Now that the first set of preseason games have been played and NBA players are starting to settle into their new homes, fans are beginning to slowly creep back to their seats both inside arenas and at home in front of their televisions.
The first week of "training camps" and games has been exhilarating, to the point that I don’t ever remember so much fanfare over intrasquad scrimmages or even preseason games in the past. It’s almost humorous to see season ticket holders showing up on time for the Celtics’ Green vs. White game when, for many of them, this will be the last game they are on time for a game until at least the playoffs (crossing fingers and wishing).
There hasn’t been a whole lot to judge the leagues premiere talent off just yet, but with fantasy drafts on the horizon some predictions must be made.
After crunching the numbers and analyzing some of the new team dynamics, I compiled a list of the top NBA talent and projected out some of their stats for the upcoming season.
So, let’s jump right in. Here’s a projection for the 2011-12 season’s Top-50 fantasy ballers:
Out with the Old, In with the New
50. Tim Duncan, C, PF, San Antonio
Overview: He took a step back in 2011, but with a long summer and plenty of rest Duncan should be back in form. Just beware of the back-to-back effects.
Fantasy Focus: Scoring and board numbers should rebound even slightly this year. Round 5 is great value.
49. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis
Overview: His fitness is always an issue and with a big new contract it will be interesting to see how he responds this season.
Fantasy Focus: Always a fantastic rebounder and can fill it up from the painted area. Worth a 3rd or 4th Rounder.
48. Ty Lawson, PG, Denver
Overview: His value will be affected by Andre Miller’s presence but Lawson will still put up good stats in Karl’s up-tempo offensive system.
Fantasy Focus: Expect a scoring bump with the minutes. Round 5 is legit.
47. DeMarcus Cousins, C, PF, Sacramento
Overview: He’s big, he’s bad and with a good offseason of conditioning, Cousins should see a monster season with the improving Kings.
Fantasy Focus: We could be talking a Top-20 fantasy player by seasons end. Round 4 could be a steal.
46. Raymond Felton, PG, Portland
Overview: Portland’s new point guard doesn’t have as many weapons with Brandon Roy’s unfortunate retirement, but there’s still plenty of options.
Fantasy Focus: If he’s anything like he was in New York last season, Round 4 is fantastic value.
45. Manu Ginobli, G, San Antonio
Overview: Ever reliable, Ginobli will give every fantasy owner just what they expect.
Fantasy Focus: He’ll score, rebound, dish it out and defend all above average. Round 5 if he’s there.
44. Andrew Bynum, C, LA Lakers
Overview: With Lamar Odom’s departure from Hollywood, Bynum is expected to pick up much of the offensive slack. If he can stay on the court for a full 82, err 66, game season then his impact would be a lot more noticeable.
Fantasy Focus: Can score and rebound with the best bigs out there, if healthy he’ll be a steal in Round 4.
43. Paul Milsap, PF, Utah
Overview: Bad teams always make for some of the best fantasy players. Beware of possible trade impact.
Fantasy Focus: He’ll drop digits all over the stat sheet, even in Utah. Round 3 is a force, 4th or 5th are better bets.
42. Nene, C, Denver
Overview: Big money can sometimes mean bad numbers for the recipients. Beware of the disappointment, but put up great numbers in 2011 so real risk/reward here.
Fantasy Focus: A monster in the paint on both ends of the floor, gotta earn that dough. Round 3 is certainly in play.
41. Dorrell Wright, SF, Golden State
Overview: An anomaly last season, Wright shocked everyone by finally meeting his high draft expectations.
Fantasy Focus: Numbers may take a slight dip but still a fantasy force, up-tempo Golden State offense doesn’t hurt. Round 4 and higher.
40. Wesley Matthews, G, Portland
Overview: He’ll have to handle a lot more of the load with Brandon Roy’s early retirement, interested to see if he handles it as well as last season.
Fantasy Focus: Potential to be a top-20 fantasy player, numbers could see a slight decline much like Wright. Round 3 value, could be a steal in 5th or later.
39. Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana
Overview: Coming off a big year in 2010-11 and with David West helping in the post, Hibbert could be in for an even bigger year.
Fantasy Focus: Looking at double-double potential for Roy this year. Round 3 seems high but could be legitimate value.
38. Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee
Overview: A bit high here but with a long offseason full of hardwork, Jennings may be in for a monster year. Captain Jack and a healthy Bogut could also take some pressure off.
Fantasy Focus: He’s been good when able to stay on the floor, seeing a slight jump in points and big boost in dimes. Round 4 is reasonable, could provide better value.
37. Joe Johnson, SG, SF, Atlanta
Overview: Hawks still on the upswing and Johnson is a key cog for the still playoff contending Hawks.
Fantasy Focus: Looking at a possible 20 points and 5 assists type season from Joe. Round 2 isn’t out of the question, I would advise against it.
36. Gerald Wallace, SF, PF, Portland
Overview: If he’s in Portland the entire year, Wallace could see another big season across the board and help ease the loss of Roy.
Fantasy Focus: Always a consistent force on defense and in the paint, plus he tosses big numbers on the scoreboard. Round 3 is legit here.
35. Steve Nash, PG, Phoenix
Overview: The Suns aren’t looking like heavy contenders in the West, but with Nash running the offense never count Phoenix out completely.
Fantasy Focus: Not the player he once was, still offers great value in the Sun and gun system down in Phoenix. Round 3 or 4.
34. Andre Iguodala, SG, SF, Philadelphia
Overview: Iguodala and the 76ers look to improve upon last year’s playoff appearance. If Iggy can improve his shot selection, they could be a top-4 team in the East.
Fantasy Focus: AI is still the number 1 option in Philly; he’ll put up good number across the board. Round 3 is solid value.
33. Paul Pierce, SF, SG, Boston
Overview: He’s getting up there in age but Pierce and the Big 3 still have one last chance to roll the dice on a championship. Should be an interesting ride following the Captain and co.
Fantasy Focus: At 34 and with his floor mates on the decline, Pierce could be looking at a minor stat dip. Be weary, still worth Round 3 or 4.
32. David Lee, C, PF, Golden State
Overview: Warriors are slowly retooling their roster, which could take some pressure off Lee. Kwame Brown should help keep Lee at the 4 more often.
Fantasy Focus: His team may be about average but Lee is a statistical beast. Expect bigger things in 2012, Round 3 is fair value.
31. Chris Bosh, PF, C, Miami
Overview: The first of the Heat players on our list, Bosh should still see a lot of the inside scoring for Miami, but don’t expect a stat line circa his Toronto days.
Fantasy Focus: He’ll still score and rebound with the best of them but expect his numbers to continue to suffer with two other superstars around him. Round 2 isn’t out of the question.
30. Tyreke Evans, G, Sacramento
Overview: Kings have backcourt depth and it all starts with Evans. Offensively Sacramento should see a vast improvement in 2012.
Fantasy Focus: If he and Marcus Thornton can coexist in the backcourt, Evans could be in for a huge year. Round 2 consideration.
29. Al Horford, C, Atlanta
Overview: Hawks are still building towards championship contention and Horford is a big piece to that puzzle.
Fantasy Focus: Saw a big jump in time and numbers in 2010-11, should see another boost this year. Round 3 is appropriate value.
28. Joakim Noah, C, Chicago
Overview: Noah had his injury troubles last season, but with a clean bill of health he could be in for a huge season in 2012.
Fantasy Focus: Good inside scoring and superior rebounder, Noah has the build of a top-20 fantasy player. Round 2 is good.
27. Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston
Overview: A player on the rise with a team on the back 9, Rondo is an elite player but could see more double teams with an older Big 3.
Fantasy Focus: An aging core may mean Rondo sees a drop in numbers this time around. Round 2 isn’t out of the question, may be a reach.
26. Kevin Martin, G, Houston
Overview: Martin fills out a stat sheet as well as anyone and could even vie for the scoring title in 2012. Houston is still solid, even without Pau.
Fantasy Focus: Could be bargain shopping for K-Mart in the late 3rd or early 4th.
25. Al Jefferson, PF, C, Utah
Overview: Jefferson is a good player, who puts up great fantasy numbers. A trade may be on the horizon with a young front line waiting behind A-Jeff, beware.
Fantasy Focus: Still scores and boards in the 20-10 region, good player if you can snag him. 2nd is likely, 3rd is better value.
24. Rudy Gay, SF, Memphis
Overview: A trip deep into the playoffs without Gay may be concerning, but the former Uconn great is still a top-tier player in the league.
Fantasy Focus: His scoring number may boom but the rebounding digits could see a dip. Round 2 very much in play.
23. Josh Smith, F, Atlanta
Overview: One of the best young, big men in the league. Hawks may be looking to deal him but Smith will be strong no matter where he plays.
Fantasy Focus: A defensive animal, who can score in bunches. Round 2 for sure.
22. Zach Randolph, PF, Memphis
Overview: Another Grizzer here, Randolph has the potential to put up top-10 fantasy numbers, with the right attitude he’ll fill the stat sheet and Memphis could contend.
Fantasy Focus: He can do it all, Round 2 is a good bet for Z-Bo.
21. Danny Granger, SF, Indiana
Overview: The emergence of Paul George could have an impact on Granger’s role in the offense, but Granger is a top-20 talent and performs as such consistently.
Fantasy Focus: An elite scorer and solid rebounder, Granger can put up the numbers. Round 2 or early Round 3.
20. Pau Gasol, F, LA Lakers
Overview: Falling from the elite status, Pau is still one of the smoothest offensive bigs in the league. Lakers may struggle to start but Gasol will find his rhythm.
Fantasy Focus: He’ll score, grab boards and dish dimes on occasion, check him out starting Round 2.
19. John Wall, PG, Washington
Overview: The Wizards are loaded with young talent and Wall is leading the charge. His athleticism paired with the inside presence of McGee and Blatche could see Washington sneak into the playoffs in an improved but still mediocre East.
Fantasy Focus: A fantasy presence already in year 1, Wall is facing the possible sophomore slump that affects many but all indications are he’s primed for an even bigger 2012. Round 2 should pay out big dividends.
18. Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans
Overview: A new home for the athletic swingman could be just what he needs to develop into superstardom. The Hornets will regress but Gordon should shine.
Fantasy Focus: My prediction to be the 2011-12 scoring champ, sorry KD fans, which means at 18 he’s a steal. Round 2 is likely, 3rd round and he’s a steal.
17. Monta Ellis, G, Golden State
Overview: Ellis is the leading scorer on an improving Golden State team that could see a playoff birth in their immediate future.
Fantasy Focus: An elite scorer who could vie for the scoring title if not for Stephen Curry’s hot hand. Round 2 or he’ll be gone.
16. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas
Overview: With the long offseason, there shouldn’t be much of a championship hangover for Dirk and the boys. He’s still a superstar and produces as such.
Fantasy Focus: Scores, rebounds, dishes and plays D all at a superior level. Round 1 is a possibility, Round 2 could be Grand Theft Nowitzki.
15. Amare Stoudemire, PF, C, NY Knicks
Overview: His knees are the big question here, but if Amare stays healthy he can be a top-10 player, especially with Chandler diverting much of the double team attention.
Fantasy Focus: Melo and Baron Davis might steal some of his scoring but that gives Stoudemire more opportunity to dominate on the boards. Round 1 is a possibility, not suggested.
14. Stephen Curry, G, Golden State
Overview: He can play both guard spots and with Ellis firmly settled at the 2, Curry should see a bump in his assist numbers.
Fantasy Focus: He can knock it down from anywhere on the floor and make good decisions with the basketball. Fringe Round 1 candidate.
13. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, C, Portland
Overview: If he can get some Center help – and stay healthy -- Aldridge could be the league’s top power forward. Blazers may struggle to adjust to life without Roy, but Aldridge should transition well.
Fantasy Focus: Health concerns (heart condition) could scare people away, so beware, but if on the floor he’ll dominate. Round 2 or later just in case.
Buy, Buy, Buy
12. Kobe Bryan, G, LA Lakers
Overview: Still one of the league’s best, Kobe could see a slight drop off this season with no Odom to help on the wing.
Fantasy Focus: Lakers should be good but Kobe could be forced into more time and may tire down the stretch. Round 2, not before, unless you’re desperate.
11. Carmelo Anthony, F, NY Knicks
Overview: Anthony must be happy he finally surrounded by the talent to win. I’m interested to see how he coexists with the other stars filling out the roster.
Fantasy Focus: Melo is still an elite scorer and rebounds well, depends on if other players affect his numbers. Round 1 for sure, but closer to the end.
10. Dwight Howard, C, Orlando
Overview: No matter where he ends up, Dwight will still put up big figures. Orlando could be lost without D12 but Howard will turn any team into a winner.
Fantasy Focus: He’s almost guaranteed 20-12 but his Free Throw and turnover numbers can kill, I know from experience. Back of Round 1.
9. Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City
Overview: Thunder coach Scott Brooks and Westbrook better put their playoff differences aside if they expect to compete for the title. Don’t be surprised if Westbrook’s name pops up in trade chatter.
Fantasy Focus: He does it all and is approaching elite status. Round 1, possibly top-10.
8. Blake Griffin, PF, LA Clippers
Overview: Some don’t see Blake as a top-10 player just yet but with his block rate on top of 20-10 numbers, Griffin could be the best fantasy player on the Clips by season’s end.
Fantasy Focus: With CP3 initiating the offense and Jordan taking some of the pressure off in the post, Blake could be in store for a 25-13 type season. Round 1, without a doubt.
7. Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota
Overview: Minny would be lost without him, they better lock him up long term or David Kahn is the worst GM in league history.
Fantasy Focus: Last season’s rebounding leader may see a slight drop in the boards but at least 20 and 12 should be in the cards again. Top-10 pick, almost without hesitation.
6. Deron Williams, PG, New Jersey
Overview: If the Nets can land Howard, the pressure would ease off of D-Will’s shoulders and 50-point outbursts, seen with Turkey squad Besiktas during the lockout, could become a common trend.
Fantasy Focus: Williams is a top-3 point guard and will certainly score 20+ and average double digits in assists, to go along with some boards and a steal or two per game. Possible top-5 pick.
5. Dwyane Wade, G, Miami
Overview: Believe it or not, D-Wade was actually the better fantasy player down the stretch in 2010-11.
Fantasy Focus: A dominating Lebron could see Wade take a backseat in terms of scoring, still a top-5 pick no matter what.
I am... Number 1!
4. Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago
Overview: Coming off an MVP campaign, Rose looks to enter the best player in basketball conversation this season. He’s got the skills to make a case but a slight decline may be in his immediate future.
Fantasy Focus: He may not score as much as in 2010-11, D-Will is a safer pick but Rose has more potential. Should finally hit double digit assist numbers, picks 6-10 unless your feeling lucky.
3. Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City
Overview: I know, I know, you think I’m crazy for putting KD at 3. Fact is outside of scoring, Durant doesn’t excel in any other category. He can shoot from range and rebounds well, but not great. He also isn’t a superior passer, averaging under 3 assists in 2010-11.
Fantasy Focus: He’ll score close to 30 a night and should make strides on the boards in 2012, but still not enough to crack the top 2.
2. Chris Paul, PG, LA Clippers
Overview: Running the point in LA, basically a dream come true for Paul. Bonus: having big man Blake Griffin in the post to stuff down whatever CP3 tosses up there.
Fantasy Focus: Scoring should fall just below 20 ppg, meanwhile I’m calling a league-leading 11.5 apg. MVP worthy projections means #1 overall consideration.
1. Lebron James, F, Miami
Overview: The most hated man in the NBA - at least by most accounts - is still the most talented man in the NBA. If two MVP awards don't tell you that then maybe nearly averaging a triple-double over the course of a season (27 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds) should silence any doubts. The Heat are the favorites to win the title this season and Lebron is the main reason why.
Fantasy Focus: Look for a minor bump in scoring and even better rebounding and block numbers this time through, assists and steals should be about even. You see where I ranked him, do with it what you will.
Still Coming this week...