It might be hyperbole to call Thursday's Sacramento Kings-Los Angeles Lakers tilt the most important exhibition game in NBA history, but fantasy owners should definitely keep tabs on this one. That's because we'll learn -- based on coach Keith Smart's starting lineup for the night -- whether Marcus Thornton will actually be a reserve when the regular season starts.
Despite averaging 18.7 points, 2.1 3-pointers and 1.4 steals in 2011-12, Thornton has come off the bench in all but one game in October. Although Cowbell Kingdom makes a solid case for Thornton as a sixth man, fantasy owners have our own priorities. Thornton averaged 35 minutes as a starter last season, and it's just tough to imagine him seeing that amount of playing time coming off the bench.
I'm definitely concerned over Thornton's status, but I'm not panicking. He remains a key piece for the Kings. If he is a reserve, I'll be bargain hunting for him in my drafts this weekend. How can you determine whether Thornton is a bargain? That's personal opinion, of course, but you can support your viewpoint by consulting the ESPN.com Live Draft Results. This page displays the cumulative activity of all fantasy hoops drafts and auctions in ESPN.com leagues. As of Wednesday, Thornton's average draft position (ADP) has slipped to 63.5, while his auction value is down to 9.7. Expect those numbers to move, one way or another, after Thursday.
If Thornton is indeed a Kings reserve to begin the regular season, I still believe he'll see around 30 minutes a night, and thus should be able to top 15 points and 1.5 triples. With that -- coupled with the potential for a return to the starting lineup -- I think Thornton becomes a good value after about pick 80.
Here are some more players who caught my eye in the Live Draft Results.
Bandwagon Watch: Piling on ...
Courtney Lee, SG, Boston Celtics (118.6 average draft position, up 21.4 spots in the past seven days): The former Houston Rocket is expected to start at shooting guard to open the season. Given his potential to accumulate 3s and steals, I can't criticize fantasy owners for pouncing on Lee late in drafts. But with Jason Terry primed to finish games -- and Avery Bradley returning eventually -- Lee isn't a flier of choice for me.
Elton Brand, PF, Dallas Mavericks (105.6 ADP, up 12.3 spots): Brand's rise of course corresponds with the drop in Dirk Nowitzki's draft stock (25.1 ADP, down 9.6). Nowitzki could be sidelined well into December, so Brand seems like a decent value here. But don't expect too much from a guy who turns 34 in March.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors (61.1 ADP, up 9.1 spots): Lowry is zooming up draft boards -- while holding steady at 11.9 in average auction value -- but he still seems like a bargain. I'm not sure if fantasy owners expect Jose Calderon to drain his minutes, or if they're just overlooking how good Lowry was before his 2011-12 season was cut short. No worries here though. Depending on my point guard situation, I wouldn't hesitate to take Lowry 10 picks ahead of this ADP.
Brook Lopez, C, Brooklyn Nets (51.3 ADP, up 7.4 spots): Preseason games don't count, but it still matters, especially for a player like Lopez. After missing most of last season, the 7-footer has looked terrific with the relocated and revamped Nets. In his first four exhibition outings, Lopez averaged 18.5 points, 1.2 blocks and -- most significantly -- 9.0 rebounds. Note the strong trends with Lopez and Lowry. You'll likely need to pick ahead of the ADP or spend a little more to get them.
O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks (85.3 ADP, up 6.5 spots): In retrospect, I feel a bit silly writing this and not even mentioning Mayo. I understand he'll play more in Big D, but Mayo is just the type of player -- a few points, a few 3s and not much else -- I avoid in fantasy. Keep in mind that in his first two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, when he averaged 18.5 points in 2008-09 and 17.5 points in 2009-10, Mayo played 38 minutes a night. Even as a Mavs starter, I can't imagine him seeing that much time this season.
... and Filing Off
Kevin Love, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (17.2 ADP, down 13.5 spots): Including this just to follow up on last week's ADP update. It's been a full seven days since Love's injury became public, so we have a good idea of the fantasy impact. As of this writing, Love is still being taken ahead of bigs like DeMarcus Cousins (18.7 ADP), Pau Gasol (20.1), Blake Griffin (20.6), Marc Gasol (22.6) and Serge Ibaka (23.6). With some time to think about it, my guess is Love won't fall much further.
Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Detroit Pistons (99.5 ADP, down 8.8 spots): I've touted Stuckey as a late-round or cheap auction pick, but I have mixed feelings about the fact that he's apparently going to be more active from beyond the arc this season. My case for Stuckey is simple: The Pistons just don't have a lot of scoring talent. However, Stuckey was only 31.7 percent (33-of-104) from downtown last season, and that was a career best. This preseason, he started just 3-of-15 in 3-pointers before swishing 4 of 7 against the Charlotte Bobcats on Oct. 20. I still believe that Stuckey will average closer to 20 points a night than 15 this season, but I don't want any part of it if he's struggling to shoot 40 percent from the field.
Andre Iguodala, SG/SF (37.9 ADP, down 5.7 spots), and Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets (71.0 ADP, down 5.4 spots): We'll take these two together. While Brian McKitish has much love for most of the Nuggets, Iguodala and Faried (as well as JaVale McGee) are sliding in ESPN.com drafts and auctions. I imagine Denver's depth is making fantasy owners wonder if anyone other than Ty Lawson will see big minutes. While I share those concerns about McGee, I agree with McKitish's point about Iguodala: His new offense is a mile-high step up from his old one. The Philadelphia 76ers were 24th in pace last season, while the Nuggets were second. With those extra possessions, Iguodala should easily exceed his career averages in scoring (15.3 points) and 3-pointers (0.9 per game), and perhaps even approach 2.0 steals. I do expect a decline in shooting percentage, but I'm not all that worried about a sharp drop in his assist rate (4.9 dimes per game for his career). Players who are able and willing passers will always get helpers. As for Faried, while I suppose the Nuggets could go small sometimes and play Danilo Gallinari at power forward, Al Harrington's departure removes the Manimal's major impediment for minutes. Also keep in mind that when Faried averaged 11.0 points, 8.2 boards, 0.9 blocks and 0.8 steals in 39 starts as a rookie, he did all that in just 25 minutes per game. The kid will be just fine.