I know, I know, the season’s not officially over just yet. The NBA restart is right around the corner and we still have to crown a *champion, but outside of DFS, the fantasy season is essentially over.
It was a strange year involving weird injuries, missing superstars, tanking champions, harsh suspensions and unthinkable tragedy – punctuated by a global pandemic, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since 1918. Fun.
The abbreviated season means we have a somewhat smaller data set to work with, but we still have around 65 games to analyze, and it’s not as if those final 20-or-so games would have resulted in a dramatic re-aligning in the fantasy rankings. While there were no true fantasy champions this season, we still know the general direction of where things were going, and we have sufficient data to determine why things went the way they did.
How Did My Year Go?
I’ll be honest with you – it went mostly poorly for me. It wasn’t entirely my fault, I caught some brutal injuries (Kyrie Irving, Otto Porter Jr., Marvin Bagley, etc.), had some terrible luck with suspensions (John Collins & Deandre Ayton were regulars on my teams), and I landed the last pick in multiple leagues. However, I am not one to blame the stars while shaking my fists at the heavens. I can acknowledge where mistakes were made – and I did make a crucial error during what I would describe as “The Googly Eyed Phase.”
As I prepared for the draft, I was skeptical of Mitchell Robinson’s limited (but impressive) second-half stats from the previous year and didn’t quite have him on my radar.
Remember Marquese Chriss? I would whisper to myself, inciting the painful memory of one of Rotoworld’s greatest blunders in recent years. He’s still quite raw and hasn’t seemed to resolve the fouling issues. Remember, blocked shots are just one of nine categories and he plays for the Knicks! Is he even going to start? Reasonable logic. Unfortunately, it only took a handful of meaningless games with juiced up stats for me to abandon all reason, as if it were my Son in a Disney movie, and convince myself to take the plunge on draft day. As they say, exhibition games are a helluva drug.
I became mesmerized watching Robinson sprint out to the 3-point line to send away shots. Who cares if he doesn’t start!? I’d lie to myself. He can get these numbers in 20 minutes a night, anyway. And how long do we honestly expect Taj Gibson to hold the starting spot!?? As the season dragged on, I’d sell myself different fairy tales. Well, this is all David Fizdale’s fault. Or, if they could only get him a better point guard to pass to him. Or, surely management will trade away Gibson!
Nothing worked. In fact, we began cheering him on for simply not being awful. It’s true that he finished the season inside the top-60, but those numbers are an illusion. Instead of being impressive, they represent a flaw in the system that overvalues FG% and TOs. Sure, his blocks were nice, but he rarely brought any other peripheral stats to the box score, nor did he score enough points for his sky-high FG% to truly boost your overall field goal percentage.
To make matters worse, in the one league that I did draft Robinson, I compounded the error by pairing him with Myles Turner, which dedicated a sizeable portion of my budget (it was a salary league) to what was essentially an overpriced tag-team duo of shot-blocking specialist. I did win blocks a lot, though.
In another league I drafted Kyrie Irving with my first pick, Draymond with my third pick, Conley with my fourth and Otto Porter Jr. with my fifth… that uhh, didn’t go so well. See, my problem was that I convinced myself that Draymond Green wasn’t going to be absurdly awful, that Conley (formerly one of the more respected PGs in the league) would slide in seamlessly to Utah’s system (a team that desperately needed another offensive creator), and that Otto Porter would be able to build off that strong second-half he had in Chicago the previous year. Instead, Stephen Curry (Green’s No. 1 dimes target) had his hand annihilated under the crushing weight of Aron Baynes just four games into the season, Conley opened the year with a 1-of-16 shooting performance (which he later bested with an 0-of-7 stinker just three games later), and Porter Jr.’s foot committed suicide rather than play another minute for Jim Boylen; plus Kyrie was doing all sorts of Kyrie stuff.
De’Aaron Fox was another disappointment. He got off to a bad start, sprained his ankle at practice (which resulted in a full month on the sidelines), and while he eventually got it going, he didn’t really take the leap I was looking for. I think it’s fair to blame some of that on Luke Walton. Fox took a major leap forward under Dave Joerger, but when Walton took over, the Kings went from the No. 3 ranked team in pace to No. 23. A slower pace means fewer opportunities, and the team just seemed disjointed most of the season. Fox also shot a career-low at the line (70.3) while attempting a career-high 6.8 freebies a night, so that was annoying.
I did get some things right, though. I was one of the early Kelly Oubre supporters despite being told I was “reaching” for him by regularly selecting him in the 50-60 range, I was singing John Collins’ praise as one of my favorite breakout candidates back in September, and Will Barton was one of my best late-round gambles.
I got the last laugh after being mocked for taking Anthony Davis > Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 2 pick in one league, and I’d like to consider Malcolm Brogdon a good target, although he was hurt so often that it didn’t really matter. Dejounte Murray is a guy I’ve talked up for years, and while he didn’t exactly blow me away this season, he did have a solid year and outperformed his ADP. Markelle Fultz took a while to get going, but he was a regular in my last-round-flier list, and he got better every month of the year.
I did finish fourth in one of the leagues where I had the last pick, and I was a dark horse favorite for the title with my Stephen Curry stash waiting to erupt, but my standings in the other leagues weren’t so great.
- If a non-all-star player had a breakout year but then saw a coaching change / change of scenery, then it’s risky to assume he’ll continue in an upward trajectory
- Second-half stats aren’t all that predictive
- If your most expensive player in a salary draft is under $60, don’t be afraid to spend $40 to secure one more stud
- Sudden outrageous outputs in statistically rare categories by relatively unknown players should be viewed skeptically, rather than as an unfolding trend
- Rookies suck, usually
Never Again or Double Down?
Generally speaking, I’m against having a “never again” list. It’s true that I won’t be looking to draft Mitchell Robinson in the early-rounds next year, but if he falls into 90-range, I might start looking his way. The problem with never again lists is it can force you to miss out on players. I essentially made Hassan Whiteside a “never again” guy after his disastrous 2018-19 campaign, but then he turned it around this year with a first-round masterpiece. Maybe Robinson can also be a post-hype All-Star (but probably he’ll just be Marquese Chriss 2.0).
All that said, Conley might be a never again guy for me, as he’ll be 33 years old next season and appears to be in clear decline (most players start their decline around 30). I watched a lot of him this past season trying to figure out exactly what was wrong, and it wasn’t obvious. He got plenty of opportunity on offense, but just never really found his way and couldn’t get his shot to drop for the life of him. That running floater that made him one of the highest paid PGs in the league was a running clunker this year, and I’m not really willing to re-invest in an aging guard.
Kawhi Leonard is probably another “never again” guy for me. He’s fine if he’s your fourth-best player or something, but you simply cannot invest a first or second round pick on a guy that is guaranteed to miss so many games.
Kyrie Irving was perhaps my most disappointing bust this year, but he’s a guy I’m definitely willing to double down on. Yes, he’s had plenty of injury-riddled seasons, but it’s worth noting that he rarely has down-years consecutively. He was also nothing short of phenomenal when he was able to get on the court this season, and I think he’ll be looking for something to prove next year while the Nets chase a championship in Kevin Durant’s first year back from the Achilles tear. Because this year was so bad, it’s possible Irving will drop all the way to the third or fourth round, and at that point, the reward greatly outweighs the risk.
Draymond Green is another guy I'd be willing to double-down on. He had a horrible year, but he also wasn't motivated, as the Dubs were clearly tanking. I won't be taking him during the midrounds, but if he slips to Round 8, it would be tough for me to pass him up. He was exposed this season for his complete lack of an offensive game, but that'll be less of a weakness next season with a healthy Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry back in action and creating chaos on the court.
But enough of my miseries, let’s end this column on some guys I’m looking forward to drafting/watching next season.
24.3 points, 2.4 triples, 6.3 boards, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steal, 2.7 TOs (46.6 FG, 85.8 FT)
Previous Year’s Ranking: 238
We all saw it, but none of us expected it. Ingram was routinely drafted as a flier towards the back half of Round 8 (99 ADP) on draft day, but he finished with a top-30 ranking across 56 games while setting career-highs in every relevant category. He started the year shooting the lights out, connecting on 49.1% of his field goal attempts (40.9% of his 3-point attempts) while shooting a pristine 85.7% from the line, and proved that he could shine in a lead role for the Pelicans.
His usage and scoring did take a bit of hit once Zion Williamson was incorporated into the mix, and his sky-high field goal percentage saw a bit of a regression to the mean over his final 17 games, but his free throw shooting remained strong.
Numbers alongside Zion
21.1 points, 2.4 triples, 5.2 boards, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 3.2 turnovers (43.8 FG, 85.5 FT)
In Ingram’s previous three seasons he had never shot over 68.1% from the stripe nor had he ever averaged more than 0.7 treys per game, but his complete reversal in those two categories made him one of the more exciting breakout players this season. Yes, his stats dipped a bit when Zion was brought on, but he was still really good and I’m confident those two can learn to play alongside one another – particularly with both of them being willing passers. He’s a guy I’ll be excited to draft next year.
23.6 points, 6.8 boards, 2.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 2.7 turnovers (58.9 FG, 64.5 FT)
I’m all in on the Zion hype-train and I hope everyone freaks out about his size and health so his draft price is deflated next season. This kid is a generational talent, and I’m confident we’ll see a Luka Doncic-like jump next year. He was a defensive stalwart during his college days, and while that didn’t really happen this season, I think a lot of that had to do with him being unfamiliar with Alvin Gentry’s system and being thrown into the fire midseason. He’ll now have a full offseason and training camp to better understand Gentry’s system and defensive philosophies, and if he could get up to 1.2 steals and 1.0 block per game he could easily be a top-40 stud. He has a long way to go with the free throw shooting, but he’s such a monster with the FG% I’m willing to take the FT hit.
21.6 points, 1.4 triples, 10.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.8 turnovers (58.3 FG, 80 FT)
Collins made the leap I was expecting him to during Year-3, and he sent away so many shots in his third season that he surpassed his total from his 2018-19 campaign just 18 games into this season. That was the one knock on his fantasy game, but he righted the ship there in a big way this year and it resulted in a first-round evaluation. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see how he’d look (and how his stats would be affected) by playing alongside Clint Capela, but I wouldn’t expect it to result in a dramatic downtick in value. Perhaps he won’t be a 20-10 guy with Capela around, but we’ve seen the traditional big structure work in the modern era (remember Cousins/Davis), and he’s simply too talented to not keep improving. Hopefully, he times his roids cycle better for Year-4.
12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 triples, 1.6 steals, 2.4 blocks, 1.5 turnovers (46.3 FG, 76.7 FT)
Third time’s the charm, right? After teasing us (and burning fantasy owners) for years, Isaac finally had his coming out party this past season, showing us the force that he can be on the defensive end. Unfortunately, his season was cut short after just 32 games with a bad knee sprain, but he did finally look like the guy we’ve been trying to hype up for a solid three years. The shot blocking numbers were gaudy, but not unreasonable, as they’re in line with a trend we’ve seen and he was also helped by finally earning consistent and getting more comfortable playing the small forward position. I think he could take another leap if the Magic part ways with Aaron Gordon, but either way, he should be an elite prospect for many years to come. He reminds me of Gerald Wallace/Andre Kirilenko.
19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 triples, 1.7 assists, 2.1 swats, 1.6 turnovers (42 FG, 77.6 FT)
He’s back, finally had a relatively healthy season and he was just starting to find his groove with Luka Doncic when the season was suspended. He’s starting to get into his basketball prime and I see a career-year coming next year in his age-25 season.
I won’t be talking about Luka here, as that’s clearly Doc’s responsibility, but of course he’s another guy I’m looking forward to watching.
23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.8 triples, 1.4 steals, 0.9 swats, 2.2 TOs (44.8 FG, 80.6 FT)
Tatum is a fantasy goldmine. He does everything well and with efficiency, and he’s finally carved out his role as the leading man in Boston. The kid is loaded with talent, and at just 21 years old, we can expect continued improvement next season. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him flirting with top-5 output next year.
16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.1 dimes, 1.2 steals, 1.3 blocks, 2.8 turnovers (56.7 FG, 69 FT)
He’ll be in a contract year next season, and because he hasn’t clearly established himself as a max player, he is one of those guys who will need to prove exactly what he’s worth next season. He’s not an elite shot blocker, but he does get some swats here-and-there, and you have to love getting five dimes a night from your center position. We saw flashes this year, but I think he can be even better next year. Maybe he can even improve his free throw shooting.