Point guards on the rise for 2013-14
At this late stage in the season, it's often a good idea to start forming your opinions about players heading into next season -- and not just for keeper leagues. Some players might see their roles change down the stretch, but a player's performance over the bulk of a long season can have a lot more bearing on long-term success than a couple of weeks in March and April.
At one particular position, it seems like there's almost too much talent to believe. Eighteen of the top 50 players on the Player Rater are currently eligible at point guard, and some of those guys are not players you normally think of as elite NBA talents. Guys like Darren Collison and Goran Dragic are legitimately good players, but being a point guard tends to put an emphasis on certain stats -- such as assists, steals and 3-pointers -- that end up being of particular value in the fantasy game.
Here are some point guards who have taken a step forward with their games this season and are probably worth some added attention heading into next year's campaign.
(Overall Player Rater ranking in parentheses)
Jeff Teague, PG, Atlanta Hawks (22): Teague's average draft position (ADP) was just 83.4 coming into this season, and though his improvement isn't a shock, the degree to which he has risen is a bit startling. Consider that in roughly the same minutes, Teague is scoring more points even though he's shooting a slightly lower overall percentage. The numbers illustrate why: Teague's making a higher percentage of 3-pointers (up to a respectable 36.1 percent) and a higher percentage of free throws (88.8 percent on the same 2.8 attempts per game). Plus, he's finishing a higher percentage of his attempts around the rim while taking more 3s, which means he's taking higher-value shots.
While a lot of his numbers haven't significantly changed, the ones that have -- free throw percentage, made 3s and assists per game -- coincide with all of the reasons why he's quickly becoming one of the best point guards in basketball, and not just fantasy basketball. It wouldn't take much more improvement for Teague to be a top-20 player next season. Given that he'll probably use more possessions if Josh Smith leaves town, there's an argument to be made that Teague will be a solid second-round pick in most leagues.
Kemba Walker, PG/SG, Charlotte Bobcats (29): I never imagined Walker would be this good in the NBA, as I assumed his size and shaky jumper would make him a disappointment. His rookie season flashed everything that was good about him -- mainly his attacking style and willingness to score -- and everything that was bad -- including a 46.4 true shooting percentage. This season, he still has the same overarching problem -- terrible teammates -- but he's done a much better job finding his own game in the midst of what can at times be a terrifying lack of space to operate. He's finishing 55.5 percent of his shots at the rim per hoopdata.com, and while that's nothing to write home about, it's a whole lot better than the sub-50 percent number he posted last season. Meanwhile, he's taking and making more 3s and has gone from being so-so on defense (0.9 steals per game last season) to being a downright weapon (2.0 per game, fourth in the league).
Most exciting is that Walker still has a lot of room for improvement. He's becoming a more selective passer, as a higher percentage of his assists are leading to shots at the rim and behind the 3-point line, per hoopdata.com. Hopefully that means he'll be able to get more assists next season as, however slowly, the roster around him in Charlotte improves. He should be able to continue ratcheting up his minutes as well, and, like Teague, could work his way into the top 20 next season, though he probably projects to be more like a third-round pick.
Jeremy Lin, PG, Houston Rockets (35): Lin, perhaps more than any player, has a major disparity between his perceived value and his actual fantasy value, as it still seems that he's being thought of as a bit of a disappointment this season (even though he's been quite good). Slowly, as the season moves along, Lin is becoming the player the Rockets hope he can be, and that player happens to be really valuable in fantasy.
Paying attention to his pre- and post-All-Star splits is illustrative. Before the break, Lin averaged 12.6 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting. Since the break, in what is admittedly a small 12-game sample, he's up to 15.1 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting. Those latter numbers are really good, and show the same sort of combination of offensive production and efficiency that made his ascendency with the Knicks last season so exciting. Perhaps more importantly, Lin's shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc in February and March, which is good, because playing alongside another really great pick-and-roll operator in James Harden is forcing Lin to spot up more than was originally planned when the Rockets signed him. I'm a little worried that his steals have settled in at 1.4 since the break (down from 1.9 prior), but he passes the eye test for having really good hands and instincts in that area. As a result of his improved play, Lin's ranking (33rd) doesn't seem to be a fluke, even if he's got the rap of being a disappointment in some misguided circles.
George Hill, PG/SG, Indiana Pacers (44): Hill helped the Pacers beat the Magic on Tuesday night, finishing with 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the floor to go along with seven rebounds, two assists and two 3s in 31 minutes. Those numbers don't sound all that impressive, but that's what Hill gives you: solid numbers just about every night. Sure, he occasionally has bad games, but most nights Hill gives you a decent amount of points, rebounds and assists while chipping in a bit of 3s and steals. When you add it all up, you get a top-50 fantasy player.
What has been really nice about his performance this season is that we had never really seen a team rely on him as its sole option at point guard. Yes, the Pacers have a backup, but D.J. Augustin certainly doesn't inspire much confidence. Hill's minutes rose from 25.5 per game last season to 34.5 this season, and it's the first time he's ever played more than 30 minutes per game in his career. So the fact that he's coupled that playing time with career-highs in usage rate and assist rate means that he's producing at a much higher level than before. I never would have said this coming into this season, but Hill is clearly worth taking in the fifth round next season; and given the fact that he'll only be 27 years old at the start of next season, I might even reach into the fourth round to get him.
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