1. Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers
|Age:||27||Height:||6'6''||Weight:||220||School:||Lower Merion (HS)||Years:||10|| |
In his first season back with Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant put up one of his best statistical seasons ever, and that’s pretty impressive given his brilliant nine-year career. As the only legit scoring option for the Lakers, Kobe posted career highs in points (35.4) and three-pointers (2.3) while continuing to put up dominant numbers in almost every other category. The big attraction to Bryant isn’t his ability to score at will; it’s his free throw shooting. With 10.2 attempts per game and connecting at an 85 percent clip, there is no one that can control the free throw percentage category better than Kobe. Other than adding Vladimir Radmanovic, who will help spread the court, the Lakers haven’t changed their personnel much and will continue to rely heavily on all facets of Bryant’s game.
Bottom Line: Kobe is a sure fire pick and should put up another tremendous season under Phil Jackson.
2. Dwyane Wade - Miami Heat
Simply put, Dwyane Wade is the best in the business. LeBron James may have the superior stats and fantasy status, but Wade has the ring and the stats to boot. LeBron and Wade were the only two players in the league to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season. If that’s not enough, Wade also added two steals, 0.8 blocks and a ridiculous 49.5 field goal percentage. That 49.5 percent is even more impressive when you factor in his 18.8 shots from the floor per game, a number that may go up this season. Those that watched the 2006 NBA Playoffs know Wade has an uncanny ability to get himself to the free throw line. Last year, he attempted a whopping 10.7 shots from the line and shot an above-average 78.3 percent. Turnovers are a lost cause, but Wade greatly improved his three-point shooting during the 2006 NBA Playoffs. While he probably won’t be a big time three-point shooter, his 37.8 percent from beyond the arc during the playoffs shows potential to improve in his worst statistical category.
Bottom Line: Forget about threes and turnovers, Wade’s dominance in nearly every category is more than enough to make up for his so-called deficiencies.
3. Paul Pierce - Boston Celtics
Paul Pierce is the total package. As one of the most consistent performers in the game, Pierce always puts up big time stats and never misses time due to injury. What more can you ask for in a first round pick? As a player, Pierce is a multi-category producer that will score, rebound, dish, steal and drill three pointers. A proven scorer, Pierce can score in a variety of ways, whether by draining the outside shot, driving to the basket or drawing a foul. He’ll get to the line about 10 times per game where he’ll help your FT percentage immensely by shooting around 78-80 percent. The biggest, most surprising addition to his game has been his improving field goal percentage. A career 44 percent shooter, Pierce shot 47.1 percent from the floor last season. He’s unlikely to duplicate that feat again this year but should be able to keep it in the 45-46 percent range.
Bottom Line: Pierce is as close to a sure thing as anyone else in the league. He’s never missed considerable time due to injury, and he’s always posted tremendous stats in almost every category.
4. Ray Allen - Boston Celtics
Allen makes the game look easy with his flawless jump shot and great instincts on the court. If you are looking to finish high in the standings in three pointers, there’s no one better in the league to have than Allen, who has hit on at least 2.5 threes a game in each of his last seven seasons. In fact, last year, Allen led the league by 70 three pointers. As one of the best free throw shooters in the league, Allen gets to the line about five times per game and can make a huge difference hitting on at least 88 percent of his shots from the charity stripe. Allen doesn’t rebound or pass as well as Pierce or Kobe but keeps it respectable with consistent boards and assists per game, all while creating more than a steal per game.
5. Ben Gordon - Chicago Bulls
|Age:||23||Height:||6'3''||Weight:||200||School:||Connecticut||Years:||2|| || |
A year after winning the Sixth Man award in his rookie season, Ben Gordon took his game to the next level with increased playing time. Showing the ability to score in waves and nail the three ball, Gordon thrived in the Bulls offense, scoring 16.9 points with 2.1 threes and 0.9 steals in 31 minutes per game. Gordon may increase his value if he could secure more playing time, but with the likes of Chris Duhon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Tyrus Thomas all fighting for minutes, he might not see as much playing time as we’d like. Still, he’s a great option for points, threes and steals. Like many of his counterparts, his field goal percentage is below average given the amount of shots he takes from beyond the arc, but he’ll balance that out by shooting nearly 80 percent from the free throw line.
Bottom Line: Gordon should be able to increase his scoring in his third year so expect around 17-18 points, three boards, three assists, 1.2 steals and more than two three pointers per game.
6. Tracy McGrady - Houston Rockets
|Age:||27||Height:||6'8''||Weight:||210||School:||Christian Academy (HS)||Years:||9|| |
It’s hard to believe that in just one year Tracy McGrady could be considered injury prone. That’s what happens when you miss 37 games with a lingering back injury. Reportedly, T-Mac is feeling great and is ready to go after taking nearly three months off from basketball related activities. Still, when the words “chronic” and “back” are mentioned in the same sentence, one has to be worried about his ability to come back pain-free. Despite the injury concerns, T-Mac is way too talented to be overlooked. Even in a down year, he still averaged 24.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.6 threes and even tossed in 0.9 blocks for good measure. When healthy, T-Mac is as good as anyone in the game and can post Kobe Bryant-like stats.
7. Vince Carter - New Jersey Nets
|Age:||29||Height:||6'6''||Weight:||220||School:||North Carolina||Years:||8|| |
When he’s motivated, Vince Carter is easily one of the best players in the NBA. Many will question his durability, toughness and leadership, but even his detractors wouldn’t dare question his game. With the Nets, Carter put up Tracy McGrady-esque numbers, scoring 24 points with nearly six boards, four assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 threes a game. He’ll even throw in some blocks for good measure, as he has averaged 0.9 blocks per game in his eight year career. It’s no coincidence that playing with Jason Kidd has helped Carter regain his status as one of the NBA’s top players. With the Nets lineup virtually unchanged, Carter will take on the same offensive responsibilities in New Jersey again this season.
8. Jason Richardson - Golden State Warriors
|Age:||25||Height:||6'6''||Weight:||225||School:||Michigan State||Years:||5|| |
A flashy player with great athleticism and the ability to jump out of the building, Jason Richardson has all the tools to be a superstar in the NBA. His style of play is reminiscent of a young Vince Carter with his high-flying dunks and ability to contribute in multiple categories. Richardson has matured and improved his game every year. J-Rich is a great option for points (23.2), rebounds (5.8), assists (3.1), steals (1.3) and threes (2.4). Most valuable for his improving three-point shooting, he’s also done a much better job in shot selection, culminating with a 44.6 percent from the floor last season. If there’s anything holding him back from becoming a superstar, it’s his dismal free throw percentage that stood at 67.3 percent last season.
9. Michael Redd - Milwaukee Bucks
|Age:||27||Height:||6'6''||Weight:||215||School:||Ohio State||Years:||6|| |
Like Ray Allen, Michael Redd has one of the game’s smoothest shots. Most valuable for his ability to score at will and drill the three, Redd had his best season as a pro, posting career highs in points (25.4), assists (2.9), steals (1.2) and free throw percentage (87.7 percent). With his all-around game coming into shape, Redd can no longer be considered just a two-category stud. The improvement didn’t come out of nowhere; his improved supporting cast certainly helped in the process. There aren’t many that can match Redd from the charity stripe. His 87.7 percent shooting percentage from the line ranked ninth in the NBA, and his 7.1 attempts per game makes him one of the most dominant free throw shooters in the fantasy game. Though T.J. Ford’s departure may hurt Redd a little, the addition of Charlie Villanueva will help, as opposing defenses will be forced to cover the versatile big man instead of doubling up on Redd.
10. Manu Ginobili - San Antonio Spurs
Manu’s penchant for big-game heroics means little-to-nothing in the fantasy world, but the potential is truly salivating. Manu isn’t just clutch, though…his production in the playoffs can be traced back to an increase in minutes.
After proving himself on the game’s biggest stage, Manu Ginobili is ready to make the jump from solidperformer to elite status. Most impressive about his playoff run was his playmaking ability. At times, he absolutely took over games, using his blazing speed to blow by defenders and create scoring opportunities. Although he only averaged 16 points, four rebounds and nearly four assists during the regular season, those numbers were weighed down by the fact that he played in less than 30 minutes a game. In the playoffs, he received 33.6 minutes and responded by scoring 20.8 points with 5.8 boards, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 threes while shooting more than 50 percent from the floor and near 80 percent from the line. Part of the statistical increase can be attributed to the fact that Ginobili is a clutch player, but the increase in minutes also played a large part in Manu’s dominance during the playoffs. It will be hard for San Antonio to keep Manu off the floor this year so expect to see his minutes climb to the 33-35 range.
Bottom Line: Manu has the ability to be an 18/5/5 player in this league, and he’ll be a dominant force in threes (1.3) and steals (1.6) while shooting great percentages. This is the year he breaks out in the fantasy world, and you’ll want him on your team when he does.
11. Raja Bell - Phoenix Suns
|Age:||30||Height:||6'5''||Weight:||210||School:||Florida International||Years:||6|| |
Filling the void left by the departure of Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson, Raja Bell stepped in and became the beneficiary of increased playing time and Steve Nash's amazing talent for finding the open shooter. In Phoenix, Bell became one of Nash’s favorite targets and posted career highs in nearly every fantasy relevant category. With 14.7 points, 1.0 steals and 2.5 threes per game on 45.7 percent shooting from the floor, Bell turned in a highly efficient season. It wasn’t all Nash, though. Bell showed signs of breaking out in previous seasons; he just didn’t receive the minutes he needed to be productive. Though he won’t create his own shot, Bell has turned into a great spot-up shooter and will take advantage of Nash’s playmaking abilities again in 2006-07.
12. Larry Hughes - Cleveland Cavaliers
|Age:||27||Height:||6'5''||Weight:||184||School:||St. Louis||Years:||8|| |
After a career year in Washington, Larry Hughes took his game to the Cleveland Cavaliers and struggled through an injury-plagued season. Missing games is familiar territory for Hughes as he’s reached 70-plus games just once in his eight-year career. Even when on the court last season, Hughes wasn’t his usual self, posting just 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 threes per game. He still has the talent, though. Remember, Hughes is just one year removed from a season in which he averaged 22.0 points, 6.3 boards, 4.7 assists, 1.0 threes and 2.8 steals for the Washington Wizards. Keep in mind that Hughes posted those numbers with both Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison taking shots away from him, so he has the potential to put up numbers even with Lebron James and Zydrunus Ilgauskus in the mix. When healthy, he’ll be a solid contributor across the board especially in steals, where he will challenge for the league lead.
13. Stephen Jackson - Golden State Warriors
|Age:||28||Height:||6'8''||Weight:||218||School:||Butler County CC||Years:||6|| |
Jackson is always a quality option for points, steals and threes as he averaged 16.4 points, 3.9 boards, 1.3 steals and 1.4 threes per game for the Pacers in 2005-06. Despite that, his percentage from the floor stands at a paltry .411 and while his free throw percentage is solid (78.1 percent), he turns the ball over way too much for a shooting guard (2.5). This is not to mention he doesn’t offer much in terms assists. Regardless, Jackson is a prototypical SG and his ability to put up at least a steal and three-pointer per game will prove valuable.
14. Cuttino Mobley - Los Angeles Clippers
|Age:||30||Height:||6'4''||Weight:||215||School:||Rhode Island||Years:||8|| |
Mobley, who averaged 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 threes per game for the Clips last year, will again help spread the court with his sharp-shooting abilities from downtown. Unfortunately, in an offense that focuses on Elton Brand and mid-range jumpers, Mobley hit on a career-low 1.1 three pointers per game. Still, Mobley is a fine option at shooting guard for his ability to excel in threes, points and steals and near 83 shooting percent from the free throw line. His rebounding is decent for a guard and he’ll probably pull in around 4 a game. He’ll fit in well on the Clippers and should be primed for another solid season.
Bottom Line: There’s little risk attached to Mobley as he’s usually healthy and consistently puts up numbers that everyone expects of him.
15. Richard Hamilton - Detroit Pistons
Always a great option for points, steals and the percentages, Richard Hamilton put on a show last year, hitting on 49.1 percent of his shots from the floor and scoring a career high 20.1 points per game. His steals dropped from 1.0 per game to 0.7, but his range is subtly improving to the point where it’s within reason to see him hitting a three pointer per game. With Flip Saunders in and Larry Brown out, Rip was allowed more freedom on the offensive end and teamed with Chauncey Billups to form one of the highest scoring backcourts in the league. His killer percentages set him apart from the crowd, especially considering the high volume of shots he takes from the floor every night.
Bottom Line: Not much risk here, Hamilton can be counted on as a solid producer. You’ll never have to worry about him taking a night off, as he’s one of the hardest working, most determined players in the game.