StrategyOctober 20, 2006

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Drafting in the Latter Rounds

By Michael Woods

In the beginning of a draft, determining which player to select can be quite easy. Everyone knows who the stars are in fantasy basketball, and it’s almost impossible to go wrong in the first couple of rounds. But as the draft wages on, deciding who to draft can become quite a daunting task. Suddenly, all the big names are gone and you’re stuck deciding between players with inconsistencies in their game and uncertainties in their playing time. The player you pick in the tenth round could become obsolete in the fantasy world after the first week, or they could become a fantasy star throughout the All-Star break. How do you determine which players are the former and which are the latter though?

Well, determining this can be quite a complicated process: you may have to do a lot of number-crunching on a player’s career splits, sift through articles on a team’s development during the off-season, watch hours of boring summer league games with a bunch of no-name players, or (if you want to be extra thorough like me), track down where players live so you can observe them practicing late at night and analyze their demeanor, jump shot, and type of underwear.

Thus, to save you from the exhausting (and dangerous) process of stalking players to find out where they live and if they wear boxers or briefs… I present to you a list of players available in the latter rounds of the draft who are set to have break out years in 2006-2007.

Channing Frye
Frye has two good things going for him this year that should improve his numbers. First, last year was his rookie year and he’s going to be a year more mature this season. Secondly, he’s no longer going to have to deal with Larry Brown’s fantasy-killing coaching style (we all know how much effect Brown has after every Piston’s fantasy value rose last year, and every Knick’s fantasy value fell.) Also, word is Frye has bulked up this off-season and improved his shooting touch (and this from someone already being a rare center who shoots both good FG’s and FT’s [48% and 83%, respectively]). His averages in 14 games starting last year were 15.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 1.1 blocks with that nice 49% FG’s and 83% FT’s. He should get the starting gig at PF all year, plus he’s already eligible at center in most formats. And just to remind you one more time: he was a ROOKIE playing under LARRY BROWN while putting up these good numbers, so there’s no telling what his numbers could be under a different coach and a year of NBA experience under his belt. The sky is the limit for this sleeper center.

Kevin Martin
Martin is just coming into his third year in the league. Most fantasy owners didn’t even know his name at the beginning of last season, but his name circulated around when Bonzi Wells became injured and he got the starting gig. As a starter, he averaged 13.9 points, 1.3 three-pointers made, 4.7 rebounds and 0.9 steals with low turnovers, a good FG% (51%) and good FT% (84%). Although those numbers aren’t anything spectacular yet… with a starting gig all year, another year of experience (this will only be his second year getting real playing time), and added confidence (he hit a buzzer beating lay-up over Tim Duncan last year in the playoffs to win a game), he should be able to improve on those numbers quite a bit. For someone who you can grab in the tenth-thirteenth rounds (or for someone who many times ends up on the waiver wire), he’s definitely a player worth picking up and keeping an eye on. He could be playing himself into your starting line-up as soon as the second week of the season.

Speedy Claxton
Here’s a guy who’s been a backup his entire career, but will get a starting gig at the much needed PG position in Atlanta. He will be out for a week or two at the beginning of the season due to a broken finger, but once he gets into the mix of things with Atlanta… watch out. His specialties include assists, steals, and a low assist to TO ratio. His numbers projected at a starting role of 37 minutes (using the 28 minutes he received as a backup last year) look attainable at 16 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.95 steals. His assists and steals could be even higher if he regains some of his former glory in those categories, as shown when he averaged 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals a few years ago in just 32 minutes. His value takes a drop because of his history of injuries, and his percentages are nothing to be excited about (41% FG’s, 76% FT’s). But for the draft pick you can usually get him at (ninth-tenth round), he can provide a much needed boost to your fantasy squad in the highly competitive categories of assists and steals.

Nenad Krstic
Most people forget Nenad is coming into just his third year in the league, and he’s only 23 years old. Last year he improved on his numbers from his rookie year, by increasing his points-per-game from 10.0 to 13.5. This year he should absorb even more responsibility on the offensive end, with Kidd’s steady decline of FGA’s, and the Nets desperately needing someone to take some of the offensive responsibility off Vince Carter’s and Richard Jefferson’s hands. Usually Nenad is busy during the summer with international competition, but this summer he took a much needed rest from year-round ball and says he’s ready to improve on his numbers from last season. He’s a great center to take in the later rounds if you’re short on them because he’s a) young with plenty of room to improve, b) he has almost no competition for his position on his team, being assured plenty of playing time and c) he’s steadily been improving throughout his career. Even just last year from pre to post All-Star break, he improved his stats from 12.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 49.5 FG%, and 65.9 FT% to 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 52.5 FG%, and 78.3 FT%. If he could just marginally improve on his blocks (0.8 all year long), he could become a top ten fantasy center this year. Nevertheless, he’s a great late-round sleeper pick to take when all other serviceable centers have been taken, and you’re trying to decide between Raef Lafrentz, Matt Bonner, Zaza Pachulia, Joel Pryzbilla, or Nenad Krstic. Please… take Krstic. You’ll thank me later.

Leandro Barbosa
Barbosa is my pick for sixth man of the year. He won’t start at all this year, but he is the integral part of the Suns’ second unit. Actually, he IS the Suns’ second unit. He’s the guy who keeps the Suns running and gunning even when all their starters start getting subbed out. The second unit needs him for his offense. People might worry that his time will be cut because the Suns signed Marcus Banks, but actually this will help Barbosa tremendously. The Suns have learned (the hard way) that Barbosa is at his best playing the off-guard position. When Barbosa tries to be a point guard, bad things happen. Having Banks on the team now and joining him in the second unit, allows Barbosa to shift over to the off-guard and concentrate on what he’s best at: scoring. He won’t ever be a guy to contribute in every category, but he has his niches in which he’s only going to improve this year. He’ll contribute to a team in FG% (48%), FT% (77%), 3-pointers (1.7 post All-Star break last year), points (15.1 post All-Star break last year, but that’s going to rise), and steals (just 1.1 last year after the All-Star break, but that’s going to rise too.) He gives you a sprinkle of assists too (about three a game), but that’s not one of his great cats. The stats I’m predicting for him in 2006-2007 are around 16-18 points, 48% FG’s, 78% FT’s, 1.5 steals, and around 2 three-pointers made a game.

Why am I predicting the leap in points, steals, and threes? Well, the points and threes leap isn’t too much considering his post All-Star break numbers last season, but there’s a number of reasons I believe Barbosa’s going to increase his numbers, and make the leap into fantasy significance this year:

1) He has a great attitude when it comes to learning the game, he’s a very humble person (growing up poor in a ghetto neighborhood in Brazil), and each year I watch him, he consistently improves.
2) The only reason Barbosa hasn’t taken off in his career yet, is because of confidence problems. Near the end of last year though, his confidence increased dramatically. It’s a similar situation to what I saw happen with Joe Johnson in Phoenix. He too didn’t take off for a year or two because of confidence issues, but once he got that confidence, his game went to another level.
3) Ever since Mike D’Antoni hired his brother (Dan D’Antoni) to work one-on-one with Barbosa exclusively, Leandro has been increasing his game dramatically. Dan D’Antoni works with him daily and attends to every facet of his game, even giving Barbosa a list of stuff to work on everyday.
4) Word is Barbosa concentrated on defense in the off-season, so I believe a rise in his steal numbers will come. He’s already proven he could get steals earlier in his career, when he averaged 1.3 in just 21 minutes per game as a rookie (He’s going to get about 30 minutes per game this year.). Plus, he’s a player built to be a steal machine. Not only is he one of the quickest players in the league, but he’s also 6′3″ with a 6′10″ wingspan with which he can deceptively intercept balls in the passing lane.

So in the later second-half of the draft, if you need points, threes, and steals from someone who won’t hurt you in turnovers or the percentage categories… remember the name Leandro Barbosa. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with this sixth man of the year candidate.

You can find Michael discussing this and more in the Cafe Forums, where he posts under the name of Mimicker7.
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