This article's going to be of interest to those in you both in non-keeper and keeper leagues, but I want to take a brief beat to impart some stretch-run advice for you keeper owners out there. (If you are in a non-keeper league, categories three and four will hold some interest for you owners still competing in the playoffs).
This is the time of the year where being in a keeper league can really pay dividends for fantasy basketball enthusiasts. If you've fallen out of contention, even after the trade deadline, you can still prowl your league's waiver wire looking for late adds who might make for nice keepers. Even if you're still in the mix for your league's championship, there is one small, subtle way you can be looking toward next year: by making an under-the-radar move to pick up a young, cheap keeper.[+] EnlargeSam Forencich/Getty ImagesCould Greg Oden be like Blake Griffin and put up big stats after missing an entire season of action?
Last year, even as I was still in contention for first place in our ESPN Writers' League, I noticed that Blake Griffin (who was out for the year) had somehow slid onto the waiver wire. Being as he had been dropped in almost every non-keeper league, it meant his percentage of ownership had fallen through the floorboards. This was key because it meant Griffin was buried on the wire, well off everyone's radar.
It's borderline sneaky, and maybe even somewhat lacking in roto honor, but if you've got a bench spot to burn, you'd be doing your keeper team a favor if you took a moment to contemplate an endgame stash.
Category 1: Players Who Should Not Be Available In Your League
These two are here in the name of due diligence. Gay and Evans have been dropped in a lot of leagues, but shouldn't be available in any keeper situations. But the fact that they've both had lost half-seasons just might mean some desperate owner jettisoned one of these players for someone who can contribute immediately.
Category 2: Veteran Players Who Have Long-Term Injury Issues
This is a somewhat depressing list to look at. Believe me, it was equally depressing to put together.
All of these players were once -- if even briefly -- highly-owned fantasy contributors. With the exception of Josh Howard (currently logging about 17 minutes per game in Washington), all are currently in the NBA's version of injury purgatory.
We'll get to see very soon if Michael Redd might have anything left after missing over a year with multiple knee injuries. He's projected to make a comeback in the next few days, and early reports say that Redd's most dangerous feature -- his jumper -- is still fully intact. Don't expect great things this season, but look to see if Redd flashes any of his old self.
Oden might be the most intriguing name on this list. He's the youngest (still only 23), and has shown plenty of promise in the very brief time he's been on the court in his career. Oden is a restricted free agent, and you would assume some general manager will roll the dice and sign him to an offer sheet. Whether the Trail Blazers match or not, Oden, if healthy, will be well positioned for a mild comeback in 2011-12. Just keep in mind that he'll probably be a No. 2 center at best, and could be permanently limited in his minutes per game.
Yao is the biggest gamble on this list, but he earns a mention due to his past production. Even if the chances he'll ever return are slim to none, he could be a no-risk/high-reward add for a rebuilding fantasy squad.
Category 3: Young Players With Upside
Rodrigue Beaubois, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks
DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
C.J. Miles, SF, Utah Jazz
Anthony Randolph, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves
DeJuan Blair, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs
Carl Landry, PF, New Orleans Hornets
Toney Douglas, PG/SG, New York Knicks
Shawne Williams, SF, New York Knicks[+] EnlargeNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn the right system, DeAndre Jordan could be a fantasy star and still has some late-season value.
Now we're getting into happier territory. These are all players in their second or third seasons (except for Landry) that have flashed enough upside to make them well worth a bench spot. Some of these players can actually contribute for competing teams right out of the box (as in immediately).
Beaubois has been stamped as a potential sleeper all season. I still remember seeing him in the summer league two years ago for the first time and reminding myself to learn how to pronounce his name. This has been a near-lost season for Beaubois, but he has put together nice back-to-back performances over his past two games. The backcourt situation in Dallas is too crowded to expect great things this season, but he's been on Mark Cuban's "Untouchable" list for a reason, and should get a fresh opportunity come the fall.
Jordan is clawing his way back into fantasy consideration after slowly falling off the map over the past two months. Another restricted free agent, Jordan could blossom in the right situation (say, on the Knicks) and system. A decent pickup for those in need of blocks and some long-term keeper potential.
There's nothing like setting a regular-season team scoring record to remind fantasy owners you're available on their waiver wire. C.J. Miles did just that last night, going for 40 against the Timberwolves (which does put a small asterisk next to the mark). Utah is going to make a lot of changes over the summer, but (presuming they pick up his option) there's a good chance Miles enters training camp as a starter.
I'm putting Carl Landry here as a flier in case David West departs as a free agent. Landry has already put up a strong string of box scores off the Hornets' bench, and could be a 17-19 PPG player paired with Chris Paul in a full-time role.
And if you're a New York fan (or, like me, a D'Antoni fan), it doesn't always hurt to pick up a young Knick with some upside. You never know when D'Antoni will suddenly decide to boost a young player to fantasy prominence.
Category 4: This Season's Draft Picks
Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz
Ed Davis, PF, Toronto Raptors
Ekpe Udoh, PF, Golden State Warriors
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Los Angeles Clippers
Landry Fields, SG, New York Knicks
Jordan Crawford, SG, Washington Wizards
These are players in line to earn substantial playing time next season due to a simple NBA fact: their general managers and coaches put their reputations on the line to draft them (or acquire them in trade-deadline deals, in the case of Favors and Crawford). These players will be afforded every conceivable opportunity to earn playing time. Some won't even have to earn it.[+] EnlargeDavid Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesHow much playing time will the Jazz give Derrick Favors after giving up Deron Williams to get him?
Of course, most of these players were drafted this high for a reason, usually raw athleticism. Raw athleticism, given the right path to development, can easily translate into strong fantasy production, sometimes literally overnight. It's always exciting from a fantasy perspective when a young player suddenly puts it all together. The key is being far enough ahead of the curve to pick that player up before it happens.
Favors is facing a logjam in the Jazz frontcourt, but he has that rare Amare Stoudemire-type potential that could mean big things in the near future. And on top of being a top-3 pick, he does have that "we traded our franchise player for you" thing going for him. He's put up some nice little lines this week while subbing for the injured Paul Millsap.
I've drooled over Davis enough this season, so I won't embarrass myself with further raves. But one gets the feeling he'll have a better shot than Amir Johnson to earn the nod as the Raptors' starting power forward come training camp.
If you blinked, you missed it, but both Udoh and Aminu have shown lightning-fast glimpses of raw upside this season. Seeing as they both play in positions of need for their respective franchises, at least one of them could be in line for 30 minutes per game with a strong preseason next fall. Udoh will actually help fantasy owners right now as strictly a blocks specialist.
Finally, Fields and Crawford have both been nice second-half surprises, coming on when their teams suffered a hit in backcourt depth (Fields due to the Carmelo Anthony trade, Crawford due to a trade and then a Nick Young injury).
Fields obviously plays in a fantasy-friendly system, and has earned quiet raves for his "glue guy" potential. Sometimes "glue guy" can mean "not fantasy friendly," but Fields seems to contribute in some way every night. And Crawford -- like Nick Young -- is showing what landing on a bad team in dire need of scoring punch can do for one's statistical prospects.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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