I’m writing this column on December 6th. Ordinarily, we’d be about five weeks into the NBA season by now. Instead, we’re still waiting for the league to release the 66-game schedules each team will play in 2011-12.
Very little will be “ordinary” in the NBA this season. And that will present a number of challenges for fantasy players. For example:
• Preseason business – trades, free-agent signings and all that good stuff – that is usually conducted in July won’t even begin until December 9. It will be particularly difficult to really judge fantasy values until we have a better idea of who will be playing where.
• The “amnesty rule” further complicates matters. Long story short, NBA teams will have the option of waiving a single contract – so long as that deal was signed under the last CBA. The player will still get the money he’s owed, but it won’t count against the salary cap or luxury tax. And unlike the last amnesty, teams don’t have to exercise it this season; the Blazers, for example, can hold on to Brandon Roy this year, see if his knees hold up, and then use the amnesty next summer if he’s unable to play at a high level.
• The amnesty clause also creates the possibility that there will be a number of quality veteran free agents hitting the market. And since those amnesty cases will still be getting the paychecks from their original teams, they may be willing to work cheap. Think: veteran minimum candidates for teams like the Heat or Mavs that need to create bench depth.
• The lockout-shortened preseason won’t give new coaches much time to install their systems, which could hurt teams like the Lakers (Mike Brown), Pistons (Lawrence Frank), Timberwolves (Rick Adelman), Rockets (Kevin McHale) and Warriors (Mark Jackson). The Warriors seem particularly vulnerable to a slow start because Jackson has never coached at any level and is reportedly hoping to make a major change to his team’s style of play, and because the team is rumored to be considering some major personnel changes.
• The shorter-than-usual training camps – and the fact that summer leagues were cancelled entirely – will make it much tougher for rookies to win jobs. I wouldn’t anticipate any Landry Fields-style surprise rookie starters this season.
• Then there’s the schedule itself. To fit 66 games between Christmas and late April, the league had to compress things more than a little bit. Every team will play at least one set of three games in three days, with some teams facing as many as three back-to-back-to-backs. That’s going to make life very difficult for older players and those with chronic injuries – bad backs and knees especially.
Then there’s the simple logistics associated with holding a draft. Let’s assume your league waits until after the 9th, when teams can start filling their rosters, to hold a draft – during what is, for most of us – the busiest time of the year.
With this much uncertainty, it’d be more than understandable if you don’t draft well. It also might not matter… I suspect clever use of the waiver wire will win a lot of leagues this season.
We’ll start making suggestions of under-owned players in this space next week, when rosters start to take shape. In the meantime, here are a couple of names to consider if you are drafting early:
Ian Mahinmi (DAL) – According to at least one report, Mahinmi, not Brendan Haywood, would inherit the Mavs’ starting center job if Tyson Chandler opts to sign elsewhere.
Evan Turner (PHI) – Last year’s first-round pick doesn’t seem to fit with Andre Iguodala. That makes him a lot more valuable if Iguodala is traded, as many expect.
Toney Douglas (NY) – Quick – who led the NBA in made threes in the second half of 2010-11? Yeah, it was Douglas – despite the fact that he was playing with an injured shoulder. Don’t be scared off by the Knicks’ selection of Iman Shumpert – I suspect Douglas will still have an important role in Mike D’Antoni’s rotation.
Marcus Thornton (SAC - RFA) – Hard to like Thornton if he’s with Sacramento again this season, as his minutes will inevitably be squeezed by John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette and a healthy Tyreke Evans. But there are rumors that Thornton’s original team, the Hornets, is looking to bring him back, and in New Orleans, he might be option 1 or 1a in the offense.
Bostjan Nachbar (FA) – The Knicks are reportedly interested in signing Nachbar, who could be a good fit in the same three-point shooting big man role Shawne Williams filled last season.
Jeff Teague (ATL) - Based on his performance in the playoffs, the Hawks have to give him the starting nod over Kirk Hinrich, no?
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