Heading into the 2002-03 season, long before I wrote for this website or played in 30-team leagues, there was a player I had to have on my fantasy rosters at all costs. Taken third overall in the 2000 NBA Draft, he had shown exciting potential his first two years in the league, posting a combined 9.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 spg and 1.4 bpg as a 19- and 20-year-old for the Clippers, including an eight-block game and a seven-block game as a rookie in 2000-01.
In 2002-03, as a member of the Cavs, he was set to become a focal point for a bad team, which meant a large pile of stats – and a potential defensive feast – were headed his way.
Basically, if you were in a draft with me in October 2002, you had very little chance of landing Darius Miles.
I remember taking him in the fourth round of what was my main league at the time, eliciting a big reaction from my friends. It was clear at the moment that I probably could have gotten him a round or two later, but I didn’t care. I knew without a doubt that I had pulled off a heist.
And as a reward for my aggressive move, this is what I got from Darius Miles in 2002-03: 9.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.0 bpg on 41.0 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from the line.
In the dozen years since then, I like to think that I’ve gotten a bit more measured and rational in evaluating players. But of course, as is true for everyone else, some of my preseason favorites inevitably pull the statistical equivalent of a Miles – or worse.
With all that in mind, and with fond memories of the night Darius Miles scored 47 points with 12 boards, four steals and five blocks in April 2005 – thereby proving me right a mere 2.5 years after I drafted him – here are some of the players I was most eager to draft heading into this season:
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Jrue Holiday: Before we talk about his outlook this year, let’s start with a quick rewind to 2012-13. Holiday, at age 22, had a dynamic breakout season in his fourth year for the Sixers, posting 17.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.6 spg and 1.2 3s. Then, after the season, he was dealt to New Orleans, where he continued to post similar numbers (14.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.9 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.9 3s) before a stress fracture in his leg ended his season after 34 games. Now approaching full health, still just 24 years old, and available in most of my drafts sometime around No. 50, I fully expect Holiday to get back to posting his typical big numbers before long. And whether his scoring lands closer to the 17.7 ppg he posted two years ago, or the 14.3 he put up last year, the rest of his stats are strong enough that it won’t be an issue either way.
Trey Burke: There were good and bad aspects of Burke’s rookie season (the good: 12.8 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.6 3s; the bad: 38.0 percent from the field). Above all else though, the important thing in my mind is that he got to play a lot right away (32 minutes per game), and put together solid enough stats to lay the foundation for a notable improvement this year. After dropping a couple big lines last April (including 24 points and 15 assists early in the month, and a 32-7-9 line on the final night of the season), he posted 15.9 ppg, 5.4 apg, 0.9 spg and 2.4 3s on 46.2 percent shooting this preseason. With the likely exception of field goal percentage, those numbers strike me as being well within reach during Burke’s second year in the league.
Derrick Favors: We continue our Jazz portion of the column with Favors, who had a mini-breakout last season, averaging 13.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 spg and 1.5 bpg, raising his production to 15.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.4 spg and 1.6 bpg over his final 20 games, numbers the 23-year-old can certainly hit, and potentially surpass, in his fifth season in the league.
Jared Sullinger: I’m not alone among my Rotoworld colleagues in being excited for Sullinger’s season, so I’ll make this brief. Last year he posted 13.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 0.7 bpg and 0.8 3s in 28 minutes per game. This preseason, he dropped 14.9 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 spg and 1.9 3s in just 26 minutes per game. I’ll be surprised if Sullinger averages 11 boards during the season, but 15 and 9 with a bunch of 3s is easily attainable.
Tobias Harris: Of all the players listed so far, Harris is the one surrounded by the most questions as far as I’m concerned. Question #1: Is he a shot-blocker, or was his 27-game run for Orlando a couple years ago a fluke in that department? (Harris posted 1.4 bpg in 2012-13, 0.4 last year and 0.3 this preseason, so that’s a legitimate concern.) Question #2: How much playing time will he get? In 2012-13, during his breakout run with the Magic, Harris played 36 minutes per game on his way to 17.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.0 3s. Meanwhile last year, while slowed by an ankle injury, he dipped to 14.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 0.7 spg, 0.4 bpg and 0.5 3s in 30 minutes a night. The good news, though, is that Harris appears to be healthy (preseason: 14.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 3s in just 26 minutes per game), and with Orlando already down one Victor Oladipo (face), the Magic can’t afford to hold back one of their most explosive players. Blocks remain in doubt, but I see good things ahead for 22-year-old Tobias in 2014-15.
Terrence Jones: Also just 22 years old, Jones is coming off a season of 12.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 0.7 spg, 1.3 bpg and 0.4 3s. During the preseason, he underlined his defensive potential once again by posting 1.4 spg and 1.0 bpg (along with 10.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg). We can’t expect a huge spike in scoring given that he still plays with James Harden and Dwight Howard, but with Chandler Parsons (16.6 ppg) now replaced by Trevor Ariza (14.4 ppg), and as Jones continues to develop, there’s room for at least a modest improvement on last year’s quietly solid numbers.
Mason Plumlee: More than the other players on this list, Plumlee may require some patience early on. After all, Brook Lopez (foot) still had a shot to play in Wednesday’s opener as of this writing (update: Lopez went to doubtful for the opener shortly after I published), and 38-year-old Kevin Garnett is probably as fresh as he’s going to get all year. Eventually though, patience should pay off, as Plumlee posted some strong games down the stretch last season, and closed the preseason with a couple of monster outings (17.5 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 2.0 spg, 1.5 bpg over his final two games). With all that in mind, I still see Plumlee as a must-stash even if his minutes are inconsistent early on. Eventually, he should find his way into big minutes and production as the Nets brittle frontcourt inevitably breaks down.
Kelly Olynyk, Celtics: The Mitch Kramer lookalike ended last season by scoring 25, 28 and 24 points in consecutive games, and posted a couple strong lines this preseason, most notably 14 points, eight boards, four assists, three steals, three blocks and two 3s against Philly on October 16. I wouldn’t put him on the same level as the players discussed above, but much like teammate Jared Sullinger, Olynyk does not have compelling competition for minutes in the Boston frontcourt.