When trolling for solid preseason fantasy sleepers, I always recommend starting with the NBA teams that are predicted to occupy the lower rungs of the standings. I've got two main reasons: fantasy owners tend to pay just a little less attention to teams not heavily featured on "SportsCenter," and bad teams tend to give unproven talents more playing time.
Well, if preseason predictions of doom take hold, there's going to be plenty of fantasy opportunity for Blatche and McGee this coming campaign. They will both be well worth a draft pick, but you'll need to temper your expectations.
Last season was a practice in cataclysm for the Washington Wizards, but it had its fantasy benefits, namely offering a two-month preview of Blatche and McGee in a starting lineup.
Blatche may be only 24, but he's been disappointing fantasy owners for years. He's long been drooled over for his rangy athleticism and loathed for his lack of consistency. But after years of up-and-down production, Blatche finally put it all together during the final 32 games last season, averaging 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds. He also added 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals, but his blocks mysteriously dropped as he was asked to do more on offense.
Logic would dictate that Blatche will be an automatic 22 and 8 this season, but it won't happen for two reasons. First, Gilbert Arenas and John Wall will be in the backcourt, immediately dropping Blatche to the No. 2 or 3 scoring option on offense. Yes, Wall will create more easy looks, but Arenas is going to vacuum away touches from everyone else on the court, starting with Blatche.
Second, Blatche is, to put it gently, something of a head case. Despite his newfound playing time down the stretch, Blatche still found ample opportunity to clash with coach Flip Saunders. This summer he signed a big extension (a fact most people forget when pondering his big second half) and is coming off a foot injury that will have him playing catch-up all preseason. Even as the unquestioned starter, Blatche's rebounding and blocks totals weren't awe-inspiring for a power forward, and he has shown an unwillingness to do the little things (like play defense) when his shot isn't falling.
All of this points to a dropoff, but if Blatche can stay healthy and emotionally fit, I'd expect something along the lines of 18 points, 8 rebounds, a steal and a block per game with decent percentages (Blatche shot 48 percent from the field and 74 percent from the line in 2009-10). He won't be a bust, but he's not going to be worth more than a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
There is perhaps no NBA center with greater athletic upside than McGee. The question with him has been whether or not he can harness his prodigious hops (and shot-blocking) into a dependable NBA game. This summer, he rode his athleticism into a Team USA invite, where he impressed enough to stick with the squad until the final round of cuts.
If you want hard statistical evidence of McGee's potential, take a look at his per-48-minutes numbers: 19.1 points, 12.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks. But the 6.0 fouls per 48 are just as telling, because one of McGee's chief problems has been staying on the court.
Give Saunders a huge amount of credit for solving one of McGee's key issues, the fact that he became easily fatigued late in games. Saunders had McGee tested, so he enters the season with a new secret weapon: an asthma inhaler. The results were immediately apparent in the Vegas Summer League, where McGee stood out with 19.5 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.
If there's a Wizard who's going to benefit the most offensively from the presence of Wall, it will be McGee. Wall will look for McGee on the alley-oop early and often, which is good for McGee since the rest of his low-post game is still under construction. The other area McGee needs to improve is his defensive rebounding. His ability to clean the glass will be key to his remaining the unquestioned starter.
In the end, I think McGee will log about 28-30 minutes a night, which won't be enough for historically high shot-blocking but will still make him a fine No. 2 fantasy center. I'd project him to be something of a less-brittle Tyson Chandler, with around 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. But the upside is there, so if you want to take a nice ninth-round gamble, consider McGee, especially if you need blocks.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.