Why the Low Price?

This past Sunday night, I partook in an auction. Just so there's no confusion, this was not a grand affair at Sotheby's where one spends untold fortunes to hang some of Monet's water lilies on the sitting room wall. Nor was it the kind of auction where your childhood friend who fell in with the wrong crowd is having his collection of Maseratis sold off to help pay his legal fees. And, for the record, we are not talking about the sort of event whereby your arch-golfing nemesis, a fellow named "Shooter," is attempting to purchase your grandmother's house as a means of getting you (and your wildly popular unorthodox style) off the pro tour for good.

The type of auction I'm referring to is a fantasy basketball auction, specifically one in which you have a total of $200 to spend on 13 players. And I bring it up because seeing monetary values attached to players hammered home an important point: As the regular season draws near, a number of players ranging from prominent to slightly more obscure remain decidedly undervalued in fantasy drafts.

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Here's a look at eight potential gems who can be acquired at a discounted price:

Jeff Green

In my auction draft, I picked up the rising young Oklahoma City forward for a scant bid of 3 dollars, which is about what you'd pay for a grilled kielbasa at the local renaissance fair. For frame of reference, Chris Paul, LeBron and Kobe all went for over 50 dollars in my auction, which is more like what you'd pay for violating a noise ordinance at the renaissance fair when your experimental lute quartet decides to branch out and play some Def Leppard covers.

The key takeaway from this monetary analogy is not that grilled kielbasa is good and Def Leppard covers played by lute quartets are bad; rather, it's that Green is somewhere in the vicinity of highly undervalued heading into his second NBA campaign.

Skeptics most likely see Green's modest rookie stats (10.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.6 spg and 0.6 bpg) and wonder exactly where this forecast is coming from. And yes, it's true that for much of his rookie year, Green looked decidedly lost (or green, if you will) in the Emerald City.

But here's where the season stats don't tell the whole story: During his final 15 games, Green averaged 15.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.0 spg and 0.7 bpg, while also adding a total of nine threes (0.6 per game). And over the season's final 10 days, he dropped 35 points, 10 rebounds, two threes, a steal and a block on Denver, then closed out the year with 27 points, 10 boards and two steals against Golden State.

Kevin Durant is the unquestioned face of the Thunder, and his stature clearly drowns out most or all of the hype surrounding Green. But as Durant's sidekick, Green is being counted on for significant production as well, and losing sight of this versatile forward in the late rounds of your draft would be a big mistake.

Randy Foye

He won't come quite as cheap as most of the other players on this list, but Foye's impending breakout remains relatively low profile. That's in part because of last year's solid, but not eye-popping season averages (13.1 ppg, 4.2 apg and 1.6 threes per game), and because of health concerns after Foye missed the first 43 games of 2007-08 with a knee injury. Perhaps further impacting people's perception of Foye is that his backup, Sebastian Telfair, seems to still carry some name recognition as a player who is thought to have high upside.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what inconsequential factors are driving Foye's value down - all you should care about is that he's the man at point guard in Minnesota. Over the final 10 games of last season, Foye averaged 18.4 ppg, 5.2 apg and 2.2 threes a night. Let other people scramble to draft the talented but high-priced Devin Harris, then grab Foye - who could be just as good - a couple rounds later.

David West

He's got an anonymous name, frequently chooses to play below the rim and probably doesn't enjoy sugar cereal. But while West's outward characteristics aren't particularly dynamic, if you're ultimately concerned with stats above all else (and you should be), his production is more than dynamic enough. There are few power forwards who contribute like West (20.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg with great percentages), yet he comes at a cheaper price than Chris Bosh, who had virtually identical stats last year.

Unlike the other players on this list, West will be an early-round pick in your draft. But he's listed here because he remains significantly undervalued among the first 50 or so players who will come off the draft board. Don't worry about the why (unless the breakfast cereal thing really bothers you). Let someone else pay for Bosh and then enjoy Bosh-like production one round later.

Rafer Alston

Once one of the most trendy sleepers in fantasy hoops, it seems that owners have tired slightly of Skip to My Lou's act. Here's what is inexplicably causing our fatigue: 13.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.9 threes a night. (Those are Alston's cumulative averages over the past four seasons.) At age 32, he's not likely to suddenly plummet off a statistical ledge, so if you can get past the unexplained nonchalance surrounding Alston in drafts, you should be enjoying those stats for at least another year. Granted, you'll also be enjoying a field goal percentage (39.1% over the past four years) that will blast a small to medium-sized hole in your hull in that category (mandatory seafaring analogy: complete). But at the late stage you're acquiring Alston, the rest of his contributions will make the substandard shooting worth it. Just do yourself a favor and make sure he's the only truly rotten marksman on your squad.

Kenyon Martin

Owners are afraid of K-Mart getting injured, and perhaps rightfully so (who, after all, can forget that dreadful staph infection of the buttocks last winter). But before you instinctively run away at the thought of infected rear ends, realize this: In his first season back after microfracture surgery, Martin played in a surprising 71 games last year, averaging 12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.2 spg and 1.2 bpg. And with Marcus Camby now in Denver, K-Mart appears poised for a small statistical spike in 2008-09 (barring, of course, any unforeseen maladies relating to his hindquarters). He's a big name, so he probably won't be on the board at the very end of your draft, but Martin is a nice value pick heading into this year.

Mike Conley

He is certainly on people's radars heading into the season, but perhaps not as much as he should be. Conley showed plenty of potential last year, but one thing he also displayed was a relatively weak jump shot (the lefty hit just 30 threes in 53 games last year). However, in his first seven preseason games this year, Conley buried 7-of-16 threes (43.8%). The preseason doesn't always mean much in terms of how players will produce over the course of 82 games, but in terms of something like a three-point stroke, it can be a legitimate barometer of success. His preseason production is admittedly a small sample size, but if the devastatingly quick Conley adds a three per game to his contributions in assists and steals, he'll make a very nice (and inexpensive) second-tier point guard this year.

Amir Johnson

The perfect type of player to grab in the last round of your draft. He's young (21), explosive, relatively unknown, has limitless upside (particularly as a shot-blocker) and appears to be your starting power forward in Detroit. Johnson does have significant competition for minutes (Jason Maxiell, Antonio McDyess and Kwame Brown are all in the mix), but there's a reason you're getting him in the last round. While other people are visiting old haunts like Cuttino Mobley and Kyle Korver - playing it safe in hopes of capturing 12 ppg and a few threes - you can gain an edge by staying aggressive all the way to the end. Johnson is an everyman's name, but in the case of your new friend Amir, it is a name that's synonymous with potential. The one time he played more than 30 minutes last year, Johnson posted a line of eight points, nine rebounds and seven blocks in a mid-February win over Indiana.

Tyrus Thomas

Because he's proven himself to be one of the more infuriating prospects in fantasy hoops (going for 20 points, 14 boards and 3 blocks one game to 4 points and 4 rebounds the next, to cite a recent example from last April), you can expect Thomas to be available at the end of your draft. This qualifies as relatively outstanding news, because Thomas is the epitome of a great late-round pick - a guy with absolutely freakish potential who just needs a coach to consistently play him in the range of 30 minutes a night. At this precise moment, it appears that Vinny Del Negro may be that coach, as Thomas is currently the Bulls' starting power forward. This does not mean that you count on him to be a starter for your fantasy team just yet (after all, you've probably had a chair yanked out from under you by this man before). Instead, you plant him on your bench at the start of the season and wait to see if he looks ready to fulfill his vast potential. If so, you have permission to make a speech. If not, you cast him away and move on all the wiser, which you are now advised to do with regard to this column.

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