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2012-13 Draft Prep: Who will bounce back?

Fantasy Writer
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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.

Guards

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.

Forwards

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.

Centers

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.

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Player News
Omer Asik ready to clean up in return to starting role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Last season was a rough one for Omer Asik, who had to deal with returning to a reserve role after really shining as a starter the previous year. He should be much happier with his role this season, as the Pelicans acquired him this offseason with the intention of installing him as the starting center.

The Pelicans should have a fearsome frontcourt with Asik starting next to Anthony Davis, and Davis' presence should free Asik up to do the kind of work he excels at. Asik isn't a great offensive player, but he can be a dominant offensive rebounder, and should have many chances to clean up the boards with teams keying in on Davis offensively. Among players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the NBA, Asik is 22nd all-time in offensive rebounding percentage.

Asik had trouble staying healthy last season, but that was the first time he had ever missed a regular-season game in his career, so we can probably write that off as a fluke. He averaged a double-double with 1.1 blocks per game in 30.0 minutes per game two years ago, and should be capable of similar production as he returns to a starting role.

Asik should be viewed as a starting Fantasy option this season, though he may not have the upside of some other younger centers at this point. 


Tobias Harris' Fantasy value a mystery at this point
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Perception is a funny thing. Just ask Magic forward Tobias Harris, who enjoyed by far the most productive season of his career in 2013-14 but was somehow viewed as a Fantasy disappointment.

Part of that stemmed from Harris' issues with availability, as he missed 20 games and got off to a slow start to the season as a result. It really took until January for Harris to find his stride, but he averaged 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game from Jan. 1 on, without missing a contest.

Harris was probably better than the general perception of him a year ago, but the power of expectations hurt him. And now he enters his fourth season as something of a career crossroads, and it is hard to say just how Fantasy owners should approach him this season.

The Magic added Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon to the roster this season, further confusing what was already one of the most crowded frontcourts in the league. Harris can play both forward spots, but he is probably best used as a small-ball power forward; the presence of Frye, one of the league's elite stretch-fours certainly complicates matters for Harris, then.

At just 22, Harris still has a world of potential ahead of him. However, he probably profiles best as a reserve Fantasy option heading into the season, given concerns about his role.   


Hype may be too high for Giannis Antetokounmpo
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) No matter what he accomplishes in his second NBA season, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to be a historical outlier, given his age. The question is, how much of a leap can the now-20-year-old take next season.

Only 15 players in NBA history have logged as many minutes in a single season as a teenager as Antetokounmpo's 1,897, so he is occupying fairly rarified air already. His age is a big part of why he is considered a big-time breakout prospect for Fantasy purposes, but he has a long way to go from a statistical standpoint.

Antetokounmpo was good for a 19-year-old rookie, but his season averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game left a lot to be desired. It is easy to dream about a Antetokounmpo taking a big step forward, but that next step is never guaranteed -- for every Anthony Davis there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist whose development follows a slower, less linear path. 

Antetokounmpo was very good -- for a 19-year-old. However, Fantasy owners don't get extra points, rebounds or assists if the degree of difficulty is higher, so you are betting on Giannis taking a huge step forward at the age of 20. Antetokounmpo has become something of an internet darling, and his play in Summer League and the FIBA World Cup dominated much of the offseason discussion, which only helped build the hype to potentially unsustainable levels. 

He is a lottery ticket, for sure, but he is one that might not be worth the cost at this point. 


Improved jump shot all Jimmy Butler needs
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Bulls guard Jimmy Butler had the breakout season many expected from him a year ago, but there were still plenty of flaws apparent in his game as he finished his third NBA season. With a better team around him, Butler just might have enough help to vault him to stardom.

Butler's jump shot abandoned him last season, especially after a toe injury forced him to miss 11 games in November and December. He was shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range prior to the injury, but connected on just 39.3 percent of his shots overall and 27.1 percent from three-point range from that point on.

We can blame Butler's season-long shooting slump on the injury or his increased offensive role, but he should have neither excuse available for him this season. Butler should be healthy, and the Bulls added plenty of offensive firepower this offseason, in the form of Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott, not to mention a hopefully healthy Derrick Rose. Butler took 154 shots off the dribble last season, per Stats.NBA.com, and made just 30.7 percent of them. With a better team around him, Butler should get many more opportunities to shoot with his feet set.

Butler has the skill set to be a tremendously efficient offensive player, given how often he bullies his way to the free-throw line. Last season, Butler filled up the box score extremely well, but his poor shooting limited his Fantasy value somewhat. If a new role helps his efficiency, he could be one of the very best guards in the league in category-based formats. 


Lance Stephenson set for bigger role in new setting
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Though there were fits and starts, Lance Stephenson finally began to live up to his considerable promise last season. Now in a new home in Charlotte, will Stephenson take another step forward in 2014-15?

By the end of last season, the Pacers were a mess, and Stephenson caught plenty of the blame for that. Still, he might have been arguably the team's most consistent player throughout the season, averaging between 25.8 and 29.7 Fantasy points per game from before and after the All-Star break as well as the playoffs. For as much of a mess as that team was, Stephenson emerged as something of a rock, at least for Fantasy purposes.

The Hornets are actually built in a somewhat similar way to the Pacers, so there wont' be much of a stylistic shift for Stephenson to get used to. Per MySynergySports.com, 11.8 percent of the then-Bobcats' possessions ended in post-ups, actually down from the 13.2 percent mark the Pacers' posted. Stephenson struggled at times with his post-entry passing, though his off-target feeds might find their mark more often when being lobbed in to the soft hands of Al Jefferson, as opposed to Roy Hibbert.

The Hornets might lean even more heavily on Stephenson than the Pacers did, since Indiana liked to spread the ball around with their starting five. The Hornets, on the other hand, look to be extremely top-heavy, and Stephenson will get plenty of chances to be the second or third option. We have him projected for 29.1 Fantasy points per game, and consider Stephenson a borderline top-50 Fantasy option for this season.  


Move to Houston won't alter Trevor Ariza's trajectory
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Trevor Ariza parlayed a career-year into a lucrative free-agency contract with the Rockets this offseason -- stop me if you've heard this story before.

Ariza was largely a disappointment in his first stint with the Rockets, though it did lead him to the best per-game numbers of his career. Still, Ariza was obviously miscast as a primary offensive option the last time he was in Houston, and that won't be a problem this time around.

Ariza joins a Rockets team with two established stars, and will likely spend much of his time trying to fill the departed Chandler Parsons' role. That should suit him nicely, as Ariza has just enough of an off-the-bounce game to serve as the team's third ballhandler when the shot clock gets deep. Ariza attempted 11.1 field-goal attempts per game last season, and should see a boost given Parsons' role; he attempted 13.3 shots per game.

Ariza's improved three-point shot seems legitimate, as he is shooting 38.6 percent from long range over 738 attempts since 2012. However, he will no longer have John Wall feeding him for juicy corner 3-pointers; Wall to Ariza was the league's most productive corner-three combination last season. His shooting numbers may take a hit with his move.

Even acknowledging the loss of Wall's help, we know the Houston offense is set up to get every player the most efficient shots possible, so Ariza shouldn't see much of a dip in his efficiency. His ability to fill up the box score makes him a perfect No. 2 option at forward in category-based leagues, especially now that he is a high-volume shooter. 


Despite new role, don't write off Isaiah Thomas entirely
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Suns guard Isaiah Thomas might see one of the biggest dropoffs in his Fantasy value from last season to this, as he joins the crowded Suns' backcourt.

The Suns might have three All-Star caliber guards in the backcourt now, with Thomas likely to backup Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe this season. That should put a serious dent in Thomas' value; Thomas finished 13th in Fantasy scoring among guards a year ago, but is projected to finish just 43rd this season.

Still, Thomas is definitely someone you'll want to add to your team when drafting, and almost certainly before the rest of the No. 4-type guards he is grouped with. Thomas is likely to see his numbers fall off from the 20.3 points and 6.3 assists he averaged a year ago, at least at first. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up starting upwards of 25 games throughout the year, given Bledsoe's injury-proneness. Bledsoe has missed at least 25 games in two of the last three seasons for knee issues.

Thomas probably profiles as more of a bench option for Fantasy purposes next season, but you'll be targeting him much earlier than nearly any other reserve. His upside as a handcuff option for either Bledsoe or Dragic is sky-high, and will make him well worth your attention on Draft Day. 


Eric Gordon cleared for contact
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Eric Gordon has been cleared to take part in full-contact offseason drills ahead of training camp, The Times-Picayune reports.

Gordon underwent season-ending knee surgery last April, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. 


Jrue Holiday cleared for contact ahead of camp
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was able to participate in full-contact offseason drills last week, the first time he has done so since undergoing season-ending surgery last January.

"Getting out playing has been a joy," Holiday told The Times-Picayune. "I've been running and jumping and stuff, but getting my rhythm back on the court is definitely a big thing right now for me."

The Pelicans open training camp Sept. 30, and Holiday is not expected to have any limitations as the team prepares for the start of the season. Holiday averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season prior to the injury.


Kent Bazemore focused on conditioning in recovery
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Newly signed Hawks guard Kent Bazemore did not pick up a basketball until August, preferring to focus on conditioning in his recovery from foot surgery in April.

"I think the injury was definitely a blessing," he told the Daily Press, "because I was able to step away from the game of basketball. I took myself out of my element all summer. I did stuff I'm not used to doing."

Bazemore signed a two-year deal with the Hawks this offseason, and is expected to compete for playing time on the wing immediately, as he is fully recovered from the surgery. 


 
 
 
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