While the fantasy basketball season is all but over, it's never too early to take a look toward next season. The past five-and-a-half months have given us plenty of time to study the players around the league and forecast what lies ahead in 2017-18.
In the final Fantasy 30 this year, we zero in on the players, factors and themes to consider heading into your fantasy drafts for next season.
Atlanta Hawks: There aren't many sure things on the Hawks roster heading into next season, aside from Dwight Howard, Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore being under contract for several more years. Paul Millsap has a player option that he can opt out of and become a free agent, which certainly will complicate offseason plans until there's a resolution. The player to focus on is Schroder, who averaged career highs in his first year out of Jeff Teague's shadow and averaged 18 PPG and 6.3 APG on 45.1 percent shooting. Only 23, Schroder will become a top-15 point guard next season if he can continue to improve his career-high 1.3 3PG and 0.9 SPG this season.
Boston Celtics: Only Russell Westbrook (31.9 PPG) and James Harden (29.3) averaged more points per game this season than Isaiah Thomas (29.2), and that could change in the final days of the regular season. The point is, Thomas took his game to new heights this season, and he did so while averaging more threes per game (3.3) than either Westbrook or Harden. He is in a contract year next season and won't be available by round three in your drafts.
Brooklyn Nets: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's numbers are reminiscent of another player with a hyphen in his name -- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- but there are factors that give Hollis-Jefferson more upside going forward. For one, the Nets forward is a year-and-a-half younger so there's some more time to grow, but on top of that is the fact that he has only averaged 22 MPG in his two seasons in the league compared to the 28-29 Kidd-Gilchrist has logged in each of the past three seasons. If Hollis-Jefferson is going to become a staple in Brooklyn for the years to come, he's going to have to show more as a defender and 3-point option in 2017-18, his third season in the league.
Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets could always decide to shake things up and drastically overhaul their roster for next season, but as things stand right now they are built around stability; Nicolas Batum, Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky are all under contract through 2018-19. Problem is, at 36-44 this season, the Hornets are probably eager to shake up the roster. This is purely speculation, but two potential players the team could look to move if they decide to change the nucleus of the team are Kidd-Gilchrist and Zeller. Neither lottery pick has panned out how the Hornets hoped, and both have others who could step in and fill their roles with Williams and Kaminsky showing more promise.
Chicago Bulls: One of the big questions over the offseason will be what Dwyane Wade decides to do. The veteran shooting guard and future Hall of Famer has a player option worth $23.8 million in 2017-18, but conceivably he could opt out and seek a multi-year deal elsewhere... like Miami, or on a team with a better shot at winning it all. If Wade leaves, it likely translates to a higher usage for Jimmy Butler, so keep that in mind as well.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson is a durable big man who serves as a solid streaming option for rebounds (9.2 RPG) and blocks (1.1 BPG), but his 10.6 usage rate this season was a career-low and his 8.1 PPG and 5.6 FGA were both the second-lowest marks of his career. Thompson will be back in Cleveland barring a trade, since he's signed through the 2019-20 season at a rate of over $16 million annually.
Dallas Mavericks: It's almost hard to remember that this is the first season Seth Curry has been a real every-day type of player in the NBA, but that's what happens when you have the type of breakout season the 26-year-old shooter had in 2016-17. His season ended with him shooting 48.1 percent and averaging 12.8 PPG, with his 2 3PG and 42.5 percent shooting from distance making him a valuable streamer. One thing to remember about next season, too, is that Curry is in the final year of his deal and will be looking to impress for a big payday the following summer.
Denver Nuggets: While the Nuggets fell short of making the playoffs this season, the future looks bright due to all the young talent on the roster and rookie Jamal Murray is one player to keep a close eye on next season. Why? Because Emmanuel Mudiay's inefficiency in his first two NBA seasons (36.9 percent shooter) all but ends the team's hopes of him being the point guard of the future, and the only other option aside from Murray is 35-year-old veteran Jameer Nelson. Given extended minutes late in the season by the Nuggets, Murray put together a stretch of four consecutive games with at least four assists and he is also a solid scorer, rebounder, 3-point shooter and steals contributor. He's a potential late-round gem for next year.
Detroit Pistons: Ish Smith won't likely begin next season as Detroit's starting point guard, a role he's moved into while the team gives Reggie Jackson the rest of the season off. Next season, Jackson will be the odds-on favorite to reclaim the starting job. However, what Smith has done in his time as the starter is prove himself as a very capable player in this league, which is worth remembering if and when he's ever a starter again. In 23 games since the All-Star break, Smith has put up 10.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.6 APG and 1 SPG. The only glaring weakness in his game is his lack of 3-point shooting.
Golden State Warriors: With only two games to go in the regular season, Draymond Green sits at No. 22 on ESPN's Player Rater, one spot behind Myles Turner. With a season to see how Kevin Durant impacted the players in Golden State's star-studded lineup, it's now safe to say that Green was the most negatively affected. His shooting dropped from 49 to 42 percent, his rebounds from 9.5 to 7.9 and even his assists fell slightly from 7.4 to 7.1. Assuming that both Durant and Stephen Curry are back in Warriors uniforms next season, it's probably not worth considering Green inside the top 20 picks.
Houston Rockets: James Harden stole almost all of the headlines for the Rockets in what would have been a sure MVP season had it not been for Mr. Triple-Double, Russell Westbrook, but Harden wasn't the only notable story in Houston. You can't forget about Clint Capela, who moved into the starting lineup for the first time in his career and averaged 12.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG while shooting 63.7 percent and putting up 1 SPG and 1 BPG. He will be 23 entering his fourth NBA season in 2017-18, and a double-double average is well within reach as long as his minutes and skills continue to increase.
Indiana Pacers: The Pacers have three players -- Thaddeus Young, Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson -- locked up for next season who spent many years being valuable fantasy assets but are no longer top 130 options. With Jeff Teague being a free agent this summer, there could be a new point guard in Indiana next season as the Pacers look to get younger and improve their backcourt as they build around Paul George and Myles Turner.
LA Clippers: Austin Rivers will probably never be close to a superstar in this league, but his improvement in his fourth year in the league was noticeable. Best remembered for playing with a completely closed eye in the playoffs last season, earning the respect of many around the league, Rivers put up career-highs this season in minutes (27.8), FG% (44.2), 3FG% (37.1) and PPG (12). Rivers doesn't rebound, distribute or rack up enough steals to be more than a streaming option, but at this point it's undeniable that he's turned himself into a scorer who can knock down the 3-ball like a Nick Young or Patty Mills. He's more stream-worthy going forward.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers are on the hook to pay Timofey Mozgov over $14 million more than Ivica Zubac next season and over $15 million more the following season, but it's Zubac -- not Mozgov -- who may be the team's center of the future. The 7-foot-1 Zubac was selected No. 32 overall last summer and showed offensive promise when thrust into extended minutes in March before going down with a season-ending injury. Only 20 years old, Zubac averaged 11.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 1 BPG in a span of 12 games in March.
Memphis Grizzlies: One of the biggest busts of the 2016-17 season was undoubtedly Chandler Parsons, who never looked like himself after coming back from multiple knee surgeries. His season ended in March when he underwent -- you guessed it -- another knee surgery. Parsons finished his first season in Memphis playing in only 34 games, averaging 6.2 PPG on 33.8 percent shooting. The once talented swingman will be paid over $23 million for each of the next three seasons but unless he shows marked improvement physically -- namely from a mobility standpoint -- Parsons isn't someone worth drafting until the very late rounds next season.
Miami Heat: Hassan Whiteside backed up his huge contract with a big season, leading the NBA in rebounding (14 RPG) heading into the final week of the regular season. He also posted a career-best 16.8 PPG and for the second-straight year shot over 62 percent from the free throw line. If there's an area of concern, it's that the former shot-blocking king saw that part of his game drastically fall off this season. Always known as a shot-blocker since his record-setting days in college at Marshall, Whiteside fell from 3.7 BPG last season to 2.1 in 2016-17. You have to think that number could drop below 2.0 next season when Whiteside is 28 years old.
Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton returned earlier than expected and made it all the way back from a serious preseason hamstring injury, and the numbers tell the whole story. His 44.8 percent shooting and 41.4 percent shooting from 3-point range are both slightly better than his marks from his breakout 2015-16 campaign, and just about every other stat is right where it was last season. The versatile shooting guard is one of the most underrated players in fantasy heading into next season, and he shouldn't be available by the 45th pick.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns stuck out so much as a rookie that his excellent second season almost went unnoticed, however unfair that may be. Towns saw his minutes rise from 32 to 36.9 this season and he made marked improvements as a scorer (18.3 to 25.1 PPG), rebounder (10.5 to 12.2 RPG) and 3-point shooting threat (0.4 to 1.1 3PG). He has never missed an NBA game and should be on your radar by pick four or five next season.
New Orleans Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins is still a very good player on the Pelicans, but he's not quite the fantasy force on his new team that he was with the Kings. His shots are down nearly 2 per game (from 20.3 to 18.5) and his scoring is down from 27.8 to 24.4 PPG. This could all change the longer Cousins and Anthony Davis play together, and Cousins is a free agent after next season so the clock is ticking loudly on that, but the trade to New Orleans knocks Cousins down a notch heading into next year's drafts. Expect him to go somewhere between pick 13-15 in most leagues.
New York Knicks: As great as the 7-foot-3 sensation Kristaps Porzingis was as a rookie, he was even better this season, at least from a shooting standpoint. The 21-year-old raised his shooting percentage from 42.1 to 45 and was more efficient from 3-point land (33.3 to 35.7 percent) as well. If there's any concern, it's that the rest of his numbers remained remarkably similar from year one to two (7.3 to 7.2 RPG, 1.3 to 1.5 APG, 1.9 to 2 BPG, 0.7 to 0.7 SPG). If those numbers don't improve next season, it could be a sign that while Porzingis has untapped potential as a scorer and long-distance shooter, the rest of his game may already be nearing a ceiling.
Oklahoma City Thunder: You know about Russell Westbrook's triple-doubles but did you realize that he leads the league in scoring (31.9 PPG), is third in assists (10.4) and 10th in rebounding (10.7 RPG)? When you put it like that, it's almost crazier to digest. In any case, Westbrook will likely be the No. 1 pick (ahead of Harden) in most drafts next season, and deservedly so.
Orlando Magic: Elfrid Payton shouldn't be a sleeper or a secret heading into next season's drafts - not after the way he played after the All-Star break. In 22 games, the third-year point guard out of Louisiana-Lafayette shot 51.1 percent while averaging 13.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 7.1 APG and 1.1 SPG. The only area where his game still needs to evolve is his 3-point shooting; it's always difficult to select a point guard who doesn't shoot the 3-ball.
Philadelphia 76ers: The young and talented 76ers roster will almost certainly add more young star power via the June draft, as the 76ers have a chance to get the two top 10 picks if things fall their way in the lottery. Philadelphia receives the Lakers first-round pick if the Lakers end up with a pick outside the top 3, and also has the right to swap 1st round picks with the Kings if the Kings end up outside the top 10. In any case, the presence of Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid means the 76ers will likely be targeting a wing and/or a point guard in the draft, depending on how many picks they get and whether they stick with the idea of Simmons as their point guard of the future. ESPN's Chad Ford projects the 76ers to end up with NC State freshman point guard Dennis Smith, an excellent athlete who can shoot the 3-ball.
Phoenix Suns: The Suns are almost sure to have a top three pick in this summer's NBA draft, and that could complicate things even more in their already crowded backcourt if Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz is on the board. The two combo guards are widely considered the top two players in the draft, and if either lands in Phoenix it could lead to Eric Bledsoe being a trade chip at some point next season. It could also take the ball out of Devin Booker's hands more than he's been used to in his first two years in the league.
Portland Trail Blazers: If you believe the early returns, trading for Jusuf Nurkic looks like one of the best trades the Trail Blazers have made in a long time. Nurkic has come alive in the Rose City after being buried in the crowded Nuggets frontcourt rotation. A rise in playing time from 17.9 to 29.2 MPG sparked an increase in production as his FGA rose from 6.6 in Denver to 11.8 in his first 20 games with Portland. If Nurkic can stay healthy with the Trail Blazers, he is capable of averaging 15 PPG, 10 RPG and 1.5 BPG next season.
Sacramento Kings: By trading away DeMarcus Cousins and getting Buddy Hield back in return, it goes without saying that the Kings are heavily invested in Hield going forward. They want the rookie out of Oklahoma to live up to the billing as a big-time scorer in this league, and to Hield's credit he has performed up to expectations since coming over in the trade. The No. 6 overall pick in 2016 is shooting 47.1 percent in 23 games with the Kings, averaging 14.4 PPG along the way, after shooting a mere 39.3 percent and averaging 8.6 PPG in 57 games with the Pelicans. He's another scorer and 3-point shooter to have on your radar as a streaming option next season.
San Antonio Spurs: With Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili both in the final year of their current contract, there's a chance neither could return to the Spurs next season. And with Tony Parker nearing the end of his fabulous career, signed for one more season, there's a chance Dejounte Murray could climb into a bigger role in his second season in the league. Often compared to a young Jamal Crawford for his smooth style, the rookie out of Washington impressed in limited opportunities with the Spurs this season, even going for 24 points against Denver in a game back in January.
Toronto Raptors: Don't get too used to Serge Ibaka in a Raptors uniform, as the veteran power forward could very well be a rental player. Ibaka's numbers have been very consistent this season while playing on Orlando and Toronto, and that could very well be the case next season if the unrestricted free agent signs somewhere else this summer. If that happens, the Raptors will be left with a big hole at the four spot once again.
Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert doesn't get the attention he deserves while playing in the small market of Utah, but what he has done this season shouldn't go overlooked by anyone. The fourth-year center has taken his game to new heights in the 22 games since the All-Star break, shooting 71.5 percent from the field while averaging 16.8 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.8 APG and 3.1 BPG. He is the league's leading shot-blocker this season with 2.67 per game and ranks fourth in rebounds per game with 12.8. He also comes in 13th on the ESPN Player Rater.
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal's breakout season moves him into serious discussion as a top 30 fantasy option next season, meaning it will likely require a third-round pick to land the shooting guard once known more for his injuries than his jump shot. Beal shattered that narrative this season, playing a career-high 76 games (with two to go) and also putting up career bests with 23 PPG, 2.9 3PG and 3.5 APG. This is the Beal we all expected when he came out of Florida after only one season.