I was recently taking a stroll through the gardens of my preferred fantasy basketball rankings site, and as I began to browse the 9-category leaderboard, things were for the most part as I expected:
5. Kawhi Leonard – At age 25, averaging 25.0 ppg
6. Kemba Walker – yup, got it
7. James Harden – Absurd numbers (28.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 12.8 apg), but down to No. 7 at the moment because of turnovers (5.6 on the year, including 6.3 in his last six games) …
8. Draymond Green – Scoring less, but getting more steals and blocks so far
9. Giannis Anteto—
Wait, did that say Kemba Walker at number six??!!?
Wow. Let’s take a moment to review:
Last season, Kemba posted career-best stats in a number of categories — 20.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.5 bpg, 2.2 3s, 42.7 FG, 84.7 FT, 2.1 TOs (career-highs marked in bold) — en route to a No. 17 finish in 9-category leagues. That was certainly enough to make him a high draft pick heading into this year. But was there really any forecast for a potential top-10 finish?
As a matter of fact, there was.
It’s buried inside his 2014-15 season, when Walker overall averaged 17.3 ppg, shot just 38.5 percent and missed 20 games – but managed to go off on a somewhat awesome month-long binge.
From December 12th to January 14th of that season, he posted 24.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.7 bpg and 2.1 3s in 19 games. It seems like a random selection to bring up, but I mention it because those stats are pretty similar to what we’ve seen so far this year.
In 2016-17, Walker is averaging 25.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.9 spg and 3.3 treys, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 84.1 percent from the line.
Is the shooting sustainable? Probably not, especially when you look at the borderline silly 47.8 percent from beyond the arc. But I will say, his jumper – like the rest of his game – looks very smooth these days, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him stay above 40 percent on 3s after hitting a career-high 37.1 percent last year.
Ultimately, I’d be a bit surprised if he maintains his perch at No. 6, but I think something in the top-12 range – and fringe first-round value – is very realistic for the 26-year-old, who in year six of his career, has finally arrived as a dominant fantasy point guard.
In other fantasy hoops-related matters…
What’s wrong with Paul Millsap? Having watched nearly every minute of every Hawks game this season, I can start by telling you that in terms of his role (and effectiveness) on offense, very little has changed. In fact, Millsap is getting more shots this year (13.2 –> 14.5), and more assists (3.3 –> 3.9).
However, his rebounds have gone the other direction (9.0 –> 7.5, the Dwight Howard effect), and most notably, so have his blocks. After stuffing a career high 1.7 shots per game last year, Millsap is down to 0.5 this year – his lowest rate ever.
So what in the name of Yogi Stewart is going on here? First of all, I’ll say that the 1.7 last year was an outlier. In the nine years of his career before that, Millsap had averaged a combined 1.0 bpg (ranging between 0.8 and 1.2 during that time). But even if we aren’t getting back to 1.7 – and we almost certainly aren’t – I think at this point, we would all gladly accept something closer to 1.0. Agreed?
So the question becomes: Can we get there? And the answer is: I think we can. The problem, of course, is that Millsap doesn’t have to protect the rim quite the same way now that Howard is around, but given how consistently active and aggressive he is on defense, he should be able to get back to something closer to 1.0 before too long.
And here I will provide a small and possibly useless (but hopefully not) sample size: After putting up zero blocks his first four games of November, Millsap has three in his last four games (0.8 bpg). It may end up being nothing, but given his track record, I’ll bet on at least a small spike in blocks – and something closer to what we expect in overall value – going forward.
A few thoughts on Andrew Wiggins: At the start of this season, it looked like Wiggins was making a somewhat logical progression in terms of his numbers:
Andrew Wiggins 2015-16: 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.6 bpg, 0.7 3s
First four games 2016-17: 24.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.5 3s
The scoring was up and the 3s were up, but overall the line left us hoping for a bit more. Then, after a seven-point dud a couple Saturdays ago, a bit more definitively happened.
Over his last six games, as you’re probably aware, Wiggins is averaging 33.0 ppg, along with 5.3 rpg, 3.5 apg and 2.8 3s, shooting 50.7 percent from the field during that stretch. After watching some of his recent work, I can say he’s making it look fairly effortless, getting wherever he wants on the floor and drilling jumpers in people’s faces when his shot is contested. Which is to state the obvious: His offensive game looks pretty spectacular.
With that said, there are still a couple areas where Wiggins could easily be doing more. And in particular, I’m looking at defense. During his silly six-game run, the 21-year-old is posting just 0.5 spg – the same number he’s averaging for the season. The good news on that front, though, is that Wiggins has averaged exactly 1.0 steals (and 0.6 blocks) his first two years in the league. And with the addition of a reliable 3-point stroke (right now he’s shooting a league-leading, if unsustainable, 52.3 percent), Wiggins is finally emerging as an absurdly fun – even if a bit flawed – fantasy option*.
Other Random Thoughts: Jusuf Nurkic, first five games: 15.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.0 spg, 2.0 bpg in 27 minutes per game. Nurkic’s last six games: 5.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.5 spg, 0.8 bpg (in 18 minutes per game). It’s been a wildly frustrating stretch recently, but I still believe in the big guy’s ability and expect Good Nurkic to win out in the long run. … Terrence Jones has been inconsistent on a game-to-game basis the last couple of weeks, but add up his numbers over the last seven games and it’s a pretty favorable snapshot: 12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg in 27 minutes per game. … I’ll admit I was skeptical that Julius Randle could be more than a hollow points/rebounds guy after last season (11.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.4 bpg), but the Luke Walton regime has done excellent things for his overall production. His last seven games, Randle has put up 15.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 0.9 spg and 0.6 bpg. And even though he’s just 2-of-9 on 3s for the season, to paraphrase Hansel from Zoolander: The fact that he’s shooting them – I respect that.
*This sentence was kind of a mess.