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Smart Ball

The Warriors have been a frustrating and unpredictable team to analyze for fantasy players the last few years, because one or two players would come out of nowhere -- usually the D-League -- to contribute meaningfully. And that meant a player or two you targeted in October was hurting you by January. While it was frustrating, it also paid off for those paying close attention and jumping on a free agent at the right moment: Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Morrow, C.J. Watson and Reggie Williams come to mind.

Entering the 2010-11 season, the Warriors have new ownership and a new coach. Don Nelson's whims no longer need to be factored into the calculus when projecting potential fantasy contributors. New head coach Keith Smart, who's worked under Nelson for the last four years and with the organization since 2003, will not throw out all of the old philosophy, but there will be more structure and presumably more attention to defense, as Smart was Nelson's defensive assistant. With the regime change should come stability. No more wondering if Corey Maggette will score 30 or play 10 minutes off the bench.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, they are little more than a five-man team at this point. The starters are set. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis are in the back court. Both have been named captains, which is something we never thought would happen to Ellis. Dorell Wright starts at small forward and needs to prove he's more than just a role player. While David Lee, also a captain, is at the four. A rejuvinated (in body and attitude) Adris Biedrins returns as the center. I think each of these guys could play 35 minutes a night, given what little depth has developed. Heck, Smart played Ellis 53 minutes in the preseason final overtime loss to the Lakers last Friday. Lee played 47. Williams, starting for the injured Stephen Curry, played 49 minutes. Fantasy players, get your Warrior starter and ride him knowing that Smart has little in reserve. Especially at point guard. Smart is hoping to avoid using Ellis as Curry's backup, but no-one else emerged. The top bench players will be Williams, Vlad Radmanovic and Brandan Wright. They're hoping to get the Rodney Carney that never appeared in Philadelphia or Minnesota. Of the bunch, Williams has the most potential. He's comfortable distributing the ball as a point forward and can score. Wright is intriguing, given his length and athleticism, but he's coming off a missed year because of a shoulder injury. First round pick Ekpe Udoh is out until January at the earliest after undergoing wrist surgery. And even at sixth overall in the draft, he still needs some polish to his game.

Though hiring Smart is a popular move, that's mostly because he's not Nelson, who wore out his welcome even before last season's drop to 26 wins. Smart's not going to get a free pass in Year One. The ownership made a coaching change, but they're options were limited. And though they've talked about a "multi-year arragnement" for Smart, according to the Contra Costa Times, that suggests ownership can continue to evaluate the head coaching market while retaining Smart as an assistant. Smart is out to prove he's the long-term solution and that might mean going with the players (the five starters) that give him a chance to be successful now instead of three years from now. Whatever energizes the fan base, Smart will do.