Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.
(Yep, I just dropped a Chinese proverb, so y’all know this article is about to go next level…)
I’ve always found it fun to read – and write – some of the more unconventional or against-the-grain prognostications for the upcoming fantasy basketball season, and it can be a gas to revisit them at various points throughout the year to see if they’re gaining any traction or skidding wildly off the road. It probably goes without saying, but the bolder (see: nuttier) the prediction, the less likely it is to bear fruit. So the intent here is to provide an unpopular – but not unrealistic – take on a player that may actually help you during your fantasy draft. You’re likely to disagree with most (they’d be the consensus if you didn’t) but if I can hit on one akin to last year’s “take a late-round swing at Rudy Gobert and hold him until starter minutes come available,” it can be a season defining gamble. So pick your favorite(s) and let’s go diving for pearls together! (Man, that is without a doubt the least cool analogy I’ve ever come up with. But it’s a call-back to the opening line which I thought was kinda clever, so I’m gonna own it.)
Prepare the hot takes cannon as we fire off 30 bold fantasy basketball predictions (one for each NBA team) for the 2015/2016 season:
ATLANTA HAWKS – Al Horford will post first round fantasy value. The Hawks will follow up a stellar 2014-15 season with a good, but not great campaign that doesn’t afford them the luxury of limiting the minutes (and games played) of their studs. Horford will bounce back up to 32-33 MPG and ride new contributions from behind the arc to a top-12 finish.
BOSTON CELTICS – Tendinitis, shmendinitis. Isaiah Thomas will lead the team in minutes per game, but he’ll do so coming off the bench behind Marcus Smart. IT2/3 will parlay his floor time into a second place finish in Sixth Man of the Year voting while providing fantasy owners with a top-40 asset. (That’s technically three predictions. You’re welcome.)
BROOKLYN NETS – Thomas Robinson will be worth owning in 12-team leagues as early as December. T-Rob will be a strong streaming option for owners in need of rebounds and by the All-Star break (in Toronto!) be owned in over 50% of Yahoo! leagues.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS – Frank “The (S)Tank” Kaminsky will be averaging less than 20 MPG as a borderline rotation player by February. After getting abused early and posting some awful +/- numbers, the playoff-hopeful Hornets will lean towards more reliable options in Cody Zeller and Spencer Hawes down the stretch. Kaminsky won’t be worth a roster spot with value outside the top-200.
CHICAGO BULLS – Preseason sensation (and draft day steal), Bobby Portis will finish the season with higher per-game value than both Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. Whether due to injury, trade or ineffectiveness, new coach Fred Hoiberg will turn away from his veterans in favor of the rook and Portis will find his way to a top-100 per-game fantasy ranking.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS – LeBron James will finish the year outside the top-20 in total value and top-12 in per-game value. He will play fewer than 65 games, will average the lowest minutes of his career (currently sitting at 36.1), and after a monstrous season from both Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, will no longer be regarded as the consensus “best player on the planet.” (Disclaimer: I loathe LeBron. I hate him with a fiery passion typically reserved for crying babies…on a trans-Atlantic red-eye flight…after my iPod and media console have broken and I have no way to drown out the sound…and I have to work the next morning… So this prediction is emotionally-fueled. Just thought you should know.)
DALLAS MAVERICKS – Short & sweet: the Mavs won’t have a single top-50 player on their roster. (Insert the “move along, nothin’ to see here” emoji.)
DENVER NUGGETS – Both Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Jokic will finish the season with better fantasy value than Jusuf Nurkic. Why? (I’m glad you asked.) Cascade effect – King Joffrey and the Joker both exceed expectations in the opening month of the season. Nurk rushes his recovery out of fear for losing his spot in the rotation. His knee never gets to 100% health. His play suffers as a result. He loses his spot in the rotation which is what he was afraid of in the first place. (What a dummy, that Nurk.)
DETROIT PISTONS – Everyone’s favorite sleeper, Stanley Johnson (aside – if he’s on all the sharps’ radars he’s no longer a sleeper, by definition, right?), doesn’t start a single game in Motor City and fails to crack the top-120 in total value. Stan Van Gundy (who, BTW, looks more like a street meat vendor than a pro ball coach) decides to roll with Marcus Morris all year blocking the rookie’s path to minutes and production.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS – After missing the 50/40/90 club by a hair last year, Steph Curry misses ALL THREE of those benchmarks in 2015/2016. However, his assists rise to 8.5 per game as complimentary players such as Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green chow down on a larger piece of the offensive pie.
HOUSTON ROCKETS – Nobody in Houston’s backcourt rotation benefits (in the fantasy world) from the addition of Ty Lawson, as the minutes and usage rate are distributed far more evenly than last year. Each of James Harden, Lawson, and Patrick Beverley fail to post value at or above their ADP.
INDIANA PACERS – Despite having missed only two games over the last three years combined, Monta Ellis struggles with health, forcing Paul George to be the NBA leader in usage rate (narrowly beating out Damian Lillard). Despite a less-than-stellar FG%, PG13 takes all that opportunity and is a top-8 fantasy asset at seasons end.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS – The basketball gods don’t look favorably upon DeAndre Jordan‘s summer of cowardice (handling of Mavs situation) and stupidity (refusal to work on shooting mechanics to improve FT%), and the Clips’ big man sees a negative regression in rebounds, blocks and FG% – the only things that make him attractive to fantasy owners.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS – Kobe Bryant dips a toe in the fountain of youth and posts top-36 per game value. Despite frustration amongst owners in leagues with weekly lineup locks, daily swap-out owners enjoy themselves a valuable asset who only sits on back-to-backs. (Lakers still miss the playoffs though…’cause, Lakers.)
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – Brandan Wright eclipses the 20 MPG mark for the first time in his career and parlays that into top-100 fantasy value.
MIAMI HEAT – Gerald Green leads the Heat in 3-pointers made. Capitalizing on the declining health and skills of starting wings, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng, Green becomes an elite streaming option during certain points of the season. He’s also a helluva DFS value play on nights when Wade sits.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES – Ricky Rubio finds a way to put together 75+ healthy games and leads the NBA in total assists.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS – Not unlike the Mavericks, the Bucks don’t feature a single player with top-50 total value by the end of the year. Though each of Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo find a home inside the top-100, the balanced roster and wonky rotations of Jason Kidd don’t allow anyone to really shine.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS – Ryan Anderson wins NBA Sixth Man of the Year, playing over 30 MPG off the bench and connecting on over 200 3-pointers. He’s a top-60 player.
NEW YORK KNICKS – Robin Lopez averages a double-double for the first time in his career (previous career-high is 8.5 RPG) for a Knicks team that slides into the 8th playoff seed in the East.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER – With a stacked and healthy roster, Russell Westbrook takes an enormous usage rate hit, precipitating a fall outside the top-15 fantasy players. Westbrook continues to lay bricks from long range and (at times) butts heads with new coach, Billy Donovan over shot selection and ball security. The Thunder are still legitimate title contenders in the Spring, but the road to get there is made of gravel.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS – Nik Stauskas overcomes a lost pre-season and enjoys a green light to shoot from deep all year. Sauce Castillo gets hot (get it? – hot Sauce…Castillo) and rides confidence – both his and his coach’s – to 150 triples for the season.
PHOENIX SUNS – Markieff Morris gets traded before the deadline. (I told you to fire up the hot takes cannon!) But seriously, ‘Kieff packs his bags and Mirza Teletovic becomes a top-80 player for the final two months of the season.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS – Mason Plumlee is a more valuable fantasy asset than Meyers Leonard. Plumdog hustles himself to averages of 11 PPG, 8 RPG and over a block per contest. Meanwhile, Leonard gets ice cold from deep and falls into a frustrating time-share at the 4 with the likes of Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, and Al-Farouq Aminu (in small ball lineups).
SAN ANTONIO SPURS – Patty Mills gets hot from deep early in the year and forces Pop to play him 22-24 MPG. 150 3-pointers and a double-digit scoring average follow. Fantasy owners stream the Aussie ThrAGNOFer to nice returns.
SACRAMENTO KINGS – TWO of DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo or George Karl are no longer employed by the Kings when the calendar flips to 2016. With better-than-even money on Rondo being one of those two, Darren Collison is a top-50 player from January 1st on.
TORONTO RAPTORS – Patrick Patterson is the steal of every fantasy draft! (Kidding, JB – please still let me write for Razzball.) DeMarre Carroll doesn’t even come close to justifying his fat contract and regresses across the board. He falls outside the fantasy top-80 (after posting a top-50 finish a year ago in Hotlanta).
UTAH JAZZ – Gordon Hayward takes another step forward and joins fellow swingmen Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Klay Thompson in the overall top-15 conversation. Hayward just narrowly misses out on a 20/5/5 season, but is looking at LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in his rearview mirror.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS – Otto Porter threatens to average a three, a steal, and a block per game in a ~32 MPG role. He falls just short on blocks, but lands well inside the fantasy top-100 for a Wizards team boasting one of the best 1 thru 3 lineups in the league.
Now comes the fun part for you, the reader, to add your two cents (which ultimately means nothing to me since my country did away with the penny). Chime in below via the comments to share which prediction you think has the best shot at coming true. Which one(s) is bat-crap crazy? And feel free to offer a prediction or three of your own.
As always, if you want to have a chat in 140 characters or less, come find me on the Twitter @moneyballmatty. Cheers!