It was an absolutely wild season for fantasy basketball – one that had more twists and turns than watching Shutter Island backwards – so we’re at the point now where it’s time to clear our heads and unpack some things. Who were the top dogs? Who were the team-crushing disappointments? How about the surprises we could never have seen coming?
Well, this week I’m kicking off our awards season with the point guard position. Let’s look a little closer, dig a little deeper and dish out some well-deserved hardware to some of the NBA’s best floor generals.
Most Valuable Player: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC Thunder
Right off the bat, we were worried about “SGA” this fantasy offseason: Oh, the Thunder lost Chet Holmgren already? They are definitely gonna tank now! What does that mean for SGA’s playing time when it comes to the fantasy basketball playoffs?
And while those seemed like legitimate concerns at the time, well frankly… SGA didn’t give a crap about them. He came out like a man on fire start-to-finish this season, so much so that his Thunder are shockingly looking to clinch a spot in the Western Conference’s playoff play-in ladder tournament. Other than GM Sam Presti and the people who run the Thunder franchise, I doubt anyone could have seen a development like this coming.
While youngsters Josh Giddey (17 points, eight rebounds and six assists per game) and Jalen Williams (14, five and three) have been very good, this has simply been SGA’s show from the very beginning. As the No. 1 point guard and No. 3 overall fantasy player this season, SGA astonishingly averaged 32 points, five assists, five rebounds, two threes, two steals and a block per game, all while shooting 51.2% from the floor. In many different fantasy formats, SGA was the No. 1 overall player for a good portion of the season.
I’ve long said and written that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the most underrated basketball players in the NBA, but this year a legitimate case could be made that SGA was the best player on the whole damn planet. He was quite simply a league-winner at his initial ADP.
Most Improved Player: Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
If not for a couple nagging injuries and some “load management” during the second half of the season, Haliburton would have been a top-10 overall fantasy player this year. For most of the first half of the season, he was hanging in the No. 6 to 9 overall range. Now in Indiana – without De’Aaron Fox cutting into his ballhandling and usage – Haliburton has the freedom and space he needs to comfortably control the game. Despite his injuries down the stretch, he had his young Pacers in a good enough position to nearly secure a spot in the East’s play-in tournament. Like young OKC, these feisty Pacers were a pleasant surprise (because of Haliburton).
On the stat sheet, Haliburton absolutely dominated. He led the Pacers in points per game (20.7), assists (10.4), steals (1.6) and free throw percentage (87.1%). The 23-year-old floor general is wise beyond his years, the kind of dynamic point guard who truly impacts the game on both sides of the floor. The sky is the limit for his future in the NBA and, because of him, things are looking up for the Pacers’ organization as well. Haliburton finished as the No. 21 overall fantasy option this season, despite playing only 56 games. Give him a full season and he might even be top five.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
I have to be real with you. This wasn’t a surprise at all. I actually had Brunson as the 39th overall player in the NBA last year, ahead of big names like Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and Anthony Davis. Brunson was one of the top two or three players in the NBA playoffs last year, and you could simply see the confidence oozing out of his pores.
But then Stephen A. Smith happened. His epic rant on Draft night – basically ripping the Knicks for planning their entire offseason around the pursuit of Brunson – actually got some feeble-minded people on board with him. A lot of people started dismissing the Knicks (even more so than usual). The considerable size of Brunson’s eventual contract – four years, $104 million dollars – started to become a bit of a punchline on social media. Everything was suggesting another Knicks season in the abyss.
But Brunson – all 6’2″, 190 pounds of him (which really means about 6’0″, 180) – just wasn’t gonna let that happen. He was an absolute animal from day one of the NBA season. Brunson is always in attack mode, playing downhill and doing everything in his power to keep the opposing defense on its heels. Statistically, he racked up 24 points, six assists, four rebounds, two threes and a steal per game – ALL career highs for this 26-year-old bulldog. As you can probably tell – despite being a Brooklyn Nets’ fan – Brunson is one of my absolute favorite players in the league.
And oh, after all that? He finished 39th overall in fantasy this year, after I specifically ranked him 39th last year. Fitting, indeed.
Biggest Disappointment: Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
I happen to be a “Maxey guy” on a personal note, but that simply didn’t translate into appropriate fantasy success this season. Maxey was FLYING off the board early in all of my drafts this year. His ADP was No. 57 overall – and sometimes quite a bit higher depending on the specific league’s enthusiasm towards him – but he ended the season at No. 105, shockingly behind guys like Donte DiVincenzo, Tre Jones, Immanuel Quickley and Bruce Brown.
So what went wrong? Well, for starters, Joel Embiid went ahead and had an MVP season, totally dominating usage and stats from the very beginning. With Embiid operating with ease and efficiency, there was less and less for Maxey to do as the season wore on. Of course, James Harden is really the point guard of the Philadelphia 76ers, so that leaves Maxey in no man’s land at times. Tobias Harris still gets usage and touches, and get this – backup point guard and teammate De’Anthony Melton finished No. 53 overall in fantasy basketball. There were simply too many cooks in the kitchen in Philly, ultimately leaving Maxey in the fantasy dust. If you reached too early for him, your fantasy team was toast as well.
I’ll see you right back here next week for my shooting guard awards!
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NBA for 19 years. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy basketball, football and baseball.