- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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This is it, people. The column that is supposed to last for a while. I thought I'd review some high points and low points from my past season of prognostication.
Then, by way of a big finish, revisit and revise the auction keeper list I put together last September with an eye toward 2013-14. (Click here to see the full list.)
Top 5 Things I Was Wrong About This Season
1. DeMarcus Cousins: "There's a chance Cousins could end the season as the No. 1 center in fantasy basketball" -- Me, in September.
Cousins is currently the No. 16 center and 51st on the Player Rater.
Usually, I'm not taken in by preseason palaver, especially when it applies to (I don't use this term lightly) headcases like Cousins. But I was blinded by the upside and by the breathless, stentorian reports that "Cousins! Has! Matured!" I also like a good redemption story. It sure seemed at the time that Mr. Technicality was ready to take the proverbial third-year big man leap.
This season it became clear that Cousins is way overvalued because of his scoring. Cousins can score and rebound in bunches and he possesses a nice steals rate for a big man (1.5 per game), but he's pedestrian to disappointing in multiple categories: blocks, field goal percentage, turnovers and free-throw percentage. DMC was all peaks and extended valleys.
For a big man averaging 13.7 field goal attempts per game, Cousins' 46.7 percent effective field goal percentage was downright abominable (30th among centers averaging at least 20 minutes per game). And I haven't even gotten into Cousins' intangibles deficiencies: the technicals, elbows airmailed at Mike Dunleavy, benchings and suspensions.
Throw in the fact that he plays for noted serial fantasy-value killer Keith Smart, and Cousins' prognosis for 2013-14 looks like it will be another overpriced disappointment.
But wait, Cousins will be in a contract year. If anything could cause the synapses to align in Cousins' mind, it would be the promise of a max contract. Cousins could command that with a classic contact campaign.
But if he doesn't respond? Well, you can find 16.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and a paltry 0.7 blocks in a lot of places. The big nights are nice, but when you look at his final averages, Cousins was barely better than average.
Sorry about that, folks.
2. Rudy Gay: I pushed Gay as a foundational addition for teams looking to build a solid base across multiple categories. A look at Gay's final numbers (18.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 3-pointers, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks) might tell you he had a perfectly acceptable season. Gay certainly posted a strong finish (19.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.7 3-pointers in April), but after three straight seasons of statistical growth, Gay regressed in 2012-13.
His restoration as an unquestioned No. 1 offensive option (sorry, DeMar DeRozan) should help Gay bounce back next season, but he's going to need to improve his efficiency (a career-low 49.0 percent true shooting percentage in 2012-13) to justify a price tag north of $25.
3. Joe Johnson: Year in and year out, Johnson has been one of my favorite mid-round grabs, a player who (like Gay) builds strength in multiple categories. Like clockwork, I've pushed him as a value acquisition in the $12-20 range.
At the same time, ever since Johnson signed his max deal, NBA analysts have been portending his production would fall off a cliff and turn that max into an albatross.
Johnson held them off for a while, but this season, the cliff materialized. The days of Johnson being a 20-point, five-rebound, five-assist guy have become 16, three and three.
That's still useful in medium-to-deep leagues, but he should be a $5-8 player from here on out.
4. Deron Williams: Williams had been mired in a slow, steady decline since his days in Utah. I wrote this preseason that his days as a first-round fantasy pick were over. But since All-Star Weekend, Williams has played his best sustained stretch of basketball in two years, reminding all of us that he's still a few years removed from his downside (he's only 28).
Williams' averages for April (26.5 points, 9.0 assists, 2.5 3-pointers) cement his late-first round status for next year. I'd still rank him behind Paul, Irving and Westbrook, but Williams is still very much a top-five fantasy point guard.
5. Andrea Bargnani: Translate most of what I just wrote about DeMarcus Cousins into Italian, and you'll have a pretty good representation of Bargnani. Granted, he was injured, but Bargnani suffers from the same main issue that plagues most frustrating fantasy players: high upside, low motor.
Bargnani came cheap in most leagues, so he was a low-risk, medium-reward gamble. I've always been in love with his potential due to the out-of-position stats, and pushed him as a potential fantasy comeback story.
I still believe a lot of his issues reside above the shoulders, and that a change of scenery could improve Bargnani's prospects, but it's getting a little late for him to rehabilitate his reputation. He'll probably be a $4-7 endgame grab in next season's drafts.
Top 5 Things I Was Right About
1. Kemba Walker: "So what he couldn't shoot in his first season? He's 22, plays on a bad team that's offensively challenged, and qualifies at both guard slots. And he's two dollars. I see a little bit of early Baron Davis in him. Which is probably more of a threat than a sales pitch." -- Me, in September.
Walker pretty much lived up to that billing. Actually, he exceeded it, placing 22nd on the Player Rater. Thanks to his toiling on a bad (underpublicized) team, Walker should still be undervalued, and hopefully he keeps his uber-valuable PG/SG eligibility. One red flag: If Charlotte ends up with a backcourt player in the draft, it could ding his value.
2. (Stay Away From) The Los Angeles Lakers (Except For Kobe Bryant): "There's only one basketball allowed in play at a time, and only so many possessions per game." I said that back when Mike Brown was still the coach. It remained true even with Mike D'Antoni's (and his high-pace system's) arrival.
It just seemed logical that the Lakers couldn't produce enough touches to satisfy all of their elite players. That an overabundance of high Usage Rate players and hype was going to lead to fantasy disappointment, even if it produced a real-life title run.
At the same time, while Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were going a little high in auctions, it seemed like the market was a little too down on Kobe. Down enough that I listed Kobe as a sleeper headed into drafts.
Then Kobe turned in an epic poem of a season, made his fantasy owners very happy, and then suffered an injury that places the Lakers' fortunes for the next half-decade into limbo.
I expect him to be back, I'd bet by Christmas. But comebacks from Achilles injuries are, historically, a dicey business. We all may have to be prepared for a diminished Kobe.
What will the Lakers do in the meantime? Re-sign Dwight Howard (obviously) then reshuffle his supporting cast, maybe even the coaching staff. No matter what, there will be a fresh set of fantasy variables (and soap opera storylines) to play around with by this fall's fantasy drafts.
3. Andre Drummond: "I've been drooling over Drummond's fantasy potential since the preseason. He's continuing to build up his minutes in Lawrence Frank's rotation, and is primed for a nice second half. The fantasy combination of a Drummond/Greg Monroe frontcourt could be numerically devastating. Just, please -- for the love of Dr. Naismith -- don't let this guy near a free throw line (39 percent from the stripe so far this season)." - Me, in December
I harbor two worries for Drummond next season: (1) He'll end up going for $30 in drafts, and (2) he'll shoot 30 percent from the free throw line. Look, I share your excitement regarding Drummond's impact as a full-time starter. But don't go nuts. I'd bail out once bidding gets out of the low twenties.
4. Jrue Holiday/Mike Conley/Goran Dragic/Brandon Jennings: I focused a lot of preseason pixels on the rising upper-middle class at point guard. Why would you have blown $65 on Deron Williams when you could have had a three-pack of Conley, Dragic, and Jennings for about the same price?
In fantasy, point guards are fast becoming a volume business.
5. James Harden/Jeremy Lin: As a starter, Harden becomes a legit top-15 player in fantasy. In auction keeper leagues? Bid with absolute confidence. I'd price him in the $46-52 range. Remember, in a keeper situation, you'd rather have Harden going forward than Kobe or Wade. Harden's percentages aren't discussed enough in terms of his fantasy value. He's going to anchor your team in both categories while still generating 3-pointers.
"If you're a Jeremy Lin owner? In a way, I believe this trade is going to help Lin. It takes off some of the pressure to that contract as he continues to find his legs after offseason knee surgery. Now he gets a running mate who will have no problem being the guy. Lin's preseason struggles depressed his APR (63.3) a little too much; I liked him in the late sixth round even before the trade. There's a ton of young upside featured at PG in fantasy this season. Lin could end up generating fourth-round value, even with Harden siphoning off some of his shots." -- Me, in October
It turns out I was sandbagging a bit on Harden. He was a top-four player.
Enjoy the playoffs! And don't let a big series by a less-heralded player inflate his draft stock for next season.
The road to fantasy infamy is littered with JaVales.
2dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne