We spent much of the early part of this season worrying about them. Have they lost a step? Did I overrate them? Is the new team a bad fit? Am I actually awful at fantasy basketball?
Finally, in early December, a number of big-name players are emerging from somewhat insufferable early-season slumps. Let’s break down five of them case-by-case:
1. The Case of Kyle Lowry
Early Struggles: 11.9 ppg, 0.7 spg, 37.6 percent shooting through his first nine games (ranking in 9-category leagues at the time: No. 88)
Recent Surge: 20.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 7.8 apg, 1.2 spg and 4.1 3s on 50.4 percent shooting his last 10 games
What It Means: Kyle Lowry, top-10(ish) stalwart, is back. Remember, his ranking in 9-category leagues the last four years goes like this: 17, 31, 11, 12. This year, he’s at 23rd overall after this recent run, and during this recent run, he’s been fifth overall. On Thursday at the Rotoworld Roundtable, we re-drafted our top 12 based on what has happened this season. Lowry didn’t make my revised top 12, but only because I ran out of room (read: I am mesmerized by the recent play of Victor Oladipo). However, after a maddening early-season absence, it’s quite clear that Lowry is back on the dance floor (whatever that means).
2. The Case of Jimmy Butler
Early Struggles: 15.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.8 spg and 0.7 3s on 39.7 percent shooting in his first 12 games (9-category ranking during that stretch: No. 50)
Recent Surge: 22.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.9 spg and 1.6 3s on 49.5 percent shooting in his last 12 games
What It Means: A tale of two dozens. And speaking of 12’s, that’s exactly where I ranked Butler in my revised first round. But let’s rewind for a second… Heading into the season, Butler was consistently going outside the first round — he went as early as 15th and as late as 22nd in my leagues. I guess that was because he was moving to Minnesota, and people weren’t sure how he’d fit in with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. Or it was just fascination with other rising players (Nikola Jokic etc) that pushed Butler down in drafts. Whatever the case, we all underestimated him. Butler has ranked No. 8, No. 15 and No. 10 overall in 9-category leagues the last three seasons, and he’s once again cruising toward a finish in the top-10 vicinity. Along these lines, it should be noted that because of the slow start he’s still ranked No. 27 on the season, so if there’s any way to capitalize on that in your leagues, and somehow get Butler in a deal from someone who sees him as more of a top-20/top-25 option, I would advise taking advantage immediately.
3. The Case of Jamal Murray
Early Struggles: 11.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.7 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.1 3s on 40.3 percent shooting in his first 12 games (9-category ranking during that stretch: No. 187)
Recent Surge: 17.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.8 3s on 45.0 percent shooting in his last 12 games
What It Means: I really didn’t set out to hand-pick these streaks by sets of 12, but SO BE IT. As for Murray, in some ways he is still a bit disappointing due to low assist and steal numbers, but at least he has finally re-emerged as a valid fantasy starter, checking in as the No. 88 player in 9-category leagues over his last dozen. As for those assists, even though he’s still only 20 years old, it sure is starting to look like Murray is a fantasy PG with a limited ceiling. In 106 career games, Murray has topped six assists just one time. So for the moment, I can’t really picture him climbing much higher than the 75 range. The good news is, he got our expectations really low early on, so at least this recent surge feels like tremendous progress.
4. The Case of Chris Paul
Early Struggles: Missed 14 of his first 15 games.
Recent Surge: 14.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 10.1 apg, 2.0 spg, 2.4 3s and just 1.9 TOs in eight games since returning
What It Means: His scoring has been down early on playing alongside James Harden, but it just doesn’t matter. This edition of CP3 is still a dominant fantasy option, and one that easily could have — maybe should have — made my updated top 12. In three weeks since returning from injury, he’s been the No. 6 player in 9-category leagues. Also, he has posted 21 and 18 points in his last two games, so his scoring may still climb into the 18 range in the long run.
5. The (Strange) Case of Russell Westbrook
Early Struggles: 19.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 10.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 5.0 TOs, 41.3 FG, 57.6 FT in his first 11 games (9-category ranking during that stretch: No. 145)
Recent Surge: 25.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 9.2 apg, 2.3 spg, 2.1 3s and 4.8 TOs in his last 13 games
What It Means: This is a strange case for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a rare player who can be almost averaging a 20-10-10 triple-double and somehow rank No. 145 overall for that same stretch. Now he has upgraded it to a near 26-10-10 triple-double, and guess what? Because of continued poor shooting (39.5 percent his last 13 games) and typically lofty turnovers, he’s still just the No. 23-ranked player during that run. Now normally I would have no issues with top-25 value, but again — this is what makes Westbrook weird. He’s providing that value by putting up huge numbers in five categories (points/boards/assists/steals/3s), while being a complete team-killer in two others (FG percentage and TOs). You might be able to build a team that can win with Westbrook in a 9-category league, but I think it takes a really carefully-constructed roster to do so.
Now, a bonus … and a player who’s going the opposite direction…
6. The Case of Evan Fournier
Early Surge: 21.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.3 spg and 2.8 3s on 54.5 percent from the field and 96.3 from the line in his first nine games
Recent “Struggles”: 16.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 0.9 spg and 2.0 3s on 43.9 percent from the field in his last 17 games
What It Means: Early on, it looked like Fournier, at age 25, was finally making a major leap from decent fantasy option to outstanding one. The reality is, in basically two-thirds of his games this season, his stat line has really closely resembled what he did last year (17.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.9 3s on 43.9 percent from the field). Also, now he’s injured. Ultimately, you’re not in a bad spot if you didn’t sell high early on — Fournier should still be useful — but at this point I’ll be surprised if the joyous times of his early-season run return.
Other Random Thoughts: We have some major signs of life from Markieff Morris, who’s at 15.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 0.8 spg, 2.0 bpg and 1.8 3s in his last four games. … Meanwhile, Otto Porter has shot a maddening 3-of-17 in his last two games, so you may have a small buy-low window on a top-20 player. … Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has exactly one 3-pointer, one steal, one block and three assists in each of his last two games (posting 16.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg and 1.0 3s). He hasn’t torn the roof off so far this season (No. 92 overall), but I really like his potential to climb the rankings in the months ahead.