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 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
With training camp officially opening up a few days ago and the preseason set to tip-off this weekend, we’ll focus this week’s article on players who saw their fantasy value impacted over the offseason while also weighing in on some noteworthy news from training camp.
Evan Turner, G/F, PHI – With Andre Iguodola being traded to Denver as part of the four-team Dwight Howard trade back in August, Turner now has a much clearer path to playing time. Turner had a chance to show his worth as a starter last season, averaging 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, three assists and one steal while seeing 33 minutes per game in 20 games with the starting five. The Sixers brought in swingmen Dorrell Wright and Jason Richardson this offseason, and one of them will earn a starting spot, but Turner should be cemented in either the two or three spot on opening night. As the No. 2 overall draft pick in the 2010 draft, Turner has the pedigree and skills to develop into a star. While not as athletic as Iguodola, Turner shares Iggy’s ability to be a good ball distributor and rebounder for his position. Don’t be surprised if Turner’s production matches or surpasses the levels we saw from Iguodola in a down season last year.
Brandon Knight, G, DET – Knight is easily one of my favorite sleepers this year. He quietly put together a solid rooke season for the Pistons, finishing with averages of 12.8 points, 3.8 assists and 1.6 treys while earning all-rookie first team honors. The Pistons are rebuilding around their young players, and other than Greg Monroe, Knight may be the most important piece. The biggest struggle for Knight in his rookie season was setting up teammates, which resulted in an average of just 3.8 assists per game. With no lockout to worry about this year, Knight was actually able to put in a full offseason with his teammates, which will lead to better on-the-court chemistry. The 21-year-old point guard is still a couple years away from reaching his ceiling, but we will see enough improvements from him across the board in his sophomore season to warrant selecting him as a second or third point guard for your fantasy squad.
Damian Lillard, G, POR – The Blazers had a relatively quiet offseason, opting not to bring in any big name free agents while letting Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford exit via free agency. The exit of Felton and Crawford is what puts Lillard on this list. The 22-year-old point guard was selected sixth overall by the Blazers in the draft. After not signing a veteran free agent point guard, Lillard is now poised to take over the reins from day one. He’s coming off a stellar showing in the Summer League where he averaged 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and four rebounds while taking home co-MVP honors. There were bigger names selected in June’s draft, but Lillard is in a better position than most other rookies to thrive immediately and make an impact in fantasy right out of the gate.
Nikola Vucevic, F/C, ORL – The Magic got absolutely fleeced in the Dwight Howard trade this offseason, but they may have received a gem in return with Vucevic. The 22-year-old big man finished his rookie season in Philly with pedestrian numbers (5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds), but he flashed enough skills in limited minutes to have fantasy pundits drooling over his sleeper potential this year. His per-36 averages of 12.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks show just what kind of potential he offers, and with both Howard and Ryan Anderson out of Orlando, the chance for playing time will be there immediately.
Josh Smith, F, ATL and Al Horford, F/C, ATL – The two Hawks players who figure to benefit most from Joe Johnson’s move to Brooklyn are Smith and Horford. Johnson took 15 shots per game last season while often dominating the ball and stagnating the Hawks’ offensive attack. With Johnson gone, the team figures to turn to Smith and Horford to shoulder the load on offense. Neither player will turn into scoring champs, but each has the skill to be a 20-point scorer at the NBA level. Given his 12.4 point average from last year, Horford has the most to gain from a scoring perspective, but Smith will handle the ball more and improve his assist totals. Don’t be afraid to grab either of these Hawks early.
Raymond Felton, G, NY – The aforementioned Felton left the Blazers to sign with the Knicks. He was out of shape and all kinds of horrible in Portland last season, but Felton will be returning to the team in which he had the best stint of his career. During his short 54-game stint with the Knicks in 2010-11, Felton posted career-high averages of 17.0 points, nine assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 threes. He won’t be running the show for a Mike D’Antoni fast-paced offense this time around, but Felton should rebound some from his down season in Portland.
Isaiah Thomas, G, SAC – Thomas was solid after being promoted to the starting lineup last season, finishing with averages of 14.8 points, 5.4 assists and 1.6 treys in 37 starts. Despite the success Thomas showed in his rookie season, the Kings opted to sign free agent point guard Aaron Brooks. Thomas has the upper hand at the starting gig right now, but the two point guards will battle for the job throughout the preseason. The winner of the job battle will see a nice boost in fantasy value, so keep a close eye on the position battle this preseason.
Dwight Howard, C, LAL – Not only did Howard join a new team this offseason, but he’s also had to recover from the first significant injury of his career. Howard underwent back surgery in April to repair a herniated disk. He’s already participating in light practice drills and plans to play before the end of the preseason, so barring a setback it doesn’t look like Howard will miss time. While the injury concerns have been quelled for the time being, there’s still some worry about how Howard will mesh with his new team. With Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, the Lakers are stacked with scoring options. As a result, the Lakers won’t need to rely on Howard’s offense nearly as much as the Magic did. He’ll still score plenty of points and be a big part of the team, but don’t be surprised if Howard’s scoring production slips some this year.
Wilson Chandler, G/F, DEN – Chandler is returning from a hip injury that ended his 2011-12 campaign. He has healed quicker than expected and should partake in action during the preseason. But like Howard, there are other concerns with Chandler. He’s currently slotted in as a reserve, and Nuggets coach George Karl has already stated his preference to use a nine- or 10-man rotation this season. The versatile swingman could end up playing the role of sixth man for the Nuggets, but his minutes might be somewhat inconsistent if Karl sticks with a deep rotation.
Devin Harris, G, ATL – After struggling through the first couple months of the 2011-12 season, Harris was able to bounce back and post averages of 13.6 points and 5.5 assists after the All-Star break. He appeared poised to build on the second-half surge in Utah until the Jazz opted to send him to Atlanta in exchange for forward Marvin Williams. While Harris only had Earl Watson to split time with in Utah, he’ll have to share duties with both incumbent starter Jeff Teague and super-sub Louis Williams in Atlanta. The crowded backcourt in Atlanta will lead to less playing time for Harris and a likely return to the disappointing production we saw from him the first half of last season.
John Wall, G, WAS – Wall never broke out as expected in his second season in the NBA, but it’s hard to complain about a young point guard who averaged 16.3 points and eight assists in his age 21 campaign. With an improved roster in Washington, Wall was in place to fulfill his potential and breakout this year, but a knee injury will now put that on temporary hold. He’s expected to miss up to eight weeks after being diagnosed with the early stages of a stress fracture in his knee. That will put Wall out of action for about the first month of the regular season. There’s still plenty of upside here, and Wall should be back on the hardwood before long, but this injury may delay a full-fledged breakout by another year.
Jose Calderon, G, TOR – With Toronto acquiring Kyle Lowry in a draft day trade this summer, Calderon was pushed to a reserve role. Calderon has since demanded a trade, but there hasn’t been much evidence that the Raptors are having any luck finding a suitor. Calderon has an expiring $10-million contract, which will definitely draw interest before the deadline, but Toronto will be hard-pressed to find any takers that want to pay Calderon that much for the entire season. He has always held value as a starter, but with limited minutes as a reserve Calderon will lose most of his fantasy appeal.