Top 50 Fantasy Basketball Players for 2013 Headlined By LeBron James

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Fantasy Basketball Top 50 for 2013-2014

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Steve Mitchell-USATODAY

The start of the 2013-14 NBA season is roughly six weeks away, meaning it is about time you plan out your strategy for your upcoming fantasy draft. While the other owners in your league are busy with the MLB playoff push or the opening month of the NFL season, you have the opportunity to gain a leg up on the competition by beginning your preparation now. I’ve done the leg work by tracking down important trends and offering insight on what the role of a new player in a new situation should be; now it is on you to take the advice and create your personal cheat sheet.

These rankings are based on the average five-by-five scoring format, so make sure you are aware of your league's scoring system before using these ranks as the blueprint to success. Any website can give you rankings and not justify them, but here at Rant Sports, we take pride in full disclosure and give you the reasoning behind every ranking. Who do I take No. 1? Which players are poised to breakout? Who should I avoid? If I take a player with a limited skill set, who should I pair him with? Those questions and more are answered as you take a look at my top-50 fantasy NBA players.

Have a question based on a specific format or want more insight on a specific player as you prepare for your draft? Feel free to tweet me @unSOPable23 and I’ll get back to you with my perspective on your specific situation.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 50-46

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John E.Sokolowski-USATODAY

50. Rajon Rondo: A torn ACL is never a good thing, but Rondo’s game should be able to recover. I’m more worried about the lack of scorers around him, as the pass-first point guard is at his best when his teammates are knocking down jumpers. His numbers may dip a bit, but don’t let him fall to far, as he still figures to offer elite steals, assists and rebounds for his position.

49. Blake Griffin: Is he a traveling circus made for ESPN or will he work to improve the less “sexy” parts of his game? Only time will tell, but until he develops a consistent offensive game outside of 36 inches, his fantasy ceiling will be lower than his athletic ability suggests it should be.

48. Zach Randolph: Z-Bo is an established glass cleaner who has solid touch from 15 feet and in. The fact that Marc Gasol is primarily responsible for guarding the other team’s center is also appealing, as it keeps Randolph out of foul trouble and usually results in him having a considerable size advantage. At 32 years of age, he may no longer be “First name 20, last name 10”, but he is a double-double threat on a nightly basis with above-average percentages.

47. Chris Bosh: He’s Brook Lopez but with less scoring upside. His points, rebounds, assists and FTA have all steadily declined since taking his talents to South Beach. With Miami piling up the wins, it is hard to imagine that his role changes a whole lot. He has fantasy value, just make sure to pair him with an elite rebounder.

46. Rudy Gay: The Toronto Raptors are going to be better than you think, and I like Gay leading a very athletic front line. Physically, he’s a clone of Paul George, and this will be his first full season on an offensive-oriented team after years in Memphis’ methodical style. Toronto added Steve Novak to the perimeter, hopefully a move that will result in Gay settling less for threes (he attempted four triples per game when with Toronto last season, the same number Shane Battier averaged). If he takes 15 two-point shots per game for the first time in his career, he’s scoring 20 a night in an efficient manner.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 45-41

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Joe Camporeale-USATODAY

45. Brook Lopez: Another player whose skill set is unique, and while it can be effective in fantasy, he needs to be paired with the right players. Lopez is a finesse big who will help your percentages, points and blocked shots, but he isn’t going to offer top-10 rebounding totals for his position. In a perfect world, you can combine Lopez with a player like Kevin Love, Al Jefferson or David Lee to create a well-balanced frontcourt.

44. Kemba Walker: The growth from year one to year two was tremendous, but his ceiling is limited by the lack of talent around him. The points are going to be there and he has improved his ability to set up others, so if the young talent in Charlotte can come through, Walker has upside. If you miss on the elite point guards, he is a capable starter on a fantasy roster.

43. Tim Duncan: Decline? I’ll believe it when I see it. Until further notice, Timmy is going to get you 17 points on 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and two blocks every night. He offers solid big man numbers that you can count on and even added “elite free throw shooter” to his resume by knocking down a career best 81.7 percent in 2012. The Spurs aren’t going anywhere, and neither is their legend.

42. Pau Gasol: With Dwight Howard moving to Houston, Gasol should rebound from the worst fantasy season of his career. During his first four seasons in L.A., he averaged a double-double (18-10) with elite percentages, numbers that are reasonable to project this season assuming health (knee).

41. Jeff Green: He showed late last season that he is capable of being a 15-20-point scorer in this league, and that was without Rajon Rondo leading the Celtics' attack. Green was able to thrive while playing alongside a talented Boston team, something he won’t have the luxury of this season. I expect some big games, but being the player the opponent looks to shut down is a new role for Green and it figures to come with some growing pains.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 40-37

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Kyle Terada-USATODAY

40. Josh Smith: At this point in his career, we have to call J-Smoove for what he is: A player filled with potential who plays a reckless style which leads to inconsistent production on a nightly basis. I love the physical tools, but I have my doubts about him playing alongside two players who need to be in the paint to succeed (Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe). He’ll score his 17 points (in a very inefficient manner) and record elite defensive numbers, but he’s also likely to hoist up multiple three pointers (2.12 3PA over last three seasons, 28.3 percent career three point shooter) and see his rebound total decline.

39. Joakim Noah: His role in the Bulls offense expanded without Rose, so I’d use last year’s numbers as a ceiling. As the best passing big man in the league, he also offers consistently solid defensive numbers and FT percentage, a skill set that fits nicely into any fantasy roster.

38. Brandon Jennings: This is going to be a weird offense, but Jennings is the lone perimeter player who has proven himself as a capable scorer. The Pistons have plenty of options in the painted area, which could limit Jenning’s efficiency, but he is going to make threes, score points and rack up assists.

37. Klay Thompson: Playing alongside Steph Curry is going to result in plenty of open looks, and Thompson took full advantage last season by knocking down 211 three pointers. The soft touch is real, but I worry that he will continue to struggle to produce a well-rounded stat line. The addition of Iguodala should help Thompson maintain his value as an outside threat, but expecting growth in other areas is not wise. Roster Thompson if you loaded up with rebounding and defensive stats early (Paul George and Anthony Davis for example).

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 36-33

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY

36. Andre Iguodala: Players that can contribute in all the counting categories are hard to find after the first couple of rounds, and in a high-powered Warriors offense, Iguodala should continue to produce his standard five rebounds, five assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 3PM. That being said, it scares me that his 3PA has been on a steady incline while his FTM has declined every season since 2008.

35. Tyreke Evans: He’s been a disappointment in years past, but don’t let that hold you back this season. He’ll finally moved off of the point guard position, a change that should benefit him in a big way. Instead of worrying about initiating an offense, Evans can attack the basket with his athletic frame. He could easily produce a stat line similar to the career best of Iguodala (20-5-5 with 1.0 3PM and 2.0 steals).

34. Larry Sanders: The new backcourt (Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo) can’t possibly dominate the ball more than last year’s version, giving Sanders a higher offensive ceiling. He is a poor man’s Serge Ibaka, but he could very easily average a double-double, something Ibaka has yet to do.

33. Al Horford: Believe it or not, the departure of Josh Smith might actually negatively impact someone. I believe Horford is more talented than Millsap, but a steep decline in FT percentage (80 to 73 to 64) and the loss of Josh Smith could offset the marginal talent difference. I also believe that Horford assumes the center role, theoretically matching up with the opponent’s top rebounder, thus giving Millsap another slight edge.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 32-30

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Brendan Maloney-USATODAY

32. Dirk Nowitzki: His minutes dropped for a fourth-straight season and his FTA slipped to its lowest level since his rookie campaign (a 36.8 percent drop off from 2012). Scoring is no longer coming easily for Nowitzki (averaged less than 20 points for the first time this millennium) and getting anywhere near his career average in FGA (16.7) is going to be near impossible with the newly acquired ego of Monta Ellis. He’s been a great player for a long time, but the time has come where his name carries more value than his on-court performance.

31. Paul Millsap: He will be playing alongside another strong big (Al Horford instead of Al Jefferson) in an offense that lacks established guard play. Jeff Teague offers some promise at the point guard position, but I’m having a hard time seeing Millsap produce numbers that vary much from his 2012-13 stat line (15.6 points and eight rebounds).

30. Kawhi Leonard: When I look at Leonard, I see the 2013 version of Paul George as far as rise in fantasy value goes. George averaged 12.1 points (44 percent from field), 2.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 2011, the season in which he turned 22. Leonard turned 22 last season and averaged 11.9 points (49.4 percent from the field), 1.6 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Like George, Leonard is a mismatch physically and destined for an increased workload.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 29-27

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BobDonnan-USATODAY

29. Roy Hibbert: The blocked shots (2.6 per game last year, his fourth-straight season with an increase) and 72.9 FT percent are nice, but 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds aren’t ideal from your 7-foot-2 paint protector. Hibbert has plenty of value, but he is a player you need to plan on owning and build around accordingly (grabbing he and David Lee, for example, would be a reasonable frontcourt that offers a bit of everything).

28. Al Jefferson: Big Al took his game to Charlotte this offseason, not exactly a boost in roster help. He won’t have to share the frontcourt duties with another strong player like he did in Utah (Paul Milsap), but it is hard to envision Jefferson improving much past averaging 18 and 10. On the bright side, his two most productive fantasy seasons came as a part of a bad Minnesota Timberwolves team (22 and 11).

27. Dwight Howard: At his worst, he delivered 17 and 12, shooting nearly 58 percent and blocking 2.4 shots per contest. I’ll say his average stat line (18 and 13) is a reasonable projection this year, and I’d even venture to say he sets a career high in assists given the marksmen in Houston. The story with Howard is always the same… are you willing to take the massive hit in FT percentage for potentially elite center production in a league without a ton of true bigs?

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 26-24

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Chris Humphreys-USATODAY

26. Ersan Ilyasova: He averaged 13 and 8 with very good percentages over the last two seasons, and while I don’t view the Knight/Mayo backcourt as great, it should help improve his numbers a bit. A big man that can hurt defenses from distance has strong value, and if he can play 30-35 minutes a night, he’s got 16-8 potential with strong three-point accuracy.

25. Dwayne Wade: His PPG has dropped each season since he poured in 30 a night in 2008, but he scored at his most efficient rate of his career last season (52.1 FG percentage) and recorded more rebounds/assists/steals than he did in 2012. From a fantasy perspective, my biggest concern for Wade owners is that the Heat employ an “innings limit” of sorts in an effort to keep him healthier longer.

24. Ty Lawson: His raw speed with the basketball is as fun to watch as anything in the NBA, and with his points/assists/FGA/FTA all increasing in his first four seasons, it is easy to fall in love with the Nuggets burner. That being said, at 5-foot-11, Lawson isn’t exactly the prototype for a scoring point guard, a role he may be asked to fill given the departure of Andre Iguodala and the ACL injury to Danilo Gallinari. Nate Robinson was brought in to bolster the backcourt scoring, meaning you can expect a break neck pace that is ideal for Lawson and his fantasy owners.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 23-21

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Brian Spurlock-USATODAY

23. Tony Parker: This past season saw the 31-year-old Parker average 4.3 more points, fewer turnovers, more assists and better percentages across the board than he did at 27. While Tim Duncan is still playing at a high level and Kawhi Leonard is only getting better, I can’t forecast any sort of drop-off whatsoever. The lone aspect that makes me worry here is the increasing size/athleticism of point guards in today’s NBA, something Parker simply doesn’t possess.

22. Jrue Holiday: The 23-year-old New Orleans Pelican welcomed an increased role last year in Philadelphia and I expect him to have a similar sized role (albeit different) in his first season in New Orleans. He’s got a nice mix of shooters and slashers on the perimeter this year as well as a talented young duo on the interior. He may fall short of the nearly 18 points he averaged last season, but a rise in assists, a dip in turnovers and consistent three-point shooting is a trade I’m willing to make.

21. Carmelo Anthony: Don’t we know exactly what Melo is by this point? He’s a professional bucket getter that will average in the neighborhood of 25-6-3 in a less than efficient manner. His increasing reliance on the long ball is scary (he attempted 47 more three pointers in 2012 than free throws in 2011) considering he is a 33.4 percent lifetime three-point shooter.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 20-18

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Steve Dykes-USATODAY

20. John Wall: His game is maturing nicely, a fact that is evident in the quality of shots taken (FGA have decreased every year, but his FG percent has continually increased). He has the physical tools to succeed at a high level, but his value takes a bit of a hit given how loaded the PG position is this season.

19. David Lee: If you’re considering punting blocks, or want to wait until later in the draft to address those needs, then Lee deserves a spot on your roster. With the exception of almost no blocked shots (Jrue Holiday blocked ten more shots despite playing one fewer game), Lee contributes high-end numbers across the board. He’ll get you the shooting percentage and rebounding of a big man with the free throw accuracy of a guard on his way to his 20-10 stat line.

18. LaMarcus Aldridge: Rare 20-10 big man who has range that extends beyond 15 feet. Playing with Damian Lillard is a huge plus, and with an increasing assist rate (never regressed in his seven-year career), Aldridge might be the “safest” second-round pick available this season.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 17-15

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Greg Smith-USATODAY

17. Damian Lillard: He averaged 20.4 points in the second half of the season, increasing his shooting percentage (both from the field and from three) in the process. Lillard’s got the type of shooting touch that has me believing he could one day join the illustrious 50-40-90 club, not to mention athletic ability that is as impressive as any guard in the game today.

16. Anthony Davis: The Pelicans are going to be a good basketball team and the improvement at point guard should only help Davis’ developing offensive game. He’s got 17 and 10 upside as soon as this season in addition to his two blocks and solid percentages.

15. Ricky Rubio: Remember when we were all drooling over Rajon Rondo’s playmaking ability during the 2011-12 season in which he rattled off 23 straight double-digit assist games? He averaged 23.6 PA (points and assists) and 1.8 steals while hurting your FT percentage (59.7). If you extrapolate Rubio’s 2012-13 minutes to match those of 2011-12 Rondo, he would have averaged 22.5 PA and three steals with a much more manageable 79.9 percent from the stripe (without Kevin Love or Kevin Martin).

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 14-12

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Craig Mitchelldyer-USATODAY

14. Derrick Rose: Obviously the ultimate risk/reward option in the draft. I worry less about re-injury than I do the Bulls capping his minutes in an effort to save him for the postseason. That being said, if he’s the athlete we all remember, he’s got top-five upside and could be a bargain in the second round.

13. Marc Gasol: His assist totals have increased with each passing season. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year also boasts a nice free throw percentage, a rarity among strong post defenders. His upside is limited by a still limited role in the offense (career 9.6 FGA), but there is very little downside here.

12. Nicolas Batum: Three players in the NBA made at least 165 three pointers on 37 percent shooting and had an average AR (assists and rebounds) of at least 10.5 last season: Steph Curry, Deron Williams and Batum. You want to talk about a player with upside? On a per game basis, Batum has increased his points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, FTM and 3PM every single season of his career.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 11-9

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Chris Humphreys-USATODAY

11. Deron Williams: Adding a HOF point guard as a coach and two future HOF players has put Williams in a prime spot to re-establish himself as an elite PG. His assist total has been on the decline ever since he recorded a career high 10.7 dimes per game in 2008-09, a trend I fully anticipate ending this year with plenty of capable scorers around him. The offense will run through Williams, and he has as high a scoring ceiling as any point guard in the game.

10. Serge Ibaka: If a player can cover me in a specific statistical category to the point where I don’t have to worry about that category until late in the draft, I’m intrigued. If said player saw his offensive role increase in a big way in 2012 and still held elite percentages, I’m spending a first-round pick on him. Ibaka has developed a mid-range game, and with the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding attention, his efficient offensive game is legitimate.

9. Kevin Love: He doesn’t have a game that is tailored for fantasy (contributes very little AST, STL, BLK and FG percentage), but his skill set is unique enough to justify an early selection. Love is the lone elite scorer and rebounder who is capable of knocking down a three pointer or two each night (1.71 3PM over last two seasons). With a bruiser on the inside, an elite passing point guard and a scoring two guard, Love’s health is the only thing that can stop him from being the game's top PF/C.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 8-6

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Soobum Im-USATODAY

8. Paul George: LeBron James’ fourth season saw him average 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.3 3PM on 31.9 percent shooting. In his third season, George averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 2.2 3PM on 36.2 percent shooting. His consistency (averaged between 18.3 and 19.4 points for four-consecutive months last season) is well above most players at his age, making him a player you can build your roster around.

7. Kyrie Irving: With an improving Cavs roster, Irving should continue to progress as he is still only 21 years old. Given his youth and ability to explode to the rim, fantasy owners would love to see him attack defenses as opposed to bail them out (only attempted 11 more free throws than three pointers). He’s got room to grow and some injury risk, but his upside is worth a first-round selection.

6. Steph Curry: His breakout 2012 campaign will be remembered for his NBA-record 272 made three pointers, and while fantasy owners love the triples (at a 45.3 percent clip nonetheless), Curry brings more to the table than just his sweet stroke. His assists took a big jump forward (up 30.2 percent from 2012), and with the Warriors on the rise, that total is here to stay. His production is not a concern of mine (his rebound and steal totals are also above average), but you must remember that he still has the fragile ankles that cost him 61 percent of the 2011 season.

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Fantasy Basketball: Chris Paul

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Spruce Derden-USATODAY

5. Chris Paul: Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t win a fantasy league in the first round, you can only lose it” must have been a Chris Paul owner. No team has ever lost a fantasy league because of CP3, as he excels in every single point guard statistic on an annual basis. What do you want from your starting fantasy point guard? Steals, assists and free throw percentage are the standard answers, with rebounding and scoring being a nice bonus if you can get it. Paul has ranked in the top 10 at his position in all five of those categories in each of his eight seasons in the NBA, and as the ring leader of Lob City, those consistent numbers aren’t going anywhere.

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Fantasy Basketball: Russell Westbrook

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Steve Dykes USATODAY

4. Russell Westbrook: All reports have him on track to be completely recovered from a torn meniscus by opening day, and assuming that’s the case, there is no point guard I’d rather have. The increased efficiency of Durant allowed Westbrook to up his assist rate by 34.5 percent from 2012, the lone statistical category where he annually fails to rank among the elite. He led his position in scoring and rebounding, but it is prowess at the free throw line that really separates him from the pack. Most point guards shot a good percentage from the line (Westbrook at 81.4 percent is no exception), but few make it there often enough to have a great impact, and only one visits the charity stripe with enough regularity to affect how you build the rest of your roster. Westbrook, who played in every regular season game for the fifth-straight season, attempted 201 more freebies than any other PG last season. Let me put that another way: Greivis Vasquez, a 6-foot-6 starting point guard who had a career year, attempted 154 free throws.

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Fantasy Basketball: James Harden

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Troy Taormina-USATODAY

3. James Harden: Harden emerged as a super star in his first season in Houston and is the clear-cut top fantasy contributor at the SG position. The addition of Dwight Howard may result in fewer points scored this season, but it very well could lead to an increase in offensive efficiency and assists. Also, don’t rule out the impact Howard’s defensive skills could have, as they lead to transition opportunities at the other end. At his core, Harden is a slashing play maker that can bury the long ball when given the opportunity, and Houston has built a roster around the strengths of their best player. Last year was great, and this season could be even better.

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Fantasy Basketball: Kevin Durant

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Jerome Miron-USATODAY

2. Kevin Durant: We all know that KD can score at will, and while that drives his fantasy value, his skill set is far different than other players who can fill it up in a hurry. He averaged more points last season than he did in 2012, but he took two fewer shots per game. Durant displayed an increased level of aggression that led to a 22.3 percent increase in FTA per game, boosting his fantasy value in a big way as he is an 88.4 percent career free throw shooter. His assists per game also made a significant jump (up 31.4 percent) while he lowered his turnover rate. Last season was the fourth straight year in which KD averaged at least one block and one steal, something even King James has only done three times in his career (10 seasons).

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Fantasy Basketball King: LeBron James

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Steve Mitchell-USATODAY

1. LeBron James: How good can this guy get? I’d love to knock him for settling for three pointers last season (attempted 37.5 percent per game than a season ago), but he converted at a career best 40.6 percent clip. In short, he is the only player that can average more points than James Harden, more assists than Ty Lawson, more rebounds than Marc Gasol, more steals than Jason Kidd (who ranks second all-time in thefts) and shoot a higher percentage from distance than Klay Thompson while playing 1.8 fewer minutes per game than the year previous. There is no player in the game today, and maybe not in the history of the sport, that produces elite numbers in so many fantasy categories, and at 28 years old, it is possible we are in for a few more seasons just like last.

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Fantasy Basketball Top 50 for 2013-2014

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Steve Mitchell-USATODAY

The start of the 2013-14 NBA season is roughly six weeks away, meaning it is about time you plan out your strategy for your upcoming fantasy draft. While the other owners in your league are busy with the MLB playoff push or the opening month of the NFL season, you have the opportunity to gain a leg up on the competition by beginning your preparation now. I’ve done the leg work by tracking down important trends and offering insight on what the role of a new player in a new situation should be; now it is on you to take the advice and create your personal cheat sheet.

These rankings are based on the average five-by-five scoring format, so make sure you are aware of your league's scoring system before using these ranks as the blueprint to success. Any website can give you rankings and not justify them, but here at Rant Sports, we take pride in full disclosure and give you the reasoning behind every ranking. Who do I take No. 1? Which players are poised to breakout? Who should I avoid? If I take a player with a limited skill set, who should I pair him with? Those questions and more are answered as you take a look at my top-50 fantasy NBA players.

Have a question based on a specific format or want more insight on a specific player as you prepare for your draft? Feel free to tweet me @unSOPable23 and I’ll get back to you with my perspective on your specific situation.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 50-46

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John E.Sokolowski-USATODAY

50. Rajon Rondo: A torn ACL is never a good thing, but Rondo’s game should be able to recover. I’m more worried about the lack of scorers around him, as the pass-first point guard is at his best when his teammates are knocking down jumpers. His numbers may dip a bit, but don’t let him fall to far, as he still figures to offer elite steals, assists and rebounds for his position.

49. Blake Griffin: Is he a traveling circus made for ESPN or will he work to improve the less “sexy” parts of his game? Only time will tell, but until he develops a consistent offensive game outside of 36 inches, his fantasy ceiling will be lower than his athletic ability suggests it should be.

48. Zach Randolph: Z-Bo is an established glass cleaner who has solid touch from 15 feet and in. The fact that Marc Gasol is primarily responsible for guarding the other team’s center is also appealing, as it keeps Randolph out of foul trouble and usually results in him having a considerable size advantage. At 32 years of age, he may no longer be “First name 20, last name 10”, but he is a double-double threat on a nightly basis with above-average percentages.

47. Chris Bosh: He’s Brook Lopez but with less scoring upside. His points, rebounds, assists and FTA have all steadily declined since taking his talents to South Beach. With Miami piling up the wins, it is hard to imagine that his role changes a whole lot. He has fantasy value, just make sure to pair him with an elite rebounder.

46. Rudy Gay: The Toronto Raptors are going to be better than you think, and I like Gay leading a very athletic front line. Physically, he’s a clone of Paul George, and this will be his first full season on an offensive-oriented team after years in Memphis’ methodical style. Toronto added Steve Novak to the perimeter, hopefully a move that will result in Gay settling less for threes (he attempted four triples per game when with Toronto last season, the same number Shane Battier averaged). If he takes 15 two-point shots per game for the first time in his career, he’s scoring 20 a night in an efficient manner.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 45-41

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Joe Camporeale-USATODAY

45. Brook Lopez: Another player whose skill set is unique, and while it can be effective in fantasy, he needs to be paired with the right players. Lopez is a finesse big who will help your percentages, points and blocked shots, but he isn’t going to offer top-10 rebounding totals for his position. In a perfect world, you can combine Lopez with a player like Kevin Love, Al Jefferson or David Lee to create a well-balanced frontcourt.

44. Kemba Walker: The growth from year one to year two was tremendous, but his ceiling is limited by the lack of talent around him. The points are going to be there and he has improved his ability to set up others, so if the young talent in Charlotte can come through, Walker has upside. If you miss on the elite point guards, he is a capable starter on a fantasy roster.

43. Tim Duncan: Decline? I’ll believe it when I see it. Until further notice, Timmy is going to get you 17 points on 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and two blocks every night. He offers solid big man numbers that you can count on and even added “elite free throw shooter” to his resume by knocking down a career best 81.7 percent in 2012. The Spurs aren’t going anywhere, and neither is their legend.

42. Pau Gasol: With Dwight Howard moving to Houston, Gasol should rebound from the worst fantasy season of his career. During his first four seasons in L.A., he averaged a double-double (18-10) with elite percentages, numbers that are reasonable to project this season assuming health (knee).

41. Jeff Green: He showed late last season that he is capable of being a 15-20-point scorer in this league, and that was without Rajon Rondo leading the Celtics' attack. Green was able to thrive while playing alongside a talented Boston team, something he won’t have the luxury of this season. I expect some big games, but being the player the opponent looks to shut down is a new role for Green and it figures to come with some growing pains.

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 40-37

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Kyle Terada-USATODAY

40. Josh Smith: At this point in his career, we have to call J-Smoove for what he is: A player filled with potential who plays a reckless style which leads to inconsistent production on a nightly basis. I love the physical tools, but I have my doubts about him playing alongside two players who need to be in the paint to succeed (Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe). He’ll score his 17 points (in a very inefficient manner) and record elite defensive numbers, but he’s also likely to hoist up multiple three pointers (2.12 3PA over last three seasons, 28.3 percent career three point shooter) and see his rebound total decline.

39. Joakim Noah: His role in the Bulls offense expanded without Rose, so I’d use last year’s numbers as a ceiling. As the best passing big man in the league, he also offers consistently solid defensive numbers and FT percentage, a skill set that fits nicely into any fantasy roster.

38. Brandon Jennings: This is going to be a weird offense, but Jennings is the lone perimeter player who has proven himself as a capable scorer. The Pistons have plenty of options in the painted area, which could limit Jenning’s efficiency, but he is going to make threes, score points and rack up assists.

37. Klay Thompson: Playing alongside Steph Curry is going to result in plenty of open looks, and Thompson took full advantage last season by knocking down 211 three pointers. The soft touch is real, but I worry that he will continue to struggle to produce a well-rounded stat line. The addition of Iguodala should help Thompson maintain his value as an outside threat, but expecting growth in other areas is not wise. Roster Thompson if you loaded up with rebounding and defensive stats early (Paul George and Anthony Davis for example).

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Fantasy Basketball Ranks 36-33

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY

36. Andre Iguodala: Players that can contribute in all the counting categories are hard to find after the first couple of rounds, and in a high-powered Warriors offense, Iguodala should continue to produce his standard five rebounds, five assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 3PM. That being said, it scares me that his 3PA has been on a steady incline while his FTM has declined every season since 2008.

35. Tyreke Evans: He’s been a disappointment in years past, but don’t let that hold you back this season. He’ll finally moved off of the point guard position, a change that should benefit him in a big way. Instead of worrying about initiating an offense, Evans can attack the basket with his athletic frame. He could easily produce a stat line similar to the career best of Iguodala (20-5-5 with 1.0 3PM and 2.0 steals).

34. Larry Sanders: The new backcourt (Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo) can’t possibly dominate the ball more than last year’s version, giving Sanders a higher offensive ceiling. He is a poor man’s Serge Ibaka, but he could very easily average a double-double, something Ibaka has yet to do.

33. Al Horford: Believe it or not, the departure of Josh Smith might actually negatively impact someone. I believe Horford is more talented than Millsap, but a steep decline in FT percentage (80 to 73 to 64) and the loss of Josh Smith could offset the marginal talent difference. I also believe that Horford assumes the center role, theoretically matching up with the opponent’s top rebounder, thus giving Millsap another slight edge.

6 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 32-30

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Brendan Maloney-USATODAY

32. Dirk Nowitzki: His minutes dropped for a fourth-straight season and his FTA slipped to its lowest level since his rookie campaign (a 36.8 percent drop off from 2012). Scoring is no longer coming easily for Nowitzki (averaged less than 20 points for the first time this millennium) and getting anywhere near his career average in FGA (16.7) is going to be near impossible with the newly acquired ego of Monta Ellis. He’s been a great player for a long time, but the time has come where his name carries more value than his on-court performance.

31. Paul Millsap: He will be playing alongside another strong big (Al Horford instead of Al Jefferson) in an offense that lacks established guard play. Jeff Teague offers some promise at the point guard position, but I’m having a hard time seeing Millsap produce numbers that vary much from his 2012-13 stat line (15.6 points and eight rebounds).

30. Kawhi Leonard: When I look at Leonard, I see the 2013 version of Paul George as far as rise in fantasy value goes. George averaged 12.1 points (44 percent from field), 2.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 2011, the season in which he turned 22. Leonard turned 22 last season and averaged 11.9 points (49.4 percent from the field), 1.6 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Like George, Leonard is a mismatch physically and destined for an increased workload.

7 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 29-27

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BobDonnan-USATODAY

29. Roy Hibbert: The blocked shots (2.6 per game last year, his fourth-straight season with an increase) and 72.9 FT percent are nice, but 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds aren’t ideal from your 7-foot-2 paint protector. Hibbert has plenty of value, but he is a player you need to plan on owning and build around accordingly (grabbing he and David Lee, for example, would be a reasonable frontcourt that offers a bit of everything).

28. Al Jefferson: Big Al took his game to Charlotte this offseason, not exactly a boost in roster help. He won’t have to share the frontcourt duties with another strong player like he did in Utah (Paul Milsap), but it is hard to envision Jefferson improving much past averaging 18 and 10. On the bright side, his two most productive fantasy seasons came as a part of a bad Minnesota Timberwolves team (22 and 11).

27. Dwight Howard: At his worst, he delivered 17 and 12, shooting nearly 58 percent and blocking 2.4 shots per contest. I’ll say his average stat line (18 and 13) is a reasonable projection this year, and I’d even venture to say he sets a career high in assists given the marksmen in Houston. The story with Howard is always the same… are you willing to take the massive hit in FT percentage for potentially elite center production in a league without a ton of true bigs?

8 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 26-24

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Chris Humphreys-USATODAY

26. Ersan Ilyasova: He averaged 13 and 8 with very good percentages over the last two seasons, and while I don’t view the Knight/Mayo backcourt as great, it should help improve his numbers a bit. A big man that can hurt defenses from distance has strong value, and if he can play 30-35 minutes a night, he’s got 16-8 potential with strong three-point accuracy.

25. Dwayne Wade: His PPG has dropped each season since he poured in 30 a night in 2008, but he scored at his most efficient rate of his career last season (52.1 FG percentage) and recorded more rebounds/assists/steals than he did in 2012. From a fantasy perspective, my biggest concern for Wade owners is that the Heat employ an “innings limit” of sorts in an effort to keep him healthier longer.

24. Ty Lawson: His raw speed with the basketball is as fun to watch as anything in the NBA, and with his points/assists/FGA/FTA all increasing in his first four seasons, it is easy to fall in love with the Nuggets burner. That being said, at 5-foot-11, Lawson isn’t exactly the prototype for a scoring point guard, a role he may be asked to fill given the departure of Andre Iguodala and the ACL injury to Danilo Gallinari. Nate Robinson was brought in to bolster the backcourt scoring, meaning you can expect a break neck pace that is ideal for Lawson and his fantasy owners.

9 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 23-21

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Brian Spurlock-USATODAY

23. Tony Parker: This past season saw the 31-year-old Parker average 4.3 more points, fewer turnovers, more assists and better percentages across the board than he did at 27. While Tim Duncan is still playing at a high level and Kawhi Leonard is only getting better, I can’t forecast any sort of drop-off whatsoever. The lone aspect that makes me worry here is the increasing size/athleticism of point guards in today’s NBA, something Parker simply doesn’t possess.

22. Jrue Holiday: The 23-year-old New Orleans Pelican welcomed an increased role last year in Philadelphia and I expect him to have a similar sized role (albeit different) in his first season in New Orleans. He’s got a nice mix of shooters and slashers on the perimeter this year as well as a talented young duo on the interior. He may fall short of the nearly 18 points he averaged last season, but a rise in assists, a dip in turnovers and consistent three-point shooting is a trade I’m willing to make.

21. Carmelo Anthony: Don’t we know exactly what Melo is by this point? He’s a professional bucket getter that will average in the neighborhood of 25-6-3 in a less than efficient manner. His increasing reliance on the long ball is scary (he attempted 47 more three pointers in 2012 than free throws in 2011) considering he is a 33.4 percent lifetime three-point shooter.

10 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 20-18

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Steve Dykes-USATODAY

20. John Wall: His game is maturing nicely, a fact that is evident in the quality of shots taken (FGA have decreased every year, but his FG percent has continually increased). He has the physical tools to succeed at a high level, but his value takes a bit of a hit given how loaded the PG position is this season.

19. David Lee: If you’re considering punting blocks, or want to wait until later in the draft to address those needs, then Lee deserves a spot on your roster. With the exception of almost no blocked shots (Jrue Holiday blocked ten more shots despite playing one fewer game), Lee contributes high-end numbers across the board. He’ll get you the shooting percentage and rebounding of a big man with the free throw accuracy of a guard on his way to his 20-10 stat line.

18. LaMarcus Aldridge: Rare 20-10 big man who has range that extends beyond 15 feet. Playing with Damian Lillard is a huge plus, and with an increasing assist rate (never regressed in his seven-year career), Aldridge might be the “safest” second-round pick available this season.

11 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 17-15

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Greg Smith-USATODAY

17. Damian Lillard: He averaged 20.4 points in the second half of the season, increasing his shooting percentage (both from the field and from three) in the process. Lillard’s got the type of shooting touch that has me believing he could one day join the illustrious 50-40-90 club, not to mention athletic ability that is as impressive as any guard in the game today.

16. Anthony Davis: The Pelicans are going to be a good basketball team and the improvement at point guard should only help Davis’ developing offensive game. He’s got 17 and 10 upside as soon as this season in addition to his two blocks and solid percentages.

15. Ricky Rubio: Remember when we were all drooling over Rajon Rondo’s playmaking ability during the 2011-12 season in which he rattled off 23 straight double-digit assist games? He averaged 23.6 PA (points and assists) and 1.8 steals while hurting your FT percentage (59.7). If you extrapolate Rubio’s 2012-13 minutes to match those of 2011-12 Rondo, he would have averaged 22.5 PA and three steals with a much more manageable 79.9 percent from the stripe (without Kevin Love or Kevin Martin).

12 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 14-12

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Craig Mitchelldyer-USATODAY

14. Derrick Rose: Obviously the ultimate risk/reward option in the draft. I worry less about re-injury than I do the Bulls capping his minutes in an effort to save him for the postseason. That being said, if he’s the athlete we all remember, he’s got top-five upside and could be a bargain in the second round.

13. Marc Gasol: His assist totals have increased with each passing season. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year also boasts a nice free throw percentage, a rarity among strong post defenders. His upside is limited by a still limited role in the offense (career 9.6 FGA), but there is very little downside here.

12. Nicolas Batum: Three players in the NBA made at least 165 three pointers on 37 percent shooting and had an average AR (assists and rebounds) of at least 10.5 last season: Steph Curry, Deron Williams and Batum. You want to talk about a player with upside? On a per game basis, Batum has increased his points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, FTM and 3PM every single season of his career.

13 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 11-9

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Chris Humphreys-USATODAY

11. Deron Williams: Adding a HOF point guard as a coach and two future HOF players has put Williams in a prime spot to re-establish himself as an elite PG. His assist total has been on the decline ever since he recorded a career high 10.7 dimes per game in 2008-09, a trend I fully anticipate ending this year with plenty of capable scorers around him. The offense will run through Williams, and he has as high a scoring ceiling as any point guard in the game.

10. Serge Ibaka: If a player can cover me in a specific statistical category to the point where I don’t have to worry about that category until late in the draft, I’m intrigued. If said player saw his offensive role increase in a big way in 2012 and still held elite percentages, I’m spending a first-round pick on him. Ibaka has developed a mid-range game, and with the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding attention, his efficient offensive game is legitimate.

9. Kevin Love: He doesn’t have a game that is tailored for fantasy (contributes very little AST, STL, BLK and FG percentage), but his skill set is unique enough to justify an early selection. Love is the lone elite scorer and rebounder who is capable of knocking down a three pointer or two each night (1.71 3PM over last two seasons). With a bruiser on the inside, an elite passing point guard and a scoring two guard, Love’s health is the only thing that can stop him from being the game's top PF/C.

14 of 19

Fantasy Basketball Ranks 8-6

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Soobum Im-USATODAY

8. Paul George: LeBron James’ fourth season saw him average 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.3 3PM on 31.9 percent shooting. In his third season, George averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 2.2 3PM on 36.2 percent shooting. His consistency (averaged between 18.3 and 19.4 points for four-consecutive months last season) is well above most players at his age, making him a player you can build your roster around.

7. Kyrie Irving: With an improving Cavs roster, Irving should continue to progress as he is still only 21 years old. Given his youth and ability to explode to the rim, fantasy owners would love to see him attack defenses as opposed to bail them out (only attempted 11 more free throws than three pointers). He’s got room to grow and some injury risk, but his upside is worth a first-round selection.

6. Steph Curry: His breakout 2012 campaign will be remembered for his NBA-record 272 made three pointers, and while fantasy owners love the triples (at a 45.3 percent clip nonetheless), Curry brings more to the table than just his sweet stroke. His assists took a big jump forward (up 30.2 percent from 2012), and with the Warriors on the rise, that total is here to stay. His production is not a concern of mine (his rebound and steal totals are also above average), but you must remember that he still has the fragile ankles that cost him 61 percent of the 2011 season.

15 of 19

Fantasy Basketball: Chris Paul

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Spruce Derden-USATODAY

5. Chris Paul: Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t win a fantasy league in the first round, you can only lose it” must have been a Chris Paul owner. No team has ever lost a fantasy league because of CP3, as he excels in every single point guard statistic on an annual basis. What do you want from your starting fantasy point guard? Steals, assists and free throw percentage are the standard answers, with rebounding and scoring being a nice bonus if you can get it. Paul has ranked in the top 10 at his position in all five of those categories in each of his eight seasons in the NBA, and as the ring leader of Lob City, those consistent numbers aren’t going anywhere.

16 of 19

Fantasy Basketball: Russell Westbrook

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Steve Dykes USATODAY

4. Russell Westbrook: All reports have him on track to be completely recovered from a torn meniscus by opening day, and assuming that’s the case, there is no point guard I’d rather have. The increased efficiency of Durant allowed Westbrook to up his assist rate by 34.5 percent from 2012, the lone statistical category where he annually fails to rank among the elite. He led his position in scoring and rebounding, but it is prowess at the free throw line that really separates him from the pack. Most point guards shot a good percentage from the line (Westbrook at 81.4 percent is no exception), but few make it there often enough to have a great impact, and only one visits the charity stripe with enough regularity to affect how you build the rest of your roster. Westbrook, who played in every regular season game for the fifth-straight season, attempted 201 more freebies than any other PG last season. Let me put that another way: Greivis Vasquez, a 6-foot-6 starting point guard who had a career year, attempted 154 free throws.

17 of 19

Fantasy Basketball: James Harden

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Troy Taormina-USATODAY

3. James Harden: Harden emerged as a super star in his first season in Houston and is the clear-cut top fantasy contributor at the SG position. The addition of Dwight Howard may result in fewer points scored this season, but it very well could lead to an increase in offensive efficiency and assists. Also, don’t rule out the impact Howard’s defensive skills could have, as they lead to transition opportunities at the other end. At his core, Harden is a slashing play maker that can bury the long ball when given the opportunity, and Houston has built a roster around the strengths of their best player. Last year was great, and this season could be even better.

18 of 19

Fantasy Basketball: Kevin Durant

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Jerome Miron-USATODAY

2. Kevin Durant: We all know that KD can score at will, and while that drives his fantasy value, his skill set is far different than other players who can fill it up in a hurry. He averaged more points last season than he did in 2012, but he took two fewer shots per game. Durant displayed an increased level of aggression that led to a 22.3 percent increase in FTA per game, boosting his fantasy value in a big way as he is an 88.4 percent career free throw shooter. His assists per game also made a significant jump (up 31.4 percent) while he lowered his turnover rate. Last season was the fourth straight year in which KD averaged at least one block and one steal, something even King James has only done three times in his career (10 seasons).

19 of 19

Fantasy Basketball King: LeBron James

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Steve Mitchell-USATODAY

1. LeBron James: How good can this guy get? I’d love to knock him for settling for three pointers last season (attempted 37.5 percent per game than a season ago), but he converted at a career best 40.6 percent clip. In short, he is the only player that can average more points than James Harden, more assists than Ty Lawson, more rebounds than Marc Gasol, more steals than Jason Kidd (who ranks second all-time in thefts) and shoot a higher percentage from distance than Klay Thompson while playing 1.8 fewer minutes per game than the year previous. There is no player in the game today, and maybe not in the history of the sport, that produces elite numbers in so many fantasy categories, and at 28 years old, it is possible we are in for a few more seasons just like last.


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