I’m going to have to be careful here, so as not to convince you Gary Neal is a cherry, when, in fact, he’s closer to a lemon. Do people even call good things “cherries” or did I just make that up? I’m not good with food metaphors as evidenced by my comparing Gary Neal to a lemon. He’s not really a lemon, either. More like lemon zest; tasty, but certainly not the most important ingredient on your plate. Last season Neal was a bargain basement find in deep leagues, a 26-year-old rookie who drained a relative ton of threes and gave owners above-average percentages for a SG (.451/.808). Gregg Popovich didn’t really understand what he had during the first 17 games of the season, but by December 1, he was well on his way to averaging 23 mpg/ 1.7 3ptm/ 11 pts/ 2.5 rbd – not bad for a guy most owners didn’t own at any point in the season. He wasn’t one of his team’s first offensive options, didn’t attack the rim enough, offered precious few secondary stats and is at the age that suggests this is his peak. Frankly, I don’t see much of this changing next season. Whew! Way to sell it! So to recap: Neal is an old lemon, with no more than one tool in his kit on a team that can afford not to use him. And look, here comes Sgt. Sarcasm. Hey Sarge, what do you think about Gary Neal? He sounds like a winner! The only concern now is whether he’ll still be available in the third round or if you’ll have to reach for him in the second! Way to go Sarge! You’ve done it again! Anyway, here’s what we can expect from Gary Neal in 2012 and what makes him a fantasy sleeper.
He was used very evenly in his rookie season, seeing his fair share of touches (20.6 USG%), but little else. This was in a season where Richard Jefferson missed only one game, Manu Ginobili was healthy for all but two and Tony Parker for all but four. The median age for those guys is 31 and if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on that trio missing a heckuva lot more than seven combined games next season. Besides George Hill, Neal developed into the go-to backcourt reserve. His late-season development (his APG doubled from 0.9 before the All-Star Break to 1.8 after it) mingled with his underrated efficiency (Only made 25 fewer threes than Ginobili, despite playing 741 fewer minutes; had the third highest FT% among qualifying Spurs; averaged the fourth best per36 scoring among qualifying Spurs after Parker, Ginobili and Duncan; and among the nine Spurs who averaged at least 19 mpg last season, only Matt Bonner had a lower turnover average (0.4) than Neal (1.0) and sprinkled with the lemon zest of Spurs injuries probable next season, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to predict incremental increases across the board from Neal. Figure 26 mpg/.465/.815/ 1.7 3ptm/ 12.5 pts/ 3 rbd/ 2 ast from a guy you can probably pick off waivers sometime in November, or in any other month for that matter.