It’s official policy here at Roundball Stew HQ that we can't turn off the lights until we take a few minutes to review the season that was, and I’d like to begin with…
10 Things That Would Have Sounded Absurd If We’d Predicted Them on Draft Day
The Lakers guard who will return the most fantasy value this season will not be Kobe Bryant. It will be Jodie Meeks. I had high hopes for Robo-Kobe’s comeback from an Achilles tear, but with Bryant only playing six games this season (and somehow getting a two-year, $48.5 million extension in the process), Meeks broke out with averages of 15.7 ppg, 1.4 spg and 2.1 3s, capped by a 42-point outbreak against OKC in early March. According to my research, it was the greatest performance by a human being named Jodie in over two decades (Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs, 1991).
The most valuable PG in Chicago will not be Derrick Rose. It will be… Raptors backup D.J. Augustin?! This was supposed to be the year that Rose returned to MVP form while returning first- or second-round value in fantasy leagues. But after a strong preseason (23.8 ppg, 5.8 apg in his last five exhibition games), he barely produced any value at all (15.9 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.6 3s, 35.4 percent shooting, 3.4 turnovers, season over after 10 games). Meanwhile, Augustin emerged as a big-time asset for the Bulls, posting 17.6 ppg, 4.1 apg and 2.3 3s from March 1 onward (23 games).
As for Rose, he has now played in exactly 10 games since tearing his ACL in late-April 2012, but I will probably still target him in drafts again next year. He has become a very risky pick, but I’m not ready to write him off at age 25. Also, risky picks are fun.
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J.R. Smith and Aaron Brooks – repeat: Aaron Brooks – could be the keys to winning your league. In theory, J.R. getting hot at exactly the right moment is easy to believe, but the numbers he posted down the stretch are still hard to comprehend: a seven-game run of 23.7 ppg and 5.9 treys per game in late March/early April, highlighted by an obscene three-game binge that saw him post 29.3 ppg and 8.0 3s. It just doesn’t get more fun/ridiculous than that if you had Smith on your roster – or more ridiculously annoying if you were up against him.
Unless of course, you happened to add (or were up against) Aaron Brooks. Overall, Brooks’ stretch run stats weren’t anything spectacular (final 15 games: 13.9 ppg, 6.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.6 3s), but he did break out some monster lines over the last month of the season, with four games of 24 or more points, most notably a 24-point, eight-rebound, 15-assist, seven-turnover bonanza against his former team (the Rockets) on the Sunday night that a lot of fantasy leagues concluded.
Tim Duncan will play in more games than Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Al Horford, Brook Lopez and Danilo Gallinari combined. Fact: Duncan (who turns 38 in one week) played in 74 games this season, his most since 2010-11, while Kobe (6), Rose (10), Horford (29), Lopez (17) and Gallinari (donut) combined for 62.
Grossly mis-managed by previous coach Vinny Del Negro, DeAndre Jordan will almost double his rebounds and blocks per game under Doc Rivers, leading the league in boards during a monster breakout campaign. With a coach who actually knows what he’s doing on the L.A. sideline, Jordan saw his minutes rise dramatically from last season (25 –> 35), along with his rebounds (7.2 –> 13.6) and blocks (1.4 –> 2.5) Also, he does a pretty entertaining Charles Barkley impersonation.
Coming off an outstanding playoff run in 2012-13 (17.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg in 19 games), Roy Hibbert will post numbers that would barely impress Shawn Bradley. In total, Hibbert finished 2013-14 averaging 10.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 2.2 bpg, but those stats don’t tell the entire story. From Feb. 1 onward (36 games), he posted 9.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 1.9 bpg on 40.6 percent shooting, and over his final 12 games, he averaged a truly grotesque 7.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 1.3 bpg. Even if he does wake up during the playoffs, I won’t be using a draft pick on him next year.
Isaiah Thomas will return better fantasy value than Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio and Kemba Walker. The No. 24 player in 9-category leagues (per Basketball Monster), Thomas finished ahead of more-heralded PGs Lawson (No. 26), Lillard (27), Bledsoe (28), Conley (38), Rubio (42) and Walker (52), parlaying an aggressive array of lefty jumpers and silly floaters into 20.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.8 3s. Sacramento was a rotten team this year, but when he was on, Thomas was a legitimate thrill to watch.
John Wall and Rajon Rondo will both add the missing piece to their statistical arsenal. Even though it was an abbreviated comeback season for Rondo, he and Wall both took key steps toward taking their fantasy values to another level, hitting a career-best 0.9 and 1.3 3s per game, respectively. File it away in both cases as we head into drafts next season. After Steph Curry and Chris Paul, Wall – still only 23 years old – should be the No. 3 PG off the board next year.
Kendall Marshall will finish tied for second in the league in assists (8.8) while running the gamut from must-start to infuriating during a strange second year in the league. After an awful rookie season (3.0 ppg in 15 minutes per game for Phoenix), Marshall emerged from a crowded PG rotation to post big numbers starting in early January (11.6 ppg, 11.1 apg, 0.9 spg and 2.0 3s for his first 22 games of 2014), but became wildly unpredictable down the stretch, including one six-game run starting in late February that saw him score a total of nine points (a bizarre 1.5 ppg, 8.3 apg during that stretch). In total, Marshall posted a respectable-looking 8.0 ppg, 8.8 apg, 0.9 spg and 1.3 3s in 54 games, but he took a bizarre road to get there – and has the look of a complete wild card heading into next season.
The Kevin Durant-LeBron James No. 1 pick debate will cease to be a debate. Let’s take a look at their stats from this season side-by-side:
Durant: 32.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.4 3s, 50.3 FG, 87.3 FT, 3.5 TO
LeBron: 27.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.5 3s, 56.7 FG, 75.0 FT, 3.5 TO
If you’re scoring categories at home, that’s 5-3-1 in favor of Durant, who is now the No. 1 fantasy player in 9-category leagues for the fourth time in five years, and No. 1 in 8-category leagues for the third consecutive season.
Meanwhile, LeBron’s stats were still great by normal standards, but he recorded less blocked shots than Raymond Felton, and on a per-game basis he was less valuable in 9-category leagues than Durant, Anthony Davis and Chris Paul (and tied with Steph Curry). At this stage of his career (he turns 30 next season), LeBron is clearly (and understandably) not too focused on posting the best regular season stats of his career. Meanwhile, Durant is 25, has missed six games total the last five seasons, and just posted career-best numbers in points, assists and 3s.
Bottom line: Real-life value may be a different story, but in terms of fantasy hoops, Durant vs. LeBron no longer requires a second thought.
Some Players I’m Eager to Draft Next Year
Kenneth Faried: After a slow start to the season, he posted 19.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.1 spg and 0.8 bpg over his final 25 games.
Kyle Lowry: Proved that his disappointing 2012-13 was an outlier and re-established himself as a borderline first-round fantasy value with career-highs in points (17.9), assists (7.4) and 3s (2.4), adding 1.5 spg and 4.7 rpg.
DeMar DeRozan: Finally showed he can do more than just score, averaging career-highs in points (22.7), rebounds (4.3), assists (4.0), steals (1.1) and 3s (0.8).
Jonas Valanciunas: Apparently I’m a Raptors fan. Valanciunas’ final 12 games: 16.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 60.0 FG, 81.3 FT. Still just 21 years old.
Goran Dragic: Price won’t be low after a top-25 season (20.3 ppg, 5.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.6 3s), but a PG who shoots this well (50.5 FG) is a rare commodity. Dragic vs. Damian Lillard (20.7 ppg, 5.6 apg, 0.8 spg, 2.7 3s, 42.4 FG) will be a fun debate heading into next year.
Blake Griffin: Not exactly going out on a limb here, but after his first top-20 finish (No. 16 in 9-category leagues), he’s a no-brainer top-15 pick in next year’s drafts.
Players I Have No Interest in Drafting Next Year
Dwyane Wade: Missed 28 games this year, and has now missed an average of 19 the last three years. No thank you.
Joe Johnson: He’s still good at hitting dagger jumpers, but in fantasy leagues he’s a two-category player: 15.8 ppg and 2.1 3s this year. And he’s a two-category player on the decline – his scoring average and assists (2.7) were his lowest since 2002-03.
Ersan Ilyasova: I’ve been an Ersan supporter in the past, but he took unreliable and infuriating to new levels this year.
Raymond Felton: He’s hard to watch in real life, and his stat line from this year is not easy on the eyes: 9.7 ppg, 5.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.0 3s, 39.5 FG, 72.1 FT in 31 minutes per game.
Larry Sanders: Signed a big contract extension and promptly missed 59 games. I’m putting him on one-year probation from all of my teams.
First-Round Playoff Picks
Just so we have it on record how wrong I am (I’m way better at predicting player performances than I am at predicting team performances), my first-round playoff picks are below.
Note: You can also check out Dr. A’s full playoff picks right here. I looked at his predictions after writing mine, and only four out of our eight first-round picks overlapped. I would say I’ll put my picks up against his any day, but the truth is, I won’t. Here we go:
(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks – Pacers in 5
I want to believe that my hometown squad can give Indiana a scare, but have to be realistic. The Hawks just aren’t very good without Al Horford, and I think the Pacers wake up angry on Day 1 of the postseason.
(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats – Heat in 4
Miami swept the season series, and should have an easy stroll to the Finals.
(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets – Nets in 7
Slightly conflicted here. Raptors have some players I really like (Lowry, DeRozan, Valanciunas), but in real life I live in Brooklyn. In a very close call, my hometown wins. Sleeper X-Factor in this series: Mason Plumlee.
(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards – Bulls in 6
Excited to watch John Wall making his first postseason appearance, but could see the Bulls making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavs – Spurs in 5
I can see Dirk winning one game on his own with a barrage of one-legged fadeaways, but the Spurs swept this season series and I expect them to roll in the first round.
(2) Thunder vs. (7) Grizzlies – Thunder in 6
A rested Westbrook and locked-in Durant are too much for Memphis to handle.
(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors – Warriors in 7
This is more of an “I hope this happens” pick than an actual “This will happen” pick. This is the series I’m most looking forward to in the first round, and Steph Curry (along with Durant) is one of my two favorite players on the planet.
(4) Rockets vs. (5) Blazers – Blazers in 7
Houston took three out of four against Portland this year, but in the words of Lloyd Christmas, I’m gonna go with my instincts on this one. Did I mention I’m not good at picking playoff winners? Seriously, don’t put stock in my playoff picks. Not a wise investment strategy.
And on that note, that’s a wrap on this season of Roundball Stew. I’ll be back sometime during the playoffs and after the draft with some thoughts. Until then, I'm gone like Frank Drebin on a breakaway. Thanks for reading this season.