Every season, fantasy basketball GMs come into drafts with certain expectations, hot takes, and predictions on players available. Every season, many of these predictions get obliterated and we’re left looking back, wondering how we could have been so misguided. Age, injuries, trades, coaching,and changing roles can all affect player production.
Now that we are in the midst of the all-star break, we wanted to examine 40 players (20 good, 20 bad….Hindsight 20/20….get it?) that surprised the general fantasy collective and/or the Fantasy Unicorn staff. We break down what went right/wrong, if we think this is a trend to be excited/worried about, and how this affects the players’ long term outlooks. We analyzed the players based on 9 category (FG%, FT%, Points, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks, 3PM, and Turnovers) through the entire season so far.
In part 1 of this 2 part series, we highlight the good surprises. Look for the bad surprises soon!
Paul George (Ranked #3) – PG13 has come on extremely strong this season and is currently very much in the mix for MVP. Since returning from his horrific leg injury, he’s been amazingly consistent from a fantasy perspective, ranking #14, 15, and 16 from 2015-2018. This consistent early to mid 2nd round production, plus the hype around how Westbrook holds players back from excelling, kept fantasy GM’s locked on George as a good 1st/2nd round turn pick. He’s stepped up his play across the board, posting or tying career highs in points, rebounds, assists, 3PM, FTM, and steals. The steals are leading the league and currently his biggest fantasy strength. He’s also a player that has very minimal negatives, offering help in almost every cat. George should continue to thrive in OKC, next to Westbrook, especially if he can keep those steals up. (Kevin)
Nikola Vucevic (Ranked #12) – After a promising rookie season in 2011-12, Niko exploded onto the fantasy world and ranked #34, #27, #22, #27, #48, and #27 over the next 6 seasons in 9 cat leagues. This showed his consistency of being a top 50 player, but also pointed to his assumed ceiling. While Orlando kept adding front court assets in Air Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Mo Bamba, it was assumed Vuc was going to make room for these younger bigs one way or the other, and this was reflected in his draft stock plummeting him to 5th/6th round territory. He’s come out and had the best season of his career, stepping up his production across the board. With his contract up at the end of this season, there is concern he would end up having to sign to a worse situation, which would cap his fantasy value moving forward. Still, he’s in the middle of his prime and is one of the best offensive big men in the game with the ability to score, board, hit 3’s, make free throws, and get assists. He may not retain 1st round value, but his skillset shouldn’t keep him out of the top 30 over the next few seasons. (Kevin)
Myles Turner (Ranked #22) – With the bad taste of missing lofty expectations from last season, there was cautiously optimistic hope of a rebound season, but then an extremely lackluster Summer League and preseason sent Turner’s draft stock tumbling. There were those that remained steadfast (Starks), but the new bar was set to a repeat of a frustratingly low top 50-60 season. He offered up everything we hope for from a modern big: the ability to step out and hit shots, the ability to rack up blocks in a hurry, and the ability to switch intelligently on defense. After faltering to start the season, Myles has returned to his 2016-17 form and blocking an insane 2.7 shots per game. His future outlook is extremely promising, especially if he can get his minutes back up over 30. He could be a perennial top 20-25 player for years to come. (Kevin)
Danilo Gallinari (Ranked #32) – Gallo’s injury history have led him to be viewed as a fantasy gamble. One look at the roster showed that beyond LouWill and Tobias Harris, there wasn’t anyone else who could consistently get their own shot. The Clips were going to need his offense. How that Harris has been moved, they will need to lean on him even more. To be fair to those that were gunshy, he did get injured, as he is known to do, and missed 10 games in the process. Still, it’s hard to be mad at a player that’s getting you 18.7 and 6, with 2.5 3PM, and is shooting over 90% on 5.5 free throws a game. He should be able to expand his usage and offer more scoring and 3’s through the rest of the season, which is amazing value for a player that was getting drafted outside the top 100. (Kevin)
Brook Lopez (Ranked #37) – Brook Lopez has been underappreciated as a fantasy basketball player this year. Most expected him to be a little bit better going to Milwaukee than his disappointing year in LA, but this year Lopez has sprinkled in a Brooklyn Nets flavor of his past. In addition, Brook is setting the stage with a career-high average of 2.4 3PT’s this year. Meanwhile, he’s averaging 2.1 blocks a game, tying his average back when he was a net. Above all, his long term value may not be great, but Lopez can still be a value play the next few years in Dynasty Leagues. (Starks)
Paskal Siakam (Ranked #40) – Siakam is in a promising position. He’s obviously played well enough to help the Raptors grab a top spot in the Eastern Conference. He’s also young enough to be considered a piece of their future plans should Kawhi and Gasol leave in Free Agency. If the newly-turned 25 year old has managed to hold top 50 value on one of the deepest rosters in the league, there should be little doubt he can maintain that (or even better it) if the team is flipped on its head this offseason. (Jay)
TJ Warren (Ranked #41) – Warren had previously maintained nice mid-round value with good points, steals, and percentages. Seemingly out of nowhere he has added excellent 3 point shooting to his repertoire. At this point in the season, he is only 2 shy (77) of his previous 4 year total (79) for made 3’s. He is also shooting over 20 percentage points better from beyond the arc than he did last season. This type of improvement is pretty unheard of 5 years into an NBA player’s career, and yet…here we are. Signed to a long term contract, he still has to deal with the likes of Booker, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, and Kelly Oubre taking minutes and usage away from him, but I’m sold on his 3 point shooting being a real thing. His role moving forward is murky, but he’s only 25 and should have a solid top 70 floor for many seasons to come. (Kevin)
Buddy Hield (Ranked #45) – In his 3rd season, Buddy Hield has surpassed many GM’s expectations. He is making over 3.4 3PT’s a game along with other improving categorical stats. Likewise, taking more field goal attempts this year has also been in conjunction with a surprise FG% bump at 47%. On the other hand, his steal rate has decreased, but that hasn’t slowed him down on his overall ranking this year. His Dynasty outlook is strong and we’re looking forward to his value to jump up each year with a top 25 ceiling or better. In other words, He’s my Buddy, I hope he’s yours. (Starks)
Serge Ibaka (Ranked #51) – Serge may be listed under ‘good surprises’ at the moment, but that momentum could very easily flip in the opposite direction now that Gasol is in town. In a small sample size up to this point, it’s been Gasol’s value that’s taken the significant hit. Ibaka’s value has also fallen, but to a lesser degree. While it may be difficult to pinpoint if their new roles will remain a consistent theme, Toronto’s best lineup for the first half of the season consisted of Ibaka at the 5. Nick Nurse could potentially opt for the matchup-dependent strategy wherein Gasol plays a heftier role against bigger, traditional Centers but takes a seat in favor of Ibaka when the opposition goes small. Either way, it’s a less promising RoS outlook. (Jay)
Malcolm Brogdon (Ranked #53) – Brogo has been an odd fixture in the NBA, as an extremely solid youngish player that lacked any upside. While this assessment was fair through his first 2 seasons (Ranked #115 and #93), it was reasonable for fantasy GMs to consider him at best, a top 75 player. Because of this tag, as well as the super stacked nature of the Bucks roster, he was habitually undervalued in drafts, often being taken in rounds 11 or 12. Brogdon has certainly stepped up and shown that he has room to grow with career highs in point, rebounds, and is currently part of the elite 50/40/90 club. The disappointing play of Khris Middleton has opened up opportunity for Brogdon and he may not let up. (Kevin)
Jerami Grant (Ranked #61) – I briefly discussed why I’m buying Grant’s short-term Dynasty value in my most recent article here. To summarize, OKC’s league-leading tax bill puts them in an inopportune position to afford any game-changing Free Agent’s this summer, outside of older, ring-chasing vets who might believe in the team’s potential enough to sign for a minimum contract. Furthermore, Grant’s affinity for packing on the hustle stats while maintaining a low usage makes him a great fit on this top-heavy Thunder roster. (Jay)
Thaddeus Young (Ranked #65) – I am a
Montrezl Harrell (Ranked #67) – His stock plummeted early during drafts because of his off-court issues. That didn’t last long though and it was only a matter of time before he reminded everyone of his potential. The 25-year-old is putting up career highs in points (15.9) and rebounds (6.7). His value rises further if you are punting free throws. (Pat)
Javale McGee (Ranked #70) – It’s no secret that McGee has been one of the most surprising fantasy assets of the season. Starting this campaign off as a glowing top 50 option, he has seriously cooled down lately, sitting well outside of the top 150 over the last 2 months of play. Unfortunately for McGee, his Dynasty outlook doesn’t look too optimistic. The Lakers will have at least 10 to 15 better Center options to choose from in Free Agency – most of which would consider taking a minimal contract in order to play alongside Lebron. McGee can play this one of two ways this summer. Either he stays in LA to take a lesser role as (hopefully) the primary backup big man, or he signs with another Center-needy team and competes for a starting gig elsewhere. That latter option seems unlikely, as there would appear to be a hefty number of better overall options out there. (Jay)
Jeremy Lamb (Ranked #72) – Because of his strength defensively, and playing next to Kemba, Lamb was considered a starter by name, but most considered 2nd-year guard Malik Monk to be the player worth rostering. Lamb surprisingly stepped things up in his 7th season, posting personal bests in scoring, boards, steals, and 3’s. He doesn’t excel in any area, but he doesn’t hurt you anywhere, and does enough to offer nice mid-round value for a guy you probably grabbed off of the waiver wire. (Kevin)
JJ Redick (Ranked #73) – At first glance, the acquisition of Tobias Harris might seem like a slight detriment to Redick’s value. J.J. was Philly’s best floor-spacing option. Some may still consider him to be so, but Harris provides a more diverse package. However, in today’s game you can never have too many shooters. If Redick’s value takes a hit, it should only be an insignificant one. At 34 years old, he may be on the cusp of a decline, but his 3’s and FT% should keep him relevant in standard leagues for another year or two at least. (Jay)
Domantas Sabonis (Ranked #79) – Sabonis was generally picked in the final 3 rounds of fantasy drafts, but he has managed to provide value in points, boards, and FG%. He’s done this with and without Myles Turner playing well. He doesn’t get you many counting stats, but he seems like a solid bet to maintain strength in his 3 cats for years to come. (Kevin)
Marcus Morris (Ranked #80) – I mostly avoided any Celtics player as I figured they may have too many mouths to feed. I thought the time share with Tatum, Brown, and Horford will be messy. Turns out Morris will now be part of the list of veterans I’d try to snatch in the latter part of drafts next year. His current averages of two (2) 3PTM and 47.6 FG% has helped his current value. (Pat)
Derrick Rose (Ranked #82) – Consider me among the many who thought Rose was cooked, even drafting at the end of 30 team dynasty dispersal draft as more of a joke than anything. Well, the joke was on me after I dropped him and he went on to have one of the most surprising runs this season. He’s still injury/rest prone, but apparently, he can still light it up with points, assists, and good efficiency. I keep expecting him to falter towards my original projections, but he keeps proving me wrong. He has proven himself to be good this season and only injuries seem to be a possible obstacle. At 30, I wouldn’t expect a ton from him in dynasty, but he could maintain solid enough production to remain low-end fantasy relevant for at least a few more seasons. (Kevin)
Thomas Bryant (Ranked #111) – Big men with decent FT% are hard to find. They usually are gone by early to mid rounds of drafts. In most of my drafts this year, I went guards and forwards early. Bryant was a nice gamble towards the last rounds. He’s still very young and his dynasty stock has already risen as the Wizards start their youth movement. (Pat)