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Point guards worth pondering

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Folks, we have reached the confluence.

You know the term, right? It used to come up at least once a year, usually on a Monday night in Pittsburgh back when the Steelers still called Three Rivers Stadium home. You could count on it – sandwiched between the beginning of garbage time and Al Michaels' veiled gambling reference – a time-killing discussion about confluences.

In the Steel City, the confluence is where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers combine to form the Ohio. Here in Fantasy Land, basketball, hockey and football intersect and conspire to kill office productivity, strain relationships and leave dogs everywhere wondering if walks have been outlawed.

It can all be too much. You don't know what to do with Donovan McNabb. Trung Canidate is driving you nuts. You're not sure how big goalie pads can be these days, but you know you slept better when J.S. Giguere was fitted with a nice set of double-wides. Maybe you'll just take the fantasy basketball season off?

Guess again. You know that invite is on the way. You know exactly what you'll do when you get it. Might as well start preparing yourself now. Today, we'll take things slow. No suicide drills. No full-court press practice. No heavy conditioning. Let's start the season with the online equivalent of a layup line – a quick list of 2003 NBA sleepers at the guard position.

(Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Basketball default pre-ranking listed in parenthesis.)

Dwayne Wade, Shooting Guard, Miami Heat (396)
Only one team in the NBA scored fewer points per game a year ago than did the Miami Heat. What followed was an offseason dedicated to reversing that trend. Now smaller and less physical, Miami figures to institute a fantasy-friendly up-tempo style.

A central figure will be Dwayne Wade, drafted out of Marquette with the fifth pick in the draft and already projected as a starter. Wade averaged 21.5 points per game as a junior, so we know he can score. He also brings that elusive big-game swagger to the NBA. Remember, he helped lead Marquette to the Final Four a year ago, tallying a triple-double in the regional final along the way.

You never want to lean too heavily on preseason numbers, but Wade raised some eyebrows by debuting with 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists against Philadelphia last week. Wade might share point guard duties for Pat Riley, which should further raise his fantasy stock.

Jamal Crawford, Point Guard, Chicago Bulls (114)
Last year was a maddening one for any fantasy owner unfortunate enough to rely on the Chicago backcourt for a starting point guard. One day it would be Jay Williams looking like the next Fat Lever with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists against New Jersey and the next it would be Crawford running the show in crunch time.

If you finally settled on Crawford as your top guy, you were handsomely rewarded in the fantasy playoffs. The minutes became consistent for the third-year pro in April and he responded by averaging 23 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

With Williams facing a long recovery after his offseason motorcycle crash, Crawford enters this 2003 campaign unchallenged as Chicago's point guard. The circumstances may be tragic, but the opportunity is there for Crawford to have a huge season. Be sure to bump Crawford into your top 15 at the point guard position.

Marcus Banks, Point Guard, Boston Celtics (411)
Rookie Marcus Banks looks like the guy in Boston. As a first-year point-guard, you can do worse than surround yourself with veteran scorers like Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. There will be growing pains, yes. Banks turned the ball over eight times while recording only one assist against Chicago the other night.

Don't be alarmed if Banks loses minutes to Tony Delk early in the season. Delk is a veteran who can help ease the pressure on newcomers. But both he and the club know he's better suited to come off the bench as a two guard. Long term, Banks will run the show and provide a nice boost as a fantasy backup.

Marko Jaric, Guard, Los Angeles Clippers (177)
The departure of Andre Miller creates an opening at the point guard position in Los Angeles that fantasy owners should not ignore. In 12 games as a starter last year, Jaric averaged a modest 12.4 points and four assists per contest. With a year under his belt and the controls all his, you can expect those numbers to increase to around 16 points and six helpers per game.

The eye-popping upside for Jaric can be found in the oft-ignored steals category. In those 12 games as a starter, he averaged 2.3 thefts per game, which would rank second in the league over a full season. Add that to his nice production as a three-point shooter and you have yourself a solid No. 1 fantasy point guard option.

Emanuel Ginobili, Shooting Guard, San Antonio Spurs (170)
We have a running theme here – guys who put up solid numbers off the bench a year ago who now step into starting roles. Ginobili missed all seven of his three-point attempts in a March loss to Minnesota. I respect any guy who misses six straight treys and then hoists a seventh. He still scored 15 points in the game.

For a need-based draft pick, count on Ginobili for a ton of three-point field goals. Like many foreign-born players, he also likes to pick the occasional pocket. He had 12 steals in the team's final four games last year.

T.J. Ford, Point Guard, Milwaukee Bucks (414)
Ford's biggest challenge will likely come at the defensive end, which could cost him some minutes in crunch time. There are reasons to be optimistic, however, about this rookie. First, the job is his. Second, he's playing under a former point guard in first-year head coach Terry Porter.

Ford scored 15 points and added five rebounds and seven assists in his preseason debut. His scoring numbers have since come down to earth. But he continues to produce in the 6-8 assist range even when limited to preseason minutes. Eight assists per game for the season is not out of reach, but be prepared to take a substantial hit in the field-goal percentage department here.

In the coming weeks, we'll break down sleepers and players to avoid at the remaining positions. In the meantime, keep working on that work-life-fantasy balance.

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