We know these guys are studs, but what about the stars who haven't had their chance to shine yet?
The 2010-2011 NBA season is almost upon us, which means fantasy hoops drafts are right around the corner. Hopefully your football team is playing well and keeping you busy, and maybe you're in the baseball playoffs too.
But, if you're like me, your baseball team missed the playoffs and you're facing the real possibility of starting 0-3 in football, which means basketball season can't start soon enough.
Every year a shrewd owner makes a few picks that leave the rest of the league scratching their heads.
Maybe they just took a guy you never heard of, or maybe they just took some underachiever four rounds before you would have. Or even worse, they landed a bona fide stud with one of their last picks.
Inevitably, those head scratchers are usually the players that separate the winners from the losers. Those no-names your opponent lands have a way of making them look really smart.
You know the owner I'm talking about, there's one in every league. You probably still remember the players they stole in the draft too.
In last year's drafts, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, and Brandon Jennings were among the biggest steals, but it goes beyond rookies.
Veteran players step up every year, and young playmakers frequently break out after disappointing the previous season.
Knowing which players to target in your draft gives you a major advantage once the first few rounds pass.
It doesn't take much insight to know that LeBron, Durant, Kobe, etc. are studs. Those picks aren't the ones that win titles. Fantasy Championships are won in the middle to late rounds.
While other owners flounder and load up on well-known commodities you can sit back and draft with confidence, knowing that these 25 players (5 at each position) have a good chance of making you the owner who looks like a genius six months later.
Depending on the size of your league, Westbrook should be viewed as a number-one guard.
Playing with Kevin Durant means he won't put up huge scoring totals, but he's no slouch either. Anywhere from 16-18 points per game is reasonable.
The Durantula gets more fanfare but the offense in Oklahoma City runs through Westbrook, and he should finish among the league leaders in assists.
He also rebounds exceptionally well and even though he only had double-digit rebounds once, he is a nightly triple-double threat, as evidenced by his 22 games of seven rebounds or more.
He doesn't have the name recognition yet that some other elite guards do, so he might slide a bit.
If you can land him at the end of Round 2 or beginning of Round 3, consider yourself lucky. Anything after that should be considered a felony.
We've been down this road with Felton before.
Expectations were high in Charlotte after they drafted the former UNC Ta Heel in the lottery. He played well in spurts, but never quite put it all together. It culminated in five largely disappointing seasons and a one-way ticket out of town.
Now Felton gets a fresh start in New York. That's right, the Knicks signed him in one of the more under-the-radar moves of the summer. He gets the chance to run one of the most high-powered offenses in the NBA under Mike D'antoni.
Nate Robinson and Chris Duhon have been valuable fantasy pieces at times, and Felton is a much better player than either of them. With Amare Stoudemire in town and D'Antoni searching for a legit point guard to run the offense, Felton should thrive.
I predict career best numbers across the board. ESPN projects him as the 52nd overall player, making him a 6th round pick in standard leagues. If you land him with your 6th pick, he might be the best pick in your draft.
Depending on who else is available, I'm comfortable taking him late 4th/early 5th round.
Felton isn't the only player who benefits from his move to New York. D.J. Augustin is finally poised to have a starting gig all his own.
In 28 career games in which Augustin has played 30 or minutes he's averaged 16.4 points and 4.9 assists. He's a sharpshooter who could do some serious damage from beyond the arc.
As a first-year starter he's poised to break out like Aaron Brooks did last year.
ESPN doesn't rank him in their top 150, and on CBSSports he's being drafted 124th (round 13) on average. You can draft him as a backup, but he's a decent flex option with the potential to be much more
Flynn is an explosive point guard who can do just about everything. He's going to be a superstar in the NBA, it's only a question of when.
Typically, players experience the biggest jump in their stats between their first and second seasons. This could be the year Flynn takes his first step towards stardom.
Flynn gets overlooked up in Minnesota, but last year's lottery pick played well and will be asked to take on a bigger scoring role in year two.
To sweeten the pot even more, Flynn is recovering from offseason hip surgery which has hurt his draft stock.
If his hip scares other owners away, do yourself a favor and snatch him up for potentially huge rewards down the stretch.
I would start thinking about him in Round 9 or 10, even sooner in keeper formats.
As a whole, I'm down on Cleveland. I don't like Mo Williams this season, and I wouldn't touch Antawn Jamison with a 10-foot pole. I do however like Sessions.
The Cavs are going to need playmakers who can score and distribute the basketball in the wake of The Decision. Sooner or later, they will realize Sessions can do both.
He thrived during his brief time starting in previous seasons and it's only a matter of time before he takes hold of the starting gig in Cleveland, allowing Williams to play off the ball as a shooter.
He may go undrafted in some leagues. Don't let yours be one of them.
Morrow hit 140 three-pointers last season but was wildly inconsistent, thanks in large part to Don Nelson's Willy Wonka-style lineup rotations.
Now with the New Jersey Nets, Morrow has an opportunity for steady playing time and scoring chances.
The Nets desperately need an outside shooter to take the load off Brook Lopez and Devin Harris, and Morrow is as deadly as they come from behind the arc. Don't be surprised to see 200+ three's from him this season.
I wouldn't hesitate to take him between rounds 8 and 10, but you can probably get him even later than that. He's being taken in round 14 on average.
Like the aforementioned Jonny Flynn, Harden was a lottery pick last year who underwhelmed as a rookie.
Unlike Flynn however, Harden is in the ideal situation. With Durant and Westbrook leading the way, the Thunder are poised to explode offensively this season and Harden stands to benefit greatly.
His all-around game is a tough matchup to defend, especially given the attention Durant and Westbrook command on a nightly basis and he has the talent to capitalize.
I don't want to go overboard and project him as a fantasy starter just yet, but he's certainly worth a late-round pick.
His situation and upside alone are enough for me to reach a round or two for him rather than wait and risk missing out.
Gordon topped many breakout lists last preseason, then failed to meet expectations. The Clippers as a whole were underwhelming last season, but I like Gordon to bounce back in a big way.
He's not the greatest dribble-drive player on the court, but he's one of the best pure shooters in the NBA. He's got what they call "in the building" range.
With Blake Griffin returning to the court, teams will need to devote serious defensive attention to last year's top pick, meaning more pick and rolls and opportunities for open shots for Gordon.
There is some risk here, but if he's getting the open looks I think he will, Gordon should enjoy the breakout season many predicted for him last year.
Thornton was money during fantasy crunch time last season. The rookie averaged 14.5 points per game for the Hornets but became a stat machine once Chris Paul went down.
During the last three months of the season, he averaged over 20 ppg. Chris Paul is healthy once again, but Thornton has the starting shooting guard job all to himself.
On average he's being drafted in round 11, with guys like Beno Udrih, Corey Brewer, Jarret Jack, etc. I rank him closer to the likes of Jamal Crawford who's been going in round 8. If you can swipe Thornton anytime after that, it's a great pick. (note the banner in the background: Nice Steal)
Like his new teammate Andre Iguadala, Turner can play SG or SF, which gives the 76ers flexibility and gives Turner the opportunity for loads of minutes as a rookie. His size (nearly 6'-6") makes him more likely to play the 2 spot though.
The second overall pick in this year's draft averaged 20.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 6.0 apg as a junior at Ohio State. He's frequently compared to Trailblazers' star Brandon Roy, so nobody would be surprised if he's successful very quickly.
What does surprise me is his draft position. On average he's going in round 11. People must be scared off by his poor play in the Summer League. I'm not one of them. Like I pointed out with Thornton, that's the same round as a bunch of heaping piles of mediocrity.
Why not take a chance on him instead of somebody like Rip Hamilton in round 8 or 9?
DeRozan is currently being drafted in the 17th round on average, which is to say he's barely being drafted at all. I'm not suggesting he go much higher than that, but I do believe he will vastly outplay that draft spot.
That's the beauty of drafting a player like him; it's a no-risk, high-reward scenario.
With Bosh and the Turk out of town, Toronto will need somebody to step up alongside Bargnani. DeRozan should be that guy.
He's talented, explosive above the rim, and has an opportunity to make a name for himself. After selecting him 9th overall in 2009, the Raptors are hoping he seizes that chance.
All the elements are in place for a breakout
Williams is another athletic swing-man coming off an uninspiring rookie season. He averaged 8.41 ppg and 4.46 rpg for the Nets last year, but he actually played well when given significant minutes.
Anybody who remembers him at Louisville knows what kind of impact player he can be. Expect him to start at small forward for New Jersey this season and potentially double his offensive output.
He likely won't make or break your team but as a player you can target in round 12 or 13 he won't cost much and could be a nice luxury as a top shelf reserve.
It seems like he's been around for a while but at 22 Thaddeus is still young. With Elton Brand, Iguadala and Turner in Philly, Young will play both forward spots. His versatility means he will log as many minutes as anyone in the league, and will likely see a boost in his rebounding totals.
He's clearly talented, so his scoring could easilly approach 16-17 ppg, and with increased time in the paint his rebounds could creep up over 7.
He's currently being taken in round 13. Yes, round THIRTEEN!! Go out on a limb and reach for him in round 12 and you just might end up with a 16.5ppg-7rpg player who hits a few three's along the way
'Nilo isn't exactly a household name, but he can shoot the light out of the ball. Good thing he plays for the Knicks where shooting is about the only thing that matter.
Gallinari should be considered a perennial candidate to lead the NBA in three-pointers, especially while playing in New York. He averaged 15 ppg and just under 5 rpg last season and could even increase his scoring after solidifying his role in D'Antoni's offense.
The Knicks will be looking for somebody to step up to compliment Amare Stoudemire, and as the best shooter on the team, Gallinari could very well be that somebody. Expecting 20 ppg is a bit unrealistic, but 17-18 isn't out of the question.
An 18-5 player who hits 200 three-pointers is an absolute steal in round 8, which is where he's being drafted.
Smith is 'Melo's backup and a somewhat one-dimensional player. He shoots. A lot. Like every time he gets the ball.
When the shots fall he can drop 30 points any given night. When they don't, he goes back to the bench.
But here's the thing, that guy Carmelo Anthony? He might be traded, which means Smith might start. Which means no more going back to the bench. Which means 35 minutes per game. Which means 18+ ppg. Easilly. Which means his average draft position of 122nd overall is downright laughable.
He leaves the high-flying Golden State offense and heads to another pyrotechnic show in New York. The biggest difference is that D'Antoni doesn't play lineup roullette.
Randolph is big enough and athletic enough to play anywhere in the frontcourt, including center. He's shown flashes of brilliance in Golden State only to fall prey to Don Nelson's whims. Playing alongside Stoudemire and with consistent minutes, Randolph could explode.
He's already being taken in round nine on average so savvy owners are already on the bandwagon, but he could even outperform that draft spot.
How quickly people forget. Griffin was the top pick in last year's NBA draft and was a hot commodity in fantasy leagues. That it, until he broke his kneecap and was out for the season. Knee injuries tend to scare fantasy owners, but we're not talking about a torn ACL here. Just a simple broken bone.
Griffin will be a dominant force in the NBA for a long time. He is a beast and it will show immediately.
He's an obviously early-round choice in keeper leagues, but seasonal owners should take notice as well. Griffin is currently being taken after the likes of Chris Kaman, Andre Miller, Yao Ming, and just ahead of Trevor Ariza.
Grow a pair and take Griffin in round 5. You won't regret it.
Nobody really seems to be sure what Thomas' potential is anymore, but everyone seems to agree it's very good.
He can block shots with the best of 'em so it stands to reason he can dunk over pretty much anybody, but he doesn't. Not consistently anyway.
It would also stand to reason he could rebound with the best of 'em, but he doesn't do that consistently either.
He's shown flashes of brilliance, including back-to-back double-doubles in March, but he can't seem to find a groove. He gets a shot at a fresh start in his first full season with Charlotte, and given his 14th round average draft position, he deserves a shot on your fantasy roster as well.
Cousins, the 4th overall pick in this year's draft has all the makings of a superstar. He heads to Sacramento where he'll partner with Tyreke Evans in hopes of igniting a stagnant franchise.
Jason Thompson is slated to begin the year as their center, which leaves Cousins free to take on opposing forwards and avoid the big-time shot blockers.
He has all the skills to be an impact player on offense from day 1, and with the team desperate for any type of spark, he'll be given every chance to shine.
He's being taken in round 12, but could easily produce like a number three forward, maybe better.
In a sense, Hickson already broke out with Cleveland last season, but he did so as a reserve.
With Lebron out of town and Jamison playing like dog pooh, Hickson will be asked to take on a more active role in the offense. He scored 20+ points eight times last season, so he can do it, now he just has to do it consistently.
The Cavs are counting on him and you could do much worse than Hickson in rounds 10-12
Let me preface this by saying Oden is currently being taken, on average, in round 14, as the 31st center-eligible player off the board. I know he's one of the walking wounded, but if he makes it through a full season he'll be one of the best values anywhere in your draft.
I wouldn't count on him as my starting center, but I also wouldn't wait until 30 other centers were gone before taking him. The man was the top pick in the draft after all.
He's risky and could be out for the year at any moment, but once you've got all your starters why not take a chance on an elite talent at a thin position?
Round 14 would be a steal. If I had any faith that he could stay healthy I'd look his way as early as round 8. As it is, I'd be thinking about Oden starting in round 12.
He was the gem of the waiver wire late last season when he averaged over 22 points and 8 rebounds over his last 32 games. Gilbert Arenas and John Wall figure to take a lot of shots, but the Wizards don't have anyone besides Blatche they can count on in the post.
He may also spend time at power forward, allowing JaVale McGee to get some minutes, but dual-eligibility only increases his value. You can snag him in round 6 or 7 and there's a good chance he outproduces Bogut, Horford, Marc Gasol, and Kaman, all of whom are going before Blatche.
The former Georgetown Hoya averaged 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds last season. Not great numbers by any means, but they were a huge improvement over his rookie season. If he can make a similar leap in production this year, we're talking about a 16 ppg, 8 rpg center.
That's creeping into number one starter territory.
Hibbert's shown the ability to score in bunches, he had 29 points in the last game of the season, and should only develop more consistency as his career progresses. If his minutes rise from 25 per game last season into the mid 30's this season, he could be a real bargain.
He's currently going in the 9th round. If you land him there, you're in great shape. Even if you reach a bit and take him in the 7th or 8th he can still provide good value.
I hate Joakim Noah. His ponytail irritates me. His constant tough guy act and chest pounding irritates me. His out of control playing style irritates me.
His fantasy production does not. That's one thing I love about Noah.
He's never going to score much, but he rebounds like it's his job. Wait, it is his job, but still, he does it like he loves his job, and he probably does.
Marcus Camby has been an elite fantasy center (when healthy) for the better part of 15 years despite scoring more than 13 ppg only once, in his rookie season of 1996.
Noah won't block shots like the Camby-man but he's a beast on the glass and as the Bulls improve he might even see his scoring rise into the 12 ppg range.
He's going in round seven. Given the fact there's virtually zero risk attached to him, that's a great pick if you can get him there. If you're the type of owner who values a sure thing, he might be worth taking as early as round six.
This is one of those draft day heroes your fellow owners probably never even heard of. Unless they're Spurs fans.
Splitter was the Spurs first pick in 2007, but elected to play overseas while grooming his game. Now a 25 year old rookie, he's ready to make an immediate impact.
He gets to play next to his idol, Tim Duncan. That should tell you something about Splitter's game. Unlike many foreign big men, he's not considered soft by any means. He's a low post bruiser who scraps for rebounds and plays fundamental offense.
He's won countless Euroleague awards and should start at center, allowing Duncan to play power forward.
Splitter averaged 12.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg during the recent FIBA World Championships while averaging just 25 minutes per contest. He posted a double-double against Team USA.
Don't go overboard and draft him as your starter, but he's somebody to keep an eye on this preseason and grab late as a reserve center with upside.
I'm not saying not to draft these guys at all, I'm just looking at where they're being drafted and warning you not to be the owner who takes them at that spot.
Yao Ming, round 6: Okay, in his case, don't draft him at all. Period. End of story. He's on a time limit to try and avoid a career ending setback, that should tell you all you need to know. Let somebody else take him and when the cut him, you can pick him up. Don't waste a pick.
Antawn Jamison, round 5: He's been an absolute stud for several years now, offering high level scoring, rebounding, and three-pointers, but he's 34 years old and on a Cleveland team in disarray. When he arrived in Cleveland midseason his scoring took a nose-dive, falling from 20.5 with the Wizards to 15.8 with the Cavs. He's going in the early 5th round so far, but I wouldn't take him unless he fell in my lap in round 8.
Deron Williams: In my standard Head-to-Head format, Williams finished as the 18th overall player last season. Right now he's being drafted as the 5th overall player. Why? We know what he can do: score between 19 and 20 ppg with between 10 and 11 assists along with a three per game. That's a number one guard, but not a top 5 pick. Don't even think about him until the end of the 1st round.
(Rondo falls into the Williams category as well, great player, but not worth his draft spot. Rondo is currently 10th, meaning he's a first round pick right now. He MIGHT be a top-10 guard but he's not the player you want to start your team with. In category based leagues his free throws and 3-pointers will absolutely kill you. This is coming from a Celtics fan. Trust me)
Carl Landry, round 8: He had a great season last year, but now he finds himself in a battle for playing time with DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson. Don't pay for last year's numbers, because they're not happening again. On the flipside of that, I wouldn't go near Thompson either.
Elton Brand, round 10: He's washed up. The only reason the 76ers are even playing him is because he makes so much money. They're hoping and praying he can regain his form. Not gonna happen. I would rather wait and take his backup, Marreese Speights, 9 rounds later.