The 2017-18 fantasy hoops season has been one of the weirdest we’ve ever seen. Right now, we’re basically at the point where whoever is the healthiest is going to win your league. This is worse than fantasy football regarding health on your squads.
The NBA tried to drop their back-to-back sets and even shortened the preseason, but it backfired with record numbers for injuries. A lot of it has to do with teams being careful or just tanking it up. Basically, being in a playoff race is awesome for fantasy value. If a team isn’t in a race, they’ll be sitting guys out even if they’re healthy, or even if they’re just under 100 percent. The Bulls and Grizzlies are good examples of tanking, and Stephen Curry is on the other end as the Warriors keep him off the court to play it safe.
Moving to next season, there’s a lesson from this tumultuous 2017-18 season. We always say we want our early picks to play 75 games, but now it’s just as important to make sure the games that are missed aren’t late in the year.
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With all of that in mind, I took a crack at the 2018-19 top-25 players for nine-category leagues with head-to-head playoffs. Obviously the new schedule isn’t out yet, but it’s starting to feel like a strong postseason schedule is a little overrated. Hey, if a team plays four games in a week, there’s a good chance they have a back-to-back set.
We’ll be talking about it all offseason in the Draft Guide, the columns and on the pod, but here’s a look at what I’m thinking for next season for the first two rounds.
1. Anthony Davis - He’s just too good. The words “locker room” have appeared 78 times in Anthony Davis’ Rotoworld blurbs and we joke about the Anthony Davis Memorial Locker Room Report on the pods all the time, but c’mon. In his last 15, he’s averaged 32.1 points, 13.0 boards, 1.9 assists, 3.4 blocks, 2.1 steals and 0.9 treys on 53.4 percent from the field and 89.5 percent from the line in those 15. Seriously, this is one of the best fantasy runs we’ve ever seen.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns - Sure, we play in nine-category leagues, but perhaps no category is more important than durability and being on a team that will be in the playoff hunt. KAT has played in every game, he only had a “will play” blurb on Oct. 30, 2017, he went to the locker room for injury just twice in his career, and the only time we ever used the word “doubtful” on KAT was when the Lakers were doubtful to get KAT in for a workout before he was drafted.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo - Not only did Giannis improve from 22.9 points per game to 27.5 this year, but he’s also up in FG% and his boards are up to 10.1, too. His defensives stats have dropped off a bit despite leading the NBA in minutes per game. The knee injury from the offseason that kept him out of FIBA did slightly come back with bite him, so hopefully that’s behind him now.
4. James Harden - Yeah, so about the concern of Harden losing scoring. He is up to a career-high 31.0 points per game. His dimes are down to 8.7 from 11.2 last year, but he also dropped his turnovers to 4.3 from 5.7. He’s also up to 45.1 FG% from his 44.0 last year, so it’s all coming up roses for The Beard. LeBron, though?
5. Damian Lillard - Assuming he doesn’t have another injury, he’ll be at 75 games or more in each of his six seasons, which is pretty incredible for a guy that has been among the league leaders in minutes. He’s been a superstar after the break in each of the last two seasons and it feels like he’ll be on a lot of championship teams again.
6. Nikola Jokic - We sure don’t like Mike Malone for benching his stars at times, but Big Honey is putting up some tasty stat lines. Since the break, he’s averaged 19.6 points, 10.3 boards, 6.4 dimes, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.7 treys on 54.4 percent from the field and 83.6 percent from the line. Obviously the Paul Millsap return hasn’t hurt him.
7. Kevin Durant - If we knew he’d play 82, he’d be No. 2. However, we have to be concerned about the Warriors. Durant is going to hit 30 years old next year and of course he’s going to be at risk of losing minutes late in the season. Durant isn’t as risky as Stephen Curry, so that may actually help his value (more on Steph below).
8. Rudy Gobert - Big men are very hard to come by, and Gobert is just ridiculous right now. This month, he’s averaged 19.3 points, 13.7 boards, 1.1 dimes, 1.0 steals and 2.4 blocks on 68.5 FG% and a 73.8 FT%. Almost prototype stuff, especially if he can get FT% close to 80.
9. Victor Oladipo - I’m buying the breakout and his steals are ridiculous. Since returning from injury on Jan. 6, Oladipo’s 88 steals are by far the most in the NBA with Eric Bledsoe at 70 in second, and Anthony Davis and Josh Richardson are tied for third way back at 57. In those 32 games, he averaged 21.8 points, 5.2 boards, 4.4 assists, 2.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.5 treys on 45.7 FG% and 81.9 FT%.
10. Jimmy Butler - He was on cruise control before his injury. In his 36 games since Dec. 1, Butler averaged 24.8 points, 5.4 boards, 5.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.3 treys on 48.8 FG% and 87.9 FT%. That’s superstar stuff, but there is risk.
11. LeBron James - This season has been wild and I don’t think anyone would have thought LeBron would be leading the NBA in total minutes on Mar. 20. Big minutes aside, I still feel like this year is a fluke going forward for a guy who will turn 34 next year. I feel like this year it’ll be LeBron saying “hey, I played my hardest in my last year in Cleveland, so I’m out” and he won’t have any guilt. Plus, LeBron’s usage won’t see a hit almost anywhere, but what happens if he plays next Chris Paul and James Harden?
12. Stephen Curry - Maybe this is an overreaction, but Curry is 30 now and his ankle issues are back. He had surgery on his right ankle before and he may have it again this summer due to instability. In the Rotoworld database, the word “ankle” appears a whopping 766 times on Curry blurbs. We have to assume he’ll get more rest next season and even the smallest ankle tweaks will cost him games.
13. Paul George - It’s hard to believe a guy that broke his leg in the way PG did is one of the more durable players in the NBA. If you exclude that year, PG has only missed 2.7 games per year over the last six seasons. He’s consistently strong in steals, FG% for a guy that takes as many threes as he does, and adds a little bit of everything. PG will be 28 next year and you would think he’d have awesome value wherever he lands.
14. Russell Westbrook - Westy has actually been solid on FG% this year at 45.1 percent, but his FT% has plummeted to 73.7 this year. He’s also getting close to another trip-dub year. If he can average just over 12.0 boards over his last 10 games, he’ll get there. Westbrook has also been durable except for that stretch when Patrick Beverley messed him up.
16. Bradley Beal - It looks like he’ll be hitting the 77-game mark in each of the last two years. He’s over his fibula stress fracture, which isn’t surprising because it doesn’t bear too much weight (15-20 percent).
17. Jrue Holiday - A good year for the lower-leg stress fracture crew. Obviously he’s better when he’s not with AD and DeMarcus Cousins, but he still was productive with them. In 994 minutes with AD and Boogie, Jrue put up per-36 averages of 14.5 points, 4.1 boards, 4.9 dimes, 1.4 steals, 1.2 treys on 46.9 FG% and 85.5 FT%.
18. Kawhi Leonard - He’ll be 27 next year, but that’s not even relevant. No team keeps us in the dark like the Spurs, so there’s a good chance we won't know much in four months. Kind of a YOLO pick here.
19. Joel Embiid - It boggles my mind that Embiid has been the most reliable big man in the post-Jokic tier. Trust it.
20. Kemba Walker - The Hornets are going to be bad again next year, so Walker will be putting up big numbers. Plus, that offseason knee surgery didn’t come back to bite him.
21. Donovan Mitchell - Maybe this is a little too aggressive, but so good and he’s a treat to watch. Since Nov. 1, he’s averaged 21.1 points, 3.9 boards, 3.7 dimes, 1.5 steals and 2.5 treys on 44.6 FG% and 82.4 FT%. Mitchell with a full offseason and a clear role should take his game to the next level.
22. Andre Drummond - He’s not going to hit 81 games like he has in each of his previous four seasons, but he could get to 80. Getting to 3.1 dimes per game is extremely impressive, too.
23. Ben Simmons - I kind of gave him a minor bump up because I love the idea of going Giannis, Drummond and Simmons. That would be an awesome FT% tank team and that team would be ridiculous in defense, boards and FG%.
24. Khris Middleton - Hasn’t missed a game yet this season and you have to love that he recovered from his hamstring tear so fast last year. He’ll be 27 and he played in at least 79 games in the three seasons before his hammy tear.
25. DeMarcus Cousins - There are two ways to look at this. The bad way is that the last stud big to have an Achilles tear was Elton Brand, and EB’s career totally fell off a cliff. The optimistic way would be that maybe Boogie is cruising by January, and that would be a huge advtantage. Before his injury, he was in the mix to be a top-five player in drafts. If you have AD or KAT with Boogie for the fantasy playoffs, that’s a huge advantage.