Court Report: Camp Storylines West

With training camps finally upon us and preseason action just a few days away, it’s time to take an extensive look at all the Western Conference storylines and position battles that still need to be addressed as well as recent developments, whether it be player movement or injury updates. I’ll break it down team-by-team, with all the hard news items to start followed by quick-hitting analysis. Just a reminder that all player valuations are made on a nine-category, roto basis.

Dallas Mavericks

Recent developments: Rick Carlisle plans on cutting Dirk Nowitzki’s(notes) minutes and getting his scoring average from 26 to 22 or 24. Typical coach-speak from Carlisle, as he raved about his lineup flexibility last off-season too. The bottom line is that the Mavs have, in large part, the same pieces that they did last season. Nothing changed last season, and I wouldn’t expect anything to change this time around either. Dirk’s minutes have actually increased each of the past three seasons … Caron Butler(notes) has spent the past month working with Tim Grover and appears to be in prime physical condition … Rodrigue Beaubois(notes) is out of his walking boot and was season wearing both sneakers during Media Day. There is no timetable yet, but the hope is that he will be ready for the season opener. He has been making great progress and said he feels much better recently.

Fantasy spin: Don’t let Carlisle’s recent comments dissuade you from ranking Dirk any lower than fifth. He’s been the most reliable and consistent player in the fantasy game over the past decade. There’s no reason to expect a significant decline this year just because he wants to talk up Dominique Jones(notes) and JJ Barea. I wouldn’t buy into this talk of Shawn Marion(notes) getting more run at the 4, but I would give some credence to the positive reports surrounding Butler. He’ll be highly motivated to perform well in what is a contract year for him. I could easily see him finishing in the top-50, and what’s great is that you can get him in the sixth round. Win-win-win. Beaubois is a guy I’m targeting in every league this year, as he has the potential to win your league for you at the price of a 12th or 13th round pick. Amongst qualifiers (20+ games, 10+ minutes per game), Beaubois finished 14th in per-minute value. The guys ahead of him: LeBron, Durant, Dirk, Chris Paul(notes), Oden, Manu, Granger, Duncan, Wade, Murphy, Frye, David Lee(notes), and Bosh. I’m not saying Roddy will finish in the top-15, but an 80th percentile projection would put him in the top-40. He’s a perfect example of a low risk, high reward investment.

Denver Nuggets

Recent developments: Carmelo Anthony(notes) didn’t make any big splashes on Media Day, claiming that he never publicly demanded a trade and was there to focus on basketball as a member of the Denver Nuggets. We’ll see how long that tune lasts. One interesting wrinkle in the Melodrama is that the Jazz appear to have moved on. Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor claimed the trade talks “got ahead of themselves” and that other teams were driving the talk. Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the four-team trade is dead (dormant is a better word) and the Nets are backing off their pursuit of Melo. Are the Nuggets running out of options here? The reports of a possible deal involving Andre Iguodala(notes) are asinine because Melo would never sign a long-term deal with the 76ers, and you can be sure the Warriors won’t part with Stephen Curry(notes) anytime soon (especially under new management) … Al Harrington(notes) has been dealing with plantar fasciitis this summer and might not play in the first two preseason games … The case against JR Smith(notes) for allegedly choking another player has been closed … Updates on Chris Andersen(notes) and Kenyon Martin(notes) can be found here.

Fantasy Spin: Melo will more than likely be moved at some point – the question is really when. Any deal involving Melo should benefit the value of those not involved, as Melo was fourth in usage rate behind LeBron, Wade, and Arenas last season. Chauncey Billups(notes) should remain a fixture in the second round even though he’ll take a small cut in minutes, while Nene Hilario(notes) becomes a great third-round target with legitimate top-25 upside. Al Harrington would be the biggest winner of all though, as he’ll get to do what he does he best: shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Big Al will likely come off the bench even with K-Mart sidelined, but he should get plenty of minutes regardless. His bout with plantar fasciitis is worrisome though. For those who are planning on drafting JR Smith – he’s traditionally a slow starter, so why not pass on him, wait a month or two, then buy low when he is struggling? Keep in mind that George Karl will be less patient than usual with Smith’s attitude, so there’s a greater chance that Smith will be stuck in Karl’s doghouse at some point. Ty Lawson(notes) and Aaron Afflalo are nice deep league targets depending on what you’re looking for.

Golden State Warriors

Recent developments: The wicked witch of the West is finally gone. Nellie’s departure could be characterized in much the same way as his final season as head coach: largely apathetic. He had become a mere shell of his former self and was making a bad situation even worse. The decision to cut ties with Nellie finally gives the franchise some sort of direction moving forward (even though it was two years overdue). Former assistant coach Keith Smart will take over as part of a multi-year deal, and will look to put more of a general emphasis on team rebounding and defense … Andris Biedrins(notes) says he is 100 percent healthy and expects to get his free-throw percentage back to at least 60-to-65 percent … Monta Ellis(notes) has done a lot of maturing over the summer, but soon-to-be owner Joe Lacob is open to trading Ellis and his four-year, $44 million contract.

Fantasy spin: The reaction to the coaching change has been a bit over the top so far, with some now referring to Stephen Curry as a second-rounder. Let’s get this straight – Keith Smart is no savior. He wasn’t even the ideal candidate to fill the coaching vacancy. His coaching record stands at an abysmal 9-31, not including his brief 1-4 stint last year. What he did for the Warriors last season was act as the defensive coordinator of a squad that allowed 112.4 points per game, one of the worst totals in the past three decades. Based on his track record alone, he is a lot more talk than action. While the claim that Smart is a false prophet’s disciple is a bit extreme given that Smart didn’t have many options available to him in his stint as head coach, it does raise some good points. Smart could have minimized the damage that Nelson had caused when he was given the reigns as head coach, but he chose to take the small ball madness a step further. Vladimir Radmanovic(notes) averaged 26 minutes per game during Smart’s watch, while Mikki Moore(notes) saw 21 MPG. Even his players don’t believe things will change much. “It's going to be no different," Monta Ellis said. "[Smart] has been under Nellie for the last three or four years. Whatever new things he tries to put in, we're going to go with it, but there's not going to be any difference. We're still going to be built in a Don Nelson style.” Curry may gamble less on defense and lose out on some steals, but there’s no way I’m dropping him any further than 11. I’ve been a bit down on Lee from the start because he’ll be playing next to Biedrins (rather than Al Harrington) and goes from being the go-to scorer to the third option. Look for him in the early-second. Biedrins is a nice bounceback candidate now, but health is still a major concern. Reggie Williams(notes) and Dorell Wright(notes), who will start at small forward, are excellent breakout candidates to target from the ninth round on.

Houston Rockets

Recent developments: Yao Ming(notes) made it though his first practice without many complications. He was limited during the scrimmage portion though and is still bothered by his surgically repaired foot. His status for the Rockets’ first preseason game is uncertain. Houston will have him on a strict 24-minute limit and will hold him out of the second game of back-to-backs. The Rockets have 19 back-to-backs this season … Brad Miller(notes) will be sidelined anywhere between 10 days and two weeks with a sprained left ankleKevin Martin(notes) will focus his efforts on improving defensively this year.

Fantasy spin: The Rockets are built on the sum of their parts – not just on any one player. The same principle applies to the fantasy realm, where the Rockets’ best fantasy player is ideally suited as a fifth-round pick (Kevin Martin). Brooks is still a top-20 point guard but is due for a hit in production with Yao back in the fold. Same applies to Luis Scola(notes), who will see a cut in the extra 3.6 shot attempts he added last season. Yao is on a strict minutes cap and is on track to miss at least 19 games (second game of back-to-backs) as the Rockets look to keep him healthy for the playoffs. Proceed with caution. Shane Battier(notes) is a nice sleeper late and Brad Miller could make for a useful plug-and-play option in deeper leagues (that is, if the Rockets don’t land Erick Dampier(notes)).

Los Angeles Clippers

Recent developments: Not only did Baron Davis(notes) report to camp out of shape, but he is also dealing with swelling in his knee and a strained calfBlake Griffin(notes) looks to be at full strength, having played pickup games without restriction for about a month … Ryan Gomes’(notes) mohawk may have raised more eyebrows than Baron’s weight.

Fantasy spin: Eric Gordon(notes) (seventh round) is the only guy on this roster that you’ll find on any of my rosters this year. As usual, Baron is a huge question mark and is already doing his part to justify why he isn’t in my top-80. Kaman was first in usage rate amongst centers last year and still couldn’t crack the top-100. My worry with Griffin isn’t so much about injury risk as it is his three-category limitations. Ryan Gomes and Rasual Butler(notes) are better suited for deeper leagues, while DeAndre Jordan(notes) should be considered a deep, deep sleeper.

Los Angeles Lakers

Recent developments: Phil Jackson is hopeful Andrew Bynum(notes) will miss no more than two-to-three weeks after undergoing off-season surgery to re-attach cartilage to his knee. This contradicts earlier reports that he would be out until the end of November. Either way, this is a situation to avoid as it wouldn’t be surprising to see the injury linger into December … Steve Blake(notes) is pushing Derek Fisher(notes) for minutes at the point, but the starting job is still Fisher’s to loseKobe Bryant(notes) is still working his way back from off-season knee surgery, but it shouldn’t be an issue moving forward. The more concerning of the injuries is his finger/knuckle.

Fantasy spin: Pau Gasol(notes) and Lamar Odom(notes) get boosts in value because of the Bynum injury. Gasol solidifies his spot in the top-10 (top-eight?), while Odom could warrant an early-eighth round pick. Odom averaged 12.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks with Bynum out of the lineup, good for top-60 value. I’m not considering Bynum until the eighth round at the earliest as I can easily envision him missing 25 games. I might as well pose this question – which player finishes with the higher cumulative value this year: Odom or Bynum? My money is on Odom. Artest is better suited for deeper leagues. Blake/Fisher is a platoon I don’t want a part of.

Memphis Grizzlies

Recent developments: After three years, the Grizzlies are finally ready to hand the reigns over to Mike Conley(notes) … Michael Heisley finally came to his senses and signed rookies Xavier Henry(notes) and Greivis Vazquez, but not before making a fool of himself … Zach Randolph(notes) is seeking a deal similar to the three-year, $65 million extension that Pau Gasol signed in December. In other news, cocaine is still a hell of a drug.

Fantasy spin: Not much changes in Memphis this year in what has become a surprisingly stable environment for fantasy purposes. The downside though is that when stability is gained, upside is usually sacrificed. Rudy Gay(notes), Randolph and Marc Gasol(notes) are all good fourth-round targets. Mayo should once again be a solid source of points, threes, and steals and should easily put up sixth-round value. You’ve got to like Conley’s upside this year, but I still wouldn’t consider him to be much more than a high-end PG3.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Recent developments: Kurt Rambis’ declaration that “everything is up for grabs” when it comes to his starting five may be a precursor to what it will be like this season if you are invested in this roster: exceedingly frustrating … An MRI revealed no damage to Kevin Love’s(notes) swollen right knee and he is practicing again without limitations … Michael Beasley(notes) has been spending most of his time at small forward during camp. Don’t be surprised to see Beasley installed as the starting 3 alongside Luke Ridnour(notes), Corey Brewer(notes), Love, and Darko Milicic(notes)Wesley Johnson(notes) is still being bothered by a serious hamstring injury, but is battling through itJonny Flynn(notes) (hip surgery) is hoping to return sometime in November.

Fantasy spin: I’m not saying Rambis will be as bad as Nellie and Paul Westphal, but just be forewarned that his rotation (and starting lineup) may be a bit unpredictable this year. Love has legit top-25 upside as one of the league’s best rebounders, but I question if he’ll ever achieve it within Rambis’ triangle offense. It’s concerning that Rambis may not realize the immense talent that Love has. Remind you of anyone? Beasley is worth a shot in the 12th round, but keep in mind that he’s played dramatically better at the 4 than at the 3 – the numbers don’t lie. Darko has been a sleeper/breakout candidate for years now and has yet to follow through, so count me out as a believer. Ridnour/Flynn has the potential to be an eventual ugly timeshare, and Wesley Johnson is more of a second-half breakthrough candidate if anything.

New Orleans Hornets

Recent developments: When Chris Paul is happy, we’re all happy … The situation at shooting guard remains largely unresolved, with Marcus Thornton(notes), Marco Belinelli(notes), Willie Green(notes), and Trevor Ariza(notes) all in the running. There was legitimate talk of starting both Ariza and Peja Stojakovic(notes) at the wings, but that presents a number of logistical problems. If you’re the Hornets though, how would you utilize Peja? He’s technically their highest-paid player and can still handle 30 minutes a night. Stojakovic seems resigned to take on a reduced role, but I can’t see him dipping below the 25-minute threshold. Monty Williams may use him at power forward this year, which is odd to say the least … The Hornets signed Jannero Pargo(notes) and traded for Willie Green and Jason Smith(notes).

Fantasy spin: Let’s not forget the days when Paul was the consensus #1 pick. You could make the case for him to be ranked over Kevin Durant(notes), but let’s just establish that he’s top-3 at worst. I have him ranked at first overall this year, one reason being that those picking at the top will likely miss out on that early run of point guards (Steph, Deron, Kidd, Billups, Rondo, Nash) before it gets back to them at the turn. David West(notes) is as steady as they come (early-third), while Ariza (sixth round) will really get a chance to get comfortable and improve his efficiency playing alongside a top-notch distributor. I’d temper my expectations for a Thornton breakout as he won’t be able to re-create his second-half magic with all the added pieces (CP3 included). Expecting ~85 percent of his post-ASB production (sixth-round value) is fair. Okafor is still a very roster-specific player with his negative free-throw percentage impact. He can go as high as the fifth round (punt-FT%) or as low as the ninth round (roto-centric). The Hornets have traditionally leaned heavily on their starters and use a pretty tight rotation, and this year should be no different. Belinelli is probably the only deep league sleeper worth mentioning.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Recent developments: Nenad Krstic(notes) underwent surgery to repair a fractured index finger on his shooting hand. He will miss part of training camp but should be good to go for the season opener … Nick Collison(notes) will be out indefinitely with a bone bruise in his left knee. He’ll miss at least a week of training camp.

Fantasy spin: You can’t go wrong with Kevin Durant at first overall. Jeff Green(notes) has made massive strides in his game since his rookie season, but how much more can he improve? And how much will Serge Ibaka(notes) cut into his minutes/production? He’s an ideal sixth-round pick, but you can certainly justify him in the mid-to-late fifth. Westbrook is ideally suited for head-to-head formats where his field-goal percentage and turnovers can be ignored. Ibaka is worth a late flier given his excellent rebound/block potential and strong field-goal percentage impact. I’d leave Harden undrafted in standard leagues, but he’s a guy you want to keep a close eye on. He’ll need to prove to Scott Brooks that he can be a capable defender before he emerges as the frontrunner in that timeshare with Thabo Sefolosha(notes). Cole Aldrich(notes) is a deep sleeper and could win out as the starting center sooner rather than later with Collison and Krstic dealing with injuries.

Phoenix Suns

Recent developments: Hedo Turkoglu(notes) (knee sprain) recently scrimmaged without restriction and appears to be good to go for the season opener …. The Suns split into three units for a scrimmage: the first unit (starters) was Steve Nash(notes), Jason Richardson(notes), Grant Hill(notes), Hedo Turkoglu, and Robin Lopez(notes). The second unit was Goran Dragic(notes), Josh Childress(notes), Jared Dudley(notes), Channing Frye(notes), Dwayne Jones(notes), and Hakim Warrick(notes) … Coach Alvin Gentry wants Childress to become more of a perimeter threat to allow the Suns to spread the floor more effectively.

Fantasy spin: It looks like Gentry has settled on his starting five, and I can’t really say that I’m surprised. The only real decision of note is Turkoglu over Frye at power forward. This only further cements Frye on my “do-not draft list”. With Hakim Warrick also in the fold, Frye isn’t much more than a backup center and third power forward at this point. The Suns will look to Turkoglu and Warrick (a poor man’s Amar’e in some respects) to fill the void at the 4, not Frye. I expect Nash to struggle a bit without Amar’e, and am not quite sold that he’ll post top-25 value this year. Keep in mind that Nash benefited from Amar’e nearly as much as Amar’e benefited from him. It was a two-way street. Richardson will get some more looks this year but I’m not expecting any sort of sizable increases across the board. Think late-fourth to early-fifth here. Turkoglu and Robin Lopez will reap most of the benefits and warrant selections in the seventh and eighth round, respectively. Buy Childress, sell Warrick. Childress has proven to be an adept roto glue guy in the past, while Warrick has proven to disappoint time and time again (one of the main reasons I endorsed Ilyasova last year). Dragic is the deep sleeper of note here.

Portland Trail Blazers

Recent developments: Rudy Fernandez(notes) would like to be released from his NBA contract so he could go back home and play in Spain … Joel Przybilla(notes) is way ahead of schedule, but doesn’t expect to be ready by Opening Night … Greg Oden(notes) isn’t sure if he’ll be ready by Christmas. An optimistic projection has him playing 60-65 games. He said his knee is fine structurally but he still experiences pain from time-to-time. Small side note – Oden also has patellar tendonitisWesley Matthews(notes) will be Brandon Roy’s(notes) primary backup at shooting guard … LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) put on an extra 5-10 pounds of muscle (not 20) this summer.

Fantasy spin: Minus Oden, there is a lot to be optimistic about here. Count me in as a Brandon Roy believer. He will continue to be great value for those who can land him in the third, and I can’t say that I’d be shocked if he finishes in the top-15. Also, I’m buying whatever Nicolas Batum(notes) is selling. Amongst qualifiers (20+ games, 10+ minutes per game), Batum finished 18th in per-minute value. He has the potential to hit on all nine categories and get you a little bit of everything (with an emphasis on threes) now that he’s the clear starter at small forward. I’d take him in the eighth round all day. Marcus Camby(notes) continues to be largely ignored and vastly underrated. His cumulative rank from the past five seasons: 19, 44, 4, 8, 24. If the recent news on Oden still isn’t enough reason for some of you to finally bump him into your top-35, I don’t know what is. LMA and Andre Miller(notes) will give you more or less what they provided last season. Wesley Matthews is a nice, deep league sleeper.

Sacramento Kings

Recent developments: The Kings’ first team is Beno Udrih(notes), Tyreke Evans(notes), Francisco Garcia(notes), Carl Landry(notes) and Samuel Dalembert(notes) … Dalembert (left abductor strain) and Antoine Wright(notes) (left quad strain) should be fine in a couple days. The injuries are not considered serious … Hassan Whiteside(notes) reportedly added 25 pounds of muscle during the summer.

Fantasy spin: Evans is clearly an elite talent, but can an added perimeter shot and natural second-year improvements elevate him from the top-70 to the top-40? I’m willing to risk a mid-fourth round pick to find out. It’s not often that you have the opportunity to draft a potential 22-6-6 player at that point. Westphal plans to incorporate Dalembert into the offense a bit more, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m sure Westphal knows Sammy’s offensive limitations, and asking him to become the Tyson Chandler(notes) to Tyreke’s Chris Paul isn’t out of the question. Look for him in the seventh round, in the same general range as Tyrus Thomas(notes) and Roy Hibbert(notes). Landry won’t put up top-75 numbers again, but a top-100 finish is certainly achievable. Same goes for Udrih. DeMarcus Cousins(notes), Garcia, Omri Casspi(notes), and Jason Thompson(notes) are better suited for deeper formats. Donte Greene(notes) is a deep, deep sleeper.

San Antonio Spurs

Recent developments: Tony Parker(notes) looks to be in great shape after taking the summer off from international ball. He’s doing all the right things to set himself for a big season in what is a contract year for him. He seems firmly committed to being a Spur in the short-term, but remains non-committal about his long-term plans … Gregg Popovich plans to play Parker and George Hill(notes) together on the court a lot of the time … Popovich intends to lessen Tim Duncan’s(notes) workload by cutting the number of regular season games Duncan plays in. This will include occasional nights off in the second game of back-to-backs … Tiago Splitter(notes) has impressed early on and should head into the season as the starting center alongside Duncan. He recently suffered a strained right plantaris muscle and will miss about 10 days of training camp … Manu Ginobili(notes) said he hasn’t been this healthy since 2007.

Fantasy spin: This really looks like the year that Duncan finally drops off as a fantasy force, with Popovich looking to cut his minutes and games played in the interest of career preservation. What, you may ask, is the difference between this year and last? Pop actually has the means to follow through with a fundamentally sound, NBA-ready center in Splitter. I hate to say it, but Duncan won’t end up on any of my rosters this year. Ginobili’s per-game rank over the past four years: 23, 26, 13, 24. Whether he starts or comes off the bench has little consequence. He should be in line for another highly productive season, and is certainly worth a mid-third round pick. I have a feeling that Parker and Hill will find a way to coexist and will both crack the top-100 this season. I’m a fan of Splitter’s game, but he’s one of those players who will be much more valuable in real life than in fantasy. He doesn’t rebound well enough (6.7 in ACB and 5.4 in Euroleague) or block enough shots (0.8 in ACB, 0.5 in Euroleague), and is a very poor free-throw shooter (sub-65% in 11 of 14 half-season stints). He should get plenty of run, but I really question what his ceiling value is. Richard Jefferson(notes) and DeJuan Blair(notes) are worth consideration in deeper leagues.

Utah Jazz

Recent developments: Mehmet Okur(notes) (torn Achilles) says he is just 70 percent right now. He will be re-evaluated in mid-October and isn’t expected to be back until late December or early January … As expected, Paul Millsap(notes) and Al Jefferson(notes) will start at power forward and center …. The Jazz are expecting big things out of CJ Miles(notes) this year … Andrei Kirilenko(notes) is still in Utah, for now.

Fantasy spin: Deron Williams(notes) is a clear first-round talent, and seems poised to surpass the 20-point barrier for the first time in his career with Carlos Boozer(notes) gone. His second-half improvement in threes and steals is just what he needed to elevate his stock from the early-second to the late-first. Jefferson (early-third) and Millsap (5-6 turn) are in an ideal situation to succeed. Jefferson is still an injury risk and is still 10-15 pounds away from his ideal playing weight. Kirilenko is an easy bounce back candidate to peg as he plays for a new contract, but it’s a bit disconcerting when you don’t know what team he will be playing for at the end of the year. Don’t expect much from Gordon Hayward(notes) – Jerry Sloan doesn’t seem to be. CJ Miles is a prime breakout candidate and makes for an ideal target in deeper leagues. The month-by-month improvement was impressive, but it was his performance during the playoffs that really made me a believer (14.4 points, 2.8 assists 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 threes). Don’t forget about Raja Bell(notes) either, who will start at shooting guard and get plenty of run as a Jerry Sloan type of player. He’s worth a look in deeper leagues.


Photos Via Getty Images

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