October means one thing: Basketball returns. I mean, sure, it means other things to well-adjusted humans. Some folks like Halloween or fall foliage or may even prefer the winter sport played on an actual winter surface.
As for basketball fans? Nah. That stuff can all be ignored. It could be 97 degrees outside and raining. As long as there is NBA basketball on the television, the world around us is merely surrounding noise. Once Halloween hits and the regular season kicks into high gear, there's really no excuse to leave the house. (I'm only being partially facetious here; being cold is a real drag.)
And if the games themselves aren't enough, there's always the looming specter of fantasy basketball. Whether daily or season-long, fantasy sports is ingrained in our culture at this point. There is no use in trying to outrun it. We're going to be seeing DFS commercials in our sleep for years to come, so we might as well all bite the bullet and prepare ourselves for our upcoming dive into fantasy the best we can.
With that in mind, here's a look at a few breakout candidates and positional rankings for the 2015-16 season.
(Note: Player rankings are based on ESPN position eligibility rules. Players eligible for multiple positions are ranked at all available.)
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics
If he's used similarly to how he was after his arrival in Boston, Thomas could be one of the most underrated fantasy point guards. The offensive spark plug averaged 19.0 points and 5.4 assists per game with the Celtics, knocking down more than two threes per game despite playing just 26 minutes a night.
It was a return to form after a lost half-season in Phoenix, as Thomas was buried as the third guard in a three-headed monster and never looked comfortable. Boston Thomas looked a whole lot like Sacramento Thomas, who was among the better values in fantasy during the 2013-14 season.
“I still feel underrated, no doubt about it,” Thomas said recently, via Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders. “I’ve always felt that way, but I’m going to earn my respect no matter what. I work extremely hard and I don’t want to be given anything. I want to earn it and get that respect from people.”
While he won't be selected ahead of either, Thomas will wind up ranked ahead of Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving when the season's over. (Mostly due to injuries, but still.)
Victor Oladipo, SG, Orlando Magic
Oladipo appears here because all NBA writers are contractually obligated to mention him in any "breakout" lists. Also, Oladipo's probably going to break out into stardom this season. The third-year guard was one of 16 players to average at least 15 points, four rebounds and four assists per game in 2014-15 and by far the youngest player on the list.
That ability to fill up the stat sheet should only continue, and Oladipo's shown slight improvements in his areas of weakness. He upped his three-point percentage to 33.9 last season, putting him within inches of respectability. Another slight uptick would go a long way toward pushing Oladipo into 20-point territory and making him a better all-around fantasy option.
Another subtle area where Oladipo helps is steals, as he averaged 1.7 per game last season. He shouldn't have a problem being a top-10 shooting guard.
Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Things Andrew Wiggins did well from a fantasy perspective as a rookie: scoring.
Things Andrew Wiggins did not do well from a fantasy perspective as a rookie: basically everything else.
Wiggins' rebounding and assist numbers were average at best. His shooting percentages were straight-up below average, especially his three-point rate (31 percent). While he added occasional steals and blocks, Wiggins really didn't fill the stat sheet; he was something of a poor man's DeMar DeRozan in fantasy leagues.
Luckily, we're not getting rookie Andrew Wiggins. We're getting the second-year version, who has been taking international play by storm all summer and appears ready to begin realizing his promise as a foundational player in Minnesota.
It'd be a major surprise if Wiggins finished 2015-16 averaging fewer than 20 points per game, and assuming even a standard progression in the other stats, his fantasy value will begin mirroring his real-life ascent.
Expect the first two paragraphs to look quite a bit different a year from now.
Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors
A year ago, Draymond Green and the Warriors failed to reach a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline. It wound up backfiring on Golden State, as Green likely doubled his yearly salary after emerging as the heart of a Warriors defense that helped carry the team to a championship.
Barnes may wind up being this year's Green. Once touted as a superstar in the making, Barnes has settled well into a secondary role on both ends for the Warriors. He's developed a consistent three-point shot from the corner, shows a willingness to bang around as a power forward and has shown improvement creating his own shot off the dribble.
Guys playing for contracts are interesting sorts because it could really go one of two ways. Barnes could, like Green, use the lack of an extension as a launching pad and turn himself into a max guy. Or he could flounder, wind up in Steve Kerr's doghouse and lose his starting job to Andre Iguodala. We already saw with Barnes' 2013-14 campaign that he has the potential to nosedive if a situation does not fit his liking.
I'm banking as much on Kerr keeping Barnes' head level as I am Barnes in this case. As a potential late-round sleeper, though, Barnes has upside.
- Bed, Bath and Biyombo
- Hinrich Maneuver
- Kyrie on My Wayward Son
- Home Oladipo
- Ibaka Flocka Flame
- Noel Diggity
- Better Call Gasol
- Burks and Recreation
- Harden the Interruption
(OK, some of those are fine. Perhaps even borderline good. But we all know the best team names are the ones not fit to print on a family-friendly website.)