Matt Stroup

Roundball Stew

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Stew: Holiday in 2011-12

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Though we all disagree on numerous things (such as the existence of the Loch Ness Monster and pronunciation of potato), we should all be able to agree that the first half of April is a somewhat bizarre time in the world of professional basketball. How else can you explain Jerryd Bayless averaging 22.5 ppg, 5.6 apg and 1.8 threes while carrying numerous owners to league titles this month, or Gordon Hayward breaking out with 16.4 ppg and 1.7 threes on 58.1 percent shooting in the final seven games of an otherwise quiet rookie year?

However, the key thing with April stats is that they can't all be evaluated equally. Bayless, for example, may not have the same opportunity at the outset of next year that he had this April, so his late-season surge could end up being forgotten. But there are plenty of late-season performances that are useful barometers in determining future stats. And with next season in mind, I'm looking ahead (and taking the optimistic outlook that there will be basketball next season) with a preview of 10 players I'm watching closely for a notable boost in productivity in 2011-12.

Paul Millsap: Yes, he already posted strong stats in his first year as a full-time starter (17.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.9 bpg), and I do expect a jump into the 18-19 ppg range and 8-9 rpg range next year. But the main reason I'm noting Millsap here is the potential for another stat you don't always get from power forwards: threes. Millsap shot a very respectable 39.1 percent (9-for-23) from downtown in 2010-11, and recently told the Salt Lake Tribune that he wants to improve his range heading into next year. I'd be surprised to see him make a Kevin Love-esque leap in threes, but something like 0.6 per game would be very nice (Borat voice) for Millsap's value.

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Jrue Holiday: His second year in the league was defined somewhat by inconsistency, but Holiday still finished the year with healthy averages of 14.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 6.5 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.0 threes as a 20-year-old starting PG. You can bet I'll be drafting him to see what he can do at age 21.

DeMarcus Cousins: I don't really like watching him play (largely because he sulks too much, makes some wretched decisions and often looks like he's more concerned about his numbers than anything else), but none of those things hinders his potential fantasy value – and in fact, the last factor (chasing numbers) obviously helps it. Bad percentages aside (43.0 from the field, 68.7 from the line), Cousins' across-the-board stats were great for a rookie big man (14.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.8 bpg), and like Holiday, he'll be just 21 years old when the 2011-12 season begins.

Blake Griffin: Wow Stroup, you're really going out on a limb saying that Blake Griffin is going to improve next year. I know, I know. It's revolutionary stuff. But my main point here isn't to inform you that Griffin is improving; it's to clarify what his potential value is for next year. And most importantly, I would warn not to be fooled by his season ranking of No. 57 on Basketball Monster's eight-category leaderboard. Why? Because from March 1 on, he ranked No. 34 overall. And even with his trouble from the free throw line, a leap into the top-25 seems well within the realm of possibility.

Greg Monroe: For essentially the last two months of the season (Feb. 16 to April 13), he averaged 13.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.6 spg and 0.8 bpg, a Nene-esque stat line that placed him No. 28 in Basketball Monster's rankings during that run. Don't forget about him heading into next year's drafts.

Marcus Thornton: The No. 16-ranked player on Basketball Monster's leaderboard for the final month of the season, Thornton emphatically declared that he's not just a scorer by averaging a "Take that, Monty Williams" 21.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.7 spg and 2.0 threes in his last 18 games. And for those concerned that Thornton might not be able to produce alongside Tyreke Evans, Lil Buckets (or Monsieur Buckets, as he's known in France) posted 20.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.7 threes in his final 12 games after Evans returned from injury on March 25 (Evans played in 11 of those games).

JaVale McGee: Each of his last two seasons have had rather noisy finishes: 13.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 2.9 bpg in April 2010, and 13.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 2.9 bpg from March 1 until the end of this season (23 games). He's still capable of generating some rather perplexing moments, but I'd bet on McGee becoming notably more consistent in 2011-12.

Andray Blatche: The first name on this list I'm feeling somewhat reluctant about, I feel obligated to mention Blatche here despite what was a somewhat disappointing season in 2010-11. Yes, he improved his scoring (14.1 to 16.8), rebounding (6.3 to 8.2), assists (2.3 to 2.5), steals (1.1 to 1.5) and averaged 0.8 blocks, but his 18 missed games were something of a dagger, especially considering that many of those came during a crucial part of the year (the second half of March). With that said, I can't ignore that Blatche was tremendous in April yet again this year (23.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.1 spg, 1.3 bpg), and I'm reluctantly resigned to the fact that there's about a 61 percent chance I'll be drafting him again this fall.

Marcin Gortat: He posted 13.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 1.3 bpg on 56.3 percent shooting in 55 games after coming over from Orlando, and has a chance to boost those numbers into the 15.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.5 bpg range in his first full season for the Suns.

James Harden: I may have been guilty of hyping Harden prematurely dating back to his rookie year in 2009-10, but he finally got the playing time to truly showcase his potential in the second half of this year. From March 1 through the end of the season, Harden posted 15.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.2 spg and 1.7 threes, and those numbers should only improve given his age (22 in August) and potential promotion to the starting five next year.

And speaking of next year, this concludes the 25th and final edition of Roundball Stew for the season. Please turn out the lights when you leave.

Matt Stroup covers basketball, baseball and football for You can find him on Twitter here .
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