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Archive October 2007

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Season Preview

Atlantic

1. Boston Celtics (2)
2. Toronto Raptors (8)
3. New Jersey Nets
4. New York Knicks
5. Philadelphia 76ers


Central

1. Detroit Pistons (1)
2. Chicago Bulls (3)
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (5)
4. Milwaukee Bucks
5. Indiana Pacers


Southeast

1. Washington Wizards (4)
2. Miami Heat (6)
3. Orlando Magic (7)
4. Charlotte Bobcats
5. Atlanta Hawks


Southwest

1. Dallas Mavericks (2)
2. San Antonio Spurs (3)
3. Houston Rockets (5)
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. New Orleans Hornets


Northwest

1. Utah Jazz (4)
2. Denver Nuggets (6)
3. Portland Trail Blazers
4. Seattle SuperSonics
5. Minnesota Timberwolves


Pacific

1. Phoenix Suns (1)
2. Los Angeles Lakers (7)
3. Golden State Warriors (8)
4. Los Angeles Clippers
5. Sacramento Kings


Postseason

Round 1: (1) Pistons over (8) Raptors, (2) Celtics over (7) Magic, (6) Heat over (3) Bulls, (5) Cavs over (4) Wizards

(1) Suns over (8) Warriors, (2) Mavs over (7) Lakers, (3) Spurs over (6) Nuggets, (4) Jazz over (5) Rockets

Round 2: (1) Pistons over (5) Cavs, (2) Celtics over (6) Heat, (1) Suns over (4) Jazz, (3) Spurs over (2) Mavs

Round 3: (2) Celtics over (1) Pistons, (3) Spurs over (1) Suns

Finals: Spurs over Celtics

Who Cares if the Pats Run Up the Score?

Much has been made about Bill Belichick and the Pats running up the score late in games - how it's unsporting and mean to opposing teams and coaches, but honestly, I don't see it. It's just a score in a football game. No one's getting hurt, it's within the rules of the game and everyone's still getting paid.

I assume Joe Gibbs, in the comfort of his mansion, and with all of his massive NFL achievements and Hall of Fame resume, can get over the beating the Pats put on him Sunday. And I doubt that if New England won 38-7, that would have made any difference. Plus, it's certainly not personal. The Pats are doing it to everybody.

Monday Night Football

I know I'm not the first person to write about this, so forgive my unoriginality, but ESPN's extended tribute to Brett Favre and his wife in a Week 8 game against the Broncos was apropos of absolutely nothing. There was no story there, and there was no need to praise him and his wife like they were Michael Jordan, Superman and Jesus rolled into one. Brett Favre's father passed away when he was an adult, and his wife got cancer from which she recovered. I'm quite sure those were major events in the life of the Favre family, but those strike me as fairly normal human tragedies, worthy of empathy, no doubt, but in no way commensurate with the "Favre as Job" propaganda the networks shovel at us. Favre was a Hall of Fame player, who's had an impressive resurgence this year, and by all accounts a great guy. Okay, now let's get back to the game.

But the guys in the booth, it seemed, couldn't help themselves. After a while, I just figured Tony Kornheiser had gone mad, and was praising Favre robotically as if he wanted to stop but just couldn't control it anymore. And Mike Tirico, it seemed, also got the disease, and they dragged poor Jaws down with them - I mean how stingy would he seem if he didn't add at least a few pecks on the rear?

But the more I thought about it today, it seemed that it's not just those guys, but John Madden, Chris Berman and more than a few others. And it's not just Favre, but Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and all the great players who are also considered class guys. (Though Favre is the most extreme). And you wonder why they go to such lengths, and I think it's really just public relations work for the network. If you make Monday Night Football the Brett Favre show, you essentially associate your program, network and brand with Favre. And everyone loves Favre, so hopefully everyone will love your network. That's why companies hire celebrities to pitch their products - they want you to associate those popular figures with their brand. And it's no different, except that the product IS the telecast in this case. There are already ads during the timeouts. The last thing we need is for the game itself to turn into a big ad. But that's what's happening. And then you throw in the celebs in the booth pitching their projects (I'm sure they're Disney ones), and it's all one big ad for ESPN while the actual football game, the thing we care about, is minimized.

Also, praising universally popular players and coaches is the easiest way for an announcer to put himself on the side of the "good". That and criticizing players you think are unpopular - like when Joe Buck acted horrifed when Randy Moss mock-mooned the Packers fans. These guys are like politicians hoping to win the public over to them and their network. It's too bad because the great players like Manning, Brady and Favre are great because of what they do, not because of what some slobbery announcer says.

I wish I could boycott the ESPN broadcasts, but they have a Monopoly on the Monday night game, so I'll keep watching - I just have to buy a TV that keeps in the crowd noise and turns off the commentary.

NFL Notes

Peyton Manning only completed 46.7 percent of his passes Sunday, what a scrub…It’s now clear the whole RBBC situation in Indy had more to do with Joseph Addai’s shoulder injury than anything else. He’s officially back to being a top-3 fantasy player…Nice to see Reggie Wayne flash some downfield ability, it’s a pretty rare aspect of his game…DeAngelo Williams was one of the “busts” I got right entering the season…The Colts pass defense is the best in the league; can’t wait to see them match up with the Patriots.

Brian Griese didn’t just throw four picks Sunday, he threw three of them in the Lions’ end zone…Looks like Greg Olsen is going to be a star in this league…If you can’t start Cedric Benson at home against Detroit, you can’t start him anywhere, anytime, period…If you’re not yet treating Kevin Jones like a top-10 fantasy player, you’re missing the boat…I can’t explain it succinctly, but there’s something to this whole Super Bowl loser hangover thing.

Sure, interceptions are frequently mixed in, but Ben Roethlisberger makes some of the most impressive plays from the quarterback position week in and week out…I don’t care if you want to use injury as an excuse, Kenny Watson simply cannot lose the RB job to Rudi Johnson at this point…Santonio Holmes has a very bright future ahead of him. If I’m in a keeper league, I’d treat him like a top-10 WR commodity right now…All those magazines that had Chad Johnson ranked as a top-3 (or higher) fantasy WR entering the year simply weren’t dissecting the numbers – the fact T.J. Houshmandzadeh is getting all of the scores should come as a surprise to no one.

I’d be surprised if that wasn’t Cleo Lemon’s final start of the season…Brandon Jacobs is a better running back than I thought he was…Go ahead and treat Jesse Chatman like a top-12 fantasy RB from here on out…London didn’t exactly get a great representation of American football, to say the least.

The hardest thing to forecast in the NFL right now is which wide receiver in Minnesota is going to catch the TD from week to week…Adrian Peterson is going to be huge given a heavier workload, but that QB situation is god-awful…If you can sell-high with Donovan McNabb, I’d do it.

My man-passion for Derek Anderson is getting restraining order worthy…Don’t let Marc Bulger’s statistics fool you – this Cleveland secondary is the worst in the league…I get the feeling Steven Jackson’s injury issues are little more concerning than the team is letting on…If I were an NFL GM, I’d make Braylon Edwards the first wide receiver off the board if a draft were held today…There’s no doubt in my mind that Jerome Harrison is the best running back on the Browns’ roster.

If I’m counting on LaMont Jordan over the rest of the season, I’m terrified. Whether it be back issues or not, he simply doesn’t look the same as he did earlier this season. Justin Fargas is currently running better…The Titans passing game is a joke…Daunte Culpepper’s career is officially finished…LenDale White had the best game of his career Sunday, but Chris Henry has to be owned in all fantasy leagues at this point. He’s the team’s most explosive runner, and Tennessee is extremely run-heavy. He has some serious upside.

Might as well pick up Kellen Clemens to see what he can do…For what it’s worth, Jerricho Cotchery had easily his best game of the season the one time Clemens got the start, and if Laveranues Coles’ injury proves serious, his value would increase significantly…Nice to see Lee Evans get on the scoresheet, the guy is quite the downfield threat.

Ron Dayne isn’t a terrible guy to stash this week if you’re in a pinch. Ahman Green is done, and the impressive Adimchinobi Echemandu is dinged up as well. Dayne is a stiff, of course, but he could be in store for a heavy workload against a terrible Raiders run D this week…Vincent Jackson has officially lost all fantasy value…43 percent of Philip Rivers’ completions went for touchdowns last week.

The Jaguars are the anti-Bengals – a terrible collection of wide receivers and quarterback yet a very solid football team…Maurice Jones-Drew led all Jacksonville receivers with two catches Sunday.

I really don’t care about the Patriots running up the score – it’s funny if nothing else – but it sure was crazy to see them go for it on fourth down up 45-0 in the fourth quarter Sunday. They called a pass play to boot…The Patriots/Colts game is the biggest game in NFL history. It’s not just two undefeated teams this deep into the season, it features two historically good teams. The Colts are certainly better than last year’s Super Bowl version, and New England is going to shatter all offensive records before it’s said and done. The five-point spread is one of the craziest lines I’ve ever seen.

I’m not sure the Saints should get credit for that win Sunday, this 49ers team belongs on the JV…I guess Marques Colston isn’t the next Michael Clayton…Looks like the Seahawks knew what they were doing trading Darrell Jackson inside their division.

I own both Selvin Young and Travis Henry and wish Henry would just get suspended already…Brandon Marshall is legit…Brandon Stokley isn’t a bad play this week. He’s getting the targets and faces a terrible Detroit secondary…Pretty crazy ending to that Monday-nighter, but ESPN’s telecast is becoming increasingly unwatchable.

Cleaning Up

I don't have much time right now. I'm in the middle of processing the Pats' 8-0 start and watching the Red Sox close in on a World Series sweep. Tack on Boston College's BCS ranking, a decent start for the Bruins, and the expectation for the Celtics, and it's a good time to be a Boston sports fan.

The final week of the NBA preseason brought some significant fantasy news. Most notably were the injuries to Mike Bibby and David West. Bibby could miss up to three months, so there's significant fantsy impact in Sacto. Quincy Douby, who started Friday night in place of Bibby, is the first name floated as a replacment, but we could see Francisco Garcia and Orien Green get some extra minutes early on with John Salmons eventually getting some playing time when Ron Artest returns from his seven-game suspension. Don't be surprised to see coach Reggie Theus mix it up among the candidates. Looking outside the organization remains a possibility, but the Kings can only offer the minimum salary. John Lucas will be released by Houston on Monday and Earl Boykins remains a free agent.

(Brad Hawpe just homered off Manny Delcarmen followed by a Cory Sullivan single. 3-1 Sox over the Rox in the bottom of the seventh with Mike Timlin coming on.)

West is not expected to miss as much time as Bibby, but is doubtful for the season opener Wednesday after suffering a Grade 2 ankle sprain. Melvin Ely got the start Friday and scored 11 points (5-of-7) with five rebounds and two steals. Look for coach Byron Scott to utilize a rotation involving Ely, Ryan Bowen and Hilton Armstrong to fill in for West, who could miss up to three games...Speaking of the Hornets, Morris Peterson has been awful, shooting just 27.7 percent from the floor during preseason...And Peja Stojakovic scored 22 points Friday night after suffering a mild setback last week in his recovery from back surgery.

Looking at the older injuries, Rashard Lewis (ankle), Jason Kidd (back) and Chris Bosh (knee) each made appearances in the final week, indicating they will be ready to start the season. Bosh played limited minutes in back-to-back contests while Kidd played 30 minutes Friday night...Lewis, starting at power forward, played for the first time in three weeks, scoring 16 points in just under 32 minutes Friday night with five rebounds... The Nets didn't want to play Nenad Krstic in back-to-backs, so expect some kind of playing time limit to open the season. New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank still has to figure out his big -man rotation with Jamaal Magloire, Josh Boone and Sean Williams available. Magloire will likely eat up most of the available minutes.

(Bobby Kielty just made me breathe a little easier taking a Brian Fuentes fastball over the boards in left. 4-1 Sox over Rox.)

Looking at the still-contested starting jobs, Keith Bogans nailed down the starting shooting guard spot in Orlando. True, his competition battled injury, but Bogans was good enough to earn the starting spot...Rafer Alston will be Houston's starting point guard. We still have to see where this leaves Mike James and Luther Head, but we know Steve Francis won't be a factor...Ronnie Brewer is officially the starting shooting guard in Utah with Gordan Giricek coming off the bench. Giricek, meanwhile, should also get a healthy dose of the backup minutes at small forward with Matt Harpring slow to recover from what was called minor knee surgery in August... Portland coach Nate McMillan was expected to name his starting point guard this weekend, but is holding off for a few days. Jarret Jack and Steve Blake have been locked in a battle. Jack has performed better during the preseason and gives the Blazers a benefit of continuity from being the starter last season. However, Blake is the better defender and perimeter defense has been McMillan's concern in October. No matter what he decides, McMillan has two capable point guards and will probably split the minutes between the two...Still undecided are the fifth starters in Philadelphia, Denver and Toronto. Rodney Carner and Willie Green are in the mix and coach Mo Cheeks isn't tipping his hand. The Sixers could use another scorer in the starting five, and Green is the better offensive guy while giving Cheeks a tough defender...Jason Kapono started the last three preseason games and five of seven total for the Raptors, and looks to be the starter come Wednesday against Philadelphia. I don't expect Kapono to get 30- plus minutes, but he will offer 3-point value in reduced playing time...In Denver, Allen Iverson will start at point guard, leaving coach George Karl in search of a shooting guard when Denver opens the season Wednesday against Seattle. He won't have J.R. Smith to start the season, if he's tempted to trust him with the job. Right now, it's down to two unlikely candidates in Bobby Jones and Yakhouba Diawara. Jones has surprised Karl with his shooting during the preseason and can bring it on defense.



Gotta get back to the World Series. The Red Sox need my complete focus.

Underrated Giants Offensive Line

From Friday's Newsday:

The [team's] current 4.6 rushing average is just off the 4.7 clip of the past two seasons. The Giants are on pace to give up fewer than 20 sacks for the first time in team history, and they ranked in the top 10 each of the last two seasons there with 25 and 28 allowed. Not even the Broncos, who made the mantra "scheme, not talent" popular with a terrific offensive line and plug-in, no-name running backs, can claim to have been in the top 10 in those two categories each of the last three seasons.

"We've really been together four years, most of us," said David Diehl, who is playing the glamour spot of left tackle with Luke Petitgout gone and has allowed one sack in seven games. "We're able to do a lot of things without saying much out there."

Incidentally, if you haven't noticed, we have a fantastic overall Offensive Line Grid on the site now.

Go with your gut when drafting

I ran into one of the hazards of giving fantasy basketball advice this week. During one of my drafts, I ran into this dilemma: it was the ninth round, and I wanted Al Horford. I also wanted Andrew Bynum, but I wanted Horford more. But I was greedy…I thought that I could maybe get both. Bynum was ranked in the top few remaining players on the draft applet, while Horford was still way down the list. I decided that nobody was really thinking about Horford yet, so I took Bynum and planned to get Horford the next round. Horford was chosen with the very next pick. Then, after I screamed at my computer, the person that picked Horford gave me this gem…

“I was surprised you didn’t pick Horford. I knew that you liked him because I read your sleeper fantasy article the other day.”

That was just rubbing salt in the wound. This guy used my own advice to steal my own sleeper away from me. He then proceeded to do that on 3 of the next 4 picks, gleefully pointing it out each time he did it.

Now, outside of this being an offense worth fighting over, it also nails home a valuable lesson. In roto drafts, when you have a player that you really want, TAKE him right then. Don’t get too cute or too greedy, as most of the people in your league are probably looking at the same sleeper lists and fantasy advice sites that you are. This is especially true in the mid-to-late part of the draft, as rankings lists get a lot less precise the further in you go. No one can say with any certainty that the player ranked 90th is necessarily better than the player ranked 110th. At that point you should be going with your gut, picking players based on your own team needs and/or value lists.

Nine times out of ten you’ll be happier picking the guy that you really want, more-so than the guy that rankings lists tell you that you are supposed to take. Because if you wait and miss out on that player, it will hurt a lot more if it is the one you had your heart set on.

Midseason NFL Draft

It's easy to speculate about what players we'd rank where, but in a season like this one, where so much has changed since draft day, one of my colleagues, Scott Pianowski, figured we'd put ourselves to the test and have midseason expert draft (for real money). Of course, none of us have time to manage another league, so we made it a "best-ball" league.

The "best-ball" draft took place on Tuesday with pretty standard rules except that we used team quarterbacks and no defenses. Also, the "best ball" aspect means that we make no moves the rest of the way, and just take the scores of our best quarterback, two running backs, three WRs and flex each week. In other words, there's no lineup setting - everyone gets his perfect lineup. But the point is, you draft - at least in the first few rounds - for this league, exactly as you'd do for a regular draft.

Here's how it went:

Rd Del Don Salfino Teope Beatrice Liss
1 (1) Tomlinson, L (2) Patriots, N (3) Addai, J (4) Colts, I (5) Peterson, A
2 (10) Jones, K (9) Owens, T (8) James, E (7) Burress, P (6) Lynch, M
3 (1) Housh., TJ (2) Wayne, R (3) Williams, R (4) Alexander, S (5) Jacobs, B
4 (10) Browns, C (9) Benson, C (8) Boldin, A (7) Welker, W (6) Fitzgerald, L
5 (1) Chatman, J (2) Henry, T (3) Maroney, L (4) White, L (5) Holt, T
6 (10) Witten, J (9) Winslow, K (8) Holmes, S (7) Clark, D (6) Marshall, B
7 (1) Evans, L (2) Young, S (3) Green, A (4) Williams, D (5) Johnson, C
8 (10) Cotchery, J (9) Chambers, C (8) Packers, G (7) Shockey, J (6) White, R
9 (1) Mason, D (2) Keith, K (3) Giants, N (4) Crayton, P (5) Eagles, P
10 (10) Betts, L (9) Turner, M (8) Ward, D (7) Chargers, S (6) Brown, R
11 (1) Henry, C (2) Engram, B (3) Watson, B (4) Vinatieri, A (5) Heap, T
12 (10) Cardinals, A (9) Washington, L (8) Hilliard, I (7) Stokley, B (6) Titans, T
13 (1) Texans, H (2) Walter, K (3) Daniels, O (4) Jackson, B (5) Leonard, B
14 (10) Clayton, M (9) Peterson, A (8) Hackett, D (7) Holmes, P (6) Davis, V
15 (1) Bennett, M (2) Morris, M (3) Lee, D (4) Dunn, W (5) Jets, N
16 (10) Walker, J (9) Rackers, N (8) Henderson, D (7) Williams, D (6) Droughns, R
17 (1) Jackson, D (2) Elam, J (3) Brown, J (4) Gonzalez, A (5) Bironas, R
18 (10) Dawson, P (9) Hagan, D (8) Reed, J (7) Davis, C (6) Crumpler, A
Rd Feller Cuozzo Pianowski Bloemker Gleason
1 (6) Moss, R (7) Johnson, L (8) Parker, W (9) Westbrook, B (10) Jackson, S
2 (5) Johnson, C (4) McGahee, W (3) Gore, F (2) Bush, R (1) Edwards, B
3 (6) Cowboys, D (7) Bengals, C (8) Smith, S (9) Jones-Drew, M (10) Barber, M
4 (5) Gonzalez, T (4) Gates, A (3) Harrison, M (2) Johnson, A (1) Portis, C
5 (6) Jones, T (7) Jordan, L (8) Driver, D (9) Stallworth, D (10) Johnson, R
6 (5) Coles, L (4) Galloway, J (3) Lewis, J (2) Ward, H (1) Watson, K
7 (6) Foster, D (7) Wynn, D (8) Norwood, J (9) Curtis, K (10) Colston, M
8 (5) Berrian, B (4) Bowe, D (3) Graham, E (2) Branch, D (1) Moss, S
9 (6) Taylor, C (7) Curry, R (8) Lions, D (9) Seahawks, S (10) Saints, N
10 (5) Steelers, P (4) Morris, S (3) Jennings, G (2) Taylor, F (1) Cooley, C
11 (6) Jones, J (7) Rhodes, D (8) Bears, C (9) Buckhalter, C (10) Jackson, V
12 (5) Henry, C (4) Broncos, D (3) Miller, H (2) Davis, A (1) Muhammad, M
13 (6) Williams, R (7) Toomer, A (8) Porter, J (9) Olsen, G (10) Battle, A
14 (5) Wright, J (4) Booker, M (3) Bruce, I (2) Rams, S (1) Randle El, A
15 (6) Burleson, N (7) Davenport, N (8) Gostkowski, S (9) Scheffler, T (10) Dolphins, M
16 (5) Brown, K (4) Folk, N (3) Redskins, W (2) Ginn Jr., T (1) Kaeding, N
17 (6) Gould, R (7) Stover, M (8) Clark, D (9) Akers, D (10) 49ers, S
18 (5) Smith, L (4) Morency, V (3) Hanson, J (2) Graham, S (1) Buccaneers, T

NFL Notes

Anyone who was surprised the Ravens lost at Buffalo hasn’t seen the team play this year…Remember in the preseason when Dick Jauron was talking about a running back by committee?…For whatever reason, Lee Evans has been much more productive throughout his career (a three year sample) during the second half of seasons. Take a look at the secondaries he’s faced so far - he’s a good buy-low target.

Despite not being 100 percent, Kevin Jones currently looks like a top-10 fantasy back…How about the Lions throwing just 20 times Sunday? What smash-mouth football they are playing in Detroit…Calvin Johnson has scored a TD once every five touches this season…Earnest Graham might have had the most surprising/impressive game Sunday, displaying some nice open field runs to go along with hauling in 13 catches. He’s by far the more valuable back than Michael Bennett.

Jeff Fisher won’t do it, but Chris Henry looks like the best Titans’ running back - at least when the ball is in his hands (he still needs to learn the game’s nuances)…Not sure Ahman Green is even worth a roster spot at this point…Roydell Williams is a sneaky play right now, currently acting as the team’s No. 1 WR. However, this week he faces Nnamdi Asomugha, making him a must-sit…It’s Sage Rosenfels’ world, the rest of us are just paying rent.

I always preach waiting on the QB position in fantasy football, but even I admit Tom Brady is worth a first round pick right now…I’m not sure why the Patriots ever bother running the ball…I’m also not sure I’m ready to live in a world where Wes Welker is a top-10 fantasy WR, but it’s looking like I have no choice…Tough break for Ronnie Brown owners, as there was a pretty good argument that he was the No. 1 fantasy player this season. That said, Jesse Chatman has looked great in relief, and he has top-10 upside as his replacement.

Death. Taxes. Vernon Davis making a back-breaking drop…I keep wanting to write off Amani Toomer, yet he still remains relevant…If Brandon Jacobs can remain healthy - admittedly, a big if - he is going to have serious value over the rest of the season. The Giants’ offense is on a roll, and Tom Coughlin continuously gets his scheme to produce terrific running results. Reuben Droughns struggled in short-yardage situations last week, and Derrick Ward is getting phased out little by little. I treat Jacobs like a top-15 player right now.

According to Fox’s “K-Zone” – or whatever their variation is called – there is no such thing as a called strike.

Bobby Petrino needs to be fired. It’s bad enough wasting carries on Warrick Done, but he also made the worst decision so far in the 2007 NFL season Sunday; with the Falcons down 22-16 at mid-field and 1:58 left, he elected to punt on 4th and 13. A first down by the opposition means the game’s over either way, so field position is essentially irrelevant. Pathetic, way to show faith in your team. Almost as bad as the Indians’ third base coach giving Kenny Lofton the stop sign. Always better playing to win rather than not to lose…That wasn’t the only bone-headed coaching decision in the game, however, as Sean Payton had his own momentary lapse in judgment as well; with the score 20-16 and five minutes left, he elected to go for a 2-point conversion. I’m still trying to figure out what was to gain here - I know what the downside was (23-20). This type of math does not require a rocket scientist.

Clinton Portis is not the runner he once was…Santana Moss’ career has officially hit rock-bottom…Tim Rattay went 1-for-1 for 1 yard and 1 TD Sunday…This Redskins defense is better than most give them credit for.

If there were ever an example of how football is so much more than the skill position players, the Bengals are it…Ocho Quatro - T.J. Houshmandzadeh should probably be considered the second best fantasy WR right now…If Marvin Lewis goes back to feeding Rudi Johnson all the carries over Kenny Watson once he returns, I give up.

More evidence that coaches just don’t understand when (not) to go for the 2-point conversion: Kansas City going for 2 with 11:30 left in a 12-7 game. again, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out this isn’t a smart idea…Jared Allen has six sacks over the last three weeks and eight sacks in five games this season. This Chiefs defense is very good.

Adrian Peterson is the best back in the NFL right now…And Marion Barber isn’t too far behind…How high would Jason Witten go if a fantasy draft were held today? Third round?…I’m beginning to think Tarvaris Jackson might not be the answer at the quarterback position in Minnesota.

The Eagles and Bears looked exactly like what they are Sunday – two last place teams…OK, Chicago is .5 games ahead of Minny, but the point is, these teams have been huge disappointments and will continue to be so over the course of the season…I’d place the odds of Donovan McNabb returning to Philadelphia next season at 20 percent…I’m not exactly sure what you could get in a trade for Cedric Benson right now, but if you can make it a case of your favorite beer, I’m on board.

Words can’t describe how bad this Rams team looks. Forget all this Dolphins talk, St. Louis has by far a better chance of finishing winless, despite playing in the easier conference…I pegged Shaun Alexander as a bust entering the season, but I didn’t expect this big of a train-wreck. I probably wouldn’t even pick the guy up if he was dropped in my league. Two years removed from winning the MVP, Alexander currently looks like the NFL’s worst running back.

Someone get this man some Claritin - Willie Parker has officially become allergic to the end zone…As a fellow Travis Henry owner, I can’t wait to see what Selvin Young can do…Brandon Marshall should be viewed as a top-20 WR right now.

If I’m a Joseph Addai owner, I’m scared to death of Kenton Keith’s emergence. That running back situation looks like a full-blown timeshare…The Colts are the most underrated team in the NFL. Yes, you heard that right.

Good riddance to the Class Act

A lot's been made about the weak way the Yanks got rid of Joe Torre, and I can't defend that. They should have just fired him and said that for his salary and with a $200 million a year payroll, you got to win a playoff series every three years, or you're done.

But either way, Torre's dismissal was long overdue. Everyone goes on about what a class act he is - fine. He's a nice guy. Great. He doesn't believe in ARod yelling at another player trying to catch a pop up, and he didn't see fit to order the Yankees to bunt against a gimpy Curt Schilling in the 2004 ALCS, even though Schilling was mowing them down. And most of the players liked him - why wouldn't they? They could lose in the playoffs despite making more than $15 million a year, and you weren't going to hear about it from Torre. The only guy that seemed to get flack from him was ARod (was demoted in the order in the playoffs and called out for his trying to distract Howie Clark on a popup) - and no one liked ARod anyway, so it wouldn't tarnish Torre's class act rep. Sheffield didn't like him, either, and Sheffield was also a marginal character in the media (and also a little crazy).

It seemed Torre's agenda to be the good guy conflicted with doing whatever it took to win. He wasn't a good motivator, and he wasn't a good tactician - read Joe Sheehan's columns at BP about his use of the bullpen. He was making a huge salary for a manager, and he had huge resource advantages. Yes, the 12 playoff appearances were great, but is it really as big an achievement under the circumstances? There are only five teams in the AL East now, three of which (Tampa, Toronto and Baltimore) haven't been good in a decade.

The bottom line is this: if he's truly a class act, well, virtue is its own reward. But I'm always suspicious of the guy the media decides to praise in that way because all that means is that he was gracious to them. No one calls Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Pat Riley or Phil Jackson a class act. Those guys were way too focused on winning to spend much energy on the perception of them by players and media.

The question that needs to be asked is: Did Torre do everything he could to win? Was he willing to bunt against an injured pitcher? Was he willing to call out overpaid veterans for lack of focus? Was he willing to use his closer in high-leverage, non-save situations? His robotic use of the bullpen strikes me as lazy and unimaginative.

Yes, he deserves credit for the team's run in the late 90s, because what was needed then was a low key guy who would keep the clubhouse on an even keel. But when you're going out that quietly in the playoffs for three years, keeping everything on an even keel seemed awfully complacent. The best coaches know how to shake things up when they need shaking up, and how to keep things cool when the need to be kept cool. Torre could do the latter, but the $200 million team of mercenaries needed the former the last three years, and he didn't have it in him. The Yankees were wise to move on, the cowardly manner in which they did so notwithstanding.

Divining Meaning in Preseason

There's a narrative out there that preseason games are meaningless, and on a few levels that is certainly true. I don't get too excited when I see Darius Washington going off for a team-high 18 points against the Warriors the other night. I know the point guard is caught in a numbers game in San Antonio. There are already 15 guaranteed contracts and three guys ahead of him playing the position. Tony Parker's getting a break from playing this past summer in Europe and Beno Udrih is rehabbing a fractured finger, so there's plenty of time available for guys like Washington to play basketball -- until the last week of October. And I find a lot of the injury news is inconsequential. Sam Cassell's knee injury is just another way of saying he's getting a night off.

Yes, I agree, some of the news and performances during the preseason can be dismissed rather easily. Coaches are trying to establish whether certain player combinations are working, and veterans are routinely rested. But if you search a little deeper, there's information to be had during the preseason. Information that can help you prepare for fantasy draft. There are starting jobs and rotation spots on the line, while some injuries are significant and have playing-time ramifications.

Injuries

Jason Kidd's back injury has been cause for concern. Kidd strained the back while stretching, then spent the next three days visiting a chiropractor. The Nets are hoping he'll be back next week -- mid-week -- but remain cautious. If Kidd's injury lingers into the regular season, Darrell Armstrong will fill in for him. Armstrong, 39, started in place of Kidd Thursday night against the Knicks, while Eddie Gill started Friday night's game against Boston, which was called off at halftime because of melting ice beneath the floor at the DCU Center in Worcester (Mass.). I can't see Nets head coach Lawrence Frank going with anything less than a veteran like Armstrong to lead this playoff-caliber ball club. Gill and Mateen Cleaves are still on the roster and one of them may stick because of Marcus Williams' injury, but Armstrong is ahead of them.

Cuttino Mobley's strained lower calf became a bit of a concern the longer it went on. He suffered the injury during workouts prior to training camp and has been limited since. Mobley made his preseason debut Saturday in Los Angeles. Although his scoring in two seasons with the Clippers has been down from his career average, Mobley is still a gifted shooter and a good source for 3-pointers and steals. Bigger than Mobley's injury are how the injuries to Shaun Livingston and Elton Brand will affect Mobley's role on the team. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy is considering bringing Mobley off the bench, with Quinton Ross starting in the backcourt alongside Cassell. Ross is a better fit than Mobley. He's the better defender and with Cassell starting, that will be needed. With Cassell being a shoot-first point guard, Corey Maggette starting at small forward to help cover Brand's offense, and perimeter threat Tim Thomas expected to replace Brand, Mobley's skills are better allocated to the second unit. Being the go-to scorer off the bench may be just the thing for him. It worked for Maggette last season when he was often benched in favor of Ross. Maggette was second on the team in scoring despite being a sub in 44 of 75 games played. And I suspect on several occasions, Dunleavy will employ a small lineup, which will mean Mobley will get starter's minutes despite coming off the bench.

By the way, Brand's injury means rookie Al Thornton's getting a lot of run during the preseason. He played some minutes at the four in Saturday's preseason victory over Phoenix and the four-year college player looks to have a spot in the rotation, according to Dunleavy. After his game-high 23 Saturday night, Thornton leads the Clippers with 17.6 points per game during the preseason. If the Clippers aren't competitive come mid-season, and perhaps trade Maggette, Thornton could emerge as a good second-half fantasy player.

The obvious beneficiary of Washington losing Etan Thomas is Brendan Haywood, but we're seeing two backups making a push for increased playing time. Oleksiy Pecherov and Andray Blatche are each getting minutes at center and may steal playing time from Haywood, who is not a close personal friend of Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. Washington's offense rarely works inside to their bigs, so each player will have to contribute defensively. And working inside the paint is neither's strong suit.

Developing Situations

How concerned should we about Peja Stojakovic? Last season's back surgery was deemed successful, but he's been limited all week and missed Friday's game after experiencing some soreness last Sunday. Will he be limited to start the season? It doesn't look he's ready to play starter's minutes out of the gate, so look for Rasual Butler and Julian Wright to get increased minutes early on. New Orleans head coach Byron Scott says Peja's backup is a battle between Butler and Wright, but is that really true? Will the rookie Wright beat out the veteran Butler on a team that is thinking about the playoffs? Wright still has to make better decisions. He has to learn when to shoot, when to drive and when to pass. As a direct replacement for Stojakovic, Butler is the choice. Not only does his veteran-ness apply, but he's also a better shooter than Wright.

Starters

Martell Webster appears to be winning the small forward job in Portland. Webster has been lights out during the preseason and gives head coach Nate McMillan a scoring threat needed to take the pressure of the double teams that Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge can expect to see. He's been hitting from the floor (56.8 percent) and the 3-point line (55 percent). "We need that three man to be able to stroke the ball," McMillan said. "Martell can certainly be that guy ... and you know, he's doing it. So that wouldn't be a problem starting him, because it will give us options." Webster's not as good a defender as Travis Outlaw, his main competition for the starting three, but having Joel Przybilla (3.8 blocks per 40 minutes) behind Webster allows McMillan to keep him on the floor. Outlaw will become the go-to scorer on the Blazers' second unit and could see an increase in shots as a result.

Ronnie Brewer has started at shooting guard in five of Utah's six preseason games. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan quipped that he's looking for a "making" guard. He can find guys that can shoot, but can they make the shots. That normally would favor Gordan Giricek, who led the Jazz in 3-point shooting and ill-advised shots last year, but Brewer is giving Sloan a reason to bench Giricek. The second-year guard out of Arkansas with the ugly shooting mechanic is making 59.4 percent of his shots. He's more of a slasher than spot-up shooter and is not a 3-point marksman, but he's the best defender of the bunch competing for the job. C.J. Miles, considered a threat for the job when entering camp, has made just 4-of-23 attempts this preseason after pissing off Sloan in the offseason.

Seattle coach P.J. Carlesimo is determined not to go with Nick Collison as his full-time starting center this year. Collison doesn't have the height or heft to be a full-timer at the position. Robert Swift has started the most games in the preseason, though he's still having trouble returning from knee surgery. He's got the size and now has the bulk after adding some weight during the offseason. Swift's minutes will be limited early on and he probably isn't the full-time answer just yet. Look for Collison and Chris Wilcox to get some minutes playing center.

Damon Stoudamire has started all four of the preseason games he's appeared in and looks to be beating out the rookie Mike Conley and second-year man Kyle Lowry. Stoudamire's best in an open system like Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni is trying to implement, but he typically doesn't share well. Iavaroni wants his point guard to make plays for others first, then look for a shot. Stoudamire may begin the season as the starter, but don't count on him long-term.

We knew Marvin Williams had a starting spot in Atlanta, but weren't sure which forward spot that would be. It looks like he'll begin the season at small forward, with Josh Smith expected to start at the four. Williams, who feels he's better suited to the three than the four he often played last season, enters Year 3 looking to move his game up a notch and that's showing with his preseason work. He's averaging 17.0 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field. He's not the kind of rebounder we seek at power forward but he'll be adequate in that category as a small forward.

TBD

Willie Green and Rodney Carney are still duking it out to become Philadelphia's starting small forward or shooting guard -- whatever position Andre Iguodala isn't playing. Carney has the slight edge based on their preseason numbers, but head coach Maurice Cheeks said the matter won't be resolved until after team's final preseason game Thursday against the Nets. Given the team's offensive shortcomings in the frontcourt, it looks like whichever guy works best with Iguodala will win it. That means not holding on to the rock every time it hits his hands, Willie. That favors Carney.

Now that injuries are forcing Nuggets coach George Karl to open the season with Allen Iverson as his starting point guard, the question becomes who will start at shooting guard. The latest contretemps between the club and J.R. Smith has resulted in a team-imposed three-game suspension and eliminates him from consideration to start the season and probably long term given his rocky relationship with Karl. That leaves second-year player Bobby Jones and three-year veteran Linas Kleiza the most likely candidates. Jones is an unheralded player, but opened some eyes in training camp and helped himself Wednesday, shooting 4-of-5 on three-pointers. Karl told the Rocky Mountain News that Jones has "surprised us" and didn't realize he was "this skilled making shots." Indeed, his offense has not been his calling card, but that's not going to be needed with Iverson and Carmelo Anthony dominating the ball. Karl should be looking for someone who can defend the perimeter and that means Jones. We'll most likely see a rotation of guys based on matchups that particular night or as situations arise during the game. Von Wafer and Yakhouba Diawara are also in the mix.

None of the three players looking to become Toronto's starter at small forward have distinguished themselves during the preseason. Jason Kapono, Joey Graham, and Carlos Delfino have all been given opportunities during the preseason, but no one has separated himself yet. None played well Friday night and the position may become a revolving door based on what Raptors coach Sam Mitchell is looking for on a given night. Starting shooting guard Anthony Parker can score and thrive in an uptempo game like the Raptors run, so a scorer is not the first criteria used to settle the matter. If that were the case, Kapono would win this job hands down. If money were the matter, Kapono wins again. But it's looking like Mitchell needs a glue-guy at the three, and none have provided that. We'll have to continue to track this heading into the final week of preseason games, but don't be surprised if Jorge Garbajosa becomes the default starter.

I'm still trying to determine Orlando's starter at shooting guard. This seemed to be J.J. Redick's job when training camp opened, but has since opened up to include Trevor Ariza and Keith Bogans With the season-ending injury to Tony Battie forcing coach Stan Van Gundy to move Hedo Turkoglu into the starting lineup, a pure scorer, like Redick, isn't necessarily needed. If the Magic don't need Redick's offense, his defensive liabilities render him useless to the starting five. He'll probably make a living as the second team's primary scorer. The defensive-minded Ariza has been hurt by foot tendinitis, missing all three of the team's games in China this past week, but he fears it might be worse after saying he felt a "pop" in the foot last week. That leaves Bogans, who fits somewhere in between Ariza and Redick. He's hitting his shots (18-for-35 FG, 11-for-20 3pt) during the preseason and played relatively good defense against LeBron James in China. Van Gundy wants to get Ariza some playing time in the final week of preseason games, but he'll need to show that he can hit open jump shots, like Bogans.

How much should the preseason affect your draft?

I was running a chat last week, and I got a question about how much I believe the pre-season should affect your fantasy draft strategy. I thought this was an excellent question, so I decided to talk more about it here.

The preseason is a lot like the various summer leagues as well as international play, in that there is no way to directly apply results there to future success in a season. Different players have different things that they want/need to work on in the offseason, and these individual goals play a huge part in the numbers they produce. Some young players are trying to make the team, so they are going 110% at all times to try to produce. On the other hand, many vets just want to use the preseason to get in shape and not get hurt, so they may coast through many games at 70%. Some players are working on a particular move or shot, and may care more about perfecting that move than about their overall output. These factors and many more cloud the offseason results enough that they should not be the main deciding influence on your draft strategy.

On the other hand, there are three main things that I look for as useful information to be gleaned from the preseason.

1) Big injuries. While it is obvious that you want to avoid drafting a player if they suffer a huge injury in the preseason/offseason, it is also important to look for who can take advantage of those injuries. Two years ago, the big injury to Amare Stoudemire led to the explosion of Boris Diaw. Last season the fall of Jason Richardson led to the rise of Monta Ellis. Who will it be this year?

Possible examples this year: Chris Kaman, Tim Thomas, Al Thornton (injured Elton Brand); Smush Parker, Dorrell Wright (injured Dwyane Wade, Jason Williams, out-of-shape Antoine Walker); Adam Morrison, Walter Herrman, Jared Dudley (Sean May); Brendan Haywood, Andray Blatche, Oleksiy Pecherove (Etan Thomas)

2) Young guys ready to make a leap. If you look over the last several years, often the “come from nowhere” free agent pickups really played well in the preseason and/or summer leagues. For young players with talent, there is a point where they get adjusted to the speed of the NBA game and they are able to stop thinking and just play ball. Al Jefferson, Kevin Martin, and David Lee are just a few that I can think of off the top of my head that played well in the offseason then eventually made the leap in the regular season. Warning: not every offseason warrior is a star in the making, as Nicoloz Tskitishvilli was a summer league legend that was never heard from once the games count for real.

Possible examples this year: Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Marco Belinelli, Louis Williams, Martell Webster, Marquis Daniels >

3) Position battles. When multiple players are battling for one position, often the one that plays better in the preseason will be the opening day starter. One of my colleagues has already done a good job laying out most of the position battles , so I won’t belabor those here. I’ll just say to keep an eye on the preseason box scores, especially the minutes played, to start getting an inkling over who might be starting opening night.

Change Your League

More so than fantasy baseball or football, league specifics greatly determine draft strategy in fantasy basketball. Particularly, scoring format can affect someone’s value immensely, so “cheat sheets” should never be used blindly. Almost every league is going to utilize points scored, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, with three pointers made, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and turnovers also commonly used. Personally, I think a weighted scoring system works best, with the big three (points, rebounds and assists) being worth the most; this just seems to be a better reflection of reality.

For the same reason, I’m a proponent of not using the two most “controversial” categories - free throw percentage and turnovers. The ability to shoot free throws is an important skill in the NBA, but Shaquille O’Neal is probably a top-5 player in the history of the game and has a 52.5 percent career mark from the charity stripe. It’s counterintuitive, that one of the very best players in the history of the game frequently needs to be removed late in games, but it’s also fact, and it’s hard to argue with the Big Fella’s resume. Even in his heyday, O’Neal was such a drain in that fantasy category – especially because he shot so many freebies – you were virtually guaranteed a last place finish in FT%, making him someone you’d almost have to pass on.

Additionally, I’m even less fond of using turnovers as a category, as all that ends up doing is punishing the best players in the league – those who have the ball in their hands the most. Listen, assist/turnover ratios matter, and I’d love my point guard to not be unnecessarily careless with the ball, but Steve Nash, the league MVP during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, finished in the bottom 10 in turnovers per game during both of those campaigns. Last year, Dwayne Wade committed the most TPG in the league, and something tells me that wouldn’t stop him from being the first or second pick if NBA GMs held a draft today. Sure, negative categories exist in fantasy sports – batting average in baseball and INTs in football – but that’s similar to someone who doesn’t have a good field goal (or FT) percentage in basketball. Counting turnovers is akin to making errors a category in fantasy baseball or holding penalties a category in fantasy football – it simply doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In a recent NBA.com, PFC D-League draft, I heard a chorus of “why did you take him?” after making Dwight Howard the 19th overall pick. If selecting a 22-year-old center who got 17.6 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 2.0 bpg while shooting 62 percent from the floor after the All-Star break last season late in the second round elicits that kind of reaction, then something is clearly wrong with the setup. Now, this specific league doesn’t count turnovers against, so I was more than happy to get Howard there and had to respectfully disagree with their assessment, but he does have an average draft position of 29.42, and considering he “led” the NBA in turnovers last season and shoots free throws poorly, there's a reason for it. Still, I can’t in good conscience take someone like Rashard Lewis (24.4 ADP) ahead of one of the brightest young stars in the game. Fantasy certainly isn’t a perfect reflection of reality – just look at how overvalued stolen bases become in baseball – but the closer we can bridge that gap, the better.

Tanking Assists

A former RotoWire columnist, Mark Edelman, wrote about this strategy about five years ago, and I won a couple leagues doing a version of it.

The premise is that assists mostly come from point guards, and that makes them expensive. But if you take all shooting guards (which are usually cheaper), you'll usually get more threes, more points and as good or better percentages. Point guards are typically better at steals, but that's not a hard and fast rule as Larry Hughes (when healthy), Allen Iverson (when he was a SG), and even small forwards like Ron Artest, Caron Butler and Shawn Marion are often among the league leaders in that category.

Ignoring point guards in the early and middle rounds, I was able to get solid big men, small forwards and scoring guards, and then fill in with Rajon Rondo or Jose Calderon types. It also helps to get good passing big men - like Lamar Odom or Andrew Bogut, just to hang around in the assists category and not be so far back that you can't make a pickup or trade and get back into the mix later. It's a lot harder to tank a category like blocks (having bad centers usually costs you in rebounds and points), or FT percentage - once you tank it by drafting Shaq and Ben Wallace, there's no going back. At least with assists, I was able to make some moves and finish in the middle of the pack in that category.

In a competitive league, you're rarely going to be strong everywhere, but by letting go of a category almost completely, you can consolidate your strengths and get the most out of your players' contributions.

The Nets

Groovin' out to the new Radiohead CD, In Rainbows. They are selling it themselves at their Web site. You can pay whatever you want. Tried to get one, but the site was jammed up and I couldn't download it. I have since acquired one.

I've been thinking about the Nets lately. Not because Sean Williams was benched Friday night. But a friend of mine asked me who will make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. I was able to tick off Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Toronto without pause... And then I thought of New Jersey. It was purely an oversight. I like the Nets. And the question about their playoff chances prompted me to look a little closer at the team.

I never thought losing Mikki Moore was that big a deal. The Nets tried to sign him, but the two sides were not of the same mind when it came to Moore's market value. Congratulations to Mikki for getting the Kings to spend $18 million, but he's not the guy I'd be signing to improve my team's rebounding numbers (Sacto was last at 38.9 rpg last season). After Nenad Krstic's knee injury, the Nets played just two bigs (Moore and Jason Collins) consistently in the rotation, and the 7-footer Moore grabbed just 5.1 rebounds per game last season and finished behind Jason Kidd and Vince Carter. He's active and can block shots, but Moore can be pushed around defensively.

If New Jersey wanted to go deeper into the playoffs, they had to have a bigger presence in the front court, particularly at power forward. Not only a defensive presence, but also someone they can count on to score as well -- to balance out an offense that does most of its damage with perimeter players. Once the Jermaine O'Neal-to-Jersey notion became unlikely, the Nets had to go with the best available option on the free agent market, which turned out to be Jamaal Magloire. At this point, he doesn't appear to be the starter at power forward, but he could begin the season playing a lot of minutes at center. Krstic has been scrimmaging all week, but is still a bit tentative. He's hoping he can play in two or three preseason games, but admitted the knee wasn't 100 percent. Don't be surprised to see his minutes limited early on. That would mean more playing time for Magloire. But is he the best fit for the team. Absent a premier low-post scoring threat, Nets coach Lawrence Frank is implementing some motion-offense precepts into a system that will still feature getting the ball in the hands of Carter. That movement-oriented offense means Magloire can't just camp out on the blocks like he's used to doing. Magloire says he's lost 20 pounds and is more agile for the style of NBA game being played today. And he's not going to be asked to score a lot. Not with Carter, Kidd, Krstic and Richard Jefferson the first four options on offense. How he accepts his fate as an in-the-paint defensive beast with limited offensive opportunities while playing a style out of his comfort zone will dictate his playing time.

Did you check out Bostjan Nachbar's 35-point effort in the preseason opener on Friday? Granted, the Nets were resting their top four scorers, but I think Nachbar will have a big enough role this season to have some fantasy value. And there's motivation because it's a contract year for Nachbar, who has been drawing raves from teammates for his play in training camp. He worked out hard over the summer and is reportedly in better shape than ever. He didn't play for Slovenia in EuroBasket 2007, so that he could work on his NBA game and it shows. He's coming off a year when he averaged a career-high 9.2 points on 45.7 percent shooting, including 42.3 percent from 3-point range. A lot of his playing time came while he replaced an injured Richard Jefferson, but with Jefferson healthy this year, Nachbar will still get minutes because Eddie House no longer around. The loss of House means Nachbar becomes the team's best long-distance threat and second-unit scorer. He's pretty athletic and can run the court, if Frank is looking for movement on offense, and can play a couple of positions offensively. Looking further down the road, Nachbar could be a viable replacement to Jefferson at small forward, if the Nets eventually move him for a low-post scoring threat, like Indiana's O'Neal.

The Nets have been playing down Williams' tardiness for Friday's shootaround. Frank quipped, "If you're into excuses, it was a very viable excuse." Williams said he hit some traffic on the way to practice. Who hasn't pulled out the traffic excuse when late for an appointment? "Sean's a good kid," Frank said. "I know because of his past it may (look bad). Sean has been very, very good. Look, he's late. This is what we do. Guys are late and these are the rules of the team. In the NBA, people want to be treated as professionals. Part of being professional is accountability. It's not a big deal. Here's the (punishment) and you move forward." The Nets are hoping that Williams, who blocked 75 shots in 15 games for Boston College last season, can help a club that was 27th in blocked shots, averaging just 3.3 blocks per game. He may not get a ton of playing time, but Williams can have some fantasy value in limited minutes for category-hunters looking to improve in blocks.

Favorite methods for choosing sleepers

Before the season starts, every fantasy owner is a genius. We all have the perfect draft strategy, we all will outsmart everyone else in our leagues, and we all know exactly which “sleepers” to get in the middle/late rounds that are going to put our teams over the top. One of the problems, though, is that after awhile everyone reads the same magazines and websites and comes up with the same list of sleepers. Making pre-season prognostications can be full of hand-waving and guess-work, but at the same time there are some general formulas that really do help when trying to predict the next rags-to-fantasy riches story. Here we’ll look at three of those formulas to help some of you come up with your own sleeper lists.

1. Young love/upside potential. One of my colleagues, Chris Liss, is famous for drafting entire teams of players that aren’t old enough to drink. The idea here is to look for a very young, very athletic player that is either a rookie or was not quite ready to contribute last season but has the physical ability to be one of the best players in the NBA if he pans out. Liss’s philosophy is that he’d rather pick a player that could legitimately win him a title than go with a more mundane player that can’t be a difference maker. There is some validity to that train of thought, and because he does this Liss almost always finds at least one or two breakout players every season. The downside to this is that young guys, if they don’t pan out, can be pretty worthless so I don’t advocate taking your sleepers too early. Use the first few rounds to get a foundation of players you can trust, then go for the home run in the middle/later rounds.

Example candidates: Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Randy Foye, Danny Granger, Andris Biedrins, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marvin Williams, Tyrus Thomas, Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum, Darko Milicic

2. Former superstars. Another method is to look for former stars that are coming off of uncharacteristically poor seasons. Sometimes that decline is due to correctable issues, such as an injury that may have healed or just a bad season. The downside to this is that sometimes the player declined because they were just washed up, or their previous success may have been a fluke, so be careful not to get so caught up in names that you end up with a 2003 All-Star team that can’t even make the fantasy playoffs in 2008.

Examples candidates: Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Larry Hughes, Jason Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Brad Miller, Shaquille O’Neal, Bonzi Wells, Boris Diaw

3. New situation. Follow the player movement. Sometimes all a struggling player needs is a new environment and fresh opportunity, so when someone is traded or goes to a new destination as a free agent there is always the chance that they may break out. Likewise, sometimes one player moving to a new team opens up opportunity for an overshadowed player to replace them and shine. Often, young upside guys and former stars would also fit into the new situation category as well.

Example candidates: Al Jefferson, Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson, Steve Francis, Sebastian Telfair, Stephen Jackson, Channing Frye, Craig Smith

The Marcus Camby Quandary

In all of fantasy sports, there might not be a player who comes with bigger risk and reward than Marcus Camby. According to NBA.com, Camby has an average draft position of 33. There's a pretty good argument stating that number is way too high, and a different one claiming it's too low. First, the negatives:

Camby is 33 years old, and it's no secret, a huge injury risk. The 70 games played last year were actually the second highest amount of his career. He's never not missed at least 10 games in a season. He's been sidelined an average of 26 games per year throughout his career. Also, he's not that great of a scorer, averaging just 10.9 ppg during his career.

Still, there are plenty of positives to go around as well: Camby was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2006-07 and has been the NBA's leading shot blocker the last two seasons. Denver's uptempo style fits his game well, and he fills the stat sheet in ways very few others can match. He's eligible at the toughest position to fill, center, and contributes more assists from the position (3.2 apg last season) than nearly any other big man. He's a monster on the glass (11.7 rpg in 2006) and limits his turnovers (just 1.5 tpg for his career). But Camby's real value comes in the hustle categories, as he averaged 1.2 steals and 3.3 blocks per game last season. The 4.5 combined spg and bpg was the best mark in the entire NBA last season, and you rarely see those kind of theft numbers from a center.

In summation, if Camby were guaranteed to play 80 games this season, he'd be worth a top-5 pick in fantasy leagues. However, that kind of durability just can't be counted on, so one must assume he's going to miss around 20 games. That still leaves him with plenty of value, but I'd rather own him in a H2H league and just hope he's healthy come playoff time than I would a rotisserie league, where his impressive averages won't help as much in a cumulative scoring system.

The Rockets Will Be Better with Rick Adelman

Say what you like about Rick Adelman, but he did get the 1990 Trail Blazers to the finals, and he did preside over one of the most exciting teams (the Sacramento Kings of the late-90s/early 2000s) in recent memory. And for the Rockets, he's a huge upgrade over Jeff Van Gundy.

For starters, the players are happier in Adelman's more free-wheeling, dynamic system. Bonzi Wells, who never saw eye to eye with Van Gundy (and blamed some of that on his own issues), is happy because "players can be players" and don't have to constantly fear making a mistake.

But it's more than just that. Van Gundy's gritty east-coast style of lock down defense and disciplined offensive sets works well with teams like the 1990s Knicks, who had tough physical rebounders like Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason, and just average skill players on the perimeter. For the Rockets, with a superstar perimeter player who can pass, shoot or drive in Tracy McGrady, another legitimate backcourt scorer in Bonzi Wells, three-point shooters who can get up the floor in Luther Head, Mike James and Aaron Brooks and a superstar center with excellent shooting touch out to mid range, Adelman's system will play to their strengths.

Luis Scola, who's battling Chuck Hayes for power forward minutes, is another dynamic player who can pass and score, and small forward Shane Battier can knock down the three or make the right pass as well. Fantasy-wise, bump up all the key Rockets (McGrady, Yao, Battier, Wells), and whoever gets regular minutes from among Mike James, Luther Head, Rafer Alston or Steve Francis.

NFL Notes

The next time I hear someone proclaim that this team beat that team and therefore relating past events to future predictions, I’m changing the channel. If you haven’t learned the transitive property doesn’t apply to the NFL by now, you never will. Onto my thoughts from Week 5 from around the league:

The Trent Green block was shady, but watching Travis Johnson stand over someone unconscious and taunt a possibly paralyzed man was brutal. Unfortunate circumstances all around…The scarecrow wasn’t the one missing courage, by the way. That would be the lion…With Green’s concussion history, it would seem like a long shot that he plays again this season, wouldn’t it?…Owen Daniels is having one of the better fantasy seasons that’s flying under the radar…All things considered, Ron Dayne’s performance against the league’s worst rush defense was very disappointing…If a fantasy draft were held today, would Ronnie Brown be a top-5 pick?

Anyone who started Jacksonville’s defense in fantasy leagues has to be frustrated – they had a shutout until the last play of the game…Not sure why Maurice Jones-Drew was limited to nine carries, but it was nice to see him finally break one off. Expect more big plays from MJD moving forward…Larry Johnson is averaging 3.3 YPC and has yet to score a TD this season.

I’m liking Derek Anderson more and more as a fantasy quarterback; the poor Cleveland defense ensures the Browns have to pass a lot, as will the inept running game. Also, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow represent legitimate options in the passing game, with Joe Jurevicius a solid red zone target to boot. He’s getting 7.9 YPA and has thrown 10 touchdowns during his four starts. However, because Brady Quinn is almost certainly going to take over at some point, Anderson’s value is only short-term…I’m beginning to think Tom Brady is pretty good at this quarterback business…Sammy Morris is better than I thought.

I preached patience before, but you simply cannot start Drew Brees in fantasy leagues at this point. He has 11 times as many turnovers as he does touchdowns this season…For all of Sean Payton’s much-deserved praise last year, remember, this is a guy who once had play-calling duties relinquished mid-season by Jim Fassel…Put a fork in these Saints, they’re done…Nice to see Devery Henderson is alive and breathing…If you can trade Steve Smith for Plaxico Burress, do it.

Paging Kellen Clemens – Chad Pennington’s status as starter has an expiration date…Is there a worse run blocking unit other than the Jets’?…Brandon Jacobs looked great Sunday, exhibiting both power and the speed to get to the outside. He was a bogus holding penalty away from adding another 25-yard TD run onto an already impressive return from a knee injury. I’d treat him like a top-15 fantasy back right now – make sure your league mates do as well.

Santonio Holmes, everyone involved would appreciate it if you time your injuries a little differently from now on…Home/road splits are typically an unimportant stat in the NFL, but there’s something to it when it comes to Willie Parker. Last year, he averaged 3.5 YPC on the road and 5.2 YPC at home. This season, it’s 3.2 YPC when playing away and 4.8 YPC while at home…Shaun Alexander has averaged fewer than 4.0 YPC in 12 of his last 15 games. He has two favorable matchups coming up, but after that, I’d be trying to sell that stock like I’m Arthur Frobisher.

In Gus we trust? Hardly, but Frerotte was an obvious upgrade over an injured Marc Bulger, at least for fantasy purposes…Larry Fitzgerald is a top-5 and maybe even top-3 fantasy WR every game he plays without Anquan Boldin…Go ahead and make Kurt Warner your top waiver priority this week. He has the weapons and plays in the right division to be a QB1 for as long as Matt Leinart is sidelined.

The Falcons/Titans game was unwatchable. The quarterbacks combined for five interceptions with zero TDs. In all, there were seven turnovers, and the defenses accounted for more touchdowns (2) than the offenses (1) did…The Tose is Loose! Artose Pinner averaged 49.0 YPC Sunday…I’m telling you, Roddy White is going to finish with some nice numbers this season.

After a couple of lackluster performances and the bye week coming up, see how much it’d take to pry Kevin Jones off an opponents’ hands. He’ll be closer to 100 percent when he next takes the field (Week 7), and his touches are only going to increase from here on out. Despite Sunday’s evidence to the contrary, it’s a good Detroit offense, and he’ll be very active in the passing game. He’s the type of player to gamble on who could end up winning your league for you…Mike Sellers made some vicious runs Sunday, and now Clinton Portis owners have to hope he’s not the team’s new goal-line back.

It’s official – there need not any more evidence that running back is the most fungible position in football. Hello Kenton Keith…Do you realize Ike Hilliard has five more catches and just two fewer yards than Joey Galloway this season?…Mewelde Moore is a sneaky guy to stash in fantasy leagues right now. Already in trade talks with Tampa Bay, the Bucs will be even more eager to deal now that Michael Pittman is injured. MeMo is a dynamic back, averaging 4.9 YPC throughout his career and is a terrific receiver out of the backfield. He’s a deep sleeper who could pay major dividends down the road.

So maybe this Broncos team has some problems, after all…It looks like Jay Cutler’s path to Canton might hit a few unexpected bumps; still, his peripherals are pretty impressive, so expect more TD passes moving forward…Anyone who owns Michael Turner but not LaDainian Tomlinson should go try to hijack the LT owner with Turner’s performance fresh in mind…I was wrong stating in the preseason that Antonio Gates was a terrific third round pick – he should have been going in round 2…San Diego looked great and Tomlinson added 73 receiving yards, but his 3.2 YPC is actually pretty worrisome considering the game’s conditions and the fact Denver entered with the league’s second worst run defense. The 3.2 YPC was actually his second best effort of the season…Travis Henry to take a lie detector test? Let’s hope he doesn’t watch “Melrose Place.”

If you didn’t watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Sunday, you’re really missing out. If you didn’t watch the Ravens/49ers game Sunday, I’m jealous.

Looks like all of that FAAB spent on DeShawn Wynn may pay off, after all…If Cedric Benson performed his job this way in any profession other than football, he’d almost certainly be demoted by now…Greg Olsen is going to be a very good tight end in this league…I’m not sure if I’d rather own Donald Driver or Greg Jennings in fantasy leagues right now, but I do know it’s a toss up.

Signs That It's Training Camp

It must be October. The signs are everywhere.

The first sign of the season is chatter about a commitment to defense. Washington coach Eddie Jordan has been saying it for four years every October. And his players agree to communicate around picks, to rotate, and to play help or weak-side defense, but the Wizards still end up in the lower third of the league in preventing others from scoring. Well this season, Jordan is turning things over to a coach with defensive credentials. Randy Ayers brings an impressive resume and is charged with fixing the Wizards' defense. Ayers spent six seasons with Larry Brown in Philadelphia where some of those defenses were among the league's elite. He took the Magic from 22nd-ranked in 2005-06 to seventh-ranked last season. Just a modicum of defense would help Washington fend off playoff challengers, but I don't see Ayers impacting the Wizards enough to prevent them from falling out of the top-eight in the East. The Wizards may not have the implosion potential of Sacramento out West, but I see a team with uncertainties. Starting with mercurial Gilbert Arenas, who will opt out after this season. He sets the tempo of this team and who knows how his get-out-of-dodge attitude will affect the club. And I'm still not sold on the truce between Brendan Haywood and Jordan. There seems to be a recipe for collapse here.

The second sign is a coach talking about pushing the ball. After the Joe Johnson-as-point guard experiment failed, the Hawks have been trying to get quicker, but lacked a point guard to direct them. The addition of Speedy Claxton last year was supposed to address that, but injuries put the choke on Atlanta's motor. After adding Acie Law and Al Horford in the draft, Atlanta coach Mike Woodson is looking at a roster of young athletes capable of forming two units of uptempo pace. Sekou K Smith of the Atlanta Journal Constitution watched the first attempt and was skeptical of team's commitment to sustain that level all year. There's no doubt about it, the Hawks have a deep team of young athletes, and so they could be a pretty exciting team to watch. The quicker they can get Horford playing the five in place of Zaza Pachulia, the quicker they can get to the running.

The third sign is a coach promoting a fringe player as a potential rotation player. Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman is pushing second-round pick Chris Richard for minutes at the four, despite a team with Craig Smith, Al Jefferson and Mark Blount all capable of large front court roles. True, Mark Madsen will be out for some time, but Juwan Howard is still on the team and there doesn't appear to be enough minutes for the rookie. Despite that, we love that Richard laid waste to a gym in Turkey. That kind of behavior will get him on NBA TV GameNight Live regularly.

Cleaning out some injury news from the previous week:

Sacramento's frontcourt took a hit with Shareef Abdur-Rahim and rookie Spencer Hawes suffering from knee injuries. Hawes' may be serious. Kings coach Reggie Theus acknowledged surgery might be necessary. Mikki Moore and a healthy(?) Kenny Thomas will get more playing time because of the injuries. Looking deeper, keep an eye on Justin Williams, who averaged 9.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 22:30 per game in 10 April games last year.

Sean May will undergo microfracture surgery on his right knee, ending his season early. The question isn't who replaces May at power forward, because Bobcats coach Sam Vincent wants Emeka Okafur playing there. The real question becomes who replaces Okafor at center. Right now, Vincent appears to favor a lineup with 2006 second-round pick Ryan Hollins. You might want to file this under the third sign of training camp, though. Is the inexperienced Hollins ready for this? In the Eastern Conference, the Bobcats are one of six teams that stake a claim to the final two playoff spots. If Okafor stays at center, then Vincent could use Fabio look-a-like Walter Herrmann at power forward.

The season-ending shoulder injury to Tony Battie is not only prompting changes throughout the Magic's lineup, but it's caused coach Stan Van Gundy to change his offensive approach. Because of the injury, which is a blow to overall team defense, and Orlando's thin front line, Van Gundy said he will set his versatile undersized athletes loose and not call every play from the sideline. He told Florida Today that he will commit to a running game, giving his players more freedom to create off movement and in transition. In return, of course, the coach wants a commitment on the defensive end. "This had better be exactly how we play," Van Gundy said. "Hopefully we'll be a lot better as the season progresses and at our very best by the end of the season. But I don't want the game to change. I'm convinced this is the way we need to play, and I think they have taken to it." So I guess that means we can forget about any chance of the statuesque Adonal Foyle getting significant minutes or being a starter in place of Battie. The pace of game Van Gundy envisions likely means Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis will start at the forward spots in a smaller lineup. The one last thing to figure out is shooting guard. Keith Bogans has shot well in camp and is a better defender than J.J. Redick. But Redick says he's committed more to defense this summer (the No. 2 Sign That It's Training Camp) and if so, Van Gundy would likely go with him at the two. He's a better shooter than Bogans and can take the pressure of Dwight Howard inside.

Robert Swift is suffering from tendinitis in his surgically repaired right knee. He's in a battle at center with Nick Collison and Kurt Thomas, who's missed some of training camp with a bruised thigh... The Nets signed Darrell Armstrong to replace, temporarily at this point, Marcus Williams as Jason Kidd's backup.

More Battles

A couple more training-camp battles I didn't tackle last week. Apparently, Lakers coach Phil Jackson has opened up the starting point guard and center spots. Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown are in the mix at center, but it's Andrew Bynum's job to lose. At point guard, Derek Fisher will start. The bigger question is who is the primary backup: Jordan Farmar, Sahsa Vujacic or Javaris Crittenton. The smart money's on Farmar... The 76ers have four of their five starters set. Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala will man the backcourt while Reggie Evans and Samuel Dalembert handle the front. Small forward will be a battle between Willie Green and Rodney Carney. A team in need of offense might be tempted to start Kyle Korver, but he thrived as an offensive burst off the bench last year. And his defense would leave the team vulnerable on the wing.

Mining for deep sleepers in Minnesota

Last week I talked about learning to love a new team after my favorite player was traded to them. This week I follow up on the other side of the coin, how to keep the love for my old team after losing their franchise player. This was especially difficult for me in this case, as Kevin Garnett was the entire reason that the Timberwolves were my favorites in the first place. I've never been to Minnesota, I have no natural tie to the squad so why should I stay around? Especially through a dreaded "Rebuild".

For one thing, there's loyalty. I've put a significant amount of blood/sweat/tears into the Wolves over the past decade. With wonderful inventions like the NBA League Pass and the internet I've been able to get to know the team like they were my local squad. For another thing, there's the Wolves community. Guys from the Wolves message boards play in my fantasy leagues, and the Wolves followers I've encountered are some of the more knowledgeable and passionate basketball fans around. I don't want to leave that behind.

Finally, and somewhat surprisingly based upon the almost universally bad press that the Timberwolves front office gets…there's hope. Even before Garnett was traded, the Wolves front office was pushing their young players as the Blueprint of the Future. Now, whether you feel that the return package for Garnett was good value or not, it could be argued that only Portland has a decidedly better young core, and with Greg Oden out it's possible that the Wolves eclipse them as well. They sport nine players under the age of 25, four of which were lottery selections, and it is conceivable that all nine could be regulars in the rotation this season.

This is also where the smart rotisserie player starts to get interested in the Wolves. Unlike a contending team like the Celtics, there is no set hierarchy of minutes and production in place. Instead, Minnesota is now a hotbed of activity in which any from a group of 8 or 10 players could potentially break out this season. This team absolutely needs to be on your fantasy radar in the middle to later rounds, and immediately after the draft is over you should put several others on your "watch" list to pick up in case they get hot during the season. Excluding known quantities Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, who are veteran starters whose current roles are undefined in the youth movement, let's take a look at this year's Wolves of interest on my personal draft card.

Al Jefferson: Late 2nd/early 3rd round. The centerpiece of the Celtics deal, Jefferson could officially make the leap to fantasy stardom this year. Jefferson caught fire once he entered the Celts starting line-up last season, and finished the year by averaging 19.8 ppg on 55% FG, 11.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg and 1.1 steals after the All Star Break. If he can approximate those numbers for the season, he'd be worthy of a first round pick. But beware, he's had injury issues in each of his three NBA seasons and with the additional pressure of being The Man he could have trouble again this year.

Randy Foye: 6th round. I sincerely believe that the Foye/Brandon Roy dynamic this year will be like Deron Williams/Chris Paul last season. Foye had very similar per-minute numbers to Roy as a rookie, but Roy was playing 35 minutes per on a rebuilding team while Foye was playing 20 mpg on a team with playoff hopes. This year Foye is on a rebuilding squad and should be the main perimeter option. He already had the physical ability and big-shot mentality, and this summer he showed a dramatically improved 3-point stroke. Look for big things.

Corey Brewer: 11 - 13th round. The Wolves used their lottery pick this year on Brewer and have since traded Trenton Hassell, whose role he should replicate/improve upon. Brewer is a Garbageman in training that should contribute across many categories in the not-too-distant future, if he can earn the PT.

Gerald Green: 11th - 13th round. Green is competing with Davis, Brewer, and Rashad McCants for minutes at the swingmen slots. He averaged 16 points and 1.8 treys per game in 26 starts with the Celtics last season and also won the dunk contest, which combined to make his name large enough to get him roto attention.

Craig Smith: late rounds. The only reason that I list Smith below Brewer and Green is that he is more unknown. The former second round pick was an NBA All Rookie selection last season and flat out dominated in the Vegas Summer League this year. If he gets near starter minutes this season he could easily average well into double-figure scoring with solid rebounds.

Rashad McCants: late rounds/undrafted. My own personal deep sleeper. McCants came out of college as a scorer with a sweet 3-point stroke, but microfracture surgery killed his sophomore campaign last year. The word out of Minnesota is that his knee is dramatically improved this year, and if he gets his shooting stroke back he could very well grab one of those starting swingmen spots.

Ryan Gomes: very late rounds/undrafted. Gomes is a SF/PF tweener, and at times has been fantasy relevant with the Celtics over the past couple years. I don't think he'll beat out Smith at PF or any of the four swingmen for SF minutes, but if Ricky Davis and/or Mark Blount are traded before the season he has some fantasy upside.

Sebastian Telfair: undrafted but watch. Randy Foye is likely to start the season at PG for the Wolves, but he's still learning the position. Telfair is the only true PG on the roster, and he's still young enough that he could "get it" and become the lottery player he was drafted to be after disappointing in Portland and Boston.

Chris Richard: undrafted. Richard may not even make the playing rotation, but watching him in Vegas this summer he clearly has game. He's a great glue big man, willing to bang around, grab boards and play solid defense. He's also got surprisingly long arms and a nice mid-range jumper, and if he does ever earn bigger minutes he could produce in a Udonis Haslem kind of way.

Division Series Preview

Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Comments: A squad with a 4.73 team ERA faces one with a 4.32 mark. Regular season offensive production has shown no correlation to postseason success, but that really doesn’t help in predicting this series much, since both teams will be relying on their sticks. The Rockies made a remarkable run to get into the playoffs, so they may just be happy to be here. Then again, they are the hottest team in the league. Still, the Phillies at least have a top flight starter and an offense that finished second only to the Yankees in runs scored this season (the Rockies did manage the second most runs in the NL). Colorado fields the best defensive team in the Senior Circuit, but ultimately, the Phillies have too much firepower.

Phillies 3-1.

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs

Comments: The Diamondbacks were outscored on the year by 20 runs yet finished with the NL’s best record. The team no doubt entered 2007 with a bright future, but Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, Chad Tracy and Chris Young (although it was a fantastic fantasy year) all had very disappointing seasons. Oh, and Randy Johnson was also lost for the year. Still, somehow this team is playing in October, and with Brandon Webb possibly factoring into two of the five games, they have a legitimate chance at moving on. Still, the Cubs staff is deeper, and the lineup is better.

Cubs 3-1.

Los Angeles Angels vs. Boston Red Sox

Comments: The Red Sox allowed the fewest runs in major league baseball this season. Factoring in ballpark effects and their division, there might not be a more impressive statistic. Their offense scored the fourth most runs in baseball, and that was with Manny Ramirez missing 30 games and finishing with his lowest OPS since his rookie season. They are 8-4 during their last 12 games against the Angels and 18-6 during their last 24 games versus the Halos at Fenway. However, this Angels team is not to be mistaken with a doormat and enters with a solid starting rotation and bullpen. Still, Boston is more well rounded.

Red Sox 3-2.

Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees

Comments: The Yankees led MLB in runs scored (by 76 runs), batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. That’s pretty good, especially when you consider their ballpark is very tough on right-handed hitters. The pitching staff hasn’t exactly matched the offensive output, and Cleveland not only has the likely Cy Young winner but also a deserving candidate as their No. 2 starter as well. However, the rival Red Sox did them a favor in choosing the format, as C.C. Sabathia would have to come back on just three days’ rest in order to get two starts out of both, whereas that’s not the case in the other AL series. It’s a huge advantage for the Yankees, who have a deeper staff than the Indians. And with Joba Chamberlain becoming a dominant setup man, a once weak link has really been shored up in New York. The Yankees have been pedestrian against left-handed pitching this year (20-18), so if Sabathia gets two starts, Cleveland has a real chance at taking this series. Still, do you feel safe with Joe Borowski protecting a one-run lead against this lineup? Neither do I.

Yankees 3-2.

As for the eventual World Series champ – I picked the Yankees to win it all before the season began and see no reason to change that prediction now.

Undervalued Players: Part Two

Continuing a theme from last week, the following are undervalued players who are typically going too late in fantasy leagues:

Brandon Roy - Roy has a lingering heel injury that needs to be monitored, but he's also one of the major candidates to break out this season. With Zach Randolph jettisoned and Greg Oden lost for the year, Roy is clearly the centerpiece to Portland's franchise and will be the team's No. 1 scoring option this season. At 6-6, 220 lbs, Roy contributes in nearly every category. With no dominant ballhandler on the roster, Roy will essentially provide point guard stats (at least five assists per game) from the shooting guard position; he averaged 18.7 ppg while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor during the second half of last season. He'll also chip in with around 1.5 threes and steals per game, while providing a boost to your free throw percentage as well. If he somehow falls to you in the fourth round of your draft, consider yourself lucky.

Kevin Durant - It's somewhat perplexing Durant couldn't bench press 185 lbs, but all other signs point to the former Texas star being NBA ready. He's a special talent and his game should make an easy transition into the Association, especially considering his competitiveness. At 6-9, 225 lbs, Durant will basically be unguardable from the shooting guard position. He's a fantastic rebounder, can shoot from long range and will immediately help in the steals and blocks categories. Best yet, the Sonics lost both of their leading scorers from last season in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, leaving Durant with the rare opportunity of being the focus of a franchise as a rookie. New coach P.J. Carlesimo is installing a system that's nearly identical to the one Durant played in at Texas, further shortening the learning curve. If Carmelo Anthony could average 21.0 ppg as a rookie on a roster littered with a veteran presence, Durant can do better during his rookie campaign.

Corey Maggette - Unlike the young up-and-comers I've been talking about, Maggette is almost a boring option at this point. However, this season could easily prove to be the ninth-year pro's best yet, as the loss of Elton Brand (Achilles') should lead to a huge uptick in Maggette's statistics. He's never really seen eye to eye with coach Mike Dunleavy, but the relationship is getting better, as Dunleavy already named him a starter over the summer. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery during the offseason, which should alleviate the pain and soreness he had to play through for much of last season. Entering the year 100 percent, Maggette should also be extra motivated with the ability to opt out of his contract and become a free agent at season's end. If he can build off the strong final month of last season, he'd become an elite fantasy player, as Maggette's April numbers looked like this: 22.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 49.6 fg%. Also, Maggette is a huge help in the free throw category, as he not only shoots freebies well but also gets to the charity stripe with great frequency.

Zach Randolph - Randolph doesn't get the steals or blocks you'd like from the power forward position, but he's a double-double just waiting to happen. Finally fully recovered from microfracture surgery, Randolph averaged nearly 24 points with 10 boards per game last year. He's also improved as a passer, getting 3.1 apg over the second half of the season. Now, Randolph finds himself in New York, playing in a much easier conference where he should be able to dominate in the paint. There are some concerns how he will coexist with Eddy Curry (both play below the rim), but Randolph can step out and hit the jumper as well. Also, playing alongside a center with Curry's rebounding (in)ability, expect Randolph to be extremely active on the glass as well. He's going to hurt you in turnovers, but there are few power forwards who shoot free throws at an 80 percent clip like Randolph does. Do not underestimate the move to the Eastern Conference and to a Knicks team lacking a dominant scorer; Randolph could put up a 27 and 12 type year.

NFL Notes

For those of you counting at home, that’s three straight impressive efforts from Joey Harrington. Despite a 1-3 record, I’m convinced Bobby Petrino can be a successful NFL head coach…Roddy White didn’t put up eye-popping stats Sunday, but he continued to be targeted and pulled in a terrific 34-yard catch. He’s going to be a solid WR3 from here on out…DeMeco Ryans might be the NFL’s best kept secret.

If you missed the first half of the Jets/Bills tilt, consider yourself lucky…Chad Pennington throws a pretty fade route, but the windy New York does no favors to his weak arm…Finally, the Jets have made a conscious effort to get Leon Washington involved…Trent Edwards had about as good of a first NFL start as one can hope for, and it looks like Lee Evans’ fantasy value isn’t dead after all.

R.I.P., vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense…Braylon Edwards is the NFL’s next superstar at wideout…The same could be said about Kellen Winslow at tight end…Derek Anderson is currently getting 8.3 YPA.

I already have the October 14 Dallas vs. New England game circled on my calendar…Don’t look now, but the Cowboys defense has really improved with each passing game…Jason Witten has to be treated like the third best fantasy tight end from this point forward…I want to have Tony Romo’s children…The numbers don’t show it, but Brian Leonard looked like he’ll be a more than capable fill-in; if only the once potent Rams offense didn’t look like the worst in the league.

Call me crazy, but I’m not kicking the ball to Devin Hester…I want to give Brian Griese more than one start before rushing to judgment, but Chicago’s offense appears to be in big trouble this season…And part of the problem is Cedric Benson, who is simply a poor excuse for an NFL running back…Kevin Jones might not be a terrible buy-low guy right now.

Let me offer a personal apology to Raider fans: I’m sorry, this team is probably winning more than the 2-3 games I expected…There will never be a better fantasy game from a quarterback who threw for only 72 yards than Daunte Culpepper’s effort Sunday…I’m beginning to think Miami’s run defense just isn’t very good…If a fantasy draft were held today, I’m making Ronnie Brown a top-10 pick.

Quick, try to name the Vikings’ starting wide receivers…Certainly not from a fantasy standpoint – Brad Childress would have none of that – but Adrian Peterson right now is a top-5 NFL running back when on the field…Take a look at the NFC North standings. Can you say bizarro world?

The Carnell Williams injury was brutal – one of those where you just knew it was season-ending the moment it happened…If there’s someone in your league who still values DeAngelo Williams’ upside, go ahead and deal him for 75 cents on the dollar…This just in: David Carr is not a very good NFL quarterback…And to think, I almost had Ike Hilliard in my lineup…There hasn’t been a more overrated team over the past few years than the Carolina Panthers

Thank God I turned down 49er tickets this week – I became a worse football player just watching Trent Dilfer play the position Sunday…Gutsy call by Mike Nolan to start the second half with an onside kick. Too bad Dilfer spoiled it with a back-breaking INT immediately afterward – Remember, this guy has a Super Bowl ring…Somebody please get a body bag for Shaun Alexander...Is there anyone out there who actually enjoys Tony Siragusa as a commentator?

It’s official – teams with former coaches have an advantage when playing their previous employer…The Matt Leinart, Kurt Warner QB carousel means neither can be used in fantasy leagues…It’s time to stop considering a matchup with Arizona a good one for your fantasy players.

If Selvin Young is available in your fantasy league stop reading this and go change that immediately…As long as he’s healthy, Dallas Clark is a top-5 fantasy tight end…Can’t wait to see what Reggie Wayne does if Marvin Harrison misses some time.

Norv Turner is getting most of the blame, but the Wade Phillips to Ted Cottrell coaching switch on the defensive side of the ball might be the bigger and more important downgrade that was made over the offseason…I’m jealous of anyone who owns Antonio Gates in a fantasy league…Dwayne Bowe is an absolute beast. With every ridiculous play after the catch he makes, I’m less optimistic about JaMarcus Russell’s NFL future…This Kansas City defense is legit.

Osi Umenyiora might as well have been at an amusement park last night, as Winston Justice was a human turnstile. 12 sacks is a pretty good way to combat a subpar secondary…There probably isn’t a bigger high-risk, high-reward fantasy player than Brian Westbrook…If there’s a better red zone target than Plaxico Burress, I can’t think of one…Should be interesting to see what the Giants do with Brandon Jacobs back in the mix. Derrick Ward was awfully good in his stead.

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