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Next Year's Risers

Valanciunas Validation

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Matt Stroup breaks down a late-season run from Jonas Valanciunas along with some other trends in this …

We spent the season trying to project which fringe players would be getting minutes over the next few days. Now we’ll try to look six months down the line, into next season.

The rules here are simple. To be a “riser,” you could not have played more than 25 minutes per game this year. That rules out youngsters certain to be fantasy studs next year like Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and Tobias Harris.

These are the players I think could make the leap into the 30-minute range next season, giving them tons of fantasy appeal.

1. Derrick Favors, PF, Jazz and Enes Kanter, C, Jazz
The Jazz strangely chose to stand pat at the trade deadline, leaving them with two monster unrestricted free agents in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The front office certainly has a plan in place and it should revolve around Favors.

Favors will be entering his fourth NBA season at age 22. He’s the one teaching Jefferson some tricks on defense, showing the maturity it takes to be a building block in the NBA. Favors’ per-36 minute numbers this year are a drool-worthy 14.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.3 steals.  It would be a major upset if he’s not up around 32 minutes a night next season.

Kanter is behind Favors, but he’s shown similar upside in limited playing time. In two starts this year, the 6’11/248 Turkish import averaged 20.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. On the season, he shot 54.4 percent from the field and 79.5 percent from the line. It’s the kind of efficiency at age 20 that owners should be excited about.

2. Andre Drummond, C, Pistons
File this one under the “no-duh” department. Although Drummond got just 20.6 minutes per game this season and struggled with a back injury in the second half, he still averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals. The defensive and rebounding numbers are outliers – especially for a raw rookie that won’t turn 20 until August. Drummond would have started over Jason Maxiell next season no matter what, but it doesn’t hurt that Maxiell is an unrestricted free agent.

Owners in roto leagues must realize that Drummond makes Shaquille O’Neal look like Steve Nash from the foul line. Drummond shot 37.1 percent this season, including embarrassing back-to-back airballs on March 31. And it’s not like he won’t get to the line. Teams have to the “Beat the Drum” technique, leading to 4.6 attempts a night over the final eight games.

3. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors
It’s understandable that Valanciunas struggled over his first 40 NBA games, averaging just 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks despite getting 21.3 minutes. He’s just 20 years old and he was adjusting to the NBA game while simultaneously adjusting to living in North America.

But once Valanciunas settled in, his game took off. Over his final 22 games of the season, Jonas averaged 12.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 60.0 percent from the field. He’s the clear-cut starting center and a true building block in Toronto.  

4. Brian Roberts, PG, Hornets
It’s going to be hard for the Hornets to trade Eric Gordon and the absurd four-year, $58 million contract he signed as a restricted free agent last summer. But there’s reason to believe they’ll at least explore it. Gordon didn’t want the Hornets to match the Suns’ offer sheet last summer. He was the subject of trade rumors at the deadline. He also recently got into a public shouting match with coach Monty Williams.

"To say if I anticipate him being back -- I don't know if that's something I can answer right now, or him not to be back," said GM Dell Demps when asked about Gordon. "We're going to sit down and evaluate every situation and opportunity."

Brian Roberts is a strict point guard, not a shooting guard. But based on how well he played this season, the Hornets could carve out minutes for him to play next to the 6-foot-6 Greivis Vasquez. It’s a lot of “ifs,” but it’s worth watching because Roberts averaged 12.6 points, 10.0 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 3-pointers as a starter this year.  

5. John Henson, PF, Bucks
Henson doesn’t have a clear path to playing time with both Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders under club control through the 2014/15 season. But there’s going to be a shakeup in Milwaukee this summer thanks to the Brandon Jennings situation. Perhaps one of the bigs gets thrown in as part of a blockbuster, opening things up for Henson.

After all, this kid showed really special ability as a 22-year-old rookie. His per-36 minute averages were 16.5 points, 12.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. And when Sanders was hurt over the final five games of the season, Henson played ahead of Samuel Dalembert and averaged 15.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while shooting 48.4 percent from the field.

Also worth watching:
* Eric Bledsoe, PG, Clippers: Chris Paul can opt out of his contract, but there’s a 97 percent chance he returns to the Clippers. Bledsoe’s path to a starting role will have to come via trade, which could happen as he enters the final year of his contract. Bledsoe averaged a 14.2/5.3/4.8 triple slash with 2.5 steals in 12 starts this season.
* Jimmy Butler, SF, Bulls: Defensive-minded head coach Tom Thibodeau has his wing of the present of future in Butler. Both Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli are free agents.
* Evan Fournier, G, Nuggets: Showing more and more progress as the weeks went on, Fournier is now a playoff starter for the Nugs. No one knows if Danilo Gallinari’s torn ACL will heal any faster than Derrick Rose’s.
* Arnett Moultrie, PF/C, Sixers: Doug Collins buried Moultrie on the depth chart as a rookie. That would be scary, except for the fact that Collins did the same thing to Nikola Vucevic before trading him away. Moultrie is far more talented than Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes is entering a contract year.

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