Adam Levitan

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Next year's starters

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's important to evaluate the season while it's still fresh in our minds. By the time the next NBA campaign comes around, we very well may have forgotten more than we care to. After all, the NBA's impending lockout projects to be much worse, much nastier and much longer than the NFL's current stalemate.

We already know we will likely not have a chance to evaluate rookies and fringe players in Summer League. A full preseason is also a long shot. So we need to think about what we saw this year -- and how it projects whenever basketball is played again.

From a rotations perspective, that means thinking about new faces in starting fives. I am not going to talk about guys like Kyle Lowry, Marcus Thornton or Marcin Gortat -- they have established themselves as starters already. These are players I think could make the leap permanently into starting lineups next season -- before we even see what free agency, trades and coaching changes brings.

1. Jared Dudley, SG, Suns: It would be a shock if Vince Carter is not waived this summer. The Suns can dump him at a $4 million price-tag, or keep him for $18 million. Anyone that saw Carter play this season knows this is an easy decision.

Enter Dudley, who has turned himself from a defensive stopper and glue guy into deadly shooter and scorer. The Suns gave him a five-year contract extension in November, locking him in as a core of their future. And in 15 starts this season, he averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.7 treys. He would have no problem replicating those roto-friendly numbers as a starter.

2. Gordon Hayward, SG, Jazz: Veteran defensive stopper Raja Bell began this season as a starter, but quickly showed how far he has fallen at age 34. He is incapable of getting his own shot off or creating, something the Jazz desperately need more of with Deron Williams gone. Hayward, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 draft, should have no problem beating Bell out for the starting gig.

In seven April games, Hayward averaged 16.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.7 treys while shooting 58.1 percent from the field. That shooting percentage is unsustainable, but Hayward is an underrated athlete. Adding some size this offseason should give him a bump in boards and steals.

3. James Harden, SG, Thunder: Coach Scott Brooks is a big believer in roles, so it makes sense that he stuck with Thabo Sefolosha as his starting shooting guard all season. After all, the Thunder won 55 games. But something happened with Harden midway through this year as he turned the corner and appeared to really "get it."

Showing an ability to penetrate and dish as well as finish with power, Harden established himself as a rising star. The Thunder beat writers are already speculating that Harden will be a starter next year and that has tantalizing upside for fantasy owners. In 28 games after the All-Star break, Harden averaged 15.8 points, 1.7 treys and 1.2 steals -- while playing just 28.5 minutes a night. With 32-25 minutes nightly, Harden will be a nice value pick. He does not turn 22 until August.

4. Jerryd Bayless, PG, Raptors: Jose Calderon has his nose in front now as the veteran, but that is very tenuous. Remember that back in July, the Raptors had a deal on the table that would have sent Calderon to Charlotte and Boris Diaw to Toronto. In other words, they are not sold on Calderon.

That brings us to Bayless, an electric combo guard that was the No. 11 overall pick back in 2008 -- but is already on his third NBA team. He is not the floor leader or passer that Calderon is, but he can really score. In eight April games with Calderon hobbled, Bayless averaged 22.5 points, 5.6 assists, 1.8 treys and 1.1 steals. Dealing Calderon and paving the way for Bayless makes a ton of sense.

5. Kris Humphries, PF, Nets: Some observers thought the Nets gave up too much to get Deron Williams, but Humphries really softens the blow of losing prospect Derrick Favors. Humphries is an impending free agent, but he will very likely be brought back as the starting power forward. With finesse center Brook Lopez needing help down low, Hump provides the perfect compliment.

In 44 starts this season, Humphries averaged 10.7 points, 12.0 boards, 1.3 blocks and shot 51.6 percent from the field. Now motivated by a likely starting role, he could even work toward a bump in offensive production next season.

6. C.J. Miles, SF, Jazz: The Andrei Kirilenko era has likely run its course in Utah. He is an impending unrestricted free agent and has admitted that a clean slate elsewhere may be a good idea. Since the Jazz do not want to play Paul Millsap at small forward full time, starting Derrick Favors is not an option. The most likely lineup is Devin Harris, Gordon Hayward, Miles, Millsap and Al Jefferson.

Although Miles appeared to hit a wall late this season, he remains a plus-scorer and 3-point shooter. He will be a 3-point specialist with upside if he can secure the gig.

Follow Adam Levitan on Twitter.

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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