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Regardless of whether you're still in the hunt or already looking ahead to next season, the end of the hoops season is critical to your future fantasy success. This is where we usually get a chance to take a look at some younger players who have tremendous upside but didn't necessarily get a chance to prove their worth earlier in the season.
Not everyone can step in and produce in the NBA right away like Blake Griffin and John Wall. Often it takes at least half a season, or multiple seasons, before things start to click. For younger players, things usually start coming together as they gain more experience, which can then lead to increased confidence. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few players who have really turned it on at the end of the season and could become nice keepers or value picks in next season's fantasy drafts:
Ed Davis, PF, Toronto Raptors: I've been quite vocal about my man-crush on Davis for a few months now, so this should come as no surprise to regular readers. Davis has shown plenty of promise in his rookie season, particularly as of late with 8.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks in just 25.7 minutes per game since the All-Star break. Just think about what those numbers would look like if he were given an additional 10 minutes per game. The Raptors would be crazy not to let this kid loose next year, and he should be considered a top sleeper candidate heading into the season depending on what happens in Toronto over the summer.
DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers: Jordan's value next season will largely depend on what type of moves the Clippers make over the offseason, but one has to like the potential the 22-year old has shown in his third professional season. Averaging 7.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 61 starts (27.4 minutes per game), Jordan could become one of the league's premier shot-blockers once he becomes a full-time starter.
Patrick Patterson, PF, Houston Rockets: Though he hasn't seen much run this season, there is plenty to get excited about in Patterson's future. Seeing extended minutes for the first time all year due to Luis Scola's injury, Patterson has averaged 8.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in only 22.3 minutes per game thus far in the month of March. Patterson's minutes have been on the decline since Scola returned, but fantasy owners should keep their eye on the 22-year-old as he could offer considerable sleeper value next season if he can earn 25-30 minutes per game.
Rodrigue Beaubois SG, Dallas Mavericks: Roddy would have been on many preseason sleeper lists this season had it not been for a foot injury that caused him to miss the first three months of the season. Since his return, Beaubois has seen inconsistent minutes but has also shown why he was so highly touted coming into the season. Averaging 9.7 points, 0.8 steals and 1.2 3-pointers in just 18.8 minutes per game, Beaubois projects to be a big-time scorer who can rack up the 3s and steals for fantasy leaguers. With eight players on the roster over the age of 30, the Mavericks are one of the league's oldest teams, and the 23-year-old figures to be a big part of their future plans once some of the older statesmen start to break down.
Now that we've looked at a few players with sleeper potential for next season and beyond, let's take a look at some players who have a good chance to jump into elite fantasy status next season. For my money, the players listed below are already in the midst of their breakout seasons. What I'm really looking for is the next generation of fantasy stars: players who will build on their breakout season and jump into the elite tier of fantasy goodness. Kind of like how Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love took their games to higher levels this season.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards: Though he has been somewhat overshadowed by fellow rookie Blake Griffin, Wall has had himself quite the impressive rookie season with 16.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers per game to date. Wall's efforts have landed him at 52nd on our Player Rater when sorted by averages, and I don't think anyone will be shocked if he fares much better than that in years to come. Here's the deal with Wall: He's a freakish athlete (I'd say top 10 in the league in terms of pure athleticism), and in today's NBA, freakish athletes tend to win out sooner rather than later. Just look at how quickly guys like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Monta Ellis and Blake Griffin have progressed. Wall is no different, and I'd rank him as a top-20 player for next season, and seventh in point guard rankings behind Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. And yes, that means I'll have Wall ranked higher than Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash at the start of next season.
Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: Upon first glance, Gordon doesn't pass the freakish athlete test the same way John Wall or Derrick Rose do, but the more you watch him, the more you realize just how athletic this kid is. A simple YouTube search will tell you all you need to know about Gordon's athleticism, but that's not all. If it weren't for a few injuries, Gordon would rank right up there with Rose, Love and Westbrook as this season's top fantasy breakout player. He ranks 20th on our Player Rater when sorted by averages, and boasts a complete blend of versatile statistics with 23.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.0 3-pointers while shooting 46.1 percent from the floor and 82.5 percent from the line. If he stays healthy, he'll be a top-25 player next season.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Houston Rockets: While Lowry is not on the same level as Wall or Gordon, it's hard to ignore the kind of potential he has shown as a full-time starter for the first time in his career, especially when he had always proven to be highly productive on a per-minute basis in the past. Lowry's problem has never been talent, it's been securing a full time starting gig. He split time with Mike Conley in Memphis before joining the Rockets and splitting time with Aaron Brooks for much of his stay. Now entrenched as a full-time starter, Lowry has shown that his per-minute numbers were no fluke, and both his fantasy owners and the Rockets have benefited. The Rockets are 12-3 since the All-Star break and in those games, Lowry is averaging 17.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.5 3-pointers per contest. Those are some serious numbers, and given the way they are playing, I don't think the Rockets will have to look any further for their point guard of the future. He'll enter next season as the full-time starter from the get-go and should be considered a top-10 point guard (in a loaded crop of PGs) to start the season.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings: Of all the players on this list, Cousins is having the least effective fantasy season, ranking 139th on our Player Rater when sorted by averages. But there has been plenty to like about his rookie season, particularly his 15.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks in 51 games as a starter. Of course, there are also things not to like such as his 42.9 shooting percentage from the floor, his 67.0 percentage from the line and his 4.0 fouls per game. That said, most of his fantasy deficiencies are not all that uncommon amongst young big men, and Cousins has more than enough talent to become a big time scorer and rebounder in the league for a very long time. He'll be a popular high upside pick in the fourth or fifth round next season, but has the potential to provide value of a second- or third-rounder if he refines his game a little next season.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com, and was recently named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.