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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Chicago Bulls Players Losing Minutes with Their Preseason Performance

The NBA preseason is about development and acclimation, first and foremost. It takes some time to work the rust out of bodies that haven’t played the five-on-five game all summer. But for many, it’s also a tryout of sorts.

And since the Chicago Bulls come into the 2014-15 season with a handful of fresh pieces to work in, many of their new players are certainly on display for coach Tom Thibodeau’s judgment. While what he’s seen, and will see, in practice certainly matters, there’s an extra edge of expectation to game time that tells the coach something significant about his new men.

Rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic have impressed Thibodeau. Their respective work ethics and understandings of the team game have left him pleased with both, even if he remains mum on whether either will crack the rotation. Here’s Thibodeau on integrating the two, via ESPN’s Nick Friedell:

I like the way [McDermott] and Nikola come in every day. I don’t know when, but I do believe it’s going to happen. They’re both great workers, they have a great approach to what we’re doing, but it’s a big jump. They have to show that they’re capable of doing their job out there and they’re helping their team. And it’s not just how they’re playing individually, it’s how they’re playing with the group. The group has to function well when they’re on the floor.

Even though he won’t commit to giving his rookies minutes, it seems clear that McDermott and Mirotic haven’t lost any playing time in the preseason. Despite some expected sloppiness, both have found ways to positively impact games—going after rebounds and creating turnovers when their shots aren’t falling. If there’s anything that makes Thibodeau happy, it’s that kind of gamey persistence.

The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for Bulls sophomore Tony Snell.

Snell has had limited playing time in the preseason, breaking the 20-minute mark just twice and shooting a paltry 30 percent from the field. He hasn’t shown promise as a defender, either—despite his length. Lineups including Snell haven’t functioned better than McDermott or Mirotic lineups on the whole, and so it would seem that Snell is moving down the depth chart in 2014-15.

Aside from these three youngsters, Aaron Brooks is the remaining Bull who’s really fighting for playing time in exhibition games. The rest of the team will either decidedly get their minutes or decidedly not; Brooks is on the fence. Between Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, Thibodeau arguably already has what he needs in the point guard division. Brooks has to prove something.

So far, the journeyman’s results have been unsurprisingly mixed.

Like Nate Robinson, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III before him, Brooks is a peripheral offensive option who’s going to give up a lot defensively while bringing occasional scoring feasts to Chicago but also plenty of famines. After an ineffectual, six-point effort in the preseason opener against the Washington Wizards, Brooks came back the next night to make three three-pointers and score 18 against the Detroit Pistons.

More important to Thibodeau than Brooks’ shot, though, is his defense and team play. The point guard is prone to errant decision-making, and on defense he is simply not large or strong enough to hang with a lot of the league’s elite.

Kyrie Irving torched Brooks in the Bulls’ loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring most of his 28 points with Derrick Rose on the bench. This does not bode well for Brooks’ playing time. And while Hinrich hasn‘t been a world-killer himself, he’s got tenure in Chicago and his coach’s invaluable trust.

The most likely path for Brooks and extended minutes is an injury on the roster—and between Hinrich and Rose, you know there will be some games missed. In the preseason, however, Brooks looks like no more than what he is: an insurance policy.

At the top of the roster, we know Thibodeau‘s veterans are locked in. Rose, Hinrich, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson are all sure things. Though each has had growing pains in the preseason, none of them will lose minutes for what he does in exhibition play.

Noah—who’s battling some knee issues after arthroscopic surgery—may play less and hand time to Gibson in the short term. But in the long run, Thibodeau will lean on him hard. Nothing about the core is really changing in the preseason.

McDermott and Mirotic, despite being rookies, seem to be trending positively toward playing time with their own performances. But Snell and Brooks may have dug themselves into the holes beneath Thibodeau‘s rotation.

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Chicago Bulls Players Winning Minutes with Their Preseason Performance

For some Chicago Bulls players, preseason is basically a warm-up for the regular season. For others, it’s a chance to impress the coaching staff and earn playing time.

Jimmy Butler, who’s currently out with a sprained thumb, won’t have to worry about playing time once he returns. The fourth-year swingman will see the court a lot this year due to being one of the game’s top perimeter defenders. A season ago, he played 38.7 minutes per game, tying Carmelo Anthony for the league’s highest average.

Stars Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol will surely get their share of minutes. You can add role players Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich to the list as well. Their track records speak for themselves.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will need nine or 10 players for his regular-season rotation. Who could earn the final spots based on their preseason performances?

 

Aaron Brooks

After a fantastic summer league, Tony Snell was expected to play a valuable role this year behind Butler at shooting guard. But so far, it appears he’s the odd man out.

Snell’s minutes have been taken by newcomer Aaron Brooks, who’s backing up Rose at the point. This allows Hinrich to slide over to the shooting guard spot.

Brooks has put together a couple of solid performances, although he isn’t shooting the ball well (33.3 percent overall).

Against the Detroit Pistons, he came up with 18 points, three assists and three steals while shooting 3-of-6 from downtown. And in 15 minutes versus the Charlotte Hornets, Brooks contributed 13 points, three assists and a pair of three-pointers.

If you’ve followed the Bulls over the past few years, you’re aware that scoring backup point guards have flourished in Thibodeau’s system. Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin—now with the Denver Nuggets and Pistons, respectively—are perfect examples. Brooks could very well be the next guy.

CSNChicago.com’s Mark Schanowski believes Thibodeau trusts his new reserve floor general:

It’s pretty obvious Thibodeau is high on Brooks, who has always been able to score in his six NBA seasons, including averaging 19.6 points per game for the Rockets in 2009-10. Brooks gives the Bulls another quick point guard who can break down defenses off the dribble. That will allow the offense to maintain the same kind of pace when Rose is out of the game. Brooks has been too quick at times in jacking up 3-point shots during the preseason, but given the Bulls’ offensive challenges at times, it appears Thibodeau is willing to live with his shoot-first mentality.

Brooks will likely be a part of the rotation throughout the regular season. He can provide instant offense and serves as an insurance policy in case Rose goes down with another injury.

 

Nikola Mirotic

Known for his shooting ability, Nikola Mirotic has made a few nice defensive plays during the preseason. He has recorded at least two steals in four of his seven contests. Plus, he impressively blocked three shots against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Mirotic’s 11 steals lead the Bulls, and he’s tied with Butler for third on the team in blocks with six.

Following the Bucks game, Sam Smith of NBA.com compared Mirotic to Bobby Jones: ”Mirotic, who was hesitant and uncertain with his shot, was quick defensively, also with three blocks and adding a pair of steals. Advertised as the next Bob McAdoo, this game he was more like the next Bobby Jones.”

For all you young NBA fans out there, Bob McAdoo was the original “stretch 4,” and Bobby Jones served as a defensive specialist back in the day.

While Mirotic has a long way to go until he’s considered a great defender, Thibodeau must be pleased with his effort on that end of the floor. Playing D is the best way to make Thibs’ rotation. Everybody knows that.

The highlight of Mirotic’s preseason, though, was his debut against the Washington Wizards. Looking like a young Dirk Nowitzki, the 6’10” big man scored 17 points and hit five of his nine field-goal attempts (3-of-5 from beyond the arc).

His 12 points and four steals versus the Denver Nuggets weren’t too shabby either. 

Mirotic has shown the ability to run the floor, shoot, put the ball on the floor and play defense. Barring injury, he won’t be a major part of the rotation this year, but he’ll receive spot minutes depending on the matchup.

 

Doug McDermott

We go from one highly touted rookie to another.

Doug McDermott will definitely get minutes this season. The Bulls didn’t trade away two first-round picks for his services to have him become a Brian Scalabrine-like cheerleader.

An elite shooter during his time at Creighton, McDermott hasn’t seen his shot fall consistently in the preseason. He’s shooting just 37.5 percent overall and 33.3 percent from deep.

Fortunately, he is more than just a shooter. Starting in place of an injured Mike Dunleavy, McDermott showcased his all-around skills against Milwaukee, recording seven points, eight rebounds, three assists and a block.   

It’s a good thing he isn’t a one-trick pony. Even if you’re Ray Allen or Steph Curry, there will be days when your shot won’t find the bottom of the net.

His jumper looked great versus Denver, though, as he shot 5-of-8 from the field and finished with a preseason-high 16 points.

Averaging 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds a night, McDermott has been one of the Bulls’ top reserves so far. Perhaps he’ll replace Dunleavy as a starter within the first few months of the regular season.

 

All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com.  

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10 NBA Players Whose Stocks Are on the Rise Entering 2014-15

Certain NBA player stocks are on the rise. 

Reconfigure your 401k and IRA portfolios accordingly.

Optimism is available in excess this time of year, during the preseason, before regular-season contests have the opportunity to quash the idealistic bubble in which most fans and teams live. But not all hype is exaggerated or scheduled for imminent debunking. Some of it’s for real. A select few player stocks actually are on the up and up.

And that’s why you’ve stumbled upon this listicle thingamabob: To identify those risers.

Superstar appetites won’t be placated here. LeBron James’ and Stephen Curry‘s stocks are still soaring, but that’s of little concern. Ladder-climbing superstars have been paid their due already. It’s time to focus on the less established talents with more room to grow.

There will be one exception, for which no apologies are offered. Other than that, this is a tribute to the average Andys and regular Randys who are looking to make nice with the superstar Steves and outstanding Oscars. Note that these won’t be the only risers, just those tracking toward the biggest leaps.

Preseason performances will weigh heavily, as will 2013-14 campaigns. Team systems and projected rotations will matter too. Don’t forget Mr. Subjectivity and Ms. Up For Interpretation either. Their fingerprints are all over this.

Clear your schedule. Close the blinds. Erase your web-browsing history. Your how-to on NBA insider trading begins now.

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College Football Players on the Hot Seat in Week 9

When push comes to shove, will these players get it done?

This weekend’s college football games feature a number of big-time matchups, ones that will go a long way toward determining who makes the playoffs as well as which teams get into other notable bowl games. And while it’s a team sport, we’d be lying if we didn’t say that certain individual players will have more impact on the outcomes than others.

These players are on the hot seat, so to speak. How they play has a huge significance because a bad performance will be hard for their team to overcome. It could lead to loss, both in terms of the game itself and that player’s job moving forward.

Here’s our look at eight college football players with a lot riding on how they fare this weekend.

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‘Mo’ money, mo’ problems’ for owners, players

NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t want to worry about a possible lockout, but it’s out there

      
 

 

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More cash may mean problems for NBA and players

NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t want to worry about a possible lockout, but it’s out there

      
 

 

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Syracuse Basketball Recruiting: Make-or-Break Players for 2015 Class

The 2014-15 Syracuse basketball season hasn’t even started yet, but there is already buzz about the potential of the 2015-16 Orange team.

Over the summer, head coach Jim Boeheim said his 2015 recruiting class is his best ever. Boeheim already has four commits in the ESPN 100, and Boeheim said, “We’re getting another, but I can’t talk about that.” The four players Boeheim already has locked up are Malachi Richardson, Moustapha Diagne, Tyler Lydon and Franklin Howard. 

Each player is rated as a 4-star prospect by both ESPN and 247Sports. In addition, each player is in the Top 75 of the ESPN 100, with Richardson the highest-ranked player at No. 19. So yeah, it’s a pretty strong class already.

But Boeheim says he will be landing another player, which would make this class even better. As it stands right now, the class is already impressive, but one player could really put it over the top.

Thomas Bryant is a 5-star player, according to both ESPN and 247Sports, and he seems to be the most likely candidate to land in Syracuse next fall. Bryant is a hometown kid; he hails from nearby Rochester and was a high school teammate of current Syracuse center Chinonso Obokoh.

Landing Bryant would be the cherry on top of an already appetizing recruiting sundae. By 2015, the Orange will be in desperate need of big men. Rakeem Christmas is in his last year, DaJuan Coleman is still a question mark and Obokoh is unproven.

Bryant is just the player Boeheim needs to bolster his front line. The 6’10″ center is skilled around the basket, and he even shows a decent-looking jump shot. Suiting him up next to Richardson, Trevor Cooney and the rest of Syracuse’s returning players could provide a big boost to the offense.

Speaking of Richardson, he looks like he can be an immediate contributor for the Orange. With or without Bryant, Richardson is the other player who can make the 2015 class.

First of all, Richardson’s flat-top game is on point. But Richardson’s coiffure isn’t the only impressive aspect of the 6’6″ swingman.

One thing that immediately jumps out: Richardson can fill it up. He can score from the three-point line and get to the rim, and his size can be a problem if he is checked by an opposing guard. He can give Cooney a much-needed running mate on the perimeter, and he shapes up to be a more versatile shooter than Cooney is.

Most of Cooney‘s game is predicated on spotting up, catching and shooting. Perhaps that had something to do with the other featured offensive players around him, but Cooney has yet to create his own shot consistently. Richardson can spot up, but he can also get his shot off the dribble or coming off a screen.

The 2015-16 Orange roster is going to be loaded. If all of this year’s players who are eligible to return do so, Boeheim can go 10 deep with several upperclassmen and only two sophomores (Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough, should they both return). 

So there may not be a truckload of minutes for Richardson or Bryant (if he chooses Syracuse). But if Syracuse struggles offensively again this year, the door will be open for Richardson to come in and light it up early.

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New-Look NBA: A player’s perspective, Paul Pierce

New-Look NBA: Paul Pierce offers view on where league is heading from a player’s perspective

      
 

 

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Virginia Basketball Recruiting: Make-or-Break Players for 2015 Class

The 2016 season is shaping to be a banner year for the Virginia Cavaliers on the recruiting trail. Just this week, the Hoos landed a big commitment when Kyle Guy, a 6’2″ sharpshooting point guard from Indiana, per ESPN, pledged to Virginia. 

Guy, a 4-star recruit, per 247Sports (subscription required), joins fellow 4-star Ty Jerome in the class of 2016.

But what about 2015?

This year’s squad has just one scholarship senior, Darion Atkins, and he will likely come off the bench. So there aren’t many openings for newcomers in 2015.

The Cavaliers currently have one commitment: Jarred Reuter, a 6’8″, 235-pound power forward from New Hampshire. 

Virginia will be loaded with perimeter players the next season. Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Justin Anderson, B.J. Stith, Devon Hall and Marial Shayok all have at least two years of eligibility remaining. So adding perimeter players in this recruiting class is not a high priority.

Center Mike Tobey is a junior, and his backup, freshman Jack Salt, is a freshman. The Hoos would prefer to add another big man to the 2015 class. 

Here are three players who could make or break Virginia’s 2015 recruiting class.

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