Ah the fantasy basketball offseason. It’s a magical time where the weather gets nicer, people get out of the arenas (unless their team is still in the playoffs) and start playing outdoor sports. Pshhh playing outside. Overrated (sponsored comment by Monsanto).
While the NBA Playoffs enter their second round, there are still the huge events of free agency and the NBA Draft to shake things up, but let’s take an early look, nay, a way too early look, into where I am going to start ranking players for the 2013-2014 season:
1. LeBron James – Every owner who crashed in the last week(s) of the playoffs are throwing things at their computers right now. Have a more well-rounded team then! I was able to pull off a winner in one league where I was lucky enough to have the first pick in James, and James got me there. I have a feeling Durant is going to get the majority of the first place nods on other lists, but I think one of the biggest arguments will be Durant didn’t sit late and that could easily flip flop next year. What if the Heat have to play for that #1 seed and the Thunder are up 10 games with a few weeks left? It’s razor close, but I sticking LeBron at #1.
2. Kevin Durant – I’m going to have to spend all offseason explaining why I’m down on Durant now, huh? Well, I’m not OK! I expect another great season from KD. The only real gap I’m exploiting between the two superstars is an extra 3 Asts a game LeBron brought to the table. Durant does some other things better, but you have to nit pick at something and I’ll take the dimes.
3. James Harden – I bet Brian Wilson formerly of the San Francisco Giants has called Harden asking for some beard mojo. An incredible season for Harden, who became a star virtually right away once swapping teams, and I think follows up even stronger. The Rockets are an exceedingly young team that will have an offseason to gel, and I think it’s easily forgotten Harden was traded less than a week before the season started. If you have an early pick that isn’t #1 or #2 you could go with any of the next few guys, but Harden is my pick at #3.
4. Russell Westbrook – I think I will have Westbrook ahead of most other rankers – love the guy’s game and I think he takes another baby step forward to break into the top half of the top 10 next year. He had marginal improvements in rebounding and 3-point shooting, but I love the Ast to TO ratio going from 5.5:3.6 in 2011-2012 to 7.4:3.3 last year. He’s the best in the business in attacking the basket, and if he can either score or dish with increased success like that, it’s going to be a huge season. This meniscus tear in the playoffs shouldn’t have any bearing on him for next year.
5. Stephen Curry – If not for all the ankle injuries, Curry would be ahead of Westbrook for me, but those issues still linger. Playing his college ball less than a mile from where I grew up, I’m a huge Curry fan as he showed improvements virtually across the board. He’s just gotta stay healthy, and while he did play 78 games last year, Westbrook played all 82. Definitely nit picking, but what you have to do here.
6. Chris Paul – Paul is going to be in the top 5 for most rankers, but I’m slightly down on him. First issue right now is he might not return to the Clippers. I think the popular belief is that he will, which may boost him a spot, but for right now I’m keeping him at #6. He just seems to disappear some nights, the scoring went down a good margin, and he had some injury issues. Just a few too many minor detracting signals for me to want him in the top 5 as of right now.
7. Serge Ibaka – The league leader in blocks for the second year in a row also took huge strides forward in his offensive game, increasing his scoring by over 4 Pts a game, hitting a handful of threes, shooting a better FG% and better FT%. He is a little paltry when it comes to boards, but when the Thunder have two other top-ten players it’s tough to rebound made shots! I’ll supplant additional boards later in the draft and not have to worry about blocks.
8. Marc Gasol – I love Marc Gasol for next year, and this is probably my boldest ranking right now. He does everything so well, it’s like he’s the best well-rounded center since that donut I just ate. After a little scoring lull in December and January (12.9 PPG and 12.8, respectively), Gasol picked it up after Rudy Gay got shipped off scoring 13.9 in February and 17.2 in March. With a full offseason to prepare for a little more scoring, plus I think a boost in a few other categories, has me seeing Gasol as a late first-rounder.
9. Deron Williams – I bet Deron Williams owners last year won’t be back after a rough stretch to start the year, but in the last month Williams went off including a sizzling April. There’s a few murmurs that Jerry Sloan might have interest in the Nets, which would be a great reunion for the former Jazz pair. We’ll see what the Nets do in the offseason, but right now I’m optimistic Williams has a big season next year and worth a first round pricetag.
10. John Wall – If you were a Wall owner last year, those last few months has you nodding your head that Wall is a top ten option. His numbers over the last two months of the season were phenomenal, averaging 22.1 PPG in March and 23.9 in April. His free throw attempts increased rapidly through the last three months as he began attacking the hole more consistently and his peripherals were solid. A full, healthy offseason as opposed to bouncing back from a knee issue has me confident Wall is in the top ten right now.
So who does that leave just out? Carmelo Anthony barely misses the cut as he doesn’t score enough. Hah, made you re-read that, huh? All he does is score! I’m still not ready to put Paul George in the first round as I’m sure most rankings will. Love the guy, love his game, just don’t first round love it. Speaking of love, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were also close, but injury concerns will have them second rounders for me as of right now.
Remember these rankings will be subject to change throughout the offseason, but I will keep them updated! Look for the rounded out top 20 coming out later this week.