After the first few rounds of any Fantasy draft, just about everybody's team looks like a winner.
The middle rounds are what makes or breaks championship teams. That is why targeting the right breakout candidates is the difference between winning and losing.
You may have landed Deron Williams or Dwyane Wade in the first round, but somebody else has Chris Paul or Tyreke Evans, so you are still looking at a very level playing field. Finding the right players in the middle-to-late rounds is what shapes winners and losers in any Fantasy league, so it is important to target players with high upside and the possibility -- not just the ability -- to outperform their draft value.
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That means looking at players who are not only capable of putting up higher numbers than anticipated, but also players who will be put in position to contribute. It does not matter that Ty Lawson has all the upside of a future NBA star if he won't be getting much playing time behind Chauncey Billups. But a player like Luis Scola -- a solid player, but not exactly an All-Star caliber player -- was able to excel statistically a year ago thanks to the absence of Yao Ming creating more minutes and touches.
We took these factors into account when selecting our top breakout candidates by position for 2010-11:
Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Love has a couple of factors playing in his favor. He'll be asked to play a bigger role this season with Al Jefferson out of Minnesota and the Timberwolves figure to play a very high-volume style this season under Kurt Rambis. Love has already shown hints of big things ahead with a very strong preseason. Through six preseason contests, he averaged 17.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and that was with just 25.8 minutes per game. We expect an improvement over his already highly respectable numbers from a year ago.
Michael Beasley, Timberwolves: Two Timberwolves to start off our list. We are not sure if they are going to win a lot of games in Minnesota this year, but they sure are going to be involved in a lot of high scoring games. Out of Miami, Beasley will be playing with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he was well worth the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Timberwolves figure to make him a much more active part of their rotation than he had been in Miami the last two years and we expect him to finally take off in Minnesota.
J.J. Hickson, Cavaliers: Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott has praised Hickson since taking over in Cleveland. Despite the fact that Hickson plays power forward -- the same position as one of the team's only established players in Antawn Jamison -- Scott has declared that he will make it a point to give Hickson big minutes this year. In fact, Hickson could actually get the starting nod over Jamison to begin the season and is a player who could easily outperform his average draft position of 107th overall. He is an excellent rebounder, a good shot blocker and could become a mid-to-high teens scorer this season.
Danilo Gallinari, Knicks: The Knicks have made no secret of their intentions to feature Gallo prominently in their plans for the future. One of the best pure shooters in the NBA, he'll see an increase in shot volume in his third NBA season and we expect him to be among the league leaders in 3-point shooting. In fact, 20 points per game this season would not totally be out of the question.
Raymond Felton, Knicks: Mike D'Antoni knows how to get the most from his point guards. At one point, he even made Chris Duhon into a respectable Fantasy option. Think about what he can do with a player like Felton, whose numbers in Charlotte were disappointing thanks in part to a very pedestrian offensive philosophy. He'll be handed the keys to a much more potent offense in New York and he could easily surpass his career highs of 14.4 points and 7.4 assists per game this year as a result.
Darren Collison, Pacers: Collison will get his first chance to be a starter over the course of an entire season this year in Indiana. If his 37 starts last season in place of an injured Chris Paul were any indication, he could find himself among the highest-scoring guards in Fantasy by the end of the season. He averaged 18.8 points, 9.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds in those games, contributing a 3-pointer and over a steal per game while providing excellent shooting percentages.
Jrue Holiday, 76ers: Holiday is another player getting his first shot at a full-time starting gig, although he did get to start the final 51 games last year for Philadelphia and proved that he has a bright future ahead of him. He averaged 13.2 points, 5.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game last March and averaged 7.4 assists per game in the final seven games of the regular season last April. There is high upside here and he'll have the opportunity to continue to grow.
Terrence Williams, Nets: Williams averaged a 14-6-5 stat line over the final month-and-a-half of the regular season, and the Nets will have plenty of playing time available for him this season. The 23-year-old has only begun to tap into his potential at the NBA level and will be a featured scoring presence on a team without many proven options outside of Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. He may play off the bench to begin the year, but we expect him to average in the neighborhood of 30 minutes per game, up from the 22.6 he averaged last year.
Roy Hibbert, Pacers: There is very little doubt that Hibbert is in line for his best overall year in his third NBA season. The only question is how much his numbers will improve. If his preseason is any indication, Hibbert could find himself among the top-ranked centers in Fantasy by the end of the season. He averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game through his first five preseason games and has drawn rave reviews. The departure of Troy Murphy this offseason will open things up for Hibbert not only on the boards, but offensively as well.
JaVale McGee, C, Wizards: McGee is still a raw 7-footer at 22 years old, but he has seen his Fantasy appeal soar over the summer and during the preseason. Some of that has to do with a nice rapport he built up with incoming rookie phenom John Wall. He's been on the end of a lot of alley-oops and easy finishes from Wall during summer league and preseason action and has climbed up the depth chart to the point where he could be the team's primary center going into the season. In just 20.3 minutes per game during the preseason, he's averaged 9.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in six games. Add to that 2.5 blocks and a steal per game and we're talking about a strong Fantasy option should he average just 30 minutes per game this season.
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