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Five guys to avoid at your NBA fantasy draft

by Steve Alexander
Updated On: May 6, 2020, 2:08 am ET

Last week I went over five guys I’ll be targeting everywhere in the upcoming season’s drafts (maybe it will start on Christmas Day 2020?) and this week I’m taking a look at five big names I’ll likely be avoiding on draft night. Of course, given that Christmas Day is still over six months away, I reserve the right to change my tune between now and then. In any case, here’s a way-too-early look at next season’s draft and five guys I plan to be shying away from.

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Kawhi Leonard – This will not be hard for me to break down. The guy takes way too many nights off to be a reliable fantasy player. Yes, he’s not only one of the best players in the league, but he’s an elite fantasy talent when he’s on the court. In fact, he was the No. 3 ranked player in terms of per-game stats last season, but while guys like Nikola Jokic, James Harden and Hassan Whiteside played in at least 61 games this season, Leonard is sitting on just 51 games right now. And despite the fact that he only drops to No. 6 when you add in the missed games, I’m still not a fan of having him on my team. His four-game weeks often become three-game weeks, his three-game weeks can easily dissolve into two-game weeks and the bottom line is that the missed-games stat is just as important, if not more important, than the rest of them. 

I’m afraid Kawhi is going to be the load-management poster child for the rest of his career and I’d rather have a lesser player who isn’t apt to miss games than trying to deal with Kawhi’s load management on a weekly basis. And I’m fully aware there are no guarantees with guys playing a full load of games, as we saw with Karl-Anthony Towns’ disaster of a season this year. But I’d still rather deal with a stud who ‘might’ miss games than a guy we know is going to sit between 15-20 games, regardless of whether he’s hurt or not. I’m going to let someone else draft Kawhi. 

Kyrie Irving – Irving has the best handle in the league and can single handedly lead a fantasy team to glory when he’s playing. But in addition to being constantly banged up and injured, he’s also a guy who’s pretty hard to get behind unless you’re a superfan. He was booed out of Cleveland and then booed out of Boston, and he just might be booed out of Brooklyn before it’s all said and done. Add to all of that a shoulder surgery that will have him sidelined for about six more months and there are enough red flags to stop every NASCAR race on the schedule this year. If the 2020 season starts on Christmas Day, which sounds like a real possibility right now, there’s an excellent chance that Irving will be healthy and ready to go. Honestly, I’m just not a fan and I’m going to let someone who loves wearing his shoes, or loves the Nets, draft him, thus escaping the constant headaches that come with owning him. I’m more into having guys on my team I can truly root for than guys who put up monster numbers and the injury risk pushes him all the way off the draft board for me. Take him, please, and I’ll sort through the leftovers in the second or third rounds of my drafts. 

Joel Embiid – Another guy who can’t seem to stay on the court, no matter how hard he tries. On a per-game basis Embiid was the No. 15 player in eight-category leagues this season. But he played in just 44 games (Nikola Jokic has played in 65 and counting) and drops to No. 55 when you add in his missed games this season. In addition to the paltry 44 games played this season, Embiid played in 64, 63 and 31 games in his previous three seasons, meaning that the most games he’ll likely play for you in a full season is around 60. He’s another guy whose four-game weeks will become three-gamers, and his three-game weeks will become two-gamers, more often than not. And in head-to-head leagues, that is simply no bueno. I’d rather let someone else draft him and take a center like Jokic or Bam Adebayo than blow a top pick on a guy nearly guaranteed to miss 25 games. I love Embiid’s chatter and the way he plays the game when he’s feeling good and wreaking havoc, but the injuries are just too much for my mind to overcome, especially when he’ll be a second-round pick or higher in almost every draft. 

Brandon Ingram – Unlike the other guys on this list, Ingram didn’t miss a ton of games this season and sits as the No. 22 player, despite being drafted in the 10th round or later in most leagues. His current averages of 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and 2.4 3-pointers are all (with the exception of blocks) easily career highs. But Zion Williamson should come into the season fully healthy, Lonzo Ball finished this one in a flurry and Jrue Holiday should see a ton of minutes and usage again in 2020. Ingram’s numbers were down in his five March games when he averaged just 18.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.4 blocks, which just happens to be when Zion was flourishing. I still like Ingram and was thrilled to see him ball out this season, but his price tag will likely be too high for me. And with Zion, Lonzo and Jrue all being focal points of the offense, I can’t imagine Ingram posting huge numbers again in 2020. I’ll draft Ingram if he’s sitting there in Round 5 but based on the monster numbers he posted this season, he’s going to be going in Rounds 3 & 4 when we all finally gather to draft again. And that’s just too rich for my blood for a guy who could end up being the third option on an up-and-coming team in the West. I’m going to let someone else overpay for him after stealing him in a few drafts and this year. 

Kevin Durant – I’m not going to come out and say I won’t draft Durant this season, especially when my guy Mike Gallagher is so high on him. But he’s coming off a lost season due to a ruptured Achilles and is playing on a team that includes Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. LeVert was really coming on late in the season and Irving and Dinwiddie can do serious damage when they’re on the floor. The Covid19 delay to this season is good news for Durant and there’s a decent chance we’ll see him on the floor to finish out the 2019 season if and when it gets back underway. But the key to next year is where you get Durant in the draft.

He could be worthy of a pick anywhere from No. 3 overall all the way to No. 14 or 15 in your 2020 draft, but I don’t think I’ll be all that comfortable taking him in my Top 15. Yes, if he’s sitting there at 15 and I go on the clock at that point, I’ll probably swoop in and take KD, assuming Jayson Tatum isn’t available. But if I have a pick between No. 3 and No. 12, I’m probably going to go with a guy who’s not coming off such a serious injury. 

Ideally, the current NBA season will resume at some point and we’ll get to take a good look at KD before the 2020 draft season kicks off. And if he looks unstoppable and just like the KD we remember from the past, I may completely change my tune. But as of now, I’m planning to let someone else take him around No. 7 and I’ll take Tatum, Damian Lillard or some other stud whose Achilles isn’t held together by rubber bands. Load management could become an issue for KD, especially if the Nets build a big lead in the East. I love KD as much as the next guy but he’s going to have to prove his health and stamina to me before I’m ready to make him an automatic first-round pick in 2020. 

Other guys I’m probably steering away from early in drafts: Karl-Anthony Towns, Paul George, Clint Capela, Robert Covington, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Al Horford and Danilo Gallinari. I think all of them could be rated high enough that the risk could outweigh the potential reward. I want young, healthy studs in my drafts, and none of these guys sufficiently meet than criteria. Talk to me again in six months and I might have a different take. But for now, I’m staying away from these cats. 

Steve Alexander

Steve "Dr. A" Alexander is the senior editor for the NBA for NBC Sports Edge and a contributor to NBCSports.com. The 2020-21 NBA season marks (at least) his 20th year of covering fantasy hoops for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter - @Docktora.