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Well, folks, we've just about reached the end of the 2012-13 NBA season, and let me tell you, it has been nice to have a full 82-game slate back in my life. We all have our opinions about which players have been the best this season, and certainly there's a great deal of value in drafting players late in the draft who manage to contribute to your team in small ways, but this column is about the best of the best, according to nothing but the raw, emotion-less numbers themselves. Ladies and gentlemen: your 2012-13 Fantasy Hoops All-Star Team!
Point guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (No. 4 overall on the Player Rater, Average Draft Position: 42.8). It's easy to forget this now, but we were all worried about Curry's health coming into this season, but he's played in 74 of his team's 78 games so far, and while he was out there, he submitted the best season of a career that's starting to look really good again all of a sudden. The stat to look at, of course, is his 3-point shooting. Depending on what happens in the last few games, Curry will join the 2005-06 version of Ray Allen as the only player ever to make 3.4 3-pointers per game for a season, and he'll do it while shooting 45 percent from behind the arc. Curry could easily wind up being the greatest shooter of all time. It's within range.
Shooting guard: James Harden, Houston Rockets (No. 3 overall, ADP: 18.2). We've already got some major value on the board here, as Harden, like Curry, blew his projections out of the water. He's a star now, and should absolutely be a top-3 pick next season (I'd draft him ahead of Chris Paul and Curry for sure). Most impressive was his ability to get to the line, joining Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin as the only players to average 8.6 made free throws per game since David Robinson did it in 1993-94. One guy was more valuable than Harden this season from the line, and we'll deal with him right now.
Small forward: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 1 overall, ADP: 1.4). LeBron James may be the best basketball player in the world right now, but Durant dwarfs even The King where fantasy is concerned. Here's my favorite KD stat: assists are his worst category, but among small forwards, he trails only LeBron, Nicolas Batum and Paul Pierce in assists per game. Again, that's his worst fantasy category we're talking about. There's no argument for taking anyone other than Durant first overall next season, which is pretty amazing when you consider how good LeBron has been this season.
Power forward: LeBron James, Miami Heat (No. 2 overall, ADP: 1.6). Here we have our first player who actually underperformed his draft position. Of course, I'm joking a bit here. LeBron was magical this season; I haven't seen anyone play better basketball since Michael Jordan, and I'm even starting to have my doubts on that. Still, LeBron's free throw shooting is still a slight negative, so he has to take a backseat to Durant in fantasy leagues.
Center: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 8 overall, ADP: 24.4). Ibaka's not the best center in the NBA by a long shot, but there's no more valuable single number in the fantasy game than the 3.1 blocks per game Ibaka has registered so far this season. He hasn't had a game without a blocked shot since the middle of February, and he's had at least five blocks in a game a ridiculous 18 times. At the same time, he's become a real weapon on the offensive end, as well, shooting 57 percent from the floor and upping his usage rate while maintaining the same rate of turnovers. He's a first-round pick from now on for sure.
Forward: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (No. 5 overall, ADP: 7.7). I was convinced that Kobe was getting drafted far too early in fantasy drafts this season, but it's clear now that I was wrong. On the other hand, the logic was sound; he played too many minutes per game last season at 38.5 per game (after just 33.9 per game the season before), and he posted his worst shooting percentages from the floor and behind the arc in more than a decade. Amazingly, he raised his efficiency this season while playing the same minutes per game, easing off his usage just a bit while his assist rate is higher than it's ever been. For a guy like Kobe to set a career high in a category like assists this late in his career is really remarkable. I still wouldn't draft him in the first round next season because of his age, but I'm willing to admit I'll probably be wrong again.
Guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (No. 6 overall, ADP: 3.4). Paul is another guy who slightly underperformed his draft position heading into the season, and there's a little more reason to worry in this case. He's still the best point guard in the league, but he plays just 33.2 minutes, which is the fewest of anyone on this list not listed at center. Also, his 3-point shooting has now declined for three straight seasons, and at 33 percent, it's slowly ceasing to be a weapon for him. All of this, for now, is secondary to the fact he's absolutely the third best player in the league and should still be a great fantasy option next season. I'd still take him ahead of anyone but Durant and LeBron, but I'm not feeling as confident as I did at the start of the season.
Util: Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 7 overall, ADP: 5.9). As usual, he never misses a game, and he puts up huge numbers. He's still not a good 3-point shooter, but he does everything else really well, and set a career high in rebounds per game with 5.4 this season. I can't believe that the state of the point guard position means that he could be the third point guard taken in drafts next season, but along with Curry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, he's worth considering as a top-five pick next season.
Util: Paul George, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (No. 9 overall, ADP: 41.3). George was great this season and has potential to keep getting better. That's saying something when you're already a top-10 fantasy player. The next step for George is to go to the LeBron James School for Efficient Small Forwards, because if George can learn to bully people on the block a bit more, he could raise his 42 percent shooting from the floor, the one blight on an otherwise stellar résumé.
Util: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (No. 10 overall, ADP: 23.2). Gasol, quietly, has become the best center in basketball; a player around whom a team can easily orchestrate both a sound scheme on both ends of the floor. He blocks a ton of shots, and that's his most valuable category, but what really makes him special is his passing: his 4.0 assists per game leads all centers, and only Greg Monroe and Al Horford are even over 3.0. I could see an argument for Gasol as a top-five pick next season, depending on how you feel about Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry.
Bench: Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs (No. 11 overall, ADP: 57.6). It's weird to say about a guy who might be one of the seven best basketball players of all time, but Duncan really surprised just about everyone this season. He shot better than 80 percent from the line for the first time in his career. He posted his highest scoring and rebounding totals in three years. Most importantly, his 2.7 blocks per game tied his highest output in the past decade. It's a reminder for us that playing time isn't necessarily everything; LaMarcus Aldridge, for example, played more minutes in more games and scored more points, but Duncan's better all-around game trumped him in fantasy leagues. It will be very interested to see where Duncan goes in drafts next season; I doubt he'll slide past the top 50 again.
Bench: Deron Williams, PG, Brooklyn Nets (No. 12 overall, ADP: 5.3). OK, so, now we know that Williams isn't exactly what he used to be, but that means we also need to accept that what he currently is still seems pretty good. He's still only 28 years old, so it's possible he could show a little more improvement next season; since this year's All-Star Game, he's averaging 22.5 points, 7.8 assists and 2.8 3-pointers, and if he can match those numbers next season, he'll be a top-10 player again without question.
Nicolas Batum, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers (No. 13 overall, ADP: 58.7). He's banged up to end the season, but it was a great season for Batum. He made all the small improvements players need to make in order to become great players, but his biggest improvement was as a passer. He more than doubled his assist rate from the past few seasons, going from the level of Brandon Bass to the level of Stephen Curry. He's got a reasonable shot at posting 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game next season while doing his usual 3-pointers, steals and blocks combination, so there's an argument for drafting him in the first round if you like him.