Training camps may a month away, but it's never too early to start thinking about the NBA fantasy ahead. Today, the model team, the Spurs.
The Spurs won 55-plus games for an absurd eighth year in a row. They were one of the top defensive teams in the league, but they didn't have enough firepower to get past the Lakers. Fantasy-wise, their slow 88.8 pace factor (28th of 30) and balanced rotation (nine players averaged 17-plus minutes but none was over 34) continues to limit the value of their players.
Key additions: Roger Mason, George Hill, Malik Hairston, James Gist, Anthony TolliverKey losses: Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Robery Horry?
San Antonio lost Barry to Houston, but when you consider that Mason is also a very good outside shooter, plus he's nine years younger and a superior defender, it's a move that makes sense for them. Though Finley returned, Horry won't be back, and when you throw in all of their new draft picks and consider how few dunks they had in '07-08, the Spurs are clearly trying to get younger.
It's still a three-man show in San Antonio. Tim Duncan will play 34 minutes per game and put up 20 and 10 (or 19 and 11) as usual. Manu Ginobili played a career-high 31.1 mpg in '07-08, and with the departure of Barry, that number could rise to 32-34 this season. Year in and year out, Ginobili is one of the most productive per-minute guys in the NBA, but coach Gregg Popovich likes to keep him fresh. Tony Parker is younger than those guys, so I'm expecting his 33.5 mpg to go up slightly this season.
What about everyone else? Well, if the Spurs continue to give Bruce Bowen 30-plus minutes, they deserve to get knocked out of the playoffs. The guy's stats are horrible, and at 37-years old, he isn't getting any better. I know, he's in there for his defense and three-point shooting, right? Well, Ime Udoka (18.1 mpg) is pretty damn good at those things as well, not to mention being a much more versatile player who can actually make free throws (Bowen is a career 57.5 percent free-throw shooter). Udoka was signed to replace Bowen in '10, but I'm predicting it happens this year, so I'll project 24 mpg for both players.
At center, Fabricio Oberto (20 mpg) and Kurt Thomas (18.7 mpg with San Antonio) will once again be one of the most rugged and boring duos in the league (yawn). ... Mason will get about 20 minutes of run backing up both guard spots, and could have value if someone gets hurt (in nine starts last year, he averaged 17.4 points 3.4 assists, and a whopping 2.8 threes per game on 52.6 percent from the field). ... I would also like to see Ian Mahinmi and/ or Matt Bonner get a chance to play more, for purely selfish reasons. I've mentioned Mahinmi as a possible future fantasy star before, and I caused a ruckus (not really) by selecting the "best redhead in the NBA" as the 12th man for my All-White team. And you never know ... if Timmy goes down, one of them could have serious fantasy value.
It feels weird hyping Parker, because he's a former Finals MVP whose real-life value is much greater than his fantasy value. But I think most owners are so jaded by his inability to make threes and free throws, that he could fall further than he should this year. In '07-08, his shooting (49.4 percent from the floor, 25.8 percent from three, 71.5 percent from the line) was much worse than the year before (52.0% FG, 39.5% 3P, 78.3% FT), so those numbers could bounce back nicely in '08-09. Parker also averaged a career-low .80 steals per game last season, so expect that number to rise as well. I'm not saying you should use an early-round pick on him (see below), but he's entering his prime (26 years old) and his numbers can only improve.
I'm not even talking fantasy hoops now. Bowen is a dirty competitor, so if you're an NBA player reading this, watch out for the guy. As I suggested above, he will be riding the pine more often this season, so he'll likely be even more irritated and aggressive than usual. You frail guys like Kevin Martin need to be especially careful. I don't want to use a second-round pick on you expecting a breakout season, only to see you miss some games because Bowen undercut you.
(Where the following Spurs should be drafted in an eight-category roto league with 12 teams and 14-man rosters)
Ginobili: 3rd-4th roundsDuncan: 3rd-4thParker: 8th-9thMason: Don't draft (but watch if you need threes)Thomas and Oberto: Don't draft (but consider if either gets hurt)Mahinmi & Bonner: Don't draft (but watch closely if Duncan goes down)