Most Improved Fantasy Players

13 min read

The players listed in this article are not just guys who’ve been a big, positive surprise this year after producing unanticipated numbers. While that is one necessary condition for making this list, it’s not the only one. The players discussed in this piece are also guys I believe can continue the unforeseen pace they’re displaying through the first quarter of the 2018-19 season.

The rankings and projections are based on standard, 9-cat scoring. The ‘Projected Finish’ is in regards to this 2018-19 campaign – not an indication of their future beyond this season. Some guys here played a small number of games last season but are still on an unexpectedly torrid pace. Without further ado, let’s see it.

Caris Levert

Levert

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt FT% Rank
16888*71*

Okay, let’s just get this one out of the way before I get emotional. I was high on Levert going into the season; I was even higher on him after the season began. Brooklyn finally has some nice building blocks in Levert and Jarrett Allen: plus several other nice pieces who can help bolster the bench or even compliment those two guys in the starting lineup. Obviously, it’s a miracle of sorts that Levert can even return this season. The chance of Levert not breaking anything in his gruesome injury was around just 5%! Even if Levert doesn’t return to his breakout form after the All-Star break, he’s still a hold if you can – especially in Dynasty leagues (duh). He’ll be back.

*His rankings listed here are misleading because that’s after his last two games in which he didn’t play the whole time. Before that, he was hovering around the top 50.

Pascal Siakam

Siakam

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt 3’s Rank
18837Top 5029

Eight years ago, Pascal Siakam was not even playing basketball. Today, he’s an integral part of a contender’s rotation. He’s already 24 but we still have no idea what Siakam’s ceiling might look like. He’s shown such a wide margin of improvement every year in which he gains more experience. The biggest statistical leaps he’s made compared to last season have been to his points and percentages: 7.3 points to 14.6, 62.1 FT% to 75.9%, and 50.8 FG% to 62.4% but the new 1.2 steals and 6.7 boards ain’t bad either. Even if his FG% regresses a bit, he should maintain his candidacy as one of the league’s most improved fantasy players.

Zach Lavine

Lavine dunk

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt TO Rank
15747Top 7026

Out of all the surprises on this list, this one caught me off guard more than (almost) any other. I was of the assumption that we had nearly seen Lavine’s ceiling already – an inefficient scorer who will put up points in the mid-to-late teens and get you just enough other counting stats to consider keeping him off waivers. Not even close. This dude is averaging career highs across the board. Here are his 2017-18 per-game stats compared to this season:

Min.Pts.Reb.Ast.Stl.Blk.3’sFG%FT%
17-1827.316.73.9310.21.838.381.3
18-1935.925.55.24.11.20.61.843.686.4

Unfortunately, he’s averaging twice as many turnovers with 3.9 per game this year compared to 1.8 last season. But that’s not unexpected with another career high in a 32.7% usage rate. The concern is that Chicago is currently missing three rotation players in Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, and promising young starter Lauri Markkanen. Luckily for Lavine, he’s still young enough, at 23, to be considered a piece of their future plans. His playing time may hit a little pothole, but those absent guys play completely different positions than Lavine. I expect him to still get around 30 minutes per game. Even if his numbers take a slight dip, he can still hang around the top 50-75 – especially if he can lower his TO’s.

Derrick Rose

Rose crying

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt FG% Rank
404*63Top 7558

“I worked my ass off, bro…” says Derrick Rose in an emotional interview after his 50 point outburst this season. Well, it shows, Derrick. Experiencing a rough ACL injury after an MVP campaign eight seasons ago, Rose never progressed back to anywhere close to what he was for those Bulls. He became an afterthought in fantasy: a player who you might have taken with one of your last picks in hopes that he could half-way put it back together. He never did. It became so ugly that he would go completely undrafted in many leagues. After only playing 25 total games last season between Cleveland and Minnesota, Rose seems to have found the fountain of youth, producing per-game averages of 19 points, 4.7 dimes, 3.8 boards, 0.6 swipes, and 1.8 triples on 47% from the field and 84.8% from the line. Now, with Jimmy Butler out of the picture, it’s not crazy to think that Minnesota leans on Rose to keep this up. If you were one of the believers who grabbed him this year, congratulations. No one saw this coming.

*only played 25 games in 2017-18

Danny Green

DannyGreen & Siakam

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt FG% Rank
12776Top 10065

Another good producer who took a lengthy leave of absence from our fantasy rosters over the last few seasons, Danny Green may have gotten his mojo back in Toronto. As somewhat of a throw-in to the Kawhi Leonard-Demar Derozan swap, Green wasn’t expected to be anything but a roleplaying 3-and-D spark for the Raptors. We remember what Danny-boy used to be before the 2015-16 season – a player who would help you in every cat except FG%, and get you those defensive stats from an uncommon position. Green finished the 2014-15 campaign ranked 23. Then, Pop began using him as his scapegoat whenever the Spurs’ would go through tough stretches, and Green never saw another finish in the top 115 of standard 9-cat leagues. He’s back (sort of). Hovering around top 75 value, Green certainly has a place on fantasy rosters again. I expect him to stay there this season – especially if Leonard continues to find rest days ahead.

De’Aaron Fox

Fox layup

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt TO Rank
28685Top 7552

Talk about a sophomore leap. Making a jump in every statistical category outside of FT% (which I expect to at least regress to the mean of 72.3% he put up his rookie year), Fox has shown the improvement that should put a smile on the faces of Kings fans. He has the speed to be called the NBA’s next fastest player. He has the handles and slipperiness to get where he wants on the court. And he has the IQ and vision to take over a game in more ways than just scoring. After displaying the ability to improve everywhere, if Fox can show that effort at the charity stripe a little more, I see plenty of top 50 finishes in this kid’s future – at least until he slows down (literally).

Montrezl Harrell

Harrell

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt 3’s Rank
19032Top 5019

I’ll admit it. I was a Harrell-hater for the first three seasons of this dude’s career. I thought Harrell’s athleticism and hustle alone wouldn’t be enough to earn him meaningful minutes in the NBA. I was wrong and I’m loving it. Check out some of his advanced stats compared to one of the league’s best big men (if not the best), Anthony Davis, this year:

WS/48PEROBPMDBPMBPMStl%Blk%
AD.22627.53.73.97.61.96.0
MH.26927.24.43.47.92.05.4

This guy is still playing less than 25mpg? This guy is still not the permanent starter? With all due respect to the #FreeBoban movement, is it really necessary for Doc Rivers to play matchups when Harrell has very clearly been the Clippers’ best big guy this year? Harrell may not space the floor but is that really needed in a starting lineup featuring so many offensive options who can shoot and create their own shot already? None of the Clippers’ Centers are shooters. The only thing Boban and Gortat have on ‘Trez is height. Harrell’s motor and height more than make up for that. If Harrell can hustle his way into the minutes he deserves, I see plenty of top 60 efforts on the way.

Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt 3’s Rank
16558Top 7040

Best big man in Indiana? I’ve long been a believer in Sabonis. Basketball is in this guy’s blood. When I said Domantas will be better than his father, Arvydas Sabonis, people laughed. Well, he’s on a promising trajectory. Averaging career highs in every category but actually playing slightly fewer minutes per game than in his previous season, Domas has put Coach McMillan in quite the predicament. His team just paid young Center Myles Turner big bucks to stay in town. Is it really plausible that Sabonis steals minutes from Turner? I think yes. This is not an indictment on Turner, who still has youth and upside enough to become great. This is more so a tribute to Sabonis’ great play. What’s interesting to me is his 3’s. Sabonis has a decent long-range stroke, and it’s improved even further over the offseason. He just doesn’t get the attempts to show it. He’s only averaging 0.3 3pt attempts per game but he’s making them at an 80% clip. I suppose the shooting is a little less important on a squad with several players who can nail it from deep. The bright side to his lack of 3pt shots is his beautiful .696 FG%. As long as Domas is getting the playing time, he’ll hold fantasy value in the top 75 with the upside to push even further toward top 50.

Honorable Mentions:

Javale McGee

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt 3’s Rank
25926!Top 5013!!

Does Javale McGee get the “Biggest Shock of the List” title? He’s certainly made the biggest leap of any player on this list (outside of Derrick Rose who comes with the asterisk of having played only 9 games last season). LA’s obvious lack of options at the Center position has been the catalyst for McGee’s fantastic start. He’s averaging a career high in points and blocks (13.4 and 2.6, respectively) while also contributing 6.6 rebounds, .637 FG%, and 0.9 steals. Unfortunately, McGee’s uncertain future makes him more of a sell-high than anything else at this point. Already 30 years old, pushing 31 in January, he’ll likely begin losing a step within the next few seasons. But that’s not the only bump in the road here. The Lakers have always had a lust for stars. That remains true now more than ever with a soon-to-be 34-year-old Lebron James in town. This team hit a 180 when the King decided to take his talents to Hollywood – changing course from a rebuilding team (which was always bound to be short-lived in this city) to a wannabe contender. As good as McGee has been this year, he’s not considered to be a ‘championship-caliber starting Center’. Luckily, McGee may have one saving grace: as deep as the upcoming FA talent may seem, the Lakers may not have as many landscape-shifting options as you think this Summer – and even less game-changing Centers. Have a look at the upcoming big-name Free Agents:

  • Kyrie Irving says he wants to stay in BOS. He ain’t coming to Lebron’s team anyway.
  • Klay Thompson is not the one we expect out of GS.
  • Jimmy Butler is on a rare breed of teams that are contending now and have a bright future. He may be an option if the youth bothers him in PHI though.
  • Kemba Walker says he would like to finish his career where he’s always been.
  • Goran Dragic is on a serious downward slope. I don’t expect him to leave MIA but he wouldn’t put LA over the top anyway.
  • Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton have a great thing going under Coach Bud. MIL should stand pat if they can.
  • Al Horford is one of the most underrated and important pieces to the Celtics’ success. I don’t see him leaving.
  • Paul Millsap will be 34 by the end of this season and won’t offer much upside. Could decide to stay in DEN for less money.
  • DeAndre Jordan says he’s happy in DAL. Seems to have lost a slight step.
  • Marc Gasol will hopefully retire in the city that loves him.
  • Julius Randle wasn’t let go by LA just so they can re-sign him for more than they would have in the first place.
  • Tobias Harris is an option but he’s found a place that cherishes him. Would he spite LAC to join their inner-city rivals?
  • Hassan Whiteside isn’t declining his gargantuan option.

That leaves Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, and Nikola Vucevic. Leonard has publicly stated he wants to play in LA but it’s looking less likely he leaves Toronto the more they keep winning. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will do everything in their power to coax him away from the north though. The jury is still out on Boogie’s ability to bounce back after a tough injury, especially for a guy his size. Durant could definitely join Lebron. That would negatively affect McGee a bit, but not to a sizable degree as his fantasy value isn’t derived from having the ball in his hands anyway. McGee’s biggest threats are Boogie, Vooch, and maybe a Valanciunas. He’s still a sell-high for me although I wouldn’t be shocked if McGee is still the Lakers’ best Center come next season.

Josh Hart

17-18 Rank18-19 RankProjected FinishPunt FT% Rank
19482Top 10075

Let me be clear that Josh Hart hasn’t found himself in just the “Honorable Mentions” due to a belief that he lacks the talent or upside to continue climbing the fantasy ranks. No, I placed Hart down here because of his situation. As I mentioned with McGee above, the Lakers will be driven to acquire as big of talents as they can get their greasy, star-driven paws on. He and Lebron are the only two Lakers swishing more than 2 three’s per game. Hart is doing it on 41.9%(!) as opposed to Lebron’s 39.2% (although Lebron’s percentage is clearly nothing to sneeze at). Hart has earned his minutes in LA as one of the only reliable shooters donning the purple and gold. LA could – and probably will – find themselves with two max spots this Summer, and as I previously laid out, they’ll be chasing those stud playmakers hard. If Johnson and Pelinka manage to snag a couple established wings and/or guards, that doesn’t bode well for Hart’s minutes. Unlike his teammate McGee, Josh needs minutes and shots to produce in fantasy. He may contribute a small bit elsewhere but the majority of his fantasy value comes from his large volume of three’s. His three’s won’t be quite as important to LA if they find themselves with other top options who can put the ball in the net. His youth and obvious improvement keep him from adorning the “sell-high” tag but it’s something to consider if you can get equivalent value in return. He could continue to push toward top 75 status – especially if LA doesn’t catch a big fish over the Summer. A new team could work wonders for his value next year but a trade is unlikely considering his rookie deal is part of the reason the Lakers have max cap space in the first place. Hart has the talent to hover in the mid-to-high 20’s in minutes per game, even after the potential stars come in. Unfortunately, he could just as easily fall out of the top 100. He’ll get to top 75 eventually. That may just take several years. Oh, and one more thing – it’s kind of strange that a sharpshooter like Hart works well in a punt-FT build. He’s never been a particularly good Free Throw artist, dating all the way back to his freshman year of college in 2013-14. Will he ever develop his charity stroke? Weird. Just some food for thought.

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