Fantasy basketball forces you to take a critical look at the NBA’s unmitigated success stories. Will a breakout performance translate from one season to the next? Should we expect the dreaded faux-scientific sophomore slump for rookies? Will a natural year-to-year fluctuation in shooting push a player out of fantasy relevance? These are the relevant questions we have to weigh as the NBA season winds down and the fantasy playoffs start. It will be the fantasy offseason before you know it—it’s never too early to start planning for the future.

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I would like to ask for the internet’s help with something. I won’t be asking you intensely-online people to creepily track down the trilingual, poetry obsessed woman I chatted with during a Denver layover on a return flight from Hawaii, whom, I’m certain was charmed by my decidedly average height and intelligence. None of that. I’m sitting here today, in front of a loaned laptop from a college IT department, neurotically scratching at the dry scalp beneath my messy afro, in custom full-body face pajamas—the face being my ex-girlfriends—and asking you to work a little post-holiday magic for yours truly. I’m asking you, people of the internet, to do something you’ve already successfully done before, so it should be easy.

Before James Harden won the 2018 MVP Award, before he and Chris Paul pushed a historic Golden State Warriors team to the brink of playoff elimination, before he broke isolation and pull-up three-point records, and before he began flirting with historic scoring numbers not seen since Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden had to prove that he belonged in the upper echelon of NBA players. Harden had largely existed in the shadow of Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook in Oklahoma City. The first order of business for Harden was to stake his claim to NBA superstardom by dominating on the offensive end and to do so with panache. Harden quickly established himself as a bona fide superstar, but his singular allegiance to the offensive end of the floor was, to put it mildly, concerning.

Harden was an all-star and made it to the playoffs in his first two seasons in Houston, but he was also eliminated in the first round of the playoffs each year. As Harden settled in to his new position as front-page daily news, he also built an endless lowlight reel of defensive lethargy. It was this backdrop of increased attention coinciding with mild playoff failure and a noxious disinterest in defense that provided the perfect platform for the internet’s only example of helpful public shaming. In a show of intense, wide-spread harmony, the NBA watching populous banded together to shame James Harden into playing defense. There’s no other way to read the situation. Fans, sportswriters, and analysts alike took to YouTube, NBA Twitter, and any other available medium to share clips of Harden’s avant-garde interpretation of defense. Harden was so comically bad, so plainly allergic to defense that a novice fan could watch 10 minutes of a Houston Rockets game and realize something was amiss. It was almost as if Harden had his brain wiped every time his team’s offensive possession ended

We’ve moved past Harden’s patented space cadet method acting, to viewers wrongly, but not completely irrationally suggesting that James Harden is a good defender. He’s not. He’s a good post-defender in 2020, which if you know anything about NBA basketball means he rarely gets the opportunity to be good. The Houston Rockets have crafted a switch everything defense in large part, so Harden never has to endure the unpleasantness of fighting over a screen. In fairness, the Rockets have the personnel to make a switch defense work and they did so to great effect in the 2018 playoffs when they befuddled the Warriors historic offense. Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and now Russell Westbrook are all capable of battling with bigger players in the post as well as defending on the perimeter.

This brings me to Trae Young. You, beautiful people, have already worked your magic once before and I beseech you to do it again. It’s time we start the shaming of Trae Young (SHAME SHAME SHAME!).

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Brandon Ingram

The long-awaited Brandon Ingram breakout is here in earnest. So far this season, Ingram is averaging 25.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, while shooting 55.2 percent from the field, 48.6 percent from three, and 74.3 percent from the free-throw line (all career highs). Ingram is not a legitimate 48 percent shooter from three, especially on five attempts a game. The dreaded regression to the mean is coming. Before this season, he had never shot 40 percent, topping out at 39 percent on 1.8 attempts a game in his sophomore season. Even with that in mind, there is reason to believe he’ll shoot better this year. Ingram’s field goal percentage has improved each season he’s been in the league and he entered the NBA with solid form and touch. The Pelicans play at a fast pace. They are currently sixth in the league in pace and increased transition opportunities should lead to more lightly-contested shots. Furthermore, when Zion returns the Pelicans will have yet another ball-handler who commands defensive attention, which could lead to more spot-up opportunities for Ingram.

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Kawhi & The Clips

Kawhi Leonard entered the 2019-20 season as a first-round fantasy talent and one of the best two or three players in the NBA. He’s lived up to that billing and then some to start the season. Over the first four games, Kawhi is averaging 27 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He’s shooting 51.9 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from three, and 84 percent from the free-throw line. The 7.5 assists per game are particularly noteworthy since prior to this season, Kawhi had never averaged more than 3.5 assists a game, which he did in the 2016-17 season. Yes, the sample size is microscopic, but the evidence is hard to ignore. In the second game of the season against the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi matched his career high for assists in a game with nine. In game three against the Phoenix Suns, he set a new career high with 10 assists. This is no blip on the radar. Of the very few weaknesses in Leonard’s game, playmaking was the largest.

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I maintain, that when Steph Curry gets going, he’s the best show in the NBA. There are certainly other contenders for the NBA’s best show on hardwood, but Curry’s blend of fundamental and evolutionary NBA skills are what separates him from the competition. Curry walked into the league as an offensive engine in the mold of Reggie Miller, who shot 35.5 percent from three in year one and 40.2 percent from three in his second season in the NBA. Curry shot 43.7 percent from three in his first season. As a young player, Curry was not the statistical outlier he has become, as he only attempted 4.8 threes a game his rookie year. Miller took 2.2 threes as a rookie, but he was up to 4.4 attempts in his third season. Curry’s early career numbers were the result of the game’s natural evolution and increased acceptance of the three-point shot. In Curry’s early years, he did a lot of his work off-ball, running off screens and mirroring more traditional shooting guards like Miller and Ray Allen. It’s part of the reason many people insisted Curry wasn’t a true point guard. His conditioning allows him to run around for part of or even the entirety of some possessions. This non-stop movement draws a lot of attention and fatigues the defense, both mentally and physically—hence all the back-cut layups for Curry’s teammates. Check out this illuminating breakdown from the 2018-19 NBA Finals by Ben Taylor.

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What’s up fellow Razzball readers and fantasy basketball enthusiasts! After recharging our batteries over the summer, it’s time to start preparing for the upcoming NBA season. These can range from checking the names of the players from this year’s draft and/or casually checking all the offseason transactions, which can escalate to frantically searching for recorded games of Limoges to scouting the strengths and weaknesses of Sekou Doumbouya’s fantasy game. It’s all about how each and everyone enjoys the fantasy basketball game.

Now, I have to admit I can relate more to the latter example and, as such, I am preparing my top 155 projections for roto leagues, which will be published in the upcoming weeks and mark my third straight year on this fine site.

Last year, I decided to grade my projections from the year before, in an attempt to judge myself and try and make them more accurate in the future. Go me, for hating myself I guess, but it’s a fun little project before I dive into the actual projections every summer. If you are curious and ready for some math, check last year’s article for a full explanation on the method used. If you prefer the “too long, didn’t read” approach, know that the main metric is the difference between the projected and the actual overall per game value for each player.

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The 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets exceeded expectations in many ways, from player development to overall record. Few pundits had them making the playoffs, myself included, but I guess I shouldn’t have underestimated Kenny Atkinson, who has established himself as one of the  upper-echelon coaches in the league. Sean Marks can also be credited for assembling a team with a good mix of youthful exuberance and veteran experience. Although, they were bounced in the first round by Philadelphia, hardly any Nets fans could feel disappointed with how the season turned out given the low expectations.

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Well, here we are. Hopefully, you guys are all wrapping up successful fantasy seasons, heading into the weekend leading your championship matchups. Beyond the silly season effect, winning in fantasy basketball can be a game of timing and patience. If you were patient with the rough start of future rookie of the year runner up, Trae Young, you’ve been rewarded with a near top 50 player over the last month and shockingly, a top 10 player over the last week. If you held Trae and started him here, you’re probably doing well this postseason.

Trae Young

FG FT 3PT Points Reb Assists Steals Blocks TO
10/25 5/5 1/8 26 9 7 1 0 3

While not very efficient, Trae continued to keep the haters at bay and was in the ballpark of messing around. The Hawks have one more game this Sunday, which should be a nice cherry on top for the surging Young.

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DeAndre Jordan is 6′ 11″ 265 pounds. He is a literal giant, but when thinking about giants, DeAndre rarely enters the consciousness. Michael? Maybe. Andre? Definitely. San Francisco and New York? For sure. But we need a #Movement to educate the haters and short people in the world. Did you know that there are 2800 people who are seven feet or taller in the world? There are 7.4 billion people on Earth. If my handy dandy abacus hasn’t failed me, that’s 0.000038% of the population. There are 43 seven-footers in the NBA. He’s a giant. End of story. For you smart asses, 1 inch doesn’t make that much of a difference when it’s 6′ 11″ versus 7′. Now, 6″ compared to 7″ is huge. Anyways, if that doesn’t do it for you, then check out his line from yesterday:

20 13 4 2 2 3 0 7/10 6/7

In 34 minutes! He had played 20, 18, and 22 minutes the prior three games, so the Fizdale risk always has to be factored in. With that said, when DJ plays, the music is bumping, as he provides boards, some dimes, stocks, and excellent field goal percentage. The most eye-opening statistic has been the 82% free throw shooting on 3.3 attempts over the past six games. A GIANT improvement from the 70% he’s been posting on the season and 46.5% career number.

Here’s what else I saw yesterday:

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