With the NFL in full swing and baseball in the playoffs, the start of hoops season gets swept under the rug annually. It’s a shame.
While everyone else has their head buried in other sports, the hard-working owner can dominate fantasy hoops drafts. Here are 10 players I’m targeting, in order of their current ESPN average draft position.
1. DEMARCUS COUSINS, PF, SAC -- ADP: 14.4
Kings coach Keith Smart may not be the sharpest coach in the league, but he knows his success is tied to DeMarcus Cousins. In 32 games after the All-Star break, Cousins averaged 19.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.7 steals and shot 45.9 percent from the field. How unique are those numbers? Last season only one other player averaged at least 10 rebounds, one block and one steal: Dwight Howard. Keep in mind that Cousins did those numbers at the tender age of 21. Now he’s entering his third NBA season and reportedly taking on a leadership role. Monstrous upside.
2. SERGE IBAKA, PF/C, OKC -- ADP: 24.0
Last year, Serge Ibaka finished 11th in ESPN’s player rater despite playing just 27.1 minutes per game. Can he improve this year? Sure. Perhaps Scott Brooks will see the light and give him more minutes. Perhaps he’ll show even more offensive progression in his fourth season. Perhaps Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will look to him more as that mid-range jumper gets even better. I normally shy away from taking true specialists in the second or third round, but here I make an exception because the category is the ever-elusive blocks and there’s center eligibility.
Editor’s Note: For sleepers, busts, mock drafts, head-to-head strategy, fliers, rookie breakdown and much more, check out the Draft Guide!
3. PAUL GEORGE, SG/SF, IND -- ADP: 44.6
Paul George isn’t a household name yet, but that’s coming soon. Last year, he was a top-40 player despite averaging just 12.1 points in 29.7 minutes per game. That’s because he made 1.4 treys, grabbed 5.6 boards, shot 80.2 percent from the line and got 1.6 steals per game. Now he’s 22 years old and Danny Granger’s knee woes are cropping up. Expect a major bump in minutes and shot attempts. The future is now.
4. NICOLAS BATUM, SF, POR -- ADP 49.1
For years, fantasy owners have been salivating over what Nicolas Batum could do with an unquestioned starting gig. We’re about to find out. In Batum’s four-year career, his per-36 minute numbers are 14.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 3-pointers, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks. He won’t get 36 minutes this year, but 31-34 is a good bet with the Blazers’ bench looking pungent. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Batum’s all-around game gets him inside the top-20 in the player rater by the time the season is over.
5. KLAY THOMPSON, SG, GSW -- ADP 63.3
Warrior fans should be happy that Monta Ellis is out at shooting guard and Klay Thompson is in. After the Ellis trade last year, Thompson proved that he can be a prototypical “two” at the NBA level. In 29 starts as a 21-year-old rookie, he averaged 18.1 points, 3.2 rebounds. 3.0 assists, 2.1 3-pointers and 1.1 steals. His ability to shoot the ball is unique.
6. KENNETH FARIED, PF, DEN -- ADP 65.8
Kenneth Faried wasn’t ticketed for a big role as a rookie last year on a deep Nuggets team. He earned a major role through hard work, effort and production in both games and practice. Note that Faried started 39 games last year, but saw just 24.6 minutes in those contests due to the presence of Al Harrington and others. He still averaged 11.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.8 steals while shooting 59.0 percent. Now Harrington is gone and Faried projects to see a major bump in minutes. He could average a double-double with one block and one steal. Wowzers.
7. NIKOLA PEKOVIC, C, MIN -- ADP 82.3
I can’t grasp why Nikola Pekovic’s ADP is so low. He averaged 15.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and shot 54.7 percent as a starter last year despite playing through a painful foot injury. He underwent offseason surgery and now appears 100 percent. With Kevin Love (hand) out at least 10 games, Pekovic will get even more offensive chances and he has no real competition for minutes at center.
8. EVAN TURNER, SG/SF, PHI -- ADP 95.7
Evan Turner is the worst shooting wing in the entire NBA. But we’re not targeting him for scoring. Now that Andre Iguodala is gone, Turner is a stone-cold lock for 32-plus minutes per game. He’s an exceptional rebounder, a plus passer and is scrappy on defense. In 20 starts last year, Turner averaged 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals. I don’t see a huge bump in those numbers, but that’s the floor. Coach Doug Collins is ready to sink or swim with the former No. 2 overall pick.
9. MICHAEL BEASLEY, SF, PHX -- ADP 103.0
Michael Beasley just needs a coach to let him be himself. And by “be himself,” I mean ball hog and scorer. In Suns Alvin Gentry, it looks like Beasley has found that coach. “This is the first time I’ve really been encouraged to shoot even more than I already do,” he said last week. In Miami and Minnesota, Beasley wasn’t asked to be a pure scorer. His per-36 minutes for his career are still 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 0.7 3-pointers. Now he’s starting for the run-n-gun Suns with a green light.
10. BYRON MULLENS, PF/C, CHA -- ADP 140.0
Sometimes, we see a dramatic change in a player’s game during the preseason. We’re seeing it with Byron Mullens. Last year, he started 25 games but attempted just 1.6 treys in those games. In four preseason games, he’s attempting 8.0 treys per game and making 43.7 percent of them. That’s 3.5 3-pointers per game. Keep in mind that Mullens is 7’0/275, locked into the starting power forward job and will block at least 0.8 shots per game on accident.
* For a list of guys I’d NEVER take due to injury/decline concerns, check out this article in our jam-packed Draft Guide.
Rookies to watch
Fantasy Fix: Matt Stroup (@mattstroup) and Kay Adams (@heykayadams) look at what to expect from some of this year's top rookies and where to draft them, including Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and more.
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