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Category Strategy: Looking Ahead to Next Season

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

This is the season finale for Under the Radar. Instead of using the usual format, this week we'll look at players who could be Under the Radar next season. I'll also mention a few pickups if you're looking for help over the final week of games. The players listed will out-produce where I think they'll be generally ranked entering next season; I can't see any of these players going in the top-40 picks in most drafts next season.

Jerryd Bayless, G, TOR –
He's a great short-term pickup with the team committed to giving him extra minutes until season's end. Only 22, the Arizona product has posted some nice stats when given starter's minutes. He's played nine games in which he's had at least 30 minutes. During those nine games he's averaged 17.1 points, 7.2 assist and 4.1 rebounds. Yes, Jose Calderon still dons a Raptors jersey, but he hasn't played more than 70 games in any of the last three years. It wouldn't be surprising given the team's youth if the Raptors went with Bayless at some point and allowed him to grow with the nucleus of Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, James Johnson and DeMar DeRozan. As for the short-term pickup part, Bayless totaled 49 points, 16 assists and six rebounds over his last two games.

Ryan Anderson, F, ORL –
I'd love to see what Anderson could do with 30 minutes a night. He averages only 22 minutes a contest with 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 three-pointers made. So if he got 30 minutes a night and you added 50 percent to those numbers, would it be unreasonable to expect 15 points, eight rebounds and three treys a game? The problem is Brandon Bass is still under contract next year making my "30 minutes a game" aspiration for Anderson a long shot. Still, Anderson makes for a nice add considering he's a power forward who hits threes. He's an upside target in later rounds if you've drafted a point guard lacking range like Rajon Rondo or Russell Westbrook.

Chase Budinger, F, HOU –
I like him even better if in leagues with a mandatory small-forward spot. Budinger has been a stellar play since the All-Star break (19 games), averaging 14.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 threes per game. During that time he's also improved his shooting percentages to 43.8 percent from the field and 87.7 percent from the free-throw line. With the expected growth from a third-year player, Budinger will be a good late-round target.

Kyle Lowry, G, HOU –
We'll stick with Houston for one more player. I made my love for Lowry known a few weeks back, naming him as the point guard to my All-UTR team. What's so impressive about Lowry is the improvement and adjustments he made to his game throughout the season. Let's look at the difference between his numbers before (53 games) the All-Star game and his numbers after (20 games):

Pre: 12.1 points, 6.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.4 threes, 42.2 FG%, 72.5 FT%
Post: 17.4 points, 7.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.5 threes, 45.2 FG%, 85.1 FT%

Granted those post-numbers were a small sample size, a quarter of the season. But, if they were put up against all other point guards for their season, he'd be first in rebounds, first in three-pointers made, fifth in PPG, 11th in assists, 12th in FT%, 15th in FG% and 17th in steals. While those latter numbers don't sound all that impressive, the overall cumulative look at Lowry shows his all-around upside. I don't envy anyone trying to rank him for next season, but I think he's easily a top-40 pick. My guess is those ranking him next season will look at his cumulative stats, which means he'll probably fall further than he should.

Greg Monroe, F, DET –
Despite all the chaos that has happened in Detroit this season, Monroe is definitely one of the bright spots. I like the way Detroit eased him into the lineup, eventually giving him significant playing time, which in turn led to him being an outstanding fantasy add. Averaging his monthly totals from December through March, here's what his stats look like:

Points -- 12.3
Rebounds -- 9.0
FG% - 59.0
Steals -- 1.4
Blocks -- .67

Granted, the blocks are nothing special, and he's not the greatest free-throw shooter at 59.4 percent. However, that number has improved as the season has gone on (64.5 in March) and he only averages 2.7 attempts per game. Monroe and teammate Austin Daye should give the Pistons faithful something to be excited about for years to come.

Kris Humphries, F, NJ –
Am I the only one who thinks Humphries resembles that wolf-kid in those teen-age vampire movies? Not that I've seen any of them of course …anyway, back to basketball. For much of the season I've tried to figure out why Humphries' teammate Brook Lopez isn't rebounding since, well, he's a 7-footer and plays 35 minutes a game. The answer has to partially lie with Humphries, who has seen his season average jump from 5.5 RPG last year to 10.4 RPG this year. Meanwhile, Lopez has seen his drop from 8.6 RPG last season to 5.9 RPG this season. Humphries has been especially ridiculous in March, averaging 14.2 points and 14.4 rebounds a contest. Of course, just when his owners need him most, an ankle injury could shut him down for the rest of the season. Travis Outlaw should be added in his place if you're desperate for help.

James Harden, G, OKC –
Let's start by pointing out that Harden is in his second season in the Association, yet he's only 21. Therefore, I'll go out on a limb and guess we likely haven't seen the best from him yet. I also find it interesting that the Thunder chose to trade Jeff Green to open up playing time for Harden. This suggests that they see a higher upside for Harden over Green, who has consistently averaged 15 points and six rebounds the last three years. Well, it looks like the Thunder made the right move as Harden has averaged 16.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.7 threes while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 85.9 percent from the charity stripe. Harden along with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka should win a championship within the next five years.

JaVale McGee, C, WAS –
I considered putting McGee in this spot last season but instead went with Roy Hibbert. Then earlier this year I sang the praises of McGee only to watch him go into a mid-season slump. With the slew of injuries to hit the Wizards late in the season, McGee has gotten more run and responded positively. In March he averaged 13.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and shot 57.0 percent from the floor. With a year of working with talented point guard John Wall under his belt, the 23-year-old McGee should be in for a breakout season in 2011-2012.

Again, that's it for me until next season. I'll come out with a revised list like this one during preseason. Be prepared for a crazy set of playoffs with so many talented teams poised to make a run. The Spurs have been the best team over the course of the season in the West, but can anyone actually argue that the Lakers aren't the best team right now? In the East, do the "Big Three" live up to the hype, do the Celtics have enough for another run or do the Bulls show their time has finally come? Enjoy the postseason, and thanks for reading.