United with the Orlando Magic, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis formed a formidable duo of fantasy disappointment last season.
Owners who thought they could wait out Lewis' 10-game suspension to start the season and still get a top performer got a rude awakening. Although he filled it up from downtown, Lewis averaged 14.1 points a game, his lowest output in 10 NBA seasons as a starter.
Carter's decline was equally as startling. While realistic owners expected some statistical dropoff as he moved from the also-ran New Jersey Nets to the contending Magic, Carter fell well short of even those tempered expectations, registering career-lows with 16.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 0.7 steals. As if that wasn't bad enough, Carter shot 42.9 percent (his worst accuracy since 2003-04), dished 3.2 assists (fewest since 2002-03) and deflated his 84 percent free-throw shooting by averaging 4.1 attempts per game from the stripe (again, his fewest since 2002-03).
Going into this season, it seems owners are willing to overlook Lewis' struggles last season. In ESPN.com leagues, he has an average draft position (ADP) of 58.4. Of course, Lewis offers elite fantasy production from beyond the arc -- even in his down season, he averaged 2.3 3-pointers, a total bettered by only Danny Granger and Aaron Brooks.
However, I believe Lewis is getting too much love for his skill in this category. Certainly he's a near-perfect fit with the Magic, and observers are drooling over Orlando's astonishing preseason success when Lewis shifts to the small forward spot. Keep in mind that Lewis is, at best, the third option in this offense and a healthy Jameer Nelson could push him down to fourth. On top of that, Lewis doesn't offer another strong category (save perhaps for his low turnovers) in fantasy. So I'm with Brian McKitish on this one. Lewis is only a top-80 player, not top-60.
As for Carter, I'm hopeful, and I think the denizens of ESPN.com have this about right (71.0 ADP). Whether you feel he's motivated to get a championship ring or to get a new contract (Carter is entering his final guaranteed year and the Magic hold an $18.9 million team option for 2011-12), the motivation is there, and he's looked great this preseason. Carter leads the Magic in scoring and is shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 3-point range. Most importantly, Carter is attacking the basket rather than settling for mid-range jumpers.
It's preseason, I know, but I'm buying. No, the 33-year-old won't average 25 points again, but the Magic will rely on Carter's unique ability to create his own shot. I can see him with 18-plus points, near 2 3s, 4 assists and solid 80 percent free-throw shooting (that is, he'll get to the line enough to help your team).
Even if you're not that impressed with Carter (or if you've been burned by him before), be patient. He could be there in the ninth or 10th round. He could be had for a few dollars in an auction. As opposed to Lewis, Carter gives you a chance to score a bargain. Take the chance.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com