April 04, 2011

The regular season is coming to a close and if you are lucky enough to be playing for a championship all you can do at this point is plug in your best players and keep those fingers crossed. For those of you with nothing to play for, there is always time to think about next season. It is a good idea to take notes for next year while the season is still fresh in our minds. While situations may obviously change for these players and for their teams during the offseason, it is valuable to have a clear picture of how things stand right now before summer leagues, off-season workouts and the pre-season hype machine begins to cloud everyone's judgment. Based on what we've seen in 2010-11, here are some players worth upgrading, downgrading and simply staying away from on draft day next season.

Kyle Lowry, PG, Houston Rockets -- The trade of Aaron Brooks has freed Lowry to be Houston's starting point guard, and he's responded by averaging 17.4 points, 7.3 assists and 2.6 threes a game since the All-Star break. Lowry may face some competition next season from his 24-year-old backup Goran Dragic, but he has earned coach Rick Adelman's trust this season and should remain Houston's starting point guard for the long haul.

Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers -- Gordon has had a deceptive year. He's missed over a quarter of the season with injury, but his averages during the games he did manage to play in were career highs across the board. He is going to be Blake Griffin's undisputed partner in the Clippers' offense next season. Once he gets back to 100 percent health, it is possible that Gordon averages around 24.0 points, 2.0 threes, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game in 2011-12. Don't let the missed games this season overshadow the upside of his developing game. Gordon is still young and has yet to reach his ceiling as a player.

Marcus Thornton, SG, Sacramento Kings -- It appears all Thornton needed was a change of scenery. Since he was traded to Sacramento, Thornton has increased his scoring average threefold. He's knocking down over two threes a game and still manages to maintain a reasonable 45.9 FG%. While his focus on offense was not to the liking of former coach Monty Williams in New Orleans, his ability to put points on the board is a welcomed ability on the Kings. Ironically, Thornton is averaging the best steals rate of his career (1.6 per game) in the 26 games he's played for Sacramento. Assuming the Kings don't do anything drastic, Thornton is poised to be Tyreke Evans' permanent starting backcourt partner next season. Think of him as a younger and hopefully more durable Kevin Martin.

Dorell Wright, SF, Golden State Warriors -- After years of languishing on Miami's bench, Wright seemingly came out of nowhere and has been Golden State's starting small forward this year, and he quickly proved that he was worthy of the trust. Wright is a versatile swingman whose hot hand from beyond the arc is a much appreciated weapon in the Warriors' system. It's not unreasonable to think that Wright will be able to maintain his averages of 16.5 points, 2.5 threes and 1.5 steals per game next season. It took a while considering that he is a seven year veteran in the league, but it looks like it is Wright's time to shine.

LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers -- While most of his teammates were unable to stay healthy this season, Aldridge took his game to the next level and helped carry the Blazers to a probable playoff spot in the West. Still only 25 years old, Aldridge is averaging 22 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game this season and becomes a high round fantasy draft pick in 2011-12.

Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves -- Fantasy owners have learned to love Kevin and his rebounding numbers this season. He's now a hands-down first-round pick for next season. Don't let him slip through your fingers because he doesn't look like your prototypical MVP candidate. Solid percentages, 20-plus points and 14-plus rebounds a night are reasonable expectations from him moving forward. Let's not forget his ability to make three-pointers as well, which is a rare talent among the NBA's elite big men. Based on Give Me The Rock's player rater, Love has been a Top-5 player this season. If you don't feel comfortable taking Love in the top five next year, he should be gone by the end of the first round at the latest.

Serge Ibaka, C, Oklahoma City Thunder -- Ibaka has benefited tremendously from the door that has opened ever since Jeff Green was traded to Boston at the trade deadline. He will continue to be a reliable shot blocker next season (2.4 BPG this year), but should also improve on his offensive game as he further acclimates to life as a starter for the Thunder. An improvement on the offensive end should be enough to make him a worthy starting PF/C who will reward managers who select him in the top half of a draft next season.

Jason Kidd, PG, Dallas Mavericks -- For a while it seemed like the 38-year old would just keep playing forever. Although he's been a liability on the defensive end for a number of years, this season he's also become a liability on offense by shooting a dismal 36% from the field. Kidd's assists, currently at 8.3 a game, are still solid, but the rest of his stats, including his points, steals and threes have all declined this season. He still may be running the Mavs' offense when he's 40-years old, but it won't be at the level we've been accustom to from Kidd.

Jason Richardson, SG, Orlando Magic -- Richardson's move from Phoenix to Orlando has been disastrous in terms of statistical production. Despite averaging three more minutes a game with the Magic, Richardson has seen his scoring drop from 19.3 to 14.0 PPG and he is shooting only 43 percent from the field with Orlando. Part of the reason may be that the Magic's tendency to rely on the three-point shot does not play into Richardson's strength as an athletic slasher. Richardson is a free agent this offseason, but he and the Magic are reportedly working on a contract extension that will keep him with the team long-term.

Jeff Green, SF, Boston Celtics -- Green suffered a huge fantasy blow when he was shipped off to Boston for Kendrick Perkins. He started off his career as Kevin Durant's No. 2, but that role was quickly taken from him as Russell Westbrook began to improve and develop into a versatile score-first guard with some passing skills. Green may eventually break into the Celtics' starting lineup when Kevin Garnett retires, but next season Green should continue to come off of Boston's bench.

David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets -- The 30-year old tore his ACL in the Hornets' March 24 game against the Utah Jazz. Nene Hilario, Baron Davis and Al Harrington have all successfully come back from ACL reconstruction earlier in their careers, so the long-term outlook for West is good. However, the injury takes approximately 6-10 months of recovery and rehab, which puts West's availability for the start of next season in jeopardy.

Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets -- Expectations were high for Lopez coming into the year after a sophomore season in which he averaged 18.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. But this season has been a huge disappointment for Lopez. His play has been soft and uninspired at times and his rebounding has plummeted to 6.0 a game. Lopez is playing further away from the basket and the result is that he has the second worst rebounding rate this season among starting centers, ranking behind only Andrea Bargnani. Lopez is still worthy of a mid-round pick next year, just be aware of his limitations as a player.

Gilbert Arenas, PG, Orlando Magic -- Arenas' value took a nosedive when he found himself coming off Orlando's bench. There do not appear to be any clear opportunities for Arenas to regain the star power he once wielded in Washington. Even when Jameer Nelson missed some time due to injury, Arenas was not able to capitalize (he was 2-11 from the floor against the Knicks in the game he started for Nelson). Arenas is lost in Orlando's system, and he should remain in the free agent pool in all but the deepest leagues.

Brandon Roy, SG, Portland Trail Blazers -- Roy played in less than 50 games this season because of pain and swelling in both his knees. The injury sapped most of his athleticism and left him averaging a career-low 12.8 PPG on 40 percent shooting. While most NBA fans hope that Roy can return to form, his health outlook does not look good. According to The Oregonian, an orthopedic surgeon who examined Roy's knees says that Blazers can get 1-2 more years out of Roy if they limit his minutes off the bench and give him plenty of rest between games. It's an unfortunate situation for both Roy and the Blazers' organization, and fantasy owners should steer clear of it.

Rashard Lewis, SF, Washington Wizards -- As an aging, past-his-prime star with a huge contract, Lewis is going to be the odd man out on a rebuilding Wizards team next season. We've seen this scenario played out before -- most recently this season with Peja Stojakovic and Troy Murphy -- and it rarely ends well for the star player.

Anthony Randolph, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves -- He's been a fantasy tease for the past couple of years with his ability to put up monster lines from time to time. Unfortunately, in between those games, Randolph has the tendency to disappear on the court and be a headache for his coaching staff. Until Randolph proves he is a reliable fantasy contributor and performs at a level that shows that he's matured as a player, he should remain undrafted in fantasy leagues. Randolph is just not worth the risk as he's disappointed owners time and time again.

Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers -- The Sam Bowie comparisons may be unfair since Oden still has plenty of time to turn his career around, but the fact is that he's played in a total of 82 games over his first four seasons. Oden keeps NBA teams and fantasy owners interested because he's averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22 minutes a game when he's been healthy. But it goes without saying that owners should wait until Oden strings together a semi-healthy season before considering drafting him again.

Andris Biedrins, C, Golden State Warriors -- Three seasons ago, Biedrins was a solid first center in most fantasy leagues, averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds a game for the Warriors. But a questionable work ethic and an inability to stay healthy over the past few seasons has led to a couple of disappointing fantasy seasons for Biedrins. With the Warriors drafting another rebounding/shot blocker type in Ekpe Udoh, it is likely that Biedrins enters camp without a starting job next season.

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