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Five NBA draft-day targets

by Steve Alexander
Updated On: May 5, 2020, 3:15 pm ET

As we await word on when we might see our beloved NBA back in action, I plan on doing a weekly ‘Fantasy Five’ column, hitting on five players in various categories. This week features five players I plan to target heavily in all my drafts next season. Here they are, assuming we have drafts this fall. Follow me on Twitter right here!

1. Luka Doncic – Yeah, I know. He wasn’t as great as I was hoping he’d be this season, but he wasn’t exactly bad, either. And just like Trae Young, who actually had a higher Basketballmonster ranking than Luka did, he’s young and is still learning how to play in the NBA. On a per-game basis, Luka sits at No. 24 in the rankings with turnovers, a lack of blocks and shooting percentages all holding him back slightly. While he’s still helping me beat Matt Stroup in our infamous “shirzee bet” that requires Luka to hit at least 75% of his free throws in order for me to win a shirzee. Right now he’s at 75.2% from the line, so I’m just a couple Luka misses away from owing Stroup a shirt. I’m not sure if he is still interested that being the shirzee of Danuel House, but we’ll cross that bridge when we hopefully don’t come to it.

In points leagues Luka should be good to go and came through despite the 13 missed games with his lingering ankle problems last season. One of the points teams that was led by Luka and Trae Young is the No. 1 seed in our playoffs and it’s a pretty deep industry league. He’s a better points-league player than eight- or nine-cat at this point in his career, but I still contend that the free throws and turnovers will look better over each of the next couple years. And yes, the turnovers are a problem, as he currently sits at 4.2 for the season. I’m fine with the 46.1 field goal percentage and he’s nearly averaging a triple-double with 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.9 3-pointers per game. As I mentioned earlier, the blocks are non-existent and the 1.1 steals could be a lot better, but I don’t know that he’ll ever excel in either category. 

As you probably saw, I took Luka at No. 2 in a “way too early mock draft” we had and he’s going to go somewhere between No. 2 and No. 10 in most leagues this season, regardless of the scoring system. And just like this year, if you’re in a league with me next season you might have to fight me for him. 

2. Trae Young

I had the opportunity and luck to land both Luka and Trae in several leagues this season, but that is probably officially a thing of the past over the next 10 years or so. I have to eat some crow here as I was one of the most vocal opponents of the draft-day trade of Luka for Trae a couple years ago in real life, as I was convinced that Luka was the next LeBron and that Trae would struggle in the NBA. I was wrong and I’m now back fully on board with Trae. And for good reason. 

He currently sits as the No. 17 player on Basketballmonster and was having a fantastic season, averaging 29.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 3.4 3-pointers. Like Luka, his lack of blocks and steals (1.1) combined with high turnovers (4.8) will continue to be an issue, but the 43.7% shooting from the floor and 86% shooting from the line work very nicely with the other things he does. And if you throw free throw shooting out of the equation, Luka jumps up to No. 16, while Trae tumbles to No. 42 overall. And the bottom line is that Luka’s 75% shooting from the line isn’t going to hurt most teams that badly, but it also shows how much free throw shooting impacts players in the ranking systems. 

Trae still takes a few 3-pointers too early in the shot clock for my liking, but I’m done arguing about it. He’s so good that he’s pretty much earned the right to shoot them whenever he wants. The point guard tiers drop off sharply once the studs are off the board early so I’m all about getting Trae or Luka in the first rounds of all my drafts next season. But sadly, they won’t be fantasy teammates in most leagues unless yours uses an auction draft format. And if that’s the case, you’re not going to have a ton of money to play with if you buy these two studs early. Trae should be a Top 10 pick in all formats this season and could go as high as 2-5 in some leagues.  

3. Lonzo Ball

Ball was cruising as the season was shut down and currently sits at No. 70 in eight-cat rankings this season. He’s averaging 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.5 3-pointers on 41.2% shooting, while hitting just 56.7% of his free throws. His turnovers are an acceptable 3.1 per game, which is better than both Trae and Luka and played in 56 of New Orleans’ 64 games this season. 

As I mentioned, he was rolling before the shutdown, averaging 15.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.8 blocks and was shooting 47.6% from the floor and 46.7% from downtown in the nine games after the All-Star break. His free throws are still a disaster, but it was fun seeing him get hot from downtown. He was the No. 15 ranked player over those final nine games, with the poor free throw shooting included, and jumps up to No. 8 over that period if you throw out the free throws. And if you throw them out for the season, he jumps from No. 70 up to No. 50 for the season. He should be a fun free throw-punt player next season and we were just seeing him start to blossom as Zion Williamson made his debut and the Pelicans started playing much better over their last 13 games of the year. 

I got Ball with the 47th pick in the mock draft I mentioned earlier and I kind of felt like I stole him there. You’ll probably have to target him between 35 and 45 if you want him next season and, obviously, free throws are going to continue to be an issue for him. But he’s still young and learning, and I fully expect him to continue to improve going forward. 

4. Christian Wood

Wood showed several signs of greatness this season and currently ranks as the 117th player in eight-cat leagues. He’s averaging 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.9 3-pointers on the season. But keep in mind he played just 15 minutes per game in October and 14 minutes in November before peaking at 31.2 minutes in February and a whopping 37 minutes in his five March games. Seeing Andre Drummond shipped to the Cavaliers did wonders for Wood’s fantasy value and he became one of the pickups of the season. 

Over his last nine games after the All-Star break, Wood was officially killing it, sitting at No. 20 in the rankings and averaging 24 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.6 3-pointers, hitting 57.1% of his shots and 76.4% of his free throws. 

He’s still young and a bit raw, but the sky’s the limit and he should be one of the more exciting young players in the league going forward. Wood went with the No. 72 pick in our early draft and Tommy Beer likely got a steal getting him that late. He’s a guy you won’t want to forget about on draft night as he’ll likely be listed too low in most league site’s draft rankings. If you want Wood you should probably plan on grabbing him in Round 5 of 12-team leagues.  

5. Aaron Gordon

Gordon is another guy who was on fire as the season came to a halt and he currently sits at No. 126 in eight-cat rankings for the season. However, after the All-Star break he ranks at No. 35, racking up 15.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, a whopping 6.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 47.7% from the field and 67.6% from the free throw line. 

Over the course of the entire season, those numbers drop to 14.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.2 3-pointers with just 1.6 turnovers per game. He’s shooting a career-low 43.3% from the field this season and just 67.5 from the line, which are two of his major issues. I know the crazy assists he was putting up late in the season won’t last, but they were at least a very encouraging sign. Hopefully he’s been working on his free throw stroke during hiatus. Then again, it’s also possible that he’s been blowing off free throw practice to work on his rap/diss game, as evidenced by this video

Gordon should be there in Rounds 5 or 6 in most leagues this season and if he can continue to dish the ball out, he’s going to be fun to own.

Steve Alexander

Steve "Dr. A" Alexander is the senior editor for the NBA for NBC Sports Edge and a contributor to NBCSports.com. The 2020-21 NBA season marks (at least) his 20th year of covering fantasy hoops for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter - @Docktora.