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Busts or slow starts?: Players who are underperforming so far in fantasy basketball

Are these players worth keeping or should you dump them?

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

We’re an 8th of the way through the season, which means we’ve got 10 games of data on each team. It’s still early in the year, and we’ve had a lot of players with injuries (or, suspensions), so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but we can check on trends, and see if there are indications of future performance hidden within. Rather than call players “busts,” let’s see who’s been underperforming in fantasy, and ask whether we think they’ll, ahem, rebound.

All stats are as of 11/14/18 from ESPN.com and NBA.com. (As always, Thank You to these sites!)

Players OUTSIDE the Top 100 in ESPN Basic:

Steven Adams, OKC, C - #101 Player Rater, 78.7% owned

Adams is basically a top 100 player, but numbers is as numbers does, and he was drafted in the 90s, on average, so he qualifies for a player who’s underwhelmed, thus far. Honestly, though, Adams stats are all improvements on last season, including points per game (PPG), free throw attempts (FTA), rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game. He’s doing great so far! So, why isn’t his value higher? I think this has a lot to do with the new rules about defense in the NBA, and the influx of good Centers over the past few years, combining to make C a fairly deep position. 46 Centers currently have a positive rating on ESPN Basic; 14 Cs are averaging 30+ minutes per game (including Adams), and Adams is averaging the third fewest field goal attempts out of that group, as well as the fourth lowest RPG, and the third lowest APG. Honestly, he’s still a great player, and his player rating is based more on the amount of good competition at the C this year. I would hold onto him, as I still expect him to finish in the Top 100 as the season goes on.

Willie Cauley-Stein, SAC, C - #103, 76.8%

WCS is having a breakout campaign, and he’s besting all of his averages from last year. He and Adams are basically neck-and-neck in value on the ESPN player rater, so I would hold onto WCS, as well, since players like JaVale McGee (6th ranked Center), Enes Kanter (10th), and Cody Zeller (21st) probably won’t maintain their ranks across the entire season, due to losing their starting position or losing minutes overall (McGee has to now share with Tyson Chandler in LA, and Kanter no longer starts for the Knicks). I’d hang onto him, as he may just continue to improve as the season goes along.

Otto Porter, Jr., WAS, SF - #107, 76%

There’s something in the DC water, because everyone who lives there seems as crazy as a duck in the desert right now. Otto, who I like a lot, has been worth less than Danny Green so far this season; Otto’s ownership is 76%, while Green’s is 3%. All of Porter’s numbers are down from last year, but I really don’t know why. Perhaps he needs a change of scenery? His Wizzle-Wazzle teammates have been harping on him to be more aggressive, but, haha!, this is coming from dudes who constantly blame other people, even though they’re A) not playing defense, B) not moving when they don’t have the ball, and C) not assisting (bottom 10 rate in the NBA) and not passing (bottom 5 in the NBA per game). I think that there’s a real chance that this becomes a lost season for OPJ, mainly just because of how effed up his team seems. I wouldn’t trade him in fantasy just yet, but I sure would be considering offers. There are currently 30 other players who qualify at the SF position that are giving better value.

Paul Millsap, DEN, PF - #109, 80.2%

Millsap’s a good player in a bad (fantasy) situation. Everyone else, and I do mean EVERYONE else, can shoot better than Millsap on the Denver Nuggets, including his front court mate at Center, Nikola Jokic. He’s still a top 25 option at PF, but he’s averaging 12 PPG and 7 RPG, and 1 APG. Nemanja Bjelica, the surprise King of Sacramento, is averaging 12 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 3PM, and 2+ APG. Millsap’s ownership is 80%; Bjelica’s is 15%. If you can cheaply acquire Bjelica, and flip Millsap for assets (either draft picks, money, or a better player at another position), I would do it. There’s almost no roadmap for Millsap to enhance his offense on this team, especially when Will Barton returns from injury. Again, good player, but bad fantasy situation.

Lonzo Ball, LAL, PG - #114, 86.7%

This is all about Rajon Rondo. Don’t drop Lonzo.

Andrew Wiggins, MIN SG/SF - #119, 84.9%

The only things that truly matter when it comes to Wiggins are the fact that he’s shooting better from deep (it’s not a blip, this trend began in the second half of last season; out of all players who average 5+ 3PA per game this season, Wiggins is 10th(!) in 3PT% at 41.2), and Jimmy Butler is now gone. Wiggins’s opportunities should increase drastically, and there’s a real chance that he rockets up the rankings as he gets more shots. He’s possibly a sub-average player in real life, but he could be an above average player in fantasy. Time will tell; don’t drop him.

Dennis Smith, Jr., DAL, PG - #124, 78.2%

Sophomore slump? Or, the consequence of Luka Doncic? He’s shooting a little bit less, and his assists are down, but I would hold onto DSJ as Dallas works out their kinks. The Mavs are a bit of a mess right now (bottom 10 defensive rating even with the addition of Deandre Jordan), but they’re hella young. DSJ and Luka should be backcourt mates for the foreseeable future; I’d bet on them figuring it out and Smith’s value begins to climb.

Jabari Parker, CHI, PF - #126, 67.3%

Goddamn, the Bulls, man. Jabari’s outside shot hasn’t been hitting, it’s a ghastly 25%, and that’s waaay under his career average, so hold on to him and hope that this ridiculous team finds some semblance of normalcy as the season goes on. If they don’t, fire Fred Hoiberg, and still hang on to Jabari. He averaged 20 PPG just two years ago, remember.

Jordan Clarkson, CLE, SG - #134, 68.1%

I know people who like Jordan Clarkson. But, he scores less than JJ Redick and Wesley Matthews, he gets fewer assists than JJ Redick and Wesley Matthews, AND he scores fewer threes than either of them. His ownership is nearly double that of Redick (37%), and it’s ten times that of Matthews (6%). Feel free to trade the shit out of Clarkson. He’s been less valuable than Joe Harris on the Nets, and Harris’s ownership is 2%, plus he doesn’t always start. Get real, Clarkson owners.

Goran Dragic, MIA, PG - #143, 87.4% (!)

This surprised the hell out of me. Dragic’s been less valuable than Jeremy Lin, and Lin doesn’t even average 25 minutes per game. Dragic is currently the 35th ranked PG. ELEVEN of the PGs who are better than him have ownership levels under 50%; 7 of them are under 10%! Dragic is only 32, but nearly ALL of his numbers have regressed over the past two years. His 20 PPG in 2016-17 is absolutely an outlier; his career average is 14. Flip this dude if you can, because it might continue to get worse. The odds of him getting better are low.


Players OUTSIDE the Top 150:

Reggie Jackson, DET, PG - #161, 69.6%

RJax has the same rating as Terry Rozier and The Cam Payne. This is Reggie’s 8th year in the league. He’s not good. I’d rather have Malcolm Brogdon.

Gordon Hayward, BOS, SF - #163, 93.3% (!!)

This is surprising, only in how so many folks are surprised that Hayward isn’t playing at 100% after being injured and sitting out an entire season. There’s this thing called “rust” that players get when they don’t play for awhile. You gotta play that shit off, that’s the only way to get rid of it. I’ve heard some people say that the Celtics should play Hayward less. Why? So he continues to be bad for a longer amount of time? That’s really stupid, in my opinion. Let him get back into game shape and game rhythm, and he’ll be just fine. The Celtics are in the 5th seed and have one of the best defenses in the NBA; they’ll be fine. Why the hell is everyone being such a goddamn drama queen about this? We’re only an 8th of the way through the season, goddamn. If someone’s trynna trade him in your league, you should get on that right away. Hayward will be a top 100 player by the end of the year.

Markelle Fultz, PHI, PG - #187, 41.8%

Philadelphia deserves this. This is the karmic backlash you get when you fire your good GM (Sam Hinkie, who delivered Embiid and Simmons and Robert Covington, and put the assets in place to allow the 76ers to trade for Jimmy Butler) and replace him with a nepotistic “NBA royalty” bullshit family. Hey, Adam Silver and Philly’s ownership group: how’d the Colangelos work out? Still glad you fired that guy who did exactly what he said he’d do? Philly is effed because they made a disastrous (thanks again, Colangelos!) draft trade with Boston and chose Fultz instead of Taytum, EVEN THOUGH THEY ALREADY HAD A POINT GUARD IN BEN SIMMONS.

Regarding Fultz: I don’t think he has any value in fantasy, whatsoever. Maybe ditto in real life?


And, here are some players with an Average Draft Position (ADP) in the top 100 and a poor Player Rating:

  • Jaylen Brown, BOS, SG - ADP 95.1, -2.42 PR
  • Trey Burke, NYK, PG - ADP 99.7, -1.92 PR
  • Brandon Ingram, LAL, PF - ADP 65.2, -0.63 PR
  • Harrison Barnes, DAL, PF - ADP 75.2, -0.58 PR
  • Gordon Hayward, BOS, SF - ADP 52, 0.91 PR
  • Goran Dragic, MIA, PG - ADP 53.5, 1.59 PR
  • Dennis Smith, Jr., DAL, PG - ADP 81.4, 2.30 PR
  • Andrew Wiggins, MIN, SG/SF - ADP 68.5, 2.59 PR
  • Lonzo Ball, LAL, PG - ADP 62.1, 2.91 PR
  • LaMarcus Aldridge, SAS, PF/C - ADP 22.1, 4.17 PR

It’s still early in the season, and there’s plenty of time for underperforming players to pull it together, especially Gordon Hayward and DSJ. But! We can see that Goran Dragic is supremely overrated so far, and Jaylen Brown is DEFINITELY the odd man out in Boston now that Kyrie and Hayward are healthy. (What kind of return would Boston get for Brown and Terry Rozier, I wonder?) Harrison Barnes, Reggie Jackson (sigh), and Jaylen Brown are shooting under 40% from the field, which is, how you say, butt-salad. And, Eric Gordon is also shooting sub-40%, something that might have more to do with Houston’s issues than Carmelo.

What other players are giving you headaches? Let us know in the comments.