Every offseason I like to take a moment and think about which players have the potential to make a big jump from star to superstar (a la Anthony Davis) or even rotation man to bona fide star (a la Klay Thompson). Not only does this break the monotony of the offseason and excite me for the upcoming season, but it proves itself useful when it is time for fantasy basketball.
While fantasy basketball does not nearly have the same universal craze that fantasy football does, the rush of finding a diamond in the rough is ubiquitous. Players break out for a variety of reasons. Some put in work like never before in the off-season, some just get a new opportunity due to a spot on the depth chart opening up, and some find new ways to train. There have been countless tales of how a summer with Team USA has helped take players to the next level.
Think about the improvement Kobe Bryant made in 2008– after winning the Gold Medal in the Olympics (including a huge clutch performance in the Gold Medal game), Bryant got over the hump of winning a championship without Shaq. LeBron in 2012– after establishing himself as the alpha dog of the Olympic team, he won his second NBA championship after another successful gold medal run. In 2014, Steph Curry followed up another successful USA Gold Medal run by winning the MVP en route to becoming an NBA champion. Players come out to surprise you just as often as they suddenly disappear, but the common denominator is always hard work.
This upcoming season, there are two players I think will make a big jump in their NBA development.
First off, Jeremy Lin. After getting a legitimate shot in the NBA, Lin has been acquired by two teams that worked with him during the summer and mini camp, yet still failed to utilize him to his fullest potential. Coming off a lackluster season in Los Angeles, Lin made the most of his free agency to find out how valuable he was to the league and found himself multiple suitors.
Finally, Lin was in a position where he could choose his future, to find himself with an organization that values his skillset and has a plan to utilize it.
In 2016, I predict that the Bobcats will be playing a lot of four-out ball, with Al Jefferson at the center, Frank Kaminsky stretching out at the 4, Batum playing the 3, Jeremy Lamb at shooting guard and Kemba Walker running the point. This gives three-point shooting at all positions forgoing the center, and that will allow Walker to really operate and slice up the defense. Now take a look at the second unit– Lin coming in for Walker, P.J. Hairston coming in for Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist coming in for Batum and Spencer Hawes helping rotate for the interior positions. That is a pretty solid second squad, but could that have been enough to sway from going to Dallas?
I think Lin will get his share of time with the starting unit to make the most of a spaced, high pick-and-roll that he so thrives in, and with all the size that Charlotte has I wouldn’t be surprised to see a starting five that includes two point guards. Neither are particularly good at three point shooting (Lin – career 35 percent from beyond the arc, Walker is a career 32-percent shooter) but both are adept at creating their own shot and penetrating the defense.
After seeing his scoring and overall effectiveness decrease over the past three seasons (really, ever since he left New York), this upcoming season will be his time to break out. His scoring and assists are going to improve because he will be in a system that complements his skills– pushing the pace and a penetrate and kick offense.
Secondly, C.J. McCollum. The playoff series against Memphis had its many dark moments for Blazers fans, but one of the silver linings was the break out for McCollum. Forced to play by Terry Stotts due to the litany of injuries that ravaged the Blazers, McCollum showed off his skills, scoring 17 points per game (including a 33-point outburst in the Game 5 loss), at times looking like the only Blazer that could be counted on to make a basket. Averaging a career 6.8 points in his two seasons in the NBA, he is in a great situation to break out this coming season.
The talent is there, and now with Wes Matthews gone, the opportunity is as well. It’s going to be a rough season for the Portland Trail Blazers, but this season will help out many players in the system get time and experience, something Stotts is adamant about. The Blazers might not do very well this season, but they won’t stick in mediocrity forever. The upcoming season will provide many opportunities for McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and Noah Vonleh to produce in crunch time, which could potentially kick-start the development of the trio and crack their NBA potential.
With playing time now thrust into McCollum’s hands, he will be one of the primary options on offense (which he did really well, albeit in a small sample size) and asked to score during stretches of a game. As a natural scorer, he will not be asked to defend the best player on the court like Matthews was, but he must step up his defense if he wants to get that consistent playing time.
If these players are not household names yet, by the end of the season they will be. For fantasy owners, these are going to be my sleeper picks for the upcoming 2015-16 season.