Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The NBA Summer League is underway, which provides us fantasy fanatics with a tailor-made excuse to open shop on the 2012-13 NBA season.
While our analysis will have little to do with the summer league itself -- after all, Anthony Randolph once averaged 26.8 points per game in the Las Vegas exhibition, and he could barely crack the Minnesota Timberwolves' rotation the last two seasons -- we can at least rejoice that basketball is back on the hardwood after a few weeks of free agency and trade discussions.
Last season, players such as Andrew Bynum (Los Angeles Lakers center), Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks forward), James Harden (Oklahoma City Thunder guard), Ryan Anderson (New Orleans Hornets forward) and Marcin Gortat (Phoenix Suns center) made dramatic leaps into fantasy superstardom. Undoubtedly, there will be more breakouts joining the ranks of fantasy's elite players in the coming season.
Here are the 10 players who are most likely to jump a level of fantasy production in 2012-13:
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards - While Wall has been inconsistent in his first two seasons, the point guard has still managed to average 16.4 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game, and that's with models of immaturity JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford surrounding him. However, McGee and Young were dealt to playoff teams midseason, Blatche is reportedly an amnesty candidate and Crawford will likely be phased out of the offense after the Wizards drafted Bradley Beal. Washington will have veterans Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza around Wall next season, which should provide the young point guard with a nice foundation from which to spring up.
DeMarcus Cousins, F/C, Sacramento Kings - True, Cousins broke out last season, averaging 18.1 points and 11 boards per game, but I think the 21-year-old center is only scratching the surface of his potential. Cousins is supremely gifted on the offensive end, which should allow him to continue to improve his field goal percentage. The Kings also drafted forward Thomas Robinson to help provide Cousins with more space in the interior.
Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns - Dragic's renaissance began last season with Houston after starting point guard Kyle Lowry was hospitalized with a bacterial infection. In 26 starts, the point guard averaged 18.2 points and 8.2 assists, likely putting many fantasy teams over the top down the stretch. Dragic signed a four-year deal last week to return to his initial team and take over at point guard after Steve Nash was moved to the Lakers.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors - Speaking of Lowry, he was in the midst of a career season of his own before the aformentioned illness cut him down. In 40 games before he was hospitalized, Lowry averaged 15.1 points, 6.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. Like Dragic, Lowry will play for a new team in 2012-13, as Houston traded him to the Raptors. Lowry will likely start at point guard, even if incumbent Jose Calderon is retained.
Greg Monroe, PF/C, Detroit Pistons - Monroe and Cousins were drafted within two picks of each other in the top seven selections of the 2010 NBA Draft. Like Cousins, Monroe made a statistical jump in his second season, averaging 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season. Along with second-year point guard Brandon Knight, Monroe should only continue to improve in his third season.
Derrick Williams, F, Minnesota Timberwolves - Williams had an up-and-down rookie season after Minnesota drafted him No. 2 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, averaging 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 21 minutes per game. However, he showed incredible potential in his best games, including his 27-point performance (9-for-10 from the field, 4-for-4 from 3-point range) on Feb. 28 against the Los Angeles Clippers. With Michael Beasley gone, look for Williams to gain more minutes at forward for the T-Wolves, even if the Blazers bring in restricted free agent Nicolas Batum.
George Hill, PG, Indiana Pacers - Darren Collison was Indiana's starting point guard for most of last season, but Hill took over and thrived after Collison went down with an injury, even keeping the job when Collison returned. Hill averaged 13.9 points and 5.3 assists in nine starts at the end of the season, and 13.5 points in 11 starts during the playoffs. Look for him to keep the Pacers' starting point guard job going into the regular season, which will be his fourth in the league.
Ersan Ilyasova, F/C, Milwaukee Bucks - Ilyasova made major strides in his third season, jumping into the starting lineup in February and averaging 14.8 points and 8.9 rebounds in 41 starts. Ilyasova re-signed with Milwaukee and should see a similar, if not expanded, role in 2012-13.
JaVale McGee, F/C, Denver Nuggets (restricted free agent) - McGee had a diminished role after he was dealt to Denver last season, as Nuggets coach George Karl tried to improve the center's basketball IQ. The 24-year-old has been the subject of many YouTube blooper reels documenting boneheaded basketball plays, but nobody was laughing in May when he scored 21 points and grabbed 14 boards in a playoff game against the Lakers. McGee also averaged 3.1 blocked shots per game in 26 minutes during the postseason. The center will likely have an expanded role regardless of where he lands in free agency.
Derrick Favors, F/C, Utah Jazz - Favors will be going into his third NBA season even though he won't turn 21 until next week. The forward is still blocked from the starting lineup by Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, but Utah showed in the second half and during the playoffs that it is committed to giving the former No. 3 overall pick an expanded role. Favors averaged 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 20.8 minutes per game in March and 9.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots in 25.1 minutes per game in April. In the postseason, Favors played 29 minutes per game in four games against the Spurs and averaged 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Expect more improvement in the upcoming season from the youngster.
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