It’s not easy to navigate the injuries, poor play and tanking that limited so many players this season – most successful fantasy 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 increased or decreased 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. The past few weeks included dozens of players from the Eastern Conference, including Andre Drummond, Darren Collison, Tomas Satoransky, Kris Dunn, Kyrie Irving and Kristaps Porzingis. We'll turn our attention to the Western Conference today.
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Jamal Murray - The Nuggets' 21-year-old guard began the season slow, with minutes hovering in the mid- to high-20s. His challenge was substantial, learning the full-time PG job on a team loaded with capable ball-handlers like Gary Harris, Will Barton and Nikola Jokic. He's still finding the balance between distributing and finding his own shot, which makes it even more impressive that he's cruising along with top-50 value since the All-Star break. In that span he's averaged 17.1 points (42.6% FGs, 90.7% FTs), 2.1 triples, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks. With a mid-round floor and early-round potential, Murray will be a very popular post-hype pick on draft day.
Dirk Nowitzki - Top-75 value from a 39-year-old on a lousy team? Impressive. Anyone who drafted Dirk was tickled to see him produce efficiently despite playing 24.7 minutes per game -- he averaged 12.0 points, 1.8 threes, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.6 blocks. Crucially, he also shot 45.6% from the field and 89.8% from the line, with a mere 0.7 turnovers. The anticipation is that Dirk will return for the 2018-19 season, concluding his NBA career at age 40. He won't be a sexy fantasy option, to be sure, but has given owners another reason to consider him as a late-round flier.
Clint Capela - Houston's rim-running big man had a breakout campaign in 2017-18, posting 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 0.8 steals. He also shot 65.2% from the field, which is tops in the NBA -- with a solid 9.1 shots per game, Capela also had the best weighted-FG%. He only missed a handful of games and there's no reason to think this is a fluky season -- he's 23 years old and gets to feast off lobs and pocket passes from James Harden and Chris Paul, after all. Durable, young centers are in rare supply, which is one more reason Capela will be gone by pick No. 40 in most formats.
Tobias Harris - The Clippers' starting forward is in his seventh NBA season, so it's easy to forget that he's still 25 years old. He's also proven to be very adaptable throughout his career, which was proven again when he hit the ground running in L.A. -- he wound up missing just one game, and almost instantly resumed providing across-the-board value. Since the All-Star break he's been phenomenal for fantasy, especially in roto leagues -- 19.7 points (47.5% FGs, 83.1% FTs), 2.3 triples, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.7 turnovers. For a guy in his prime who can produce with such versatility, Harris doesn't get nearly as many fantasy-league headlines as he deserves.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - Apart from some legal issues that forced KCP to miss games this season, he's been remarkably steady with mid-round value anchored in 3-pointers (2.2) and steals (1.5). That wasn't everyone's expectation on draft day, as he was playing on a one-year deal for a team trying to develop youth, but the arrangement worked out for both sides. Much of his fantasy value hinges on where he signs next season, but this year was a reminder that KCP in an iron-man whose steals and triples alone are worth the top-100 pick you'll spend on him.
Karl-Anthony Towns - Another season, another 82 regular-season games played for KAT. There's a reason I discuss durability so often -- it's incredibly important, especially for your top picks. Knowing that Towns will give you elite center production every single night is a huge luxury -- just ask owners who took Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler or DeMarcus Cousins. He's only getting better as he heads into his prime and remains my No. 1 target in 9-cat leagues.
Kyle Anderson & Dejounte Murray - The Spurs' shift toward younger players benefited Anderson and Murray in particular, with Dejounte capably taking over the PG spot from Tony Parker. He's been impressive since the All-Star break with 10.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.7 turnovers. If he can improve his range (0.2 triples) and make more free throws (68.0%), he could easily leap into the top-50 discussion. Anderson's appeal is almost entirely roto-based, with quiet-but-helpful stats across the board. That includes 52.7% shooting, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks, the type of defensive production that made him worth holding for the bulk of the season. Both guys will be sneaky late-round targets next season.
Derrick Favors - Utah's throwback PF/C was on plenty of owners' "won't draft" lists this year, due to persistent injuries over his career. And yet, at age 26 he managed to miss only five games while shooting a career-best 56.3% from the field. He added 7.2 boards, 1.0 blocks and 0.7 steals and hovered around the top-100 mark all season long. Considering he went undrafted in some leagues and was available on the waiver wire for long stretches, that must be considered a 'win' for owners who gambled on him.
Other Western Conference players who could make the cut...Corey Brewer's steals explosion since joining OKC...Taj Gibson staying healthy, playing huge minutes and ranking among the league leaders for FG%... E'Twaun Moore settling into a 3-point gunner role as a starter...Donovan Mitchell, for obvious reasons...Bogdan Bogdanovic's quietly impressive rookie campaign...Buddy Hield's post-break fireworks for the second straight year...T.J. Warren cruising as a mid-round value despite Josh Jackson's arrival...Quinn Cook's terrific play in place of Steph Curry...Lou Williams dropping 22.6 points per game in his age-31 season...Tyreke Evans' first-half dominance, before injuries and DNPs knocked him out...etc.
Carmelo Anthony - Injuries haven't been an issue for Melo but his OKC stint has nevertheless been punishing for fantasy owners, as the veteran fell outside the top-120 for 8-cat and 9-cat value. He's been asked to operate primarily as a spot-up shooter, and the numbers confirm the eye test -- it hasn't been pretty. Melo is posting a Player Efficiency Rating of 12.8, which is easily the lowest of his career. His usage rate has also cratered at 23.2%, whereas his previous low was 28.5% as a rookie in 2003-04. Melo's True Shooting fell to a career-low 50.3%, his free-throw rate fell to a career-low 16.6%...you get the idea. If he ends up staying in OKC next season, he might not be drafted inside the top-100.
Nerlens Noel - Noel's season was an unmitigated disaster, beginning with his decision to turn down a four-year, $70 million contract and ending with a five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy. Fantasy owners chasing his top-50 upside got burned, even though his per-36-minute stats remained compelling -- 10.0 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.7 blocks. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle criticized Noel's lack of competitive fire early in the season ("Minutes are earned," Carlisle said), he missed time due to left thumb surgery, and it's anyone's guess how much interest he'll draw in free agency. He's still just 23 years old but will need a compelling offseason and ideal landing spot to boost his fantasy appeal next season.
Stephen Curry - To be clear, Steph remained a fantasy monster on a per-game basis this season. The caveat is that repeated ankle injuries led to strings of DNPs throughout the season, prior to his regular-season-ending Grade-2 MCL sprain. He just turned 30 years old and Golden State has been increasingly willing to rest key players, a trend that will only become more prevalent going forward -- especially if Curry's ankles give him any signs of trouble. Steph won't be 'sliding' in fantasy drafts, obviously, but this year's injuries make it harder to sell him as a top-3 overall choice.
Milos Teodosic - The Clippers' 31-year-old rookie wound up playing in just 45 games this season due to plantar fascia injuries. The bigger issue is that he failed to provide compelling fantasy stats even when he was healthy and starting -- 9.9 points, 2.1 triples, 4.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 0.5 steals. Decent, but not enough to compensate for his 41.0% shooting and 2.1 turnovers. As advertised, Teodosic struggled defensively and it's hard to envision him playing 28+ minutes on a playoff team. Maybe his game will 'click' in his second NBA season but I'm looking elsewhere for triples and assists in the late rounds.
Mike Conley - For years, Conley playing in 72+ games was a reliable reason to target him on draft day. That narrative has slipped over the past four seasons, however, as he's missed 12, 26, 13 and 70 games -- the latter being this year, which was ended prematurely by Achilles soreness that eventually required heel surgery to correct "a small bone protrusion." The Grizzlies have a lucrative, long-term commitment to Conley, but he's coming off surgery at age 31 and playing for a lousy team that doesn't project as playoff-ready in the near future. That's a lot of baggage for a guy with an Average Draft Position in the 30-40 range.
Kawhi Leonard - Quadriceps tendinopathy. It's not a term Leonard's owners ever want to see after a brutal 2017-18 season that yielded only nine regular-season appearances. He was reportedly cleared to play by the Spurs' medical staff, but his own physicians and advisers disagreed -- the result was an awkward stand-off that included a players-only meeting, rumors that Kawhi wanted to leave the Spurs, and endless frustration for fantasy owners. Leonard is under contract for a guaranteed $20.0 million next season and this situation could resolve itself during the offseason (or even the postseason). If there's even the slightest hint of a quad injury or limitations during training camp and the preseason, though, plenty of owners will be content to let Kawhi slide out of the early rounds.
Blake Griffin (getting the nod since he played more games for L.A. than Detroit) - Here are the number of games Blake has missed over the past four seasons: 24, 21, 47, 15. He's gone from being a perennial iron-man to a constant injury risk, which is bad enough. My biggest concern is that any statistical gains he's made have been offset in other categories. He improved to a 75% free throw shooter, with 1.9 triples per game, but simultaneously saw his FG% plunge to a career-worst 43.8%. Poor defensive stats continue to plague him (0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks), as do high turnovers (2.9), and it adds up to middle-round value in roto leagues. He's better in point-based fantasy formats, but I'm not burning one of my top picks on him next year.
Gorgui Dieng - Dieng was drafted in most roto leagues and it's easy to see why -- he was coming off two straight 82-game seasons and only needs 24-26 minutes to rack up top-75 value. The reality was much harsher, with Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns completely dominating frontcourt minutes in Tom Thibodeau's tight rotations. Dieng couldn't even operate as a handcuff because KAT simply doesn't miss games, which quickly rendered him useless in most leagues.
That's all the time for today's column! Thanks for reading all season and sharing your own insights and questions. I'm always looking for new ideas for columns, so reach out via email or Twitter (@Knaus_RW) if you have topics you'd like to see discussed...during the offseason or next year.