Top draft pick Andrea Bargnani is delivering unexpected value
PROJECT is not a
label that fantasy owners like to see affixed to their players, unless there's
a league out there that awards points based on the number of times a coach
compliments someone's work ethic. That's why, despite the abundant--and
immediate--success of recent No. 1 picks Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Yao
Ming, Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani wasn't high on many fantasy draft boards
this fall. Bargnani certainly didn't allay any doubts right out of the gate: In
his first month in the NBA the 21-year-old Italian averaged 7.3 points (albeit
in 15.8 minutes).
But Bargnani has
been on a steady statistical upswing, thanks in no small part to a directive
from Raptors G.M. Bryan Colangelo last month telling coach Sam Mitchell to give
the 7-footer more minutes. The move paid immediate dividends: Bargnani had six
straight double-digit scoring nights from Nov. 26 to Dec. 6. "His comfort
level since November has improved significantly," says an Eastern
Conference scout. "It's as if he has recognized that he's already a good
enough shooter to play at this level." Don't expect Bargnani to become
gun-shy anytime soon, either. "One thing about Andrea," says Mitchell.
"He's not afraid to shoot."
Credit Miami assistant coach Keith Askins with the development of forward
Dorell Wright, who has played nearly as many games so far this season (19) as
he had in his first two seasons with the Heat (23). Under Askins's tutelage
Wright has become a more consistent defender and at week's end was averaging
6.6 points, nearly tripling his scoring average from 2005--06. "They
haven't even asked him to play offense yet," says an Eastern Conference
personnel man. "This kid is just loaded with potential." In eight games
as a starter Wright was averaging 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
With the emergence of Wright and James Posey's steady play off the bench,
Antoine Walker, who at week's end was averaging a career-low 9.5 points per
game, figures to see his minutes dwindle.
Knicks center Eddy Curry may be the most frustrating player in the
NBA--considering his lackadaisical defense and tendency to rebound like Chubby
from Teen Wolf--but he's been pure gold for fantasy owners this season. Curry
scored 20 or more points in nine consecutive games and has established himself
as the focal point of New York's offense. "[ Knicks coach] Isiah [Thomas]
loves to go small in the fourth quarter and play the energy game," says one
scout. "But Eddy has been so good that Isiah not only has to leave him in,
he has to go to him a lot more often."
Lakers forward Luke Walton's play won't make any highlight shows, but he has
proved to be a reliable producer in his first season as L.A.'s starting small
forward. At week's end Walton was averaging 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8
assists, and had earned the trust of coach Phil Jackson. "He doesn't do
anything great," says a Western Conference scout, "but he's tailor-made
for the triangle offense, and you can count on regular production from him
every single night." Another reason for fantasy owners to like Walton: Kobe
Bryant is day-to-day with an ankle injury, and Walton is averaging 17.0 points
in the games Bryant has missed this season.