There’s an ancient fantasy basketball koan which originated in Atlantis and still persists to this day:
A bad team has good players.
Now, despite it seeming paradoxical, the above statement is as real as that rash you haven’t noticed yet. What it means, when you’ve translated it from the ancient Atlantean, is that good fantasy players are on bad teams because they get more opportunities to shine because their teammates are, how you say, butt.
Consider: James Harden was #1 in the ESPN player rater last year (he was #2 in my fantasy league, but that’s because I was #1). Guess how many other Houston Rockets players were ranked in the top 50? None.
Consider: Russell Westbrook—who is a bad, bad man—was #2 in the ESPN player rater last year (he was #1 in my fantasy league because we count triple-doubles as a stat, so he basically won the league by himself last year; he is not on my team, coolcoolcool). Guess how many other Oklahoma City Thunder players were ranked in the top 50? None.
Consider: Karl-Anthony Towns was #4 in the ESPN player rater last year (#3 in my league; do you care? I’m assuming you care a great deal). Guess how many other Minnesota Timberwolves players were ranked in the top 50? None! (Technically, Gorgui Dieng was #39 in the ESPN player rater, but get real, the dude averaged 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 who-cares per game. Did you even know Gorgui Dieng was a basketball player? I bet you thought he was a famous Klingon or something. He was drafted four years ago in the first round out of Louisville. If Gorgeous Gorgui is starting on your team, then you’re going to lose, in real life and in fantastical life. He was the 15th best Center in my league last year. You know what that means? It means he’s butt.)
What do the three above considerations mean? What is their context? Ask yourself this: can you name other good fantasy players on Houston, Oklahoma City, or Minnesota? The answer is, “Yes! Because I play in a really stupid fantasy league!” However, if you play in a regular, non-stupid league, then the answer is “I’m not paying attention to you, your starting point guard in fantasy is Austin Rivers.” This is true.
But, here’s the savvy realization: good players on teams without another star are heavily, heavily weighted towards inflated numbers. Harden and Westbrook were literally just passing the ball to enhance their counting stats, not because it helped them win basketball games. You could put anyone average around those two guys and they’d achieve similar numbers.
Big K.A.T. is a little different. He plays on a team that doesn’t believe in offense, and for a coach who has the superpower to actually slow time to a crawl. I believe the medical term for this superpower is “The Absolute Worst Regular Season Style of Orange-in-the-Bucket Possible.” Yet Townes was able to accrue stats anyway, despite playing on a literal floor of molasses in front of snowmen brought to life by Prince’s powerful tunes.
All three of these guys now have better teams and have legit stars to run with. James Harden has the funnest player in the history of basketball in Chris Paul. (Don’t you just love to watch CP3 yell at people? “Go there! Go over there! You big stupid! We’re losing because you’re stupid! I’m great and you’re stupid! God, I can’t believe I’m your father!”) Lord of War Westbrook has Paul George, who is basically Kawhi with talking, and something called a Carmelo, which seems to be a vestigial myth from the longago in the waywayback. And, Sir Towns has Jimmy Butler, as well as a point guard who has actually put a basketball through a round hole at certain points in his life in Jeff Teague (who was #24 in the ESPN player rater last year; #23 was Chris Paul).
All three of these guys play for OBVIOUSLY better teams this year. All three will decrease in the player rater. Why? Fewer opportunities. Plain and simple and all up in your dome piece like Jerome’s niece.
So, who are some good players on bad teams who might vault up in value as the above three players descend?
Here are four options:
Bad Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Good Player on said Bad Team: Brook Lopez
Last season Brook Lopez started shooting 3s. He attempted 5.2 threes per game. Carmelo Anthony attempted 5.7 threes per game, his most in 4 years. BroLo made 34% of his threes; Carmelo made 36%. Brook Lopez is 7 feet tall.
When Lopez was traded to the Lakers it seemed like he was going to a better team with young pieces and a good coach. He is their best player, right now, by a mile. He is not yet 30. The Lakers are going to want to feed him the ball to enhance his trade value because the Lakers are still dreaming on a 2018-19 season with LeBron James, and Brook Lopez has an expiring contract. Lonzo Ball will be throwing Lopez alley-oops all day long, Lopez will continue to shoot threes in Luke Walton’s Warriors-influenced coaching scheme, and Lopez will increase his rebounds back to his historical levels of 7 per game, rather than the 5 he averaged last year when he wasn’t trying. Lopez was ranked #30 in ESPN’s player rater last year; there’s a decent chance he vaults into the top 20 this year, especially if they use him to take pressure off the young guys.
For those of you who think that Julius Randle will start at Center for the Lakers: he’s 6’9”. Again, Brook Lopez is 7 feet tall. He will start.
Bad Team: Phoenix Suns
Good Player on said Bad Team: Devin Booker
Devin Booker scored 70 points in a single game last season, a feat only accomplished 10 times in history before that game.
The Suns won 24 games last season.
Those three facts together perhaps suggest that Devin Booker is a “good” player on a “terrifyingly horrible” team. For, how can an all-time player lose so many games in a season?
But, here’s the thing: the Suns are YOUNG. Tyson Chandler is the only rotation player that’s over 30, and at this point he’s more idea than man. You have to assume that Alex Len keeps the starting Center job. If Eric Bledsoe can actually, you know, “play basketball,” then he’ll be the oldest starter at 27 years old.
So, the Suns are young, fast, and possibly good. This could be the season we remember as the year the Young Suns ascended. In fact, the Suns’ P.A. system should play Warren G’s “Regulate” before every home game.
If all the players improve, well that’s just a rising tide lifting all them boats, ain’t it? Devin Booker, who is 20 years old, coalesces with his other young teammates and the Young Suns become the funnest team in the NBA.
Here are some facts to encourage you to believe in Booker: he is one of only SIX players to ever score at least 70 points in a game; he scored the most points in a game against the Celtics EVER (and, remember, Boston won the East and was considered an excellent defensive team); he’s scored more points in a single game than LeBron, Curry, Durant, MICHAEL! JORDAN!, me, and every other active NBA player. Oh yeah, Booker also had six assists in that 70 point game, which is double what his average was! Devin wants his teammates to do well when he’s doing well. GOOD SIGN!
One more reason I think Devin Booker will have a higher fantasy rating than he did last year? HE WAS RANKED #57 ON ESPN’S PLAYER RATER! THAT’S ONE SPOT AHEAD OF ELFRID PAYTON! Let me ask you a question: Is Devin Booker better than Elfrid Payton?
Regulators: Mount up.
Bad Team: The Fightin’ Sam Hinkies (The Philadelphia 1776’ers)
Good Player on said Bad Team: Joel Embiid
Quick! How many games did Embiid play in last season? That’s right! Alla them!
Okay, mmmmaybe he only played in 31 games. And, mmmmaybe he was ranked #168 on the ol’ player rater. But, yknow what his per game numbers were? 20 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks. TWO. AND. A. HALF. BLOCKS. His PER was the same as DAME LILLARD’S. If Embiid can play in 60 games, then he’ll be one of the best players in the league and in fantasy, no question.
You might be wondering about the other young pieces on the 76ers and whether they’re akin to them Young Suns out west. Well....here’s the thing. They have a rookie point guard. They also have a rookie wing, who we all think is going to be amazing, but who hasn’t actually done anything, and maaaaaaybe can’t shoot? Fultz and Simmons are going to be what the fans talk about because they’re new shiny toys, but this team can and will make the playoffs if Embiid does what he can do.
Plus, he has Old Man Redick to guide him in the Jedi ways of the NBA. Embiid shot three 3s per game last season; ya think working on his shot with OMR will help him obtain da smoovenizz?
Regardless, Trust the Process, and fight, fight, fight for Sam Hinkie. He died for Sixers’ fans’ sins.
Bad Team: The Deeee-troit Pisssss-tons!
Good Player on said Bad Team: Andre “Sharpshooter” Drummond
This is me. Screaming and having my heart ripped out after Detroit’s free agency “splurge” this past offseason. I’m dead.
Two weeks before the regular season starts and naught has improved.
Did you know that Stanley Johnson, who sells vacuum cleaner stocks in the offseason, is listed as the starting Small Forward for the Pistons? Did you know that he averaged 4 points per game last year? Did you know that I’m dead?
So, Stanley “Instantly Forgettable” Johnson will share the court with Reggie Jackson, who nobody seems to like; Avery Bradley, who is good, but also a trade chip if I’ve ever seen one; Tobias Harris who is...uhhhhh...he’s...well, he’s not Stanley Johnson, so that’s a positive; and, our man of the hour, Andre “Sharpshooter” Drummond!
Andre Drummond. The name itself brings to mind Free Throws Made. Because the name itself is the opposite of Free Throws Made. The Drum sank 38% of his free throws last year. ON PURPOSE. HE WAS TRYING. Stan Van Gundy, the coach of the Pistons and a professional porn star, took Drummond out of games late because opposing teams would send him to the line and he’d lose the game.
But, again, here’s the thing: it kind of seems impossible for him to get worse. Drum averaged a double-double last year. Drum was #85 on the player rater, but imagine if his scoring and rebounds go back to their level from 2015-16, when he averaged more points and boards and was one of the best young big men in the game. If he returns to those numbers, then he’ll be Rudy Gobert in counting stats (the ratios, not so much). Gobert was #13 on the player rater last year. I think top 20 is within Drum’s reach. Remember, he’s only 24 years old. Shaq couldn’t shoot free throws, either. Did you ever consider him a bad player?
Brook Lopez, Devin Booker, Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond: all four could excel and move into the top 20, and would fit a “the sport is cyclical!” narrative as big men regain prominence in the new small ball era. (Devin Booker isn’t a Big, but he is excellent.)
Or, they could all retire tomorrow because friendship bracelets are trending again, and they won’t braid themselves. To the arts and crafts store, my fellow ex-basketballers!