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 preseason play underway, we can now start evaluating players based on how they perform in actual game action. Many coaches like to experiment with their rotations during the preseason, but there are still usually enough hints given to start gauging which players have seen a change in value. Let's jump right in.
Derrick Williams, F, MIN – Williams is the Timberwolve who could see the biggest boost in value following Wednesday’s news that Kevin Love will miss 6-to-8 weeks with a broken right hand. Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman preferred to run Williams at power forward last season, but Love was always there to block the way. With Love now on the shelf, Williams will have a chance to earn the Opening Night starting gig and hold it down for the first 15-20 games of the regular season. While Williams' averages as a rookie (8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks) were not special, he was actually impressive on a per-minute basis, finishing with averages of 14.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.9 threes, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in 36 minutes per game. Especially intriguing is Williams’ ability to average 1+ trey, steal and block – the Holy Grail of fantasy hoops. The sophomore forward was already expected to step up his production this season, but now he’s in a position to make an even bigger leap. Don’t sleep on Williams in your drafts.
Andre Drummond, C, DET – The scouting report on Drummond heading into the 2012 draft was that he had off-the-charts athleticism, but his raw offensive game and question marks about his motor would make him a risky project. After four preseason appearances, Drummond has done his best to squash those question marks. The 19-year-old big man has averaged 10.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.0 steals in just 18 mpg. All you have to do is double those averages to see what kind of potential Drummond is hinting at if given a starter’s compliment of minutes. But, obviously, this is preseason play, so the numbers are inflated. Plus, the Pistons don’t seem dead set on giving Drummond a significant role in the rotation just yet. That said, he could easily force the issue and earn a sizable role early in the season. After all, the Pistons have a recent track record of stashing their young players on the bench at the start of the regular season before plugging them into the starting five sooner than later. Just look at Brandon Knight (promoted to starting lineup in seventh game of 2011-12) and Greg Monroe (promoted for final 45 games in 2010-11). Until Drummond officially carves out a bigger role, he can be avoided in shallow formats, but those in deeper leagues should start watching him closely while possibly taking a flier on him in the later rounds.
Brook Lopez, C, BRO – Lopez was one of the focuses of my blog earlier this week. While Lopez has been among the fantasy elite in the past, his value has been bogged down by injuries and an unexplainable drop in rebounds over the past couple seasons. He’s healthy now, and based on his preseason play, it looks like he has found a remedy for his lack of production on the glass. Over his first two preseason appearances, Lopez pulled down 10 boards per game while averaging just 27 minutes of run. That type of rebounding production would easily be a career-high for Lopez. Now, we are talking about just two games, but Lopez did make a concerted effort to improve his rebounding in training camp. The Nets have two stars in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson who will assume much of the scoring load, which means Lopez can stop focusing on being the franchise savor and do what big men are supposed to do -- protect the paint and clean the glass. If Lopez can turn himself into a nightly double-double threat and stay healthy, he’ll be a top-30 fantasy option again.
Spencer Hawes, F/C, PHI – Like Lopez, I’ve already written about Hawes this week. Sixers coach Doug Collins recently said he wants to use Hawes in a "Pau Gasol-type" role. The role that Collins is referring to is a big man who can excel on the perimeter due to his shooting and passing ability. Hawes played the role effectively Monday night, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 18 minutes. While it's asking a lot for Hawes to match Gasol's 3.7 apg from last year (which is elite for a big man), we have seen the Sixers' seven-footer display his passing ability before, including a near triple-double effort (10 points, 14 rebounds, nine dimes) in the season opener last year. Hawes was already an intriguing fantasy option this season, but he deserves even more attention given the way Collins plans to utilize him this year.
Kirk Hinrich, G, CHI – Hinrich hasn’t received much buzz this year, which doesn’t seem right for a player who will be the undisputed starting point guard on what has been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference over the past couple of seasons. With Derrick Rose (knee) on the shelf for an unknown but likley lengthy period (see “Stock Down”), Hinrich will run the show for the Bulls. While Hinrich has seen his value decrease the past couple of seasons, his drop in production was mainly due to limited roles he played with the Wizards and Hawks. Now that he’ll be the primary ball-handler again, Hinrich is in prime position to see his level of production climb back towards what we saw from him during his first stint with the Bulls. Of course, Hinrich’s value will drop when/if Rose returns, but there’s still plenty of value to be had here out for at least the first half of the season.
Harrison Barnes, G/F, GS – Barnes is in a tight preseason battle with Brandon Rush for the Warriors' starting small forward job. Both players offer production in the scoring and three-point categories, but fantasy owners should be rooting for Barnes, as he has more upside and is currently coming at a cheaper price on draft day. Watch the competition closely over the final few preseason games to see who’s a better target near the end of your draft.
Kemba Walker, G and Ramon Sessions, G, CHR – Earlier this offseason there was some speculation that Walker would be the undisputed starting point guard for the Bobcats this year, but that conclusion is no longer a given with Sessions getting starting nods and impressing in preseason action. Of the two, Walker still has more overall upside, but I can easily envision a scenario where the value of both point guards will be muted all season long as they split the duties.
Andrea Bargnani, F/C, TOR -- Bargnani was forced to leave Wednesday’s preseason tilt against the Wizards with a left calf contusion. While this isn’t normally the type of injury that would cause much concern, it’s somewhat worrisome with Bargnani because he dealt with calf issues all last season. Early indications are the Raptors are just being cautious here, but it’s worth your while to keep a close eye on the situation if you plan on targeting Bargnani in the early-to-mid rounds of your draft.
Derrick Rose, G, CHI – The aforementioned Rose is sidelined as he recovers from the torn ACL he suffered in the playoffs last year. A timetable of 8-to-12 months was initially set after Rose sustained the injury, putting his return anywhere between late January to late May. The most common estimated return date has been around the All-Star break, but even Rose questioned that timetable this week when he hinted at the possibility of missing the full season during an interview on NBA TV. If Rose is able to return at the front end of that timetable, he’ll hold significant value down the stretch, but there are enough question marks surrounding his return for me to ignore him outright this season.
Kevin Love, F/C, MIN – Love joined Rose in the MASH unit this week when he broke the third and fourth metacarpal in his right hand. Normally when a player suffers a broken hand a couple weeks before the start of the regular season, he’ll be in store for a massive downgrade, but with Love that’s not the case. The 6-to-8 week timetable for Love’s injury means he’ll miss anywhere from 15-20 regular season games. When altering our projections, we went with the middle road and slotted him down for 65 of 82 games. Even at 65 games played, Love is projected to be a top-10 player based on our projections. So while the injury does scare me enough to not pick him in the top 5 anymore, I’d still happily grab Love with my second-round pick.
JaVale McGee, C, DEN – McGee has been a popular breakout candidate for the past couple of years, and based on the preseason rankings on numerous sites, many pundits believe that breakout will come this year. Sadly, I don’t think that will be the case. Nuggets coach George Karl has already stated his desire to use a 9- or 10-man rotation this season, which would include the likes of also-ran big men Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov. In fact, Koufos is now believed to have the inside track on the starting center gig. McGee will still see his run, and the Nuggets’ fast-paced attack ensures he’ll be able to post decent production in limited minutes, but without the upside for a full-scale breakout I can’t justify picking McGee inside the top 60 selections.