Fantasy Focus: The Overachievers
On the eve of the NBA’s 2012-13 training camp, HOOPSWORLD’s resident fantasy expert, Tommy Beer, provided his updated top 150 overall preseason fantasy rankings. Feel free to review the list by clicking here.
With the end of the regular season firmly in sight and fantasy owners starting to plot their playoff strategy, it’s a great time to review certain players who have blown their projections out of the water in the world of fantasy basketball. Both favorable and unfavorable surprises have emerged from the Top 150 list, but today we’ll focus on those players who have overachieved in the fantasy realm.
As always, please keep in mind when we talk fantasy here, we base it on nine-category fantasy scoring leagues that account for points, oassists, rebounds, steals, blocks, three-pointers made, turnovers, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
Let’s get it started:
O.J. MAYO (Dallas Mavericks)
Preseason rank: #98
Who believed Mayo would lead the Mavericks in points per game (16.9) at this late point in the season? We venture to say not many. How about minutes (35.6) and field goals (6.1) per game? He’s even ranked second in steals (1.2), three-pointers (1.9) and assists (4.4) among his teammates. Talk about a quiet contributor; his name isn’t thrown around much, but he’s been critical in the Mavericks’ efforts this year. Signed as a free agent by Dallas last June, Mayo had just completed his rookie stint with the Memphis Grizzlies. The third pick in the 2008 NBA Draft is finally a valued starter again and thriving in his new setting despite the non-contending status of his team. He has some consistency issues at times, but the 6’4” guard is logging career highs in field goal shooting (.461) and three-point shooting (.416), plus his free throw shooting (.823) is at a level not seen since 2008-09.
The Spurs’ defensive specialist is finding his way on the offensive side, which has translated to solid fantasy numbers overall. Last season Leonard averaged 7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.1 assists; this season, those numbers have jumped to 11.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.4 assists. Of course, it helps that he’s playing over six minutes more per game from last season (24.0 to 30.2) Leonard has even improved his free throw shooting (.773 to .843) and doubled his three-pointers (0.6 to 1.2 per game) The second-year player, just 21, has stepped up in injured Tony Parker’s absence, averaging 14.8 points in the past five games. And keep in mind, he’s elevated his game while battling tendinitis in his left quadriceps all season plus started in 44 of 45 total games played. Leonard is demonstrating uncommon confidence and rapid growth, undoubtedly expedited under the careful direction of coach Gregg Popovich.
Walker is another second-year player who has improved his numbers across the board. Playing just over seven minutes more than last year (27.2 to 34.6), Walker is averaging 17.2 points, 5.6 assists and 2.0 steals this season vs. 12.1 points, 4.4 assists and 0.9 steals in his rookie season. His shooting percentages have increased as well: .419 in field goals, .341 in three-pointers and .792 in free throws compared to .366, .305 and .789, respectively. Admittedly, he can stand to improve a lot more – and surely will – but he’s definitely improved his game. And focus in on those steals. Only Chris Paul (2.4) and Mike Conley (2.3) have better numbers.
To look at Vasquez’ numbers this season compared to last season is pretty amazing. It’s all about opportunity and he got his chance. Last season, Vasquez averaged 8.9 points and 5.4 assists in 25.8 minutes. This year, he’s averaging 14.0 points and 9.4 assists in 34.5 minutes. We would like to see higher steals (0.8), lower turnovers (3.2) and better free throw shooting (.795), but we’ll take the three-pointers (1.1 at .348 from 0.7 at .319) and .432 in field goal percentage. Vasquez is leading the league in total assists. We’d say the Hornets got the better end of the deal when acquiring Vasquez from the Memphis Grizzlies for Quincy Pondexter in December of 2011.
There are two players that didn’t appear on the Top 150 List at all, but have certainly overachieved this season. Kudos to you if you had the foresight to draft them for this season.
LARRY SANDERS (Milwaukee Bucks)
First things first. Sanders is leading the league in blocks per game (3.1). Last season’s leader in this category was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka; this season Ibaka is averaging 2.9 blocks yet playing five minutes more than Sanders. That’s quite astonishing. Sanders has increased his playing time (26.6 versus 12.4 last year) with a resultant jump in points (9.1 over 3.6) and rebounds (9.2 over 3.1). He’s shooting better, too, with .510 in field goals (.457 last season) and in .608 free throws (.474 last season). His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) has increased from 13.3 to 18.4. The Bucks drafted him 15th overall in 2010 but he wasn’t used much; his numbers were comparably low in his first two years. To have such a jump in his numbers this season is quite a feat.
NIKOLA VUCEVIC (Orlando Magic)
Those who deduced that Vucevic might have a breakout season with the departure of Dwight Howard went ahead and took a chance, and that decision has paid dividends. In fact, he may well be the steal of the season. He’s averaging 11.4 in total rebounds, obviously leading his team, which ranks fifth in the league. (Note – Lakers center Dwight Howard is averaging 12.4) Last season, the Philadelphia 76ers used him sparingly: in 15.9 minutes, he averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists and .450 in field goal shooting. He’s got people talking this season with 12.3 points, the 11.4 rebounds as noted above, 1.7 assists and .522 in field goals. His low 1.7 turnovers are noteworthy as well. Vucevic, 6’10”, is just 22 years old with a bright future ahead of him; he’s just about to make Orlando fans forget Howard.
Who’s on your overachiever list for the 2012-13 fantasy basketball season? Tell us in the comments section below.