Amare Stoudemireby Emry DowningHall

Hope is cheap at the start of the fantasy basketball season. Rosters are in-tact and healthy, and every player gets the benefit of the doubt before opening night.

Though it won’t come as revelation, the key to getting out early in fantasy sports is the draft. This season, I’ll be keeping you on point with the moves you need to be making with my waiver wire column each week, but the draft is your foundation. Here’s what you need to know:

2008-09 Projected Top 10 Fantasy Players
There’s a lot of parity in the first round this year, but please believe, everyone isn’t created equal. Clearly the top four picks are the prizes of this draft, but there’s plenty of value beyond those guys. Here’s how I rank them:

1. Chris Paul – Having to choose between CP3 and LBJ is definitely one of those good problems to have. I’m going with CP3 first, if only because he wont hurt you in any category, and the point guard position is the second hardest slot to fill in fantasy hoops.

2. Lebron James – I actually would rather draft in the no. 2 slot so I don’t have to make a decision here. I’m putting Lebron no. 2 because of his turnovers and free throw percentage, both of which are overcome by his video game statistics in all other categories. He’s Karl Malone with guard skills, and is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.

3. Amare Stoudemire – Wait, you spelled Kobe Bryant wrong! Nope. Just as I chose CP3 no. 1 based on scarcity at point guard, Amare gets the same treatment. He may lose center eligibility at some point, but his value skyrocketed last season once Marion adiosed, and I expect him to continue improving. I realize this wont be a popular selection, but consider Kobe’s expanded options–Bynum, Gasol–and the fact that Amare is an excellent free throw shooting big, and I’ll take STAT. The goggles were also a factor.

4. Kobe Bryant – This selection isn’t a slight to Kobe, if anything it proves the difference between fantasy basketball and reality hoops. He’s an excellent value at no. 4, and regardless of whether he defers more this season to Gasol, Bynum, and Odom he will produce at an elite clip. I just feel like it’s easier to replicate production at the guard slot.

5. Dwyane Wade – This selection comes down to whether or not you believe his injuries are truly in the rearview. When healthy, Wade is an absolute madman and a can’t miss choice at no. 5.

6. Dirk Nowitzki – People are down on the big German this year and I’m not sure why. This is fantasy basketball folks, the first quarter stats count as much as the fourth, and Dirk will help you all over the board without hurting you anywhere.

7. Kevin Garnett – Folks were upset with the Big Ticket last year because he was pretty much a unanimous top 3 selection. Though he was clearly over valued, it doesn’t mean he had a bad year. He’s a steal at no. 7.

8. Caron Butler – With seemingly the entire Wizards roster on the IL, Butler is primed for another big year. He has a history of injuries which can be a little scary, but finished as a Top 5 performer last season.

9. Elton Brand – Deron Williams would have been in this slot before his ankle injury. Instead, I’m going to put Brand here and recall the pre-achilles Elton that provided elite value to owners. Besides that massive blemish, he doesn’t have a history of injuries and you’ve got to assume the Sixers staff did their homework before investing that kind of coin on the man. Pick him with confidence.

10. Deron Williams – The reports on his ankle were all better than initially anticipated and it looks like he will only miss the first week of the season. It’s a bit of a risky pick to start the year with your no. 1 on the shelf, but he’s going to have a huge season and shouldn’t have issues going forward.

2008-09 Sleepers
You may know the name, but the role has changed:

Marcus Williams – I would like him a lot more if he wasn’t playing for Nelly. Don Nelson has no love for fantasy owners, and is constantly toying with players minutes. Target Williams after the 10th round, and keep an eye on the point guard battle in the Bay.

Wilson Chandler – Either Chandler or Q. Rich is going to emerge with value at Hakim Warrickthe small forward slot in New York. Chandler is extremely athletic, and with the Knicks rebuilding, it makes sense to give him the tick.

Thaddeus Young – He came on very strong at the end of last season, and could start at the four slot for the 76ers. He shoots a high percentage and rebounds well on both ends. Target Young anytime after the 12th round for a super deep sleeper pick.

Tyrus Thomas – He possesses all the gifts a great player should have, though it has hardly materialized for him. If the minutes are consistent he’ll provide big value as a late round pick to his owners.

Hakim Warrick – The post-Gasol era in Memphis opened the door for a lot of production for Warrick. He’s come into the season with an expanded offensive arsenal, and will get a chance to prove himself, playing for a contract this season.

Kevin Love – Who else is going to play center for the ‘Wolves? Minutes equal production in the NBA, and Love is going to get plenty of opportunity early on.

Fixin’ To Blow…pause
These guys aren’t sleepers by any means, but target them as value picks in your draft because they’re primed for a huge season:

Rudy Gay – His actual value puts him as a 2nd round selection this season. Though I wouldn’t take him early in the 2nd, he’s a steal late in that round and it’s murder if you can get him in the 3rd.

David Lee – Don’t get carried away and select Lee before the 6th round, but if you can grab him anytime after the 6th, it’s a steal.

Devin Harris – He has no competition in New Jersey and will almost be forced to fill the stat sheet on a nightly basis. I like him anytime after the 6th round.

Marvin Williams – He already took a step forward last season and I expect that Randy Foyemomentum to continue. If you want his services I would look to snag him in the 7th round to be sure, anytime after that you risk losing him.

Jason Kidd – He’s been going in the 4th round of every draft I participated in, and I think it’s a steal. With a full training camp in a Mavericks uniform he will improve off last season. He might be old, but he can still fill the box.

Carmelo Anthony – Word out of Denver is that Melo will be manning the power forward position quite often this year. You already know he’s going to be squeezing, but this move might force him to up his rebound totals and actually play some defense.

John Salmons – When Ron Artest was out of the Kings lineup last season, John Salmons lit up the scoreboard almost every night. When he got the minutes, he was one of the best pickups of the year, and he’s primed repeat with Artest in Houston. Target Salmons during, or anytime after the 7th round.

Francisco Garcia – Though I prefer Salmons to Garcia, you may be able to pick up Francisco in a deeper round. Anytime after the 10th round, he’s a must add. He’ll also benefit from Artest’s absence this season and won’t be on as many radars as JS.

Randy Foye – His injury history has de-railed his production, and kept his value on ice a bit. He still rebounds quite well from the guard spot, and will help your team in a variety of categories. He’s a great value after the 7th round, and may slide deeper during inexperienced drafts.