Fratello’s Fantasy Picks: 2010 Fantasy Draft

Statistics may not lie, but they cannot predict the future. They merely enable us to make our best educated guesses. Even with the most exacting analysis of player stats from years past there is no way to guarantee the assembly of a winning team – anything can happen. That’s what keeps both real and fantasy sports so exciting.

Think about grabbing these guys a little earlier than you may have planned because they look to be underrated in some leagues and on the rise.

Devin Harris (Nets – PG)

With all the recent changes to the Nets organization from ownership on down, the team is hardly recognizable – which is exactly the look they’re going for. But there are still some familiar faces on the revamped roster who will be integral to the new-found success they seek.

Former All-Star Devin Harris is back in action. Devin has the speed and quickness to create transition opportunities on offense. If he can stay healthy this season he will log a lot of minutes and score points. And All-Star-to-be Brook Lopez will help out Harris in the assists column.

It will be interesting to see the relationship that Harris develops with new head coach Avery Johnson and whether he buys into Avery’s defensive philosophy. Ranked as low as 62, Devin is undervalued in some leagues so look to grab him in the 4th Round. When playing his best ball Devin ranks among the top point guards around.

Brandon Jennings (Bucks – PG)

Coming off a phenomenal rookie campaign in which he led the Bucks to the playoffs, Brandon Jennings is arguably more valuable than a 20th ranked point guard. Jennings started in all 82 games and proved he can get numbers.

In fact his first night out on the court as an NBA pro, Jennings wound up just one rebound and one assist shy of a triple double. Not to mention Jennings had a 55-point game against Golden State in November, setting the franchise rookie record.

The Bucks hope Jennings will come back more mature and physically stronger than in his rookie year. He appears to take a very serious approach to his game, which should spell good things for him down the road. The Bucks are a better team this year so they have more weapons to brandish. Joining forces with a healthy Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, Jennings will add tremendous value in Round 5.

Joakim Noah (Bulls – C)

After signing a contract extension with the Bulls earlier this month, Joakim Noah can finally charge full steam ahead. He is a steadily improving player who has just scratched the surface of his potential.

Noah plays with an energy and passion you have to love. His offensive game is continuing to develop. He is complimented by power forward Carlos Boozer, and once Boozer is healthy it will free up easy buckets for Noah. Noah is also an excellent rebounder, and he can block shots.

If Noah’s plantar fasciitis does not affect him the way it did last year, I think his numbers will go up significantly. He is ranked 15th in the center pool but if he makes it to Round 4, consider it a steal.

Luis Scola (Rockets – PF, C)

A ferocious rebounder and defender, Luis Scola is now the best player on the court for Houston. Filling in for Yao last season he was able to gain experience and showcase his talent, putting up 44 points against the Nets. His scoring has improved over the last few seasons and he’s versatile enough to face up and get the 18-20 foot jumper.

Though Yao Ming has returned he will be playing reduced minutes so Scola will continue to put up points and grab rebounds in his fourth year with the Rockets. And with his workload lightened, Scola’s minutes should have more impact.

The Rockets will have to play well to make the playoffs in the competitive West this season, and I expect Scola to lead the charge – perhaps earning his first All-Star appearance along the way. Ranked anywhere from 60-80 overall in most leagues, I value him as an early third-round pick.

Blake Griffin (Clippers – PF)

Returning from a lost rookie year, Blake Griffin looks healthy and raring to go. He is as athletic as they come and has much to prove to the NBA.

Griffin is still considered a rookie, but he has no doubt learned a lot and gained valuable experience on the sidelines while recovering from his broken left kneecap. He has played very well in the exhibition season and has a legitimate shot at being a big-time contributor for the Clippers. Griffin will be their go-to guy and, as always, will rebound with the best of them.

You can probably get Griffin as a late pickup in many leagues because he is an unproven entity and you still have to worry about whether his knee will hold up under the rigors of the NBA schedule. So pick him in the 6th Round.

Around the League: Will the Nets Go From Worst to First in Five?

Tomorrow the Nets tip off against Yao Ming and the Rockets in Beijing for the first of two exhibition games headlining the NBA China Games 2010. This preseason pit stop arrives on the heels of the team’s day-long debut in Moscow. New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov met many of the players for the first time and introduced them to Russian basketball fans by way of an open practice and a clinic for 3,000 youths in an effort to build their global brand and broaden their fan base.

Prokhorov has set his team’s sights on making the playoffs this season and winning a championship in five years. This might sound like an impossibly tall order for a 12-win team that is coming off the worst season in franchise history.

However, just a few years back the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics reminded us what a difference a summer can make. After finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA in 2007 and drawing a disappointing fifth-round draft pick, the Celtics reinvented their roster, acquiring Ray Allen, Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett, and took the championship title in 2008 – their first since 1986.

With a new owner, a new GM, a new head coach, a new arena and lot of new names on their roster including third overall draft pick Derrick Favors, who is certainly a special player, the reconstituted Nets are poised to stage their own incredible comeback. But first they must convince themselves that they’ve got what it takes. A little self-induced amnesia may go a long way as the team’s ability to head into the new season with a winning mentality will be crucial to its success. This starts at the top so it bodes well that Prokhorov has a strong desire to win and is committed to turning the program around, backing up his lofty expectations and goals with a financial commitment.

General manager Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson share Prokhorov’s ambitions and are taking a “team first” approach to their relationship. In addition to the support of Prokhorov and King, Avery has assembled a tremendous coaching staff consisting of former head coaches with great basketball minds and invaluable experience including lead assistant Sam Mitchell, Larry Krystkowiak, John Loyer, Popeye Jones and longtime Nets guy Tom Barrise, who was also my former scout back in Atlanta.

In last Thursday’s exhibition game against the veteran Celtics, the Nets got off to a good start, faltered in the second quarter, and then made a game of it in the fourth. Though Boston ultimately held off the Nets 96-92, there’s a lot to like about how competitive a game it was. A combination of youth, talent and veteran leadership, the new Nets are already looking much improved this season.

It was unusual to see Nets’ former head coach Lawrence Frank sitting on Celts’ bench as Doc’s new assistant. I like Boston’s new pickups and thought that former Cavs Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West played well and looked like they will be contributors.

The Celts’ new roster gives them depth and versatility, which becomes extremely valuable down the stretch. Ian pointed out we could be looking at five future Hall of Famers on the Celtics starting lineup. They still have to get back their starting center Perkins, but it will be interesting to see if this season’s roster is stronger than last year’s title contenders.

The NBA China Games 2010 opener featuring the Houston Rockets against the New Jersey Nets will be televised live from the Wukesong Arena in Beijing, China on NBA TV this Wednesday, October 13 at 8:00 AM EST.