The Rotoworld crew has been hearing from many owners who won their league championships this year, and I’ll begin with sincere congratulations to all of you! It’s not easy to navigate the injuries, poor play and tanking that limited so many players this season – most successful owners drafted well, found valuable players on the waiver wire…and got a bit lucky.
Today's column discusses both extremes – players whose fantasy stocks either improved or declined in 2017-18. This isn't a comprehensive list and there's no one-size-fits-all criteria for success or failure, but the players below jumped out at me. Last week we discussed over a dozen key players from the Eastern Conference, including Andre Drummond, Kris Dunn, Kyrie Irving and Hassan Whiteside. We'll wrap up the East in today's column.
Ben Simmons - I was among those who cautioned 8-cat and 9-cat owners against Simmons, citing concerns about his percentages and high turnovers as a makeshift point guard. Indeed, his 3.4 turnovers weren't great and he tanked owners with 56.4% free-throw shooting, but everything else was spun gold. In addition to becoming a nightly triple-double threat (11 so far, third-most in the league), Simmons' shot selection has been spectacular. We knew teams would dare him to hit jumpers, but he hasn't taken the bait -- he's attempted 56 shots beyond 15 feet all season (including eight half-court heaves), which is just 5.9% of his total attempts. Talk about playing to your strengths.
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Darren Collison - Minor knee surgery forced Collison to miss 11 games, from early February to early March, but he's only had two DNPs outside of that stretch. More importantly, the veteran found immediate chemistry with Victor Oladipo and his new Pacers teammates, averaging career-highs in FG percentage (49.4%) and 3-pointers (1.4), while barely missing his previous highs in steals (1.4) and assists (5.4). He's morphed into one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA at 45.1%, and ranks second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. It's a no-brainer that Indy will guarantee his $10 million salary for 2018-19. He's not a flashy name, either, which should allow owners to draft him with ease once the top PGs are off the board.
LeBron James - Here are King James' per-game fantasy rankings, as of April 3:
NBA 'Official' Points scoring & FanDuel: 2nd
Throw in the fact that LBJ has yet to miss a single game this season and he jumps up a few more spots. He may not win the MVP award despite single-handedly propelling a tumultuous, injury-riddled team that lost Kyrie Irving and was rebuilt-mid-season...to the No. 3 seed in the East. Along the way he's racked up 48 double-doubles and counting, 17 triple-doubles, and a memorable game with 17 assists and zero turnovers. He's been everything owners expected and more, allaying fears that he'd begin slowing down at age 33...he even had a bounce-back year at the FT line (73.3%). I'm still not his biggest advocate for fantasy purposes, but you won't find him outside the top-10 in any drafts next season.
Jarrett Allen - Allen was an intriguing fantasy sleeper after averaging 13.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 32.2 minutes per game for the Longhorns in 2016-17. The numbers were good, not great, and his terrific length and athleticism were tempered by concerns about his age (19) and skinny frame. Indeed, he began the season sharing the center spot with Timofey Mozgov, and didn't find a groove until Brooklyn took the training wheels off in February. Casting aside worries that Jahlil Okafor's arrival would be another threat, Allen notched post-break averages of 10.1 points on 58.6% FGs and 80.0% FTs, with 6.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. The Nets want him to add muscle and improve his conditioning during the offseason, and he's poised for a big sophomore campaign.
Tomas Satoransky - I drafted John Wall in a 30-team league, and many rounds later I decided to get his handcuff...Tim Frazier, or so I thought. After Wall went down with a left knee injury that eventually required a "clean up" procedure, it quickly became clear that Satoransky was the true handcuff. Thrust into the starting PG role for 28 games, he notched 10.4 points, 6.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks. Perhaps most impressive was his poise and patience offensively -- he didn't force his own scoring and wound up shooting 53.8% from the field and 90.4% from the line in that span (in addition to a ridiculous 52.7% from deep). He's under contract next season (Tim Frazier isn't) and the Wizards will find ways to keep Satoransky on the court.
Terry Rozier - From the start of the season until Feb. 1 this season, Rozier was scuffling along for fantasy purposes. He was hitting 1.5 triples per game, with 1.0 steals, but didn't have many assists, and was scoring inefficiently at 39.0% FGs and 78.8% FTs. That changed once injuries took down Kyrie Irving (knee surgery) and Marcus Smart (hand laceration, thumb surgery). Thrust into the starting role, he's shined with averages of 18.6 points, 3.3 triples, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks and a mere 1.4 turnovers. Boston's depth is one of their greatest weapons and Rozier won't have a 35+ minute role as a starter next season, but he's raised his profile enough to be a hot target after the middle rounds.
The Raptors bench (most of it, anyway) - Delon Wright was a non-entity in most fantasy drafts, but he gained steam with a nice stretch in late-December/early-January. He exudes confidence as a leader of the second unit and despite some rotation-influenced inconsistency, he's still carved out low-end roto value in a mere 20.6 minutes per game. Toronto's core is almost entirely under contract for next season, but Wright could step into a bigger role if they can't retain Fred VanVleet in restricted free agency.
Speaking of VanVleet, he has been one of the biggest surprises during Toronto's march to the No. 1 seed in the East. He's capably anchored the second-unit backcourt with the league's 9th-best assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2:1), while shooting a stellar 41.4% from downtown. Owners in points leagues probably had little use for him, but VanVleet added 0.9 steals, 3.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds, and even his 43.1% FGs wasn't damaging because of low-volume attempts. If you relied on 'streaming' strategies in any leagues this season, you're probably no stranger to VanVleet or the next guy on this list...
Jakob Poeltl - The Raptors' second-year center beat out Lucas Nogueira for backup-center minutes, which gave him enough stability to be worth streaming in most formats -- or owning outright in deeper leagues. Despite not earning a single start this year, and averaging just 18.4 minutes, he's offered specialist value as a source of FG percentage (63.8%) and blocks (1.3), which 4.7 rebounds for good measure. It's hard to see his role blossoming next year with Jonas Valanciunas in Toronto, but he'll still be on and off the wire in competitive leagues. You could even throw C.J. Miles and Pascal Siakam onto this list, since both guys has sporadic value beyond draft-day expectations. Speaking of JV, he could also easily make the 'winners' list as he settled into a very productive 24-minute role with excellent efficiency.
Bradley Beal - Just a quick note to highlight Beal's durability this season. While dealing with a stress reaction in his right fibula back in Jan. 2016, Beal suggested he might have limitations the rest of his career. "I got to do as much as I can take care of [my body], be smart about it moving forward through the rest of my career," Beal said. "That's probably something that's going to happen every year." Fast-forward to 2018 and he's on pace for the first 82-game season in his career, despite averaging the 12th-most minutes in the NBA. He's still 24 years old, too, and the best is yet to come.
Elfrid Payton - Owners in points-based leagues may disagree, but Payton's fantasy stock is down heading into the offseason. He barely snuck inside the top-100 while playing 44 games for Orlando, averaging 13.0 points, 6.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.6 triples and 0.4 blocks. Despite shooting a career-best 52.0% from the field, he dragged down his value with 2.6 turnovers and a lousy 63.2% from the FT line. Due presumably to his awful defense, Orlando decided they weren't going to pay Payton in restricted free agency this summer, so they jettisoned him to Phoenix for a second-round draft pick. Things started well enough in Phoenix with a pair of triple-doubles in his first 10 games, but once again he found himself unwelcome due to defensive lapses. No matter where he ends up next season, it's hard to be excited about a guy who was displaced by the likes of D.J. Augustin, Shelvin Mack, Tyler Ulis and Shaq Harrison.
Markelle Fultz - Rookies are generally excluded from this list. You won't find Frank Ntilikina among the 'losers' despite his rocky rookie campaign, or Lauri Markkanen among the winners. Nevertheless, Fultz too obvious a disappointment to leave off the list. Philly traded up to take him at No. 1 overall this summer but he never lived up to the hype. First there was a high-ankle sprain in early July, which cost him precious time to acclimate. In late September, Fultz conceded he wasn't satisfied with his form shooting free throws, and a week later Sixers coach Brett Brown criticized Fultz for changing his jump-shot form "all by himself" without input from the team. Then his right knee and shoulder began to bother him, with the shoulder eventually shutting him down due to "scapular muscle imbalance" -- he would miss five months. Fultz's play has been very encouraging since his late-season return, and of course he's still just 19 years old, but most fantasy owners' expectations have been significantly lowered.
Kristaps Porzingis - The Unicorn's season was cut short at 48 games after tearing his left ACL in early February. The surgery is expected to require 10-12 months of rehab -- the Knicks will undoubtedly err on the side of caution, which means he could miss the first 1-3 months of the season. Will he be on a minute-limit when he returns, and/or be limited in back-to-back sets? Almost certainly. Despite the sky-high fantasy potential, Porzingis be an extreme risk on draft day...assuming we don't have a concrete return date by the time preseason rolls around. The upward trajectory in DNPs is not exactly encouraging for the 22-year-old seven-footer:
2015-16 season: 9 DNPs
2016-17 season: 16 DNPs
2017-18 season: 34 DNPs
2018-19 season: To be determined...
Norman Powell - Unlike his fellow Raptors bench-mates, Powell gets a negative mention because there was some pre-season hype surrounding him. He came up big in the postseason vs. Cleveland last year and emerged as a possible starter once DeMarre Carroll was traded away. The Raptors inked him to an extension before the season and he did start opening night, but his stats across 17 starts tell a grim tale -- 7.6 points on 41.2% shooting, 1.0 threes, 1.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks. OG Anunoby soon took over the SF job full-time, the Raptors found success with a deep rotation, and Powell fell by the wayside after December. There's no reason to expect a sudden resurgence in 2018-19.
I hesitate to include D'Angelo Russell because he's just 22 years old and was primarily limited by arthroscopic knee surgery -- but that doesn't change the fact he was a big disappointment for owners. His season-long stats only stand out for scoring (15.4 points per game), 3-pointers (1.8) and assists (5.1). He's averaging just 0.8 steals and is weighing down his fantasy appeal with 2.9 turnovers per game and 41.2% shooting -- which has fallen to 39.4% since the All-Star break. A full summer to get healthy and acclimate with his teammates could work wonders, and I believe in his upside enough to burn a top-50 pick on him, but this year's struggles make it a bit more of a gamble.
Also worth mentioning: Frank Ntilikina never had lasting fantasy appeal as a rookie, thanks mostly to his 35.5% FGs and 72.1% FTs, but he has the tools to be a special player a few years from now...Richaun Holmes went from being a potential 'handcuff' for Joel Embiid to having no practical value throughout the season...Kyle Lowry hasn't missed many games and is canning 3.1 triples per game, but that's part of my issue -- his value is inordinately skewed toward 3-pointers, which are plentiful on the waiver wire. His minutes dipped to 32.3 per game by design, as Toronto stuck with a deep rotation, and as a result most of Lowry's stats fell compared to last season. I don't think he'll be on my second-round list next season, although he could be helped if Fred VanVleet lands elsewhere...John Wall was done in by his injury, obviously, but it didn't help that he shot 41.5% FGs/71.7% FTs with 3.7 turnovers per game. It seems like the two issues were connected, with his knee affecting his shooting, and I'm banking on a bounce-back next season.
There were more players from the East mentioned last week, so check that out, but as I mentioned above...this is nowhere near a comprehensive list. I just cherry-picked players who stood out to me as I reflected on the regular season. Every owner has their own letdowns and breakouts -- let me know on Twitter (@Knaus_RW and @Rotoworld_BK) which players from the East made your list of 'never-again' or 'must-have' based on this year's production. And if you're still chugging away in a roto league or a H2H league that extends until April 11...good luck!