In just a few days, another fantasy season will be in the books, and it'll be time to start looking ahead to the 2010-11 season. And what better way to do that than to take a preliminary look at the top 100 for next season. Since much will change between now and September, when fantasy drafts kick off, these rankings will evolve throughout what promises to be an action-packed summer.
To complement the ranks, there are also some pressing questions to consider for next season.
Do we take Kevin Durant or Chris Paul with the second overall pick in fantasy drafts?
The Top 100
Note: Brian McKitish's Top 100 are ranked for their expected performance in the 2010-11 season. ESPN's 2009-10 preseason ranking is indicated in parentheses.
RK. Name, POS (RK)
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (2)
2. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (3)
3. Chris Paul, PG, NO (1)
4. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (6)
5. Danny Granger, SF, IND (4)
6. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (5)
7. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (7)
8. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (8)
9. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (11)
10. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (18)
11. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (9)
12. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (15)
13. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (24)
14. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (10)
15. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (37)
16. Amar'e Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (13)
17. Brandon Roy, SG, POR (16)
18. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (149)
19. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (143)
20. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (34)
21. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (36)
22. David Lee, PF/C, NY (28)
23. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (40)
24. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (20)
25. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (29)
26. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (47)
27. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (14)
28. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (23)
29. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (17)
30. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (88)
31. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (21)
32. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (32)
33. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, CHA (45)
34. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (65)
35. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (141)
36. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (57)
37. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (80)
38. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (12)
39. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (39)
40. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (112)
41. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (26)
42. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (66)
43. Marcus Camby, C/PF, POR (48)
44. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (100)
45. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (31)
46. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (111)
47. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (78)
48. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (67)
49. Nene, C/PF, DEN (44)
50. David West, PF, NO (22)
51. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (51)
52. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (53)
53. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, NY (NR)
54. Andray Blatche, PF/C, WAS (177)
55. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (99)
56. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (41)
57. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (82)
58. Antawn Jamison, PF, CLE (42)
59. Kevin Martin, SG, HOU (30)
60. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (157)
61. Andre Miller, PG, POR (62)
62. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (96)
63. Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI (193)
64. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (19)
65. John Salmons, SG/SF, MIL (70)
66. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (54)
67. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (76)
68. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (101)
69. Marcus Thornton, SG, NO (NR)
70. Carl Landry, PF, SAC (153)
71. Darren Collison, PG, NO (NR)
72. Yao Ming, C, HOU (NR)
73. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (73)
74. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (60)
75. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (74)
76. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (98)
77. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (43)
78. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (58)
79. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, HOU (97)
80. Caron Butler, SF, DAL (35)
81. Tony Parker, PG, SA (56)
82. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (87)
83. Gilbert Arenas, PG, WAS (33)
84. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (105)
85. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (49)
86. Richard Hamilton, SG, DET (91)
87. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (63)
88. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (84)
89. Al Harrington, PF, NY (50)
90. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (128)
91. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (38)
92. Josh Howard, SG/SF, WAS (81)
93. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (106)
94. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (72)
95. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (71)
96. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (55)
97. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (64)
98. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (85)
99. Terrence Williams, SF/SG, NJ (194)
100. Wilson Chandler, SF, NY (108)
Coming into 2009-10, the great debate was LeBron James versus Chris Paul. Next season, it will be Kevin Durant versus Chris Paul, and as you can tell from my (very) early 2010-11 rankings, I'm backing Durant for the time being. Now, before you start thinking I'm crazy, I should note that this ranking is more of a compliment to Durant than it is a knock against Paul.
Sure, Paul had an injury-plagued season, but he's still easily a top-3 fantasy player when healthy. And I don't think he's earned himself an "injury-prone" label just yet. Remember, prior to playing only 45 games in 2009-10, Paul averaged 75 games per season. He also ranked third on our Player Rater when sorted by averages on the strength of his dominant steal (2.1) and assist (10.7) numbers. Provided that he comes into 2010-11 healthy, I see no reason why he shouldn't be the second or third pick in fantasy drafts.
As for Durant, well, what else can one say? Still just 21 years of age and in his third professional season, Durant made that big jump we were all waiting for. After averaging 30.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.5 3-pointers and 1.0 blocks while shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and 89.7 percent from the line, Durant is actually closer to James in fantasy value than most might think. Looking at each statistical category, points, rebounds, 3-pointers, steals and blocks are pretty much a wash between the two (LeBron is slightly better in steals and 3s while Durant is slightly better in scoring and boards). LeBron holds major advantages in assists and field goal percentage while Durant owns the free throw percentage category by a hefty margin. Like I said, it's pretty close, especially when considering that Durant was easily the league's best fantasy free throw shooter at nearly 90 percent from the line in 10.3 attempts per game.
Is Dwight Howard still a top-10 fantasy player?
If you've followed my rankings all season, you'll know where I stand on this. Dwight did not leave my top 10 all season, and he's unlikely to move from his spot when the 2010-11 season begins. Now, I know there is quite a bit of debate about Howard and his free throw shooting, but he maintains his top-10 fantasy status because he's so dominant everywhere else, particularly in fantasy's most scarce category, blocks.
With only a few games left to play, Howard (217 blocks) has 42 more blocks than the next closest competitor, Andrew Bogut (175). It should also be noted that only five players managed to register 150 or more blocks this season. That, my friends, is what we like to call categorical dominance. No other player in the league can offer that sort of dominance in a single fantasy category. Well, except maybe Howard himself, as a rebounder.
It's amazing that as good as Zach Randolph and David Lee were on the glass all season long, Howard still holds a healthy margin in total rebounds with 1,046 compared to Randolph's 932 and Lee's 924. Even more amazing is the fact only five players managed to grab 800 or more rebounds this season (Carlos Boozer and Marcus Camby round out the top five). Need I say more?
Two final thoughts on Howard as a top-10 player. First, I didn't even mention his field goal percentage here, but he is also fantasy's best in this category as well (though not by as big of a margin as he is with boards and blocks). That means Howard is the best fantasy option in three separate categories. Find me another player like that (good luck) and I'll move him out of the top 10. Second, if Howard plays in the Orlando Magic's final two games he will have played in all 82 games for the fifth time in six years and in 490-of-492 career regular-season games.
How will Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans fare as sophomores?
Don't expect a sophomore slump from either of these two powerhouse rookies. Fantasy-wise, Curry may have had the better season. He finished ranked 10th on the Player Rater (sorted by averages) with 17.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.1 3-pointers while shooting 46.1 percent from the floor and 88.1 percent from the line. Can Curry duplicate his success in his second season? I think so, but I also think his 2009-10 numbers are actually pretty close to his ceiling as a fantasy player. Injuries galore allowed Curry to take a major role in the Golden State Warriors' offense and helped pad his stats this season. He may not be as fortunate in future seasons, but I don't think it will affect his numbers enough to drop him outside of the second round in fantasy drafts.
Like Curry, Evans will make for an excellent late-second-/early-third-round draft selection in next season's fantasy drafts. The one big difference here is that I don't think Tyreke has reached his full potential as a fantasy player yet. After averaging 20.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers as a 20-year-old rookie, Evans has the look of a player who could improve on his boards and assists as he develops, not to mention his free throw shooting (which plummeted as he may have lost some of his legs in the second half). Do not be surprised, either, if he bumps his shot-blocking up from the 0.4 he averaged this season. With his length, he could become a guy who averages 0.7-0.8 per game. The sky is the limit for Evans, and I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a 25/6/6 player as early as next season.
Which injured players will be undervalued heading into 2010-11?
Oftentimes, those that play through injuries at less than 100 percent will see their season averages plummet. It will be easy to forget come next September when fantasy drafts are in full swing, but we shouldn't make the common mistake of undervaluing players based on season totals when those numbers could be skewed due to an injury. Be sure to monitor the following players carefully during the summer and be ready to pounce next season if the asking price is low based on this season's injuries:
Joakim Noah, PF/C, Chicago Bulls: Though he is playing well in April, some may forget just how good Noah was prior to suffering a midseason plantar fasciitis injury. Just remember, Noah averaged a cool 11.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks before missing considerable time in February and March. His season averages may be depressed, but savvy owners will know that Noah is one of the fantasy game's best big men.
Brandon Roy, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers: A lingering hamstring injury put a damper on what could have been a tremendous fantasy season for Roy. After averaging 23.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 3s before the All-Star break, Roy's production slipped noticeably to just 19.7 points, 4.3 boards, 4.3 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 3-pointers after the break. Much of the drop in production can be blamed on the troublesome hammy that never allowed him to get back to 100 percent. Don't let the season averages fool you, Roy at full strength is an elite fantasy player.
Devin Harris, PG, New Jersey Nets: For those that haven't been paying attention, Harris has averaged 18.0 points, 7.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 3-pointers since the All-Star break. Still, I get the feeling that far too many people will remember his horrific start to the season rather than his brilliant finish. Remember, Harris was dealing with some injuries early on, and it didn't seem that he was 100 percent all season. There's a good chance that injuries will continue to be an issue with Harris going forward, so look at him as a high-risk/high-reward option.
Anthony Randolph, PF/SF, Warriors: Can you say post-hype sleeper? I know there is a lot of anger out there about Randolph's season, but he was actually playing pretty well when Don Nelson gave him the opportunity (unfortunately that didn't happen too often). There is a good chance that Randolph will not be in Golden State next season, which can only be good for his fantasy value. Don't let this year's debacle scare you away late in drafts next season. Randolph is still just 20 years old and he has the skills to be a special fantasy player down the line.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.