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.
Kendrick Nunn has a great foundation for an undersized NBA guard. It is true that the mid-range jumper has mostly been eradicated from the shot diets of most role players, but the more time you spend with the ball in your hands, the more diverse your shot profile has to be. Every year in the playoffs, fans and media harp on the shooting limitations of various players. For Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James, their three-point struggles have been issues in playoff series, mostly in by-gone years for LeBron. For a great shooter like Steph Curry, the issue is his ability to consistently create space for his lethal jumper. For James Harden, it’s a lack of diversity, as Harden’s refusal to take midrange jumpers and floaters, at times, has hurt the Rockets offense. Players like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant show us what it looks like when a player can both get their shot off almost at will and make those shots at a high percentage. It’s the greatest and most reliable playoff weapon. What does all this have to do with Kendrick Nunn?
Nunn has shown the ability to get his shot off in the mid-range—58 percent of Nunn’s shots are twos—and the ability to knock those shots down at a high percentage. Nunn is shooting 49.5 percent from 10-16 feet and 47 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line. It is true that his size at 6’2” makes him susceptible to long, mobile defenders. The Heat have used Derrick Jones Jr., a 6’6” forward to defend point guards like Trae Young and Damian Lillard this season. That sort of matchup can bother Nunn, but over the course of an 82-game regular season, most teams don’t have the personnel or the desire to tailor the matchups to that degree. For the vast majority of people playing fantasy basketball, the fantasy season ends before the NBA playoffs even start. Kendrick Nunn’s game, I believe, has enough portability to work in the playoffs, but its especially built for the regular season when most teams are happy to concede shots in the mid-range.
Nunn is also league average from three overall at 35.7 percent with 76.9 percent of his threes being assisted. As a tertiary ball handler in most lineups Nunn will always be asked to shoot the three off the catch. Nunn has all the foundational boxes checked for an undersized, non-elite guard. He can get his own shot in the midrange out of the pick-and-roll, he can knockdown catch-and-shoot threes, and he’s a solid rim finisher—63 percent on shots within three feet of the basket. There are valid questions about his defense and feel for the game as a passer, but I believe both will improve with time.
Yes, there’s a chance his mid-range shooting regresses next season, but this has by no means been a perfect season for Nunn. He’s had months where he’s struggled putting the ball in the basket—the lead-up to the All-Star break is one such example. We’ve seen his highs and lows and the median return is pretty solid. Nunn ranks 90th per Yahoo rankings in total value, 134th in average value, 96th in total value on Basketball Monster, and 126th in Basketball Monster in per game value. He’s a 9th-round value per game and 7th-round total value per Basketball Monster. Nunn’s lack of rebounding, defensive stats, and lower-end passing numbers may always limit his value,but the way I see it, he’s draftable in 14-team leagues for sure and will likely be one of the better options late in the draft in 12-team leagues as well.
Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn’s Heat teammate, is another interesting case of long-term expected value. Robinson’s shooting only seems to be getting better. He is, without a doubt, one of the Heat’s most important offensive players. His shooting numbers are simply staggering. On the season, Robinson is averaging 13 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, while shooting 46.5 percent from the field, 60.9 percent on twos, 44.6 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Robinson has a 66.1 effective field goal percentage, a 67.4 true shooting percentage, and the Heat have an offensive rating of 114.3 when he’s on the floor. For context, the Mavericks currently have the best offense in league history with a 115.9 offensive rating. I would argue, Duncan Robinson is one of the five best shooters in the NBA today. Robinson’s 44.6 percent from three ranks fourth in the league in percentage this season. Every player with a higher three-point percentage than Robinson has hoisted a lot fewer attempts. Robinson has attempted 505 threes this season. The next closest person in the top-5 of three-point percentage is J.J. Reddick, who has taken only 345 threes. Even Davis Bertans, one of the season’s breakout shooters, has taken fewer threes (439) and is shooting them at a lower percentage (42.4 percent) than Duncan Robinson. Robinson is also third in the league in made three-pointers. To be fair, Damian Lillard has missed the Blazers previous six games and would likely be ahead of Robinson had he been playing, but injuries are a part of the game. Currently, only James Harden (261 threes) and Buddy Hield (235 threes) have more makes from three than Robinson (225).
Robinson doesn’t have a diverse attack—88 percent of his shots are threes. Of those threes, 95.6 percent of them are assisted; 85.7 percent of his twos are assisted as well. Robinson is a complimentary player. He’s dependent on better players to set him up, but he’s doing a fair amount of labor on his own also. His constant off-ball movement and handoff game is a central part of the Heat’s offense, often leading to wide open driving lanes for Bam Adebayo. You can see all nine of Robinson’s threes against the Orlando Magic on March 4th in the video below:
Which brings us to the question of how we should value Robinson? Is he this good of a shooter? I think so, but even for shooters this good, there are year-to-year fluctuations. J.J. Redick, a solid comp for Robinson, is a career 41 percent three-point shooter and has had multiple seasons below 40 percent. Those sorts of season are likely in the works for Robinson as well. With so much of his value coming from his shooting it can be hard to trust its staying power. Nonetheless, I would suggest riding with Robinson, within reason. Reddick is only 6’4”, Robinson on the other hand is a legitimate 6’7”. That extra height eliminates all but the best contests. Robinson is ranked 62 in total value and 112 in per game value from Yahoo, 65th in total value from Basketball Monster, and 99th in per game value from Basketball Monster. Don’t reach for Robinson in the draft, but at the end of the draft in 12-team leagues or larger, he should definitely be on your radar.
This is almost too easy of a call, but the real Lonzo breakout will come next season. Lonzo Ball already looks like a ten-year starter in the NBA. His passing has been as good as advertised since day one, and playing in Alvin Gentry’s pace-and-space system accentuates his open-floor playmaking. It is true, Ball is not your traditional pick-and-roll-maven point-guard. Lonzo’s game isn’t geared toward that style of play. Lonzo is best suited playing alongside another ball-handler, ideally a better pick-and-roll player than him. Right now, he has Jrue Holiday, and the Pelicans would be wise to make sure he’s always paired with another combo guard. This sort of delineation of roles—Ball off the ball (lol), attacking closeouts and spotting up—is actually viable now that his three-point shot has improved. Ball is shooting 37.9 percent from three this season on 348 attempts. The shot-improvements look real and the results are backing them up. Lonzo has made seven threes in each of the Pelicans last two games. You can watch him rain fire from deep against the Mavericks in the video below:
Ball is shooting 32 percent from three on pull-ups which isn’t great, but does suggest that his pull-up could become a weapon in the future. Luka Doncic, for example, is only shooting 31.9 percent on pull-ups this season, but that low percentage is obviously offset by the sheer number of them he’s able to create. For Ball, his pull-up numbers suggest that with another summer under Fred Vinson’s care he could push his pull-up percentage up to 34 to 35 percent, which would make him a much more potent scorer. The three-ball is extremely important to Lonzo’s success and development because it’s his most frequent shot type—57.7 percent of Lonzo’s field-goals are threes, only 42.3 percent of his field goals are twos. The three is the foundational shot for Lonzo, as it sets up his drives rather than vice versa.
Lonzo needs to lean on his three-point shot while he builds out his driving, finishing, and continues to improve his ball-handling. I doubt Ball ever achieves the potent diversity needed to break into the upper echelon of offensive players, but that’s not a requirement for fantasy production. Ball’s already a solid fantasy player—68th in Yahoo and 69th in Basketball Monster in total value—even with his low percentages from the field (40.8 percent) and the line (57.8 percent) significantly depressing his value. I think Lonzo will continue to improve. As long as he stays healthy and in the Pelicans player development system, Lonzo’s production should continue to increase. There’s no reason he can’t significantly improve his free-throw shooting in the next few seasons, which would give him more confidence in attacking the basket.
I trust Jaxson Hayes’ athleticism and shot-blocking ability, if not his ability to deal with the extreme adversity of not being selected to the Rising Stars Game. All jokes aside, Hayes has the type of athleticism and game you want from a modern center. He’s a shot blocker and a rim-runner. I don’t foresee him going all mid-career Dwight Howard and begging for post touches anytime soon. He wants to get up and down the floor, catch lobs waaaaay above the rim, and swat shots into the fifth row. Hayes biggest weakness is his strength He’s so thin that he’s best deployed as a weak-side shot blocker rather than a head-up rim protector. The problem for Hayes is that the skill he lacks—shooting—is exactly the skill the Pelicans need surrounding Zion Williamson. His long-term success will be dependent on his ability to put on size and strength, while also improving his shooting. I think his feel for the game and effectiveness as a piece of a good NBA defense will only get better as time passes.
Hayes isn’t yet a keeper or even draftable in 14-team leagues or smaller, but it would be unwise not to keep your eye on him. He plays with a pass-first point guard in Lonzo Ball and in an uptempo system, not to mention Derrick Favors is as injury prone as they come.
Because I care about my mental health, I haven’t watched much of the Steph Curry-less Golden State Warriors this season. But Steph is byke now! In what was a surprisingly exciting loss to the Toronto Raptors, Curry had 23 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and only one turnover. He was only 6 of 16 from the field and 3 of 12 from three, but some rust is expected. My concern in this piece is not Curry’s future prospects, but what his return might tell us about what to expect from Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall next season. In just one game it was clear that Wiggins should get a lot more open, catch-and-shoot threes than he’s used to.
Andrew Wiggins from deep last night:
-1-for-2 on “open” 3s
-2-for-7 on “wide open” 3s
(He had all the space and time in the world on this attempt because Steph set the best screen in basketball history) pic.twitter.com/j0QxVRct2M
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) March 6, 2020
Now, Wiggins has to knock down those threes, which he didn’t do efficiently enough in the loss to the Raptors, going 3 for 9 from three and 9 for 20 from the field overall. Curry’s gravity does not appear to have diminished. Raptors defenders were still shading his direction when he had the ball and overreacting to his speedy off-ball movement. Wiggins will need to improve upon his career 33 percent from three. For reference, Harrison Barnes is a 37.4 percent three-point shooter and shot 40 percent one season with the Warriors. I’m not exactly confident in Wiggins, but betting against Wiggins also seems to be a bet against Curry, which I’m not in the business of doing. I’m torn between throwing Wiggins back into the draft pool in keeper formats or betting on the Curry bump. As I always say, if you’re not early you’re late in fantasy. That said, I think you throw this one back. Wiggins will probably improve, but it’s hard to imagine his efficiency, rebounding, and steal numbers all increasing. If Wiggins doesn’t have it going early, he might not get the opportunity to work his way to an inefficient 20 points as much next season.
Similarly, Eric Paschall should have larger driving lanes with Curry and Klay Thompson in the fold next season. Paschall is a poor three-point shooter and I don’t expect a massive jump in just one summer. For him, the focus has to be nailing his corner threes and mastering cutting and driving off of Curry’s gravity. You would have to imagine Paschall’s usage dipping slightly, but his role as bench scorer seems like one the Warriors need filled. I think you’d have to expect to see Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, and Klay Thompson headlining the Warriors second-unit. The scoring numbers may take a hit, but I don’t see why Paschall can’t maintain his assists and rebounding numbers. There’s a chance he improves upon his defensive stats with better defenders around him, but don’t bank on it.