- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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In last week's Player Rater column, I took a look at this season's best rookie guards in order to ascertain their keeper value heading into next season. This week, I'm going to take a look at the best of the forwards and centers, but before we jump into this, it's worth noting that this has been a banner year for guards. As far as keeper value goes, each of the players mentioned last week -- as well as Jrue Holiday, James Harden and Ty Lawson -- are head and shoulders above the forwards and centers in this year's rookie class in terms of current fantasy value.
As such, remember that while none of this year's big men look like obvious keeper candidates at the moment, some of them have shown major flashes of potential and figure to be key members of their teams next season. The current Player Rater ranking for each of these players is included (and is based on per-game averages).
Omri Casspi, SF/PF, Sacramento Kings (178): After having a great first half of the season, Casspi has trailed off quite a bit in recent weeks, even missing a few games due to fatigue. None of that is a good sign, but Casspi's ability to provide points, rebounds, and 3-point shooting as a rookie can't be overlooked. He won't help you much for the rest of this season, as he's clearly hitting some kind of a wall and playing on a team with a mess of a rotation, but Casspi is a good bet to improve next season. One would think the Kings will continue to try to move Andres Nocioni elsewhere again this offseason (even though he's under contract for two more seasons), and that Casspi will officially surpass him in effectiveness next season anyway. Casspi's ability to play both forward positions makes him a good fit alongside both Donte Greene and Carl Landry. Depending on offseason transactions, Casspi is looking like a decent late-round pick in deep leagues next season based on his position, potential and ability to shoot the 3.
Jonas Jerebko, SF/PF, Detroit Pistons (175): Considering he was a second-round draft pick, Jerebko has been a pretty positive surprise for the Pistons this year. The fact that he's been getting better as the season wears on is certainly good for his future prospects. On paper, his numbers (12.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in March, for example) make him look like a more attractive prospect than Casspi, but remember that the Pistons still have Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell under contract for next season, and promising rookie Austin Daye is looking for more minutes as well.
Jerebko does a lot of things well, but there's nothing he's great at; he's not a shot-blocker and doesn't make 3s at a high rate at all. Everything he has given the Pistons this season is gravy, but it's worth noting there's not a ton of room to grow for a player of his pedigree who is already playing 27.3 minutes per game. Even if his minutes move up over 30, it's hard to imagine him averaging any better than his March numbers which, on their own, aren't enough to make him worthy of anything better than a late-round pick if you are desperate for rebounds at the small forward spot. He's been better than Casspi of late, but I like him significantly less than Casspi for next season.
DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs (211): Despite playing only 18.5 minutes per game, Blair, as long as he stays healthy, will be the class of this year's rookie big man class. He leads all rookies in rebound rate and is second in offensive rebound rate. Unfortunately, he's also fourth among rookies in turnover rate, which will be a bigger problem if he gets more minutes next season. Considering that the Spurs are pretty much capped out and might not have Matt Bonner under contract for next season, it's a good bet Blair will get more of an opportunity (especially given that Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess will be a year older). He's already playing more minutes in March, and if those minutes creep up toward 30 per game, he's going to average a double-double along with possibly a steal and a block as well (he has great hands). Blair has a lot of name recognition because of his success in college, so he'll probably be drafted before he deserves to in most leagues, but in keeper leagues I think his potential as a double-double guy as soon as next season makes him the most attractive big man of this year's rookie class.
Serge Ibaka, C, Oklahoma City Thunder (216): With 17 minutes per game this season, Ibaka is playing even less than Blair, but he's been almost as productive. Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic will both be expiring contracts next season, so it's possible Ibaka will be getting the lion's share of the big man minutes for the Thunder sooner rather than later. That would be a great thing for fantasy owners; Ibaka is third among rookies in rebound rate (behind Blair and the little-used Jon Brockman), but is also a tremendous shot-blocker (1.1 per game in 17 minutes). Fittingly, Ibaka is playing his best basketball of the season down the stretch as the Thunder continue to get better, so it's a good bet he's a part of their future plans. Unlike with Blair, you might actually be able to steal Ibaka down the stretch in your fantasy draft next season, as many people still have no idea who he is, and he has more potential than any rookie big man other than Blair.
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls (162): Gibson isn't as overtly talented as Ibaka or Blair, but he's a good player, and he might be in the best position of any rookie big man heading into next season. The fact that he's playing with plantar fasciitis in both feet at the moment (and the very real possibility that the Bulls will miss the playoffs) might do just enough to keep him under the radar, but with Brad Miller's expiring contract, Gibson has a wide-open path to big minutes next season alongside Joakim Noah. Gibson has a nice game: He's a good defender, he can score, he's a decent rebounder and he blocks shots enough to matter in fantasy as well. With a few more minutes per game, he might average better than 10 points, eight rebounds, and 1.5 blocks next season on 50 percent shooting from the floor, which would be enough to make him pretty important in quite a few fantasy leagues.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Seth Landman looks at the keeper value of this year's rookie big men.