Every season, Fantasy owners have to deal with the disappointment of players not living up to expectations. Whether because of injury, a spat with the coaching staff or just a random regression in shooting ability, every Fantasy owner has to learn to navigate these waters. And, just as importantly, learn which players are possibly undervalued for their performance a year ago.
Last year's weird, truncated season caused a lot of small injuries to linger and cost more games than they otherwise might have. Some players saw how many games were cramped into the schedule and tried to return before they were ready, which further exacerbated their issue. Some players just struggled in new situations, with new teammates and new coaches that did not suit their playing style. Others just could not seem to get it going at any point in the season, no matter what happened.
Whatever the reason, I have identified a group of players who are likely to bounce back around this season. These guys may not all be starting Fantasy options from day one, but they're all solid bets to improve on disappointing showings last year.
Raymond Felton, Knicks
Projected Stats: 77 games, 12.1 points, 7.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds
We can trace Felton's downfall to the trade back in 2011 that sent him from New York to Denver. He found himself in Portland last season, stuck in Nate McMillan's slow-paced offense. That pairing proved to be a poor fit, and now he returns to New York. Returning to New York reunites him with Amar'e Stoudemire, whom Felton flourished playing with before the trade. The Stoudemire-Felton pick-and-roll nearly made both of them All-Stars during their 50-plus games together, with Felton averaging 17.1 points and 9.0 assists per game prior to the trade.
The question now is whether Felton's success was a result of Mike D'Antoni's point-guard friendly lineup, or if there really was something to that connection between Felton and Stoudemire. The jury remains out, but it is fair to say Felton is surrounded by much more offensive talent in New York than on a lottery-bound Portland squad. Don't expect a resurgence to his D'Antoni-fueled levels, but Felton should prove himself very useful in New York.
Kevin Martin, Rockets
Projected Stats: 69 games, 18.3 points, 2.1 assists, 6.2 FTA
Kevin Martin's shooting numbers took a hit across the board last season, but he was still mostly a productive scorer. There was one big difference in his performance, though, and it account for much of his dropoff in production; Martin's free-throw rate nearly halved. Martin went to the line 8.4 times per game in 2010-11, and nailed 88.8 percent of his attempts. In 2011-12, he got to the line just 4.5 times per game in his 40 contests before a shoulder injury ended his season.
From 2007 through 2011, Martin averaged one free throw attempt for every 1.77 shots from the field. That dropped to three field-goal attempts for every free throw. That drop is largely responsible for the fall from 23.5 points per game to 17.1. The shoulder issues Martin dealt with at times could have led him to being hesitant about driving into contact. We like to think this was just a one-year anomaly, and Martin should return to the efficient form this season while awaiting an inevitable trade out of Houston's perpetual rebuild.
Tyreke Evans, Kings
Projected Stats: 72 games, 17.2 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds
What happened to that dominant rookie season form? Evans' production slipped across the board in 2011-12 yet again, as the Kings limited his minutes a bit and experimented with lineups that had him playing on the wing instead of with the ball in his hands. The result was a drop in scoring to 16.5 points per game, with just 4.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists as well. He still filled up the stat sheet, but he underperformed his draft position for the second season in a row.
The Kings have a crowded backcourt situation right now, and trade rumors are likely to fly around Evans as he enters the final season of his rookie contract. He might wilt under those distractions, but it would not surprise to see him get back some of his edge with his back against the wall either. The Kings always seem on the cusp of turning things around, and the quickest way for them to do that would be for the 23-year-old to return to the level that made him such a promising prospect in the past.
Aaron Brooks, Kings
Projected Stats: 75 games, 8.5 points, 3.8 assists, 1.1 rebounds
Brooks' projected numbers are pretty ugly, but they're still a whole lot better than what he put up in 2011-12. That's because the then free-agent opted to sign a contract in the Chinese Basketball Association that kept him out of the NBA for the entire season. That decision came off a trio of seasons in which he reached double figures in scoring, including a 19.6 point, 5.3 assist average in 2009-10 that had him pegged as an up-and-coming star.
Brooks has a lot to prove in that same crowded backcourt as Evans. The Kings have Isaiah Thomas entrenched as a starter at point guard, after he emerged as one of the most productive young point guards in the game late last season. If Thomas falters, however, Brooks might be first in line to run the offense. Sacramento is disjointed and inefficient on offense, but they play at a very fast pace and provide plenty of opportunities to produce. Brooks will be hungry to prove he still belongs in the NBA, and could make an impact if the opportunity presents itself.
Michael Beasley, Suns
Projected Stats: 75 games, 17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds
A bad reputation is a hard thing to shake, especially when you spend four years giving your detractors every reason for it to live on. Beasley is well known as a chucker of the highest order, a guy who looks for his shot first, second and third. Despite his considerable gifts as an athlete, Beasley loafs on defense and doesn't hit the boards hard. He quickly fell out of favor in Minnesota last season, and they did not even bother to give him a qualifying offer this offseason.
Beasley's style of play is not conducive to winning basketball at this point in his career, but there is value on a team that badly needs offense. This is why he finds himself in Phoenix, in their first post-Steve Nash season. All indications this offseason point to the Suns planning on using Beasley as the centerpiece of their offense. “They're telling me to shoot, shoot, shoot,” Beasley told reporters during training camp, and he should be more than happy to oblige. Beasley might approach 20 points per game in his first year in Phoenix, and should return to being a useful option once again.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks
Projected Stats: 70 games, 19.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
Stoudemire never did get comfortable playing next to Carmelo Anthonylast year, and it showed in his stats. Stoudemire shot below 50 percent from the field for the first time since his second year in the league, and his 17.5 points per game were his lowest since he was a rookie. With a full offseason and training camp to work out the kinks in the offense, Stoudemire and Anthony will hopefully be able to find a happy medium between their shot attempts.
The days of Stoudemire putting up 20-plus points per night are likely gone as he enters his 30's, but we like Amar'e to improve on his poor performance. Especially with the aforementioned return of Felton to the Knicks lineup providing him with the pick-and-roll partner that he only had for a few weeks during the Knicks' Jeremy Lin-fueled run last season. In 21 games with Lin as the team's starting point guard last season, Stoudemire upped his field-goal percentage to 51.5, though his scoring was still somewhat lackluster as he was dealing with nagging injuries. The biggest hurdle might be his health, but a more normal schedule should help alleviate some of those issues.
Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets
Projected Stats: 66 games, 16.4 points, 2.7 assists, 1.8 3-pointers made
Gallinari's shot abandoned him last season, as he made a career-low 32.8 percent of his attempts from three-point range. Much of that was likely to do with injuries, as he dealt with an ankle issue as well as a fractured thumb later in the season. Gallinari also went to the free-throw line just 4.9 times per game, after showing a knack for getting there the season before. A healthy ankle and hand will make Gallinari more comfortable driving into contact, which should lead to more trips to the line. That means that Gallinari should be able to produce more points more efficiently, even if his overall role in the offense stays roughly the same.
The Nuggets should be one of the fastest teams in the league yet again this season, so opportunities will be there for him to produce. Gallinari seems to be expected to breakout every season, but we like him to set a new career high in scoring this season. It won't take an increased role, or a new skill-set; staying healthy and regressing to his career means as a shooter should be more than enough for the former No. 6 overall pick to live up to his potential.
Zach Randolph, Grizzlies
Projected Stats: 60 games, 17.7 points, 9.8 rebounds
Randolph injured his knee in the fourth game of the season and never was quite right from then on. He missed two months of games and was moved to a bench role upon his return. The result was his lowest scoring and rebounding rates since he became a full-time player back in 2003-04. Randolph shot just 46.3 percent from the field and never seemed comfortable attacking the rim for rebounds and high-efficiency looks.
Randolph is fully recovered this season, and should be back at full-strength. He has had other knee woes in the past, so that black cloud is going to hang over him, unfortunately. When Randolph is healthy, he is a nightly double-double threat, and has developed a wonderful rapport with fellow Grizzlies' big man Marc Gasol in the high/low post game. There is no questioning Randolph's effectiveness when healthy, and he should return to being one of the league's elite post players.
Andrea Bargnani, Raptors
Projected Stats: 63 games, 20.1 points, 6.0 rebounds
Bargnani really seemed to be making a jump before a calf injury sidelined him in January. In his first 13 games of the season, the 26-year-old was averaging 23.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on a surprisingly competitive Raptors team. Those would have represented career highs for him, along with a 2.1 assists per game mark. In his next 18 games, his scoring shrunk to 16.5 per game and he returned to being a non-entity on the boards.
Bargnani bought into new coach Dwayne Casey's system and was playing at the highest level he ever has before being sidetracked. If he had stayed healthy, last year would have been his finest season to date. Injuries have dogged him two years in a row now, so the key for the former top pick will be staying on the court and at full strength. He has a new partner in the frontcourt in talented rookie Jonas Valanciunas, and that should open up some space for Bargnani on the perimeter, where he is most comfortable. He is healthy heading into the season, and could be one of the better center options in the league if he can just stay on the floor.
Al Horford, Hawks
Projected Stats: 75 games, 14.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists
Horford's torn pectoral muscle last year cost him most of the regular season and deprived the league of one of its most unique talents. Horford has developed into a reliable scorer and one of the best mid-range shooting big men in the league. He is also one of the best passers of any center, and a rock-steady defender and rebounder to boot. Horford brings a ton to the table and takes very little off of it, which also makes him a terrific Fantasy option as he fills up the stat sheet.
He was able to return after four months off in the postseason, and he put up 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in three games against a tremendous Boston defense. That was a reminder of what he is capable of, and what we should expect this season. The Hawks shipped Joe Johnson out of town, meaning they will likely build their offense around the frontcourt of Horford and Josh Smith. Horford had a good track record of staying healthy before last season, so there is little reason to think he will deal with any recurring issues. One of the league's best centers should be back to full strength this season.