When weighing NBA picks, it's best to go for balance


October 20, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER

Fantasy basketball has never caught on like its football and baseball brethren.

But hundreds of thousands (including your friendly neighborhood columnist) play, and the NBA season begins in less than two weeks. So here's a little draft preview with some tried-and-true rules for success in imaginary hoops.

Rules No. 1, 2 and 3: Versatility is king.

This could also be known as the Andrei Kirilenko principle. Your average NBA fan probably thinks of Utah Jazz forward Kirilenko as a lesser player than, say, Allen Iverson or Richard Hamilton or Kenyon Martin.

Not in fantasy.

Kirilenko gets overlooked because he rarely scores more than 20 points. But two years ago, when he was healthy, he had a bunch of games where he shot 6-for-8 from the field with two three-pointers, eight rebounds, five assists, five steals and four blocks.

He may have only scored 16, but that's the kind of line a good fantasy player lusts after, because steals, blocks and shooting percentage count as much as points. Find the man who helps you in five or more categories and you've found a friend to your team.

A lot of these guys are stars, such as Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, Dirk Nowitzki and the likely No. 1 and No. 2 picks in your draft, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett.

But some lesser lights fit the bill. Look for strange combinations such as Cleveland Cavaliers forward Donyell Marshall, who blocks shots, rebounds and makes threes.

The corollary to this rule is: avoid guys who score points but do little else. Hamilton is a perfect example, but other empty scorers include Antawn Jamison, Jalen Rose and Carmelo Anthony. If you can get them in the middle rounds, fine, but don't blow a high pick on them.

Another species to shun is the superstar who kills you in a single category. Shaquille O'Neal's points, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentage are lovely, but fantasy players have learned for years that it's hard to win when you finish last in free-throw percentage. And now that the other numbers are off a little, Shaq is a worse risk. He has a throne in the pantheon of real basketball but avoid, avoid, avoid him in fantasy.

I've always steered clear of Iverson as well. Love to watch him play, but the man shoots a lot and hasn't made but 42 percent for his career. That'll kill your shooting in fantasy despite the points and steals Iverson brings.

Those are the biggies, but watch Tim Duncan carefully. If he's shooting 58 percent from the line on Jan. 1, consider trading him.

Rookies present an interesting challenge. They're not as big a temptation as they were in the days when we had watched them for four years (I still get a chuckle when I think of early picks wasted on Bo Kimble). But you have to be wary.

Take Chris Paul. I love the guy, think he'll be one of the best point guards in the league for 10 years. But you don't know how much he'll play or how he'll shoot or how bad the New Orleans Hornets will be this season. So you can't pick him in the first five or six rounds. I like Andrew Bogut, too, and he plays center (not many productive players there), but again, be cautious.

On the other hand, if you can take a flyer on a rookie as one of your bench players, go for it. I snagged Dwight Howard with my final pick last season, and he was able to step in for my injured big men with nice rebounding numbers. When there's nothing to lose, take a risk.

Other targets in the late rounds include guys who didn't play a lot of minutes last season but performed well. Think Al Jefferson of the Boston Celtics, Stromile Swift of the Houston Rockets or Mike Sweetney of the Chicago Bulls.

I picked Portland's Zach Randolph in the ninth round a few years ago, and he blossomed into a 20-point, 10-rebound guy solely because the Blazers started him. Surprises like that are the stuff of fantasy titles.


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