Any way you slice it, this is a savagely cruel game we play.
After the latest gut punch to fantasy squads — the ankle sprain to Nikola Vucevic (re-evaluated in 7-10 days, per the Orlando Sentinel) — I went ahead and pieced it together round-by-round, and there’s certainly a scenario where you could've drafted this team in fantasy:
Stephen Curry, Nikola Vucevic, De’Aaron Fox, D’Angelo Russell, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Derrick Favors, Zach Collins, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Huerter — and you have a squad where your first 10 picks are sitting there with an “O” or “INJ” next to their name.
And I haven’t even mentioned the suspended Deandre Ayton and John Collins, or the currently injured Kyrie Irving, but I don’t even need to. The fact is, we are just one month into the season (exactly one month today), and 2019-20 is already all about survival.
Given all the injuries, and how much everything has been tossed into turmoil, I thought now would be an excellent time to take a look at a new top-25 for 9-category leagues:
1. James Harden
I don't take much joy from watching him in real-life games — that’s just my personal preference/lack thereof — but it’s pretty difficult to argue with 38.4 ppg, 7.5 apg, 1.7 spg and 4.8 3s, regardless of the aesthetics involved. If this current scoring mark held, per Basketball Reference it would be the best for a season since Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63 (44.8 ppg), which is just insane.
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He’s averaging a career-high 26.0 ppg and a wild (for a big man) 3.9 treys, with 12.1 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.3 spg (also a career-high) and 1.5 bpg. Seeing what Harden and KAT are doing, it crushes me that I took Curry first overall in the Rotoworld league. Given his numbers the last time he played a season without Durant (30.1 ppg, 6.7 apg, 2.1 spg and 5.1 3s), it seemed like a good idea at the time. But enough about Steph! KAT is great and I’m happy for everyone who has him. No bitterness at all.
He’s currently sidelined with back spasms — presumably a short-term blip — and his season stats took a hit while he was trying to play through it. The back spasms reportedly struck when he played the Raptors last week, and prior to that game vs. Toronto, he was averaging 32.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.5 bpg and 3.8 3s on 49.8 percent from the field and 91.2 from the line with just 2.9 turnovers, a very respectable number for a high-volume dynamo. There are few players I’d rather have in fantasy going forward this season than Lillard. Specifically, there are two of them.
You can easily make a case for Davis anywhere in the top four, and for all the injury concerns, he has only missed one game this season. And prior to last season’s trade demand craziness when he played just 56 games, he played 75 games in each of the previous two years. He’s currently leading the league in blocks (3.1) while putting up 25.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.4 spg and 0.8 3s. It’s not as dominant an AD as we’ve seen in years past (rebounds, for example, are down three from last year’s 12.0), but in a season of complete chaos, this stat line will more than suffice.
5. Luka Doncic
I really didn’t believe he’d make this leap after his struggles with percentages (42.7 / 71.3) left him as the 100th-ranked player in 9-category leagues last year (per BasketballMonster.com), but make the leap he has. Doncic is averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games (31.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 10.5 apg, 1.1 spg and 3.3 3s), and we can live with the turnovers (4.8) when that and the lack of blocks (0.2) are really the only blemishes on a killer stat line. Congrats, Steve. You did it.
6. Paul George
Now things get interesting. Kyrie Irving is hurt. Jimmy Butler has been a top-10 value, but I’m hesitant to put him this high with his track record of missing so many games (has only played more than 70 games twice in his eight-plus years in the league). Enter Paul George, who has stepped on the court and immediately started crushing box scores after his shoulder surgery layoff, putting up 28.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg and 4.0 3s in just 28 minutes a game over his first four. He’s already putting up top-10 value in L.A., and the beautiful thing is he’s only going to get better as the steals ramp up. He averaged 2.2 of those per game last year.
7. LeBron James
Here’s the most glaring piece of evidence that bias against old dudes can go too far. Many of us (myself included) were hesitant to draft LeBron after his career-worst 55 games played last season and an uncharacteristically low fantasy ranking (No. 23 in 9-category leagues). He’s been a top-12 player so far while putting up 25.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 11.1 apg (career-high), 1.3 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.9 3s.
If I had told you just three years ago, when Drummond was shooting 38.6 percent from the line, that he might shoot 70 percent for a season one day in the near future, you’d have called me a maniac. But here we are. Contract-year Drummond is averaging career-highs of 18.6 ppg, 16.8 rpg, 3.1 apg and 2.1 bpg, adding 1.6 spg while shooting 69.4 percent from the line. He has also missed just 10 games total in the last six-plus years.
9. Jimmy Butler
Can’t let the aforementioned Butler fall any further than this. He’s putting up less than 20 ppg (specifically, 18.7) for the second consecutive season, but his supporting stats are carrying a lot of weight — with 5.7 rpg, 7.0 apg, 2.7 spg, 1.0 bpg and 0.8 3s through his first 10 games. As for the scoring, after a rare five-point game in his second outing of the season, he’s averaging 20.1 ppg so far in November. As long as he’s healthy, Butler in Miami will be a beast.
Here’s where I remind you that these rankings are based first and foremost on 9-category leagues. If you’re playing in a points league, there’s a strong case to take Giannis No. 1. That’s because one month into the season, he’s currently sitting at 30.1 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.3 3s. Those numbers are nothing short of very serious.
However, if you’re playing with FTs, you are punting that category whether you want to or not. So far this season, he’s shooting just 60.6 percent from the line on 11.3 attempts a game. For some perspective, that’s almost peak Dwight Howard territory (Dwight shot 57.9 percent on 10.8 attempts a game for a five-year span from 2007-2012). So, if you’re not actively punting free throws yet and you’ve got Giannis, you might as well get active with it. Time to trade for Rudy Gobert (63.5 percent), Ben Simmons (57.9) and Russell Westbrook (71.1), to name a few.
11. Bradley Beal
After a miserable shooting slump to start the year (30.6 percent on 24.0 attempts a game through his first three), Beal has shot 52.7 percent over his last nine games, putting up 33.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.0 spg and 3.1 3s, with 4.0 turnovers a game. He was a consensus top-10/top-12 pick coming into the year, and he’s reminding us why right now.
12. Kyrie Irving
Assuming that we don’t get some news that his shoulder injury is actually something significant, it’s hard to put even an injured Kyrie lower than this when he’s been the No. 6 player on a per-game basis so far this year (thanks to 28.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 7.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.5 bpg and 2.8 3s through his first 11 games). I didn’t draft him in any of my leagues for this exact reason, but I still rank him right around here because his ceiling when he’s on the floor is extremely high.