I don't know about you, but I'm starting to lose track of the number of young and rebuilding teams around the league. Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia and Minnesota are the obvious ones, while both Atlanta and Charlotte have been rebuilding for years. To be fair, the Hawks are much improved and the Bobcats should make the playoffs this year, so both teams are right on the cusp of leaving the rebuilding zone in 2007-08.
And don't forget about the Memphis Grizzlies. They might be the most improved team of the summer, and they actually have a nice mix of veterans (Pau Gasol, Mike Miller and Damon Stoudamire) and youngsters (Rudy Gay, Darko Milicic, Hakim Warrick, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Tarence Kinsey). Having completed a trade with the Washington Wizards for European star and Gasol's good friend Juan Carlos Navarro, the Grizzlies suddenly are looking like a team that has potential to do some damage as early as this season. Too bad they're stuck in the tough -- but not as tough without Kevin Garnett and Elton Brand -- Western Conference, because this looks like a it would be a playoff team in the East.
Navarro technically may be considered a rookie, but at 27 years of age, he already has a good amount of professional experience under his belt and should be ready to contribute right away. Most of the hype surrounding the combo guard comes from his impressive offensive repertoire. Most often compared to Manu Ginobili, Navarro has a knack for getting into the lane, where he possesses a wide variety of creative moves, including a nice high-arching runner. Navarro's best quality, however, is his deadly jump shot from the outside. He's one of those guys whose range starts as soon as he enters the building. He can separate from his defender and create his own shot (although I'm not sure he'll be able to do this as much in the NBA), or spot up from downtown. He also has a quick release, which is one of the qualities I always look for in a shooter.
Anyone who has seen Navarro's YouTube clips can tell you that "La Bomba" has game. Along with being a shooter, he's also a slick passer when he gets into the lane, which is the inspiration behind the Ginobili comparisons. His statistics for FC Barcelona in 2006-07 were quite impressive: 17.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.5 3-pointers per game while shooting 88 percent from the free-throw line. According to the world's premier basketball statistician, ESPN.com's own John Hollinger, those numbers should translate very well in the NBA. Hollinger's projected stats per 40 minutes (based on Navarro's past three seasons) read: 17.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists, with a 40.8 shooting percentage from the floor. Not bad at all, except for the shooting percentage. I highly recommend reading Hollinger's take on Navarro, as well as his projections for other European stars.
So now that we know a little bit about Navarro the player, let's take a look at how he'll fit in with his new team. The Grizzlies have a deep backcourt with Conley, Lowry and Stoudamire all fighting for minutes at the point. Luckily, Navarro is more of a combo guard, and he should be able to earn ample minutes at the two this season. Don't underestimate his long-time friendship with Gasol, either. Gasol and Navarro have great chemistry on the court, which leads me to believe the newcomer will see plenty of minutes this season.
There still are a lot of position battles that will need to be worked out during training camp, but here is a glimpse of what the regular rotation might look like when the season starts:
PG: Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Damon Stoudamire
SG: Mike Miller, Juan Carlos Navarro
SF: Rudy Gay, Tarence Kinsey (Miller also will play here)
PF: Pau Gasol, Hakim Warrick
C: Darko Milicic (and Gasol when the Grizz go small)
This is shaping up to be a young but talented team that runs 10 deep in terms of players who will see the court on a regular basis. Whoever ends up as the sixth man on this team (Navarro, Miller or Gay) likely will be one of the leading candidates for the Sixth Man of the Year award. They don't have too much depth in the frontcourt (no, Stromile Swift doesn't count as depth), which leads me to believe that they'll run with a small lineup from time to time. In the small lineup, they'll likely move Gasol to center with Gay at the four, Miller at the three and Navarro at the two. This scenario also will present itself when Darko Milicic gets himself into foul trouble, which could happen quite often.
Miller fans might not want to hear this, but Navarro's addition could be bad news for the sharpshooter out of Florida. It won't demolish Miller's value, but I have a very hard time seeing Miller duplicating his averages from 2006-07: 18.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 3-pointers per game. His rebounding shouldn't be affected too much, but the rest of the numbers should drop, especially given the fact that he's highly unlikely to secure 39.1 minutes per game again this season. The chemistry that Gasol and Navarro already possess is particularly concerning for Miller. Gasol is a tremendous passer for a big man (3.4 assists per game in 2006-07), and you can bet that he'll be looking in Navarro's direction when he's double-teamed in the post. It's also important to note that with plenty of capable guards on the roster, Miller will handle the ball less this year, and even though he's a solid passer, his assist numbers should drop back down to his career norms, right around three assists per game.
That said, Miller still will have more fantasy value than Navarro. As high as I might sound on the Spaniard, he's still making his first venture into the NBA, and there's some uncertainty about how he'll perform. If you like projections, my initial thoughts are that Navarro could average 13-14 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 3-pointers per game while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 85 percent from the line. That is assuming he'll see 30 or more minutes per contest, of course. Miller, on the other hand, still should be good for 16-17 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.0 3-pointers while shooting 47 percent or more from the floor and nearly 80 percent from the line.
I'll have a better feel for where the two should be drafted after I partake in my first hoops draft of the season on Monday night. Steve Alexander of Rotoworld.com is hosting a mock draft on MockDraftCentral.com with some of the fantasy industry's best analysts. I'm pumped, and you'll get a full breakdown of the how the draft turned out next week.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.