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Fantasy Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

(The NBA lockout refuses to go away, and it'll be a while before teams can upgrade their rosters. On the plus side, it gives us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the players we'll want to target before (or if) the lockout ends. Some of these players may be on different teams by the time the season starts, but hey, that's the risk that comes with any prediction article. Today, we look at the Cleveland Cavaliers.)

No writer with the title of fantasy "expert" can accurately predict what will happen to teams like the Cavaliers, and that makes drafting one their players incredibly risky. You see, when a team is as bad as the Cavaliers were last year (and will assuredly be this year), everything is in flux. The guys you think will be starting may wind up coming off the bench by the end of the season, and the players you think are pretty good may only be putting up numbers because there's literally no one else who can do it. With Mo Williams and J.J. Hickson gone from the roster, the Cavaliers have only three players who averaged more than 12 points per game last season, and all three players are unrestricted free-agents in 2012 and are likely to leave. If that doesn't personify a team in transition, nothing does.

Worth Owning:

  • Kyrie Irving: He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, but he's got some minefields to cross before he can safely be invested in. Although both Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions could be traded before the start of the season, the likeliness that one or either will be around immediately inhibits Irving's ability to get massive amounts of playing time, like what we saw John Wall get in his rookie season. Add in the fact that he's a small, shoot-first guard with a history of feet issues, and you'd be more than justified to sit out the Irving sweepstakes. That said, I have him being ownable anyway because the Cavs have determined to build around him and will eventually clear the way for him to be the team's starting point guard. Plus, someone has to be the alpha dog of this team. There's no question he'll be a must-own player at some point in his career, but it may not happen in his first season.
  • Anderson Varejao: If anyone benefited from the loss of LeBron James last year, it was Varejao, who at last crept into the starting lineup and put up respectable numbers: 9.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. His season ended prematurely with a torn tendon, and if there's any downside to drafting him, it's that his numbers could be easily replicated by a different player down the line, since he's strictly a hustler and has trouble scoring. As long as he's on the floor though, he should put up enough stats to make him an asset for anyone in need of rebounds and blocks.

Worth Watching:

  • Daniel Gibson: Gibson might be the most overrated fantasy basketball name outside of Anthony Randolph and Tyrus Thomas. He's a good outside shooter and can occasionally provide a healthy dosage of points along with some assists and a few rebounds. But that's it. He's simply a role player, nothing more, nothing less. Those expecting more of him should really consider why in the Cavaliers' disastrous 2010-11 season, Gibson couldn't even secure a starting role on the worst team in basketball. He's so small that he basically can't do anything but shoot jumpers, and while it's nice to have a point guard who can hit three's, Gibson is a terrible distributor and rarely gets more than a couple dimes a game. Those in deep leagues could do worse, but don't expect much growth from him.
  • Baron Davis: As a longtime Golden State Warriors fan, it pains me to be critical of the man who started the "Fear the Beard" campaign in the Bay Area years before Brian Wilson did. But the fact remains that Davis was at best only a fringe fantasy option with the L.A. Clippers, and now that he's in Cleveland, there's little reason to get excited about him. Playing time shouldn't be an issue on a roster this devoid of talent, even with Kyrie Irving around. However, he's perennially-injured and has battled weight issues over the past couple years, and he's in the final year of a contract, meaning he could easily get traded to a team where he'd have even less fantasy value. There's still some skill in that 32-year-old body, but there's no sense chasing his name when the team he plays for already has a younger, brighter point guard to replace him with. You've been warned.
  • Ramon Sessions: He's the reincarnation of Andre Miller, except for the part where he's actually a starting point guard. Like Miller, his game is simple enough. He's a solid mid-range shooter who won't hurt your field-goal or free-throw percentages, although he absolutely refuses to take three-point shots, but his strength is in passing. In 38 starts last season, Sessions averaged 14.5 points and 5.9 assists per game, highlighted by a brilliant February in which he averaged 19.9 points, 8.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He's a must-own player so long as he's in the starting lineup, but those days are probably over with Irving and Davis around. Keep him on your radar, especially if he gets traded.
  • Antawn Jamison: Jamison is the perfect example of how solely focusing on statistics without considering the resume often leads to disaster in fantasy basketball. Jamison has built a career around scoring points on terrible teams, and last year was no different. He lead the LeBron-less Cavs with 18 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest in 2011, while averaging 20.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.7 three's and a steal in 38 starts. Those numbers are great. However, he also missed the final two months of the year with a fractured finger and will be 35 years old next season in the final year of a massive contract, on a team looking to rebuild. Those are some serious red flags. Yeah, he could put up some nice stats, but you're a fool if you draft him. What he does in January and February means nothing if he can't help you in April, when the fantasy basketball playoffs start, and there's a tremendous chance Jamison will be traded, injured or on the bench when the season ends. Sell high if you're gutsy; those looking for stability should look the other way.
  • Tristan Thompson, Semardo Samuels, Omri Casspi, Christian Eyenga: Am I lumping these four names together to cover my bases, or am I just being lazy? Maybe a little of both. As I mentioned before, there are no guarantees with a roster like this. Eyenga, Samuels and Thompson will all vie for minutes at the forward positions, and are all young and talented enough that any of them could get playing time. I even lump Casspi into the discussion, because although he's mostly a jump-shooter, Cleveland liked him enough to trade away J.J. Hickson for him, so they obviously must think there's something to his game.

The Forgettables: Anthony Parker, Luke Harangody, Joey Graham, Manny Harris, Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden