March 28, 2012

At this stage in the game, your fantasy team is either a contender to win the title or it isn't. For those teams that are out of contention, all is not lost. Well, not absolutely, at least for teams that are in playing in keeper formats. Hopes may have been doused, but it isn't necessarily a complete loss. Think of it as a one-season setback after which you can begin building (or patching up) your dynasty team for the future.

This is a good time to scour the free agent pool for some players who may not be useful to teams at the moment, but who possess some potential value in future seasons. We're also going to provide you with some players whom we project to be solid producers two to three years down the road.

Brook Lopez C, New Jersey Nets -- Last season Lopez saw a drastic drop in his rebounding rate. This season, he's managed to play in only five games due to injury. However, there is no reason to expect this as the beginning of a downward spiral in his NBA career but merely setbacks for a player who still has the potential to eventually work his way back to being a solid big man in the league. Whether he stays with the Nets or is eventually traded away by the team, Lopez is a strong bounce back candidate next season.

Andrew Bogut C, Golden State Warriors -- He's been risky to own, let alone keep, over the last few years. But this Aussie big man is a beast on the boards and on the defensive end (blocks). We're talking about Top-10 in the league, possibly Top-5, in both those categories. If your current keepers left you with an uninspiring season and you want to roll the dice on a high risk-reward stash for next season, know that this new Warrior is with a team that has been dying to acquire a player with his talent and skill set.

Eric Gordon SG, New Orleans Hornets -- He had probably his most disappointing season to date, and in recent years has been injured often enough to label him as "injury prone," but Gordon is a prolific scorer with a well-rounded game. He's a reasonably good shooter and contributes to some valuable peripheral categories (assists, threes and steals). There's a good chance that he's available in your league's FA pool right now, and while there are still many question marks surrounding him, his potential to be a high-end fantasy producer are unquestionable.

Some players blossom during their third year in the NBA. Most are raw during their rookie years and then groomed for the future during their sophomore years. By the third season, they are set to make the transition into being key players on their respective teams. Here are a few sophomores outside of the obvious John Walls and Blake Griffins out there.

DeMarcus Cousins F/C, Sacramento Kings -- The Kings have fired a head coach and are already showing signs of veering away from their focus on Tyreke Evans as the team's core. That's because they've found in Cousins a solid big man they can build a team around. He's still got a ways to go as far improving his shooting percentages are concerned, but he's shown this season that he can be a beast in the counting categories. Expect him to improve on his already impressive averages of 17.4 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG and 1.3 BPG. He does have maturity issues, but that's what growing up is all about, right?

Greg Monroe C, Detroit Pistons -- He's already the centerpiece of the Pistons' future and has been described as having excellent basketball I.Q. He's had his share of ups and downs this year with some issues about his turnovers and glaring lack of blocks -- which, for a big man, is a bit of a red flag in fantasy. Monroe makes up for those drawbacks with excellent rebounding averages (9.8) and decent free-throw shooting (77 percent). He represents the new breed of David West and Carlos Boozer types (points, boards, and percentages) for the years to come.

Paul George G/F, Indiana Pacers -- It's hard not to love George in fantasy basketball. He's a multi-category producer and is an easy bet to eventually average a three, a steal and a block per game. He's already averaging 1.5 3 PPG, 1.6 SPG, and 0.6 BPG this season. He's a major part of the Indiana Pacers' plans for the future and is in store for an uptick in both minutes and production as he comes into his third year as a pro.

Let's take a look at guys beyond the obvious choices of Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio who are both already clear franchise players.

Isaiah Thomas PG, Sacramento Kings -- His addition was just a matchup experiment that went horribly RIGHT, and the Kings never looked back. Even as an undersized guard at 5-foot-9, Thomas has already proved that he can both run the offense and also score in volume. As most rookies do, Thomas deals with a high turnover rate as a drawback, but he's clearly earned a permanent spot as the team's starting point guard and he should be a good contributor in points, assists, threes and steals. That makes him a four-cat threat right there.

Kenneth Faried PF, Denver Nuggets -- The Nuggets are currently starting him alongside recently-acquired Javale McGee. Many see that pairing as a potent defensive pairing years down the road. Faried is an athletic rebounder and has room to diversify his game as he gets more opportunities. In a year or so it wouldn't be too far-fetched to see Faried average nine-plus boards and a block and a half per game.

Derrick Williams F, Minnesota Timberwolves -- He's been overshadowed by co-rookie Ricky Rubio, but Williams has shown he can grow into an elite combo-forward. His unique ability to contribute threes along with some solid rebounding numbers make him an ideal candidate to explode once the team eventually parts ways with Michael Beasley.

Kemba Walker G and Bismack Biyombo C, Charlotte Bobcats -- There's no doubt that both of these players are primed to bloom under the tutelage of coach Paul Silas. Biyombo, while still raw, is already at the threshold of being one of the league's elite shot blockers. Remember how people drafted off Serge Ibaka's explosion last year? Consider yourself forewarned about Biyombo's potential. Walker, on the other hand, is still playing behind DJ Augustine and may need a bit more time to blossom into a star. Keep an eye on him, though, as Walker is a combo-guard that will come into his own sooner rather than later. Both of these guys are very long-term investments, but it might pay off to get in on the deal while they're cheap.

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