- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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Hello friends, and welcome to the 2011-12 Fantasy Hoops All-Pro Team. It was a truly bizarre season due to the lockout and the various scheduling quirks, and while the top of the Player Rater had many of the usual suspects, there were also some major surprises. As always, this team is based solely on the final Player Rater rankings. Without further ado:
Point guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (No. 3 overall, ADP: 3.6): Paul played 60 of a possible 66 games, and when he was out there he was as effective as he's been in a while. Paul posted his highest scoring average in three years, set a career high in made 3-pointers per game and averaged 2.5 steals per game (leading the league by a wide margin). Russell Westbrook was right on his tail, and Steve Nash is still an elite fantasy point guard, but CP3 was the best this season, and is a good bet to be the best next season, as well.
Shooting guard: Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (No. 9 overall, ADP: 31.0): Shooting guard was once again the weakest spot on the Fantasy All-Pro team; Pierce was the highest-ranked eligible shooting guard, but he's definitely more of a small forward. On the other hand, Pierce had yet another phenomenal season in which he severely outproduced expectations. His shooting percentage wasn't what it was last season, but he played in 61 games, boosted his scoring average, made more 3s and dished out more assists. It makes sense to think he'll slip a bit next season, but until it happens, he's going to keep being a great value in fantasy leagues.
Small forward: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 1 overall, ADP: 1.5): Durant grabbed the top spot overall back from LeBron, setting career highs in field goal percentage, made 3s, rebounds, assists and blocks. His worst category was actually assists, and he still managed to finish in the top 10 among small forwards in value in that category. There's no compelling reason you shouldn't draft him first overall next year, as well.
Power forward: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 5 overall, ADP: 9.2): Despite missing the final seven games of the season with a concussion, Love was at the head of the power forward class this season. Slimming down seems to have cost him a couple of boards a game, but at 13.3 he's still among the best in the game, and his jump in scoring average from 20.2 to 26.0 more than makes up for it. In the past 30 years, the only players to reach those numbers in points and rebounds for a season are Love, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon, which puts Love in pretty good company. There's no ceiling for him right now. If he can be as aggressive as he was this season and boost his percentages to the previous season's levels, he could wind up giving Durant a run at the top of the Player Rater next season.
Center: Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers (No. 6 overall, ADP: 15.5): Perpetually underrated, Pau once again wound up in the starting lineup on this list. Both Pau and Love have eligibility at power forward and center, and wound up fifth and sixth on the Player Rater. In the coming years, Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bynum and Pau's brother Marc will give him a run for this spot, but for now, Pau's still the best. He averaged the second most assists of his career, and boosted his rebounding to make up for a slight decrease in scoring. Additionally, he made and took more 3s than he ever has (7-for-27 on the season), and while he was nothing special in that category, it at least points to the possibility that he could add that element to his game as he gets older.
Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 4 overall, ADP: 7.6): There was a lot of debate heading into this season about who would finish fourth on the Player Rater, and Westbrook's name is certainly no surprise. He wasn't as good as Chris Paul, and his drop from 8.2 to 5.5 assists per game is certainly disconcerting, but he's a relentless offensive force and has still yet to miss a single game in his entire NBA career.
Forward: LeBron James, Miami Heat (No. 2 overall, ADP: 1.9): It's not too difficult to make the case that LeBron was the best player in the league this season. You could also argue that it was the best season he's ever had, which is pretty impressive when you consider the fact he already had two MVP awards in his pocket. Still, LeBron was the only player on this list to underperform his ADP. That's because he finally cut down on his 3-point shooting, and while it hurt his overall fantasy value a bit, it absolutely made him a better basketball player. If he's not one or two on the Player Rater next season, it'll be a huge surprise.
Utility: Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz (No. 7 overall, ADP: 51.7): Amazingly, Millsap isn't even the biggest surprise on this list (you'll have to keep reading to find out which player that is). Even more amazing, Millsap is here despite playing fewer minutes and scoring fewer points than he did last season. He made up for that by improving his free throw shooting and rebounding, but also by setting a career high in steals at 1.8 per game. That's a ridiculous number for a power forward, and it's a big reason I'm expecting Millsap to be a top-10 player again next season.
Utility: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (No. 8 overall, ADP: 29.1): There are so many amazing things about what Nash did this season that it's hard to know where to start. For one, he's the fifth oldest player in the league, but still managed to be a top-10 fantasy player playing just 31.6 minutes per game. If that doesn't make you feel good about his status for next season, I don't know what to tell you. At 53.2 percent, he actually tied his career high in field goal percentage, even though he took the fewest shots per game he has since the '90s. People will start doubting him again next season, but I won't be one of them.
Utility: Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks (No. 10 overall, ADP: 58.4): James Harden beat his ADP by more, but for me Jennings is absolutely the biggest surprise on this list. He cut down on his turnovers, boosted his steals and assists, and became a bit more efficient from the floor, finally cracking the elusive 40 percent barrier. Even more impressive, his numbers got better after the All-Star break playing alongside Monta Ellis. Jennings looks primed to make another leap next season, and while the health of guys like Derrick Rose and Deron Williams could keep him out of the top 10, he's definitely an elite point guard moving forward.
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 11 overall, ADP: 51.4): Ibaka averaged fewer points and rebounds than he did last season, and his free throw percentage fell off a cliff -- turning him from a good free throw shooter into a liability. But none of that matters, really, because the guy is a machine when it comes to blocking shots. He averaged more blocks (3.7 per game) than anyone since Theo Ratliff in 2000-01. After the All-Star break, that number went up to 4.1, which, if he did it over a whole season, would be the most since Dikembe Mutombo in 1995-96. If you didn't count his contribution in any other category, Ibaka would still have finished 36th on the Player Rater. For the next decade, any time he doesn't lead the league in blocks, it'll be a major upset.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (No. 12 overall, ADP: 14.3): It was a disappointing season for Dirk, who set or approached career lows in just about every category. Still, Dirk will be a good player for a long time, given his size and his ability to shoot jump shots. The Mavs will likely get a lot of help in free agency, and transition in an attempt to rely on Dirk a bit less than they currently do in order to prolong his career. As such, it's hard to imagine Nowitzki still being a top-20 player next season, but he has certainly defied the odds before.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 13 overall, ADP: 69.6): Had Metta World Peace not elbowed him in the back of the head, it's pretty likely that Harden could have passed Paul Pierce and found himself in the starting lineup on this list. That's pretty impressive for a guy who isn't in the starting lineup on his own team. Then again, the Thunder had a ridiculous four guys on this list, so Harden's probably not complaining. The ceiling here is that he's a healthier version of Manu Ginobili. He's already so ridiculously efficient that he finished fourth in the NBA in true shooting percentage, just behind Ginobili despite playing more than twice as many minutes during the course of the season. Whether Harden starts or not, he has a chance to be on this list for many years to come.
Seth Landman salutes the top fantasy basketball players from the 2011-12 season, led by Kevin Durant and LeBron James.