If your fantasy teams are active heading into April, you're either battling for a championship or grinding to move up the standings in a roto league. Either way, congratulations are in order. The chaos of the season's final weeks is hard to overstate. We've already seen star players on precautionary minute-limits (Anthony Davis and LeBron James), star players resting with frequency (Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving) and unlikely veterans emerging with steady value (Robin Lopez, Pat Beverley). It's not easy to build a roster that can withstand the rigors of the regular season without collapsing in the final weeks.
There have been tons of interesting stories that brought us here, of course, and today's column will discuss both extremes – players whose fantasy stock either improved or declined in 2018-19. This isn't a comprehensive list and there aren’t any one-size-fits-all criteria for success or failure, but the players below jumped out at me. We'll begin with the Eastern Conference! When applicable, players are listed on their current team, not where they began the year. This isn't a comprehensive list, of course, and I'm curious to know who you thought gained or lost the most fantasy stock this season. If certain players stand out for you, let me (@Knaus_RW) and the Rotoworld hoops community (@Rotoworld_BK) know about it on Twitter!
Nikola Vucevic – Vuc will be on a ton of championship teams this season. He had an average draft position (ADP) of 56.0 on Yahoo, putting him in the early fifth round. That was right around Gordon Hayward, DeAndre Jordan, Will Barton and Ricky Rubio. He's smashed that valuation with career-high numbers in almost every category – scoring (20.7 points per game), rebounds (12.1), assists (3.9) and blocks (1.1). He's also hitting 1.0 triples with 1.0 steals, while committing a modest 2.0 turnovers. That's given him first-round value on a per-game basis, but this is where it gets better. He's missed one game all season and despite being an initial 'shutdown candidate', Orlando's ongoing chase of the No. 8 seed has him smashing for fantasy owners at the most critical time of the fantasy schedule. He'll be an unrestricted FA this summer and I'm hoping he re-ups with the Magic and coach Steve Clifford.
Trae Young – It's not easy for rookies to make the list but I'll have at least two from the Eastern Conference alone. Before the season, outlooks for Young were somewhat mixed. An undersized guard whose extreme shooting range fell off later in the season for Oklahoma in 2017-18. Would he be able to create space against aggressive perimeter defense? Was he a savvy enough passer to punish double-teams? After a slow start, he's answered a resounding 'yes' to those questions and more, with post-break averages of 25.0 points (44.9% FGs, 89.0% FTs), 2.8 triples, 8.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.1 blocks. He's a turnover machine and may never be a great source of defensive stats, but everything else makes him look like a lock for the early-middle rounds next year. If he can rack up top-40 roto value over a five-week span near the end of his rookie season, what's to stop him as a second-year player?
Jeremy Lamb – Few players have received less hype than Jeremy Lamb this season, on account of his steady-on production that rarely makes headlines. He's scored 30+ points just once this season, and even his six double-doubles have been too spaced out to raise eyebrows. Nevertheless, he's playing at a career-best level in his age-26 season and should be a solid mid-round value for at least a few more prime years. I'm encouraged by his across-the-board contributions, offensive efficiency, low turnovers, and ability to put up stats in limited minutes – he's averaging just 28.9 minutes per game, while splitting his time between starting and being a sixth man. Lamb is also an unrestricted free agent this summer and any team that pays for him will likely play him closer to 30+ minutes.
Marcus Smart – I'll admit to giving up on Smart. For a few years, I'd crossed my fingers that offseason chatter about his improved 3-point shooting would translate to the regular season. It didn't happen, and I wrote off the possibility of Smart being more than a steals specialist with decent supporting stats, but also the threat of tanking your percentages. He's still most valuable for those swipes, with a career-high 1.8 per game, but he's adding 8.9 points, 1.6 triples, 3.0 boards, 4.1 assists and 0.4 blocks without killing your efficiency. He's hitting career-best numbers from the field (42.3%) and downtown (36.3%), while making an impressive 80.2% of his freebies. His turnovers are also way down, from 2.4 last season to 1.5 this season. He has guaranteed money through 2021-22 and should be a big part of the rotation for as long as he's still in Boston. Having renewed my faith in his roto upside, I'm back on board with him in the 80-100 range.
D'Angelo Russell – Russell's emergence as a legitimate start has been one of my favorite stories this year. I really paid attention when coach Kenny Atkinson benched him down the stretch of a few games early in the season. Rather than pout to the media or publicly question Atkinson's decisions, Russell took it in stride and got better. He's had a few one-man-show moments to carry the Nets to a win, or shoot them into a loss, but overall he's done a great job balancing his scoring and playmaking. He's still hurting owners with 43.3% shooting on high-volume attempts, as well as 3.1 turnovers per game, but everything is gold – 20.9 points, 2.8 threes, 3.7 boards, 7.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks. Most of those numbers are career highs, and there's no reason this breakout campaign can't be sustained for years to come.
Pascal Siakam – The front-runner for Most Improved Player has taken his game to another level this season. I knew he was a defensive menace who could play multiple positions, hit the boards, and knock down open jumpers. I did not realize that he was such a capable ball-handler, or that he was malleable enough to thrive in almost any five-man unit coach Nick Nurse wants to deploy. He's shown all of that and more while piling up top-40 fantasy value (9-cat) with just one missed game all season. If you look at him on a cumulative basis, he's flirting with top-20. Having established himself as an early-round player with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, I can't help but wonder what he might do if Kawhi leaves and he takes on the mantle of 'go-to guy'.
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Collin Sexton – Another rookie PG from the Eastern Conference who has gotten stronger as the season progressed. He's sitting on post-break averages 20.7 points on 47.9% shooting with 45.8% from deep, 2.7 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 0.5 steals. He's averaging almost 34 minutes and there's no reason he can't build on those numbers next season. The next step for Sexton will be contributing more boards, dimes and defensive stats – that's a big hole in his fantasy resume, but then again he's 20 years old. His shot selection has improved by leaps and bounds, he's traded in long 2-point attempts for 3-pointers, and he recently became the first rookie since Tim Duncan to score 23+ points in seven straight games. Not too shabby.
Bojan Bogdanovic – Victor Oladipo's brutal quad tear opened the Pacers' offense for secondary players like Bojan to get their numbers. The key for Bogdanovic has been ramping up his volume (17.9 points on 12.8 shot attempts) without sacrificing efficiency (49.9% FGs, 80.9% FTs). The scoring and FG% are both career highs, as are his rebounds (4.1), assists (1.9) and steals (0.8). He's also a terrific 42.3% from deep this season but has shown the ability to drive the ball when defenders close out too hard. One caveat which I must mention, because it fascinates me...Bojan hasn't blocked a single shot in 2,349 minutes on the court this season. Not even one. That hasn't prevented him from holding top-100 roto value (top-80 since the break), but it's something to keep in mind on draft day.
Quick Hit Winners...
Miles Bridges - A late-season surge with Charlotte emphasizing the young guys has paid off for owners who scooped him up.
Bradley Beal - He rose to the occasion as a go-to star after John Wall's absence, propelling plenty of his fantasy owners to the playoffs. Wall's return date is opaque, too, so maybe Beal will have the team to himself to begin the 2019-20 season.
Robin Lopez - Not that anyone will draft him next year, of course, but RoLo does deserve credit for contributing top-100 value ever since the All-Star break.
Brook Lopez - Both Lopez brothers got it done this season. Brook's transformation into a 3-point assassin is complete and he made more triples this season than any seven-footer in NBA history. Add in a terrific 2.2 blocks per game, with 12.5 points, 4.8 boards, 0.6 steals, excellent percentages and almost no turnovers...yeah, it was a good year to own BroLo.
Jabari Parker - He could be listed in both categories, actually...he dropped off a cliff with the Bulls but has seen his fantasy stock rise with the Wizards. Despite coming off the bench in D.C., he's averaging a solid 14.7 points on 53.4% shooting, 1.0 triples, 7.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks. The FG%, boards, assists and blocks are all career highs, and he's doing it in 27.5 minutes per game.
D.J. Augustin - This may be a highwater mark for Augustin, but it was fun to watch. I had little faith in Augustin, assuming that Orlando would replace him mid-season and/or tank late in the year and shut down veterans. Neither of those happened, and DJA has cruised along with late-round value – he's been even better in recent weeks, racking up points and dimes with elite efficiency.
Mitchell Robinson - I'd write more about him, but this column is going too long already! Suffice to say, his per-36-minute numbers are ridiculous and I think he'll be the blocks leader next season at age 21. That's not a 'hot take', at all, it's just logical – he's already averaging 2.4 swats in just 19.0 minutes this season. Rotoworld will be hyping him up all summer long, to the point that I doubt you'll get him outside of the top-40.
Kyle Lowry – This is a bit harsh, since Lowry has been steady while on the court this season. My issue is that he's already missed 14 games due to injury, and has a back injury which he's admitted is "the same thing [he's] always had ... a sore back. No disc problems, no bulging disc ... It’s just the wear and tear that we have as basketball players ... it’s just an all year type of thing, rest of the season, because, you know it’s long term." He's 33 years old and it's hard for me to envision his DNPs decreasing the next few years, even if he does maintain the same per-game statistical output. Even in the 35-40 range, I'll be very wary of him.
Caris LeVert – Again, this feels mean-spirited since LeVert's season was dramatically interrupted by a dislocated right foot in mid-November. It's amazing that he returned to the court at all this season, but most of his fantasy owners probably wish he'd stayed on the sidelines. Here are his splits from before and after the injury:
Decreased playing time is obviously part of the issue, and some rust was to be expected, but LeVert's biggest issue has been the nosedive in FG%. With his scoring slashed in half and far fewer triples, boards and steals, he's been a liability since his return. I'm not saying I won't draft him next year – he's 24 years old and I expect him to be a big part of the Nets' attack next season. And if you want to target him aggressively, this could work to your favor – he'll be available later in drafts due to the injury and subsequent decline in stats.
Tyreke Evans – Not that anyone was expecting a big year from Tyreke, necessarily, but he was a popular late-round flier after a mini-renaissance with Memphis last season. Instead of a reliable sixth-man with strong counting stats, we've seen Evans struggle without the ball in his hands as often as he's used to having it. A few minor injuries have taken their toll, as have off-court personal issues, and every time Tyreke seems like he's heating up, he cools off just as quickly. It's hard for me to believe he's still 29 years old, since he strikes me as a 35-year-old nearing the end of his career. He was on my 'do not draft' list last summer, and should be on almost everyone's list next year.
Kevin Love – This almost goes without saying. Love only played in a few games before requiring left toe surgery, and he sat out from late October through early February. Since returning, he's been a strong source of points, boards and 3-pointers, as well as elite FT% (93.2% on 5.2 attempts), but that hardly matters since he's appeared in 20 games all season. He'll turn 31 years old next year and is no stranger to injuries, having missed a total of 100 games (and counting) over the past three seasons. The Cavs will be extra cautious with him and even if he stays healthy, they could eventually rest him just to tank – it's not like they're poised to contend within the next few years. The final issue is that Love's fantasy owners can't expect a change of scenery – he's owed an average of $30 million through 2022-23, fully guaranteed, in a contract that appears unmovable. I'll let someone else gamble on Love next year.
Hassan Whiteside – Whiteside's fantasy owners have themselves to blame. We came into this season with the potential of a trade looming over Whiteside, and the knowledge that he's clashed repeatedly with coach Erik Spoelstra for years. Bam Adebayo is the ascendant talent at the center spot in Miami, Kelly Olynyk is more than serviceable, and the results have been disappointingly predictable – flashes of Whiteside's enormous upside, followed by random duds and sharply curtailed playing time. The most recent incarnation of his inconsistency is a bench role behind the Bam/Olynyk frontcourt, and in 12 games off the bench he's averaging 9.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.2 steals. All of this, on top of the fact that he can destroy your FT% at a moment's notice – he's 45.3% from the line on 3.5 attempts per game, placing him dead-last in the NBA for weighted FT%. He's just below guys like Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond and Ben Simmons, but lacks the consistent stat-stuffing that buoys those guys in fantasy leagues. If it's not clear, I want nothing to do with Whiteside next season.
Josh Richardson - Don't get me wrong, Richardson has been fine. He's stayed healthy while playing 35.0 minutes per game, and he's chipped in 16.7 points, 2.3 triples, 3.6 boards, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals. Those are good numbers! He's an ace from the FT line, too, but his value has been dragged down by 41.2% shooting and a surprisingly low 0.5 blocks per game – this was a guy who publicly declared last year that he wanted to set a record for blocks by a guard. I drafted him in the hopes of getting a top-35 player in the 50-60 range, but instead I've settled for oscillating in the middle rounds. Not terrible, but not good enough to sustain J-Rich's image as a can't-miss roto stud.
Jimmy Butler – I was sour on Jimmy as soon as he started an awkward 'holdout' during training camp. I can understand posturing for leverage, even if we rarely see such blatant examples in the NBA. But he opted to call out his younger teammates, repeatedly, and burned his bridges in Minnesota before the season even began. His early-season numbers were decent...and then the other shoe dropped. Landing in Philly ostensibly gave Butler what he wanted – a playoff-hungry franchise with plenty of talent and a strong work ethic. He must be chafing at his reduced role, though, and fantasy owners certainly haven't benefited – his averages of 18.8 points, 0.9 threes, 5.7 FT attempts, 5.2 boards and 4.1 assists are all Butler's lowest since 2014-15 with Chicago. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are under contract next season, of course, so if Butler stays in Philly he's likely to remain option 2b on offense.
Evan Fournier - Orlando coach Steve Clifford touted Fournier throughout the offseason, preseason and training camp. He declared Fournier one of the primary options offensively, with Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, and it seemed the 26-year-old could have a breakout year with the ball in his hands more often than not. Instead, Fournier has put together another modest season with 14.9 points, 3.2 boards, 3.7 dimes, 0.9 steals and a mixed bag offensively (43.1% FGs, 81.1% FTs). The sample size is large enough that I think we've seen Fournier's ceiling – he's a potential top-75 guy who I'm comfortable taking in the 8th round or later, but that's it.
Quick Hit Losers...
Victor Oladipo - He wasn't exactly lighting up fantasy leagues prior to his injury, and the quad tear throws his 2019-20 season into uncertainty. He should be cleared to play, but we don't know when...or how long it might take for him to reclaim his pre-injury form.
Aaron Gordon - Nikola Vucevic has enjoyed his best NBA campaign to date, racking up early-round fantasy value to the delight of his owners. Meanwhile, Gordon has languished due to modest supporting stats (0.8 blocks, 0.6 steals) with low efficiency (42.3% FGs, 71.4% FTs, 2.3 turnovers). Like Blake Griffin, for instance, he's better in points leagues.
Kevin Knox - The rookie has had his opportunities in 28.2 minutes per game, but he's connected on just 36.9% of his 12.0 shot attempts. He's also had a mere 1.0 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.3 blocks, so there's a ton of work to be done for fantasy purposes. He's just 19 years old, of course, but I'm still not touching him next season.
That's all for this week ... there are dozens of additional players we can discuss in the East, for better or worse. If you have questions, comments or insights just send me a message on Twitter. Check back next week for a look at 'Risers and Fallers' in the Western Conference!