Four uncertain situations for '13-14
For the past two weeks in this space, I've taken a look at point guards and rookies with an eye on next year's fantasy drafts. This week, however, we'll do away with such categories and open up to the wider world; what follows are a few players who find themselves in various interesting situations heading into the final couple of weeks of the season.
(Player Rater ranking based on overall stats in parentheses)
Al Jefferson, PF/C, Utah Jazz (30): Jefferson's current ranking is a bit of a disappointment given that his average draft position (ADP) was 13.7 in ESPN.com fantasy leagues this season. It isn't like he's been horribly injured, either; he's missed just four of the 75 games the Jazz have played thus far. Of late, the Jazz are on a bit of a run, pushing the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West weeks after it seemed like they might have faded from contention. Much of the credit goes to Jefferson, who is averaging 20.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 2.2 steals, and 55 percent shooting from the floor over their five-game winning streak.
The Jazz took a lot of heat from the basketball media for standing pat at the trade deadline in large part due to Jefferson's free-agent status. In this day and age, it's hard to imagine a guy being the best player on a team that makes the playoffs in a really strong Western Conference (assuming the Jazz get in) not receiving a max deal in free agency, but Jefferson's value is difficult to determine. In fantasy, we have no such problems. Heading into next season's fantasy drafts, Jefferson will have two forces working against each other in terms of his perceived value. He likely will find himself in a new basketball context, whether it's in Utah with different teammates or someplace entirely new; on the other hand, he'll be coming off a season in which he did not quite match what was expected of him statistically. For my part, I'll note that Jefferson doesn't turn 29 until the middle of next season. He's still pretty young, and given his ability to score in the post and his improving game as a passer, I'd happily snap him up in the second round of just about any league.
Danny Green, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs (57): The Spurs have Danny Green locked up on a very reasonable contract through 2014-15, and he's a perfect fit in his role as a floor spacer/defensive specialist. His main skill -- as his game translates to fantasy stats -- is his ability to knock down a high volume of 3-pointers; he makes 2.3 per game, and well over half of his field goal attempts come from ideal spaces behind the arc created in the flow of the offense. Green is playing more minutes this season, but it isn't like he's actually a better player than he was last time around, and that's the issue making it tough to gauge his value heading into next season.
Green's current ranking of 57 points to him as a late fifth-round draft pick, but that seems really high for a guy with such a limited game. He went undrafted in many leagues this season, but the difference between then and now really comes down to an extra four or so minutes of playing time per night and a few more 3-pointers. The point is that Green is going to seem like a safe bet next season because his role is so well-defined, but he's actually extremely volatile. Should his minutes drop into the low 20s or his 3-point field goal percentage drop under 40, Green is going to end up not being able to crack the top 100 next season. Keep that in mind when you are drafting.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings (65): The Kings keep trying not to play Thomas, but end up getting stifled by the fact that he's one of their three best players. On most teams, a core of Thomas, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins might feel more exciting than it does in this instance, but the dysfunction in Sacramento prevents me from feeling optimistic. Still, despite his really disappointing numbers prior to the All-Star break (in even more disappointing playing time), Thomas is averaging 18.2 points, 5.4 assists, 2.4 3s, 92 percent shooting from the line, and 50 percent shooting from the floor in 20 games since, and has managed, amazingly, to exceed his ADP by a healthy margin.
Unfortunately, I'm still uncertain what Thomas' role will be next season. He'll be with the Kings, who should be thrilled to have him locked into a team option next season for less than $1 million dollars. It doesn't look like the Kings will have better options, and normally I would say that Thomas' efficient, stellar offensive play since the All-Star break would guarantee him the job next season, but Thomas was great down the stretch last season, and the Kings started this year by playing him less than 20 minutes per game off the bench for an entire month. Ultimately, there may always be tension between his immense ability on offense and the fact that, at just 5-foot-9, he might be too small to hang with most NBA players defensively. I'd lean toward drafting him, but if he ends up in a bench role again, it's going to kill his value.
Jeff Green, SF/PF, Boston Celtics (87): Full disclosure: I'm a Celtics fan, so Jeff Green's game makes me lose all objectivity and reason. He's one of the most frustrating players I have ever watched, constantly flashing glimpses of an amazing all-around game and then disappearing so completely that sometimes it's hard to find him on the court even when he's playing. Still, he's proved that he's a viable player after last season's heart scare; it's worth remembering that he missed just six games total over his first three full seasons in the league.
In many ways, this has been the best season of Green's career. No, he's not playing huge minutes like he did in Oklahoma City, but his PER is a career high 14.71 due to a few factors. For one thing, he's getting to the line more often, and making 81 percent of his 3.2 attempts per game. He's also been something of a weapon from behind the 3-point line, knocking down a respectable 37 percent of his attempts. Add it all up, and he's scoring more points per minute than he ever has, and he's doing it with a career-high true shooting percentage. That combination is why he's managed to be a top-100 fantasy player this season, along with the fact that his all-around game means he's a positive in every category (even if some of those positives are quite small).
The Celtics have Green on a huge contract for three more seasons after this one, so he's probably not going anywhere, and if his minutes go up, he'll almost have no choice but to be a valuable fantasy player. Still, I don't seem him getting much better from here. At 6-foot-9, he's a putrid rebounder, and doesn't show any signs of ever being an elite shooter, either, and I can't stand the idea of drafting a guy in fantasy leagues just because he's halfway decent. There will be plenty of players with more upside than Green who will be drafted after him next season, and I wouldn't want to be the one who passes them up.