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Hoops Lab: The Professor Talks Hoop

As of now, at this moment, Chris Paul appears to be on his way to LA to play with the Clippers. Maybe. Probably. I'm pretty sure. But despite articles that state confidently that Paul has, in fact, been traded... I'll believe it when I see Paul in a Clippers uniform. Because this has absolutely, positively, been the CRAZIEST NBA offseason that I've ever seen. Yes, even crazier than the 1999 lockout season. Because this hasn't just been a lockout, it has been a veritable circus. The current state of the NBA is perfectly summed up by a quote from Kevin Garnett Tuesday:

I think what you see, we're in a rushed league right now. Timing is everything, and chemistry is something that you just don't throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something and throw something on top of that and then fry it up, put it in a tortilla, put it in the microwave, heat it up and give it to you and expect it to taste good.

First of all, that's one of the greatest rambling quotes of recent years. Seriously, go back and read that again. But more than that, it's true. Despite my being ABSOLUTELY OVERJOYED the NBA is back, it can't be denied the league is trying to cram an entire offseason, free agency period and training camp into a two-week span. And frankly, there's no way to do that seamlessly, especially when it comes on the heels of an acrimonious lockout negotiation in which by all accounts Commissioner David Stern was barely were able to get enough votes from the owners to ratify a new deal. The disgruntled owners are still apparently trying to make their point about limiting player movement and super teams, which is the only possible explanation for why Paul isn't a Laker right now.

And the owners and players aren't the only ones feeling rushed and not really ready for the season to begin. More importantly, we the fantasy basketball community are also flying blind right now. As an analyst, I can't tell you how difficult it is to project player outputs when we don't even know what teams many players will end up on. Paul was a huge domino that has finally fallen, allowing us to have a realistic shot at estimating the Clippers and Hornets now (before the supposed trade, the Hornets had only seven players total on their roster including a few deep-bench guys), but what about Dwight Howard and the Magic? What about the Lakers, who still have to have some kind of big move planned, or else their giving away Lamar Odom to a conference rival makes zero sense? What about the Rockets, who in the past five days have gone all in to get anyone on their team named Gasol and, having failed with Pau and Marc, are likely making avid plans to sign their high school-aged brother? Teams are really fluid right now, so fantasy-wise, the best advice that I could give you would be to hold your league drafts as close to the Christmas tip-off as you possibly can.

But what if your league can't wait? What if you're drafting now? Well, as always, I'm here to share my thoughts about the goings on around the league and give some insight into the stories and players that are catching my attention.

Around the League

New Clippers: The Chris Paul for Eric Gordon/Chris Kaman/Al-Farouq Aminu deal is now being reported as official, which means that the fantasy landscape will feel the ramifications. Paul and Blake Griffin should now team up to be a next generation version of Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire. When matched up with Nash, Amar'e's scoring volume and shooting efficiencies went through the roof. All of a sudden, I'm thinking Griffin goes from the 25 points/49% FG I projected to more like 27 points/55%. This should be enough to move him well up the rankings (more on this below).

Paul will likely be largely the same player he already was, with health as the only factor keeping him from a potential No. 1 overall draft slot. DeAndre Jordan also gets a big boost from the trade, as a big who finishes well and can play off of Paul. On the downside, the Clippers almost have to trade one of their glut of PGs since they now have Paul, Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams all under contract, along with Eric Bledsoe.

New Hornets: Before the trade, the Hornets had only seven players. This 3-for-1 helps to fill out the squad, but they still have some major holes. This deal would most seem to help Eric Gordon, who may have no choice but to score well over 25 points per night on this talent-depleted team. Kaman and Aminu should also have the chance to grab as much playing time as possible, which could make Kaman again a top-tier fantasy center and could get Aminu onto the map.

Dwight Howard: Now that the Paul domino has fallen, Howard is the biggest individual question mark still out there. He and the Magic seem to flip-flop their positions on whether he's staying or going on an hourly basis. Fantasy-wise, it's hard to image Howard in a better situation than he's currently in with the Magic. The entire offense is built around his strengths/weaknesses, with a bunch of shooters out there surrounding him and opening up the court for his bullish post game. And on defense, the lack of rebounders on his squad allows him to vacuum them all in. In a head-to-head league, Howard in Orlando is worth a first round pick. The same would be true if he's sent to New Jersey to play with Deron Williams. But if Howard somehow finds his way to a more stacked team like the Lakers, even his value could take a hit.

LeBron with a post game: I've been writing for years that if LeBron James ever develops a post game, that's it. Game over. He'd be completely unguardable. Well, this offseason the 265-pound James reportedly spent a good chunk of time working with post-game guru Hakeem Olajuwon to develop a back-to the-basket game. If this is true, he just might be worthy of that No. 1 overall draft slot. James is saying all of the right things about being relaxed this season, but he can't be happy with the heaps of criticism he received for his small performance in last year's Finals. I look for him to punish some people this season and have a great year.

Preseason projections/cheat sheet: Earlier I mentioned Blake Griffin, and how playing with Chris Paul should really up his scoring volume and efficiency. When I projected these improvements, Griffin moved 26 slots up the Rotowire cheat sheet to No. 34 overall. This is significant, because I've already had a few people contact me to complain that his ranking had previously been too low on the cheat sheet. What I told them is that while I control the Rotowire projections, I don't control the rankings on the cheat sheet. When Griffin was projected at 25 points and 13 boards on 49.6 percent FG, his low FT percentage on high volume was enough to get him ranked 60th. Now his scoring numbers are better, but the free throws will remain a problem for his ranking in roto leagues until he shows some improvement at the stripe.

Why is no one talking about the Mavs? The Mavs have to be one of the more under-talked about champions in NBA history. They already were a lower profile squad, and the Lockout overshadowed their championship. Then, the free agency period kicked off with the Mavs letting Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea walk to other teams. With Chandler having gone from undervalued to overrated, this seems to have further moved them from the public eye. But I absolutely LOVE the Odom trade for them, as he and Dirk Nowitzki combine to form one of the most unique and difficult matchups in the NBA. Brendan Haywood, when healthy, is not a big drop-off from Chandler. And their Jason Kidd/Jason Terry backcourt is still very fantasy relevant. In short, the Mavs should be contenders again this season in real life - and in fantasy terms, you definitely want to keep several of their players on your radar.

The shortened but super-busy schedule: As I pointed out immediately after the lockout settled, the shortened but packed schedule will impact my draft strategy. My feeling is that the veteran, hard-working, workout-warrior types like the stars of the Lakers, Celtics or Spurs are primed to get out of the gate quickly because they tend already to be in great shape and know how to play the game. On the flip side, younger players or younger teams may not have gone quite as hard in the offseason or may be trying to break new players into new situations, so they may get off to slower starts. As the season progresses, though, the condensed schedule seems likely to take a toll on older players (or, more likely, you'll see the Tim Duncans and Kevin Garnetts of the world getting strategic days off) which might let the youngsters finish stronger, right in time for your fantasy playoffs.

Paul trying out for the Jazz: My wife's cousin Paul Carter has signed with the Utah Jazz, and is currently trying out to make the team as a small forward. That may not be fantasy-relevant, but I hope you'll join me in sending out positive vibes and well wishes to his attempt to live his NBA dream.

Some players that I like at their draft slots

Kobe Bryant (avg Yahoo! draft slot of 12.5): There are two players in the NBA that play angrier than anyone else, and Kobe is the first on this list. And I am expecting big things from Kobe this year, fantasy-wise. I think Kobe is ANGRY that his team got swept in last year's playoffs, after he turned in his worst regular season in a decade. I think he is mad at the perception that he's too old. I think he realizes he was this close to having missed out on perhaps his last chance at a prime season due to the lockout, and if he can take advantage of this shortened season he can vault himself back to the top of the NBA conversation. And now, on top of that, the Lakers were denied their chance at Paul, traded one of his best sidekicks, and Kobe is facing the unthinkable scenario of possibly not being the biggest basketball draw in the city anymore. I'm expecting angry, prolific Kobe this year and think he is great value if you can get him at the end of the 1st/start of the 2nd round.

Carmelo Anthony (avg Yahoo! draft slot of 16.6) is solid value late in the first round and a good value in the mid-2nd round, if he continues the more 3-point-based approach he took after joining NY last year. Melo averaged 26.3 points, 6.7 boards, 3.0 assists, 2.0 treys, and shot 46.1% from the field and 87.2% from the line in 27 games with the Knicks last year, numbers that are startlingly similar to what Kevin Durant posted on the year (27.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.9 treys, 46.2% FG, 88% FT). Durant is the consensus number one overall pick this season. In Anthony, you may just get the same production 16 slots later.

Steve Nash (#32.8) is a bit of a risk because of how he limped to the finish line last year, but that struggle was due to a bum hip. For about the first 60 games, he was playing at a much higher level. Nash is in his late 30s and thus will always be an injury risk, but with the shortened schedule on a team that has a legendary training staff, I think he's worth the risk if you're getting him late in the 3rd round.

Chris Bosh (#40.5) should be in for a bigger season in Year 2. The Heat now have a year under their belts, and are better prepared to play to each other's strengths. And if LeBron really is operating more out of the post, that should open up space and opportunity for Bosh to work his face-up game from the high-post.

Kevin Garnett (#46.9) is the second "angry old man" on this list. Many don't realize it, but he actually finished last season ranked #24 by Yahoo! in total production despite having missed 11 games. At this point in his career you have to factor in a likely 5 10 missed games at some point this year, but the extra long offseason and extra year post-knee surgery should have Garnett at least as spry as he was last season. Plus, there's serious talk that he's going to play a lot of center this year, possibly earning a dual eligibility down the line.

Marcin Gortat (#53.4). Gortat is one of the favorite "hot prospects" among the fantasy experts. He went in the third round of one of our recent Rotowire mock drafts, which is too high to me, but by the 5th round he's solid value if he does as well as many expect this year.

Javale McGee (#68.1), Andray Blatche (#71.9), Andrew Bynum (#72.1), and Brandon Jennings (#72.7) are all guys I wouldn't mind in that 6th/7th round area. McGee and Blatche are both super-talented young bigs that are right on that cusp between "too immature" and "coming of age". Despite the fact that McGee has an evil alter-ego on Twitter named Pierre, I think that he and Blatche are both good bets to come of age this season. In LA, with Odom gone the Lakers will be depending more heavily on Bynum than they ever have. That is risky given his injury history, but it certainly looks like he'll be given the shot. And Jennings is a player whose positives (assists/steals/treys) are overshadowed by a horrible shooting percentage, but he's still young enough that he has upside if he can get that percentage even up into the low 40s in year three.

Roy Hibbert (#79.2) looked great for the first few months of last season, then seemed to wear down in his first time in such a featured role. He should be better equipped to handle the grind this year and maintain his value.

DeMar DeRozan (#81.4) looked great for a long stretch in the mid/later part of last season, and should still be on the way up.

Kyrie Irving (#103.6): With Baron Davis amnestied, it's clear the Cavs will be Irving's team from day one. He may not be quite as good as other recent No. 1 pick PGs (Derrick Rose and John Wall), but he's on their street and should outproduce an average draft slot in the ninth round.

Corey Maggette (#122.1) can score at high volumes with good percentages and lots of free throws drawn - when he's healthy and given the opportunity. While health will always be a question mark, the lack of options in Charlotte right now should give Maggette all of the opportunity he needs to score the basketball.

DeAndre Jordan (#132.9) has shown himself to be a nightly double-double threat that can block a bunch of shots. His free-throw stroke can scare small children, but fortunately he doesn't go to the line that often. And with Kaman (allegedly) now in NOLA, Jordan should get to play a lot and finish a lot of easy dunks set up by Chris Paul.

Brendan Haywood (#133.7) was one of the better roto centers in the NBA a couple of years ago when healthy, but is coming off of an injury-filled campaign in which he lost his job to Tyson Chandler. Well, Chandler is gone now so there's no reason Haywood can't return to his more impactful ways.

Keeping up with the Professor

If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.

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