Sleeper options emerging from poor teams

March, 17, 2009
It's playoff time in fantasy hoops. Regardless of whether you're in the quest for a title or the "consolation" bracket (fantasy's NIT), it's time to start thinking about next season. And a chief method for doing just that is to look at actual NBA teams also currently thinking about next season.

As the also-rans turn to the future, and begin giving their future fantasy impact players (youngsters with upside) 30 to 35 minutes a night, owners need to get a bead on which players are closing out strong.

Some teams are just too dilapidated to sift through. Because of current injuries or future salary-cap ramifications, rotations such as the Kings' and Wizards' will little resemble the lineups they'll feature on opening night for 2009-10. The key is to pinpoint which losing teams are gaining some sort of steam and building momentum as the season closes out.

Monday's slate featured two teams, Oklahoma City and Memphis, that are stocked with young players who could make an impact in 2009-10.

Oklahoma City now trots out its own up-and-coming "big three" of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. If Green and Westbrook can take the step Durant did this season -- mainly shoring up field goal percentage -- they both will be top-40 players by next All-Star Weekend.

Thabo SefoloshaLarry W. Smith/NBAE/Getty ImagesTime to take a look at little-known Thabo Sefolosha.
But the other member of the Thunder who has grabbed fantasy interest of late is Thabo Sefolosha. Since coming to Oklahoma City, he has provided a new level of defensive intensity, which was on display during last night's upset of the Spurs. Sefolosha, averaging 3.2 steals and 1.2 blocks over his past five games, is the rare fantasy player who doesn't need 10 shot attempts a night to be a force.

Memphis is another young team on the rise whose rotation has jelled under a new system. The Grizzlies might not be winning a ton of games, but the second-half ascensions of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have big fantasy ramifications going into next season.

Gasol's numbers for March (16.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks) are eerily reminiscent of another Gasol who once resided in Memphis. Marc Gasol might not get to his brother's lofty statistical level, but he should be a solid No. 1 center next season. His rise has been keyed by the improved play of Mike Conley.

Conley's numbers have been on the upswing since Kyle Lowry was dealt to the Rockets. I like Conley because he's the kind of player who will turn to other areas for production if his shot isn't falling, which means he rarely has a worthless night. In February, he averaged almost five rebounds per game, a gaudy stat for a point guard. In March, he has cranked up his scoring, including a career-high 31 points against the Sixers. This week, Conley put up the first back-to-back 20-point-night stretch of his career.

Both the Thunder and Grizzlies remind me of last season's Bobcats as teams that might struggle to make the NBA playoffs but feature improving rotations that produce four to five worthwhile fantasy lines per night.

Under the boards

Ben Gordon, Bulls: 43 points (14-23 FG), 8 3-pointers against the Heat.
Joe Johnson, Hawks: 30 points, 4 3-pointers, 2 steals versus New Orleans.
Gerald Wallace, Bobcats: 25 points, 8-for-13 FG, 8-for-8 FT, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block versus the Raptors.
• Jeff Green, Thunder: 10 points, 4-for-15 FG versus the Spurs.
• Russell Westbrook, Thunder: 10 points, 4-for-17 FG versus the Spurs.
Anthony Parker, Raptors: 11 points, 3-for-10 FG, 6 turnovers at Charlotte.

There were several ugly shooting performances Monday that could singlehandedly submarine a team's field goal percentage for the entire week. Ron Artest missed his first 11 shots on his way to 7-for-23 from the floor, and Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 8-for-32 against the Spurs. … Devin Harris sat out Monday's drubbing at the hands of the Nuggets because of a sore shoulder. He could have an MRI today. If he misses more time, Harris owners should take a short-term look at Keyon Dooling, who put up 17 points and 6 assists in relief. I was hoping for a little more down the stretch out of Yi Jianlian (4 points), who has shot 9-for-30 from the floor over his past five games. … Renaldo Balkman was nearing a double-double (8 points, 8 rebounds) before leaving Monday's game early because of a groin strain. … Rasual Butler continued his string of double-digit games with 11 points against the Rockets. … D.J. Augustin, another good young player to watch, put up 15 points in 20 minutes. … Luis Scola complemented his (now almost automatic) double-double with two steals. He'll need to figure out a way to be a factor in the defensive departments if he wants to get to the next level in fantasy. … Aaron Brooks (14 points) is still playing well despite being bogged down in a time-share with Kyle Lowry (6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists). … Joel Przybilla had a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) against Marc Gasol. … In an upset over Michael Finley and Roger Mason, Matt Bonner was the mystery third Spur to put up decent numbers (10 points, 8 rebounds) in Manu Ginobili's absence.



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