Fantasy Basketball 2014: Don't sleep on these players
By ADAM PFEIFER
I know what you're thinking.
Adam, it's the beginning of October, playoff baseball and NFL football are in full swing, and you're over here talking about fantasy hoops?
Yes. Yes I am.
The NBA season is just a few weeks away, so the time to start preparing for your hoops draft is approaching. Okay, let's be honest. For hardcore fantasy players, the preparation period began weeks ago. Maybe right after the NBA Finals, for many. And when diving into research for any fantasy sport, what's the first thing that they look for? The thing that everyone locks away in a vault leading up to the draft?
According to ESPN ADP
George Hill, Indiana Pacers (95.8)- Last year, even when Paul George was on the court, the Pacers wanted Hill to take on a larger role in the offense. Now, with George shelved for the foreseeable future, they'll have no choice but to lean on their point guard. Entering 2014, Hill's career high for shot attempts per game in a season is just 11.5, so it will be nice to see an uptick in usage. Last year, Hill ranked just 66th among point guards in usage rate, so with no George and Lance Stephenson now in Charlotte, Hill will handle the ball a lot more. And don't forget, this guy averaged a very healthy 14.2 points and 4.7 assists per game just two seasons ago, so there's no reason an expanded role can't lead to even better numbers.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics (113.2)- As a rookie, Smart's role isn't set in stone yet, but he could have crazy value by the end of the year. Rajon Rondo is already dealing with a hand injury that will sideline him for the next 6-8 weeks. Now Boston has a plethora of guards at the helm, but Smart was their first round draft pick, and with the passion and aggression he plays with, he'll waste no time contributing in steals, rebounds, and free throw attempts. If he gets off to a strong start, his playing time will become set in stone, and we could be looking at the rookie of the year.
Isaiah Canaan, Houston Rockets (N/A)- With the departure of Jeremy Lin, Canaan will serve as the backup point guard behind Patrick Beverley. When his number was called last year, he more than held his own, and with Beverley, who has only played 97 games during his first two seasons, the only guy in front of him, there will be plenty of games where Canaan draws the start at point guard for the Rockets and their fast-paced offense. He'll also make for an awesome daily fantasy bargain for a few weeks, too. Canaan is an awesome guy to stash on your bench at the end of your draft.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz (69.9)- Hayward was "rewarded" with a massive contract this offseason, as the free agent was given a four-year, $63 million contract. The Jazz didn't want to lose him, so they were forced to overpay. Now he's back in Utah, and the Jazz have provided an improved core around him. Heyward is much better in head-to-head leagues, as you can punt his low field-goal percentage, as well as his turnovers. He still finished 39th overall on ESPN's Player Rater, averaging a versatile slash line of 16.2/5.2/5.1/1.4. The 24-year-old has now improved in each season he's been in the NBA, and there could be a few games where he either posts or flirts with a triple-double. You could be looking at a potential top-25 player, one that can be had in the fourth or fifth round of most fantasy drafts.
Rodney Stuckey, Indiana Pacers (118.7)- Stuckey has always been a talented, thrashing scorer, drawing many comparisons to Dwyane Wade. A guy averaging 13.4 points per game and posting four seasons averaging 14 or more points, Stuckey could legitimately set a career-high in points this season, assuming he opens the season as the Pacers' starting guard. Indiana doesn't have any ball dominant players at the moment, and outside of David West, Stuckey is probably their best option for points. Hill is also a pass-first guard, ranking inside the top-25 in passes per game in the NBA last year, so Stuckey should get plenty of shot attempts. Reports out of Indiana say that Stuckey could play a similar role that Stephenson played last year. He could have the ball in his hands quite a bit, and we've seen him have fantasy relevance in a smaller role in Detroit.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks (114.3)- I really think Hardaway Jr can become one of the league's next breakout players. It likely won't happen this season with both Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith still in the mix, but that doesn't mean he's not a fantasy sleeper. Hardaway showed that he can score at the NBA level, averaging 10 points per game, while adding 1.6 triples per contest. Of course, the assists weren't there (0.8), but that could change this season under Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson and the triangle offense. Hardaway may actually be the safest of the group, though, as Shumpert has dealt with injuries and we've seen Smith get benched a few times already. The Knicks could go with the hot hand approach, and with the way Hardaway can light it up from three, there's no reason it can't be him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (109.8)- Everybody loves The Greek Freak. So much versatility, so much size, so much upside. Giannis is now 6-foot-11, 217 pounds, and with his speed and ball-handling skills, he can legitimately play any position on the court, which will add to his value. Jason Kidd stated that he would experiment running him at the point. It may not be in the starting five, but it will be for the second unit, where he will log plenty of minutes and see a ton of usage. There aren't many players that can seriously play any position on the floor, and Giannis should be a massive part of the Bucks rotation. Rebounds, assists, points, steals, and blocks. The Greek Freak will provide them all.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets (108.3)- Gallinari may be forgotten after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, but he's back and will be the small forward for the Nuggets, a fast-paced, fantasy-friendly offense. He has plenty of upside in this offense that ranked 9th in the NBA in three-point field goal attempts per game last season without him in the lineup (23.9). Don't forget, in 2012, this guy averaged an awesome 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 1.9 threes per game. Don't forget about him, folks.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (30.3)- Bosh will likely be listed as a power forward or center, but either way, I love him to exceed his fantasy value this season. As the focal point of the Miami offense with that LeBron James guy gone, Bosh could be not just a top-30 player, but more like top-10. When he was the main man in Toronto, Bosh averaged at least 22 points in all but his first two seasons, and sported a career-high usage rate of 25.9 in 2009. His usage rate actually never ranked worse than 30th overall during his time in Toronto, while his best usage rate in Miami was 76th in the NBA. With LeBron gone, not only will Bosh see more looks than his pedestrian 50 touches per contest, but he'll see looks closer to the basket. Last year, he averaged just 3.2 close touches per game, which, according to NBA.com, are touches originating within 12 feet of the rim. Bosh is a great value with the 30th pick. He can still score in plenty of ways, and his rebounding is sure to increase.
Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns (115.3)- Morris enjoyed a strong third season, averaging 13.8 points, six boards, and almost two assists per game last year, despite not starting a single game. And after the All-Star break, in particular, those numbers looked even better, sporting a slash line of 15.8/6.4/0.9 in just under 30 minutes per game. He ultimately finished with nearly 27 minutes per game, but with Channing Frye in Orlando, Morris should see an uptick in playing time. And in a fast-paced Suns offense that ranked 8th in pace, and with three outstanding guards to get him the basketball, expect a breakout campaign for Markieff in 2014.
Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers (118.5)- If you simply look at Hill's per-minute numbers over the course of his career, you'd think he were an All-Star. The guy seems to always post strong numbers whenever he steps into the game, and last year was no different. His strong second half put him on the fantasy map, averaging 12.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. He, like most of the Lakers, benefited from an insane amount of injuries last year, and the team did bring in both veteran Carlos Boozer and rookie Julius Randle, but Hill has proven he has a place in this lineup.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (78.5)- Playing for the 76ers is fantasy gold. Because of their elite pace last year, the 76ers ranked second in the NBA in shots per game (87.2) and they used over 100 offensive possessions per game. Noel will finally make his Philadelphia debut this year, and I'm expecting big things. I mean, just look at what Henry Sims, a guy with nowhere near the talent Noel has, did in Philly last year. According to CBS Sports, Sims averaged over 21 fantasy points per game in each of the last five weeks of the season. And during the final four weeks, Sims recorded three 100-point fantasy weeks. I also love his shot-blocking potential in high-scoring games that will see plenty of shots. Noel could legitimately average three blocks per game, and that alone will make him fantasy relevant, not to mention everything else he'll provide. In 2013, Serge Ibaka was a top-10 fantasy player because he provided such an advantage with his blocks, averaging 2.7 per game. And among the four players to swat at least two shots per game, only Roy Hibbert failed to finish as a top-35 fantasy option. Noel could blow up this season, especially if he isn't restricted.
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