- Tom Carpenter, Fantasy and Insider
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Whether you are on your way to winning multiple championships or licking your wounds from multiple failures in your hoops leagues, it's important to look back on this past season to determine what you did right and what you did wrong. Doing so is one of the more important things you can do to improve your fantasy hoops acumen for next season and beyond. While it's great to pat yourself on the back for the brilliant decisions you made, it's even more important to seriously critique yourself about things that didn't go well so you don't make the same mistakes in the future. Believe me, my ego would prefer that I penned a column called "I was right," but fortunately my fantasy jones knows that adding the "I was wrong" section will help me improve for next season.
I Was Right
Breakouts and Busts
Just prior to the season, we ESPN fantasy hoops analysts gave our breakout and sleeper predictions, and I'm glad to say that I nailed most of mine. The ones I got right were Ty Lawson, James Harden, Danilo Gallinari and Greg Monroe as breakouts and Manu Ginobili, Corey Maggette, David West and Andrew Bogut as busts.
The breakouts I picked were pretty obvious to me and exactly the types of guys I target every season -- naturally talented players whose career production arc is pointing straight up and who have a high likelihood of being an important option on offense. An example of guys I'll be watching during the preseason come this fall are Jerryd Bayless (if Jose Calderon leaves), Paul George (if the Indiana Pacers' backcourt thins out) and Klay Thompson (assuming he continues in his primary role).
To no surprise, in my opinion, Ginobili, Maggette and Bogut followed through as busts due to their propensity for getting injured. Something we should expect next season, too. West also came up short, as his production waned in a reduced role with the Pacers and sans Chris Paul. Injuries and an expected reduction in touches and shots are two of the biggest warning signs for busts. Remember that when assessing player value next season.
Russell Westbrook's FG%
As a rookie, Westy shot an embarrassing 39.8 percent from the field and followed that up with a 41.8 FG% in his sophomore run. I remained convinced that he was capable of pushing up into the mid-40s as his game matured, because he was so physically gifted that he could dominate when taking the ball to the rack, which creates high-percentage shots, and he had a pretty good stroke on his jumper and just needed to take better shots. By Year 3, Westbrook was up to a 44.3 percent and he's currently right about where I pegged him for a career average: 46.4 percent. I do think he's capable of pushing up to 48 percent as the Oklahoma City Thunder focus on championships over stats the next few years, but any point guard who shoots 46 percent or better is going to be huge in fantasy.
My Jeremy Lin trade
As Linsanity exploded across the nation, my trusty editor asked me to discuss the trade value of Lin. I couldn't have asked for a better topic, because I had just won Lin off waivers via a $53 FAAB claim and dealt him to another team -- my Lin and John Wall for Chris Paul and an injured Zach Randolph. At the time, readers seemed split; about a third thought I should have been tossed out of the league for ripping the other guy off, another third thought the other guy should have been tossed for ripping me off and the other third thought we both should have been kicked to the curb for making a terrible trade.
You can examine the reasoning behind the trade, but as I expected, we both benefited from the deal. His team was desperate and got an influx of talent, as Wall and Lin stayed hot for quite some time, though Lin's demise ended his hopes of making the postseason. My team was already solid and I rode CP3 to the playoffs. Although Z-Bo has been underwhelming in terms of production since returning to action, the extra games the Memphis Grizzlies have played down the stretch have made him valuable. I currently hold a respectable 25-point lead on my opponent as we enter the second week of our two-week H2H finals.
The lesson to be gleaned here is that if you believe you have assessed a trade properly, do not hesitate to pull the trigger, no matter who might be in your ear telling you that you're wrong.
Marcus Thornton is legit
Two years ago when they were filling in for an injured Chris Paul with the New Orleans Hornets, Thornton and Darren Collison were key players in my improbable three-week run from last to first (I actually secured the title in the final 15 minutes of the season) in my home league. It was an epic victory that shall live on in the memories of my friends for ever (because I won't let them forget it).
It's hard to not have a soft spot for guys like that -- players who took you all the way. But it's important to separate your affection for a guy who cranked out solid stats for a month and a guy who has a long future of solid fantasy production. Fortunately, I examined Thornton and Collison that season and determined that Collison's success was more a product of filling in for CP3 than a product of his own skills, while Thornton appeared to be a legit scorer and defender. The Sacramento Kings appear committed to Thornton going forward, so he should remain an excellent fantasy option next season and beyond, capable of scoring in the 20s with decent steals, 3s and percentages.
Jarrett Jack and Goran Dragic can ball!
I've been bullish about both of these guys for years, but it took them a while to get into a spot where they could prove their skills. Before there was a Wesley Matthews or a Nicolas Batum in Portland, it was Jack who was struggling to earn full minutes in a crowded backcourt for the Trail Blazers. Since then, Jack had moments of success as a journeyman before circumstances (CP3 traded, Eric Gordon perpetually hurt) opened up a full-time point guard job for him this season. The rest is history, though his value next season could be greatly affected by how the Hornets' roster develops and how his role might change.
When Dragic joined the NBA in 2008, I'd read and seen excellent things about the Yugoslavian and pegged him as a deep sleeper because he was playing behind an aging Steve Nash, who had battled hip ailments for quite some time. Of course, Nash rejected Father Time, so Dragic never had a chance to prove his wares in Phoenix or in Houston, until Kyle Lowry was sidelined this season. I can't say I could have projected that he'd average 18.2 points, 8.4 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.8 3s and shoot 49.5 from the field and 85.6 from the line in 23 starts this season, but I knew he could produce.
Some players are not good enough to earn their minutes over more established players, but others just need the opportunity to prove they are ready. Keep that in mind next season when considering guys like Rodrigue Beaubois, Ekpe Udoh and Jose Juan Barea.
I Was Wrong
Breakouts and Busts
I missed on only a couple of guys in my breakouts and busts predictions: Ricky Rubio as a bust and Brook Lopez as a breakout. Lopez was a bit of a fluke, but I had an ironic statement about Lopez being a breakout candidate: "He also hasn't missed a game in his three NBA seasons." Oops. Sorry about the jinx, there, Brook. Assuming he gets back up to full strength, Lopez should be a solid breakout candidate again next season, so don't forget him.
As for Rubio, I had him as a bust, but that had more to do with him being drafted too early in my opinion and fear of his field goal percentage. I got the FG% right (35.7 percent), but he legitimized his general ADP by averaging a ridiculous 8.2 dimes and 2.2 steals in his 41 games. Unfortunately, his ACL injury likely will hamper him to some extent next season, which means we'll have another risk factor to consider when assessing his upside.
Blake Griffin not top 10
I honestly thought that CP3 joining Griffin would lead to the sophomore exploding as a scorer, and I thought he would boost his shot-blocking to a respectable level. Instead, he regressed in every statistic except FG%, which rose to 54.3 percent. OK, technically his blocks per game rose from 0.6 to 0.8, but that's not even close to a respectable level. It turns out that the Clippers didn't need Griffin to go buck wild to have success in the win column, and his terrible free throw shooting (52.0 percent on 7.1 attempts per game) killed teams in roto leagues.
I had him pegged as a top-10 option, and while he was somewhat close to that in H2H points leagues, he failed miserably in roto competitions. In fact, he's currently ranked 87th on the Player Rater, based on averages, behind Drew Gooden and Spencer Hawes, and barely ahead of Nikola Pekovic and Samuel Dalembert.
Excuse me while I go lick my wounds.
Tyrus Thomas is Rip Van Winkle
As I mentioned earlier, I love physically gifted players, because you know all they have to do is show focus and gain the trust of their coach to have a good shot at a breakout campaign. Sometimes that happens quickly for guys like Westbrook or takes time to develop like Dragic and Jack. But sometimes, no matter how much you believe in a kid's skill set and opportunity for success, he doesn't have what it takes to earn his keep on the court. That brings me to Thomas, who has been a sleeper for years but never woke up.
After seven seasons in the NBA, Thomas has failed to gain the trust of any of his coaches. And despite having Josh Smith-type stat potential, he's done little of note. This season he played on one of the worst teams in recent NBA history, had a wide-open door to minutes and touches – and did absolutely nothing with the opportunity. You shall never hear me pimping his name as a sleeper again. Goodbye, Tyrus Thomas!
Devin Harris is not that good
The irony for me with Harris is that I didn't buy the hype that he was that good when he was with the Dallas Mavericks. But when he joined the New Jersey Nets, he averaged 21.3 points, 6.9 assists and 1.7 steals in his first full season, so I started to believe the hype. So long as he could stay healthy, he was capable of being a rock-solid fantasy producer.
After watching his complete flop of a season this year, though, I'm kicking myself for buying the hype that my gut told me not to buy in the first place. He may have some low-end fantasy value as a late-round flier next season, but I have no intention of adding an injury-prone guy who is not that good to my roster if I can avoid it.
Tom Carpenter reviews the 2011-12 season, and discusses players he was right and wrong about.