The LeBron forehead jokes, Jordan comparisons and Derrick Rose being “back.”
Yep. Must be basketball season.
Full disclaimer before you click off the page — I absolutely love the NFL and fantasy football, and in my opinion, it’s the best game out there. It’s certainly the most popular, at least. However, I am a fantasy sports writer, not just football. I’d like to consider myself the fantasy Swiss Army Knife, giving you a little bit of everything. Having said that, I love, love, love the NBA and fantasy hoops, and I hope you do, too, because you’ll be seeing a lot more of it from me here this season. Last week, I brought you a few of my sleepers for each position. This week, it’s all about the breakouts. Finding the next Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard isn’t easy, seeing as these types of guys don’t come around all that often.
But we try … and we try.
Average Draft Position based off ESPN.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Great at nothing, very good at everything.
Everyone looks at Leonard and sees the MVP of the 2013 Finals, the guy who aggravated LeBron, the guy who is a budding superstar. And sure, all of that is accurate, and believe me, Leonard is a star in this league. But to me, a fantasy addict, when I look at Kawhi Leonard or hear his name, I immediately think of what he did during the second half of the season. After the All-Star Break, Leonard was a top-10 player in fantasy basketball, averaging 14.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 triples per game, all while shooting 53.1 percent from the field and almost 87 percent from the strike. So versatile, so dynamic, Leonard gives you a little bit of everything from a fantasy perspective. Now, likely taking on a bigger role in the offense, Leonard should easily average at least 16 points because of how efficient he is. Last year, according to Mike Gallagher, Leonard shot 69 percent at the rim, and nearly 35 percent of his shot attempts came at the rim. Called the future of the franchise by Greg Popovich, Leonard will have a lot more plays drawn up for him this season, and, as usual, he’ll contribute in all fantasy categories.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
I think Jones is a very logical breakout candidate this year. Despite playing just 27 minutes per game last year, he still averaged 12 points, seven rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for the Rockets during his sophomore season. And, very quietly, he was one of only four players in basketball to average at least 12 points, six rebounds, one block and make at least 30 triples over the course of the 2013 season. He has good versatility and now with the likes of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik out of town, Houston will depend on their talented third-year big man even more. With an uptick in minutes looming, Jones is primed to breakout.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
I’ve already discussed my love for Noel this season, but as a “rookie”, he should blow up this season, barring health, of course. A versatile 20-year old big man that can run the floor, Noel should fit well with the 76ers pace. No team in basketball used more possessions per game than the Sixers last year, and only one team took more shots per game than Philly (87.2). Playing for the 76ers is gold for fantasy. I mean, just look at what Henry Sims did at the center position for a stretch last year. According to CBS Sports, Sims averaged over 21 fantasy points per game in each of the last five weeks of the season. And during the final four weeks, Sims recorded three 100-point fantasy weeks. And that was all without having the shot-blocking prowess that Noel will provide. Teams averaged 85 shot attempts per game against the 76ers last year, so Noel should see plenty of shot-blocking ability. Add the fact that he’s been working on his mid-range offensive game and the rebounds he’ll grab, and you could have a potential top-10 fantasy center at a discount.
Luol Deng, Miami Heat
Deng is in a very nice spot for his fantasy prospects. Replacing LeBron James won’t be happening, but Deng is a former All-Star, fully capable of putting up very strong numbers, especially the peripherals. Between his time with the Bulls and Cavs last year, Deng averaged a healthy 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He’s going to be one of the top rebounding small forwards in the league, and with Dwyane Wade likely to miss upwards to 30 games, the Heat will depend on Deng to handle the ball and log a hefty amount of minutes. For his career, Deng has averaged 35.8 minutes per game, and could be in line for the largest usage rate of his career. In Chicago, he played with Derrick Rose, and last year, played with both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who take a ton of shots.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Many had Beal as a breakout last year, and to start the season, everyone was smiling, as the breakout was set to come to fruition. Right out of the gate, Beal was averaging an awesome 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, one steal and 2.8 triples per game. However, an injury right before Thanksgiving slowed him down, and after that, Trevor Ariza started to take over. However, Ariza is gone, Beal is healthy and I see his opening to the season as the numbers to expect from the talented shooter. Playing alongside arguably the game’s most talented point guard can’t hurt, either. Last year, according to NBA Player Tracking data, John Wall averaged 70.5 passes per game, the fourth-most in the NBA. And his 21.3 points per game created off assists ranked third in the league. Since entering the league, he’s become a smarter, better distributor of the basketball, and that should help Beal, a deadly shooter. The 21-year old Beal could legitimately lead the NBA in scoring. He’s that good.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic
Harris started 36 games for the Magic, and was awesome in that role, averaging a solid 15.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and nearly 13 shots per game during that span. He also shot 45.8 percent from the floor and 81.7 percent from the free throw line. He’s always played well, but Jacque Vaughn moved him to the bench towards the end of the season, and his numbers fell. However, expect him to play a bigger role in the offense with Arron Afflalo and a few others gone. The Magic have very, very few outside shooters, so their offense should run through explosive guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton attacking the rim, or Harris getting looks in close. Payton can shoot worth a lick, so he’ll use his size and speed to penetrate defenses, giving Harris better looks inside. The only knock in him is that he doesn’t block many shots and hasn’t developed a consistent three-point game, making him a better asset in points leagues, but you’ve seen what he’s done in limited time as a starter, and his usage should increase this year.
Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings
Collison continues to be criminally underdrafted in fantasy circles. I mean, all this guy has done is produce strong numbers, whether as the starter or the backup. In 35 starts for the Clippers last year, Collison was strong, averaging a healthy 14.8 points, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 three-pointers. Now he’ll be the starting point guard for the Kings, who, granted, aren’t the greatest team in basketball, but do have two talented scorers by the name of DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. Cousins is an elite talent who averaged a strong 0.35 points per offensive touch, so Collison has himself a prime source of assists. We saw Isaiah Thomas have a very nice fantasy campaign as the starting guard in Sacramento last year, and I’d say that he and Collison are pretty similar players. Thomas was a top-25 overall fantasy option last year, and Collison has similar upside, playing in an offense that played at a top-15 pace and wants to be faster. Also, look at the opportunities Thomas had last year. He averaged a strong 14.5 assist opportunities per game, ranking 15th in the NBA, helping him post 6.3 helpers per contest. There’s no reason why Collison can’t have a career-best season in terms of statistics.