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Basketball end of season roundtable: Who’s your fantasy unsung hero?

Hornets' Clifford to step down after season
The Rotoworld Basketball Show reacts to the news of Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford announcing he will step down after the season and what it means for the organization moving forward.

While some of you may be competing in leagues that run through Week 24, the final week of the NBA regular season, most fantasy leagues concluded at the end of Week 23. With that in mind, we will discuss some of the hot end-of-season topics for fantasy basketball this week.

Today’s question: who was your “unsung hero” for this season? While the fantasy stalwarts tend to be easily identified during draft season, others outperform their Yahoo ADPs significantly by the season’s end. But those aren’t the only players who can be unsung heroes. In some instances, a star who’s had availability issues in the past can remain healthy and offer consistently high value throughout the season. As a result, some fantasy managers benefit from the hit to said player’s preseason value.

Raphielle Johnson, Noah Rubin, and Zak Hanshew identify their respective unsung fantasy heroes from this season.

Zak Hanshew’s Pick: Paul George

Many players deserve to be mentioned here, and choosing just one is nearly impossible. Kawhi Leonard has played 68 games as of this writing, which is the most he’s played since the 2016-17 season when he was still with the Spurs. However, he’s missed Los Angeles’ last four games, and we can’t select him here when he sat out championship week.

Anthony Davis has been deemed “injury-prone” for years, but he’s played 74 of the Lakers’ first 79 games. That’s his most since 2017-18 when he appeared in a career-high 75 games. Davis could set a new career high in games played this season, and he’s been phenomenal as fantasy’s fourth-ranked player on a per-game basis. Davis likely cost you a first-round pick in drafts, so to call him an unsung hero would be a bit of a stretch.

That brings us to our selection - PG13. George averaged 47.3 games played in his first four seasons with the Clippers, but he’s appeared in 72 of 78 this season. George is ranked 12th in per-game fantasy value and seventh in totals, and his ADP was late third-round. George was an absolute steal in fantasy drafts and most deserving of the “Unsung Hero” award for the 2023-24 fantasy season. George has always delivered elite per-game production, but the best ability is availability, and he’s been quite reliable!

Noah Rubin’s Pick: Jalen Johnson

In Yahoo leagues, Johnson’s ADP was 102.4. Throughout the season, he ranked inside the top 50 despite a subpar free-throw percentage. Johnson was considered a late-round target with a ton of upside and exceeded all expectations.

After spending his first season as a pro in the G-League and his second as a reserve on the end of the bench, Johnson quickly took over as Atlanta’s starting power forward. Now, he is one of the most important players on the team.

He is averaging 16.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 1.3 triples while shooting 50.8% from the floor this season. He at least doubled all his numbers from the previous year; if he hadn’t missed some time due to injury, he would be in the middle of the race for the league’s Most Improved Player award. Johnson only keeps improving, and he had his best game as a pro on April 3rd with 28 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, four steals, one block, and two 3-pointers.

Overall, the Hawks’ season has been disappointing, but Johnson’s emergence gives them hope for the future. He’s only 22 years old, and it is unlikely that he will find himself in this category again. He will be drafted much, much earlier next season.

Raphielle Johnson’s Pick: Grayson Allen

The Suns certainly valued Allen before the season began, as their ability to acquire him was one reason they got involved in the three-team trade headlined by Damian Lillard. But he may have flown under the radar among fantasy managers due to the Suns boasting a power trio of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant. Allen was one of the options to start, but the lack of a guarantee influenced his Yahoo ADP of 129.

Well, he proved to be indispensable in Phoenix, especially with Beal’s injury struggles. Starting all 71 games he’s appeared in, Allen averaged 13.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, and 2.8 3-pointers in 33.6 minutes, with 50.1/46.6/87.8 shooting splits. Leading the NBA in 3-point percentage, Allen begins the final week of the regular season as a 5th-round player in 9-cat formats and 7th-round in 8-cat.

Think about that: a player whom fantasy managers merely expected to derive late-round value has been close to a top-50 player in 9-cat formats. If that isn’t the definition of an “unsung hero,” I’m not sure what is.