Commentary

Late-charging keepers for 2010-11

Updated: March 29, 2010, 4:14 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

Regardless of whether you're still in the hunt or already looking ahead to next season, the end of the hoops season is critical to your future fantasy success. This is where we usually get a chance to take a look at some younger players who have tremendous upside but didn't necessarily get a chance to prove their worth earlier in the season.

Not everyone can step in and produce in the NBA right away like Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry. Often it takes at least half a season, or multiple seasons, before things start to click. For younger players, things usually start coming together as they gain more experience, which can then lead to increased confidence. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few players who have really turned it on at the end of the season and could become nice keepers or value picks in next season's fantasy drafts:

The Top 130

Note: Brian McKitish's Top 130 are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

RK. Name, POS (RK)
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (1)
2. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (2)
3. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (3)
4. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (4)
5. Danny Granger, SF, IND (6)
6. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (5)
7. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (7)
8. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (9)
9. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (10)
10. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (13)
11. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (12)
12. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (8)
13. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (11)
14. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (14)
15. Chris Paul, PG, NO (23)
16. Amar'e Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (16)
17. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (18)
18. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (17)
19. Brandon Roy, SG/SF, POR (15)
20. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (19)
21. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (20)
22. David Lee, PF/C, NY (21)
23. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (22)
24. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (24)
25. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (26)
26. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (31)
27. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (28)
28. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (30)
29. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (29)
30. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (25)
31. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, CHA (32)
32. Marcus Camby, C/PF, POR (36)
33. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (33)
34. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (34)
35. Andray Blatche, PF/C, WAS (35)
36. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (37)
37. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (27)
38. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (38)
39. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (40)
40. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (41)
41. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (42)
42. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (43)
43. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (58)
44. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (46)
45. Nene, C/PF, DEN (45)
46. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (47)
47. John Salmons, SG/SF, MIL (53)
48. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, NY (52)
49. David West, PF, NO (44)
50. Antawn Jamison, PF, CLE (50)
51. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (48)
52. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (51)
53. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (54)
54. Andre Miller, PG, POR (55)
55. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (49)
56. Kevin Martin, SG, HOU (39)
57. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (56)
58. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (60)
59. Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI (64)
60. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (61)
61. Carl Landry, PF, SAC (63)
62. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (59)
63. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (65)
64. Caron Butler, SF, WAS (57)
65. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (66)
66. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (69)
67. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (68)
68. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (70)
69. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (73)
70. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (71)
71. Marcus Thornton, SG, NO (74)
72. Taj Gibson, PF, CHI (79)
73. Corey Maggette, SF, GS (76)
74. Drew Gooden, PF/C, LAC (96)
75. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (62)
76. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (72)
77. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, HOU (86)
78. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (77)
79. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (78)
80. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (85)
81. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (67)
82. Kirk Hinrich, SG/PG, CHI (82)
83. Tayshaun Prince, SF, DET (83)
84. Darren Collison, PG, NO (95)
85. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (90)
86. Richard Hamilton, SG, DET (81)
87. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (88)
88. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (87)
89. Toney Douglas, PG, NY (99)
90. Al Harrington, PF, NY (89)
91. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (84)
92. George Hill, PG, SA (92)
93. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (75)
94. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (119)
95. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (80)
96. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (97)
97. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (98)
98. Beno Udrih, PG/SG, SAC (104)
99. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (100)
100. Mike Miller, SG/SF, WAS (101)
101. Anthony Tolliver, C, GS (114)
102. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (102)
103. Brandon Rush, SG, IND (116)
104. Samuel Dalembert, C, PHI (103)
105. Jermaine O'Neal, C, MIA (106)
106. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (105)
107. Tracy McGrady, SG, NY (108)
108. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (109)
109. Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN (110)
110. Corey Brewer, SF/SG, MIN (111)
111. Richard Jefferson, SF, SA (113)
112. Reggie Williams, SF, GS (128)
113. C.J. Watson, PG/SG, GS (118)
114. Carlos Delfino, SF/SG, MIL (94)
115. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (107)
116. Jason Maxiell, PF/C, DET (121)
117. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (122)
118. Spencer Hawes, C, SAC (112)
119. Marvin Williams, SF, ATL (115)
120. Earl Watson, PG, IND (124)
121. Anderson Varejao, PF, CLE (126)
122. T. Williams, SF/SG, NJ (127)
123. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (117)
124. Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, TOR (130)
125. James Singleton, PF, DAL (NR)
126. Wesley Matthews, SG, UTA (NR)
127. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (129)
128. Serge Ibaka, C, OKC (NR)
129. C.J. Miles, SF/SG, UTA (NR)
130. JaVale McGee, PF/C, WAS (NR)

Jrue Holiday, PG, Philadelphia 76ers: This is probably the easiest call I've made all season, as Holiday has had considerable fantasy value for about a month now. In fact, during the past 30 days, Holiday ranks 19th on our Player Rater! Holiday is averaging 13.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.6 3-pointers since the start of March, and clearly has the look of a future do-it-all point guard. What's even more encouraging is that the biggest knock on Holiday coming into the season was his somewhat questionable shooting touch, but the kid is shooting 49 percent from the floor and 48 percent from 3-point land this month. Seems to me that he's a better shooter than we originally expected, and it looks like the Sixers found themselves a steal in last year's draft. I should also note that Holiday is the youngest player in the league, so there is plenty of room to grow from here.

Marcus Thornton, SG, New Orleans Hornets: Although he's just a rookie, Thornton is playing at a level that is already fairly close to his ceiling as an NBA player. Does he have the upside of someone like Holiday? No, but who needs upside when we're looking at a guy who is already valuable and averaging 20.4 points, 1.1 steals and 2.3 3-pointers per game this month? He does have some emptiness in his stat lines (averaging just 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists), but he offsets his inability to contribute in boards and assists with solid percentages (45.3 percent from the floor and 81.7 percent from the line). In the future, I could see Thornton offering value similar to what Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford have done this season, which will make him a nice value pick in next season's fantasy drafts.

Serge Ibaka, C, Oklahoma City Thunder: I love me the Serge! Though he is still incredibly raw as a prospect, Ibaka has been able to carve out a spot in the Thunder rotation as a defensive specialist and dominant shot-blocker. Since the All-Star break, Ibaka has averaged 7.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, which doesn't seem like much at first glance, but is simply phenomenal considering that he's done all that in just 19.4 minutes per game. Sure, he's probably only a shot-blocking specialist in deeper leagues at the moment, but the upside here is completely off the charts. He hasn't even begun to touch on his potential as a player yet, and it's scary to think what he'll be able to do after he refines his game a bit.

The Next Generation

Now that we've looked at a few players with sleeper potential for next season and beyond, let's take a look at some players who have a good chance to jump into elite fantasy status next season. For my money, the players listed below are already in the midst of their breakout seasons. What I'm really looking for is the next generation of fantasy stars -- players who will build on their breakout season and jump into the elite tier of fantasy goodness. Kind of like how Monta Ellis, Andrew Bogut and Gerald Wallace took their games to higher levels this season.

Before we start, I'll offer a minor disclaimer. I left out some players who I felt were too obvious, like Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry.

Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder: This may seem a bit obvious, and some may say that Westbrook is already an elite fantasy performer. That's fair, but I'm not sure Westbrook gets the love he truly deserves. I currently have him ranked ninth among point guard-eligible players, but Westbrook has the talent (and talent around him) to become a top-5 fantasy point guard as early as next season. Averaging 17.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game since the All-Star break, the only negative in Westbrook's game is his spotty jump shot and lack of range. But do we really need him to hit 3-pointers to be a fantasy star? I don't think so. In fact, he's been much more valuable since he stopped shooting the 3-ball. His field goal percentage has skyrocketed (40.5 percent pre-All-Star, 47.2 post-All-Star) as he's cut down on his 3-point attempts (1.7 before the break, 0.6 after). If Westbrook continues to play within himself like this, he has the potential to be a top-20 fantasy player next season.

Darren Collison, PG, Hornets: This is a tough one because much of Collison's value next season will depend on what the Hornets decide to do in the offseason. Still, there's almost no chance that this kid isn't going to be a star at some point down the line. Heck, he's been a star when given the opportunity this season. As a starter, Collison has averaged 18.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.9 3-pointers while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor and 84.6 percent from the free throw line. Those are some ridiculous numbers, folks. I don't know about you, but I'm going to spend the rest of this season examining how he coexists with a healthy Chris Paul in the backcourt just in case the Hornets decide not to hit the trade market. Either way, it's not a question of if Collison will be an elite fantasy performer; it's a question of when.

Joakim Noah, PF/C, Chicago Bulls: If it weren't for a painful plantar fasciitis injury, Noah wouldn't even make this list because he'd already be considered elite at his position. But now that he has missed the better part of two months with the injury and has not yet returned to his pre-injury form, he will be vastly underrated in next season's fantasy draft. Don't make the mistake of looking at Noah's season totals and forgetting that this is a guy who averaged 11.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 1.7 blocks while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 77.2 percent from the line before going down with the injury.

Aaron Brooks, PG, Rockets: I've been on record multiple times this season stating that Brooks is just a few steals and assists away from being an elite fantasy point guard. And let's face it: Averaging 19.6 points, 5.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.5 3-pointers per game on the season while shooting 43.2 percent from the floor and 80.1 percent from the line, Brooks is pretty darned close. In fact, since the arrival of Kevin Martin, Brooks has already bumped up his assists to 6.1 per game since the All-Star break. It seems that all he needed were some shooters around him. I don't think he'll ever be a 7-8 assist guy, but if he can keep it above six per game I'll be happy. Now if we could only work on those steals. He did show the ability to create some steals in college, averaging 1.4 per game in his senior season at Oregon, but hasn't quite figured it out at the NBA level just yet. He's super quick, so one would think that the potential to create more steals is there.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

ALSO SEE