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Ja Morant
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Offseason Beat

Fantasy Fallout From the Lottery

by Tommy Beer

On Tuesday night, as fans from New York to L.A. and many other cities in between, awaited with clenched fists and bated breath, we finally found out the order of the upcoming 2019 NBA draft. Also, it now seems we have a pretty good sense of what the teams with the first few selections will do on draft day. Below, I'll take a look at how the lottery's results will impact the draft's top three prospects.

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Zion Williamson
Shockingly, the Pelicans overcame long odds to win the "Zion Williamson Sweepstakes." This year, there is no real debate as to who the No. 1 overall pick will be, as nearly every assumes the Pels will take the freakish freshman out of Duke. However, attempting to predict where Zion might land in fantasy drafts next October is much more challenging. 

Williamson, the consensus National Player of the Year, put up gaudy numbers during is debut season at Duke. He tied for the ACC lead in scoring with 22.6 points per game, was third in rebounding (8.9 rebounds), second in steals (2.1) and fifth in blocks (1.8). He also shot 68 percent from the floor, which led the ACC and was second nationally. Per Baseball-Reference, over the last 25 years, the only other NCAA player to average more than 22 points and shot over 65 percent was Blake Griffin as a sophomore at Oklahoma. Zion is the first player ever to pour in over 20 points a night and tally at least 70 total steals and 50 blocks in the same season.

It goes without saying that Williamson has the potential to be a fantasy force right out of the gates next season. Just how impactful he will be will likely depend on what the Pelicans plan to do with Anthony Davis. If AD has a change of heart and signs an extension with New Orleans, they will be in "win now" mode and may bring the rookie along relatively slowly. However, if they trade Davis, as is fully expected, New Orleans will likely embrace a full rebuild centered around Zion. In this scenario, the will probably let pending free agent Julius Randle walk, so Williamson is free to log all the minutes he can handle at power forward. It will be interesting if the Pels consider trading Jrue Holiday as well if they ship out AD. Either way, Zion would be a focal point of the franchise and will be fed the ball frequently. Even if he struggles a bit on the offensive end, he will still rack up plenty of steals of blocks. Given his explosive athleticism, he will be one of the NBA's best weakside help defenders immediately upon entering the league.

Due to the incredible hype and tantalizing upside, you will undoubtedly have to reach for him if you want Zion on your fantasy squad. Last year, as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Deandre Ayton's average draft position was 37th overall. I suspect Zion's ADP will end up inside the top-30. In fact, as we get closer to the season, and the buildup gets ratcheted up even further, I suspect Zion will go in the late teens or early 20's in many drafts.

Ja Morant
The Memphis Grizzlies jumped all the way up to No. 2 overall, and it appears they already have their sights set on the young point guard out of Murray State. ESPN's Jonathan Givony tweeted on Wednesday that "Barring the unexpected, Memphis Grizzlies front office and ownership appear to have locked in on selecting Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and are informing parties in Chicago of such." 

Like Zion, Morant posted some phenomenal numbers on the collegiate level. Ja averaged a whopping 24.5 points and 10.0 assists per game, making him the first player to average 20/10 in a season since the NCAA began to officially recognize assists in 1983-84. Morant had 15 games this year with at least 20 points and ten assists. No other Division 1 player had more than three such games. And no other player in the country averaged more than 7.7 dimes. Morant's 331 total assists were the sixth-most in NCAA single-season history. He also averaged 1.8 steals and recorded an NCAA-leading three triple-doubles (including only the ninth in NCAA Tournament history). 

Memphis already has a terrific, veteran point guard on the roster in Mike Conley, but it appears that won't stop them drafting their PG of the future. Conley will turn 32 in October, and the rebuilding Grizzlies shopped him around the league at the trade deadline back in February, when they ended up trading away Marc Gasol. With Morant on deck, the Grizz will undoubtedly let other teams know that Conley, who has two years left on his current contract, is available for the right price. They'll have plenty of suitors. If Memphis does not find a package worth moving him for, they likely won't have a problem having him tutor Morant as a rookie. Conley is one of the more respected vets in the entire league and would be able to counsel young Morant both on and off the floor.  

In addition, according to Givony, "playing Conley and Morant together in a smaller backcourt until a suitable deal is found is a possibility the Grizzlies might explore to help ease the rookie's transition to the NBA." 

As far as projecting Morant's ADP in upcoming fantasy drafts, it's worth noting that Trae Young's average draft position last year was the late 70's/early 80's. I think Morant will likely end up in the same neighborhood, possibly a bit closer to 90th overall, due to the uncertainty surrounding his playing time. 

R.J. Barrett
Assuming Zion and Morant go off the board with the first and second picks, it will allow R.J. Barrett to fall into the Knicks lap at No. 3. 

While he may not have the quite the same upside as Williams or Morant, Barrett is baller capable of making an immediate impact. Barrett has a versatile, all-around game that will enable to contribute in multiple categories. Last season as a freshman, he averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. 

His 860 total points were the most ever by an ACC freshman and the second most by any Duke player in a single season in the school's history. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference, over the last 25 years, the only other freshman to score more than 850 points were Kevin Durant (2006-07), Michael Beasley (2007-08) and Trae Young (2017-18). And Barrett is the only underclassman in NCAA history to average more than 22 points, seven boards, four dimes and one made 3-pointer per game.

When it comes to predicting his production as an NBA rookie next season, there are many unknown variables to consider. If the Knicks do draft him, will he stay in New York? Or, might he be included in a package as part of an Anthony Davis deal. Barrett and Zion were roommates in college; bringing in players Williamson is comfortable around would be appealing to the Pelicans. 

If he stays in New York, who will he be playing alongside next season? According to many of league's most plugged-in reporters, it seems as though it's incredibly likely that Kevin Durant will sign with the Knicks in July. If KD heads to NYC, he is expected to bring another top-tier free agent with him. According to Stephen A. Smith, there's a "95 percent" chance both Durant and Kyrie Irving will sign with New York. If the KD constructs a #SuperTeam inside MSG, it will be difficult for Barrett to provide much in the way of counting stats. Durant and Irving have posted remarkably high usage percentages throughout their careers. 

If, for some reason, Durant decides to stay in Golden State or sign elsewhere, then the Knicks may choose to hoard their cap space and focus on a rebuild centered around Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. In such a scenario, Barrett would have a much clearer path to playing time and plenty of shot attempts. We'll have to wait to see how the offseason shakes out before making a firm prognostication. 

 

Tommy Beer