With the NBA season just weeks away and fantasy drafts in full swing, it's time for another edition of Love/Hate, fantasy hoops-style.
For the uninitiated, here's how the whole Love/Hate thing works: It's all about perceptions, expectations and reputation. Those players who I think will outperform our expectations end up on my "Love" list, while those who I think will fail to live up to their billing end up on the "Hate" side. I also consider this my personal list of targets and do-not-draft players. It's a simple premise, but don't confuse these lists for something they aren't.
You'll find Chris Bosh on my "Hate" list below, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't welcome him on my squad with open arms if the price was right. The problem is, based on his stats last season and his going rate in fantasy drafts, the price for me almost certainly will not be right.
Similarly, you'll find on John Wall on my "Love" list below. Does that mean I'm taking him over someone like Chauncey Billups or Rajon Rondo (who are not on the list)? Of course not. I love Wall for a variety of reasons, but I love him mostly because he's a potential third- or fourth-round value who can be found in the fifth round. Billups and Rondo, however, are fairly valued, and therefore, you won't find them on either list below.
This premise also works for those so-called sleepers or breakout players who aren't exactly sleepers anymore. You'll likely find J.J. Hickson on every sleeper list available on the Internet, and more than a few people are calling Russell Westbrook a breakout candidate. Problem is, everyone is talking about them and absolutely no one is sleeping on them. Still, you'll see that they are two guys I love. Why? Well, I think they'll live up to the hype despite the lofty expectations that have been placed on them this season.
Guys I love
Joe Johnson, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks: It's amazing how many people are down on a guy who has averaged at least 20 points, 4 boards, 4 assists, 1.5 3-pointers and 1.0 steals for five years straight just because he had four bad playoff games against the Orlando Magic and signed a ridiculous contract during the offseason. He's seriously undervalued because of factors that have nothing to do with fantasy hoops, and that is turning him into a steal in drafts this season.
D.J. Augustin, PG, Charlotte Bobcats: Augustin is a deep sleeper only after most of the starting point guards are off the board. He can rack up steals and 3s in bunches and is running away with the starting point guard gig in Charlotte as Shaun Livingston continues to struggle with injuries.
Tyrus Thomas, PF, Bobcats: Heard this one before? I know, I know; he's been on the love list for a few years and has never lived up to the hype. Could this finally be the season he has a good relationship with Larry Brown and secures consistent minutes? I'm betting it is.
J.J. Hickson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers: The key component of the Cavs' rebuilding effort in the post-LeBron James era, Hickson is coming off a dominant summer and looks great with 13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in just 24.0 minutes in six preseason games. He's quickly closing in on man-crush status.
Jason Kidd, PG, Dallas Mavericks: A friend of mine recently e-mailed me and asked how I could still have Kidd ranked 17th overall at 37 years old. It's a valid question, but it's the same question that everyone asked last year, and all Kidd did was go out and finish eighth overall on our Player Rater. I understand the worry, but don't be shocked if he defies the odds once again in 2010-11.
Ben Gordon, SG, Detroit Pistons: Big bounce-back season coming for Gordon, who suffered through injuries all last season. Now healthy, he is fully capable of pouring in 16-17 points with two-plus 3-pointers per game.
Indiana Pacers: I can't believe I'm writing this because the Pacers are going to be terrible this season, but I'm loving their fantasy lineup. Danny Granger is falling out of the first round in many drafts, which makes him a complete steal. Darren Collison is the real deal, and Roy Hibbert is one of my favorite sleepers as the lone reliable big man on the roster. I even like new starting power forward Josh McRoberts in superdeep fantasy formats. The only guys I don't like are Brandon Rush and Mike Dunleavy, who will cancel each other out in a time-share at shooting guard.
Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: He's fully healthy after suffering a few nagging injuries last season, and he looked great for Team USA this past summer. He'll bounce back this season, provided he can stay healthy.
Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers: It is almost unfair how much more athletic this kid is than the rest of the players at his position. Words don't even do it justice, so take a look at this clip, then tell me that Griffin isn't going to be a total stud right from the moment the 2010-11 regular season begins. And yes, I am aware that I listed him as a bust in the ESPN.com fantasy basketball draft kit, but that was mostly because of injury concerns, and I've done a complete 180 after seeing him looking more than healthy in preseason action.
Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves: Perhaps the best pure rebounder in the league not named Dwight Howard (or Blake Griffin yep, I said it). All he needs are minutes, and minutes he will get with Big Al Jefferson gone.
Terrence Williams, SF/SG, New Jersey Nets: He's still a bit erratic, but anyone who saw him play in the second half last season knows that this kid has major talent. He averaged 14.3 points, 7.1 boards and 6.3 assists in April and is in line to earn around 30 minutes per game off the bench for the Nets this season. All signs point to a breakout season.
Anthony Randolph, PF, New York Knicks: He is having a terrible preseason, but I still believe. The only thing that held him back from a breakout in the past was Don Nelson's inconsistent lineup rotations and injuries. Now healthy and with Mike D'Antoni in New York, Randolph should be ready to have the breakout season we all thought he'd have last season.
Timofey Mozgov, C, Knicks: I got a chance to see the 7-footer in preseason action the past few weeks and came away extremely impressed with his ability to get up and down the court as well as the soft touch on his shots around the rim. He's a perfect fit for a Mike D'Antoni-led team, and even though he's young and raw, he has plenty of potential to do some damage in the fantasy world. Mozgov is averaging 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.0 blocks in just 17.5 minutes per game in the preseason, and he needs to be considered a deep sleeper in fantasy leagues.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder: As one of the league's quickest, most explosive point guards, I loved Westbrook last season and love him even more this season. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he turned himself into a top-20 fantasy player by season's end.
Serge Ibaka, C, Thunder: Inexperienced but undeniably talented, Ibaka averaged 8.1 points, 6.2 boards and 1.8 blocks in just 20.3 minutes per game after the All-Star break last season. As one of the more dominant shot-blockers in the league, Ibaka is one of my favorite late-round targets (along with JaVale McGee).
Robin Lopez, C, Phoenix Suns: With Amare Stoudemire's departure leaving a thin frontcourt, the Suns have no choice but to run Lopez out on the court for 30-plus minutes per game. Considering he averaged a stellar 11.3 points, 6.2 boards and 1.1 blocks in 24.5 minutes as a starter (31 starts) last season, it's time to start getting excited about what he could do as a full-time starter.
Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Sacramento Kings: My obsession with Evans is well-documented, and no love list of mine would be complete without him. As one of only three players (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the others) to average 20/5/5 last season, Evans is a complete steal as a late-second-/early-third-rounder in fantasy drafts.
Beno Udrih, PG/SG, Kings: Although all the hype will go to Evans and DeMarcus Cousins (and rightfully so), Udrih continues to fly well under the radar despite averaging 14.8 points, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 3-pointers with fantastic percentages as a starter last season. Don't sleep!
Al Jefferson, C/PF, Utah Jazz: Big Al is going to have lots of fun with Deron Williams feeding him the ball for easy buckets in the post. A return to his 20/10/1.5 ways is not at all out of the question.
JaVale McGee, C, Washington Wizards: See Ibaka, Serge.
John Wall, PG, Wizards: It is becoming abundantly clear that Wall is as good as if not better than advertised. I may need a special love section for him and Griffin as they go head-to-head for rookie of the year all season long. Wall, by the way, is averaging an electric 15.6 points, 8.4 assists and 2.2 steals through five preseason games.
Guys I hate
Paul Pierce, SF/SG, Boston Celtics: Pierce still has a few good years left in him, and he'll make for a fine fantasy selection, but I fear that he'll start to decline pretty soon here. He's a crafty player, so it's not as if he'll fall off a cliff, but among players with similar talents, I'd much rather have Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson, Andre Iguodala or even Stephen Jackson.
David Lee, PF/C, Golden State Warriors: Let me clarify. Lee as a back-end-of-the-second-rounder or early third-rounder I don't mind so much, but as a first-rounder? No thanks. I think he'll be just fine in Golden State, even without Nellie around, but I cannot justify taking a big man who doesn't block shots that early. Give me Al Horford, Joakim Noah or Marc Gasol a few rounds later instead.
Carlos Boozer, PF, Bulls: In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a big fan of big men who can't block shots. Luckily, Boozer's hand injury has caused him to plummet in fantasy drafts, so at this point he's more of a "strong dislike" rather than a hate for me.
Derrick Rose, PG, Bulls: He's probably the hardest person to "hate" on this list because I love Rose's game in real life; I just don't love it for fantasy purposes. When he starts hitting 3s, creating steals and knocking down his free throws at a higher clip, I'll change my tune on him, but until then he'll continue to be vastly overrated in the fantasy game. Also, I should note that after all the talk this past summer about how he will hit 3-pointers this season, Rose is shooting just 18.8 percent from downtown through six preseason games. Let's hope that he stays within himself during the regular season rather than forcing 3-pointers and hurting his field goal percentage.
Luol Deng, SF, Bulls: Deng likely will start strong while Carlos Boozer mends, but once Boozer returns, there will be fewer scoring opportunities and rebounds to go around. Since most of his value is tied to his scoring and rebounding, Deng (not Joakim Noah) will be the player most hurt by Boozer's return.
Kevin Martin, SG, Houston Rockets: Supertalented but also superfragile, Martin has averaged just 53 games played during the past three seasons. By comparison, Andrew Bynum has played in an average of 50 games per season during the same span, yet Martin seems to be considered far less of an injury risk.
Baron Davis, PG, Clippers: With point guard being such a deep position this season, why gamble with an injury-prone player who may or may not be motivated?
Chris Kaman, C, Clippers: See Griffin, Blake, and note that he'll be stealing a lot of Kaman's thunder in the paint.
Andrew Bynum, C, Lakers: See Odom, Lamar, and Martin, Kevin.
Chris Bosh, PF, Miami Heat: Bosh doesn't block shots particularly well, and his scoring and rebounding should both take a hit with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade stealing shots and boards from him. He'll still be great for the percentages, but I think his numbers are going to look a lot like David West's (with more boards) by the time the season ends. That's not a bad thing, but it's not what you'll be expecting from Bosh when you select him at the end of the second round.
Miami Heat (in general): And not just because it's going to be fun hating on them this season. I'll go out on a limb and say that I'm a little worried about James and Wade this season, Now, don't get me wrong, it's only a slight worry, but we still have no idea how the two are going to coexist, and that scares me a bit. I know everyone is expecting a minor dip in production for both players, but we said the same thing about the Big Three in Boston, and they ended up being affected more than anyone thought they would. I'm still taking LeBron third and Wade at the end of the first round or early in the second in fantasy drafts, but I just can't shake this feeling that these two may be hurt more than we are expecting.
Marcus Thornton, SG, Hornets: Thornton may have had a brilliant second half last season, but Ariza's arrival and Marco Belinelli's emergence have Thornton falling steadily in my rankings. I still like Thornton but not nearly as much as guys such as Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry, especially now that he may have lost his starting job to Belinelli.
Jameer Nelson, PG, Orlando Magic: I'm not quite sure why Nelson has never put it all together for a full season, because he certainly has the talent. Maybe it's the injuries, or maybe it's simply inconsistent play, but whatever the reason, Nelson has never been able to live up to our high fantasy expectations. Now entering his seventh professional season, I'm no longer going to overrate him based on those stretches of terrific play that he almost always seems to have.
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers: Sticking with a common theme in this piece, here's another big man who doesn't block shots. I recently saw him go ahead of Tim Duncan in a draft, which is a crime even if Timmy declines further this season. I'll take Duncan's 17/10/1.5 over Aldridge's 17/8/0.6 any day of the week.
Kings' frontcourt: I might regret this if DeMarcus Cousins pans out this season, but I have a hard time seeing how Samuel Dalembert, Carl Landry, Cousins and Jason Thompson are all going to see minutes and coexist in Sacramento. It's a shame because separately I like each of these players, but I fear that they will be canceling each other out all season unless long-term injuries hit.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish