The Pacific Division was surprisingly quiet this offseason, assuming you agree that really loud ownership changes don't affect the fantasy landscape too much. The Kings and Lakers made changes at point guard. The Warriors couldn't match Cleveland's efforts to get Kevin Love. The Clippers added some size. Oh, and the Lakers still stink.
Quick! Name a small forward in the Pacific Division other than Rudy Gay.
Golden State Warriors
It's hard to say how the Bay-area coaching change might alter fantasy hoops. Old coach Mark Jackson was successful stressing defense and quick offensive pace. New coach Steve Kerr says he wants the Warriors to be even faster, but it's hard to picture them improving on their 98.5 possessions per game that was sixth fastest in the NBA last season. This is Kerr's first head coaching job, so everything at this point is speculation.
The starting five doesn't change too much. The backcourt is still lead by the dynamic duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Warrior brass will continue to pray for the good health of Andrew Bogut, who shockingly (for him) made it through 67 games last year. (Side note: shouldn't it have been the Warriors and not the Clippers who signed Spencer Hawes this summer?) David Lee will continue to start at power forward. The only debate is at small forward.
Small Forward: Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green
Assuming Iguodala has recovered from the knee tendinitis that kept him out of the FIBA World Cup, he should continue his point-forward duties at small forward, but Kerr might be wise to rest his All-Defense First Team member. Iggy is an old 30, having played over 30 minutes per game since 2004-5. One has to wonder if the wear and tear is catching up to him. While his defense and passing skills are to be praised, Kerr might view Iguodala's 9.3 points per game last season as too weak to have in the starting lineup.
Expect Kerr to experiment with occasional starts for Barnes and Green. Green played in all 82 games last year, averaging 22 mpg. He gets time at both forward positions, which is helpful with another likely Bogut injury on the horizon. Bogut injuries force Lee to center and opens time at power forward for Green. I'm tempted to highlight Green as a sleeper, but his shooting is awful. He shot 41 percent last year after a painful rookie season of shooting 33 percent from the field. Barnes started 24 games last year but took a step backward from his rookie season, when he started 81 games. Barnes also has his own shooting woes, heaving a weak 40 percent last year. The reality is that all players could do damage to your field goal percentage. Iggy is a smart play if you're hungry for assists.
Los Angeles Clippers
I bet Baron Davis is sitting around wishing he played for today's Clippers and not the Donald Sterling disaster. Can they bring back Elgin Baylor in some capacity just so he can hang around a fun office?
Despite all the crazy ownership turmoil, the roster hasn't changed much. The backcourt is still led by Chris Paul at point, J.J. Redick at shooting guard, and scoring machine Jamal Crawford seeing big minutes off the bench. Blake Griffin owns the power forward spot, while DeAndre Jordan hopes to have this third straight 82-games played season at center. That leaves the small forward spot as the only position up for debate.
Small Forward: Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Someone New?
Barnes is the classic glue guy who is more valuable in real basketball than fantasy, and he can catch and shoot the occasional three (1.5 three-pointers per game last year), which helps with spacing, but his 9.9 points per game, like Iguodala, can make a lot of fantasy owners wince. Barnes doesn't come with as many assists or steals as Iggy. At 34 years of age, one must wonder if Barnes wouldn't do better coming off the bench.
Sophomore Reggie Bullock might have a chance to shine, but he continues to have health issues, missing all of the Las Vegas Summer League due to quad issues. He played in only 43 games last year, but a lot of his time was simply spent on the bench, out of the rotation.
With an exciting, anxious-to-prove-himself new owner, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Clippers pull off a mid-season trade to shore up the position. Maybe Jeff Green from the Celtics? We'll see.
Did I mention that new owner Steve Ballmer is an excitable guy? You might even say "hard core".
Los Angeles Lakers
I've always assumed Kobe Bryant was a raging egomaniac, and with the latest Sports Illustrated article on Bryant, I now feel pretty safe with that assumption. Maybe Bryant needs to go to China to be worshipped because a lot of Americans don't enjoy cheering for him.
But I digress. Bryant did sound positive about new Laker teammates Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, and Julius Randle. I wish I could do the same, but I can't. Boozer is looking like an old 32-year-old, with his field goal percentage dropping each of the last three years. Last year, Lin was tied with Kendall Marshall and Mario Chalmers for fourth worst in turnover ratio, and Randle didn't exactly catch fire at the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 12.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 0.3 steals in four games. The most available minutes are on the wings.
Wings: Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry
Obviously, Bryant doesn't have to battle anyone for playing time. The issue is health. He's returning from a fractured tibia. If he were an NFL running back, you wouldn't touch him in your fantasy football draft. There are too many miles on the odometer. Plus, the Lakers did nothing to fill their giant void at small forward.
Johnson and his 43 percent shooting has already been hinted at by new coach Byron Scott as the probable starter at small forward. During his four-year career, Johnson has never averaged more than 9.1 points per game. Nick Young is the better fantasy play, especially if you need points and three-pointers. Your league mates will assume Swaggy P's shots will go down now that Bryant is back. Let them think that. He'll get significant minutes at the two and the three. Expect something similar to last year's numbers, especially when Bryant gets hurt again. That means roughly 16 points, two threes-pointers, and 82-percent free throw shooting. I don't want Swaggy P on my real basketball team, but those are serviceable fantasy figures. FYI, as he explains here, God told Young that Swaggy P should be his nickname.
By the way, if you haven't heard by now, Jordan Hill is going to get monster minutes at center. You could do worse for a second center.
I will happily jump on the band wagon and say general manager Ryan McDonough is doing a great job running the Suns. Last year's squad is Exhibit A for changing how teams qualify for the playoffs. I hope you found some free agent gems in Phoenix last year. Gerald Green and Markieff Morris both turned into legit fantasy assets. Not much has changed this year, except the wise signing of Isaiah Thomas. Let's look closer at the backcourt
Guards: Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green
Keeper league owners of Thomas are probably not thrilled by his move to the dessert. It seems like his minutes should decline behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, but don't panic just yet. Bledsoe has only averaged 53 games played per season over the past three years. He's a real risk to get hurt yet again in 2013-14. Plus, as Bledsoe's unrealistic contract demands continue to fester, his relationship with Phoenix could sour. In other words, I like Thomas as sleeper pick, and I agree with SI's Chris Mannix regarding Bledsoe's value:
I don't understand the Kings' replacement of Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison. I've read Zach Lowe's in-depth Kings analysis twice. Help me. Ultimately, I think the guard swap is just like the Rudy Gay trade: lots of hot air and arm waving, with little to no results in the win loss column. This fan base deserves better. I do believe owner Vivek Ranadivé has his heart in the right place, though.
The main position battle in Sacramento seems to be, as always, at power forward. Chris Weber, where have you gone?
Power Forward: Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Derrick Williams, Reggie Evans
Does it get any blander than that? That's like staring at a snack buffet, and the only options are dry crackers. No cheese. No dip. No pate. Just dry, dry crackers. With 61 starts last year, Thompson is the incumbent, and frankly, he's terrible. Or "turrible" as Charles Barkley would say.
Seriously, check out these retched numbers for Thompson, who was in his SIXTH year last season: 7.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, and 0.6 assists. TERRIBLE! That is NOT a starting power forward!
As a fan of hard work, I love Carl Landry, but the guy is returning from a torn hip flexor and a torn meniscus. He still has three years left on his contract, so Sacramento has no choice but to hope he can come back strong. We'll see. Williams, the number two draft pick from 2011, should easily beat out both of them, but he clearly doesn't have the confidence to play aggressively. Evans is a rebound machine and nothing else. Frankly, just stay away from this mess during your fantasy draft. It's fugly and turrible.
Well, we somehow made it through the Position Battles for all six divisions. We pulled it off even though fantasy football drafts are in full swing. Amazing. Go with WR's early. Then, come October, look for those low-cost, high-value point guards. Rock on!
Go here for Atlantic Division Position Battles, here for the Central Division Position Battles, here for the Southeast Position Battles, here for the Southwest, and finally here for the Northwest.