The Future is Now
The fact that most fantasy owners' seasons have ended doesn't make the final week irrelevant — whether you're in a dynasty or re-draft league, it's imperative to think about which players might break out next year.
Jonas Valanciunas - JV has been inconsistent this season, at times appearing lost offensively, and coach Dwane Casey showed no compunction about yanking him from games when he struggled. His playing time dipped below 26 minutes per game in February and it seemed he was on a downward trajectory, but he showed progress in March and has been simply phenomenal in four April games with averages of 20.0 points on 67.4 percent shooting (72.0 percent at the FT line), 10.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 blocks. Those numbers have come in under 34 minutes per game, and although the FG percentage is unrealistic it provides a glimpse of his enormous potential. JV has been a borderline option in nine-cat leagues this season, coming in as a 12th-round value, but over the past two weeks he's vaulted into the top-20. It's unwise to put too much stock in one scorching month, but I'd still peg him as a middle-round fantasy pick next season.
Marcin Gortat's season has taken a similar path. After mediocre play for months, he finally found his groove once Nene (sprained MCL) went down, and is posting top-40 value over the past two months (averaging 15.4 points on 58.0 percent shooting, with 10.5 boards, 1.9 assists and 1.3 blocks). Gortat will be a free agent this summer and his value hinges largely upon which team signs him, but at least we've been reminded what he can do with an unfettered role as a starting center.
Kawhi Leonard has been a 'breakout' candidate for the past few years, and we're seeing why this season—despite playing only 29.0 minutes per game, he's racked up top-20 value with averages of 12.6 points, 1.0 threes, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks. I'd be shocked if he doesn't establish himself as a season-long first-round value next year, as the aging Spurs will need Kawhi and Danny Green to take on more prominent offensive roles. Even Gregg Popovich is unlikely to restrict Kawhi to sub-30 minutes yet again in 2014-15.
Ryan Anderson recently had surgery to correct a herniated cervical disc, and the Pelicans haven't provided any timetable for his return. He's under contract for two more fully-guaranteed seasons, however, and if he is ready for opening night he could be a steal for risk-taking fantasy owners. In just 22 appearances this season, he was posting career-best numbers with 19.8 points, 3.0 triples, 6.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. He was also making 95.2 percent of his free throws, which would have ranked higher than this season's qualified FT% leader Brian Roberts (94.5 percent).
Spurs at Mavericks
Tony Parker (back) was ruled out well in advance of Thursday's game, and Aron Baynes (ribs) was also unavailable, but Manu Ginobili (calf) was available as the Spurs held on for a 109-100 win in Dallas. Manu looked good while scoring 10 points with two 3-pointers, seven assists and two steals in 29 minutes, and Gregg Popovich seems serious about getting his key players solid minutes down the stretch to keep them in rhythm for the first round.
Tim Duncan hyper-extended his knee and briefly left the court, but the Spurs quickly declared him healthy and he returned to score 20 points with 15 rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in a whopping 39 minutes of action. He's played 40 minutes once this season but is averaging just 28 minutes overall, and his lofty playing time suggests that he might be rested for Friday's game vs. the visiting Suns. The same may also be true for Manu, so owners should keep a close eye on Rotoworld's player news page on Friday afternoon.
Kawhi Leonard's late-season surge continued with 16 points, two 3-pointers, a season-high 16 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 37 minutes. The biggest surprise of the night for San Antonio, beyond Duncan's playing time, was Patty Mills logging 36 minutes as the team's starting PG ahead of Cory Joseph (who scored three points in eight minutes). Mills pitched in 26 points on 9-of-25 shooting, including six 3-pointers, and he also handed out six assists and two steals. The minutes were a season-high and Mills posted an excellent +/- rating of +26 in a game which the Spurs won by nine points, so Popovich had to have been pleased with what he saw. Before hurrying to pick up Mills, however, keep in mind that Tony Parker (back) remains day-to-day.
The Mavericks were fighting for their playoffs lives but the loss trimmed their lead to just one game over the ninth-place Grizzlies. In a delicious twist from the schedule-makers, the Mavs and Grizzlies will meet on April 16, the final day of the season, with a potential playoff spot on the line. They shot 47.0 percent as a team, led once again by Monta Ellis (24 points, four assists) and Dirk Nowitzki (19 points), but they were foiled by their own lousy perimeter defense—the Spurs drained 16-of-34 shots from downtown (47.1 percent).
The victory gave San Antonio a 3.5 game lead over Oklahoma City, and they'll earn home court advantage throughout the playoffs with a single win (or OKC loss) in the final six days of the regular season. The Spurs also have the best point differential by a wide margin, outscoring their opponents by an average of 8.2 points per game. The Clippers are second (+7.0), the Thunder are third (+6.6) and the Heat come in fourth (+5.4).
The Spurs' 61-18 record also gives them a win percentage of .772. That would be the highest in Spurs' franchise history, on pace to eclipse their .768 percentage from the 2005-06 season, and it's the 24th-highest in NBA history. Of the 23 teams with superior win percentages: 15 won the NBA championship, three lost in the NBA Finals, three lost in the Conference Finals, one fell in the Conference semi-finals, and the 2006-07 Mavericks memorably lost to the eighth-seed Warriors in the first round of the 2006-07 playoffs despite having a stellar 67-15 record (.817 win percentage).
Nuggets at Warriors
The Warriors got a combined 45 points from Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, the latter of whom also added seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. Their offensive burden was sometimes painful to watch, however, and fellow starters Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut combined for just 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting. The good news is that David Lee (hamstring, nerve irritation) has begun on-court workouts and he was questionable for Thursday’s game, so he may return to action during the Warriors’ final four games of the regular season. He played through a torn hip flexor during last year’s playoffs and nobody should be questioning his willingness to play hurt.
I discussed Timofey Mozgov earlier, but his enormous game might have been for naught if Kenneth Faried hadn’t gathered a crucial rebound and scored the go-ahead basket at the end of regulation. The Manimal finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds, one assist and one steal. He said recently that a weight was lifted from him once the trade deadline passed and he was still in Denver, and the change has been patently obvious for his lucky fantasy owners. His play over the past few months should convince Denver to keep him off the trade market next season, during which he’ll make a relative pittance of $2.3 million. He’ll be eligible for restricted free agency in the summer of 2015.
Rotoworld’s Matt Stroup recently provided one-word summaries of Aaron Brooks’ 10 games from March 15 through April 2: “Good, Bad, Dominant, Awful, Solid, Gross, Great, Bland, Decent, YAHTZEE.” He played 39 minutes in Thursday’s road win but the summary for fantasy owners would be “Disappointing,” as he scored only eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, with zero 3-pointers, two rebounds, seven assists, one steal and two turnovers. Brooks will be an unrestricted FA this summer and he’s still only 29 years old. He’s a weak defender and a career 41.5 percent shooter, however, with a 1.94 assist-to-turnover ratio, and is unlikely to find work as a starting PG unless injuries hand him the job as they have in Denver. Brooks’ assist-to-turnover ratio has plummeted to 1.58 this season, and even his career mark (1.94) would put him outside the NBA’s top-50 for this year, alongside scoring-oriented guards like Randy Foye, Norris Cole, Reggie Jackson and Brandon Knight.