Hello and welcome back to the NBA Roundtable! Last week we were able to vent about the most disappointing players so far, so this time we’re going to change directions and discuss the biggest surprises of 2018-19. I’ll start things off with my top three choices…
Jonas Nader (@JonasNader)
Pascal Siakam- I had Siakam on my sleepers list in the draft guide and I know several of you touted him as a possible breakout candidate, but we’d by lying if we said we aren’t surprised by his top-40 start. With Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka playing almost exclusively at center, Siakam has been getting the bulk of the PF minutes from day one and has become Toronto’s version of Draymond Green. And as crazy as this might sound, Siakam’s fantasy arrow is still pointing up with the Raptors giving him more responsibility as a point forward on offense — he’s averaging 4.6 assists over his last five games. He’s the heavy favorite for the Most Improved Player Award and has been arguably the best value pick in fantasy drafts.
Nikola Vucevic- He’s always been a solid fantasy contributor, but Vucevic is shattering expectations as the 7th ranked player in 9-category leagues. A lot of people were hesitant to invest in Vucevic with the Magic taking Mo Bamba with the No. 6 pick, but the rookie hasn’t been a threat at all so far with Vooch playing 31 minutes per game. Yes he’s on an expiring contract and maybe he’s traded, but there’s no way he doesn’t crush his ADP (average draft position) as long as he can stay healthy.
Nerlens Noel- How good has Noel been? He’s the 99th ranked player in 9-category leagues despite playing 14.0 minutes per game. His per-minute stats are off the charts with per-36 minute averages of 15.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.6 steals. He doesn’t have a path to more minutes because the Thunder are playing him exclusively behind Steven Adams, but he’s still worth owning somehow and offers league-winning upside if Adams picks up an injury. Not bad for a player who only made the news for eating a hotdog at halftime last season.
Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer)
I was high on Vooch coming into the season, but he’s exceeding even the most optimistic expectations. Vucevic is averaging career-highs in points (21.0), assists (3.8), field goal percentage (55.2%), 3-pointers (1.2), 3-point percentage (.413) and free-throw percentage (.833). Remarkably, he’s doing this while logging just 31.2 minutes a night, which is just the fifth highest MPG average of his career.
Gallo was drafted outside the top-100 in virtually every draft I took part in back in October. Gallo currently ranks inside the top-25 overall in nine-category fantasy leagues.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
JJJ has a legit chance to become the first rookie in NBA history to average at least two blocks, two steals and one made 3-pointer per game.
As I detailed yesterday, here are D. Rose’s per-36 minute averages from his MVP-award winning 2010-11 campaign:
24.1 points (on 44.5% shooting), 1.5 made 3-pointers (on 33.2% shooting), 7.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 3.3 turnovers
Here are Rose’s per-36 minute averages from the 20 games he appeared in from October 19th through December 1st of this season:
24.3 points (on 51.5% shooting), 2.3 made 3-pointers (on 50.7% shooting), 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 turnovers.
Steve Alexander (@docktora)
Even though it wasn't a surprise, I was loving Caris LeVert before his injury and owned him almost everywhere. Sadly, I don't see a reason to hold him unless you've got ample room on your IR.
Luka Doncic - I knew this was going to happen and every time I see him hit a step-back 3-pointer my heart sinks a little bit further. All I can say as a Hawks fan is that we had him in our bleepity-bleep hands.
Zach LaVine - I'm not surprised, but I guess I am surprised that another guy I went all-in on has completely come through. And he's not done yet.
Aaron Gordon - Another guy I went all-in on, and another guy who has come through up to this point. He may have had his best game yet on Tuesday night.
Markieff Morris - He's benefitting from some injuries, but has become a must-own player, and I'm on board.
DeAndre Jordan - That free throw shooting!? Is this a dream?
Myles Turner - In a 'what have you done for me lately?' world, he's done quite a bit. I'm just glad he's finally starting to live up to the hype. Hopefully, he keeps it going.
JaVale McGee - It's hard to argue with a single thing he's done this season, but it does feel like he's starting to fade out a bit.
Editor’s Note: If you love Fantasy Basketball, you have to be playing on DRAFT. It's daily fantasy basketball snake drafts instead of salary caps. They take minutes to complete, and there's even auction drafts! No more setting lineups or constantly worrying about pros, just draft and win! Right now DRAFT is giving Rotoworld readers an exclusive FREE entry into a real money draft when you make your first deposit! Here's the link!
Matt Stroup (@MattStroup)
Two players I haven’t seen mentioned yet are Marc Gasol and Justin Holiday. Gasol was 42nd overall last year in 9-category leagues (per Basketball Monster), and currently sits 16th in the 9-category rankings. Meanwhile, Holiday continues to destroy his ADP with a No. 31 ranking at the moment.
Looking further down the list, I’ll throw the name Tristan Thompson out there. He’s currently averaging 11.8 ppg and 11.8 rpg (both career-highs), and over the last month (15 games) he’s at 14.2 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.9 spg and 0.4 bpg — good for No. 76 overall in 9-category formats during that run.
David Leggieri (@legsanity)
I was high on Domantas Sabonis coming into the season, but he's been even better than I expected. He's averaging roughly 21/15/5 per 36 minutes, which puts him at around a 5th round value. Not bad for a bench player.
Josh Richardson was another popular sleeper pick and he's been awake since the season commenced. His usage is way up and he's taking advantage of it, posting 19.7 points per game with other goodies. If he can improve his efficiency, he'll work his way even higher up the rankings.
Robert Covington has always been a block and steal maven, but he's currently averaging a career-high in both categories and is the league leader in steals as of this writing. This biggest reason for his ascension into fantasy super-stardom is his shooting. He's currently shooting a career best 43.7% on the season and 44.6% since his move to Minnesota. RoCo just keeps on producing.
JaVale McGee was someone I did not believe in after his move to the Lakers, I must admit. He had only played more than 20 minutes per game twice in his career, with the last season being 2011-12. He's currently playing 23.2 minutes a night and is leading the league in blocks. He's also averaging a career-high 12.0 points per game. He's been a pleasant surprise.
Ryan Knaus (@Knaus_Rw)
I agree with the previous players mentioned, particularly Siakam, Vuc, Justin Holiday, Montrezl and JaVale. I'm loving Jaren Jackson Jr. as an owner in multiple leagues, but did Tommy say that JJJ could average 2+ blocks, 2+ steals and one 3-pointer? I'll give you the swats and treys but he's at just 1.0 steals per game, so he'd need to more than double his output to get to that lofty threshold in 2018-19.
In the interest of adding more names to the discussion, I'll go with Nikola Mirotic. He's scoring 18.9 points on 46.5% FGs and 83.8% FTs, with 2.7 triples, 1.0 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.7 blocks. He also turns the ball over a scant 1.3 times per game, bumping him up even higher in 9-cat leagues.
T.J. Warren has also quietly been smashing expectations in a modest 29.9 minutes per game, averaging 17.7 points (51.1% FGs, 84.6% FTs) with 1.8 threes, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks and just 1.1 turnovers. I had him in nearly every league last season but avoided him this year, assuming Trevor Ariza, Mikal Bridges and Josh Jackson would conspire to suffocate his fantasy value. Instead, the 25-year-old has expanded his game and been more efficient than ever offensively.