Fantasy Basketball: Underrated 2nd Year NBA Players Worth Drafting
Last year, the No. 1 overall pick provided hope to a Cleveland fanbase that needed something to look forward to after suffering through a 2010-11 season in which the Cavaliers set a record for most consecutive losses by an NBA team—26 games in a row. More will be expected from Irving this year though, and that has already been reflected in ESPN’s Top 150 Fantasy Basketball Rankings where he is listed as the 11th best prospect.
Many fantasy drafts tend to be won in the later rounds, however, so while taking the Cavaliers star in the first round or early second would be a decent pick, there are a few players out there who might not deserve all of the attention that Kyrie is getting, but are still worthy of recognition.
Now, before beginning, it is important to note that Ricky Rubio and Iman Shumpert have been removed from consideration because they both tore their ACL’s last season, and it is unclear when they will return. It is a shame since both of them probably would have made this list, but here are the best picks for you to make, considering both the talent level of the player and where it is expected that they will get drafted:
5. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings (ranked 66th)
Looking at the prospects who are healthy and aren’t named Kyrie, the player rated the highest after the Cleveland star is ironically the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas became a legitimate starting point guard in the league at the end of the season as he was averaging nearly 15 points and 5.5 assists per game in the last month. The reason he is only ranked fifth on this list is because ESPN seems to have caught on to just how good he is.
He might not have as much talent as the Isiah Thomas from the Bad Boy Pistons, but after averaging just 18.7 minutes a game in the first full month of last season, it is clear that the Kings coaching staff recognized how much he could help their squad since he played 32.3 minutes a game in March, 2012.
Further, Thomas may be only 5’9”, but he was the guy everyone looked up to when he was in college at Washington, and he could end up being the leader on this immature Kings team. Despite the youth on Sacramento’s roster though, there is a lot of talent when you start looking at Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins, and that’s great for Thomas because it gives him plenty of opportunities to pick up assists.
Expect his production to rise, and if you see him still lingering in the mid-to-later rounds because your friends think he’s overrated, don’t be afraid to pick him up.
4. Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (ranked 74th)
If you like multitaskers, this is your guy. He grabs offensive rebounds and blocks shots, and he not only scores, but he also scores efficiently. He averaged close to eight boards a game to go along with a little over 10 points, and he posted a ridiculous .586 field-goal percentage.
Further, the Nuggets lost a lot of scoring when they sent Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to the Orlando Magic for Andre Iguodala in the offseason. The two former Nuggets averaged a combined 29.4 points per game to help the Nuggets become the top scoring team in the NBA while Iguodala only put up 12.4 points a game in Philly. Yet, despite the fact that Iguodala is not known for his scoring, he has a reputation as one of the best defenders in the league and he averaged nearly two steals per game last season.
Meanwhile, as could be seen last year, Faried lives in the transition game and with more steals and missed shots due to excellent defense by Iguodala, the Nuggets will be running like they never have before. In addition, with Iguodala’s 5.5 assists per game, the ball will be spread around even more than it was last season, and there will be more opportunities for every player, including Faried.
The former Morehead State superstar is all about effort and with more chances to help his team, it is almost a certainty that he is going to post even better numbers this season than he did in 2011-12.
3. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors (ranked 70th)
Stephen Curry must get hurt as much anyone in the league. Right now, he is expected to play in the season opener for the Golden State Warriors despite a problematic ankle, but he has been suffering from injuries ever since he joined the Warriors, or so it seems.
Hopefully, he is able to stay on the court this year, but Golden State’s most recent acquisition, Andrew Bogut, still doesn’t have a timetable to return from his ankle injury. Meanwhile, to get Andrew Bogut, the Warriors gave up their best offensive player, Monta Ellis, and the team’s fourth and fifth top scorers, Nate Robinson and Dorell Wright, left during the offseason to go to Chicago and Philadelphia respectively.
Luckily, coach Mark Jackson has Klay Thompson because the Warriors need to be able to outscore their opponents to win games since David Lee, the starting power forward, doesn’t play defense and Andrew Bogut is probably the best defensive player on the team.
While the Warriors drafted Harrison Barnes, who is known as a scorer, and also have Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and a few other bench players to put up points, Thompson is going to the most reliable scoring option from the perimeter on the roster. It is obvious that the coaches have recognized this since Thompson’s minutes per game more than doubled from the first month of the season to the last as he went from 16.0 minutes a game to 33.7. In turn, Thompson rewarded his coaches for placing their trust in him, posting 18.6 points per game in March, 2012 and shooting 45.9 percent from the field.
With the uncertainty of which players are going to be on the court for Golden State, Mark Jackson will look for Thompson to step up and be his most consistent scorer. If you’re searching for points in the middle of your fantasy draft, take Thompson and you won’t be disappointed. This guy is going to take Monta Ellis’ role, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he scored over 20 points a game in 2012-13.
2. Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves (not ranked)
This one is for the risktakers because although Derrick Williams could be one of the biggest steals of the fantasy draft since he is unranked in ESPN’s Top 150, he is currently sitting in Rick Adelman’s doghouse for being inconsistent and hogging the ball. Unfortunately for Adelman though, with Kevin Love out for six-to-eight weeks with a broken hand, the Timberwolves coach may have to give Williams a significant bump in minutes.
What’s great for the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 Draft though is that with Love out, he will be able to play his natural power forward position instead of the 3. When he is on the court as a small forward, he is forced to be out on the perimeter, which seemingly entices him to shoot three-pointers despite the fact that he only shoots 26.8 percent from downtown.
So ultimately, while Love will return in a couple of months, Williams and Adelman will hopefully have reconciled by then and Williams will have figured out how to maximize his efficiency when he is on the floor. Further, without Michael Beasley on the team anymore, there is going to be a need for more scoring, and if Williams shows that he is willing to be more of a team player, then perhaps Adelman will reward him and ask him to be the one to fill that scoring void.
The only other realistic option Adelman has is to give more opportunities to former second-round picks Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger as well as the Russian veteran Andrei Kirilenko. It would make sense for him to do that since he has generally used a system that incorporates a philosophy of sharing the ball to create a real team dynamic, but as mentioned before, this pick is risky.
On the other hand, the payoff would just be huge since Williams isn’t even ranked, but has more talent than Cunningham, Budinger and Kirilenko combined and could turn into a 17 ppg and 8 rpg guy. If Williams is still there after the 11th round, you might as well take the gamble.
1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (ranked 102nd)
The San Antonio Spurs use so many different players that it would seem like a mistake to draft one of their guys when he isn’t Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan. But, let’s not forget that Gregg Popovich likes to keep his veterans well rested, so it would be hard to recommend drafting one of San Antonio’s better-known players since they won’t play in as many games as most stars.
Rather, because Popovich will want his veterans to be fresh for the postseason, he is going to rely on his younger players to propel his team to a top seed in the Western Conference. And the guy Popovich will lean on most is likely going to be Kawhi Leonard.
In college at UNLV, Leonard was known as a great defender and rebounder because of his big hands, but he wasn’t much of a scorer. Typically, he would shoot mid-range jumpers from behind the free-throw line or just clean up his teammates’ misses and score off of offensive rebounds.
Spurs General manager R.C. Buford must have known that Leonard was capable of more though since he traded his backup point guard, George Hill, in order to obtain the San Diego State sophomore on the day of the 2011 Draft. And once the NBA season started to progress, Buford proved again to be one step ahead of just about everyone else.
During the regular season, Leonard posted a modest 7.9 points a game to go along with 1.3 steals and less than a turnover, but it was during the postseason that he started to pick it up. In the playoffs, he shot 45 percent from three-point range, snagged over seven rebounds per outing despite playing from the 3 and had a field-goal percentage of .488, which is incredible for a small forward.
So ultimately, since he has been severely underrated by ESPN as the 102nd best prospect, it makes him the most enticing to draft since he will likely be available later in the draft than any of the players previously mentioned other than Derrick Williams.
At the end of the day, expect the former San Diego State standout to take the next step under the tutelage of one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time and to become one of the best surprises in the Western Conference.