Fantasy basketball isn’t for everyone – some people prefer rooting for actual teams instead of imaginary ones. But, with the first two months of the season nearly finished, it’s time to look and see which players are benefiting their imaginary rosters the best.
I’ll list out a stud, a dud, and then a surprise player who is providing great value relative to draft position.
There are a few options to pick from for the stud point guard this year. Chris Paul has been consistent, Jrue Holiday started off hot but cooled down, and Kyrie Irving has played well when he hasn’t been out with an injury. The absence of Ricky Rubio and Derrick Rose meant some players had an opportunity to climb the ladder, but no one has done quite as well as my pick for point guard stud: Stephen Curry.
He’s rebounding well, has five games of double digit assists, has only scored in single digits three times, and is averaging almost 22 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds a game in December. The potential to be great was there in this fourth year guard, but injuries had robbed him of playing time. It looks like Marc Jackson and a return to health have been very beneficial for this player. Perhaps he has also benefited from the absence of Monta Ellis, who was traded to Milwaukee.
The fantasy dud is a player familiar to Utah fans: Deron Williams. A quick look at his stats wouldn’t be too damning, but based off of his expectation before the season, he’s dramatically under-performing. His shooting percentage, which was high for a guard while at Utah, has slipped to a career low. He is attempting the second most 3-pointers of his career, but converting at his lowest career percentage. If he was converting his attempts at career numbers, he’d be averaging 22 points a game – a career high. Instead he’s at 17 points per game, while averaging the lowest number of assists per game since his rookie year. If he doesn’t show improvement, it might be safe to label him as a system player. He is still a quality point guard, ranked in the top 15 for fantasy, but he is no where near producing at the level of a player selected, on average, with the fifth pick in the draft.
The surprise this season? It was a coin flip between Damian Lillard, who was touted preseason as a valuable pick despite being a rookie, and Kemba Walker, who has been surprisingly efficient after a horrible first year. The coin landed in favor of Walker, who had an average draft selection of 92, and is the sixth ranked point guard this season, with Lillard ranked number four. Both are having amazing seasons, and if they are on your roster, you have to be pleased with their production.
The fantasy stud at shooting guard has to be Kobe Bryant. I know, he was a high draft pick and the Lakers haven’t won many games. But in a fantasy basketball setting, he’s been far ahead of the competition. Love him or hate him, he’s leading the league in scoring with 29.5 points per game, at the highest shooting percentage of his career. He gets easy points at the free throw line, he makes three’s, and oh yeah, he scores almost 30 points a game. The fact that he’s doing this at age 34 is pretty remarkable.
The fantasy dud? Look no farther than Monta Ellis, the inhibitor to Steph Curry. What’s wrong with Ellis? He’s shooting at a poor rate, he’s not making three’s, but every other area has similar production? He was drafted around pick 30, but his value? He’s behind Jamal Crawford, Kevin Martin, and OJ Mayo, all players who joined new teams during the offseason but have flourished. I don’t want to say that the system is limiting him, because the Bucks have efficient scoring options in Ilyasova and Jennings, and Ellis should be scoring more often. I think he’s just on the decline, and isn’t as valuable of a scoring option as he used to be. I’d rather have Klay Thompson, his replacement at Golden State. At least Thompson is contributing three-pointers – Ellis is averaging less than one per game, Thompson is averaging 2.5.
The surprise player? I already mentioned his name, that’s right, it’s OJ Mayo. He was selected around pick 83 on average, but is the third best shooting guard this season, ahead of Andre Iguodala, Jamal Crawford, and Dwyane Wade. His 51 percent mark on 3-point attempts leads the league, ahead of personal favorite Steve Novak even. It is difficult to project how his production will be affected with the return of Dirk Nowitzki, but for now, enjoy the 20 points and 3 3-pointers per game.
This selection really depends on personal opinion. Do you value the extra assists from LeBron or do you like the higher shooting percentage from Durant? Durant’s accuracy led me to select him, and is consistent with my thinking that he is the best fantasy player in the game. Durant is just being ridiculous this season – he’s nearly in the 50-40-90 club (FG%, 3P%, FT%) and he’s third in the league in scoring. If you were lucky enough to have one of the top two picks, you have the best fantasy player in the game – sorry CP3 and Kobe.
The fantasy dud at small forward? Is Josh Smith a small forward? When the Hawks start Zaza, he technically is, so I’m going with him. Josh, you were a first round pick! Stop shooting jump shots and get to the rim! He’s just been bleh this season, and other than a big performance in a win against Memphis, has just been coasting. Al Horford has more double-doubles, and he’s not the most talented player on the roster. It’s really bad when Thaddeus Young is ranked twice as high as Smith – that’s called a draft bust.
The surprise this season? Nicolas Batum must have been sparked after the Olympics and the nut punch on Juan Carlos Navarro. He’s fresh off a 5×5 game (11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 steals), which is very rare and really efficient. His shooting percentage is a little down, but he’s scoring more and he has picked up the other elements of his game. That contract that he signed is starting to look like a solid deal for Portland, which isn’t a very good team right now past the starting five.
This was a difficult spot, because so many centers and small forwards qualify as power forwards. Yes, Carmelo is having a great year. So is Tim Duncan, and Al Jefferson. But they are not true power forwards. That designation goes to …. David Lee of the Golden State Warriors. He was drafted in the fourth round, but is in the top 15 overall for fantasy production. Lee is averaging a double-double for the first time in a Warrior uniform, and is playing really efficiently. The Warriors like to give him the ball and let him go to work, and he hasn’t disappointed. The blocks aren’t there, as Lee is a little vertically challenged when compared to other forwards like Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin, but blocks are easy to find.
The fantasy dud this season? Shame on those of you who invested in DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings are kryptonite to any player, and the music isn’t playing for Boogie like it did last year. It’s frustrating to watch a player with top 25 potential remove himself from games, and that’s a risk that comes with Cousins. He’s a talented player with a high ceiling, but in fantasy basketball, you can get similar production from Jason Thompson, who was undrafted in most leagues.
The surprise forward this season? Sideshow Bob, or Anderson Varejao for everyone else, has been a rebounding machine this season. Last year was the first season he averaged double digit boards, and this year he leads the league in rebounding. Want to know a crazy stat? Varejao is averaging almost one offensive rebound for every missed shot he takes – as of 12/17, he had 144 missed shots with 135 offensive boards. If you grabbed Andy around the eighth round, you have to be pleased with his production. I traded Pau Gasol for Varejao in the second week of the season, and now I lead my league in rebounds. Coincidence? I think not.
The fantasy stud for this position is the Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan. Who would have thought that he would lead the position in production at this stage in his career? He’s fifth in the league in blocks, and is at number nine in rebounds per game. Yes, there are going to be games where Timmy sits out to get rest, but when he plays, he’s producing at a great level. He is also not going to hurt you with poor shooting or turnovers, a blessing of experience at a position with a lot of turnover prone players.
I’m choosing Andrea Bargnani as a fantasy dud, because it’s so easy to show how bad of a draft pick he was. He’s a poorer version of Brook Lopez, which is an insult to all centers who can’t rebound. Kevin Love has more rebounds in 11 games than Bargnani has in 21 – just unacceptable production from the Italian. He rebounds the ball at a worse rate than Steph Curry, if that provides perspective. I’ve tried to avoid players limited by injury, but Bargnani was taken, on average, in the sixth round. When he played, he wasn’t producing, and now he is out with elbow and wrist injuries – probably sustained when he flops to the floor to try to draw a foul. I need a mint to get the foul taste out of my mouth.
The surprise center this season? Larry Sanders, who has come from deep on the Milwaukee bench to averaging 3.0 blocks per game, at a rate higher than Serge Ibaka. He’s not going to provide double digit scoring each night, but since his 10 block performance against Minnesota, has averaged 8 points, 8 boards, and nearly 4 blocks a game. He was an undrafted player, and Scott Skiles could bury him on the bench in favor of Ekpe Udoh or John Henson, but for now, enjoy the Larry Sanders swatfest as he blocks 10 percent of the shots taken when he is on the floor.
Feel free to laugh at my team. I’m in a few head to head leagues, and I built this team around 3-point shooting, free throw percentage, points, and assists. I’m in fourth place, in part to holding onto Rubio and then watching Lowry sit out with injuries. I named it Olympic Justice after taking Nicolas Batum, who won me over with the anti-flop statement against Spain. Laugh away.
All stats are courtesy of basketball-reference, ESPN, or the NBA.