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Oklahoma City PF/C Serge Ibaka went largely undrafted in fantasy basketball leagues around the nation last season, and with good reason: He was an extremely raw 21-year-old with no college experience and the ugliest looking shot this side of Joakim Noah who often looked a little lost on the floor. But Ibaka gradually proved throughout the season that he could contribute (albeit one-dimensional) fantasy value. He led the NBA last year with 198 blocks; 2.4 per game.
It's hard to pass up a number like that, though even at the end of last season, many fantasy team owners did because they needed players with better across-the-board averages. This year, Ibaka's average draft position in Yahoo! leagues is 33.2. Are owners willing to take him that high based on a single stat? Not exactly. You see, the word is out that Ibaka is slowly developing a better offensive game and more poise on defense, which could mean more points, rebounds and steals (His 7.7 rebounds per game average last year was pretty poor for a center).
Ibaka isn't the only big man developing new skills. There are a number of young centers and power forwards worth watching this year for breakthrough seasons:
* JaVale McGee, Washington: Nearly identical stat line to Ibaka last year and finished only five blocks behind him. Also should increase points, rebounds this year with more minutes.
* Roy Hibbert, Indiana: Preseason rank is 80, but tremendous buzz that he'll have a huge year. Already a proven scorer.
* DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers: Defensive complement to Blake Griffin is a dunk machine that benefits greatly from Chris Paul's arrival in LA.
* DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento: May gain minutes with Chuck Hayes' injury and stats could improve if he trims from last season's 268 turnovers.
* Blake Griffin, LA Clippers: Wildly successfully scorer and rebounder could quickly become a top 10 overall player.
* Robin Lopez, NJ Nets: His one dimension is scoring, but reportedly has a new emphasis on rebounding this year, which should be cake for the seven-footer.
* Yahoo!'s Big Board finds Chicago's Derrick Rose at No. 6 overall.
* Fantasy Basketball Daily ranks the rookies. It's Ricky Rubio time.
* Hoopsworld has its own big-man feature on the top 30 centers.
* Damn Lies & Stats sets small forward draft tiers, finding Kevin Durant and LeBron James in a class by themselves.
* ESPN offers a love/hate list. Ibaka gets more love.
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