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Roundball Stew

Stew: Next Season's Top 25

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: April 16, 2019, 11:41 am ET

It has become something of a tradition around this time of year, around these parts, to post a season-ending leaderboard and weigh in with your thoughts on it. I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy seeing the differences between other people’s leaderboards and mine. Overall, it’s just an exercise I enjoy — and I honestly think there’s a lot of value in putting a list together now as a starting point for your rankings next year. After all, there’s a lot that happens between now and October to blur our perceptions, and in some ways our idea of how useful all of these players are, and can be, is never going to be clearer or sharper than it is right now.

This year, though, I did something different: I threw together a list too quickly. 

I needed it for the Rotoworld hoops podcast because I was going to talk about it with Tommy Beer, so I sneezed a list out in about five minutes and we discussed it. 

This is not a good or interesting story, so here’s the point: Soon after we hit record, I started to realize all that was wrong with my hastily-made rankings. So today, I’m revising it. Here’s the updated Roundball Stew Top 25 for 2019-20:

(Note: The number in parentheses next to a player’s name is where he was on my original list before I made the changes)

1. Anthony Davis (1) — I realize that having him No. 1 may seem slightly aggressive after this year’s massive late-season letdown, but let’s not forget that before the trade demand (and all the nonsense that followed), AD in 41 games was the clear-cut No. 1 player, behind 29.3 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.7 spg, 2.6 bpg and 1.0 3s. I still think he’s an unfair advantage when he’s not being arbitrarily limited to 20-something minutes, and there’s a good chance we’re looking at a honeymoon season with his new team in 2019-20. I sort of hope I don’t have the No. 1 overall pick so I don’t have to do this, but as of now I think AD is still the call for me at the top.

Also, I know the counter argument of one of these times he’s going to go to the locker room mid-game and not come back out. And I get it. If you want to play it totally safe and avoid risk, take Karl-Anthony Towns or this guy below with the first pick —>

2. James Harden (2) — I don’t love watching him play, and I don’t love 5.0 turnovers a game, but he’s durable (only 39 missed games in his 10-year career) and consistent: 20 or more points in 74 out of 78 games this season. Also, at some point it’s hard to quibble with 36.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.5 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.7 bpg and 4.8 3s — because the goal is to get the numbers into your lineup, not necessarily to appreciate the aesthetics of how they happened.

3. Stephen Curry (7) — The last year he didn’t play with Kevin Durant (2015-16), Steph was the No. 1 overall player in 9-category leagues (30.1 ppg, 6.7 apg, 2.1 spg and 5.1 3s). The year before that, he was No. 2. The year before that — No. 4. The year before that — No. 4. This season? No. 4. You get the point. This is hardly a reach, and there’s a chance Steph goes completely bonkers and vaults all the way to No. 1 in a post-KD universe.

4. Karl-Anthony Towns (5) — Will he ever have a season where he sets the league on fire with 30 points, 15 boards, two blocks and two 3s a game? Given that he’s still only 23 years old, it’s certainly possible. Even if this is something close to the peak — 24.4 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.6 bpg and 1.8 3s — it’s still pretty spectacular.

5. Kevin Durant (6) — Tommy talked me into moving KD up a spot from my original list. You can hear his sales pitch on the podcast here and at the bottom of the page, but the bottom line is that assuming he’s no longer with the Warriors, he’s going to try to give his new team (the Knicks? Is this tampering?) 82 games of — as Tommy put it — “guts and glory.” Durant’s per-game 9-category rank the last five years: No. 5, No. 2, No. 1, No. 3 and No. 8.

6. Paul George (4) — George moved down two spots on my revised list because Steph and KD moved up, but I’d be thrilled to get him here and you can make a case that he should go earlier. He was the No. 3 player on the 9-category leaderboard behind only Harden and AD, with averages of 28.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.2 spg and 3.8 3s in 77 games.

7. Giannis Antetokounmpo (3) — The potential upside is that he improves his 3s (0.7) and FT shooting (72.9) and makes a run at the No. 1 spot. The potential downside is that the Bucks make a deep playoff run (likely), and Giannis’ 10 missed games from this season balloon into something closer to 15-20 next year. 

8. Nikola Jokic (10) — I do think there’s a clear top seven right now, no matter what order you put them in, but Jokic is as safe and intriguing a choice as you’ll find at No. 8. He averaged 20.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 7.3 apg this season and is still just 24 years old. Great combo of floor, a bit of unrealized upside and durability — he has played 80, 73, 75 and 80 games in his four years in the league.

9. Damian Lillard (8) — 51-29-16-21-16-8-12. That cryptic set of numbers is Lillard’s year-by-year 9-category rank for his seven seasons in the NBA. I’d be happy with him anywhere in the 9-12 range.

10. Bradley Beal (11) — After John Wall’s season ended in late December, Beal was the No. 11 overall player in 47 games, averaging 27.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.0 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.6 bpg and 2.7 3s. I would rank him higher than Lillard if not for the potential of Wall returning late in the season and taking a little bit of Beal’s steam.

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11. Nikola Vucevic (13) — I can likely get him a few or maybe many spots later than this, but No. 11 is right around where I believe Vuc should go in a reasonable universe. Here’s the thing though: The majority of the fantasy world — or most of the people I play with, at least — just don’t seem to value him this high. Granted, it would really help his cause if he was back in Orlando playing for Steve Clifford again, so we’ll have to wait and see on that. But as of now I’m assuming they re-sign him coming off the good vibes of their playoff appearance, and if that happens I see him as basically a lock to produce top-15 value.

12. Joel Embiid (9)Now we’re getting into a part of the draft that’s interesting from a philosophical standpoint. The question is: How much do you value guys who are clear top-10 players on a per-game basis, but probably aren’t going to play more than 70 games? To tell you where I land, as much as I love upside, I’ve got Embiid ranked 12th in hopes that someone else takes him before me. 

13. Andre Drummond (15) — Drummond was the No. 18 player in 9-category leagues this season, having just put up a career-high 17.3 ppg with 15.6 rpg, 1.7 spg and 1.7 bpg in 79 games. In total, he has missed 10 games the last six seasons combined, and is still just 25 years old. Also, as much as his 3-point shooting never really materialized (he went 5-for-38 this season) and might still seem like a joke, the fact that it’s on his radar — well, that matters. Remember, Brook Lopez went from making two treys in 2015-16 to making 134 of them the next year. Crazier things have happened than Drummond adding something like 0.6 or 0.8 3s to his already outstanding arsenal next season.

14. Rudy Gobert (14) — He’s the lowest scorer in the top 20 (15.9 ppg), but otherwise I really don’t have anything bad to say about him. 

15. Kemba Walker (16) — Cranked out a career-high 25.6 ppg and 3.2 3s this past season; six missed games total the last four years.

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16. DeMarcus Cousins (17) — Here’s where things get a little wild. In his 30 games played for the Warriors, Cousins was the 33rd-ranked player in 9-category leagues (I’m not including Jakarr “Four Games” Sampson, who technically finished at No. 19). Boogie is also set to land in what’s presumably a much better situation for production next year, and if he’s healthy — quite simply, he’s going to be a beast. Before he got hurt in 2017-18, he was the 13th-ranked fantasy player, with 25.2 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 1.6 bpg and 2.2 3s.

17. Kyrie Irving (12) — The same thing I said about Embiid earlier holds true for Irving, who was the No. 9 player on a per-game basis, but only played 67 games, and I can’t really see that number going up — only potentially down.

18. LeBron James (18) — I believe in LeBron enough to buy the possibility that he has a monster bounce-back season next year, and I’m scared enough by what I saw this year that I’m putting him this low hoping that I won’t get him. If we get close to 20th overall and he’s still on the board, I’m probably going to have a hard time saying no. 

19. Jimmy Butler (19) — I actually think Butler is a bargain here (he was 15th on a per-game basis), but the missed games caveat always applies. In total, Jimmy played 65 games this season, and has averaged 66 games played the last five years.

20. Kawhi Leonard (N/A) — I realized I was being ridiculous not including Kawhi in my original top 25. He was seventh overall in 9-category leagues, and even though I find it annoying that he missed so many games due to rest (22 in total), I can’t rank Butler and Irving in the top 20 and not include Leonard. 

21. Clint Capela (20) — Statistically speaking, he was Rudy Gobert with slightly less blocks this season. Given his improvement year-by-year, it’s also possible he can be considerably more than that. Check this out:

Capela’s ppg, last three years: 12.6 —> 13.9 —> 16.6

Capela’s rpg, last three years: 8.1 —> 10.8 —> 12.7

Capela’s bpg, last three years: 1.2 —> 1.9 —> 1.5

Is anyone out there inclined to bet against something like 18 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game next year?

22. Jrue Holiday (21) — A lot of nonsense happened in New Orleans this season, but Holiday quietly lived up to his draft day billing before it went south late, putting up 21.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 7.7 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.8 3s. The points, rebounds and triples were all career-highs. And though the Pelicans may look wildly different at the start of next season, there’s a decent chance Holiday will be the clear-cut No. 1 option after the dust settles.

23. Deandre Ayton (23) — Ayton finished 32nd overall as a 20-year-old rookie, averaging 16.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 spg and 0.9 bpg in 71 games. That sets a pretty strong baseline, and there have also been clear hints that at some point he’s going to start hitting 3s. I don’t need 3-pointers as part of the deal to take Ayton around 20th overall, but it’s fun to have it floating around as a potential bonus. 

24. Myles Turner (24) — Would more points (13.3) and rebounds (7.2) be nice? Absolutely. What I will not argue with, however, is the combo of 0.8 spg, 2.7 bpg and 1.0 3s from a 23-year-old. It’s very possible I won’t get Myles if I wait until 23rd overall to take him. I’m okay with that, but only barely.

25. Mitchell Robinson (25) — Over his last 30 games, he posted 9.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 0.9 spg and 3.0 bpg — and was the 13th-ranked player in 9-category leagues. Would it surprise anyone if Robinson averaged 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks a game next year?

Other Names I’ll Consider:

*Trae Young — Mike Gallagher had him 16th in his top-20 rankings and it made me wildly jealous. I previously said I was thinking about Trae around the 35 range, but now I’m aiming higher. The 20-year-old averaged 22.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 8.9 apg, 0.9 spg and 2.4 3s on 43.8 percent shooting over his last 40 games. I don’t think 25 and 10 in his second season is anywhere close to an absurd estimate.

*Chris Paul (22) — I was lucky enough to win the 30-Deep league with him as my first pick (I drafted him at No. 23 overall), but I really don’t want him on my rosters next year if I can avoid it — he’s played 61, 58 and 58 games the last three seasons. On a per-game basis though, he was still 20th overall this year, so…

*LaMarcus Aldridge — He’ll likely be a draft day bargain next year. Was 24th overall in 2018-19, playing in 81 games. 

*Lauri Markkanen — If the Bulls weren’t such a mess, and I wasn’t considering avoiding them entirely next year, he’d have a real shot at my top 25.

*Devin Booker — 27th overall the last two months of the season.

*John Collins — His shot-blocking improved late in the season (1.5 bpg over his last 15 games, along with 19.5 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.1 apg and 0.7 3s). He also made a leap from 10.5 ppg/7.3 rpg as a rookie to 19.5 ppg/9.8 rpg at age 21. What if, hypothetically speaking, he averages 22 points, 11 rebounds, one block and one trey per game next year? Again, it’s not even that bold of a projection, and it would already make him a better fantasy option than LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s it — time to get to work on Version 3 of these rankings. Collins has to be in the top 25…

Note: This was the last weekly Roundball Stew of the season. I’ll be back with some more columns during the offseason, and we’ll be bringing you episodes of the Rotoworld Fantasy Basketball Podcast every Wednesday (hosted by me) and every Friday (hosted by Mike G). Thanks for reading this season, and hit me up on Twitter or email if you have any thoughts, reactions or, most importantly, hot takes with regard to these rankings. Until then — as the sun sets slowly in the West

Matt Stroup

Matt Stroup has covered basketball for NBC Sports Edge since 2008. You can find him on Twitter here .