to some of the vast potential that made him the No. 1 overall selection in the 2008 draft.
Roy Hibbert, C, IND - Hibbert is another young big man strutting his stuff this preseason. In three contests, the Georgetown product is averaging 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in 25 mpg. He started 42 games for the Pacers last season, but was limited to 17 mpg due to constant foul trouble and inconsistent play. The 22-year-old center has great size (7-2, 278) and could become a nightly double-double threat and great source of blocks if he can stay on the floor. If you're looking for a late-round dart with upside, look in Hibbert's direction.
Paul Millsap, F, UTA - In 38 starts while filling in for the injured Carlos Boozer last season, Millsap averaged 16 points, 10.3 rebounds and one block. The Jazz rewarded Millsap with a four-year, $32-million contract this offseason for his stellar play. Millsap's signing seemed to indicate Boozer would be on his way out of town, but he's still on the roster and there doesn't appear to be a pending deal in the works. To offset this logjam at power forward, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has indicated he'll play Millsap at the three, possibly even starting the fourth-year forward at the spot. Millsap is still coming in at a relative discount in drafts because of Boozers' presence, but this news means Millsap should be a nightly double-double threat again.
Stephen Curry, G, GS - The lights-out shooter from Davidson hasn't found his stroke yet this preseason, but he has been displaying a knack for distributing the ball. In four games, Curry is averaging seven assists. He started at point guard in Saturday's win over the Suns with Monta Ellis as his backcourt mate. Curry doesn't have the starting gig locked up yet, but he should see plenty of minutes in coach Don Nelson's high-paced offense, making him a nice late-round scoop.
Kwame Brown, C, DET - Through three preseason games, Brown has three starts. He was expected to see competition from Ben Wallace and Chris Wilcox for the starting center job, but Wallace has been starting in place of the injured Charlie Villanueva at power forward, and Wilcox has been deployed as an energy player off the bench. First-year Pistons coach John Kuester likes the size and defense Brown brings to the starting unit, putting Brown firmly in the driver's seat for the job. This doesn't mean Brown is about to start living up to his No. 1 overall draft status, but he could be a nice source of boards this season.
DeJuan Blair, F, SA - Like many other NCAA hoops fans, I was flabbergasted by Blair's fall to the 37th pick in this year's draft. Yeah, I know there were injury concerns coming into the draft, but this guy was healthy throughout college and dominated opponents on a nightly basis despite his small stature (6-7). Well the Spurs are the beneficiaries of Blair's drop in stock, and he'll now be coming off the bench to back up Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess in the frontcourt. Blair has already shown off his skills this preseason, averaging 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in only 19.7 minutes per contest. It'll be impossible for Blair to keep up that type of per-minute production during the regular season, but he could be a sneaky source of rebounds.
Andres Nocioni, F, SAC - With Francisco Garcia (see below) slated to miss the next four months due to a broken forearm, the Kings will be short-handed at small forward. Desmond Mason may win the starting gig, but we expect Nocioni to gain the most fantasy value as a result of Garcia's absence. Nocioni was productive in his 23-game stint with the Kings last season, averaging 13.7 points and two three-pointers per tilt. The Argentine swingman is nursing a hamstring injury, but he should be at full strength come opening night.
Blake Griffin, F, LAC - Selecting top-notch prospects who are projected for great things in the NBA is always fun, but if Michael Beasley taught us anything last year, it's that rookies, even the highly-touted ones, often go through struggles during their inaugural campaigns. That leads us to Griffin, who was the consensus No. 1 pick in this past summer's draft. The first hurdle for Griffin will be cracking the starting lineup. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy has opted to bring Griffin off the bench since the start of training camp, and there's no telling when that will change. If the uncertain role weren't enough, Griffin has already dealt with shoulder and knee problems, too. His vast potential still makes him a good target on draft day, but don't stretch too far to pick the next big thing.
Derrick Rose, G, CHI - Rose has been limited this preseason due ankle and Achilles injuries. As expected, the Bulls are being extremely cautious with their franchise player, holding him out of games in hopes of having him at full strength for the regular season. He's currently wearing a walking boot and is in pain when he jumps. Rose's game relies on athleticism, so any lingering leg injuries could really affect his production. Monitor his recovery before reaching for the reigning Rookie of the Year on draft day.
Trevor Ariza, F, HOU - Ariza cashed in with the Rockets after a stellar playoff performance with the Lakers. The Rockets have been decimated by injuries and enter the season with an extremely thin roster. As a result, Ariza has become a popular "sleeper" target. This is one of those cases where the hype seems to be getting a bit out of control. Ariza will receive ample playing time with the Rockets and will be a great source of steals, but he's no sure thing to become a fantasy star overnight. He's currently being drafted as high as the fifth round, but that seems like too steep of a price for a player who has never averaged double-digit points throughout his career. If he falls to the eighth or ninth round, Ariza is worth a look, but don't reach too high for him because of the preseason buzz.
Francisco Garcia, G, SAC - The aforementioned Garcia suffered a broken forearm last week while exercising. He'll be sporting a cast for the next four months and will likely need time after the cast is removed to rehab. This news makes Garcia undraftable in most one-year formats, but he could be a solid waiver-wire addition as his return date nears.
Stephen Jackson, G, GS- After two and a half relatively disturbance-free years in Golden State, Jackson is back to his old ways. The volatile swingman made headlines this offseason when he demanded a trade. Despite a $25,000 fine from the league, Jackson continues to ask publicly for a ticket out of town. The trade demands seemed to leak onto the court in a preseason game last week when Jackson picked up five fouls and a technical in less than 10 minutes of floor time. As a result, the Warriors suspended him for two exhibition games. Golden State doesn't appear to be in a rush to trade their disgruntled player, but this situation has bad news written all over it and should probably be avoided.
Larry Hughes, G, NYK - Hughes' ability as a scorer and defender have never been questioned, but he has constantly dealt with health issues and appears to be unmotivated at times. He's entering the final season of his contract and is in danger of becoming nothing more than an expiring deal to set up the Knicks for next summer's free agent bonanza. There's a chance Hughes could be a decent fantasy play in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, but he could just as easily get lost in the mix and ride the pine all season.
Jamal Crawford, G, ATL - Crawford, who is entering his first season with the Hawks, has been limited this preseason due to a calf injury. The injury doesn't appear to be serious, but it's holding him out of much needed floor time to get acquainted with his new teammates. In Crawford's absence, rookie Jeff Teague has seen extra playing time and has been playing well. The Hawks will role out a starting backcourt of Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson, so Crawford will be stuck coming off the bench. He's a talented enough player to produce in a reserve role, but don't draft Crawford thinking he'll match the production he had during each of the past three seasons when he was averaging over 37 mpg.
Article first appeared on 10/13/09