The end is the beginning
We have come to the end of great NBA season, my friends. If you are reading this today, congratulations, you are truly a fantasy freak. The scores have all been settled and while the NBA conferences are each seeded for the playoffs, the fantasy season is done. Across this land of make-believe sports, the champions have been crowned and the crow eaten by the defeated. So why are you still reading this? Because there is always next season. And always more information to be gleaned and data slapped into spreadsheets. Because the roundball nerdling never sleeps. There are the playoffs, the draft, the free agent signings, the summer leagues, this year brings us the Olympics, and then we are back to training camp and the preseason. There is no off-season, just more time to plot and speculate.
With this in mind this last Box Score Blog is going to break things down a little differently. I am going to go category-by-category and break down the leaders in each to see if they offer glimpses into next season, which, of course, starts on Saturday.
Kevin Durant, SG/SF, Supersonics (42): Durant was a preseason darling whose ADP was 43.0 this season, making him a fourth-round pick in mid-sized leagues. He did not deliver on that investment, but nights like Wednesday make me think he could be a better value at the same spot next season. He averaged 24.3 points per game in April and while I expect the field goal percentage to be subpar for the season, I like Durant to improve in his sophomore season.
Randy Foye, PG/SG, Timberwolves (32): Make him a scoring combo guard and Foye will be nasty next season. Give him the role of playmaker and prepare for grave disappointment. I expect a bit of both from the T-Wolves in 2008-2009.
Mike Dunleavy, SG/SF, Pacers (6-of-8): I wrote about Dunleavy in the final "Are You for Real?" and feel the same way after last night's performance. He will be underdrafted because of his well-deserved reputation as an underperformer. He will fill it from deep, score, rebound and dish. You want him next season.
Marco Belinelli, SG, Warriors (5-of-6): After a preseason of hype that some folks thinking Monta Ellis' job was in jeopardy, it quickly became apparent that Belinelli was not even a blip on the fantasy radar. Oh, Nellie, you sly dog. Next year, I think it could be a different story. Belinelli can shoot from anywhere in the gym and is fluid enough to play in Nellie's system. Defense? This is the Warriors we are talking about.
Andrew Bogut, C, Bucks (15): The Andrew Bogut we saw in the second half of the season (16.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 blocks) is the guy I expect to see next season. That is a top-five center for fantasy. He may give out fake high fives to imaginary teammates at the free throw line, but is numbers next season will win him friends among the laptop set.
Aaron Gray, C, Bulls (22): Outlier. Yes, this was the best rebounding line of the night by far, but I hope that you don't store this one away and assume Gray blossoms into a threat on the glass for next season. His rebounding total for the five previous games was 15. He won't be averaging 35 minutes a game next year, trust me. Nice guy, though.
Ramon Sessions, PG, Bucks (14): This guy is prime sleeper material next season. No doubt someone like myself will point to his outrageous assist numbers to close the season (10.0 points, 11.0 assists per game in April). It will all depend on his role next year. He is clearly capable of doing damage. Wednesday night he went for 25 points, 7 rebounds and 14 assists. In his previous game he posted 20 points and 24 assists. The latter was the single-game season high for the NBA (Chris Paul was second with 21 on Nov.6.) My guess is he'll get a chance to pick up a small fortune in dimes next season, too.
Raymond Felton, PG, Bobcats (12): It took most of the season for Felton to start to deliver on his draft day value (ADP: 47.5) but he came through in April when he averaged 16.6 points, 0.9 3-pointers, 9.3 assists. This won't be enough to sustain his ADP next season and Felton could represent a good value if he slips a round or two and he finds a measure of consistency.
T.J. Ford, PG (4); Jose Calderon, PG, Raptors (3): Ford snatched his four steals in just 18 minutes of play. While he was sidelined with injury for much of the season, whenever he got on the floor, Ford produced. In addition to his steals, Ford scored 18 points in his 18 minutes. Much to the displeasure of fantasy owners we will see another season of time-sharing between Ford and Calderon next season. Calderon will play the role of distributor to Ford's slasher. Both will offer a modest number of steals. They are obviously still worth owning, but drop them accordingly on your cheat sheets.
Joakim Noah, PF, Bulls (4): I like Noah as a second center (provided he qualifies) next season. The jumper is still crooked but he plays with intensity and will get his on the boards and with the blocks. I think 1.5 blocks per game is a reasonable projection provided he gets his 30 minutes per game. Throw in 10 points and 8 rebounds and you have a respectable big man with some upside.
Amir Johnson, SF/PF, Pistons (4): On talent alone, I love this kid. He is a skywalker with great shot-blocking ability. The problem, as with so many young talents, is playing time. I don't see him cracking 20 minutes a game next season, let alone the 25 to 30 he needs to make a real impact for fantasy owners. But if he does, this is a guy you want for blocks. In just 12.2 minutes per game this season he averaged 1.3 blocks.
Field Goal Percentage
Emeka Okafor, PF/C, Bobcats (11-for-14): Well, it's pretty clear who won the Howard-Okafor talent contest but don't let that put you off Okafor altogether. He is learned, kind-hearted and ... OK he blocks shots, rebounds and shoots a high percentage. He remains a high-quality big man. Okafor is pretty close to his ceiling right now so don't expect a big leap in production. His ADP of 37.3 was too high this season, so don't reach. Think middle rounds in mid-sized leagues.
Monta Ellis, PG/SG, Warriors (11-for-17): Only Josh Childress (57.2 percent) and Ronnie Brewer (55.7 percent) had a higher field-goal percentage among guard-eligible players in fantasy. Neither player shot near the volume of Ellis. This rising star will not be cheap next year -- this year's ADP of 70.9 was a steal -- but he will be worth it. Besides the benefit he provides your scoring and field-goal percentage, it is always great to own one of the most exciting players in the league.
Free Throw Percentage
Jeff Green, SF, Supersonics (11-for-14): It wasn't until the end of the season (well past the mythical rookie wall) that we started to see the multi-category potential of Jeff Green. He will be overshadowed again by Kevin Durant but looking at his April numbers: 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 85.7 percent from the line. Lest you think the last stat a fluke, he shot 82.4 percent for March. He is a nice late round option for next season when you are looking for bench players.
Jamal Crawford, PG, Knicks (9-of-10): The Knicks were so bad and their downfall so melodramatic that the contributions of Jamal Crawford were largely overlooked this season. Use this to your benefit in next fall's drafts. His ADP was 86.2 this season. I don't think it jumps more than a round next season. He shot 86.3 percent from the line with nearly five attempts a game. This plus his scoring, 3-pointers and assists make him a solid choice after the elite guards are taken.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.