"The lockout is over..." The news we woke up to the Saturday after Thanksgiving was something basketball fans had been waiting months to hear and was music to our ears. However, with the shortened preseason and the upcoming free-agency frenzy, fantasy leaguers across the land are going to face unique challenges this month. Not only is there a time crunch attempting to set up drafts, we all have less time to prepare than usual. In addition, the uncertainly of the free agency market (the wackiness of the amnesty clause throws another money wrench into the equation), makes preparation that much more difficult.
But have no worries, the fantasy nerds here at HOOPSWORLD have been busy crunching numbers, analyzing trends, and have already begun crafting the industry's best cheat sheets for your use on draft day.
Below is the first of many Top-100 rankings we'll publish throughout the season. This list is certainly preliminary considering training camp has not yet started and certain rosters are very much in flux due to upheaval free agency will undoubtedly cause, not o mention undecided position battles, etc. Nonetheless, the projections for the fantasy elite likely won't change significantly, and there are quite a few sleepers I already have my eye on.
Thus, I present the 2011-2012 preseason, pre-free-agency Top 100.
As always, it is imperative that I issue this disclaimer: These rankings are based on 9-category fantasy scoring leagues that account for points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, three-pointers made, turnovers, FG%, and FT%. The ranking for five-category leagues would look far different, especially for particular players with major flaws in categories such as free-throw shooting or FG%.
Beneath the rankings, I have included a running commentary (chock-full of random stats and interesting tidbits) to help explain the thinking behind a handful of these selections...
Without further adieu:
Top 100 Fantasy Players for the 2011-2012 NBA Season
Just Missed the Cut: Chris Kaman, Jamal Crawford, Baron Davis, Jameer Nelson, Chuck Hayes, Andrei Kirilenko, J.J. Hickson, D.J. Augustin, DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza, Derrick Williams, Nick Young, C.J. Miles, Devin Harris, Shawn Marion, Chase Budinger, Darren Collision, Michael Beasley, Austin Daye, Boris Diaw, Brandon Knight.
It's been a while, but please don't forget the incredible all-around fantasy number's Kevin Love posted last season. Looking back, the stats seem almost incomprehensible - considering this was a player who lasted into the fourth or fifth round in many drafts last October. Consider this: during the 2010-2011 season, Kevin Love averaged 15.2 rebounds, which means he grabbed more boards than another player in the NBA (including Dwight Howard); AND Love averaged 1.2 three-pointers per game, which means he hit more three-pointers than PG's Steve Nash and Chris Paul; AND Love shot 85% from the free-throw line, which means he had a higher FT% than SG's Kobe Bryant and Rip Hamilton; AND he hit 41.7% of the 3's he attempted, which means he posted a higher 3PT% than Chauncey Billups and Dirk Nowitzki... You guys see where I am going with this - Kevin Love is a fantasy freak. Also, remember that Love was inexplicably buried in former-coach Kurt Rambis' doghouse early on in the year. He was only averaging about 25 minutes
a night over the first 10 games or so. With a new coach in place, expect Love's statistical rampage to continue - is it possible his overall numbers improve??
With LeBron and Bosh in Miami, Dwyane Wade saw his scoring and rebound numbers drop last season - which was more or less expected. However, his assist average also plummeted, which was surprising. (Wade entered last season averaging over 6.5 dimes per game, but dished out just 4.6 assists per contest last year). The upshot was he shot 50% from the floor for the first time in his career, and also averaged a career-low 3.1 turnovers. All things considered, Wade remained an elite fantasy force due to his all-around excellence. He finished the season ranked 7th overall in 9-category leagues for the 2010-2011 campaign...
Steph Curry's sick combination of threes and absurd percentages (from the floor, stripe, and behind the arc), make him one of the most effective per-minute fantasy producers in the sport. Of players that connected on at least two three-pointers per game last season, Curry and Ray Allen are the only two shooting over 44% from the field (in fact, both Curry and Allen posted FG% over 48%); but Curry also shot 93.4% from the FT line, which led the entire league (and was a seven percentage points higher than Ray Allen). Factor in the six assists and the 1.5 steals Curry will also supply each night - and you see why I have a huge fantasy crush... Yes, I am definitely worried about new Head Coach Mark Jackson coming in and slowing down the Warriors up-tempo offense, but I am willing to place my faith (and a late first-round pick) on Steph.
You guys know the deal with Dwight Howard - he is far, FAR more valuable (Top-10 overall) in 5-category leagues and head-to-head formats. But in nine-cat leagues, which are what these rankings are based on, his FT% is crippling. Last season, Superman shot just 59.6% from the stripe. Not only does he shoot poorly from the line, he gets there more than any other player in the NBA (11.7 attempts per game), which really drags down your overall score in roto leagues. (As a point of comparison, Kevin Martin averaged three fewer attempts per game than Howard, but still averaged more FT makes). The other major blemish on Howard's resume is the turnovers. Last season, he turned the ball over 3.6 times a night; John Wall and Russell Westbrook was the only two players to turn it over more often. Again, if you are playing in a five-category league (which tallies just points, rebs, assists, steals, and blocks), feel free to take Dwight early in the first round. If you play in an 8 or 9-cat league, let somebody else make
the mistake of reaching for him too early.
Based on the early info I have come across, it seems people tend to forget the incredible numbers Rudy Gay was posting before he got hurt. Gay was posting career-highs across the board (points, rebounds, assists, 3′s, blocks and steals). Rudy has been playing a lot this summer and that shoulder seems to fully healed. While I don't think Gay will put up numbers matching last season's 1st half production (especially if Marc Gasol resigns in Memphis), Gay still has the potential to be a legit fantasy force.
Prior to the start of every season, each of us is instructed not to let Manu Ginobili slip too far. Yet, all too often, there are younger, more enticing picks still on the board even after we get past the first few rounds. So, the unproven youngsters with “awesome upside and potential” regularly get selected before Ginobili. But every year, Manu makes GM’s pay for ageism-based blunders. He is averaging a career-high in minutes and is superbly stuffing the stat-sheet on a nightly basis. Last season, in addition to his usual assortment of points, assists, and rebounds, Manu was also top-15 in the NBA in three-point makes and steals.
Kyle Lowry's stock is soaring. It flew under the radar a bit, but over the last 18 games Lowry played during the 2010-2011 regular season, he averaged 18.4 points, 7.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 three-pointers, 1.2 steals, and shot over 87% from the FT line. Read that again, that is not a misprint. During that 45-day stretch, Lowry was the 5th ranked player in all of fantasy - the top 4 were (in order): Kevin Durant, LeBron James, D Wade, Chris Paul, and... Kyle Lowry. Lowry is soaring up draft boards this month, for good reason. You might have to use a 3rd or 4th round pick to secure his services.
Blake Griffin is another one of those guys I just won't draft this season, and his production will NOT match his hype - especially in 9-category leagues. The first major issue is the free-throw shooting. Blake averaged 8.5 FT attempts per game last season (4th highest total in the NBA) but converted just 64.2 %. As noted earlier in regards to D Howard, that's the worst possible combination - a guy who gets to the line a lot, but misses nearly 40% of the time. The free-throw shooting is obviously horrible, but that’s not the only issue. The limited blocks and steals are also a problem. Consider this: Last season, BG recorded a total of just 45 blocks during the entire 2010-2011 season. As a point of comparison, Bulls PG Derrick Rose had 51 blocks last season... Let someone else draft him way too high and then remind that GM that you'd don't get fantasy points for amazing dunks, as jaw-dropping windmills have the same value in the box score as a boring Timmy D bank shot.
Take a look at Steve Nash's post-All-Star break numbers - they'll surprise you. In the 23 games he played after the All-Star game, he averaged just 10 ppg, while shooting 40.6% from the floor. I have always been a huge fan of Steve Nash from a fantasy perspective, but those stats are obviously concerning. Could he finally be slowing down?
I understand Dorell Wright should be ranked higher based on last season's production - but Mark Jackson and a regression to mean have me scared to death at that high price tag... I'll pass.
Ray Allen, much like Manu Ginobili and fine wine, seems to get better with age... Many predicted a precipitous drop in Allen's production, buy Ray delivered yet another stellar statistical season. In fact, Allen's rebounds, assists, steals, FG% and FT% were all up from the previous year. Ray finished 2010-2011 ranked 27th overall in 9-category leagues.
Just two seasons ago (2009-2010), Joe Johnson was one of only four players in the entire league last year to average at least 21 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. The other three were Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James. Last season, Johnson's numbers were way down and he was one of the bigger fantasy disappointments, but there is reason to expect a solid bounce back. With unrestricted free agent Jamal Crawford likely on his out of the ATL, Johnson's minutes and shot attempts should increase this year.
Whenever I'm scanning NBA League Pass late night, Tyreke Evans is definitely one of those players I'll stop and watch for at least a few possessions. Possessing an incredible combination of size, speed and strength, Evans is arguably one of the toughest match-ups in the entire league. There is no way a dude that's 6'6" should have the handle he does. And he proved his worth immediately upon entering the NBA, averaging 20/5/5 to take home the Rookie of the Year award. However, 'Reke hasn't been able to develop in fantasy phenomenon we thought he'd become. He regressed a bit in his sophomore season, averaging fewer points, assists, and rebounds - while only appearing in 57 contests. From a fantasy perspective, the main issue with Evans is that he shot under 41% from the floor and 77% from the stripe, while turning the ball over too frequently (3.2 turnovers per contest). He also doesn't shoot well from distance - he's averaged just 0.6 three's per game
during his career (27.3% accuracy from deep). A bounce back campaign is very possible - even likely – but his game just isn't suited for fantasy success.
Wes Matthews was one of the more pleasant surprises last season, coming out of seemingly nowhere to finish the year ranked 56th overall. If Brandon Roy is unable to recover physically, and the Blazers decide to cut him via the "amnesty clause," (Roy has intimated he may retire) Matthews would again be in line to start and play major minutes.
Important to remember: Andrew Bynum is suspended for the first 5 games of the regular season for his cheap shot on J.J. Barea during last season's playoffs. That hurts, especially when the season is shortened from 82 to 66 contests.
Arguably my favorite sleeper right now? Jeff Teague. I'm bullishly optimistic on Teague for a few reasons. First, the key to any semblance of fantasy success is opportunity – and Teague should see plenty of PT this season. Mike Bibby and the Hawks parted way late last season and Jamal Crawford, an unrestricted free agent is likely headed out of town. Teague only real competition for minutes left on the Hawks roster is Kirk Hinrich and Atlanta GM Rick Sund recently announced that Hinrich would miss "at least the first month of the regular season" after surgery to remove a cyst and repair the labrum in his left shoulder. It is also important to note how well Teague played when given a heavy workload in the playoffs last May. In Atlanta's second-round matchup with the Chicago Bulls, Hinrich was injured and Teague went head-to-head with MVP Derrick Rose. Surprisingly, Teague was exceedingly impressive. During the six-game series, Teague played 38.2 minutes a night and averaged 14.8 points, 4.2 assists,
and 1.0 steals; while shooting an inspiring 53.7% from the floor and over 84% from the free-throw stripe... All things considered, Teague is set up beautifully to for breakout campaign. I plan on drafting Teague (right around round 9 or 10) in every league I play in this season.
Lastly, if Dwight Howard ever left Orlando, Ryan Anderson would be a major beneficiary and his value would skyrocket. Even if Howard stays put, Anderson is still a guy you definitely want to snag in the later rounds of you draft. A rare center-eligible sharpshooter, Anderson averaged 2.2 three-pointers per game last season, despite playing just 22 minutes a night. How about this for a random stat: Ryan Anderson was the only player in the NBA last season to average over two three-pointers and less than one turnover per game.
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About Tommy Beer
Tommy Beer is a senior NBA writer for HOOPSWORLD and also serves as the
Fantasy Editor. Tommy covers the Knicks and the Nets and is one of the
foremost fantasy basketball experts in the business.