The regular season has officially wrapped up, and the only thing left to do is take a look ahead at the offseason to try to get a jump on next season. Players inevitably will see their values fluctuate with various offseason changes, swings of both the positive and negative kind, and if you can zone in and leverage that expected value, you can prepare yourself well for the coming season.
Let's take a look at players who could see their values jump considerably by the time the 2009-10 season tips off in late October and other players who could see themselves left out in the cold.
Jason Thompson, PF, Kings: Thompson struggled with foul problems all season until the Kings threw caution to the wind and let him play through them. He averaged a whopping 4.1 fouls in 31 minutes per game after the All-Star break, but solid production (12.4 points. 8.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks) showed he could be a decent starting option, and his foul rate gradually improved. It's not surprising for a rookie to come into the league and struggle to stay on the court, but he should only improve in that aspect from here forward. His ferocious offensive rebounding (2.9 per game) makes him a coach's favorite, and his double-double potential (four in nine April games) and relative youth (he will be 23 next season) make it easy to envision him figuring out more of the finer points of the game and averaging 31-33 minutes next season. The Kings have so much dead salary tied up in the power forward position that it's difficult to see them investing in another one this summer.
Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Pistons: Compared to his lofty expectations entering the season, Stuckey was very much a disappointment, first in playing time at the start of the season and then with an unexpected drop in performance in February. Much of that can be chalked up to growing pains, though, and the general turmoil of the Pistons' roster. Turnover is expected in Detroit, but Stuckey's role should be the safest, as the expected departure of Allen Iverson should guarantee a much larger opportunity, something along the lines of 35 minutes per game. It's easy to forget this was just his second season in the league, and another year to work on his long-range shooting will go a long way.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat: Chalmers had quite an unheralded rookie season, but in the context of fantasy, it was chock full of value, as he averaged 2.0 steals and 1.4 3-pointers per game. Sure, it's easy playing alongside Dwyane Wade, but for a rookie, he turned the ball over rarely and showed noticeable improvement in his assists as the season went on. Michael Beasley's role for the Heat should grow, too, and that improvement should help boost Chalmers' numbers as well. He will get more open shots with a better scorer in the lineup more often, which also should lead to more opportunities to pick up dimes. The way the Heat roster is built, their young talent could coalesce and improve quickly during the offseason. Improved maturity from Chalmers could allow the team to make it a point to get up and down the floor more, as it finished 22nd in possessions per game this season.
Anthony Randolph, PF, Warriors: Randolph's explosive finish should go a long way in determing the starting power forward next season; he averaged a double-double in April, with 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds on 47.2 percent shooting. He still picked up 3.8 fouls in 32 minutes, but as a 19-year-old rookie, he was much more polished than the brass could have reasonably hoped for. As the team's lottery pick in 2008, it goes without saying he's a big part of the team's future, and not even coach Don Nelson's whimsical lineup decisions should prevent a sophomore season breakout.
Samuel Dalembert, C, 76ers: When it's all said and done, averaging 8.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 25 minutes is fairly impressive, but it's time for the Sixers to adjust to the times, and the offensively limited center just isn't a good match for the small-ball lineups of today. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Sixers play Elton Brand at center and move Lou Williams into the starting lineup, even though Dalembert is under contract for big money for two more seasons; the team has to make the Brand acquisition work since he's on the hook for four more. Once you factor in the decent rookie year of Marreese Speights, it becomes difficult to see any upside for Dalembert.
Al Thornton, SF, Clippers: Thornton benefited from a lost season for the Clippers because he basically got to run wild while the rest of the roster battled injuries. The 37 minutes per game he averaged is the cap on his upside; even if everything were to go right for Thornton, it's hard to see how he could average more than that with full seasons from Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman and Zach Randolph. Owner Donald Sterling already has let Thornton know he's not a fan, and it's hard to see an obvious fit on the team, so Thornton very well could be a trade target. Between Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Camby, Kaman and Randolph, and a high draft pick, the Clippers might be in store for a bounce-back season. Thornton's offensive inefficiency (16.8 points on 14.6 field goal attempts) and lack of rebounding (5.2 in 37 minutes) could make him the odd man out.
Carlos Boozer, PF, Jazz: At no point since Boozer's return has he looked like the Boozer of old, the consistent 20-point, 10-rebound option who turned himself into a real offensive force. Instead, he has lacked explosion, and with few NBA teams looking to splurge in the current economy, there's a very real possibility Boozer could accept his $12.6 million player option for next season. Paul Millsap is a restricted free agent, and the Jazz are expected to make retaining Millsap a priority. It wouldn't be too shocking to see Boozer return for one season with the Jazz and have to duke it out with Millsap for playing time, or he could move on to a team that wouldn't exploit his talents as well as the Jazz have. Remember, he wasn't a 20-point scorer until Deron Williams came along, and he's not the traditional back-to-the-basket low-post threat.
Luol Deng, SF, Bulls: That six-year, $71 million deal Deng landed last summer doesn't look so good for the Bulls now, does it? Deng failed to bounce back to the promise he showed in 2006-07, when he averaged 18.8 points on 51.7 percent shooting; instead, John Salmons used Deng's injuries to step in as a legitimate second option. Unfortunately, the deal the Bulls handed out last year might cost them Ben Gordon, who undoubtedly is looking for a big contract. While that might open the door for Deng to recapture some of that lost value, you have to be concerned that he's played in fewer than 70 games in three of his five seasons. At this point, the name exceeds the production.
I always feel like it's a good idea to try to look back on the season that was in an attempt to learn from your mistakes. Overall, I feel I did well -- I did well in most of my leagues and nailed a couple of calls on some players -- but I also learned a couple of lessons that should help me do better in future seasons. A few of those I'd like to comment on:
• This season's batch of extremely productive rookies served as a big wake-up call. There's a lot of value to be had from rookies. My personal philosophy was to be risk-averse when it came to rookies, as it's hard for me to pull the trigger on draft day when it comes to risking a mid-round pick on such speculative production. But a number of rookies in the past couple of seasons have shown that, if given the opportunity, they tend to produce, and most owners overlook the ones who aren't top picks.
• On the other hand, don't buy into young big men with high foul rates; they're not going to magically improve during the course of the season. Wait 'til next year.
• The de-emphasis on the center position in today's game has opened the door for block specialists like Chris Andersen. He finished second in blocks per game with 2.46, and Ronny Turiaf finished fourth with 2.13. If your league goes remotely deep, there's no harm in finding your own specialist and making him your second center, because the average production level for centers has declined in recent seasons.
Thanks for reading all season, and I hope I was able to make your fantasy season that much more exciting.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.