Fantasy Basketball 2014: Latest Rankings for Top Players and Sleepers

Unless you cheer for the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls or Los Angeles Clippers, there’s a very good chance your team isn’t winning the NBA title this season.

However, your fantasy basketball team is just as likely to win the championship as anyone else in your league if you draft well and do your research in advance.

With that in mind, here is a look at the latest rankings for the top players before we dig into a few sleepers to keep an eye on during your draft. A player is considered a sleeper if they were ranked No. 40 or below in Yahoo Sports‘ player rankings page.

 

Potential Sleepers

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls Point Guard

It may seem strange to call a former league MVP a sleeper, but even casual NBA fans know that Derrick Rose has basically been out of commission for two years. After multiple knee surgeries and a lot of time off, there are questions regarding his health and whether he can ever truly get back to the level he was at before his first serious injury.

There is an important thing to keep in mind with Rose if you plan on drafting him: Only do it at the right price in an auction draft or in the middle rounds in a snake draft.

Some risk-reward analysis has to be done here, and landing a former MVP for a bargain price sounds much better than taking the league’s biggest health risk in the first round.

At his best (2010-11), Rose was a shoot-first point guard who averaged 25 points a night to go along with 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds a game. He attacked the rim with a reckless abandon and was nearly impossible to keep from getting to the basket. Even 80 percent of those numbers would be a huge boost to your fantasy team. 

For what it’s worth, Rose has looked like his old self at times in the preseason, as Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick noted:

Rose’s supporting cast in Chicago could also improve his value because opposing defenses can no longer simply focus on him like they did two years ago. Between Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and even Doug McDermott, there are a number of players who can make plays. 

Rose should get cleaner looks with no double teams and could see an uptick in his assist totals with talented teammates surrounding him.

 

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets Power Forward

There may not have been a more impressive player at the 2014 FIBA World Cup than Kenneth Faried, which could be a boost to his confidence moving into the NBA season.

There is a very real chance that Faried is just beginning to hit his stride as a professional player as he enters his fourth season in the league. Between the World Cup and his unbelievable second half last year, Faried is showing signs of potential superstardom.

For that fact alone, he is worth a mid-round flier.

Faried posted nightly averages of 18.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks while shooting 54.6 percent from the field when J.J. Hickson was hurt in the second half of last season. Hickson still hasn’t fully recovered from ACL surgery, so the opportunity will be there for Faried. 

Make sure he has an opportunity on your fantasy team as well.

 

Lance Stephenson, Charlotte Hornets Shooting Guard 

Lance Stephenson put up nightly averages of 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 49.1 percent shooting from the field and 35.2 percent shooting from behind the three-point line last year as a member of the Indiana Pacers.

However, he may be playing with something of a chip on his shoulder this season with the Charlotte Hornets after he couldn’t come to terms on a new contract with Indiana. He discussed the move, via Candace Buckner of IndyStar.com:

They didn’t have [anything] else. They had no more money or anything. That was basically it right there. [As] soon as I said no to that offer, they went and signed CJ [Miles]. I figured they thought I had no chance of coming back, they just went on and signed [Miles]. … I felt like it was a wrap after that.

Paul George was the bona fide No. 1 option in that Pacers offense, in which guys like David West, Roy Hibbert and even George Hill took plenty of shots. Stephenson was certainly a valuable member of that group, especially on defense, but his fantasy value may improve in Charlotte.

Al Jefferson is the star down low, but the opportunity is there for Stephenson to be more of a focal point of the offense.

That will lead to more shots, more points and more trips to the free-throw line, which are all important in fantasy basketball. What’s more, the fact that Stephenson is playing with Jefferson will likely help his assist numbers if he can set the big man up with good looks.

Stephenson does a little bit of everything on the floor, and stat-sheet stuffers like that can make the difference between a fantasy title and an average season.

 

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Will 5-Star Freshman Isaiah Whitehead Put Seton Hall Basketball Back on the Map?

NEW YORK — There was a time, not too long ago, when Seton Hall was a contender.

With P.J. Carlesimo at the helm in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Pirates made six consecutive NCAA tournaments from 1987 to 1994. In the season of 1988-89, Seton Hall made it all way to the National Championship but fell by a point to a Michigan team led by future NBA star Glen Rice.

When Carlesimo left to pursue a coaching career in the NBA, things went south in South Orange.

The Pirates have taken part in the Madness just three times since Carlesimo’s departure about 20 years ago. They’ve also earned seven sporadic appearances in the NIT.

Current coach Kevin Willard took over the program back in 2010, and has led the team to a .500 record of 66-66.

Last season, Seton Hall finished 17-17. More importantly, the team was 6-12 in the Big East. Somehow, though, the eighth-seeded Pirates won two thrillers in the conference tournament before getting bounced by the eventual champion, Providence, in the semis.

Despite being located in the heart of one of basketball’s best breeding grounds—the New York/New Jersey area—the Pirates have failed to create any sort of substantial buzz in recent memory.

But change is coming.

And his name is Isaiah Whitehead.

The incoming freshman was one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation before he decided to come to the Hall last summer.

ESPN ranked the 6’4”, 195-pound Whitehead as the No. 2 shooting guard in the nation, and the 14th overall prospect out of the Top 100.

Whitehead, a native of Brooklyn, is not alone in his quest to put Seton Hall back into contention. Angel Delgado (No. 48 in the Top 100), Desi Rodriguez (Whitehead’s high school co-star), Khadeen Carrington and Ismael Sanogo will also don the Blue and White in 2014-15.

This is Seton Hall’s best freshmen class since landing the No. 1 recruit, Eddie Griffin, back in 2000.

But in the end, it’ll be Whitehead who ultimately controls how things turn out in New Jersey.

 

The New Face of Seton Hall

When asked where Seton Hall’s recruiting class ranks—in both the conference and the nation—at Big East Media Day, the soft-spoken Whitehead didn’t even blink.

“I think we have the best one,” he told B/R.

By the end of the year, the freshman’s claim may ring true. But for now, scouting service Rivals.com has the Pirates’ class ranked at 13, with Duke and Kentucky filling the top spots.

“We’re all complete players in our group,” the McDonald’s All-American said. “We all had the attitude that everyone came in and worked so hard over the summer, and now we’re in shape and ready for the season.”

Whitehead was named as New York’s Mr. Basketball, an award for the state’s top senior player, last season. During his four years at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn—yes, the same one that Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson attended—Whitehead shined.

“It’s great,” Whitehead said of playing so close to home. “That’s one of the reasons I picked Seton Hall, so all my family and friends could watch me play.”

In his senior year, Whitehead put up 23.5 points, 6.7 boards and 5.4 assists on a nightly basis. When it came time for Lincoln to start chasing a state title, his points stayed constant at 23, but his rebounds and assists climbed to 9.8 and 6.2, respectively.

The kid is big-time.

Whitehead can get to the rim at will. The Brooklyn native has the ability to dish with either hand if the defense collapses on him, or, if he’s left in isolation, can use his Kyrie Irving-like touch around the rim. Whitehead also has great range and can knock down shots from all over the floor.

While he’ll probably start in a three-guard set alongside returning players Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina, the freshman star is likely to become Seton Hall’s offensive focal point, especially now that Fuquan Edwin has graduated.

The Pirates do have some talent coming back, including 6’9″ forward Brandon Mobley, who noted that the star-studded newcomers have been humble and hard-working so far.

Whitehead is going to be a star for Seton Hall this year. But what if he’s too good—as in, you know, one-and-done? Would an early exit diminish the impact he could have on the program?

 Gulp.

 

How Whitehead Affects SHU‘s Future

Here’s a plot twist: Willard wants Whitehead to leave for the NBA.

Generally, coaches who want what’s best for their players—and have a proven track record of it—are better recruiters.

“The window is this year and I’m focused on this year, I’m not worried about next year,” the coach told Adam Zagoria of SNY.

“If he does as well as I think he can and if he’s going to be drafted next year, then we’re going to have a very good year. It’s going to go hand-in-hand. You look at all the guys who get drafted, very rarely do they get drafted and their teams don’t have a good year. If he’s going to have that year, which I think he has the ability to, then we’re going to have a good year.”

Willard knows that 2014-15 could be a make-or-break campaign for him. That’s why he gave Whitehead’s high school coach, Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, a spot on the Pirates’ bench as an assistant before landing the standout guard.

Let’s say that Seton Hall doesn’t win the Big East, finishes with a mediocre record and watches Whitehead bolt. All are far-from-unlikely scenarios.

Sounds like a nightmare, right? Not exactly.

If the Pirates are able to make some serious noise this year, they’ll have succeeded—regardless of what Whitehead decides to do after the season.

And making the NCAA tournament is an immensely important part of that.

“This is the year, man,” senior forward Haralds Karlis said of making the tourney. “It has to be. It’s very important for us, for the program, for the fans, for everyone right now.”

For far too long, the school has failed to capitalize on its location. Whitehead said it himself: He chose Seton Hall in part because it’s close to his home.

But why haven’t others done the same?

Look at Kentucky—the team has different players every year, but is always in national contention. High-profile HS prospects want to win and, more importantly, they want to move on the pros.

Therein lies the problem. Seton Hall’s last player to be drafted was Samuel Dalembert 13 years ago, one of two SHU players to have been drafted in the past two decades.

If other New York/New Jersey prospects—and there are tons of them—watch Whitehead rise to stardom, Seton Hall suddenly becomes a desired destination.

That’s why Whitehead could realistically turn the Pirates’ tide for years to come, even if he leaves after this season.

Or rather, especially if he leaves after this season.

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College basketball countdown: No. 12 Florida

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the projected NCAA tournament field of 68.

      
 

 

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UConn to renew basketball rivalry with Georgetown

UConn and Georgetown to renew basketball rivalry with home-and-home series

      
 

 

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UConn to renew basketball rivalry with Georgetown (Yahoo Sports)

Connecticut's Shabazz Napier and Connecticut's Niels Giffey, right, reach for the ball from Georgetown's Markel Starks, center, during the first overtime of an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Georgetown won 79-78. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn and Georgetown have agreed to renew their basketball rivalry, which ended with the split of the old Big East conference.


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Charlotte guard Lester leaves basketball team

Charlotte guard Shawn Lester leaves 49ers basketball team to pursue professional career

      
 

 

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College basketball countdown: No. 13 Villanova

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the projected NCAA tournament field of 68.

      
 

 

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Why Delon Wright Has the Most Complete Game in College Basketball

Unless you are an avid Pac-12 follower, chances are that Utah’s Delon Wright was probably the best college basketball player you didn’t hear about last year. Don’t expect him to fly under the radar this time around, however, as Wright is poised to have a huge senior season thanks to his array of arsenals on the court.

Wright spent the first two years of his collegiate career at a junior college before making the transfer to Larry Krystkowiak’s team. In the 33 games he played for the Utes, Wright averaged 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks, according to Sports-Reference.com.

These video game-like numbers earned Wright a Pac-12 All-Conference honor, making him the first player to accomplish such a feat in Utah’s program history, and his defensive efforts earned him a spot on the Pac-12 All-Defensive First Team as well.

Among all returning players for the 2014-15 season, Wright also leads the pack in the win-shares column (based on last season) sorted by Sports-Reference.com.

 

Top Returning Players in 2014-15
Name School PPG RPG APG Win Shares
Delon Wright Utah 15.5 6.8 5.3 7.3
Fred VanFleet Wichita St. 11.6 3.9 5.4 7.2
Jacob Parker S.F. Austin 14.2 7.1 2.0 6.6
Montrezl Harrell Louisville 14.0 8.4 1.2 6.4
Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin 13.9 6.3 1.3 6.2
Ron Baker Wichita St. 13.1 3.8 3.1 6.1
Keifer Sykes Green Bay 20.3 4.4 4.9 6.1
Michael Frazier Florida 12.4 3.5 1.1 6.0
Malcolm Brogdon Virginia 12.7 5.4 2.7 6.0
R.J. Hunter Georgia St. 18.3 4.6 1.7 5.9

 

One of the reasons to why Wright’s game is so versatile is because of his size. At 6’5″, Wright often causes mismatches at the combo guard position for the Utes.

He defends his position and reads passes well, as indicated by his steals average that was ranked No. 8 in the country last year. What stands out, however, is his ability to provide help defense despite being a perimeter player, as shown at the 1:10 and 1:38 marks in the video below.

On the offensive end, Wright possesses above-average ball-handling skills, and his height allows him to have a better court vision as well.

If you add in the fact that Wright draws plenty of attention from the opposing defense, then you usually have plays resulting like this.

When Wright decides to score on his own, however, he becomes much more dangerous.

Wright shot an impressive 63.3 percent on two-pointers last season, and his ability to get to the basket was a major factor in that.

Just by judging from the eye test, Wright does not have blazing speed to blow defenders by. What he does have, however, is a plethora of dribble-penetrating moves that primarily include hesitations and Eurostep layups that would make the likes of Manu Ginobili and James Harden proud.

Wright’s body control and ability to finish in traffic allows him to attack the basket at ease, and when he does draw contact from the defenders, he makes sure they pay for their mistakes. On an average of 5.8 attempts from the charity stripe last year, Wright shot 79.3 percent and averaged 4.6 points there alone.

If there is one downside in his offensive game, it would be the perimeter shooting. With a 22.2 shooting percent from downtown last season, Wright was often dared by the opposing teams to shoot the ball. However, with just 1.6 attempts from beyond the arc per game, it wasn’t as if Wright was giving away plenty of possessions by hitting the brick.

For a player of his caliber, you would have to believe that the three-point shooting was one of his focal points during the offseason, and that was exactly the case when he spoke with Raphielle Johnson of CollegeBasketballTalk.

That’s the main thing I need to work on,” Wright said. “I’ve been shooting a lot of shots in the gym, and I’m trying to work on my form, release and confidence [in taking those shots]. A lot of teams packed the lane against me because they knew I like to drive to the basket. They gave me the outside shot and I wasn’t comfortable with it. So I feel that if I can knock those shots down, it will open up my game and open up the game for the entire team.

Apparently there were signs of Wright’s work paying off in Utah’s team scrimmage on Tuesday, according to The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Matthew Piper.

If the outside shooting indeed becomes another addition to Wright’s game, then one can only imagine how much better of a player he can be for the upcoming season.

Utah has not made an appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2009 and fell to Saint Mary in the first round of the NIT last year. But the Utes will feature many returning players and look for Wright to take them further this season with an All-American campaign.

 

Honorable Mentions

Frank Kaminsky - Wisconsin

Fred VanFleet - Wichita State

Bobby Portis - Arkansas

Marcus Paige - North Carolina

Georges Niang - Iowa State

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UNC Basketball: Will Tar Heels Go Undefeated in 2014-15 Nonconference Play?

The beauty of the college basketball regular season—as opposed to its football counterpart—for the top teams is that an early loss or two does not ruin their long-term goals. That means powerhouses like North Carolina are incentivized to schedule marquee nonconference games to prepare for March, and the fans are given a real treat before ACC play begins.

The Tar Heels certainly won’t have to worry about strength of schedule numbers come Selection Sunday given their daunting nonconference slate. Just because they can afford an early loss, though, doesn’t mean they want one.

With that in mind, what are the chances North Carolina runs through its nonconference schedule without a loss before it makes a run at the ACC title?

It is important to point out those chances aren’t high simply because it is a difficult schedule. Head coach Roy Williams suggested as much, via C.L. Brown of ESPN.com:

If you have some success, you can say that I am more prepared than just about anybody to get into conference play and that’s what we are trying to do. In the pre-conference, get ready for conference play, but also to play some of those national-type games to measure yourself to see how you can do outside the league as well. It is planned to try and get better, get better, get better so that you are hopefully playing your best basketball at the end of the season, when it’s the most important.

Before we dig into the schedule game by game, it is worth recapping exactly what North Carolina brings to the table. After all, if the Tar Heels didn’t have legitimate talent, the possibility of an undefeated nonconference run wouldn’t even be a conversation.

Marcus Paige is an absolute superstar and a legitimate candidate for ACC Player of the Year and perhaps even National Player of the Year if he takes another jump. He can drill it from three-point range, attack the basket off the dribble and set up teammates with crisp passes, which helped him carry the Tar Heels a number of times last year.

While he became the first North Carolina player since 1995-96 to lead his team in scoring and assists, he won’t have to carry quite the same load this year.

J.P. Tokoto will anchor the defense with his length and athleticism, Joel Berry will take some of the backcourt pressure off Paige with his shooting ability and Brice Johnson could be the most improved player in the conference if he stays out of foul trouble on a consistent basis. In fact, Johnson has the talent to be a double-double machine every night this season.

Throw in Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks, and this is a deeper and more talented team than a year ago.

It’s clear the pieces are in place to win a lot of games, but can North Carolina really win all of them before ACC play begins?

There are a number of nonconference tilts we can simply assume the Tar Heels are going to handle just by rolling the basketballs out on the floor given their status as a Top 10 team.

North Carolina plays N.C. Central at home, Robert Morris at home, Davidson in Charlotte, East Carolina at home, UNC Greensboro in Greensboro, UAB at home and William and Mary at home.

It would be dangerous for the players and coaching staff to overlook games, especially the one against Davidson, but fans and commentators can safely assume North Carolina will win these ones. After all, we are talking about the No. 6 team in the country in the initial USA Today Coaches Poll, and Stephen Curry isn’t walking through any doors for Davidson.

That leaves the difficult games on the nonconference schedule.

North Carolina is playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis from Nov. 26-28 in the Bahamas and will start off with Butler. After that, it will play UCLA or Oklahoma and finally finish against UAB, Florida, Georgetown or Wisconsin. It is obviously difficult to project how the Tar Heels will do in these three games because playing UAB is a lot different than playing national championship contenders like Wisconsin or Florida.

Let’s assume, though, for argument’s sake that North Carolina gets past Butler and UCLA/Oklahoma (easier said than done, but none of those teams is as talented as the Tar Heels on paper) and runs into the Badgers or Florida in the last game.

In terms of the experience and talent combination, there may not be a better team in the country than Wisconsin. The Badgers should have plenty of confidence after last year’s Final Four run and return star center Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig.

The frontcourt alone is rather imposing with Kaminsky as one of the country’s best centers, Hayes as a rapidly improving presence and Dekker as a potential first-round NBA draft pick down the line.

Florida may pose a slightly less daunting challenge, but it is still the No. 7 team in the country even though it lost four senior starters from a year ago.

Sharpshooter Michael Frazier II, athletic Dorian Finney-Smith and potential superstar Chris Walker give the Gators a formidable core, and Kasey Hill is an ideal pass-first point guard to get them each the ball. Florida is once again a serious candidate for a Final Four run.

Outside of the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Tar Heels have a matchup with perennially underrated Iowa in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Aaron White led the Hawkeyes to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 last year, and they should contend for a top-four seed in the Big Ten in 2014-15.

At least that one is in Chapel Hill.

Speaking of Big Ten teams, North Carolina plays Ohio State in December at the United Center in Chicago as part of the CBS Sports Classic with Kentucky and UCLA. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 20 in the country and have a solid mix of returning veterans and talented freshmen.

Shannon Scott anchors a potentially stout defense, guard D’Angelo Russell is the highest-regarded newcomer because of his scoring ability and overall quickness and guys like Sam Thompson, Marc Loving, Anthony Lee, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Amir Williams give Thad Matta plenty of depth.

This will be more challenging than the No. 20 next to Ohio State’s name indicates because the Buckeyes are quite athletic and will use defensive pressure to attempt to rattle Paige.

Finally, North Carolina’s premier nonconference showdown comes against Kentucky in Lexington in front of what should be one of the most raucous crowds in all of college basketball this season.

The Wildcats are No. 1 for a reason and have returnees Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress to help another loaded recruiting class get accustomed to the college game. Among the freshmen are potential superstars in Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis.

That is a lot of McDonald’s All-Americans to deal with on the road for the Tar Heels. 

This team is so deep that we could see a radical strategy from John Calipari, via ESPN College Basketball:

North Carolina is incredibly talented and has the exact right idea with this schedule. Playing this many difficult games before ACC play begins will have the Tar Heels ready to go when Duke and Syracuse are on the other end of the floor.

However, playing Iowa at Chapel Hill and Ohio State, Wisconsin/Florida and Kentucky all away from home is not a recipe for an undefeated nonconference run. It’s just not realistic to expect a win in every one of those games, especially against the Wildcats, because the Tar Heels would have to play at their best every night out. 

It will be more important if the Tar Heels use this daunting stretch of games to prepare themselves to go undefeated in March.

 

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Ranking the 10 Best College Basketball Personalities to Follow on Twitter

With the start of college basketball’s regular season now (mercifully) just three weeks away, it’s time to make sure you’re following all of the right personalities on Twitter.

It’s one thing to watch college basketball games and read college basketball articles, but your full college basketball experience is incomplete without the breaking news and witty analysis you get from following these 10 people on Twitter.

The ranking system is totally subjective, but the general thought process was to ask “Who would I follow for college basketball news and notes if I could only pick one person?” After picking Jeff Goodman at No. 1 and eliminating him from further consideration, the question was asked again and again until a top 10 was created.

Obviously, you need to be following C.J. Moore, Jason King and me, but we excluded all Bleacher Report writers from consideration (because you already know to follow us).

If someone you love to follow isn’t on the list, be sure to mention that person in the comments, so we can make sure we’re following them as well.

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