The fantasy story of the NBA preseason emerged Wednesday, when news broke -- "broke," sadly, being the operative word -- about Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love's hand injury. The NBA All-Star and U.S. Olympic gold medalist broke two bones in his right (shooting) hand and is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks. Reportedly, Love was working out in his Minneapolis condo before Wednesday's practice when the injury occurred.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune speculated how the Timberwolves and coach Rick Adelman might deal with Love's absence.
Fantasy owners should note that it's not a given that Derrick Williams, the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, will replace Love in the starting lineup. Williams has apparently had a good offseason, but as Adelman begins his second year in Minnesota, the Wolves have stocked their bench some of the longtime coach's favorites. The newcomers include Chase Budinger, who played for Adelman with the Houston Rockets, and Dante Cunningham, a Memphis Grizzlies pine rider in 2011-12. Adelman has already grown fond of Cunningham, so figure he'll get enough minutes as a top reserve to be draft-worthy in deep leagues (at least 12 teams).
Probably the safest bet is that Andrei Kirilenko will be a bigger part of the Wolves offense in the early season. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Kirilenko has been dealing with some minor injuries, but he figured to be the starting small forward once the games count. Now it's possible he shifts to power forward, with Budinger perhaps sliding into the lineup, while Love is out.
With Kirilenko, fantasy owners need to keep in mind his numbers at the close of his tenure with the Utah Jazz. Over his final three seasons in Salt Lake City, he averaged only about 12 points and five rebounds, and the 31-year-old hasn't averaged more than two blocks since the 2006-07 season. But anyone with the potential to approach 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks is going to light up fantasy radars, so with Love's injury, I'll move Kirilenko up on my draft board. I still don't expect vintage AK-47 to return. Not now, not ever.
Finally, we come to the primary fantasy question: Where do you draft Love now? Let's first take a deep breath and consult the calendar. If Love sits approximately six weeks, a logical return would be Nov. 30, when Minnesota hosts the Milwaukee Bucks. In that case, he would miss the first 14 games. Should he miss eight weeks, his return could come Dec. 12 versus the Denver Nuggets. In that scenario, Love misses 18 games.
Chances are fantasy owners will have Love for at least three-quarters of the NBA season. That's not what we want, but it could be much worse.
With that in mind, I don't see Love falling all that far. Obviously, the format is a factor. If I'm in a standard 10-team head-to-head league with weekly lineups, I might grab Love by the third round or even the tail end of the second and stash him on my bench until December. It's tougher to jump so soon in roto formats, where November's numbers matter as much as April's. Still, I'd be surprised if Love lasts to Pick 50 in most leagues.
But it's all up to you, which is why I'll be fascinated to follow the Live Draft Results for the remainder of the preseason. If you're not familiar with this tool, take a moment and check it out. Live Draft Results compiles results of all fantasy basketball drafts -- and auctions -- that take place on ESPN.com. This information is designed to help you make decisions about the players you're targeting this season. For instance, if you're going crazy trying to sort out the top point guards, Live Draft Results provides insight into what other fantasy owners are doing. Select the View by Position option and you'll see Chris Paul (average draft position: 3.9), Russell Westbrook (5.7) and Deron Williams (5.9) heading the list. Then comes the relentless bandwagon for Kyrie Irving (12), who is threatening to break into the top 10.
Here is a quick look at some other players whose fantasy fortunes are changing, for better or worse:
Bandwagon Watch: Piling on
Andre Drummond, PF, Detroit Pistons (115.7 average draft position, up 24.3 spots in the past seven days): Drummond opened eyes with a 19-point, 10-rebound, two-block showing against the Bucks on Oct. 12, but he also fouled out of that game in just 25 minutes. His defense is one reason I'll probably avoid Drummond this season. Something else to consider is his ghastly 29.5 percent (26-for-88) foul shooting at Connecticut. Talented as he is, Drummond is an unpolished prospect.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (84.1 ADP, up 19.2 spots): The Weber State standout is coming off his best preseason performance: 20 points and four triples against the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 15. If you want to make too much of exhibition stats (I know I do), one steal and 11 turnovers in three games are concerns. Still, Lillard is for real. No, he's not Kyrie Irving good, but like Irving, this rookie will start from day one. While the Blazers will struggle this season, I'd say Lillard has more talent around him now than Irving in 2011-12. I'll happily take Lillard 10 picks ahead of his ADP.
Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks (57.1 ADP, up 5.9 spots): In our ESPN.com mock draft of Oct. 4, I grabbed Ilyasova at Pick 53, ahead of Danny Granger. I don't see any reason why the 25-year-old won't follow up on his breakout season (14.2 points, 8.9 boards, 1.0 3s, 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks as a starter in 2011-12).
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors (average auction value 2.8, up 2.8): For the most part, I'm looking at draft position, for the simple reason that there are many more fantasy drafts than fantasy auctions. But since I'm dying for an excuse to discuss Valanciunas, I'll pounce on the fact that he is the biggest mover in auction formats (while his ADP is steady at 118.5).
The 20-year-old was slowed early in camp by a calf strain, but he has seen significant minutes in his past two preseason games, finishing with 11 points and eight rebounds versus the Pistons on Oct. 12 and going for eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 17. This being the season of endorsements, I'll note that Arvydas Sabonis has already declared the 6-foot-11 Valanciunas to be the future of Lithuanian basketball. He is definitely a skilled youngster I'd be thrilled to own in a keeper league, but I'm optimistic he'll be a fantasy find in his first NBA season. As with Drummond, Valanciunas has a lot to learn on the defensive end. Still, I'm thinking around eight boards and 1.5 blocks, and as a bonus, he is a great free throw shooter.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards (55.5 ADP, down 15.1 spots): While I've gained some admiration for Wall for spending his life in a Bon Jovi-free bubble, I'm a little surprised he is going this high. Once he plays, I do see Wall having a good season, but with all the point guard talent out there, I'm not willing to wait. Not here.
Paul Millsap, PF, Utah Jazz (33 ADP, down 9.6 spots): The uncertainty around the Jazz is getting to fantasy owners. I get it: Millsap is in the final year of his deal, and Derrick Favors needs a chance to play. Still, we're talking about the No. 7 performer on the ESPN.com Player Rater in 2011-12. This is a few picks too low for Millsap.