Adam Levitan

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Next Year's Risers

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

We spent the season trying to project which fringe players would be getting minutes over the next few days. Now we’ll try to look six months down the line, into next season.

Of course, a lot will change during the offseason. We have some major free agent dominos in the form of Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Goran Dragic. Paul Silas won’t be the only coaching change. We’ll have some more injuries as the playoffs move along -- Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert are far from locks to be ready for Opening Night in October.

But we can still speculate and evaluate potential rotation changes. I’m not going to talk about guys like Klay Thompson, Isaiah Thomas and Nikola Pekovic. Much like Kyle Lowry, Marcus Thornton and Marcin Gortat in 2010-11, they have established themselves as high-quality NBA starters already.

These are players I think could make the leap permanently into starting lineups next season -- or at least see a significant boost in minutes.

1. Derrick Favors, PF, Jazz
Both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are heading into the final year of their respective contracts. The Jazz aren’t panicking, however, because everyone knows what they have in 2010 No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors. He’s 6’10/248, will turn a mere 21 in July and has already shown the ability to be borderline dominant.

Favors played 30 minutes or more six times this season. It’s not a coincidence that the Jazz went 5-1 in those games. It’s also why coach Tyrone Corbin has been experimenting with a “big” lineup over the last six weeks. By playing Gordon Hayward at shooting guard and Millsap at small forward, Corbin gets his most talented players on the floor together.

Here are Favors’ numbers in the 34 games after the All-Star break: 9.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, and 50.8 percent shooting while playing 22.8 minutes. Even if Jefferson and Millsap are back in 2012-13, Favors has earned a bump to 26-29 minutes.

2. Jerryd Bayless, PG, Raptors
Bayless was featured in this column last year (along with Jared Dudley, Gordon Hayward, James Harden, Kris Humphries and C.J. Miles). It didn’t work out as planned. Bayless logged 22.4 minutes in 2010-11 and 22.7 minutes in 2011-12. So what will be different in 2012-13?

First of all, Jose Calderon’s $10.5 million contract is finally up after next season. He’ll be a prime trade candidate this summer and as the trade deadline approaches. Additionally, Bayless showed the ability to play point guard effectively. He started 11 games this season, but only five of those came at point guard. During that small span, Bayless averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 3-pointers and 1.8 steals. The Raptors went a respectable 2-3, posting wins at Cleveland and at Memphis. It’s a taste of what’s to come if/when Calderon moves on.

3. Evan Turner, SG, Sixers
I’ve been as critical as anyone about Turner’s brutal jumper and wildly inconsistent offensive game. But the fact remains that he’s an elite rebounder from the guard position, handles the ball well for his size and is a plus-defender. Additionally, he’s a former No. 2 overall pick that the Sixers desperately need to succeed.

Turner has bounced back and forth from the starting five as the Sixers’ season went haywire in the second half, but he’s earned the starting shooting guard role in the playoffs.

“Evan had to be out there. He had to be out there, he’s been playing great,” said Doug Collins, when asked to explain why Turner was starting in Game 2 against the Bulls.

In 20 starts this season, Turner averaged 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals while playing 33.1 minutes. It’s a reasonable expectation as the likely starter next year. And if he can ever fix his jumper, the upside is monstrous.

4. Kenneth Faried, PF, Nuggets
Faried wasn’t expected to contribute much as a rookie, but he raised eyebrows in Denver right away. By mid-February, he was locked into the starting lineup and never looked back. Therefore, one could argue that he shouldn’t even be on this list.

However, Faried still only played 24.6 minutes in his 39 starts. He averaged 11.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks during that span. With Nene gone and JaVale McGee a restricted free agent, the path is wide open here. As Faried heads into his second year, a bump to 30-plus minutes as the starting power forward is a near certainty.

5. Ed Davis, PF, Raptors
There are a lot of similarities between Ed Davis and the aforementioned Favors. Davis was also drafted in 2010, will be just 23 in June and his path to a starting role is seemingly blocked. Andrea Bargnani is the clear starting power forward, while Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and James Johnson are also lurking. The Raptors haven’t shown a willingness to play Davis at center despite his 6’10/232 frame.

That said, Davis’ talent is undeniable. He started nine games this past season, averaging 8.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while playing 33.5 minutes. That “raw” label he has earned will start to wear off as he enters his third NBA season. At the very least, Davis projects as the first big off the bench next season.

6. Glen Davis, PF/C, Magic
The Dwight Howard situation has become borderline untenable. It’s hard to see the Magic going into next season carrying the same drama that plagued them all of this past season.

The only silver lining to Howard’s back injury has been the wildly impressive emergence of Glen Davis. Big Baby suddenly has a better mid-range jumper than the majority of guards in the league. In his 13 starts down the stretch, he averaged 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 49.7 percent shooting. That’s the ceiling, but those numbers will yield very solid mid-round value.

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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