At this point in the season -- the end of the fantasy playoffs -- most hard-core fantasy enthusiasts' minds turn to one subject.
It's not the inherent, effortless joy in being able to watch the NBA playoffs free of the constraints of having to view all things basketball through the statistical prism.
The best thing about being in a keeper league is that there will always be a next year. (Unless, of course, you're a big believer in the Mayan calendar. But even then, we should pack in a solid four weeks of the 2012-13 season before things turn ugly).
It's comparatively easy to keep a LeBron James or a Chris Paul. I won't waste your time contemplating obvious elites. What I want to talk about are the bubble keepers, the players currently exhibiting top-40 potential.
Let's talk about some mitigating factors when making your bubble decisions. These are my top 10, in no particular order:
1. The lottery and the draft
If you're contemplating keeping a player on a team that's going to have a large allotment of ping-pong balls in the upcoming lottery (go Wizards!), you need to take a breath before pulling the trigger.
Because you're not going to want to keep Kevin Seraphin if he's fighting for frontcourt minutes withNene Hilario and Anthony Davis. And that's what's going to happen, people. (Although I would happily accept Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Bradley Beal, or Thomas Robinson. Basically, not Andre Drummond.)
2. Free agency
Nash in New York would provide a quantum boost to the keeper prospects for every Knick not named Jeremy Lin. But no Nash in Phoenix means an automatic downgrade for the keeper prospects of Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye. And if Williams leaves the Nets well, events might turn Mayan after all, at least in Brooklyn, and certain sections of Moscow.
(And yes, Gortat and Frye both have keeper potential in deeper leagues. More on that in a moment.)
3. Where in the world is Mike D'Antoni?
This will have more impact than any single free-agent signing or lottery pick. If D'Antoni returns to a bench next season (go Wizards!), every player on that team receives an automatic 10-15 percent boost to their statistical prospects, especially point guards.
4. Positional scarcity
When it comes to the fantasy decision-making process, I am a big believer in maintaining as much flexibility as possible. And it's easier to go into a draft knowing you've got the thinnest positions covered.
Earlier in the season, it looked as if shooting guard was turning into the perennial position of need. But during the past month, we've witnessed a statistical reversion to form, as the bottom fell out of the center market (no Amare Stoudemire, no David Lee, etc.) While at the same time, some younger shooting guards found their groove (Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward) and began to flash keeper potential.
I did some number-crunching based on the final month's numbers, and would currently rank the positions in this order going into next season's drafts: center, point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward.
There are a lot of good-to-mediocre 5s out there. There's depth, but the kind of depth you can snare in the later rounds of a draft. If you have a shot at keeping a top-five center, do it.
5. Categorical scarcity
Blocks and assists are the two toughest volume-based categories to make a move within once a season starts. So it makes sense to prioritize these areas when making your keeper list. It's an old NBA adage, but one that applies in fantasy as well: Lock down point guard and center.
6. Statistical diversity
I love to keep players that allow me to build safely. That means players with solid percentages and/or 1/1/1 potential (players capable of averaging a 3-pointer, a steal and a block).
7. Out-of-position production
A center with a high assists-per-game mark? A point guard who can rebound? Sign me up.
8. Multiposition players
This comes back to the notion of flexibility. I love to keep players that allow me to consider a wider range of players in an upcoming draft. Right now, I'd rank the multipositions in this order; PG/SG, PF/C, SG/SF, SF/PF.
9. Contract year
Is a player headed into free agency in 2013? It's a small detail, but an important one to keep in mind.
As of right now (extensions pending), the big unrestricted fish are Dwight Howard (again) and Chris Paul. Other names to keep in mind are Josh Smith, Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin, David West and Andre Iguodala. Any of these guys could also be traded in-season in 2012-13, which could alter their fantasy fortunes.
10. Athletic upside
Does a player have athleticism to burn that might still be somewhat untapped? These players sometimes require an extra season or so to fully put it all together.
No. 1 on "Items to not use" -- the playoffs
Do not use NBA playoff performance as a barometer to help gauge your keeper-based decisions. Ever. The playoffs are the beer goggles of the fantasy basketball world.
Now, keeping these factors in mind, let's take a quick trip through some names you should consider, broken down by position.
I know, I know. Howard as a bubble keeper? On that list above, No. 11 would have been "Recent back surgery." I've had three back surgeries, and I wouldn't recommend me in a keeper situation.
But to be fair (and I know of what I speak), Howard's surgery was a relatively non-invasive procedure (no fusion, no disc replacement, etc.). He should be back on the court by the end of the summer. But if the procedure wasn't enough to alleviate the issue, it might mean a more dramatic surgery is in Howard's future.
Beyond Howard considerations, remember how thin center is in fantasy. When faced with a tough call, I'd keep any of those bubble guys in medium-to-deep leagues over an equal-value shooting guard or forward.
I took Andrea Bargnani off here at the last second. The health issues scare me a bit.
I agonized over Jeff Teague here. He's been (barely) a top-10 PG this season, but despite his youth, I'm worried about his inconsistency and relative lack of upside. Upside is why you'd keep Wall or Irving over someone like Teague or Tony Parker.
The Rockets need to figure out whom their starting PG is going into 2012-13. Whoever gets the job is a keeper. Right now, Dragic is a free agent, so it looks as if that job will fall back to Lowry.
Steve Nash's value is totally linked to his free-agent destination. If he accepts a diminished role on a contender, he'll fall into the bottom half of the top 10. And if D.J. Augustin leaves Charlotte, Kemba Walker gets added to this list.
As I said before, there were some late-season breakouts at shooting guard that added some depth to the position. I love the upside of Matthews, Thompson and Hayward, and all three seem to have a starting gig locked down for 2012-13 but of the three, my favorite is Hayward. Why? Their 1/1/1 potential.
If you're keeping a small forward, he'd better be good, because there is a ton of value out there that's going to be available in your next draft.
To me, you have to keep George and Batum based on potential upside, but Ilyasova coming off a contract year scares me a little. I actually think his prospects improve if he leaves Milwaukee, or if the Bucks get a new coach (Mike D'Antoni would be a good fit here).
Most of the keepable power forwards also qualify at center, so I won't relist them here. That is why this is a very short list. Even Garnett wound up eligible at center this season, but it's possible he won't be in all leagues next season.
Anderson might be a bit of a surprise, but I love stretch 4s, and 2.7 3-pointers per game is a great number to build around. I love Josh Smith going into next season (contact year), and Dirk Nowitzki should have one more top-20 season in the tank.