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 2 of this 2 part series, we highlight the bad surprises. Click here to read the Good Surprises.
LeBron James (Ranked #17) – All signs pointed to this being a weird season for LBJ. The questionable offseason acquisitions, along with the Lakers whiffing on Paul George, flashed on screen as ominous warnings to fantasy GMs. Bron was frequently talked about as a legitimate top 5 pick in this year’s draft, including some spit-take inducing talk of being #1 overall. Not to throw shade, but this was clearly the work of the casual fans, and no serious fantasy GM was on board with this take. While dealing with injuries for seemingly the 1st time in his career, Bron has been uncharacteristically inconsistent while still offering fantasy gold in a number of categories, but has been a killer in turnovers and free throws. I was expecting more along the lines of a top 10 season, so this current #17 has surprised me. Still, he’s LeBron, and looking down the road, nobody takes care of their body better, he’s been lucky to be built like a tank, and he has room to age into even more of a facilitator that operates out of the post. He should be a top 25 player for at least the next 3 seasons, or until he can draft his son. (Kevin)
Victor Oladipo (Ranked #47) – Last year, Dipo was the key piece that helped me won many leagues. He delivered early round value versus his actual ADP. If you wanted him this year though, you’d have to reach from Rounds 1 to 2. Most GMs with a late 1st Round picked wanted a Dipo + PG13 combo which makes sense. I have my biases though for players I want to draft during the early rounds and I passed on him this year only because of my team build. His season was cut short by a devastating injury which will most likely require a lengthy recovery process. This hurts not only the Pacers but dynasty his owners. The only good thing right now is he’s a buy-low target for those who can afford the risk. (Pat)
Draymond Green (Ranked #46) – There seems to be reasonable logic behind Draymond looking less like the early-round, dirty-work strong-arm he was in recent years – a reason that should provide hope to his Dynasty owners. His usage is lower than ever. Golden State’s acquisition of another All-Star talent will be short-lived. While the departure of Cousins does not fully promise a bump in value, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Also, what if Durant and/or Thompson leave in Free Agency? Suddenly there are more touches to go around because the Warriors’ cap situation will be hard-pressed even if two of these guys leave. With the team’s payroll preventing them from signing another star player other than their current ones that they own Bird Rights for, Green has a clear path to a higher usage. Even if the roster remains mostly intact, he’s still a top 50 guy who will contribute in rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks – usage or not. (Jay)
Devin Booker (Ranked #54) – Currently sitting within the top 55 of standard 9-cat rankings, Booker hasn’t exactly fallen off much compared to last year, when he finished rank 48. Already in his fourth professional season, Booker’s problem lies in the fact that he hasn’t improved as most people expected. Considering that Phoenix will be in line for another Top 5 lottery prospect in the upcoming draft, the smooth-shooting Guard will have more young, promising options to help shoulder the load next season, hopefully in the form of a good playmaker to help set him and his teammates up. I still believe in Booker’s top 30-ish upside, but the question is whether adding another developmental stud will hurt his fantasy value, or help it. (Jay)
DeMar DeRozan (Ranked #57) – After spending the previous 3 seasons in the top 50, there were expectations of at least a small step up as the clear cut main man in San Antonio. He also flashed a much-improved 3 point shooting game last season, averaging more than 1 3PM per game for the first time in his career. This season, his outside shooting has completely fallen off the map (0.1 on 17% shooting). Rebounding and assists are up, but the scoring and free throw attempts are down, so there’s a general wash from last season to this one, but overall, he’s been a letdown. Part of this can also be attributed to the long 2-happy offense of Popovic, but we might also just be looking at DeRozan as a top 50ish player that no longer warrants legitimate hopes of top 30 production. (Kevin)
John Wall (Ranked #63) – You have to feel for the fantasy GMs that drafted Wall in the late 2nd round, assuming that after dealing with injuries last season, he should be good to go now. Well the injuries remained, and this ended his season early with surgery and then a tear of his Achilles. Playing hurt obviously affected his play this season, but that doesn’t explain the weird 10 percentage point drop in free throw shooting that he experienced from 2016-17 to now. He should remain a great assists asset whenever he can return (which could be over a year from now), but as I pointed out, this full recovery could lead well into 2021. This leaves you with an old Wall that could greatly struggle to find the explosion that was such a critical advantage he carried on the court. I’m extremely bearish on Wall’s dynasty value moving forward due to the length and unknowns of his recovery, as well as the type of player he is. (Kevin)
Khris Middleton (Ranked #67) – As a Top 50 player over his last 4 seasons (besides 2016-17 when he played only 29 games), it’s been a head-scratcher to figure out why some of Middleton’s stats haven’t been what we’re used to seeing out of him. Steals, Blocks, FG%, FT%, and even some Points – these are all categories that Middleton is underperforming in compared to what we deem as his standards. A common explanation for statistical drop-off is lower usage rate. We can’t use that excuse here. Middleton’s current usage rate is right around the norm for him. A bit of reasoning that could hold water is the fact that Budenholzer, the fantastic coach that he is, plays a very different style than his predecessor. Plus, Giannis is becoming one of the most dominant NBA players before our very eyes. He deserves the ball. Add all that up and you have a clear cause for concern moving forward – reasons that will make it difficult for Middleton to climb back up to the early-round talent of recent years past. He could potentially leave in Free Agency this summer, but that might be a long shot. (Jay)
Donovan Mitchell – (Ranked #74) – Mitchell’s Dynasty and Redraft League ADP was between 9-18 Range. First of all, this was a difficult range to have him pegged in a redraft league. Secondly, Donovan finished last year as a top 54 ADP, so that was already difficult to think he would be anywhere near a top 15 player this year. Therefore, this doesn’t strike a surprise in that aspect, but where he ranks currently looks more grotesque as a whole. Currently sitting at an ADP of 74 and has been inconsistent all year is shameful. In conclusion, we’re dynasty driven so his outlook can still get better, but this sophomore year is disappointing. (Starks)
Ben Simmons (Ranked #76) – Simmons’ value fluctuates depending on your team build. On a punt free throw team, his value surges and he poses to be a nightly triple-double guy. But as Philadelphia’s hashtag shouts #HereTheyCome, new players indeed came and his value took a slight hit. He had a high ADP coming into this season so your team’s punt strategy must be really strong if you drafted him. I didn’t draft him but I tried trading for him in one redraft league just to test if his ADP was worth it. I paid a hefty price dealing the players I drafted 2nd and 3rd round (Capella & Roco) for him. But the thought of pairing Dame (my 1st round pick), Simmons and Devin Booker [acquired by trading my 4th(Tatum) & 5th (Kanter) picks] made me salivate of having three studs to work with. Simmons was ok but my team struggled mightily because of the loss of depth and the missed games of Booker. Moral of the story: I’d draft him in dynasty but will not overpay again in redraft unless I have nice punt build strategy in place. (Pat)
Luka Doncic (Ranked #90) – Luka, I get it, he’s the hottest thing to hit the NBA since Giannis, and I agree that he has that MVP ceiling in him. This season has been a very good return from any normal rookie, but considering the hype that had him getting drafted around #50 overall, this current rank can be hard to stomach. Doncic puts up some nice popcorn stats, offering superb offensive volume, but the efficiency and turnovers drag him back. He’s obviously super fun to roster, but that doesn’t necessarily help the team that drafted him at the end of the 4th. He’s an amazing player already and should be able to fine-tune his deficiencies as early as next season, making him an easy top 30 pick in redraft leagues and a potential top 6 pick in dynasty leagues. (Kevin)
Joe Ingles (Ranked #110) – After a blistering start to the season, Ingles has fallen way behind what he produced last season when he was around a top 60-ish player. Normally strong in steals, assists, and 3’s, while also not killing you in efficiency stats (TO’s and percentages), is it any coincidence that those efficiency categories became a little uglier when his usage rate increased? With Utah expected to have enough cap space to make a splash this offseason, maybe the addition of a higher-usage stud can help Ingles get those efficiency stats back to the levels that convinced us to draft him. (Jay)
Gary Harris (Ranked #122) – Not so nice here Gary. This has been a legitimate heartbreak to fantasy GM’s. Many have mentioned that he’s a droppable player in redraft leagues. It always depends on the situation, but he’s the type of player that is hard to drop due to his track record. However, if you are in a pickle for the last playoff spot in a redraft league depending on your playoff settings then its time to cut bait. We need live bodies out there currently and it’s been frustrating for most. Most importantly Gary’s ADP has slid drastically 88 spots down from last year’s ADP 34. Buy low here for GM’s out of the playoffs in Dynasty leagues. (Starks)
Taurean Prince (Ranked #123) – Prince made a name for himself by lighting up the NBA over the last month of the 2017-18 season, to the tune of a top 20 ranking (among players in double-digit games). The points, 3’s, and assists helped many fantasy GMs take home the chip, so it was not surprising to see his preseason rankings rise heading into drafts over the Summer, with many expecting a top 60-70 3rd season. Unfortunately, this was a case of a player taking advantage of a great opportunity that pushed his perceived ability past reality. The additions of Young and Huerter immediately put a damper to his minutes, usage, and role. He may not be long for Atlanta, where a change of scenery could find him settling into a solid, but boring top 100 type of player. (Kevin)
Gordon Hayward (Ranked #125) – You have to forgive optimistic fantasy GMs who remembered Hayward’s excellent final 3 seasons in Utah (#38, #54, and #32), and figured that even on Boston’s stacked offense, he could fit in and produce top 60 value. That hasn’t been the case, as he’s looked slow at times while working his way back, and dealing with a team that is focused around the play of Kyrie and Jayson Tatum. His minutes, scoring, and FG% have all underwhelmed, though he has been stepping it up more recently. With Kyrie potentially leaving in the offseason, it could open things up and make Hayward a larger focal point of the offense starting next season. His value should increase closer to expectations soon. (Kevin)
Lonzo Ball (Ranked #127) – A Sophomore currently not performing to the level of his rookie year, Ball still holds big value for certain teams – punting teams. At the moment, Lonzo isn’t even in the top 120. If you punt FT%, he jumps up to rank 89. Additionally, if you go full-on percentage-punting, and ignore FG% on top of FT’s, the eldest Ball brother leaps inside the top 60. Now, punting two categories – especially two that don’t always coincide with each other – may be asking too much of some Fantasy Fiends out there. Either way, I believe there exists hope on the horizon for Lonzo truthers. After displaying at least some capabilities to improve his shooting, there’s nary a reason to believe Ball can’t better the absolutely woeful FT% he’s posted up to this point. Even if he never provides the most reliable FT%, there’s nowhere to go but up from here. (Jay)
Ricky Rubio (Ranked #132) – Rubio’s sudden plummet in Fantsy value seems a bit odd. In the midst of his prime, Rubio’s usage rate (23.1) is as high as it’s ever been. In fact, outside of last season, Rubio’s usage is a great deal higher than his past. The Spaniard is known for his “slow starts” but this is different. He’s never taken this long to get the ball rolling in a season. A drop in Assists is the primary patsy here. All of Rubio’s stats are right around the norm for him, besides his Assists. Utah has obviously seen the drop-off. They were reportedly scouring the trade market for an upgrade at Point Guard before the trade deadline. Obviously, if Rubio finds himself as a backup anywhere, his value will fall even further. Given that there aren’t many teams left without a starting-caliber Point Guard rostered, it’s hard to be optimistic. (Jay) (Jay)
Dario Saric (Ranked #168) – It’s news to nobody that Saric hasn’t lived up to expectations this year. After finishing his Sophomore season in the top 80, he’s fallen completely off the shallow league radar. As I’m writing this, there appears to be a glimmer of hope. Coach Saunders has finally shown a bit more trust in his offensive PF. Over his last 6 outings, Saric has been within a stone’s throw of the top 50. The buy low window is rapidly closing as Saunders has displayed a newfound interest in the defense-be-damned starting frontcourt of Saric and KAT. There’s reason to believe the interest could persist, youth movement not withstanding. (Jay)
Andrew Wiggins (Ranked #173) – After showing a good deal of promise and upside early in his career, Wiggins has fallen well outside the list of Fantasy hopefuls. Now age 24, he’s only even on the radar in deeper leagues. There have been rumblings of Minnesota moving on from him. Maybe there’s a team out there that still sees a sliver of potential. Considering his fantasy skill set (or lack thereof), I wouldn’t hold my breath for a fantasy comeback. Wiggins could eventually become an end-of-roster player for fantasy teams that need a boost in points and… well, just points. (Jay)
Jaylen Brown (Ranked #185) – Riding high off of an excellent 2018 postseason run that produced 18 points, 4.8 boards, and 2.4 3’s, Brown came flooding into drafts with some momentum. While he made, a healthy Kyrie Irving and a healthy-ish Gordon Hayward stood in his way of a consistent role in this deep team. Most fantasy GMs were savvy enough to realize his production would be muted, but it’s safe to say that a majority still figured he would be standard league relevant. Jaylen may be one of those players that due to his real-life effectiveness, draft pedigree, and occasional big moments under the spotlight, that his fantasy value never quite lives up to its billing. It’s tough to sell now, but if next season he can string together some nice games, trying to move him for a boring top 70 player would be an easy choice for me. (Kevin)
Trae Young (Ranked #187) – While he’s been playing better lately, that 187 ranking is a tough pill to swallow. Granted, everyone knew about his current deficiencies (FG% and Turnovers), the expectation was that he would produce enough in 3’s, points, assists, and steals to break even and be a borderline top 100 player. The assists (7.6) haven’t disappointed, but for a new face of the franchise that has been given the keys, we’ve been slightly underwhelmed by the 16.9 points, 1.7 3’s and 0.8 steals. Again, to be fair, he’s a rookie, so we all knew this would be a flawed season, but it doesn’t help the GMs that nabbed him in the 70’s. He’ll always be unfortunately compared with Doncic because of the way the draft unfolded, but as we’re seeing from his recent play, he definitely has it in him to make big strides in his play. I don’t think it will be long until he’s a 20+ point scorer with 8+ assists, 2 3’s and 1.5 steals. His ranking will ultimately go with his improvements in his 2 weaknesses, but an eventual top 30 ranking doesn’t seem outlandish. (Kevin)