Fantasy Lab: Top 25 young keepers
One year ago the Fantasy Lab debuted its top 25 fantasy basketball keepers of players 22 years old and younger. The column was a smashing success (I got more e-mails than ever before) despite a numbering error that actually brought the list to 26 players (surprisingly, no e-mails about this). The people wanted more keeper advice. So the Lab is back with grades on last year's list and a new top 25 in what promises to be an annual tradition.
But why focus on player 22-years old? It's explained best in the intro in
Using real players to illustrate the point, Memphis Grizzlies rookie
Before getting to this year's list, let's grade last year's rankings and see how well the Lab prognosticated. Keep in mind it can be difficult to judge rookies just two months into the season, but you gotta do what you gotta do to create this list. The four players listed in italics were eligible for this year's list based on their age, but did not make it.
A: Durant, Rose, Beasley, Westbrook, Chandler, Green
When you put out a list like this, it's important to nail the No. 1 ranking, and Durant is delivering with flying colors. But that should have been a no-brainer for everyone reading the column. Rose still looks like he's on the path to superstardom. It took courage to rank Beasley, the NBA's youngest player last year, at 8, but he's proving to be right around there with the potential for more in the future. The Westbrook pick was aggressive for what he had done at the time, but it looks dead on, while Chandler and Green are ranked exactly as they should be.
B: Biedrins, Stuckey, Bynum, Mayo, Rondo, Lopez, Gay, Horford, T. Thomas, Oden, Love, Chalmers
Biedrins and Stuckey were solid picks with nice futures, but they look a little too high now. Bynum could have been an A, but the reality of his situation with
C: Young, Hawes, Gordon, Williams, Oden
The Lab is still excited for Young and Hawes to deliver on their potential, but they haven't yet met this year's lofty expectations. It took a while for the Lab to warm up to Gordon (by late last year, there was an occupied seat on his bandwagon), so he should have been much higher. Williams should have been ahead of the two players ranked directly in front of him.
Last year at this time, Oden was making a successful comeback from microfracture knee surgery and looked like he could become an interior force, but then the former No. 1 overall pick got hurt again. Many others would have had him much higher, and they would have been justified with how he played out of the gate, but two years of injuries factored into the rankings. Then he fractured his left patella so an even lower ranking would have made more sense.
D: Augustin, Conley, Blatche
All three players showed promise late last year and excelled when starting in place of an injured player, but for various reasons, it hasn't worked out for them this year. Blatche is still too immature, and the Wizards imported a lot of talent this offseason. Maybe it will be exported again soon. Augustin had the confidence verbally beaten out of him by
I overrated him the way
Before moving on to this year's list, it's worth noting the omission of
Also, 10 players "graduated" from last year's list since they aged from 22 to 23 years old. We lost the likes of
Still only 21-years old, Durant is a bona fide NBA and fantasy superstar. Hopefully you listened last year when the Lab ranked Durant No. 1 and ordered you to "break the bank to land him in a trade." If not, the same advice applies right now. Durant has shown marked improvement in each season and is now fourth in the NBA in scoring at a gaudy 28.9 ppg (47.8 FG%), including knocking back the second-highest total free throws at a category-dominating 86.4 percent clip. Even with his 6-foot-10 frame, he's drilling 1.4 3PM, too. But scoring isn't all Durant can do. He's also averaging 6.9 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg and 0.9 bpg, making him an elite fantasy talent who will dominate for the next decade, easy.
Lopez has followed up an outstanding rookie year with an even better sophomore campaign, as he's become the offensive focal point of the Nets with
If the Rookie of the Year voting were to occur right now, Evans would be your winner, hands down. That's an impressive feat considering
Despite being slowed by a severe ankle sprain to start the year,
Nary a single NBA game under his belt with a stress fracture in his left knee after a shoulder injury this summer, it shouldn't be possible that Griffin is ranked this high on the list and yet here he stands, checking in at No. 6. The No. 1 overall pick in the draft this year after obliterating the NCAA the year before as a sophomore, Griffin's combination of strength, speed and basketball IQ are dangerously potent. He has freakish athleticism (37-inch vertical, 22 bench-press reps at 185 pounds), an unparalleled work ethic and a non-stop motor on the court that will make the NBA game easy for him once he gets accustomed to it. The show will be delayed until next season, but with Marcus Camby likely to be dealt this season, the Clippers' front court is reserved for Griffin, which obviously bodes well for Griffin's value.
The Lab loves Love. He's a ferocious rebounder who has the potential to lead the league in boards. In fact, he lead the league in rebound percentage last year, so it makes sense that his 9.1 rpg last year stood to grow with the increased minutes he's earned this year. Now Love is corralling 12.3 caroms per night in just 31.8 mpg. And he's managing to do this while playing alongside
Westbrook is like a lump of clay waiting to be sculpted into a top-flight, two-way point guard, except that instead of being a ball of clay, he's a 6-3 concoction of fast-twitch muscle fibers and jet fuel. Westbrook's desire is his strongest trait, and right now, he desperately wants to transform from the shooting guard role he played at UCLA (where he was Love's teammate) into a do-everything PG. It's been a simultaneously beautiful and ugly process as Westbrook flirts with triple-doubles or pours in 30 points, while also leading the league in turnovers last year and shooting 39.8 FG% for his short career. He's already learning to finish better at the rim (and a noticeable portion of his missed shots come from missed tips as he ferociously attacks the offensive glass), and the turnovers will drop as he matures. If he can ever gain some consistency on his outside shot, there will be no stopping him, however; he will lock down opposing PGs with his 1.3 spg and 0.5 bpg.
Following a record-setting All-American freshman season at Kansas St., Beasley left school early to become the youngest player in the NBA last year at 19-years old (and just turned 21 last week). Drafted second overall, he had an up-and-down rookie campaign that saw him start the team's first 15 games then not start again until the final four games of the year (when he had three straight efforts of at least 23 points and 13 rebounds). His off-the-court transgressions and maturity have been called into question more than once, but those generally improve with age, so it's not too much of a concern right now. Beasley isn't dominant in any categories yet, but his skill set projects him becoming a top scorer and double-digit rebounder in the next few years -- a pace that will be accelerated if
It's been amusing to see so many media members who are paid to cover the NBA exclaim: "Where did this guy come from?" and then will often follow that up by reeling off some less than impressive numbers from his season in Europe last year. Did they forget about his winning every major high school player of the year award two years ago while leading his team to a 45-1 record and the top ranking in
This pick is sure to be a little controversial given some of the other names on the list, Randolph's limited minutes thus far in his career, and his recent ankle injury that will sideline him for most of the year; however, there's a pretty good chance that Randolph ends up being one of the transcendent players in NBA history with his size and skill set. The Lab doesn't say that lightly either; Randolph simply oozes superstar potential. Nearly 7-feet tall with the handle and speed of a point guard, it's a shame that
Mayo's second season is a carbon copy of last year's rookie campaign, which is great, but not excellent. There's nothing wrong with 18.2 ppg, 1.6 3pg, 3.7 rpg, 3.1 apg and 1.2 spg, but the future looked so much brighter last year with an underperforming
It's a combination of lingering concerns about his knee problems, the massive contract that Pau Gasol inked to stay in L.A. and the influx of young talent into the NBA over the last two years that have dropped Bynum from No. 6 to 12 for this year's list. He's a FG% monster who blocks shots and rebounds, but he'll always be the No. 3 option at best with Pau and Kobe around.
It might not seem ideal for a shooting guard, but Gordon has a powerful frame at 6-3, 222 pounds, which allows him to finish inside and get to the line over 5 times per game. But his greatest assets are his smooth outside stroke 2.0 3pg on 39% shooting and his improved defense (1.6 spg compared to 1.0 spg last year).
Curry is posting some useful numbers for a rookie: 12.2 ppg, 1.4 3pg, 3.7 rpg, 4.5 apg and a prolific 1.8 spg, but how much of it is a product of Nelson's system? Does that even matter in the grand scheme of things with his pedigree and pure shooting stroke?
Is he really 22? Regardless, the Chairman's upside is being realized right now despite two underwhelming seasons to start his career. Yi bulked up and is deserving of the nickname Muscle Shark -- even if its origin stems from a misinterpreted translation -- as he's bullying his way in the paint and spending less time on the perimeter. He's got an all-around game the whole world will recognize.
Even though the Sixers gave $80 million each to
Speights has a dangerously soft outside touch for the Sixers' center of the near future. It's no secret the team wants to move incumbent
The anticipated breakthrough hasn't materialized for Hawes yet, but the opportunity is there and he has all the tools. Hawes has legit three-point range to complement his traditional back-to-the-basket low-post game and he'll get dirty grabbing boards and blocking shots on the defensive end. The maturation process will continue as he works to stabilize a starting role.
Playing time and stats are going to be an issue since
The Kings are loaded with young talent, but the Israeli-born Casspi has already established himself as a talented glue guy with a potent inside-outside game.
He was talented enough to crack the NBA at just 19 years old. After some desperately needed overseas seasoning, Ilyasova is showing he can hang at the NBA level by hitting threes and grabbing boards.
A recent eight-game spurt with
Struggling with the Triangle Offense, Flynn hasn't lit the court afire in the same way as a few other rookie PGs. His size detracts from his attractiveness, but not in the same way as having wunderkind
The following players just missed the cut, but are worth watching their development. Remember, this list last year didn't contain Anthony Randolph because he barely registered any playing time to this point and couldn't be properly evaluated. Some of these players could emerge as soon as the end of this year.