Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
You can finally count the days on one hand. Five days, one for each of Kobe Bryant's championship rings, remain before the opening of the 2012-13 NBA regular season.
Last season was unusual to say the least. The season began with a lockout and ended with LeBron James winning his first NBA title. In between, Dwight Howard sulked, Derrick Rose got injured and Metta World Peace slugged James Harden.
What will the 2012-13 season hold in store for us? We're about to find out. But before we do, let's tackle some of this year's toughest fantasy questions:
1. What will LeBron do for an encore? Now that LeBron finally has a ring, will he take his foot off the gas or keep going full-speed ahead? LeBron is a student of the game and has always had a great sense of history. I doubt he'll be satisfied ending his career with one championship. The King might see his scoring average slip by a point or two with Dwyane Wade healthy again but he's still the best player in fantasy hoops.
2. How will injuries affect this year's fantasy crop? Usually we have to wait for the season to start before players start getting hurt. Not this year. Here is a list of this season's walking wounded. Draft accordingly:
- Chauncey Billups, Guard, Los Angeles Clippers (Achilles, out until mid-November)
- Avery Bradley, Guard, Boston Celtics (shoulder surgery, December)
- Andrew Bynum, Center, Philadelphia 76ers (knee surgery, could miss start of season)
- Al Harrington, Forward, Orlando Magic (knee, mid-November)
- Kevin Love, Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves (broken hand, out 5-to-6 weeks)
- Dirk Nowitzki, Forward, Dallas Mavericks (knee surgery, out 3-to-4 weeks)
- Derrick Rose, Guard, Chicago Bulls (ACL, All-Star break or later)
- Ricky Rubio, Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves (knee surgery, late December)
- Iman Shumpert, Guard, New York Knicks (ACL, December)
- Amare Stoudemire, Forward, New York Knicks (knee, out 2-to-3 weeks)
- John Wall, Guard, Washington Wizards (knee, late November)
3. Can Brook Lopez be a fantasy star? Yeah, right. Sure, Lopez notched 20.4 ppg in 2010-11, third-best among Eastern Conference centers that year. But that was without the combination of Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace, a trio that generated 2,840 points last season. Looks like Lopez can kiss that 20 ppg average goodbye. Plus, he's coming off a serious ankle injury and he can't rebound a lick (5.8 rpg in his last two seasons). Don't count on Lopez to have a big year.
4. Who's left in Orlando? That's a darn good question. Shooting guard Arron Afflalo seems like the safest bet to do anything in fantasy after posting a career-high 15.2 ppg in 62 games for Denver in 2011-12. Don't sleep on Glen "Big Baby" Davis either. He actually played pretty well filling in for Howard at the end of last season (16.4 ppg and 8.8 rpg in April). Other than those two, there's not much to see here.
5. Which rookie is the player to own in fantasy? Conventional wisdom tells you it's New Orleans forward Anthony Davis (14.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.7 bpg at Kentucky last season) but I actually have my eye on Portland's Damian Lillard. The 6-foot-3 point guard was a beast in college (24.5 ppg for Weber State last season) and he's had a brilliant preseason (17 ppg on 40 percent three-point shooting). Though he's raw, Boston power forward Jared Sullinger out of Ohio State could also be an impact fantasy player during his rookie season (10.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg in eight preseason games).
6.Will 2012-13 be Rajon Rondo's breakout season? You mean last year wasn't his breakout season? Rondo led the league in assists (11.7 apg), was sixth in steals (1.8 spg) and despite being only 6-foot-1, he led all point guards in rebounds per game (4.8 rpg). His six triple-doubles were also the most in the league last season (side note: nobody else had more than one).
The critics will tell you Rondo's not a scorer. I beg to differ. The hot- tempered 26-year-old scored 44 points against the Heat in Game 2 of last year's Eastern Conference Finals and averaged 17.3 ppg for the postseason. You can draft Rondo wherever you want but I know I'm grabbing him in the first round.
7. What does Kobe have left in the tank? At age 34, Bryant could be content to slow things down and let his teammates do most of the work while he enjoys his final seasons in the NBA (he says he's leaning toward retirement after the 2013-14 season). Or he could shoot the ball every chance he gets like the competitive psychopath that he is. I'm going with the latter.
Steve Nash is always looking to pass and believe it or not Howard only averaged 0.1 shots per game more than Bynum did last season.This is still Kobe's team and he is still going to get plenty of shots. He should be a lock for 25 ppg this season.
8. Jeremy Lin, anyone? No, thank you. That's not a knock on Lin. Just look at his supporting cast. Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Kevin Martin round out the rest of the Rockets' starting lineup. That's not exactly an All-Star team. With the lack of help around him, Lin will face far more defensive pressure than he ever did playing for the Knicks. That's probably not going to fix Lin's severe case of turnoveritis. At least he won't have to sleep on Landry Fields' couch anymore, right?
Now, for the bonus question: Will Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen shake hands Tuesday night in Miami? Stay tuned for the answer.