In order to put your team in the best possible position to win your league, you’ll need to make the most of your draft. That includes finding good values in players who will exceed their average draft position, landing at least one player who takes his game into the upper echelon and avoiding players who flop miserably.
With that in mind, our fantasy basketball experts (Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser, John Cregan, Eric Karabell and André Snellings) offer their top sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2018-19 campaign.
Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2018-19 season.
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Jim McCormick — John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Heading into the new campaign with nearly no real competition for minutes and touches from the power forward spot for the Hawks, Collins has all the requisite ingredients to outperform what should be a midround draft price. Even crude per-36 data from his quietly strong rookie season reveals an ascendant player, as he tallied 15.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG and 0.9 SPG per 36 minutes. One of the more impressive players from summer league, Collins lead all players with 24 PPG while flashing improved perimeter scoring skills. A rising talent atop a thin depth chart, I’m confident Collins will be one of the better values in drafts this fall.
Joe Kaiser — Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls
The second-year big man won’t sneak up on anyone this season; he’s a well-known commodity after putting up 15.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 2.1 3PG as a rookie last season. Still, I don’t see him going until the fifth or sixth round of most 10- and 12-team leagues. I know that Wendell Carter Jr. is now in the picture in that frontcourt along with Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, but Markkanen’s impact rookie campaign tells me that he has a lot more to offer. If he can raise his field goal percentage (43.4 FG% as a rookie) and make gains statistically this season, he could be one of the steals of the draft in the middle rounds.
John Cregan — Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls
Coming off an injury-marred 2017-18, Dunn is primed to deliver midround value on a late-round ADP. With little to no competition for the starting point guard role in Chicago, he should average low-to-mid 30s in MPG. His shooting has improved over the past couple of seasons, and he should provide close to league-average percentages while averaging close to 7.0 assists per game. And while you’ll be lucky to get 1.0 3-pointers per game from Dunn, you will get near-elite steals production (expect more than 2.0 per game).
2018-19 fantasy basketball draft kit
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2018-19 fantasy basketball points rankings
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Eric Karabell — Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
This real-life, late-first round selection was statistically quiet for the first several months last season, but when provided the opportunity for real minutes on a poor club, Allen intrigued. He averaged 9.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and more than two blocks per game after the All-Star break when he became a full-time starter, and while plenty of big men struggle to hit their free throws, Allen hit at a 77 percent clip in his age-19 season. He already hits his field goals, and word is he is working on his outside shot, so perhaps he can contribute the occasional 3-pointer as well. The Nets are not good, and Allen figures to be one of the bright spots this season. The best part is you will not need to invest a top-50 selection to get him!
André Snellings — Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz
Rubio was once considered one of the premier point guard prospects of the future, but after years of spinning his wheels in Minnesota, some of the luster had gone off him. However, he showed sparks of promise in his first season in Utah, including a shiny new jumper that was more effective than ever in his career. Rubio came alive in a major way late in the season, averaging 16.6 PPG, 6.9 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.2 3PG and 1.2 SPG during a 15-game stretch from Jan. 30 through March 11, then followed that with a nine-game burst averaging 18.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 3PG and 2.2 SPG from mid-March to early April. If he harnesses that ability this season, Rubio should far outperform expectations.
Look for this pair of Denver Nuggets — Jamal Murray and Gary Harris — to break loose in fantasy in 2018-19. Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared to his previous seasons.
Jim McCormick — Tobias Harris, LA Clippers
Harris produced top-30 caliber production during a 32-game sample with the Clippers last season that saw him slash a smooth 19.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.1 APG. Add in 1.8 “stocks” (steals plus blocks) per game along with 2.2 3PG on sparkling percentages and you get about 90 percent of Paul George’s production at a reasonable price point. For the price of a fourth-round pick, you can secure an efficient scoring wing who commands healthy usage (~24 percent) on a team that ranked eighth in offensive rating and seventh in pace last season. It’s easy to forget Harris is just 26 as he heads into his eighth season on his fourth team, but I buy that he’s entering what should be a rewarding statistical prime.
Joe Kaiser — Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Booker just had a procedure done to his hand, but as long as he recovers in time for the start of the season, I think he could become a top-15 fantasy player. The additions of veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson give the Suns a few proven role players who can boost Booker’s assists without cutting too much into his scoring (24.9 PPG in 2017-18). Speaking of that, he has increased his scoring in each of his three seasons in the league and seen similar yearly improvements in assists, rebounds, 3-point shooting and free throw shooting. He has been an impact player since he first stepped on a NBA court, and now in season four, we have a player ready to be a fantasy star.
John Cregan — Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets
Shooting guard is (as always) a relatively thin position. It’s also a position where the valuation tends to be a bit bipolar, since raw scoring and 3-point production tend to obscure efficiency. You’re going to overpay for an elite shooting guard, but there is value to be had in the middle rounds. Harris is a prime example of a mid-draft, hyper-productive 2-guard who does a little bit of everything … but flies under the radar due to his drab points-per-game average (18.3 PPG in 2017-18).
Relative to shooting guards you’ll grab in Rounds 1-4, Harris delivers near-elite production in two key categories — In 2017-18, he averaged 2.3 3PG and 1.8 SPG. His shooting metrics (59.7 TS%) will lift your squad. Entering his age-24 season, Harris should top all of his career volume-based highs due to his escalating minutes (34.4 MPG in 2017-18) and usage rate (20.7 in 2017-18).
Eric Karabell — Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Murray might not seem like a valuable point guard with his modest assist numbers, but there is a lot to like here from someone on the verge of becoming a top-50 player. Murray averaged 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 24 games after the All-Star break, along with more than a pair of 3-pointers per game. He is durable and rarely misses a free throw. As for the assists, the presence of passing center Nikola Jokic limits the upside for Murray, but he did register seven assists in three of his final six games of the season, so perhaps that was a harbinger that he can average five per game on a consistent basis. All the other numbers are in place.
André Snellings — Second year point guards
Lonzo Ball can be the official pick for this slot, but each of Dennis Smith Jr. De’Aaron Fox and Markelle Fultz could fit just as easily because all four project to move way up the rankings ladder as sophomores. Ball was injured for 30 games, had one of the most publicized broken jumpers in basketball, and of course was surrounded at all times by the LaVar Ball circus, but he still came within sight of averaging a triple-double with almost two blocks-plus-steals per game as a rookie. Fox and Smith both showed major explosiveness but lacked the experience and physical ability to fully lead their teams. Fultz, of course, spent most of the season injured. All four project to fantasy starters this season, with Ball in particular as a top-35 prospect.
Could Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson actually be a bust in fantasy basketball this season? David Butow for ESPN
Bust: A player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will fail to live up to those expectations this season.
Jim McCormick — Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Safe and steady for the past six seasons in Orlando, there is now considerable risk present, given what will likely be steep declines in Vucevic’s opportunity rates. The team has spent the past two high-leverage draft picks on frontcourt prospects, with Mohamed Bamba presenting the biggest threat to his playing time and utility in the post. As a high-floor offensive player with little room for growth as a defender, I’d rather pursue the likes of Collins or Allen for what it will likely cost to acquire Vucevic in drafts.
Joe Kaiser — Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
Paul has always been an incredible talent, even if injury prone in recent seasons. I just have learned from many years of watching the NBA to sell 33-year-old point guards in their 14th NBA season. Every year that passes, I wonder if it’s the one where Paul finally falls off a cliff statistically, and every year I think the chances increase. It’s going to take a second-round pick to get Paul this season, and I’m not risking it at this stage in his storied career. He played 61 and 58 games, respectively, the past two seasons, and his 7.9 APG in 2017-18 was his lowest since his rookie campaign way back in 2005-06, and his 1.7 SPG was a career low. Even if he avoids injury and plays 75-plus games this season, there’s a real chance his scoring, assists and steals continue to trend downward.
John Cregan — Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Thompson isn’t going to be a classic bust as much as he’ll be a slight disappointment. If you want Thompson, you’ll probably need to spend a second-round pick for his services. His name value and attendant high-profile Splash Brothers rep overinflates his value by 1-2 rounds. Just don’t be surprised that come April, he’ll deliver only third- to fourth-round value against the high ADP.
Despite a rise in minutes in 2017-18, Kevin Durant’s presence dinged Thompson’s volume-based stats. Thompson posted his lowest averages in points (20.0 PPG), 3s (3.1 3PG) and FGA (7.1) since 2014-15. Playing in a stacked starting lineup, don’t expect Durant’s numbers to suddenly climb (even in a contract year). Another red flag: Thompson’s games played have been in decline since 2015-16. He played only 73 games last season, which is on the edge of officially “concerning.”
Eric Karabell — Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
Griffin is mildly disappointing every season because the last time he played 68 games was five seasons ago. Griffin’s newfound love for the 3-point shot was helpful, but also did damage to what had been a safe field goal percentage, so it might not be worth it. In addition, Griffin’s days as more than a modest rebounder are long gone and not returning on a Pistons roster with Andre Drummond. The points and assists are always nice, but I have doubts about him getting 6.2 assists per game again as long as point guard Reggie Jackson is healthy (though he hasn’t been for much of Griffin’s time as a Piston). Ultimately, this comes down to durability and draft status, and I have a hard time investing one of my top-three selections on someone who misses so many games.
André Snellings — Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls
Parker was the big free-agency acquisition for the Bulls during the offseason, and some pundits have speculated that he will be the “man” for the Bulls this season as a former No. 2 overall draft pick with a well-known name. However, Parker’s game is predicated purely on scoring, as he has never shown himself to be a plus in any other category. The Bulls, though, are full of talented young scorers at their respective positions, led by second-year power forward Markkanen, a fully healthy Zach LaVine, point guard Dunn and rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. There doesn’t seem to be space for Parker to average the type of monster scoring volume that would make up for his lack of contributions in the other categories. He is also a major injury risk after having played more than 51 games only once during his four-year career thus far.
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