Congratulations to everyone that shipped fantasy titles during the 2013-14 season. I’d bet that a big part of that championship included projecting serious bumps in playing time for guys like Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Eric Bledsoe and Kyle Lowry among others.
So with the season that just ended fresh in our mind, it’s crucial to identify next year’s candidates for that bump. Increased playing time combined with a roto-friendly game equals monster fantasy value on draft day. Next year’s risers:
1. Taj Gibson, PF/C, Bulls
The Bulls have plenty of reasons to use the Amnesty Clause on Carlos Boozer this summer. First of all, it would be a key part of shedding salary so they could go after impending unrestricted free agent Carmelo Anthony. Second, Boozer is set to make $16.8 million in 2014-15, an outrageous number for a 32-year-old player who just set 11-year lows in points (13.7), rebounds (8.3) and field-goal percentage (45.6%). And third, backup Taj Gibson is simply better.
In Gibson’s eight starts this season, he averaged 19.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and shot 49.6 percent while playing 42.5 minutes. The Bulls went 5-3 in those games. He’s clearly established himself as both a strong post defender and a player you can run offense through. Even if Boozer somehow avoids the chopping block, Gibson has earned the right to play far more than the 28.7 minutes a night next season.
2. Victor Oladipo, PG/SG, Magic
Oladipo’s 31.1 minutes a night as a rookie were a little misleading. He was actually a third guard for the most part, playing just 25.7 minutes when he came off the bench (36 times). The bulk of Oladipo’s 44 starts and hefty minutes came when either Jameer Nelson or Arron Afflalo were sidelined by injury.
The good news is that Oladipo showed an ability to play point guard at the NBA level, something there were some questions about as he came out of Indiana. That’s huge and will surely factor into the Magic’s decision on Jameer Nelson. If they waive him before July 15, they would owe him just $2 million of his $8 million 2014-15 contract.
What we know for sure is that Oladipo has the potential to be a fantasy monster. As a 20-year-old rookie, he averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals. His jumper needs work, but it already showed improvement as his 3-point percentage rose from 30.3 percent before the All-Star break to a very respectable 38.0 percent (on 2.7 attempts per night) after.
3. Nerlens Noel, PF/C, Sixers
Noel played in zero games this season, so obviously his minutes are going to go up. But the impact projects to be greater than most realize.
By the time Opening Night rolls around, Noel will be roughly 20 months removed from the ACL tear he sustained as a freshman at Kentucky. Unless your name is Adrian Peterson, that’s the timeframe most athletes should use before they think about being 100 percent. So what can Noel do at 100 percent? Well, he averaged 9.1 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals a night in his 24 games as a Wildcat. Those kind of defensive numbers are the ones that typically translate the easiest to the NBA level – far easier than scoring or assists. As a centerpiece of the Tankadelphia movement, we can pencil Noel into a starting role and tons of leash to wreak havoc as a rim protector.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, SG/SF, Bucks
During the 2012-13 season, Antetokounmpo was playing in Greece’s second division. This season, he entered the NBA as an underweight 19-year-old rookie. The fact that Antetokounmpo was still able to post 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 steals in just 24.6 minutes speaks volumes.
Jeff Adrien and Ramon Sessions are both unrestricted free agents, while Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton are restricted free agents. But the real key for the Greek Freak will simply be to maximize his own talents. If he can get stronger and more polished, he’ll run circles around any competition for a starting job or role. The ceiling here is just massive, highlighted by a legit shot at the one-block, one-steal, one-trey club. Only Paul Millsap did it this season.
5. Alec Burks, SG, Jazz
Coach Ty Corbin strangely refused to go with a youth movement in Utah, barely using a starting five of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Perhaps he thought using Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams for 27.0 minutes and 25.4 minutes respectively would save his job. It’s predictably not going to work.
The new coach in Utah should let Burks spread his wings more, and the contract situation should certainly help things. Jefferson and Williams are both unrestricted free agents and Hayward is a restricted free agent that could very well attract an offer sheet. In 12 starts as a 22-year-old this season, Burks averaged 14.2 points, 3.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 0.8 3-pointers and 0.7 steals. He’s capable of much more as his game matures.
Markieff Morris, PF, Suns – Channing Frye can opt out of his deal. Even if Frye stays, Markieff’s roto-friendly game is worth watching closely.
Brandan Wright, C, Mavericks – Over the last three games (two crucial regular season, one playoff), Wright is averaging 27.6 minutes. Samuel Dalembert is at 14.0. Great sign.
Jeremy Lamb, SG, Thunder – Caron Butler and Thabo Sefolosha are both unrestricted free agents. If they’re allowed to walk, it will speak volumes.
John Henson, PF, Bucks – Per-36 numbers this year were 15.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks. Shot 53.8 percent. Bucks must recognize talent.
Evan Fournier, SG, Nuggets – Still just 21 years old. Has more than enough natural talent to beat out Randy Foye for the starting two-guard spot.