Well, it’s here. It’s finally here. I can’t quite explain what the lack of the NBA for 149 days has done to my life. I come home from work with minimal to look forward to from an entertainment standpoint. It’s the worst on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, when there’s not even the NFL. I guess I had the choice to become an NHL fan; decide whether to join Team Sidney or Team Alex. It’s not for me. What I need is the Knicks on MSG, the Nets on YES, a national game on NBAtv, and every other contest simulcasting on my computer. That’s all I’ll be asking for for Christmas, and I’m glad I know what will be under my figurative tree.
The catch will be who exactly to root for, of course. When trying to explain the concept of fantasy sports to my grandfather, his response is always the same: “So you have your team, and then you have your team?” Essentially, it’s what it boils down to. No one will ever replace NYK in my eyes, but my team makes the game exponentially more entertaining. Regardless, the importance of this article is to explain this year’s fantasy sleepers and busts. The word opinion assumes potential for error. I feel much better than that.
BUSTS: I like to take the good with the bad, but believe we should always end up content so the busts need to come first. I like to define a bust as someone who would likely be chosen in the first 5 rounds (top 60) and will provide results below expectations. Because I’m also a fan of structure, we’ll start at the 1.
– (PG) Stephen Curry (GSW)- I know Curry had an awesome rookie year, with one of the more strong finishes, especially from a rookie, that we’ve seen in a while: triple doubles, 40-point games, overall lights out play. I had huge hopes for Curry last year. He had a strong supporting cast, a year under his belt, and the best foul shooting in the game. To be honest- I wasn’t impressed. Besides ppg, his season was almost entirely a step in the wrong direction. I can’t say with certainty that we’re going to see a similar dip in Curry’s stats, but I’m confident in the fact that he’s largely overrated. I think that this year will be “The Season of Monta” in Golden State. Curry, at best, will get a best supporting actor nod.
– (SG) Kevin Martin (HOU)- Last year, Martin once again hit his stride in Houston. He finished the season 9th in the league in scoring, 8th in free throw %, and most importantly, played 80 games for only the 2nd time in his 7 year career. What’s not to like about Martin? I don’t really see anything to like in the first place. As Houston’s number one shot option, he’s completely useless in any other facet of the game. He plays moderate defense (at best), turns the ball over too much for the amount of times he sees it, and has managed a double-double in only 1.8% of games he’s played in his career. For a guy who’s averaged under 60 games played over the last 4 seasons, I can almost guarantee he won’t even get near 60 this year (66 games this season).
– (SF) Paul Pierce (BOS)- There are a great deal of players in the NBA that I despise, yet, if they are quality players, I’d gladly have them on my squad (anyone besides Andres Nocioni, of course). That said, I despise Paul Pierce. Last year was a resurgent one for Pierce’s career. Honestly, I wish I had his well-rounded game. He shot well, finished just outside the top-20 in scoring, and in 80 games, managed a career low in turnovers per game. I have to stress that this is going to be where the decline for Pierce sets in. Entering his 14th season with one of the oldest teams in the Association won’t do much for his stats. I think the Celtics might actually do well this year (for one of the last times in a while), but I wouldn’t draft anyone aside from Rondo.
– (PF) Dirk Nowitzki (DAL)- My girlfriend is definitely going to hate me for this one. Dirk has had one of the best careers in recent history. There’s no debating that he’s a hall-of-famer, and probably had an awesome lockout knowing that he stuck it hard to LeBron & Co. Case and point: 2011-2012 is not going to be anything close to 2006-2007 (the year he won the league’s MVP) for the German. I mentioned earlier that I define a bust as someone who will perform under expectations. Dirk is projected across the board as a top-15 player, and I can’t in any way see him meetings these projections. He’s another guy entering his 14th season, and though last year he may have performed at (or close to) his career averages, it was basically his 3rd straight year of general decline, and 7th straight with a dip in rebounds. I believe there are much better options for a 2nd (even 3rd) round pick. He’ll still be a force, just not the force he’s been through most of my fan hood.
– (C) Serge Ibaka (OKC)- The young gun on this list. A lot of people are raving of Ibaka’s potential after his strong second half last season. I’ve seen him shooting up ranking lists left and right, but I truly think people should temper their expectations. IBLOCKA rested comfortably atop the list of blocks per 48 minutes and near the top-20 in rebounds per 48 minutes. My issue with Ibaka? He still doesn’t play enough to be successful, and when he does, he is feast or famine. In my eyes, he’s not a #1 fantasy center, and definitely not a top-35 pick. Not yet, at least. Temper expectations, folks.
Honorable mentions: Dorell Wright, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcin Gortat, Raymond Felton, Tim Duncan, Elton Brand
SLEEPERS: Many drafts go by where I feel like I’m getting the best steals year after year, round after round. The truth is, sometimes I’m right (Kevin Love), sometimes I’m wrong (Anthony Randolph), and sometimes I get outbid (Russell Westbrook). A sleeper is only worth it when people “knew he was going to be good” but you take the risk and make the pick. This year, I feel there is a great deal of sleeper potential (after the 7th round, picks 85 and above). Let’s stick to the same format.
– (PG) Darren Collison (IND)- When Chris Paul went down at the end of the 2009-2010 season, Collison stepped up big and showed that he could be a valuable starting point guard in the NBA. When he got to Indiana last year, he failed in doing so. A year under his belt on a very young Pacers squad with very strong expectations for this year will do wonders for his stat line. The addition of George Hill will only push him further towards success. Look for Collison to find near double-double figures quite regularly.
– (SG) O.J. Mayo (MEM)- A good description for Mayo’s season last year was a terrible and disastrous disappointment. His 3rd year in the league was awful for the former #3 overall pick out of USC. It seemed he could seldom make the right move. Being demoted to 6th man for the first time in his career didn’t help either. Paying about 12 minutes less per game killed Mayo’s stats, as they basically fell across the board. A cherry on top: Sam Young and Xavier Henry had strong finishes in his absence. Perhaps these may seem like all negatives, but the truth is, they are fuel to Mayo’s fire. The wake of a fight with a teammate and a league suspension left Mayo in turmoil. 2011-2012 is a new year. It’s the equivalent of Mayo’s first year out of college (math lesson: 1 college + 3 professional = 4 years of college ball). Most importantly, he’s energized, and ready to play for a new contract. This may be Mayo’s only shot at a big deal. He will capitalize.
– (SF) C.J. Miles (UTA)- When the Jazz needed Miles last season as a sixth man, he STEPPED UP. The team saw a lot of leadership in the absence of Carlos Boozer and later Deron Williams. It was highlighted by Miles’ ability to play a well-rounded game punctuated by his ability to score; big and in bursts. He even scored 40 in a game in march (a month when he went for double digits in every game). This year, he should replace AK47 in the starting lineup and continue to go off night after night. Miles has a high upside when he gets the minutes he deserves.
– (PF) Michael Beasley (MIN)- Really more of another SF, though he is PF eligible in most leagues, so he’ll satisfy this PF quota. Some may say that Beasley shouldn’t be categorized as a sleeper because he put up respectable numbers last year. In my eyes, that was just the tip of the Beasley iceberg. He’s in the same mathematical category as Mayo (the 1+3=4 rule), and has only gotten better season by season. Though the rest of the Wolves front court and the addition of Derrick Williams may hurt Beasley’s chances to pull down boards, he’s another guy in the midst of a career upswing, and entering a contract year. Beasley is going to do big things for the maturing Minnesota franchise.
– (C) Greg Monroe (DET)- Monroe was a machine whenever he got the opportunity last season. After the all-star break last year year he averaged 13.7 points and 10.0 rebounds. It’s essentially the only thing you need to know about Monroe. Monroe is going to score and pull down boards in big numbers. He’s the man now in Detroit and he likely will not look back. He reminds me of David Lee in ’09-’10. Big time.
Honorable mention: Kyrie Irving, Marcus Thornton, Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Anthony Morrow
However correct or incorrect these predictions end up being, the fact remains, I cannot wait until I eat the last chocolate in my countdown to the NBA season calendar. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fantasy season. I’m so glad it’s finally back.