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2013 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Bench options and strategies

by | Fantasy Writer
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If a list exists of over-analyzed sports terms, the label "starter" might very well be on it. It's often used to describe the kind of guy who's the best on his team at a certain position, but technically it only refers to a guy who's in on the very first play.

Just because a guy isn't a starter, doesn't mean he doesn't produce in the middle or at the end of games. Some players, like Manu Giniboli, Jamaal Crawford and Lamar Odom have had some of their best years coming off the bench. So don't leave a guy off your draft board just because he's not typically on the court at tipoff.

In most Fantasy leagues, it's impossible to fill out your team with 15 starters. So here are some sparks off the bench you might consider as well as some starters you can probably ignore on Draft Day.

Bench players worth drafting

Jarret Jack, Cavaliers: Klay Thompson, Jose Calderon, Joe Johnson -- these are starting guards who played 70-plus games and still finished behind Jarrett Jack in Fantasy points last season. Jack has since changed teams, relocating from Golden State to Cleveland in the offseason, but his role as dependable bench dude should remain. The Cavs will likely look for Jack to do for Kyrie Irving what he did for Steph Curry: allow an extremely talented scorer to be himself rather than fit the classic point guard mold. Irving's questionable durability will also come into play, as Cleveland's young star has yet to play more than 60 games in his first two years. Look for Jack in the later rounds of your draft to benefit from veteran production on a young Cavs team.

Andray Blatche, Nets: If the Nets are serious about their title aspirations, then there is going to be a lot of minutes to go around in a long NBA regular season. Averaging a measly 18.9 minutes per game last season, Andray Blatche was still able to outscore DeAndre Jordan and Kosta Koufos in total Fantasy points last season. He played all 82 games and put up a stellar 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes last year. He's Brook Lopez's primary backup, and will likely see some minutes filling in for Kevin Garnet as well when Reggie Evans' offensive ineptness isn't cutting it. His game defies convention for a 6-foot-11 player, often opting for crossovers and step-back jumpers instead of post-ups and hook shots, but Blatche is as effective as he is unorthodox and worthy of a late round selection.

Harrison Barnes, Warriors: A breakout performance in last years' playoffs would have been enough to earn Harrison Barnes a starting job – that is if his team hadn't signed Andre Iguodala in the offseason. During Golden State's improbable playoff run, Barnes averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds and showed that he's comfortable operating in the paint – something you don't often see from a 20-year-old rookie. His knack for scoring down low and snatching rebounds allows the Warriors to toy with smaller lineups that could include both Iguodala and Barnes on the floor at the same time. His regular season stats were nothing to write home about, but if Barnes can build on the confidence he gained while thriving in his team's most important 12 games, he'll be well worth a late round pick for his upside.

Isaiah Thomas/Greivis Vasquez, Kings: The battle for starting point guard in Sacramento could go either way. On one hand you have the 5-foot-9 incumbent Isaiah Thomas, who started 62 games for the Kings last season and is of the Nick Van Exel, shoot-first variety of point guard. On the other hand, you have the 6-foot-6 trade acquisition Greivis Vasquez, who did a successful Jason Kidd impression for New Orleans last year, finishing first in the league in total assists while still averaging 13.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Whether the Kings opt for Thomas' instant offense or Vasquez's court vision in the starting lineup, you should think of both as good options for Draft Day.

Either one is capable of providing solid production, albeit in entirely different ways. Right now, it would seem Thomas has the upper hand, being the healthier and more productive of the two during preseason. Still, it seems obvious that the Kings would choose to start Vazquez because he makes his teammates better, with Thomas coming in for instant offense off the bench. There's also a slim chance that both end up starting, with Vasquez being tall enough to cover shooting guards and Thomas' 18.7 points per 36 minutes being too much to pass up. But no matter who ends up starting, either one would be a nice contributor to your Fantasy team.

Starters you can probably ignore

Kendrick Perkins, Thunder: If you could somehow quantify toughness and scowling into Fantasy stats, Perkins' value would be off the charts. Unfortunately, you have to rely on your players getting points, rebounds, assists and other countable basketball things to win in Fantasy. That's why Perkins doesn't quite make the cut. He played 78 games last season and still finished behind Boris Diaw and Jason Maxiell in total Fantasy points. His role on the team also seems to be in doubt, with the Thunder experimenting with smaller lineups last season and drafting center Steven Adams as an eventual replacement down the road. Perkins' experience and defensive leadership should still earn him a starting spot, but you'd be smart to leave him off your Fantasy radar.

Udonis Haslem, Heat: Here's another example of a guy who's basically on the court to be an enforcer and to scrap for rebounds. The Heat struggle mightily with grabbing basketballs after missed shots, so they really have no choice but to start a guy who's good at only that. Plus, Haslem just seems to play better when he gets to start the game, so the Heat will likely stick with the starting lineup that's produced back-to-back championships. For a rebounding specialist, Haslem's statistics aren't very impressive, averaging just 5.4 boards while playing 18.9 minutes per game last year. He's a player willing to dive after loose balls and get his hands dirty every now and then, but for Fantasy purposes he's a pretty consistent non-factor.

Tayshaun Prince, Grizzlies: There's a reason small forward is the shallowest position in Fantasy Basketball this year. That's because teams like to put defensive minded guys who do the little things that coaches want at that position. Tayshaun Prince played that role well for the Grizzlies, as they were able to contain Kevin Durant in the second round of the playoffs. But he averaged only 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game playing for Memphis, making him a no-go for Fantasy this year. At least Tony Allen has some stats to show for his defensive reputation. Prince has never averaged more than one steal nor one block per game for any of his 11 seasons. Even if he starts again this year over Quincy Pondexter, go ahead and ignore Prince on draft day.

Gerald Wallace, Celtics: Here's another small forward who might earn a starting role for non-stat things. Wallace's skill set basically boils down to being good at jumping. Sometimes that talent turns into rebounds, blocks and steals, but it doesn't happen often enough to make him Fantasy relevant. Wallace had one of the worst seasons of his career last year in Brooklyn, averaging just 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting below 40 percent per game (though playing alongside Joe Johnson couldn't have helped). He's a good candidate to start in Boston simply because he's been playing a lot longer than most the guys on the team. There's a glimmer of hope that Wallace bounces back this year, as he has been fairly productive on bad teams in the past, but given the fact that his game relies on athleticism and he's turning 32 this year, it's probably safe to let Wallace go undrafted this year.

Richard Jefferson, Jazz: Let's toss in one more not-so-exciting small forward. Richard Jefferson will provide veteran leadership to Utah's rebooted starting lineup, but since you don't get Fantasy points for that either, Jefferson's just another starter who doesn't deserve Fantasy attention. He'll definitely be up from the 3.1 points and 1.5 rebounds he averaged last year for the Warriors, but don't expect him to get back to his Nets days either. Jefferson hasn't averaged more than 10 points per game since 2010, so don't give him a spot on your roster simply because he's back in a starting lineup.

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Player News
Andray Blatche heading to China
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/20/2014) Free-agent center Andray Blatche has signed a one-year deal with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers in China. Blatche's deal with pay him almost $2.5 million, and he'll be able to rejoin an NBA team in March, Yahoo! Sports reports.

Report: Kings add Ramon Sessions
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/20/2014) The Kings have agreed to a two-year, $4.2-million deal with free-agent guard Ramon Sessions , Yahoo! Sports reports.

The team is reportedly using its bi-annual exception provision to sign Sessions, who averaged 12.3 points, 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 83 games between two teams last season.


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. 


 
 
 
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