This time of year, the majority of fantasy columns are about the latest hot pickup for the week ahead. The Fantasy Lab likes to think on a grander scale, though, not just one day, week, month or even season at a time. So it should come as no surprise that the focus today is on keeper leagues and all of the wonderfully different kinds of keeper prospects that exist in fantasyland. But even if you're not in a keeper league, this should help you immensely for the final weeks of the season and for preparing for next year's draft.
Newbies often ask, "What makes a great keeper?" There are obviously many different elements that go into determining this, but there are two that stand out above the rest: your personality as a fantasy owner and your league's rules. The problem with this is that The Fantasy Lab knows neither. And since these can be so vastly different, potential keepers have been grouped together in similar tiers, so these two factors can come into play and interact with the tiers versus forcing you to figure out a straight list of my keeper rankings and how you and your league fit in.
Determining your personality as a fantasy owner means asking yourself questions to figure out how you play the game. What players do you love? Who do you want to build your team around? Do you like big men or floor generals? What's your risk level? Do you like to make trades? These questions and more can help you figure out who to keep or who to target in trades to keep in the future.
As for the other elements that go into determining a great keeper, the Fantasy Lab could write a whole book about it, but some of the factors that have been weighed in coming up with these tiers include: age, experience, opportunity, position, team/coach and his style, career arc, trends, injury history, contract terms, replacement players (backups), off-court behavior and much more. Now that you know some of what has gone into grouping these potential keepers and non-keepers, let's start identifying them.
A winning fantasy basketball team is built on a rock-solid foundation. Any one of these seven players can be your foundation. Each player is unique, bringing a different skill set to the table; it's really a matter of personal preference as to how you want to construct your roster. No matter which direction you are fortunate enough to head in if you have one of these cornerstones in tow, just know you are starting off the 2009-10 season on the right foot.
Part of the reason for the tier system is to group similar players together, but it's also so the Lab doesn't have to explain each player specific rank. However, for this top tier only, the players are listed in the Lab's preferred order, but you can make a case for rearranging any of the names to be your top keeper choice. Depending on your scoring system, either Paul or LeBron could be atop the rankings, and both are still under 25 years old. Durant is only 20 years old and is quickly becoming a force across eight categories. He could win the scoring title next year while quite possibly becoming fantasyland's top player. Not to hype him up or anything. The Lab did that already in early January -- decreeing him the best keeper 22 years old or younger -- just before his ascent into top-five territory. Kobe is Kobe. And while it's true Dirk is getting older, he has "old man" skills that age well, so a loss of athleticism won't affect his game much. He's solid for another three years, easy.
Roy continues to improve in his third year and has no weaknesses in his game. It's really hard to knock him, but you have to keep in mind his injured heel and all the other young talent around him that could dip into his numbers ... Rose doesn't shoot three-pointers yet and his FT shooting has struggled, but he was
Yao is as solid as a California redwood, but he's been chopped down by season-ending leg injuries before. Time won't help his knees and feet when you're that tall and big ... Duncan has done the same thing for a decade plus and isn't slowing down at all. He's posting some of his best numbers in years, but he does have tendinitis in at least one knee and it's clear that his best days are behind him ... Deron Williams is a double-double guy in the
Pau should be in the group above, but he's held back for a couple of reasons. The first is his penchant for getting injured. The second is the continued development of
The team fell apart around him, but Kevin Martin is still scoring like a rock star. He doesn't bring much help in the peripheral categories, but the FT percentage, threes and points make him worth keeping ... The Spurs' Parker gives you points and some assists, but he doesn't shoot threes and never will, nor does he thieve, board or block shots ... Calderon has played just four years in the league, but he'll be 28 when next season starts. His percentages are high, but he needs to shoot more for them to have an impact ... Turkoglu is Orlando's go-to guy in the fourth, but he's thinking of opting out to test the free-agent waters. Going elsewhere could cut into his production, plus he won't have the same drive that helped land him his big contract.
Any fantasy player lucky enough to own one or more of these eight players is probably doing pretty well in their league right about now. By most accounts, these players are classified as having their breakout years. That means they were selected way below what their production has returned. Hopefully this helps you in your keeper league's rules. Regardless, all eight players still have room to grow and could very well top this year's numbers. Each has demonstrated growth in their game throughout the year, making their breakthroughs just that, breakthroughs, not one-year wonders. The Lab recommends holding onto anyone from this tier.
The same can't be said for this tier. Each of these players has been a boon to fantasy teams this year, but the same can't be said for next year. The Fantasy Lab does
Murphy is shooting a career-high in field-goal percentage and three-point percentage (leading to a career-high in 3PM). He's also averaging career-bests in rebounds, assists and steals. Career years eight seasons into the NBA are very rare, more so when it hasn't been a gradual build up to a culmination like this.
Captain Jack has been otherworldly this year, and very few could say that when he started his career five teams and nine years ago. But he is on the verge of completing back-to-back 20 ppg seasons. His minutes likely can't stay above 40 next year, though, and much of his success is tied to
Speaking of coaches affecting a player's value,
Villanueva has been Milwaukee's saving grace with
Lastly, Diaw, we've seen this before -- a breakthrough season in your first year with a new team. It might stick since
These five fantasy All-Stars all took a step back this season. That's surprising considering they are all in their prime or just entering it. In all likelihood, you will probably keep all of these guys again, but the picture isn't as rosy as it was entering the year. For starters, Marion demonstrated he was a product of D'Antoni's system and is proving to be a self-centered complainer concerned more about his contract than his team. That affects your future on-court performance ... Smith has regressed when it comes to his already terrible shooting and isn't blocking shots like he used to -- something that happens to "athletic" shot-blockers over the years as opposed to the "tall" shot blockers ... Wallace continues living up to his nickname of "Crash" and can't be trusted to stay healthy ... Butler's numbers have all decreased, even without
Unlike Melo, these guys deliver on what their name promises. You know what you're going to get year after year from this bunch of 30-plus players. Yes,
These players are the guys who you don't want to keep, but you probably should for at least another year. In other words, be a realist, not an idealist. Whether it's old age, injury history, poor percentages, off-court trouble, prima donna status, overhyping, non-sexiness, general loathing or any other excuse in the book, these guys all have a reason not to be kept. But then you look at their numbers year after year and it seems foolish to keep other players over them. The Lab certainly wouldn't want any of these players as keepers, but if we absolutely had to ...
This particular group of players is difficult to gauge. On one hand, they appear to be on the rise in their young NBA careers, but after having played three or four seasons now, they probably aren't going to get much better statistically, at least not without switching teams. All have their positives; all have their negatives. If you are willing to live with the production they gave you this year, then you won't be disappointed. If you are hoping for a giant leap forward, you will be saddened. Some incremental improvement can be expected, especially from the big men listed here as they refine their post play, but what you see now is pretty much what you're going to get. Only Millsap is going to need
It's hard to tell you to keep any of these players for next year (except maybe Green), since they don't have a strong body of work this year to reassure you and chances are they still need more time to develop. So the Lab will NOT recommend keeping any of these guys in leagues that are focused on winning next year or even the year after, but if you're in it for the long haul, keep these names in mind.
Group 1: F/C
Group 2: G/F
This tier is separated into two groups. The first group consists of fantasy players who, if you're the gambling type, you could consider keeping for next year given their level of production in the past or promise in the future. There is always the chance that a player, say Arenas, pulls, well, an Arenas, and doesn't recover well from his injury and ends up out most of next year too. If you want to take that risk, Group 1 is where you'll find your keeper. Group 2, not so much. These guys might seem like good keeper options, but they have too many things working against them, with not enough talent to make it worthwhile being at the top of the list.
Group 1: PG/SG
Group 2: SF/PF
Group 3: SF/PF
Ah, the rookies. The Lab has waited till the end to speak about nearly all of the rookies -- except
Group 1 is populated by players who will make an impact as soon as next year. Some are already helping fantasy teams as we speak. If you have to keep a rookie, or really want to, this is the group I would choose from, and in the order listed. This is a very deep rookie class, which is why six names are listed in this group (plus Rose is listed above). All of these players figure to having starting spots on their NBA teams and a couple project as fantasy All-Stars --Mayo, Lopez and Westbrook -- with Love trailing closely.
Group 2 consists of players who will probably have to wait another year to make a significant impact. They should improve next year, especially Beasley (who was the second youngest player in the league this year), but he still appears another year away. Chalmers might not have a future at all, but if he can hang with this team, he should be useful. Thompson has impressed everyone who questioned his selection on draft day. If the youth movement keeps on keeping on in Sac-town, Thompson could make an impact as soon as next season. Hibbert had his eyes opened earlier this year and will have to work on becoming stronger and more precise with his footwork. It will probably take him two years to develop that before he can truly be serviceable. To be honest, Group 2 isn't nearly as exciting as Group 3. That's probably how their GMs felt back on that fateful day in late June.
Group 3 has serious superstar potential. Randolph will be a stud in this league. He should be everything
Don't be fooled. These guys are not keeper-worthy! They may tempt you, but you should avoid them at all costs. Have faith in the Fantasy Lab.