As of today — Friday, Jan. 17 — the Atlanta Hawks have played 41 games, so I am hereby declaring this day the exact precise midpoint of the 2019-20 NBA season.
Full disclosure: The Lakers, Jazz, Mavs, Thunder, Pacers, Grizzlies, Suns, Kings and Cavs have also played 41 games, but we all know that Atlanta is the piping-hot core of the basketball universe, so I think we can move on.
With this momentous day in mind, I’ve decided to initiate a Roundball Stew Midseason Report. This is Part 1. Next week will be Part 2. We’ll hand out some awards and superlatives, and generally take stock of where we are in our fantasy seasons (and our lives). Let’s get to it, starting with the most obligatory:
Fantasy MVP (So Far)
But since there’s not much debate there — and since we had to invest a top-three pick to get Harden (if not No. 1 overall) — let’s look at some players who have provided first-round value without costing a premier pick.
Currently, the top-12 players in 9-category leagues are: Harden, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Hassan Whiteside, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Luka Doncic and Jimmy Butler.
The two guys on that list who didn’t require a top-20 pick are Hassan Whiteside (Yahoo ADP: 76.6) and Brandon Ingram (100.1). I actually wrote about both of them extensively last week when I was discussing the biggest surprises in fantasy so far, so you can go read my thoughts about Ingram (whose stunning breakout climbed to new heights with 49 points on Thursday) and Whiteside — who continues to be awesome, but may require an exit strategy — by hitting the link right here.
In sum, if you’re just picking a straight-up fantasy MVP regardless of draft position, it’s gotta be Harden. If you’re looking at most valuable in contrast to draft position, I think Whiteside and Ingram sit at the top of the list, with Ingram getting the nod because he doesn’t have a Jusuf Nurkic looming in the distance.
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Fantasy Rookie of the Year
This race could threaten to get spicy with Zion Williamson set to debut soon, and guys like Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland and even Michael Porter Jr. making increasing amounts of noise, but for now the no-doubt leader is Ja Morant, who is behind his teammate Brandon Clarke in the 9-category rankings at 98th overall, but vaults all the way up to 60th if you take turnovers out of the equation.
Morant is also on quite a heater in January, putting up 20.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 8.9 apg, 0.9 spg and 1.1 3s (with 4.1 turnovers) so far this month. Oh, he’s also shooting 60.9 percent from the field (and 88.0 from the line), which is just an obscene mark for a guard to hit from the floor. For this month alone, he’s a top-20 player, and don’t think for a second that he doesn’t have a prolonged top-25 stretch (double negative!) within his range of possibilities for the second half.
There is an agonizing array of choices here. Steph Curry. Kyrie Irving. Bradley Beal. Jrue Holiday. Myles Turner. Mitchell Robinson. Draymond Green. Zion Williamson. Have I mentioned Mike Conley yet? These are all early-round picks who have been various degrees of soul-crushing for the first half of the season.
The stakes are obviously highest with Curry, who was a no-doubt top-five pick in most leagues, and by the definition of “letdown” (discouragement, disappointment), he is definitely that. But “getting mauled by Aron Baynes and breaking your wrist” is also just a complete fluke thing, so rather than hand this to Curry — or anyone else who’s been disappointing because they’re injured — I want to give it to an early-round player who has been on the court and just hasn’t fully delivered.
That leaves me with no choice but to hand this honor to one Draymond Green, who had an ADP of 32.9, but has been right around 90th overall in 9-category leagues, while finding a thesaurus of ways to torment fantasy owners this season — from missing eight games the first month, to more recently morphing into late-career Ben Wallace when it comes to scoring. Since the calendar flipped to January, Dray has averaged 4.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.1 bpg and 0.6 3s, while shooting 24.4 percent from the field. Some of those numbers still make him a player you feel like starting, but it all comes with a significant cost. And in the course of writing this paragraph, I’ve convinced myself that this spectacularly annoying half-season deserves two awards. Biggest Letdown and Most Massive Headache both go to Draymond Green.
Best Value Over ADP
I’m limiting this to a player taken outside the top-100 who has delivered exceptional value, and Ingram is not eligible despite his 100.1 ADP because we need some variety.
We could also call this the Perseverance Award, as it’s being given to a human being who truly won’t go away: Nemanja Bjelica. Despite an ADP of 137.1 — and numerous times that we were sure it was time to drop him — Bjelica currently sits 64th overall on the 9-category leaderboard, and has cranked out 15.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg and 2.8 3s (on 50.9 percent from the field) in his last 10 games, a stretch that has seen him average 32 minutes a game. At some point when the Kings are at full strength (aka once Richaun Holmes is back), things could get a little tricky for Bjelica — but we’ve said something similar before, and all the guy does is continue to deliver/refuse to leave. At this point, I’m done forecasting his demise.
Also considered: Jaylen Brown, Evan Fournier, O.G. Anunoby, Norman Powell. And with that in mind, I think there’s a lesson here — there is (or at least was this year) a lot of value in late-round SG/SFs.
Best Waiver Wire Pickup (with a Massive Asterisk)
This award is so specific it can only go to one player: Devonte’ Graham. He’s been a spectacular find — top-50 on the season — and there’s no way to be anything but thrilled with his counting stats: 18.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 7.7 apg 0.9 spg and 3.6 3s. But as I wrote last week (wait — am I just re-writing the same column? Don’t think about that, Matt, just keep going), his shooting is becoming a legitimately devastating caveat. Since the start of December (23 games), he has shot 34.7 percent on 16.5 attempts a game. The last month, it’s down to 32.1 percent.
A little bit of good news here: So far in January, we’re up to 39.1 percent in eight games, and if he can stay anywhere close to 40, it’s still bad — but potentially not season-ruining. And I’ll personally sign up for 18 points, eight assists, a ton of threes and 40 percent shooting right now.
Baddest Old Dude
The first and most obvious answer to this question is LeBron James — putting up bona fide first-round fantasy value (and dominating in real life) at age 35.
Yes, that’s right: Chris Paul has played in 41 out of 41 games so far. Who had that happening heading into the season?
However, I’m not giving him the award. Instead, it goes to Aldridge, specifically because at age 34, he is actually climbing to new heights, with career-highs in 3s (1.2) and blocks (1.8) in his 14th NBA season.
The blocks are one thing considering that he averaged 1.3 per game last year, and no doubt 0.5 bpg is a pretty significant increase. The 3s though are truly out of nowhere, as LMA is shooting 44.0 percent from distance after making 23.8 percent of his attempts (0.1 per game) in 2018-19. I’ve said some variation on this before, but the bottom line is I fully expect to use a mid-round draft pick on Aldridge in October 2039.
Early Names on My Do-Not-Draft List
Okay, I’ll add a few more names: Kevin Love (too much risk and too high a draft-day cost for a guy who’s around 60th overall)… Paul Millsap (he’s still decent on a per-game basis, but has missed nine out of 18 games the last month, and seems a likely candidate for frequent time off in the second half). … I’m disappointed in Gary Harris, who has seen his early-round upside fade away (he’s 120th overall), and is now hurt again with an adductor injury. … Miles Bridges can get off this list with a strong second half, but he’s very firmly there right now. … Harrison Barnes has been a super boring top-150 guy, which is not what I’m looking for when building a fresh roster. … Collin Sexton is the king of hollow stat lines, and I’m not interested in him in fantasy leagues unless he starts getting more 3s (1.1), assists (2.2) or steals (1.0).
My Biggest Regret
I have a few.
Drafting Curry first overall in the Rotoworld staff league (we need a better name for that) has been all kinds of agonizing, but again — I do my best not to beat myself up over a freak injury.
In that same league, I also drafted Mitchell Robinson ahead of John Collins, which could end up turning out okay, but even with the Collins suspension I’d go back and reverse that if I could right now. Since his return, Collins is proving that his shot-blocking is no fluke (17.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.3 bpg and 1.2 3s in his last 10 games) while hovering just outside of first-round value.
Another one that stands out to me at the moment is dropping Darius Garland. I stayed patient with him in the majority of my leagues during his early-season struggles, but in my hometown league — a 10-team league — I fell victim to the temptation of the waiver wire a few weeks ago and cut him for someone probably awful.
The reason this hurts (and the reason I’m writing this paragraph) is that Garland is really taking off. He has his five best assist totals of the season in his last eight games (including 10 of them on Tuesday), a stretch that has seen him average 16.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 spg and 2.3 3s while shooting 43.5 percent from the field (with just 2.5 turnovers a game). If an eight-game run doesn’t sell you, I can expand it to 15: For that duration, Garland is at 14.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.1 spg and 2.1 3s on 45.4 from the field, with the same 2.5 TOs. He still has a ways to go before he’s even hitting mid-round value, but Garland is already a relatively reliable fantasy starter, and there’s a lot of season left for the 19-year-old to ascend.
See you next week for Part 2.