When I started this mini-series, I anticipated learning a few things that may well upset the balance of the list. The pre-season often provides insight into who will be playing how many minutes and in what capacity, particularly among rookies and second-year players. And for that, I suspected from the beginning that some players would be ranked a bit too high, and others too low. Instead, the night that I posted Part II of this list, Ben Simmons (my ranked 56th) broke his foot, and could miss the entire season. And less than a week later, it was announced that Reggie Jackson (48th) would miss six to eight weeks with knee tendinitis.
So it goes.
The top of the list remains unchanged however - these are the players that you will be considering with your top two picks, and relying upon to guide your team. Let’s get started:
25. Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Horford is set to be a huge part of the Celtics offense, but he has only averaged 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds these last two seasons, and stopped getting to the free throw line (with just 1.7 attempts per game). I have him in my top-25 due to his overall ability and my faith in Brad Stevens as a coach - but I can’t go higher than this right now.
24. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
A few years ago, Griffin toed the line of liability due to his free throw shooting - that’s no longer the case, as he has shot 72.1% from the line over the last three years. He doesn’t block shots like most big men, but he does everything else well, and racks up assists. I have him a bit lower than I’d normally like due to his injuries the last two years (flukish as they may be).
23. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
It seems weird to ding someone for injuries, yet have Lopez ahead of him - so it goes. Lopez is the linchpin of the Nets offense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he set career-bests in PPG and APG this year as he works the pick and roll with Jeremy Lin.
22. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
Bledsoe is a personal favorite - so much so that I am overlooking his injuries, due to his obvious strengths. He’s an efficient score that rebounds well for his position, and can be counted on for a steal or two per game. If he can stay healthy, he may be a top-three fantasy point guard.
21. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Thomas does everything you could ask for from a fantasy PG, with the possible exception of a fringe-y FG%. He shoots a solid percentage from deep, and is light’s out from the line, which he gets to frequently. Horford may cut into his scoring a bit, as will a healthy Jae Crowder - but he’ll still be running the show.
20. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
In fantasy terms, Lillard and Thomas were very similar last season. Lillard had more volume and a bit less efficiency - and that’s about it. He’s a known commodity at this point.
19. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Much of Green’s value in the real world and fantasy stems from his ability to play at multiple positions - he should qualify at SF, PF, and C in most leagues. His free throw shooting is no great shakes, but he will help everywhere else (even if he splits the difference between 2015 and his breakout 2016).
18. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Millsap has always stuffed the box score, and this year he’ll be expected to pick up much of the slack left by Horford’s departure. I think he’ll step up his game accordingly.
17. John Wall, Washington Wizards
Wall has been in the top-three in assists in each of the last three years, and routinely ranks among the league leaders in steals. Add in his ability to get to the line and emerging three point shot, and you have yourself a fantasy stud.
16. Serge Ibaka, Orlando Magic
This may well be my most ambitious ranking. It’s predicated upon Ibaka being arguably the Magic’s best three-point shooter (which is a bit scary), as well as the shift away from two of the most ball-dominant players in the NBA. I expect him to have the best offensive season of his career.
15. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Take everything good that I said about Bledsoe, remove the caveats about his durability, and you have a pretty good idea of what Lowry brings to the table.
14. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
If Ibaka isn’t my most ambitious ranking, then Irving is. A fully healed Irving scored 25 PPG in the playoffs, on 47.5%/44.0%/87.5% shooting - and I think that’s a sign of things to come.
13. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
George’s overall FG% left a bit to be desired, but he’s an asset in every other category. And he’s the man on a team that promises to have a more uptempo offense this season, to boot.
12. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Whiteside was competent from the line last year, and I am hoping that that’s a sign of things to come. With Chris Bosh on his way out the door and Dwyane Wade already in Chicago, Whiteside may be expected to shoulder a heavier load - and he is already a dominant force in FG%, rebounds, and blocks.
11. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I’ve seen the Greek Freak go as high as fifth in some drafts, and that’s a bit too risky for my tastes. He was a monster after the All-Star break (18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists per game), and I buy into his hype - but I can’t justify taking him over some safer talents.
10. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul’s 2015-16 was right in-line with his career norms, and he is a reliably brilliant fantasy player.
9. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The Kings may be a house of horrors, but that hasn’t hindered Cousins. His FG% isn’t good when compared to most bigs, but it’s tough to pick on that when he’s putting up 25-plus points, 11-plus rebounds, a steal, and a block per game, while getting to the line 9-plus times.
8. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Davis has not been able to stay healthy in his career, but he’s been a steady player nevertheless. He’s something of a toss-up relative to Cousins, but I gave him the edge here due to his ridiculous upside.
7. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
I wouldn’t argue with someone that had James in the top-three, but I think that the Cavaliers are going to attempt to give the keys to Irving and Kevin Love more often this season. James will still be excellent, of course.
6. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
If Leonard hadn’t dealt with nagging injuries and wasn’t employed by a team that likes to rest its stars, he could be a bit higher. His counting stats weren’t too far off from James last season, but he got there with more efficiency - and I think that he’ll build on that this year.
5. Devin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Durant may score 25 PPG instead of 28 this year, but that’s the only real issue I see in his transition to Golden State. He has shared responsibility with a ball-dominant type throughout his career, and it never slowed him down.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Okay - maybe this is my craziest ranking. I couldn’t help myself. Towns was an absolute stud as a rookie, and he acquitted himself nicely as the Timberwolves increased his minutes in the second half. I think he’s going to be a more efficient version of Cousins this season.
3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry was hampered by injuries for the second playoff in a row, and that keeps him out of the top two spots, on the off-chance that all of those minutes are finally catching up with him. And I’ll probably regret it.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden is going to be running an even faster-paced offense this season, and that’s a scary thought for opposing defenses. There are no real flaws in his fantasy game.
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
I wouldn’t be shocked if Westbrook came close to averaging a triple-double this season, his first as the unquestioned leader of the Thunder. He has always played with a chip on his shoulder, and we saw what he could do in 2014-15 when Durant was sidelined for the majority of the season. Westbrook and the Thunder will be must-see TV.