Throughout this year's NBA playoffs, the story was, in many cases, about the regular season. Specifically, many of us have been wondering where the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics were in the second half of the season when both teams were regularly mailing it in. Well, by the time the NBA Finals rolled around, we had our answer. Both teams were taking it easy, confident they could kick it into high gear once the playoffs came around.
With such a wild disparity between the regular season and the playoffs, we have to wonder: What do the playoffs have to teach us about fantasy? The answer is not in which teams advanced, but in which players solidified themselves in new or expanded roles on their clubs. Keeping that in mind, here are some possible risers and fallers for next season based on the 2010 NBA playoffs.
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks: Jennings had a great rookie season by all accounts, but fantasy-wise he lost some of his luster as the season went on as his shooting percentage plummeted. In his first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Jennings increased his scoring and shooting percentage, and averaged just 1.1 turnovers per game in 35.6 minutes. His assists fell off some, but I'm willing to chalk that up to the difficulty the Bucks had in scoring points in general. Jennings will have his main weapon, Andrew Bogut, back next season, and some playoff experience to go with it. In addition, the Bucks will likely lose backup point guard Luke Ridnour in free agency, which means the leash on Jennings will probably be taken off completely. If you had Jennings' stock falling during the second half of the season, it's probably time to bump him back up now.
Wesley Matthews, Utah Jazz: By no stretch of the imagination did Matthews have an easy go of it in this year's playoffs. He had to deal with two great offensive teams in the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, and he played more minutes than anyone else on the Jazz, save Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. His playoff numbers (13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.5 3-pointers) look great until you realize that he needed 37.1 minutes per game to achieve them. Still, it was a successful playoff run for Matthews. He played tough defense on Kobe Bryant, and at this point he has clearly established himself as a player who deserves to be a starter in the NBA. If you're looking for a sleeper candidate for 3s and steals at the end of your draft next season, you could do a lot worse than selecting Matthews.
Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat: It's easy to forget how good Chalmers was as a rookie, when he averaged 10.0 points, 4.9 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.4 3s per game and was a major factor in most fantasy leagues. The 2009-10 season was, of course, a disappointment, and six playoff games against the Celtics' defense isn't going to tell us much about his long-term prospects, but I was encouraged by the fact that he wrested control of the point guard job back from Carlos Arroyo as the series went on, and finished with his best individual game of the year, going for 20 points in 31 minutes in Game 5. I think he's a good bet to revert to his rookie form next season, which would make him worth a top-100 pick in most drafts (although you probably won't need to pick him that high in order to get him).
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder: Ibaka received more minutes in the playoffs (25.5, up from 18.1 during the regular season) for two reasons. First, the Thunder needed his size and athleticism against the Lakers' rangy front line. Second, and more importantly for those of us concerned with his fantasy numbers, he's clearly the Thunder's most productive big man. He has an expanding post game, is a tenacious rebounder, is a great shot-blocker and seems to be an improving free-throw shooter. All of these things bode well for his numbers next season, and I think his shot-blocking ability means he's got a chance to make a major leap into the fantasy top-50 next season. He's not worth drafting quite that high, but I can't argue with taking a chance on him in your draft.
Vince Carter, Orlando Magic: Admittedly, I've been a bit overzealous in announcing the end of Carter's career as an important fantasy contributor many times, but if you were unimpressed by Vince's career-worst numbers in the regular season, you should be aware that the playoffs were far worse. He couldn't shoot, and almost all of his numbers declined. Sure, the Magic faced elite defensive teams in the Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats, but the fact remains that Vince was, at times, one of the worst players on the floor. I'd much rather take a chance on countless younger players than draft Carter at all in fantasy drafts next season.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers: If you were hoping to see Aldridge rise to the occasion and provide some much-needed rebounding against the Phoenix Suns in the first round, you probably wound up pretty disappointed. Against a Suns squad missing its 7-foot center Robin Lopez, Aldridge averaged just six boards in 38.2 minutes per game. I understand that his pick-and-pop game takes him away from the paint, but at his size, he could be an elite defensive rebounder, and he just isn't. Even worse, his 19.0 points per game were tarnished by his woeful 43 percent shooting in the playoffs. It seems like every year some people think that Aldridge is ready to break out in fantasy, but I don't think it's happening any time soon, and he definitely won't be on any of my teams next season.
Mo Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers: After his second consecutive great regular season, Mo was once again a dud again in the playoffs. Confidence never seems to be a problem for Williams, and he's still young, but without LeBron James, who could leave via free agency, it's hard to figure out where Williams would get his open looks. Without open looks, I don't think he is the sort of player who can create enough 3s to make up for his middling assist and steal totals. With so many talented point guards in the league, it's hard to argue for Williams as a top option going forward.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.