The trade deadline has passed in most leagues, but in keeper leagues, the decision-making process never really ends. Not only are we going to have to decide which players to keep for next season, but since most keeper leagues allow offseason trading, we'll have the chance to acquire new keepers during the summer.
Last year, I discussed offseason trade strategy. You can follow that link to get some ideas for what types of players you should target in general and some good angles for acquiring quality keepers at a reasonable cost.
Of course, most of the top players in the game are obvious keepers, but if it costs you a draft pick to keep a guy, or if you did an auction and you have to consider how much of your budget you'll need to spend to keep a player under contract, you're going to want to aim for some guys whose career arcs remain on an upward trend. Let's take a look at some young players who haven't maxed out their stats but whose fantasy futures are blazingly bright.
Bismack Biyombo, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats: About all we knew about Biyombo when he was drafted was that he was a physical freak of nature who had played very little basketball. Of course, just because you have skills doesn't mean you'll churn out fantasy stats; Biyombo's teammate Tyrus Thomas has established that annually. However, Biyombo's production has risen each month in his rookie season, and he has averaged 6.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 27.0 minutes in his 22 starts, shooting 44.7 percent from the field. The scoring should be slow to come, but that's all right if he can pull in double-digit rebounds and block three shots per game next season, which is fully in his range.
Nicolas Batum, SF/SG, Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers finally opened up their roster via trades so that Batum should be a starter and central part of their offense for years to come. In 12 February games, he averaged 17.8 points, 2.5 3s, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks and shot 49 percent from the field and 83 percent from the line. This is pretty much the max we can expect from him as a fantasy option, but what a max that is -- 3s, swipes, blocks and excellent percentages. Don't let him off your team in keeper leagues.
Tristan Thompson, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers: It may take a couple of seasons for Thompson to get up to speed, but he's given us a little taste of his potential during his rookie campaign. In five starts, he averaged 35.0 minutes, 14.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot 52.9 percent from the field during that stretch, though his free throw shooting was an unimpressive 69.6 percent. Odds are he starts next season and comes close to this production.
Ty Lawson, PG/SG, Denver Nuggets: Lawson is reminiscent of Stephen Curry, sans the balky ankles, because he's a point guard who maintains great percentages, while piling up steals and 3s. Lawson doesn't take enough 3-pointers to match Curry in that category, but any PG who can fill out those other categories is going to be a fantasy stud. If he were to get 14-15 shots and 4-5 3-point shots per game, he would have top-15 potential.
Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors: The rookie went from sleeper to "cat out of the bag" in a matter of days. In 10 starts for the Warriors, he has averaged 18.0 points, 2.2 3s and 3.1 dimes per game. Expect plenty more of this next season and beyond.
Paul George, SF/SG, Indiana Pacers: Players who don't score a ton of points regularly don't get the fantasy props they deserve. Take George, for instance. Over his past 28 games, he's averaged 2.2 steals, and he knocked down nearly 1.8 3s per game prior to the All-Star break. The problem with his scoring is that he's been inconsistent (47.6 percent shooting in January, 41.9 in February and 45.8 in March), which has limited his ability to claim shots in the Pacers' offense (10-11 per game the past two months). George has "sleeper" written all over him if he can get enough shots next season.
Nick Young, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: The fact Young is a regular on both ESPN's Top 10 highlights and the Not Top 10 says all you need to hear about Young's fantasy potential -- tons of skills and an equal amount of boneheadedness. What hopefully will counter that boneheadedness is a combination of job security (Clips traded for him and he has basically no competition for minutes) and having Chris Paul running at his side, giving him the ball in good spots to score. Young has tremendous upside next season.
Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves: He's not a big shot-blocker, but he should have no problem averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds with quality percentages. He has a secure role as the Wolves' starting center going forward, and Kevin Love draws all of the attention in the paint, so Pekovic should continue to churn out great stats next year and beyond.
MarShon Brooks, SG/SF, New Jersey Nets: It may be hard to commit to a guy who has taken 11 3s over his past five games and missed every single one of them. However, he has the ability to develop into a player who can score, drop 3s and swipe balls at a good clip. He should be the future for the Nets at shooting guard, which means the opportunity for a big sophomore campaign is there.
Marcin Gortat, C, Phoenix Suns: Like Pekovic, this big Eastern European center has his role locked in with the Suns and doesn't need a lot of touches to make a difference. He's averaged 16.0 points this season on just 11.9 shots per contest. Toss in nearly 10 boards, 1.5 blocks and 56 percent shooting and you have a quality fantasy center. There's little risk of his production dipping next season, unless the Suns' roster changes drastically.
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG, Toronto Raptors: My fascination and commitment to Bayless has been well-documented this season. Of course, he's remained a tease, in part due to coach Dwane Casey's dedication to using Jose Calderon over Bayless and in part due to his inability to stay healthy. Currently, he's battling a hip pointer. However, his upside is just too high to give up on. Consider that in 11 starts this season, he's averaged 17.8 points, 2.2 3s, 5.3 assists and 1.4 steals, while knocking down 45.0 percent of his field goal attempts and 83.7 percent from the charity stripe. If the Raps ever truly turn him loose, he'll be a fantasy stud.