1. Biggest Surprises
Otto Porter, LaMarcus Aldridge, Victor Oladipo, Robert Covington, Aaron Gordon and Clint Capela have all been top-25 fantasy players. Some growth was fully expected by Porter, Covington, Gordon and Capela, but even their biggest backers likely didn’t expect it to be this dramatic. While all may be playing a bit over their heads (Covington isn’t going to shoot so well from downtown all season), they are more “holds” than “sell-highs” in fantasy leagues. The same goes for Oladipo, whose resurgence can directly be tied to a huge increase in Usage Rate going from OKC (where he shared the court with Russell Westbrook) to Indiana. As for Aldridge, he’s no doubt played his best basketball by a mile since joining San Antonio, but his value is likely peaking, as Kawhi Leonard’s return is finally on the horizon.
Other surprises include Andre Drummond’s hugely improved free throw shooting, Tyreke Evans coming back from the dead to be a borderline top-50 asset, and Joel Embiid’s emergence as a superstar arriving sooner than expected. He still turns the ball over too often, and fantasy owners will continue to have to deal with the occasional DNP-CD during back-to-backs, but Embiid has the upside to be this generation’s most dominant big man. The only thing surprising with Embiid at this point is if he’s not a first round fantasy pick next year.
2. Biggest Disappointments
Russell Westbrook’s insane Usage Rate last year was sure to regress, especially after the Thunder acquired Carmelo Anthony and Paul George during the offseason, but the reigning MVP has barely been a top-50 player so far. He’ll improve, but RWB has been a huge letdown for those who spent a top pick on him during drafts.
Other disappointments include Jimmy Butler, whose fantasy value has taken a major hit after leaving Chicago for Minnesota. In fact, Enes Kanter has been the more valuable fantasy player in 2017/18. And while parts of Dwight Howard’s game look rejuvenated in Charlotte, he’s shooting a career-low 45.9 percent from the line, resulting in him being the No. 444 ranked player in standard 9-cat leagues. And finally, there’s Jusuf Nurkic, who was a popular breakout candidate after he had a strong final stretch last season after getting traded to Portland. He hasn’t been a top-225 player this year, but shrewd fantasy owners should be looking to buy low.
3. The Year of the Rookie
Markelle Fultz has gotten off to a slow (and injury-riddled) start to his NBA career, and Lonzo Ball is shooting 30.9 percent from the floor, but rookies have otherwise made a big fantasy impact so far this season. Ben Simmons has returned top-50 value and looks like he’s going to one day be one of the 5-10 best players in the league, while Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, John Collins and Donovan Mitchell have all been top-100 fantasy players. Kyle Kuzma hasn’t been far behind and looks like a steal at the end of round one, while Dennis Smith Jr. and Jonathan Isaac have shown a ton of promise. Ball and Simmons have a combined four triple-doubles, which is the same total as LeBron James and James Harden have together. This rookie class has the potential to go down as one of the better ones in recent memory and has made an immediate impact in fantasy leagues.
4. All The Injuries
Blake Griffin was just lost for two months with a sprained MCL, as he joins a long list of wounded players early on. Chris Paul has missed time, while Kawhi Leonard has yet to step on the floor while slowly recovering from a thigh injury he suffered last season. It wasn’t more than five minutes into the NBA’s first game in 2017/18 that Gordon Hayward was lost for the year. Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Paul Millsap and D’Angelo Russell are other big names who’ve missed significant time. And now John Wall is out for the next two weeks with a knee injury that could linger. We’re still waiting for Isaiah Thomas to return. Every year brings its own set of injury problems, but this season’s has been especially brutal.
5. Players To Target
There’s still plenty of time left in the season, so don’t be discouraged if your team is off to a slow start. You can improve your outlook trading for guys about to go off, like the aforementioned Nurkic or Lou Williams, who’s primed to be a top-flight fantasy option now that Blake Griffin is sidelined (teammates Austin Rivers and DeAndre Jordan also get a significant boost, especially with Patrick Beverley lost for the season as well).
Attacking your waiver wire is another method, and there are plenty of valuable assets still readily available, including Courtney Lee (just 59% owned in Yahoo leagues despite quietly ranking as the No. 55 player), Jonathan Simmons (41% owned and now starting for Orlando), Alex Len (37% owned, has averaged 13.8 rebounds over his last five games and should get a bunch of run from here on out on the rebuilding Suns) and Willie Cauley-Stein, who was dropped in many leagues after a sluggish start to the season yet has gotten 16.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.3 bpg over the last four contests.
It’s been an exciting first quarter of the 2017/18 season with plenty more action to come. Good luck the rest of the way.