During his four-year career in Philadelphia, 22-year-old Lou Williams has not once seen his name penciled in as a starter in the NBA. But Williams, who will turn 23 just before the season, won't have to wait much longer before he gets the opportunity. Andre Miller's departure has left a void at the point in Philly, and although the Sixers drafted Jrue Holiday out of UCLA in June, it will be Williams who will take the reins in 2009-10.
Williams may be more of a scoring combo-guard than a true point, but the 19-year-old Holiday is not nearly ready to lead a team that has playoff aspirations. Williams, on the other hand, is more than ready to show the Sixers and the rest of the league what he's capable of. After flashing tantalizing potential in each of his past two seasons with his quickness, athleticism and instant offense off the bench, Williams has earned his shot. He averaged a productive 12.8 points, 3.0 assists, 0.8 3-pointers and a steal in just 23.7 minutes per game last season, so fantasy owners should be champing at the bit to see what he can do with the opportunity.
To give you a taste of what kind of numbers we might expect, Williams' per-minute stats suggest he'll average around 16.2 points, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals and a 3-pointer in 30 minutes per game. Now, some might say his per-minute numbers are inflated due to his role as an "instant offense" provider off the bench, but I think those are fairly conservative projections for a few reasons. First, Williams is only just touching on his potential as a player and is still improving his game. Second, he figures to see more than 30 minutes per game in the Philly backcourt. I'm thinking he'll see somewhere around 33-34 minutes per game. Third, those per-minute numbers include time he spent on the court with Andre Miller (16.3 ppg). With Miller gone, Williams will have more touches and opportunities to create his own shot. Finally, new head coach Eddie Jordan is implementing a wide-open offense that should play to Williams' quickness and ability to run the court.
All those reasons should help offset the worries about his decision-making and poor shot selection. Will his turnover rate be high and his field goal percentage low? Absolutely. But there's so much potential here in points, steals and 3-pointers that fantasy owners simply cannot overlook him on draft day. In a recent mock draft among industry writers, Williams was selected in the 11th round (122nd overall). And that was after we knew of Miller's move to Portland, which suggests he's still flying under the radar for now. His aura will build as the season approaches, so consider yourself lucky if you can land a player of Williams' talent that late in a draft come October.
News and notes
• Nate McMillan insists Steve Blake will enter training camp as the starting point guard in Portland, but I'm not buying it. Blake is a solid NBA point, but this is Andre Miller we're talking about. Miller will be the starter when the season rolls around, and even if he isn't, he's still the point guard you'll want to own in Portland. Blake had sneaky fantasy value last season, but that value just went in the tank, especially when considering the fact that Miller is an iron man who never misses games.
• Speaking of Miller, I dropped him down a few spots in my preseason rankings. The Blazers are ultra-deep at every position, and Steve Blake will undoubtedly cut into his minutes and therefore production. Instead of logging 36-37 minutes per game like he did in Philly, he'll probably see closer to 33-34 in Portland. Of course, he'll still be valuable for assists, steals and the percentages, but expect his scoring to take a hit with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge providing most of the offense.
• Bump Emeka Okafor up a few spots on your draft boards now that he'll be playing alongside Chris Paul in New Orleans. Paul makes everyone on the court better, and he can do wonders for a big man in the post. Heck, even Tyson Chandler managed to score some with Paul at the helm. Look for Okafor to continue to provide his typically stellar rebounding and shot-blocking numbers, but expect him to add some more offense into the mix this season. In fact, if he stays healthy (which he has for the past two seasons, by the way), Emeka could push his scoring average into the 14-15 range this season. Now, if only Paul could teach him how to shoot free throws
• If Tyson Chandler is healthy (big if), he'll certainly have a better season than he did in 2008-09, but we won't attribute it to the trade that sent him packing to Charlotte. If anything, the trade will hurt Chandler's value on the offensive end as he will no longer be the beneficiary of Chris Paul's perfect feeds. We've never drafted Chandler for his offense, though, and he should thrive defensively with plenty of rebounds and a few blocked shots for the Bobcats. Just be sure to monitor his health during training camp before selecting him in your drafts.
• After signing with the Bucks, Hakim Warrick now has the inside shot at earning the starting power forward gig in Milwaukee, at least initially. Once the Bucks fall out of contention (which should be early), they'll have a hard time justifying keeping the 27-year-old Warrick on the court when they have two high-upside 22-year-olds in Ersan Ilyasova and Amir Johnson just waiting to get their opportunity. With that said, as the elder statesman of the group, Warrick should be able to put up plenty of offensive numbers early in the season. Just don't expect him to rebound or contribute much on the defensive end, and be prepared to sell high come midseason.
• In a recent interview, Tracy McGrady guaranteed he would return to form this season. Obviously there's not much evidence that he's going to return to his old self, but T-Mac's fantasy value has fallen so far that he could actually present a nice value if you can land him late in drafts. Of course there will be risk in drafting him, but not if you're getting him in the 14th round (159th overall) like I did in a recent mock.
• To help compensate for the loss of Brandon Bass, the Dallas Mavericks signed Drew Gooden to back up Dirk Nowitzki at power forward and play alongside him at center. The addition of Gooden will zap any value that Erick Dampier had, not that it was much to begin with. As for Gooden himself, he'll be decent but unspectacular in Dallas. One has to figure they'll play with a small lineup at times with Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki on the floor at the same time, so Gooden might see only 25-28 minutes per game for the Mavs.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.