Those of us who can remember the early ‘90s know how on-top-of-the-world Mariah Carey used to be. The Music Box version of Mariah was young, beautiful and supremely talented. Then somewhere along the way Tommy Mottola, Glitter, “MTV Cribs” and Nick Cannon happened. A more recent example of a fallen diva is, of course, Christina Aguilera, whose career arc can be summarized as “Genie in a Bottle,” “Dirrty,” Burlesque and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Today, Mariah and Christina are replaced by the likes of Adele, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Ke$ha.
The moral of this brief tale is that, like it or not, the future won’t look the same as the present. For fantasy basketball owners, this means they should always be thinking about who the next rising and falling stars will be. Below are two lists: 1) five players who should see their stocks climb in next season’s drafts, and 2) five players who should see their stocks drop.
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Amir Johnson: He was tagged as a sleeper by many fantasy owners heading into last season and actually exceeded expectations, thanks to the opportunity Reggie Evans’ broken foot opened for the young big man. While the PF position was a bit crowded in Toronto last season with Johnson, Evans, Ed Davis and even James Johnson vying for minutes there, the good news is that this Evans’ contract with the Raptors expired after 2010-11. Assuming the Raptors don’t go out and sign another power forward in the offseason, Johnson should have plenty of room to develop into being a player who can potentially chip in 12 points, eight rebounds and nearly two blocks a game on a steady basis. His solid shooting from the field and the free-throw line also helps his value. If he can avoid foul trouble and fend off Davis from stealing too many of his minutes, Johnson will be a very desirable fantasy player to own. (Projected draft position: 75-85)
Chase Budinger: When Shane Battier was dealt from the Houston Rockets in February, fantasy fans of Budinger everywhere smiled. We knew what this meant: Our favorite NBA ginger was about to unleash his awesome talent on the league. From his averages as a starter in the last two seasons, we know Budinger can produce around 15-18 points, 4-5 rebounds, 2-4 assists and a pair of threes per game, along with strong shooting percentages. He’s no longer a viable name to write on sleeper lists – Budinger is now a reliable fantasy player who offers help in just about every category and will be just 23 years old when the 2011-12 season starts. (Projected draft position: 70-80)
Marcin Gortat: Now that he’s with the Phoenix Suns and freed from the shadow of Dwight Howard, The Polish Hammer is finally getting an opportunity to prove that the $34 million contract he signed with the Magic back in the summer of 2009 wasn’t exorbitant after all. He thrived in a Suns uniform this past season despite coming off the bench. Gortat is a reliable scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker, and has strong shooting percentages to boot. Even if he remains a sixth man for the Suns, Gortat has done plenty to convince fantasy owners that he’s a big man to remember on draft day. (Projected draft position: 65-75)
Ryan Anderson: He was supposed to be a throw-in in the deal that brought Vince Carter to the Magic back in the summer of 2009. Less than two years later, Anderson has emerged as the most valuable player in that trade from a fantasy perspective. While he struggled with bouts of inconsistency in 2010-11, Anderson hit his stride in January, when he averaged 14.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, three three-pointers and 0.9 blocks in just 25 minutes of action per game. He’ll be 23 years old when the 2011-12 season starts, and with 25+ minutes seemingly his for the taking, Anderson shouldn’t be sneaking up on anyone this fall. (Projected draft position: 75-85)
Kyle Lowry: Making the jump from being a solid fill-in to a reliable fantasy stud isn’t easy – just ask Darren Collison. It was a bit tough to trust Lowry for much of this past season, mostly because the ghost of Aaron Brooks loomed. But when Brooks was exorcised away from the Rockets in late February, Lowry was finally freed and didn’t disappoint. If all remains steady in Houston, the young point guard has a serious shot at being a top 15 pick in drafts this coming fall. Unbridled optimism is a dangerous game, but if the Rockets’ backcourt remains relatively unchanged in 2011-12, the sky’s the limit for Lowry. (Projected draft position: 25-35)