Fratello’s Fantasy Pick

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee BucksAfter being named to the First Team All-America squad in both his freshman and sophomore years at Ohio State, Jared Sullinger entered the 2012 NBA Draft.

The Boston Celtics selected the 6’9”, 260-pound Columbus native with the 21st overall pick. GM Danny Ainge and head coach Doc Rivers were elated and felt they made a “steal” with this choice. After all, NBA scouts and talent evaluators had pegged Sullinger in the top five slots should he have jumped to the pros after his historic freshman year at OSU.

The 21-year-old big (wide) man played in all 45 Celtic contests in the 2012-2013 season before his chronic back problems forced him to the injured list. He averaged 6 ppg and 5.9 rpg in 19.8 mpg while shooting 49.5% from the field and 75% from the stripe.

Soon after, Sullinger underwent successful lumbar disk surgery. The Celtics knew going into the draft that he would eventually need this procedure. The reason his stock dipped prior to the 2012 Draft was due to teams’ concerns regarding his back.  Fortunately after the procedure surgeons and doctors concluded that his long-time, ailing back would now be fixed permanently.

So far  Sullinger has played in 18 of the Green’s 20 games. In 25.6 mpg, he is averaging 13.2 ppg (second on the team), 7.4 rpg (leads the team) and 1.4 apg. In addition, for the quants and stat-heads out there, the gregarious and relentless Sullinger leads the team with a PER of 18.6. He has posted season highs of 26 points, 17 boards and 4 dimes. Also #7 has yet to foul out of a game, which is impressive for a bulky banger.

In only his second pro season, Sullinger has become invaluable as the Celtics try to rebuild after the departures of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. I see Sullinger as a double-double machine in the near future. Add this high IQ workhorse to your fantasy roster before his price tag shoots through the roof!

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick

Indiana Pacers v Cleveland CavaliersRough and rugged, fourth-year guard Lance Stephenson emerged last season as one of the Indiana Pacers’ key players.

The 23-year-old Brooklyn native started 72 games for coach Frank Vogel last year as the Pacers went all the way to Game 7 of the ECF against eventual champs Miami.

Stephenson aka Born Ready was an early bloomer. The Lincoln High alum won NYC basketball championships in each of his four years of high school and is New York State’s all-time leading scorer.

After playing one season of collegiate ball at Cincinnati, he was selected 40th overall by Indiana in the 2010 NBA Draft. 6’5” Stephenson played in only 54 games for the Pacers over his first two seasons. Last year in 29.2 mpg, he averaged 8.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 2.9 apg.

In the Pacers’ first ten games so far this season, Stephenson is averaging 33.8 mpg (2nd on the team behind Paul George), 13.7 ppg (2nd on the team), 5.2 rpg, and he leads the team with 5 apg. He has scored in double figures in 9 of the 10 contests and on November 11th recorded his first career triple-double.

Stephenson has season-highs so far of 22 points, 12 dimes, 11 boards and 41 minutes of floor time. He is capable of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player and is not afraid of the big shot or making plays in crunch time. Stephenson has been under an intense national spotlight since the 8th grade and has dealt with the constant attention and scrutiny that accompanies a NYC scholastic basketball legend.

Stephenson plays on an extremely balanced, talented Pacers team and seems to have secured his spot in the first five. He can give any Fantasy GM an above average stat line every night. So add Lance Stephenson to your Fantasy roster ASAP. He is just beginning to scratch the surface of showing the premier player he’ll become.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick

Phoenix Suns v Denver NuggetsPhoenix’s combo guard Eric Bledsoe has ignited the Suns with a blazing start early in his fourth pro season. His lightly-talented team opened with a surprising 5-2 record thanks to Bledsoe’s impressive leadership and production.

The former Kentucky Wildcat was traded to the Suns this past summer after spending his first three years with the Los Angeles Clippers. After one season in Lexington, Bledsoe was selected 18th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Bledsoe played in 81 games for the Clips his rookie season and started 25 of them.

During Bledsoe’s second year in LaLa Land, the Clippers acquired All-World PG Chris Paul, and Bledsoe was bench-bound. In fact, he spent much of the 2011-2012 season in the D-League. Now in Phoenix, free from the shadow of the best 1-guard in the league, it looks like Bledsoe’s minutes and numbers will soar.

So far the super-athletic “Mini-LeBron James” is averaging 20.9 ppg, 7.3 apg, 4.4 rpg and 1.9 spg while shooting .552 % from the field and .811 % from the line in the first 7 contests of his 2013-14 campaign. These All-Star caliber numbers are an incredible jump up from his Clippers’ career averages of 6.7 ppg, 3 apg, 2.6 rpg, 1.2 spg, .431 % and .739 %.

In the Sun’s hard-fought loss to OKC earlier this month, Bledsoe had perhaps the most impressive stat line of his career: 26 points, 14 dimes, 7 boards and 3 steals in 40 minutes of burn.

Add Bledsoe to your fantasy roster if you can before he slips into conversations about top NBA guards and soars out of reach.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick

Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee BucksJohn Henson of the Milwaukee Bucks heads into his second professional season after an up-and-down rookie year on an up-and-down team.

The talented, 6’11” former Tarheel was taken 14th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft after a superb three years in Chapel Hill. In both his sophomore and junior seasons at North Carolina Henson was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, he was named to the 2011-2012 First Team All-ACC.

With an amazing wingspan of 7’6” Henson is able to alter and block numerous shots from anywhere on the court. He possesses soft hands around the rim and gobbles up rebounds.

When Henson made his pro debut, the Bucks had a logjam of talented big men at frontcourt including then-sophomore Larry Sanders. This proved to be a blessing and a curse for Henson’s development. Though he got to bang with and compete with veterans Mike Dunleavy, Joel Przybilla and Samuel Dalembert in practice, the plethora of bigs limited his rookie minutes.

Henson played in 63 games in the 2012-13 season and averaged 6 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 0.7 bpg in 13.1 mpg. The former McDonald’s All-American put up season-highs of 28 points, 25 boards (!!!), 7 blocks and 3 steals (2X).

Henson’s upside is huge, and his production will surely trend upward this season. So far after three games, Henson has averaged 22.3 mpg and 10.7 ppg. Look for both of these numbers to increase quickly and for this young, athletic big man to have nights where his stat lines boast double-digits.

Fratello’s Fantasy Picks

As NBA teams prepare for the 2013-14 season to tip off on Tuesday, October 29, fantasy leagues are holding their annual drafts. Regardless of the scoring format, fantasy GMs who do the most effective job of projecting and analyzing player production and value will come out on top at the end of 82. Everyone knows that superstars like LeBron, Durant and Chris Paul will put up monster fantasy numbers almost every night, but rounding out fantasy rosters takes skill. Here are five lower-profile players who should provide high returns at each spot on the court.

PG – Mike Conley

Mike Conley is entering his 7th NBA season with Memphis. Although a dynamic 1-guard on a playoff team, Conley is often ranked behind other PGs. Last season Conley played in 80 games and averaged 14.6 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.8 rpg and 2.2 spg. He shot 83% from the line and hit 1.3 3-bombs per game. Conley posted season-highs of 26 points, 15 dimes, 7 boards (2X) and 6 steals. And he rarely lost the rock, averaging just 2.4 turnovers per contest. Conley’s a consistent producer who can fill up a stat sheet.

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies

SG – Evan Turner

6’7″ swingman Evan Turner played in all 82 games last season for Philly, averaging 35.3 minutes per game. He put up solid numbers on a shaky squad, loading the stat sheet with 13.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.3 apg and .9 spg in his 2012-13 campaign. Turner posted season-highs of 27 points, 13 boards (2X), 9 dimes (3X) and 4 steals. In his fourth year Turner will be asked to lead Philadelphia’s exceptionally young roster, so he’ll get a lot of opportunities to step up and produce as the Sixers rebuild.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Philadelphia 76ers-NBA Global Games

SF – Maurice Harkless

20-year-old Moe Harkless enters his sophomore season after working hard all summer on the deficiencies in his game. The native New Yorker’s pro career set sail on Orlando’s sinking ship. Although at times Harkless looked a step behind on the court, the rookie’s numbers and minutes increased month by month, and his scoring peaked in April. For the year he averaged 8.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 1.2 spg in 26 mpg. He posted season-highs of 28 points, 14 boards and 6 steals. Harkless has a huge upside and will slowly but surely raise his game and averages.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic

PF – Derrick Favors

The solidly built 6’10” Derrick Favors was selected 3rd overall in the 2010 Draft after one season at Georgia Tech. With the departures of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in the offseason, Favors will get more run than the 23.2 mpg he averaged in Utah last year. In 77 games he averaged career-bests of 9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg and 0.9 spg. He posted season-highs of 23 points, 15 boards (2X) and 6 blocks (2X). Favors won’t be a sleeper for long so scoop him up in the draft before he fully unleashes on the league.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers

C – Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas is another big man who won’t stay under the radar for long. He’s only 21, but started playing pro ball in Europe in 2008. The 7-foot Lithuanian was drafted 5th overall in 2011, but didn’t make his NBA debut until last season. He averaged 8.9 ppg, 6 rpg and 1.3 bog for the Raptors and shot 79% from the charity stripe and 56% from the field. Valanciunas came on at the end of the season averaging 14.9 points and 2.4 blocks in seven April games. He is poised and possesses a solid skill set. As long as Valanciunas stays healthy he’ll start owning the paint and will become a primary scoring option for Toronto.

Toronto Raptors v Minnesota Timberwolves Preseason