When I first started playing fantasy hoops — in a year known as “1997-98” — Scott Brooks and Nate McMillan were still playing in the NBA. Vince Carter was still at Chapel Hill, a year away from arriving in Toronto, and Trae Young was a few months away from being born when the season wrapped up.
Also: Seinfeld was in its final season, Armageddon and Deep Impact were thrilling us at box offices and Outkast released the album Aquemini.
So yes — as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been playing fantasy hoops a long time. And I recently ran into something I don’t think I’ve ever personally encountered, a very special kind of gut punch that you really can’t prepare for until it happens:
I lost in the fantasy playoffs on a tie.
That may not have been quite as dramatic a reveal as the setup suggested, but it was still a real shock to the system when it happened. I’m not sure how I dodged it all these years; probably just blind luck.
Either way, it was agonizing — “losing” 4-4-1 because I had less points scored than the other guy — which I guess brings me to my bigger point: For the majority of us, this is going to be (or already is) an irritating time of year. And that’s the reason I’m going to step away from what’s happening right now in our fantasy box scores, and start to plan ahead for next year. Today, I’ll release Phase 1 of the plan: A Bunch of Random Lists. Let’s get to it:
Five Guys I Refuse to Draft Next Year
First things first — writing “five guys” in any way, shape or form makes me crave a burger desperately.
Secondly, I think this first list is pretty self-explanatory. And I’m primarily doing it as a Memento-style tattoo, reminding myself not to make the same mistakes again...
1. Andrew Wiggins: I didn’t draft him anywhere this year, and watched from afar as others threw his horrible percentages (40.0 from the field, 69.0 from the line) into their lineups. He has the talent to absolutely explode one of these years, but I’ll happily miss out on it to avoid what’s more likely to be another colossal headache.
2. Kevin Love: I’m terrified I’ll get roped in again on draft day 2019, but please Matt, remember this: Love, as good as he is when on the court, is an injury-prone player on a terrible team and will be at or near the top of everyone else’s shutdown list so he’ll be very difficult to trade away in fantasy leagues.
3. Chris Paul: He’s heading into his age-34 season, and has missed 20-plus games for the third consecutive season. CP3 is more or less crushing it down the stretch (including 18.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 2.8 3s on 47.5 percent shooting his last five), but I know from experience this year that he’s become a player you draft — then immediately start scheming ways to trade him to someone else.
4. Ben Simmons: This is about the price. Simmons has been the No. 65 player in 9-category leagues (per BasketballMonster.com) this season — held back by 60.3 percent on free throws, 3.5 turnovers and zero made 3-pointers — and I imagine he’ll go way before the top 60 next year.
5. Luka Doncic: This is not about the player, but again about the price tag. Doncic is No. 103 overall as of this writing, and like Simmons, he’s shaky from the FT line (70.6) and in turnovers (3.4). Pair Simmons and Doncic together and you may have something in the form of an aggressive punt situation, but I will not be the one doing the pairing.
Five Players I Will Fight You For
1. Trae Young: On the one hand, this is a total homer pick. But it’s a homer pick with substance: the rookie has averaged 23.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 8.8 apg and 2.7 3s (and yes, 3.6 turnovers) over his last 25 games, and looks more and more like he’s well on his way to being unguardable.
2. DeMarcus Cousins: Considering the circumstances, it’s been a pretty spectacular comeback: 15.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.5 bpg and 0.7 3s in his first 22 games back. Next year, he’ll be even further down the road in his recover, and potentially on a team where he’s even more of a focal point. Yes, please.
3. John Collins: Collins made the colossal leap from 10.5 ppg / 7.3 rpg as a rookie to 19.5 ppg / 9.7 rpg this year. He lost ground in defensive stats (from 0.6 spg / 1.1 bpg to 0.4 spg / 0.5 bpg), but when you add in a spike in 3s (0.2 —> 0.9), and factor in the possibility that he goes back to blocking around one shot per game next year, the No. 47 overall player this year could fly toward the top 30.
4. Buddy Hield: His points-per-game year-by-year have gone from 10.6 to 13.5 to 20.8 in his first three years. I’m not sure how much longer he will ascend, but I don’t think 25+ ppg is out of the question at all next year.
5. Nikola Vucevic: I have a hunch (depending on where he plays) that I’ll be able to get him in drafts well outside the top 10, and if that’s the case, I’m taking a swing on Vuc again. He’s been close to a top-10 player all year (currently No. 12 overall), and the concerns that he might get dealt or shut down never materialized. At the start of next season, the concern might be “Well, how does he fit into his new team’s rotation, and will he have the same big role?” If that’s the case, I’ll happily take my Vuc discount yet again.
Five Random Breakout Candidates
1. Tomas Satoransky: Depending on what the Wizards do this offseason, Satoransky could easily begin next season in the same role he’s got right now, and since John Wall went down, the 27-year-old has put up 11.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.1 3s in 36 games.
2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: We’ve been seeing a hint of his potential lately (last 10 games — 14.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.5 3s on 55.7 percent shooting), and the 20-year-old could have a pretty exciting second season.
3. Jonathan Isaac: He did break out to some extent already, but he has cooled off a bit lately, which only helps make him more of a bargain next season.
4. Mikal Bridges: He surfaced as a reliable source of 3s and steals this season, but didn’t quite consistently put it together as a scorer. I can easily envision that happening next year, and Bridges only needs 10-15 ppg to be a dynamo given his contributions elsewhere.
5. Kevin Huerter: I promise this will be the last Hawks player I mention. Huerter has had his moments this season, and when you watch him play, it’s clear he just needs to get stronger, get more consistent, get more confident. I expect the rookie to take at least a small leap in his second year, and he’s got the all-around fantasy-friendly game to make an impact.
Three More Players I’m Excited to Draft
2. Marvin Bagley: Last 11 games — 20.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.0 bpg and 0.9 3s… on 55.9 percent from the field and 77.6 from the line. I put him very close to the “Players I Will Fight You For” plateau that I referenced above.
3. Kelly Oubre: The same is true for Oubre, who’s done for the year with a thumb injury, but closed out his season in somewhat spectacular fashion, throwing down 20.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.9 spg, 0.7 bpg and 1.7 3s over his final 15 games.
Three March All-Stars I Won’t Rush to Draft
1. Elfrid Payton: As spectacular as he’s been in counting stats (11.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 9.1 apg over his last 15 games), it’s basically been a perfect storm with all the chaos surrounding the Pelicans rotation. With Payton headed for free agency, his setup could be entirely different next year.
2. Jalen Brunson: I’m open to drafting the fast-emerging Brunson — 16.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.4 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.3 3s on 53.6 percent shooting his last 12 games — but his role could also look much different depending on what Dallas does this offseason. If he’s still the starting PG, you can count me in, and I bet he’s someone you’ll be able to get after the middle rounds.
3. Damyean Dotson: He’s been really good for the last five weeks (16.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.9 spg and 2.8 3s in his last 16 games), but an offseason in New York could bring a very hard reset for a bunch of players, so I’ll approach Dotson with caution heading into next year.
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Three Big Names I’ll Let Someone Else Take
This is different than the “Refuse to Draft” list above. I would potentially draft these guys if they fell a bit, but since they probably won’t, I’ll let someone else embark on a stressful but possibly rewarding journey with…
1. Joel Embiid: He’s having his healthiest year yet and has still missed 13 games. As good as he is when on the court, I don’t want this much risk rolled into my first-round pick.
2. LeBron James: I won’t put it past LBJ to prove us wrong, but it’s starting to feel like this year is the beginning of the end. He’ll be 35 in December, and I don’t plan for him to be on any of my rosters in 2019-20.
3. Kawhi Leonard: I will forever associate him with two words: “Load Management.” No thank you.
I snuck past Mike Gallagher last week, and am now against Rick Kamla in the semifinals of the 30-Deep league. I’m currently getting trounced 7-2, but am down by only one 3-pointer, five assists, four blocks, and 10 rebounds, so there’s still a chance to flip this box score upside down, something that the aforementioned Chris Paul and Clint Capela will attempt to do on Friday night. It would only be fitting if it somehow ended in a tie.