Razzball Hoops Nation! Wow, typing 2014-15 already just feels weird… I’m not ready to quit you 2013-14! Although, the disappointing image of the face of the Luminescent Lithuanian makes it easy. We’re done, ya ho! I’m just not that into you…
As I do every season during the NBA Playoffs, I think it’s a fun way to kick off the year with some way too early rankings through the top 50. “Wait a minute, isn’t there free agency and a draft, moron!?” Shut it, noob commenter! There will obviously be numerous changes to these early ranks, possibly even some rookies trickling into the bottom end of the top 50, and all sorts of free agency moves to make this a really fun offseason. Here’s my way too early Top 20 for the 2014-15 Fantasy Basketball Season (spoiler alert: no Jonas Valanciunas):
1. Kevin Durant - “Whoa, I saw some early rankings and checked em out, and this crock JB has no clue what he’s doing!” Is it crock or croc? Let’s just be happy that there’s an “r” in there from this fictional troll. With the 1 pick, it’s kind of like not taking JaDeveon Clowney first overall. Way to stay topical! I really don’t need to throw in any stats – he’s the MVP, hits multi-cats, stays healthy – about as tasty a trio as Neapolitan ice cream. Don’t knock the strawberry! Mix a little with the chocolate and, “baby-you got a stew goin’!”
2. LeBron James - It used to be these two in a tier of their own, but things get interesting right off the bat. For me, I’m sticking with the King – who I guess is more a Prince in fantasy terms, but whatever. Only missing a few games with the broken nose, LeBron has been a pillar of health. A stallion of non-injuries. A… Durango of durability…? Anyway, he’s played 75+ games in all but one season in his career, with the outlier 65 of 66 GP in the lockout year. Needless to say – about as safe for high 70s GP as they come. Especially when you weigh LeBron again the next three, I think the safety is a big part of keeping him two. Although he didn’t make it easy – with his blocks disintegrating to 0.3 (0.6 was his previous career-low) and assists went under 7 for the first time since 2006. But he narrowly improved on that fantastic 2012-13 FG% of 56.5 to a career-best 56.7. With his 27 points a game, that kind of percentage will make you a happy panda. Not a sad one.
3. Anthony Davis - The Brow! Just an unreal step forward from Davis, who at times was playing like the best fantasy option in the land. Despite only 67 games, AD ranked #5 and #6 in overall value on Basketball Monster and Yahoo respectively, a testament to the kind of season he had. His slash of 20.8/10.0/1.6/1.3/2.8 was downright nasty. Could he average a double-double/rainbow line next year?! Certainly possible. Plus shooting 51.9% from the field and more importantly 5.2 FTM a game at a 79.1% clip from the stripe from your big is huge for your ratios. That FT% is almost higher than DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond combined (42.8 + 41.8 = 84.6)! The only knock is the health concern – only 64 in the rookie season, 67 last year with an early broken hand then a rash of ankle and back injuries down the stretch worry me since he’s such an athletic 7 footer. His quote a few weeks ago that he “wants to be the best to have played the game” was kinda lame though. Let your playin’ (and unibrow) do the talkin’!
4. Kevin Love - I know this is a weird way to start my rationale, but did you know this will be Love’s seventh season?! Oh how time flies… Career-year for Love, going 26.1/12.5 and a career-high 2.5 treys per. But another career-high that didn’t get the fanfare was upping his dimes to 4.4 a game, nearly doubling his previous career best of 2.5. One of the biggest names in offseason talks, this ranking could change if the Wolves decide they want to move Love. For now, I think he stays in Minnesota and duplicates what he did last year.
5. Stephen Curry - The #2 overall finisher in 9-cat leagues, it was a huge season from Stephen. I’m from Davidson too! Just like to throw that in there, even though he’s from Charlotte and just went there… Rambly! I love Curry, he’s ridiculously fun to watch, and has quelled a lot of those ankle concerns with 4 seasons of 74+ GP out of 5 (including 78 the past two). The monumental development of his facilitating game has taken him to another level, going from a previous career-high 5.9 his rookie year, to 6.9 two years ago, to 8.5 last year. So you’re asking yourself, “JB still loves him, how could he be ranked 5?!” My main concern is the plummeting FT%. He went from 90% in 12-13 to an atrocious 88.5% last year. Haha, I keed! I got someone faked out right there! But seriously, a lot of his value is the 3.3 treys a game (and I undervalue treys) and I don’t like players going through regime changes. Whomever the Warriors hire are obviously going to drive the team through Curry, but I could see the Warriors starting slow with some frustration bad games. It’s an extremely minor quibble, but I’ll take the two elite bigs before Curry.
6. Chris Paul - It just plain feels dirty having Paul this low. So, so dirty. I kinda hate it. But I like the 5 ahead better, and that’s how the cookie crumbles. And also makes the first round look a little deeper this year. Finishing as the 10th best fantasy player in only 62 games, the huge dimes make him elite along with another 2.5 Stl/game season. The only real knock is a slightly, and ever so slightly at that, dip in FG% and just the whole mess that is this Clippers ownership situation. I mean shituation. It’s tough to derive any sort of causation with off-the-court hooblah like that, the Clips have responded well in the playoffs, but the shituation is going to linger into next year with Doc Rivers maybe leaving, and it’s just a lot to monitor. For now, Paul is 6.
7. James Harden - I predicted an even bigger season last year, and we got a nearly identical one. Aka – disappointment. I know a lot of 9-cat owners really hated the mounting TOs, but you can’t discount the huge 7.9 FTM at 86.6%. With neither Jeremy Lin or Patrick Beverley taking an offensive step forward, Harden’s dimes went up to 6.1 a game and despite some early-season ailments slowing him down to 73 games, he finished as the 8th best player on Yahoo and Basketball Monster. I see him marginally improving and a couple guys that finished ahead of him regressing.
8. Serge Ibaka - My boy!!!!!!!!!!! As I mentioned with Paul, the first round looks deeper with elite talent, as I had Ibaka 6 last year and he’s actually 2 lower this time. There’s just no way I could take him higher, and that’s after proving to everyone he was first-round caliber. Finishing 9th last year in overall value, the blocks took a major drop from 3.0 in 12-13 to…. 2.7 last year. Hah! Faked ya out again! His developing offensive game came to fruition, I think he’ll hit a few more treys this upcoming year, his FT% neared 80 at 78.4, and he topped his career-high in boards by over a rebound a game to 8.8/per. There’s nothing not to like, and you shut it double negative police!
9. Russell Westbrook - Probably the boldest call I’ll have in the top 20. On a per-game basis, Westbrook was only 22 last year, so this rank is assuming A - he is going to be healthy and B – his production improves. His scoring and diming went down last year, but RW saw over four minutes a night shaved off his MPG as the Thunder kept him from going over 30 most games down the stretch. His AST:TO saw a regression, but I think a lot of struggles came with bouncing back from the knee issues. A healthy offseason, Ibaka continuing to develop, I think Stevan Adams takes a big step forward – I see Westbrook having a big bounce back year (alliteration!).
10. Paul George - Say whaaaa?! JB has Paul George in the top 10?! Blasphemy! After commenter grievance after grievance, it turned out my below consensus 12th overall rank last year was on point, and if you reached in the mid-1st round you were disappointed. The Pacers horrible 2nd half has been well-publicized (as has the rumor that George was givin’ it to the soon to be Mrs. Hibbert), and George was a big part scoring 1.5 fewer Pts and shooting under 40% post-ASB. But with this current resurgence in the playoffs, George has his stroke. And with some parting confidence, and sure to be some sort of shake-up in the offseason, I think George can take a baby step forward next year. He’s going to need to shoot a little better from the field, but I love that when the FGs weren’t falling in the second half, he boosted his FTM by 1 a game and overall was 5 FTM at 86.4% in 13-14.
11. John Wall - I had Wall really high last year and it worked out well. Worked out… wall?? But not as well as I had hoped and he faded down the stretch, with his scoring from Feb-Apr going 20.6, 19.5, 13.8 including a horrific March where he averaged 4.4 TOs/per in 16 games. The TOs indeed were brutal at 3.6 a game, but he got a career-high 8.8 dimes, and even though I got scoffed for correctly predicting it – his perimeter game emerged hitting 1.3 treys a night. Plus the steals got back up to 1.8. He finished 14th overall in Yahoo and Basketball Monster, and I see him duplicating last year’s success, without tapering off, in another playoff season for the Wiz.
12. Carmelo Anthony - Well, I was way too low on him last year, so I’ll go big with him this year. But not too big! We all know he’s an elite scorer, but a big boost in Melo’s fantasy output was a career-high 8.1 boards a game that he’s not gonna come close to in 14-15. Remember that Tyson Chandler was hurt and limited to 55 games, Andrea Bargnani started some games at center, and Amar’e Stoudemire was the other main guy up front. With those latter two softies, Melo had to do it all on the glass, so look for his groceries to get bagged back in the sixes. If that made any sense… The shoulder injury is a tad scary, plus we have no idea where he’s going. Those factors have me keeping him a shade below his 7 overall finish to 13-14. With Melo’s “the decision” to come, this might be the most exciting offseason in recent memory.
13. DeMarcus Cousins - What’s funny is I never used to be a Cousins guy. Like – at all. There’s a lot of the knucklehead factor here, but 13-14 was a monstrous season with a 22.7/11.7/2.9/ 1.5/1.3 slash. The scoring shattered a career-high by over 4.5 Pts, and that was while shooting over 3% better from the field! A guy shooting that much better %-wise with a big uptick in scoring really intrigues me. The 3.5 TOs and 6.1 FTM at only 72.6 FT% will have to improve, but it’s hard to believe Big Cuz is still only 23 – turning 24 right before the preseason. I have a feeling the career-year last season will lend itself to a monster season in 14-15.
14. LaMarcus Aldridge - Taking on a bigger role in the offense, Aldridge was in the MVP discussion early on before a back injury and a few other ailments slowed him down. Obliterating last season’s career-high 17.8 FGA a night, LA chucked up a ridiculous 20.6 shots leading to his career-high 23.2 points a game. But the real step forward was the mad boarding, ripp[city]ing down 11.1 a contest topping his career best by two boards. Hittin’ the glass hard! And, well, you have to because Robin Lopez is a scrub. I see LA replicating what he did in 13-14 and being a real safe and steady big.
15. Al Horford - Along with Westbrook, this is another where I’m going bold. In his injury-shortened 13-14, Horford was playing at an elite level, at 14th in per game output through 29 games. Averaging a career-high 18.6 a night, and that was with a career-high 56.7 FG%, the Hawks offense was clickin’ with Jeff Teague and newcomer Paul Millsap (below). The injury of a torn pectoral doesn’t scare me, because he tore the other one in 11-12 and came back with a career season in 12-13. I think Horford is going to be an immense value next year, and probably ranked much lower than this. He’s still not too old at 28 and a full season playing alongside Millsap instead of labradoodle-mcgoo Josh Smith is going to be huge for his fantasy output. If I were Jim Cramer (or N’SYNC I guess…) I’d say, “Buy, buy, buy!”
16. Al Jefferson - So far the news is very positive with his messed up plantar fascia that cut his playoffs short and he should be fine in a month. Big man hath big feet! And it’s easy to forget that Big Al struggled mightily out of the gate as he was slowed with a bum ankle. Big man hath big ankles! Pretty much his entire 2013 was bad for Big Al’s standards (he did get most of his blocks through the first three months though), but 2014 he was unstoppable averaging 24.0/11.1/ 2.3/0.9/0.9 shooting 53% in the last 50 games. His new year’s resolution was to be awesome! The foot/ankle injuries do scare me a little,which is why I’ll narrowly take the 1.5 years younger/281 less games played (with the injuries being pecs and not major leg injuries) Horford over Big Al.
17. Dirk Nowitzki - What a season! I like his nickname he said on Conan, “The Germinator”. That’s gotta stick… I still think it should be Shawn Kemp’s nickname, but whatever! Finishing as the 5th best player on Yahoo and 6th on Bball Monster, last year was a wunderkind! A schnitzel! I think he can come close to doing it again, but have built in the age concerns.
18. Paul Millsap - This one along with Horford and Westbrook will be a bolder call. I love Millsap, I think he’s awesome, and has a really cool name. Of course you can also say that about Jeryl Sasser (obscure?)… Millsap finished last year 21st and 23rd on BMonster/Yahoo, but I see him improving. Millsap’s best month was December, right when he was gelling with Horford before the torn pec. Conversely, his worst month was January (Horford went down around Christmas), when his FG% dropped to 40.3 and his perimeter shooting went cold like a polar bear’s backside shooting 0.5-2.4. The big shift from an elite center to Pero Antic was no bueno (sorry Antic fans…). Regardless, Millsap ended up with a career-high in scoring, but a career-low in FG% (which can mostly be explained by going from a previous high of 0.5 attempts from deep to 2.9 last year). I think with a season of experience becoming a little more of a perimeter player, plus a full season from Horford, and I see MIllsap improving on his 17.9/8.5/3.1/1.7/1.1 (plus a trey a game) 2013-14 slash and becoming a threat to win the rainbow line crown.
19. Blake Griffin - I struggled with this one. Every iota in me thinks seeing Blake Griffin in the Top 20 looks funky. But it’s hard to argue the results as he finished 15th overall on Basketball Monster (and curiously 21st in Yahoo). Putting up a career-high 24.1 PPG, Blake averaged close to a dub-dub and shot 52.8%. All that goodness said, while it’s commendable he raised his god awful FT% to 71.5 and made a career-high 6.0 FT per game, that’s still a big chunk of not great FT shooting. Plus, and I still don’t get this at all, dude can’t block shots! Makes no sense. Has Sportscenter hops, can jump over Timofey Mozgov, but a terrible 0.6 blocks a game again last year. From a big man that doesn’t really hit treys, plus a little dash of that Clippers turmoil thrown in there, I think I’ll have Blake lower than most through the early stages of rankings.
20. Damian Lillard - No sophomore slump for Lillard, who ended 2013-14 as a top-20 player and should have no problem eeking his way there again next year. Well, that sounded negative, I think he surges his way back into the top-20! Lillard lost a dime a game last season, but gained 0.4 3PTM and shaved off 0.6 TOs, so you got that loss covered. Then shooting close to 3% better from deep for a great 39.4 3PT%, and you’ve got a net gain. I think Lillard is steady as she blows – without huge upside to encroach on the top-10 – but a finish right around 20 a lock.
Overall – seems a little F/C heavy doesn’t it? I think every contending team (well, if you get Durant you’re automatically a contender) will need a versatile big that hits all 5 cats. Look for 21-50 to come out on Friday, and happy offseason!