As the 2013-14 NBA season has come to a conclusion, it’s never too early to look ahead to next year for fantasy owners. Finding value is crucial in keeper leagues and is a big part of building a championship roster. Drafting fresh each year becomes a daunting task of finding players who are ready to break out and have a bigger impact than they did the year before. Below is a list of 10 players who should be selected earlier than they probably went in your fantasy draft last year. These players had impact seasons this year and should take the another step next year to become big time fantasy studs.
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Isaiah Thomas, Guard, RFA with Sacramento Kings
The 5-9 guard out of Washington wasn’t expected to last very long in the NBA. But after three seasons in Sacramento, Thomas has been one of the only bright spots for the organization. Zeke continued to beat out more hyped point guard options over his first three seasons, including former ROY Tyreke Evans. This past season he averaged 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and shot over 45 percent from the field. His previous Power Ranking on ESPN Fantasy Basketball was 122 but ended the year at No. 20. Thomas should be a very good value late in drafts next year if the Kings have a new starting point guard. He’s a restricted free agent, but a triumvirate of impressive teams are interested in him, so it’ll be interesting to see if Sacramento matches a sweetheart deal from either Miami, the Lakers or Detroit. If not, Thomas should be selected even higher if he is going to be the full-time starter for the Kings.
Bradley Beal, Guard, Washington Wizards
Beal really made a name for himself in the NBA Playoffs this season. He helped lead the Washington Wizards to a first-round win over the Chicago Bulls. Beal averaged 19.2 points per game in the playoffs, leading the Wizards in that category. He thrived playing alongside All-Star point guard John Wall and should only continue to improve next season. Unfortunately for the third-year pro out of Florida, he only played in 43 games his rookie season, averaging only 13.9 points per game due to injury. This season, Beal played in 73 games and averaged 17.1 points per contest along with 3.3 assists while shooting over 40 percent from deep. Expect Beal to take another big step forward next season as the 1-2 punch the Wizards have created in the backcourt continues to develop. Trevor Ariza is a free agent which means Beal will play an ever bigger role in the offense and will be relied on to take more shots. Beal was ranked 59th in ESPN Fantasy Power Rankings to end the season, but I expect him to be drafted within the first four rounds in fantasy drafts before the 2014-15 campaign.
Kawhi Leonard, Forward, San Antonio Spurs
The NBA Finals MVP is on every fantasy owner’s radar going into next season. Leonard is a stat-stuffer, and as his role in Gregg Popovich’s system increases, so does his stock in fantasy basketball. Leonard closed out the NBA Finals with 29 points in Game 3, followed by 22 in Game 4 and 20 in Game 5. In Games 4 and 5, Leonard tallied double-doubles, grabbing 14 and 10 rebounds, respectively. He also shot 58 percent in Game 4 and 70 percent in Game 5. He performed well all postseason and should only attract more fantasy owners heading into next year. His 12.8 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists per game in the regular season doesn’t jump out at you, but his 1.7 steals every night along with shooting north 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line this year should be kept in mind. Keep in mind Leonard came on in the second half of the regular season. After the all-star break, Leonard averaged 14.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 three-pointers per game while shooting 52.8 percent from the floor and 86.2 percent from the free throw line. With the Spurs’ Big 3 getting another year older, the Spurs will rely on Leonard to do more, and he has shown he is more than capable of answering the challenge.
Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Phoenix Suns
Bledsoe missed most of the 2013-14 season due to injuries to both his shin and knee, but should bounce back in 2014 in a big way. The Suns are an improving team and playing alongside another top guard in Gorgan Dragic will make life easier for Bledsoe. Bledsoe played in 40 games last season, but when healthy he averaged 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 3-pointers per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 78.0 from the free throw line. With a full offseason to get healthy, Bledsoe could go as high as the second round, but should not fall past the third in fantasy drafts next year. He has proven he has star talent and with the surrounding pieces the Suns have, and may acquire in the offseason, it will only help Bledsoe improve those numbers.
Gorgan Dragic, Guard, Phoenix Suns
With Bledsoe missing significant time last season, Gorgan Dragic let everyone know he is a solid fantasy player. He recorded career highs in points per game (20.3), rebounds per game (3.2) and field goal percentage (50.5 percent). He added 5.9 assists per night and shot over 40 percent from three. He snagged 1.4 steals per contest and showed he is reliable, and not as injury-prone as in past seasons after playing in 76 games this year. Next season, with the return of Bledsoe, Dragic will be able to focus on doing more of the little things to fill the stat-sheet instead of acting as the go-to scorer he had to be this past season during Bledsoe’s extended absence.
DeAndre Jordan, Center, Los Angeles Clippers
Jordan had a career year under new head coach Doc Rivers this season. After having very little impact as a starter in his first five seasons in Los Angeles, Jordan took a monster step forward in 2013-14. He went from being a player you don’t even think about in fantasy basketball, to a top-seven big man in 2014. Jordan averaged a career high in points, scoring 10.4 a night as well as a career high in rebounds, with 13.6 per game. He shot 67.6 percent from the field and played in all 82 games for the Clippers. His defense was fantastic this year, averaging 2.5 blocks a game and adding 1 steal per night. Jordan finished the year third in blocks and first in defensive rebounds. Expect Jordan to be selected much higher this year in fantasy basketball.
Kyle Lowry, Guard, Toronto Raptors
Lowry was a hot topic in free agency before re-signing with the Raptors. Lowry burst onto the scene this season for the Raptors, leading them to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. He averaged 17.9 points per game, a new career high and was the centerpiece for their young trio in the back-court. However, Lowry did more than just score for Toronto, he averaged 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per night. His 1.5 steals per game and 42.3 field goal percentage made him a very valuable player in fantasy basketball this season. However, what stands out about Lowry’s performance in 2013-14 was his ability to shoot from deep. He averaged 2.4 made three-pointers a night and shot over 38 percent from beyond the arc. Lowry’s decision to re-sign with the Raptors is a good omen for his continued excellence, and he proved last year he could be an effective player for an entire season.
Paul George, Guard/Forward, Indiana Pacers
George took a big step forward in 2012-13, winning the Most Improved Player in the NBA award. In 2013-14, George took that next step to become a star in the league. In this past season, George averaged 21.7 points per game, as well as 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. George started off the season better than anyone in the league and helped the Pacers surge to the best record in the NBA for the early part of the year. However, as the Pacers started to struggle, so did Georg,e causing his numbers to dip a little. In the playoffs, he picked it back up averaging over 22 points and seven rebounds a contest, while shooting over 40 percent from three. George should improve again heading into next season and his defense is something fantasy owners have to take into consideration. George was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team this year and was fifth in the NBA in steals. George was ranked 17 in last year’s preseason rankings and now this upcoming fantasy season he is ranked ninth and is a first rounder without a doubt.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Power Forward, Portland Trail Blazers
Possibly the most underrated player in the league, Aldridge has proven he may be the best all-around big man in the NBA. However, due to playing out west in Portland, many NBA fans don’t get to see Aldridge dominate night in and night out. He doesn’t have the hype of Kevin Love and Dwight Howard, but Aldridge has proven he is worth taking early in fantasy drafts. Aldridge had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013-14. He recorded a career high in points with 23.3 a night and in rebounds, averaging 11.1 per contest. He shot a career high at the free throw line, too, making 82 percent from the stripe. Aldridge is a dominate offensive player and can do it against just about anybody. Against Dwight Howard and the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, Aldridge went for 46 points and 18 rebounds followed by a 44-point performance. He averaged just below 30 points in the series. He finished eighth in the NBA in scoring and seventh in rebounding. After being ranked 20th in the power rankings headed into last season, Aldridge will be a lock to go in the first round of this upcoming fantasy basketball season.
Anthony Davis, Center/Forward New Orleans Pelicans
The man who may take the biggest jump in drafts this upcoming fantasy season is Anthony Davis. After struggling to find his groove on offense his rookie year, Davis broke out in 2013-14. He went from averaging 13.5 points his rookie year to averaging 20.8 in his sophomore season. That was tied for 15th in scoring in the NBA and his 51.9 field goal percentage will only improve as he develops. His 10 rebounds per game were 10th best in the league but his game-changing ability to swat any shot around the basket allowed him to lead the league in blocks. In the month of March, Davis recorded nine double-doubles in 13 games while averaging 24.4 points. Ant was an All Star this past season and will only begin to improve as an offensive basketball player. Davis was ranked 21st last season in the ESPN Fantasy Basketball Power Rankings, but comes in at No. 3 this season. Expect Davis to take the next step this season and be sure not to miss out on him in this year’s upcoming fantasy drafts.
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