Kevin Durant: This is the least creative choice on the list. The guy is a stud, we all know it. He put up 25.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.8 APG with great percentages last year. He turns 21 at the end of this month, so if I was in a keeper league I might even take him with the #3 pick in the draft. In a recent podcast, Bill Simmons and Chad Ford both said they wouldn’t be surprised if he averaged 30 PPG next season – this doesn’t sound too crazy when you realize he averaged 30.6 PPG in the month of February last season. If you can get him mid-to-late first round, just do it. You won’t be sorry.
Scorers on bad offensive teams
Luis Scola: After Durant, this was the easiest call for me. I don’t see grabbing Scola as a risky move at all. He and his game are not pretty, so a lot of people might forget about him, but he averaged a solid 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds last season while shooting 53% from the field and a much-improved 76% from the free throw line. His per-game numbers should go up across the board, as his 30 minutes a game should go up and he should get way, way more touches. With Yao likely out for the season and McGrady’s health still a big question mark, Scola should be Houston’s #1 offensive option. If he averages 17 and 10, I won’t be surprised.
Spencer Hawes: I can’t stand Spencer Hawes’s game. He’s not extremely skilled and he’s not really a blue-collar worker, either. I couldn’t bear to watch much of the Kings last year, but when I did I found him extremely annoying. Still, on this Kings team, he is asked to score and he is effective. In fantasy hoops, this is what matters. His averages of 11.4 PPG and 7.1 RPG from last season won’t blow you away, but look at what he did in the last two months of the season when he played big minutes. His per-minute scoring, assists, and 3-point shooting improved from his first season to his second and we can hope this will happen again. Even if it doesn’t, though, he’ll likely average more than 30 minutes a game for the first time in his career this season and this alone is reason to expect a jump in his fantasy value.
Back from injury
Gilbert Arenas: I know, I know. It’s a risk. The guy has played 15 games in the last two seasons. There’s no guarantee he’ll put up the same numbers he did when he was healthy. Still, though, I say it’s worth the risk. Some people might forget just how good he was before the injury – he averaged 28.4 PPG, 6.0 APG, 4.6 RPG in his last healthy NBA season, 2006-2007. Oh, almost forgot: he also shot 84% from the line and hit 2.8 3-pointers a game that year, too. He doesn’t need to put up numbers as ridiculously good as those to be of value to your team. He’s still only 27 and, from what we’ve seen this summer, he still has plenty in the tank. My prediction: points go down, rebounds go down, assists go up, and he’s still easily one of the top-5 point guards in the game, fantasy-wise.
Jose Calderon: He was on everybody’s list last year, and rightfully so. This is a guy who had put up great per-minute numbers, improved every year, and was finally given a permanent starting spot – can’t miss, right? Well, it kind of did miss. His numbers went up in some categories (including PPG and his ridiculous FT%) and went down in others (including FG% and TO). Essentially, he was as good as the season before, despite the fact he was playing 4 more minutes a game. This meant his per-minute stats actually went down. As any Raptors fan can tell you, this was because the Jose on display for the vast majority of last season was injured. He couldn’t turn the corner like he used to and he couldn’t get the same lift on his shot. If he remains healthy this time, then his stats should jump a bit this year, meaning you should pick him a round or two higher than he’s projected to go.
Up-and-comers in Minnesota
Ramon Sessions: This 23-year-old point guard will be handed the keys to Minnesota’s offense next season. There will be no more Luke Ridnour nonsense. Yeah, Johnny Flynn will be in the picture, but I anticipate Sessions’s minutes will be fine because he’ll get some time at shooting guard. We know the man can score and get assists – as a rookie, he averaged 8.1 PPG and 7.5 APG in 26.5 MPG and, as a sophomore, he averaged 12.4 PPG and 5.7 APG in 27.5 MPG. You’ll notice a common theme here – there’s reason to believe that his minutes will go up, so even if this third-year player doesn’t make a big jump in per-minute production, his total numbers for your team should be just fine.
Kevin Love: Okay, I could just as easily put any number of second-year players on this list – Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley (don’t sleep on him because of this rehab stuff), Anthony Randolph, D.J. Augustin (especially if Felton goes elsewhere), Brook Lopez, and Russell Westbrook should improve next season. I picked Love because he might not be an obvious choice and he has a ton of upside. His averages of 11.1 PPG and 9.1 RPG are good, but they’re way better when you consider that he did this in only 25 minutes a night. He’s an elite rebounder and, under Kurt Rambis, I expect to see him get the time on the floor to show that to the world. Based on his shooting and passing ability, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a big jump in his per-minute scoring and assist numbers.
Ike Diogu: Okay, this might be a reach, but I have to mention him. Those who have followed the blog from the beginning know I love this guy’s game. He’s put up great per-minute stats throughout his career, but he’s been unfairly benched by coaches who don’t know what they’re doing. I’m not sure if I should trust Byron Scott to do what no one else has done in his career (save for a couple games late last season), but the fact that New Orleans is pretty weak in terms of frontcourt depth makes him a worthy gamble if you’re in a very deep league and you want to make a low-risk pick at the end of the draft.