As the 2013-14 NBA season has come to a conclusion, it’s never too early to look ahead to next year for fantasy owners. Finding value is crucial in keeper leagues and is a big part of building a championship roster. Drafting fresh each year becomes a daunting task of finding players who are ready to break out and have a bigger impact than they did the year before. Below is a list of 10 players who should be selected earlier than they probably went in your fantasy draft last year. These players had impact seasons this year and should take the another step next year to become big time fantasy studs.
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Isaiah Thomas, Guard, RFA with Sacramento Kings
The 5-9 guard out of Washington wasn’t expected to last very long in the NBA. But after three seasons in Sacramento, Thomas has been one of the only bright spots for the organization. Zeke continued to beat out more hyped point guard options over his first three seasons, including former ROY Tyreke Evans. This past season he averaged 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and shot over 45 percent from the field. His previous Power Ranking on ESPN Fantasy Basketball was 122 but ended the year at No. 20. Thomas should be a very good value late in drafts next year if the Kings have a new starting point guard. He’s a restricted free agent, but a triumvirate of impressive teams are interested in him, so it’ll be interesting to see if Sacramento matches a sweetheart deal from either Miami, the Lakers or Detroit. If not, Thomas should be selected even higher if he is going to be the full-time starter for the Kings.
Bradley Beal, Guard, Washington Wizards
Beal really made a name for himself in the NBA Playoffs this season. He helped lead the Washington Wizards to a first-round win over the Chicago Bulls. Beal averaged 19.2 points per game in the playoffs, leading the Wizards in that category. He thrived playing alongside All-Star point guard John Wall and should only continue to improve next season. Unfortunately for the third-year pro out of Florida, he only played in 43 games his rookie season, averaging only 13.9 points per game due to injury. This season, Beal played in 73 games and averaged 17.1 points per contest along with 3.3 assists while shooting over 40 percent from deep. Expect Beal to take another big step forward next season as the 1-2 punch the Wizards have created in the backcourt continues to develop. Trevor Ariza is a free agent which means Beal will play an ever bigger role in the offense and will be relied on to take more shots. Beal was ranked 59th in ESPN Fantasy Power Rankings to end the season, but I expect him to be drafted within the first four rounds in fantasy drafts before the 2014-15 campaign.
Kawhi Leonard, Forward, San Antonio Spurs
The NBA Finals MVP is on every fantasy owner’s radar going into next season. Leonard is a stat-stuffer, and as his role in Gregg Popovich’s system increases, so does his stock in fantasy basketball. Leonard closed out the NBA Finals with 29 points in Game 3, followed by 22 in Game 4 and 20 in Game 5. In Games 4 and 5, Leonard tallied double-doubles, grabbing 14 and 10 rebounds, respectively. He also shot 58 percent in Game 4 and 70 percent in Game 5. He performed well all postseason and should only attract more fantasy owners heading into next year. His 12.8 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists per game in the regular season doesn’t jump out at you, but his 1.7 steals every night along with shooting north 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line this year should be kept in mind. Keep in mind Leonard came on in the second half of the regular season. After the all-star break, Leonard averaged 14.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 three-pointers per game while shooting 52.8 percent from the floor and 86.2 percent from the free throw line. With the Spurs’ Big 3 getting another year older, the Spurs will rely on Leonard to do more, and he has shown he is more than capable of answering the challenge.