Unknown, Unseen, Are We Living Underneath the Radar?
If you’re like me (and given you’re reading this, you likely are), then you are giddy with excitement at the imminent return of NBA Basketball. You are eager to know whether Derrick Rose will be Derrick Rose again, if Kobe will play on opening night, and if the Brooklyn experiment will be more successful than last year’s Lakers. But really, you just can’t wait for your fantasy seasons to tip-off. To help you prepare for your drafts , allow me to guide you through the unknown and unseen during the last of the dog days of the NBA off season, by previewing players who will break out, who’ve been over-hyped, and who may be a little under the radar.
You’ve got to find a way, Play how we want you to play, Breakout
I reached back to the late 80s for that track title, and really a lot of these players are reminiscent of that era of basketball. They are pure in their positions, and I believe will break out with pure production this year.
Anthony Davis – PF/C New Orleans Pelicans
You only had to watch Davis late last year to see how talented he is. We all know he is long and athletic, but he also has fantastic fundamentals by virtue of playing on the wing in High School before his ridiculous growth spurt. He was extremely efficient with his minutes last year (PER of 21.8 as a rookie, 15th overall in the league), and his minutes will only increase this year from the 28.8 he played. Robin Lopez is gone, so the Center spot is his. The only thing that could hold him back is injury as he missed 18 games last season. While this is an obvious choice to break out, I would not be surprised if he averaged 18 & 10 with 2.5 blocks, 1.5 steals and 2 assists for good measure. Think Kevin Garnett 2.0 potential and grab him early, like 2nd round early.
Paul George – SG/SF Indiana Pacers
Another obvious choice as his breakout really came in the playoffs last year, but at just 23 years of age, he already has superstar written all over him. George is a true two way player, anchoring the pacers wing defense, and leading them offensively too. He took advantage of the opportunity to shine in Granger’s absence last year, and now the team is his. Granger knows it, Hibbert knows it, and most importantly Frank Vogel knows it. While he is unselfish at times, his scoring average will increase this year as he becomes more efficient, and with the Pacers bench improvements, he won’t have to take as many bad shots when playing with the second unit. George is already being touted as a top 10 fantasy pick this year and I see no reason why he won’t make you very happy you grabbed him there on draft day.
Jonas Valanciunis – C Toronto Raptors
One of the best moves Raptors management have made in recent years was to bring Valanciunis along slowly in his rookie campaign as he learnt the American game. There were no inflated expectations, he didn’t start every game, and he got the opportunity to learn on the job in a building block season for the franchise. One year on, and after dominating Summer League, and playing very efficiently at Eurobasket, expectations are high. Valanciunis is a prototypical modern Center. He has legitimate low post moves, can finish athletically, has a very solid mid-range jump shot (True Shooting % of .619), and rebounds and blocks shots as you’d expect. He also has zero competition for minutes with only Aaron Gray behind him. Valanciunis could be a top 12 Center when all is said and done this year, but more importantly will net you around 14.5ppg, 9rpg and 1.7bpg while shooting over 55% from the field and nearly 80% from the line. Exactly how does he hurt you?
John Wall – G Washington Wizards
John Wall has disappointed so much in his short fantasy career, that his expectations have been lowered. Once thought of as an elite fantasy PG prospect, his shooting (.416 FG%), turnovers (3.7 pg) and inconsistent play (PER approx 16.75 combined) in his rookie and sophomore campaigns have scared a lot of people away. Add to that an injury that cost him 33 games last year, and he was in many ways the forgotten man on fantasy rosters late last season. And THAT is exactly why he is on that list. During the 49 games he did play, he increased his true shooting percentage over 20pts, upped his PER to a very respectable 20.8 (good for 22nd overall last season), and increased his assist and point per game numbers to where he is on the cusp of being elite. Point Guards take time to develop, and Wall, now entering his 4th season, has developed to a 2nd round pick lock.
Enes Kanter – C Utah Jazz & JaVale McGee – C Denver Nuggets
I’ve put these two together, because they’ve both been per 36 min studs as back-up Centers, and both are being handed the keys finally this season. Kanter has been backing up Al Jefferson in Utah, and will now man the paint where his per 36 minute stats have averaged nearly 15ppg and 11rpg with a block per, and last year he shot .544 FG% and .734 FT%. McGee, entering his 6th season, has also averaged 15 and 10 per 36 over his career, but with 3.3 blocks! His FT% may let you down some, but he’s never attempted a huge volume, and he doesn’t turn it over as much as you’d think (1.9 pg). Both will play 30+ minutes this year, and can be counted on as double double machines.
I eat too much, I drink too much, I want too much, Too Much!
Reaching back to an old Dave Matthews Band favourite of mine, which players are making you drink a little too much kool-aid and getting over hyped as we enter the 2013/14 season?
Eric Bledsoe – G Phoenix Suns
To steal another line from that DMB song, “I’m no crazy creep, I’ve got it coming to me, because I’m not satisfied, the hunger keeps on growing.” This is how I feel about Eric Bledsoe this year. You were expecting him on the breakout list right? Well sorry to disappoint you, but Bledsoe, while extremely talented, is NOT going to be the fantasy saviour you were expecting. As a starter in 12 games last season, Bledsoe averaged 14.2ppg, 5.25apg, 4.8rpg, 2.5spg, while shooting .405 FG% (including .438 3P%) in over 34mpg. While the steals are impressive, and the rebounds numbers are strong for a PG, the points, assists and especially FG% leave you a little under whelmed. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but as the starting SG in Phoenix this year, I would expect the mpg to be similar, but with the ball in Goran Dragic’s hand a lot of the time, Bledsoe’s apg will be lower. His ppg will be higher, but is someone averaging 16, 5 and 4 dimes while hurting your FG% really going to push you over the edge towards a fantasy title? I say no. He will still be a handy player to own, but I wouldn’t be reaching for him ahead of the 6th or 7th round on draft day.
Andre Drummond – C Detroit Pistons
Like Kanter and McGee, Drummond is a per 36 minute beast, averaging around 14, 13 and nearly 3 blocks per 36. He had an amazingly efficient PER of 21.6 (trailing only Davis amongst the rookie class), and shot over 60% from the field (I’m deliberately ignoring his well documented FT% issues). He even started 10 games, and although the results were varied, he had some monster games as a starter and averaged a respectable 11.1ppg, 8.2rpg, 1.2 spg, and 1.1 bpg. Not great, not terrible. However, this was all before the Detroit Pistons traded for Josh Smith. I know, I know, Smith is going to play SF, with Monroe at PF and Drummond manning the middle. I just don’t buy that line-up playing significant minutes together. They are too big, and do not want to encourage Smith to shoot from the perimeter any more than he has too (career .283 3P%). So someone has to miss out on minutes. It won’t be Smith after the max contract they just gave him. So will it be Monroe? I say no. Right now he is more talented, and they are trying to get back to the playoffs. So while they know Drummond is the future, I think they bring him along slowly again this year, and at best he plays 25-26 mpg. That translates to 10.1 ppg, 9.4rpg and 2bpg. Not great, not terrible right?
Tobias Harris – F Orlando Magic
No one turned more heads late last fantasy season than Tobias Harris. Following the trade that sent him to Orlando, he started 20 of 27 games playing predominantly PF and averaged an eye-popping 17.3ppg, 8.5rpg, 2.1 apg and 2.3 combined s/b pg in 36mpg. This kid is talented, plain and simple and took advantage of his first real opportunity to show it. Certainly worthy of some hype you’re saying, and I agree. My issue, like with Drummond, comes down to available minutes this coming season. Big Baby Davis will be back, and Orlando also has to find minutes to develop young forwards Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, plus with Oladipo on board, Aaron Afflalo will probably spend some time at the 3 spot. With Orlando clearly still in rebuilding mode, they will want to see exactly what they have in all of these players, before making some trades and adding another prospect in the “Riggin for Wiggins” sweepstakes (aka the 2014 draft). Consistent minutes will be hard to come by, so just temper your expectations with Harris. That’s all I’m saying.
What is the point in losin’ sleep about it?
Here are some players that won’t cause you any angst when drafting them. They are not just dependable; they are the kind of players who could help push your team over the edge without drawing much attention. They’re not sexy names, not sleepers, you’ve heard them all before, only no one is making a fuss about them as they live underneath the fantasy radar.
Thaddeus Young – F Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers are clearly leading the tank-a-palooza charge this season, and Young is the most experienced player on their roster. He has virtually no competition at either of the forward spots, and will easily give you 16 and 7 with 1.5spg and over .500 FG%. Draft with confidence in the 5th round.
Al Horford and Paul Millsap – C/F Atlanta Hawks
Excluding the injury disrupted 2011/12 season, Al Horford is about as dependable as they come in terms of big man production. With Josh Smith gone, he is a lock for 17, 10, 1 block, 1 steal and close to 3 dimes per, with very solid percentages. He doesn’t dominate any one category, but does everything well, and consistently.
Millsap has made the move to join Horford in the ATL this season. Finally emerging from the shadow of Al Jefferson’s black hole offense, and with no threat of losing minutes to up and comers like Derrick Favors, mark him down for 17, 9, 3 and 2.8 combined blocks/steals, with percentages similar to his new front court running mate.
Both have unquestioned 2nd round value. Enjoy.
Luol Deng – F Chicago Bulls
Entering is 10th season, but still only 28 years old, Luol Deng is another guy who has been overlooked in past years. A few years ago, this was largely explained by his non-existent 3pt totals. However over the past 3 seasons, he has averaged 1.27 3PM per game at a respectable .344 3P% clip. Add to that the fact that he scores over 16ppg, grabs over 6rpg from the SF spot, dishes out 2.5 apg, and gets you a steal per also; oh and he’s getting an MVP PG back as his running mate, meaning he will take less bad shots, and what exactly is there to look past? Did I mention he is also in a contract year this year?
Time for our first guessing game;
Per 36 Minutes
We covered player 1 in the over hyped section earlier. Player 2 is a starting PG from a Western Conference contender, who emerged last season (his 5th) as a reliable and consistent producer. If you guessed Ty Lawson from Denver, you’d be wrong. If you guessed Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies, congratulations. As you can see, the numbers Conley gives you as compared to Eric Bledsoe are strikingly similar. You get up-ticks in assists, FT% and 3PM to compensate for lower rebound and block totals, and the added luxury of knowing exactly what his role will be and what he will produce. Conley has emerged as a safe top 10 fantasy PG, and should be drafted ahead of the hype machine that is ‘Lil LeBron Bledsoe. Just saying.
Pau Gasol – F/C Los Angeles Lakers
Coming off an injury interrupted, chemistry interrupted, role clarity interrupted, hell hole of a season, Pau Gasol will get back to what he does best this season. He will produce at an extraordinarily efficient rate across the board for a big man. His 4 year stretch with the Lakers from 08/09 to 11/12 (you know, before D’Antoni messed it all up) was incredibly consistent, averaging 37mpg and producing 18-19ppg, 10.5rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.5bpg and 0.6 spg., while shooting approx .530 FG% and .790 FT%. If you want to be conservative, call it 17, 10, 3 and 1.2 this year, but know that he will bounce back and draft him with confidence at the end of the 2nd round.
You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real
That’s right, if you’re up for some risk/reward names, as Eddie Van Halen said, you “might as well Jump!” Jump head first into drafting these players, just beware of the risk you’re taking and don’t over pay.
Andrew Bogut – C Golden State Warriors
Says he’s 100% healthy finally, showed his defensive capabilities in the playoffs, and was a borderline all-star before that horrific fall back in Milwaukee. Still only 28 years old, and gave you 15, 10, 2 and 2.5 bpg in his prime.
Projection: 12, 10, 2 and 2bpg.
Lou Williams – G Atlanta Hawks
A very efficient volume scorer before his ACL tear. Can be effective as a starter or off the bench, and the Hawks backcourt is very thin this year. If he comes back strongly , consider him Monta Ellis lite.
Projection: 14.5ppg, 3.7apg, 2rpg, 1spg, 1.4 3PMpg.
Nene – PF Washington Wizards
Another injury plagued big man, who claims to be healthy again. He avoided FIBA play this summer to rest, and is the clear starter at PF in DC. If he can give you 65 games, you’ll take it.
Projection: 14, 7.5, 2, 1.1 bpg, 1.0spg and crazy good FG% as usual.
Obviously a lot can change between now and your draft, so be sure to follow training camps, check the depth charts, look at the minutes rotations during pre-season (as a guide only), and make sure your players are healthy before counting on them to produce. Avoid unknown, avoid unseen, and keep your draft targets underneath the radar.
See ya later – see ya later