Biggests Surprises and Busts of 2018-19
Biggests Surprises and Busts of 2018-19

This article is part of our Season Review series.

We're in a waiting period between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, so let's look at what players surprised or disappointed fantasy owners. In general, I avoided situations affected by injury.

Rankings references are for eight-category formats

Top-25 "Busts"

Anthony Davis, Pelicans

It's a testament to Davis' dominant first half of the season that he still finished as the league's No. 2 fantasy player on a per-game basis. Through the first 41 games of the season, he averaged 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.6 blocks and 1.7 steals on 50.8 percent shooting. However, an ill-fated trade demand flipped that MVP-caliber script. From game 42 to 82, Davis appeared in only 15 games, seeing 22.1 minutes per contest. He was outside of the top-250 in terms of total production for the final 30 days of the season. Davis drastically tanked the second half of anyone's fantasy season who drafted him, and he deserves a place on this list for that, despite his overall finish.

Ben Simmons, 76ers

"Bust" is probably too strong for Simmons, who still finished as the 36th-ranked player in terms of average. But fantasy owners expected him to improve, and he was taken near the start of the second round in many drafts. He's stayed healthy, and that counts for something, but it's difficult to look at any part of Simmons' game and say he's made tangible improvement. We can give him credit for bumping his free-throw percentage up exactly five percent, but making six out of every 10 free-throws still limits his upside. Simmons' scoring, rebounding, passing and defensive stats are nearly identical to last season. We usually expect second-year players to take a more pronounced leap.

Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

Ironically, following a highly publicized Rookie of the Year debate between Ben Simmons and Mitchell, neither player made the jump most expected. Like Simmons, Mitchell was taken in the second round of many drafts, but ended up returning fourth- or fifth-round value. He marginally improved his counting stats across the board, but Mitchell didn't make any sort of improvement in shooting efficiency. The sophomore has played well since the New Year, but that hasn't been enough to make up for his first half.

Surprise Top-25 Finishers

Paul George, Thunder

A popular pick at the end of the first round or beginning of the second round, George emerged into an MVP-caliber player this season, helping vault many a fantasy team to the top of the standings. It's not often a player who is already an All-Star tacks on six more points per game to his average while upping all of his other counting stats – especially when that player starts alongside Russell Westbrook. If the NBA's Most Improved Player ballot went more than five players deep, George would likely have a case. Lately, he's cooled off following a shoulder injury, but he was on fire for a solid three months, averaging 31.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.3 threes, 4.2 assists and 2.3 steals on 46.3 percent shooting from December through February. George may not make it past pick No. 5 in drafts next year.

Nikola Vucevic, Magic

When the Magic took Mo Bamba at No. 6 overall in the 2018 Draft, the assumption was that he and Vucevic would split time at center, with the possibility of Vucevic getting dealt to a contender at the trade deadline. It became quickly apparent Bamba wasn't ready for a that big of a role and that the Magic were gunning for the postseason – a goal that ultimately came to fruition. In the process, Vucevic played the most games of his career, molding himself into an All-Star while averaging 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and a combined 2.1 blocks/steals. He also shot 51.8 percent from the field and drilled 1.1 threes per contest. Vucevic was drafted in the sixth or seventh round of many fantasy drafts, and he returned second-round value.

Top-50 Busts

Aaron Gordon, Magic

Gordon was coming off the best season of his young career, and it seemed like it was going to turn a corner, possibly cracking 20 points per game. But he ended up in a smaller role, taking 1.5 fewer shots per game, plus 0.7 fewer free-throws. Gordon saw his efficiency tick upwards, but it was essentially cancelled out by fewer scoring opportunities, fewer rebounds and fewer defensive stats. Connecting on 1.4 more assists per game was nice, but that was the kind of jump people were expecting on top of other things. If you drafted him in the fifth round like many others, you only got eighth-round value.

Jarrett Allen, Nets

Allen marks what is the first true "bust" on this list. He burst onto the fantasy scene last season as a rookie, needing just 20.0 minutes per game to put together 8.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. DFS players took notice whenever he saw extended run, as he averaged 11.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.0 assists in the four games he saw 30-plus minutes. Everything seemed to be lining up for Allen to see a huge role increase during his sophomore season. That prompted fantasy owners to jump the gun, often drafting him in the fifth round, if not higher, this past fall. However, Kenny Atkinson didn't give Allen the run fantasy owners hoped, and he finished the regular season averaging 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 assists in 26.3 minutes. With those numbers, Allen only returned 10th-round value.

Top-50 Surprises

Zach LaVine, Timberwolves

After an ACL tear limited LaVine to 71 games across the past two seasons, fantasy owners didn't know what to do with him. Do we draft him for his upside on a weak Bulls team, or do we worry about a slow start and a potential re-injury? Well, we got a little of both. LaVine will finish the year having played only 63 games, but he flourished during his appearances, averaging 23.7 points on 46.7 percent shooting, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steal in 34.5 minutes. On a per-game basis, those who drafted LaVine in the seventh round got fourth-round value in return.

DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors

Cousins had a pre-draft rank outside of the top-150, though there were fantasy owners who took the gamble and spent a ninth- or 10th-round pick on the big man. Coming off an Achilles tear, there was plenty of reason to doubt a resurgent comeback from Cousins, and the argument was there to simply use the roster spot on someone else. I'm not sure anyone expected Cousins to return as he has, ranking as a top-35 fantasy player on a per-game basis by averaging 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and a combined 2.8 blocks/steals. If you drafted him, there's a solid chance he helped you coast through the fantasy playoffs.

D'Angelo Russell, Nets

There was fear that Russell, despite being entering his age-22 season, had plateaued as a player. From a purely statistical standpoint, it did look that way, and we saw the point guard come off the board around pick 90. Russell made a tangible jump, however, and it started when Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a long-term injury. Russell finished the year with fourth-round value, but his value since January has been much higher. After the calendar turned to 2019, Russell averaged 23.9 points on 44.3 percent shooting, 7.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 31.4 minutes. He won't be slept on again in 2019-20.

Danilo Gallinari, Clippers

Gallinari's seasons have always been injury-plagued, not that this year has been an exception, as he'll finish with 67 games played. Still, after making just 21 appearances last year, Gallinari has bounced back with the best season of his 10-year career. He set career highs nearly across the board, absolutely shattering his pre-season rank of 151 along the way. On a per-game basis, he returned top-40 value by averaging 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 threes in 30.4 minutes.

Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers

Unfortunately, Nurkic's great season was cut short by a serious leg injury, but we shouldn't let that overshadow the year he turned in. Last season marked his first full year in Portland, but fantasy owners ended up disappointed as he didn't recreate the value from his initial trade to the Blazers during the 2016-17 campaign. Nurkic's stock dipped as a result, and you could snatch him up in the 10th or 11th round. Fantasy owners who drafted him this year finally got what they were looking for. One of the main concerns was Nurkic's free-throw shooting, which he corrected to 77.3 percent – up from 63.0 percent, drastically raising his ceiling as a player. That allowed him to reach top-45 value when paired with his 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steal across 27.4 minutes.

Buddy Hield, Kings

Nobody has been caught off guard by Hield's three-point shooting. It's why fantasy owners drafted him in the eighth or ninth round despite just 13.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 2017-18. The question was whether or not he could take on a role beyond being a knock-down three-point shooter worthy of about 25 minutes a night. Hield showed this year that he can be a legitimate scoring threat every night. He hit 3.4 threes per game and shot 45.8 percent from the field en route to 20.8 points, not to mention 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 32.1 minutes. Hield also played at least 80 games for the third straight year, which should valut him high on many draft boards next year. If you drafted him for this season, you got fifth-round value in return.

De'Aaron Fox, Kings

Looking back, it seems ridiculous that people let Fox slip past the 10th round. He was the fifth overall pick in 2017 and, like many rookie point guards, he didn't look amazing. But Fox still flashed nearly a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio as a 19-year-old, scored 20-plus points on five occasions and racked up four performances with at least 10 assists. Things seemed to click for Fox and the Kings this season, however. The sophomore will end the year averaging 17.3 points, 7.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 31.6 minutes while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. Next year, fantasy owners will be looking for him to improve his free-throw shooting (72.2 percent), but he'll still be a hot commodity after finishing as a top-50 player.

Pascal Siakam, Raptors

I'd argue that Siakam is the biggest surprise/sleeper of the year. He went undrafted in many leagues with a fair-at-the-time preseason rank of 140. He was coming off his second straight season of seeing less than 21 minutes per game and posting points in the single-digits. Considering he was drafted with the 27th pick in 2016, few were waiting on bated breath for Siakam to reach his upside. Plus, Kawhi Leonard joining the Raptors and OG Anunoby showing promise made it look like Siakam would be in line for more of the same.

It became quickly apparent that Siakam had taken things to another level. He scored 10 points on October 26, the sixth game of the year, and proceeded to rattle off 13 straight double-digit performances, chipping in 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals along the way. Siakam never slowed down, and he'll finish the year returning fifth or sixth round value despite many fantasy owners picking him up off the waiver wire. If Leonard leaves in free agency, we could see Siakam go in the third round next year.

Top-100 Busts

Taurean Prince, Hawks

Much of the hype surround Prince came from his late-season performances last year. In the final two months of the 2017-18 campaign, he averaged 19.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals in 30.4 minutes, while also hitting 3.2 threes at 41.6 percent. Assuming he'd continue being a high-usage player, fantasy owners selected him around the sixth round. In hindsight, that seemed to have put way too much confidence in his upside, entirely throwing away the possibility that he would have a similar overall season. But that's what happened. Part of Prince's disappointing season could be chalked up to injuries, as he played just 54 games. Still, even before missing extended time, he wasn't on a path to a huge improvement. Overall, Prince will finish outside of the top-120.

Gordon Hayward, Celtics

If you were drafting Hayward in the sixth or seventh round, like many others, you knew the possibility of failure. Would Hayward be able to return to his All-Star form the year after a devastating ankle injury? The answer: a resounding "no." He'll finish with value outside of the 10th round. Still, we've seen flashes that should give fantasy owners optimism for next year. Over the past eight games, he's averaging 16.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 58.5 percent shooting. His playoff performance will go a long way toward determining where he gets drafted for 2019-20.

Lonzo Ball, Lakers

Lonzo Ball optimists, present company included, thought he would mesh well with LeBron James. Ball is, if nothing else, unselfish and a good defender. A three-point percentage increase also seemed possible considering he shot 80-of-194 in college (41.2 percent). Technically, he improved his shooting efficiency, raising his true shooting percentage from 44.4 to 48.7 (still really bad). Ball has also made just 52 free throws. Not this season. In his career. Some of us drafted Lonzo Ball in the seventh round. Some of us only got 11th-round value prior to his season-ending injury. Some of us will explore other options next season.

Brandon Ingram, Lakers

Brandon Ingram optimists, present company included, thought he would mesh well with LeBron James. Actually, all things considered, I think Ingram had a relatively successful age-20 season. He averaged 18.3 points on 49.7 percent shooting, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 33.8 minutes. It didn't translate well into fantasy production, however, considering he shot just 67.5 percent from the charity stripe and averaged just a combined 1.1 blocks/steals. He was usually drafted between 70 and 90, but failed to return top-150 value.

Tyreke Evans, Pacers

Evans was coming off a resurgent season with the Grizzlies, posting 19.4 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 30.9 minutes. In joining the Pacers, it was safe for fantasy owners to assume Evans would see a reduced role, as Victor Oladipo was the driving force behind the offense. But there was still reason to be optimistic. Evans can play three positions, and the possibility of him playing 25-plus minutes in a sixth-man role was very real. Why not take him with pick 100? I still don't blame you if you were in that camp, but Evans regressed hard and fast, and he'll finish the year outside of the top-250, even with Oladipo missing half of the season. I wish I had an explanation. There's been no indication that he's dealing with a significant injury, though it wouldn't surprise me.

Top-100 Surprises

Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Plenty of people reached for Doncic, and it made sense given his international pedigree. However, the general fantasy public was content with letting him slip to rounds eight and beyond. After all, it's not often that 19-year-old comes in and puts together an All-Star-caliber campaign. But that's exactly what he did. Spearheading a fantastic rookie class, Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.1 steals, giving fantasy owners fifth or sixth round value. He won't catch people by surprise next year, especially as he's set to team up with Kristaps Porzingis.

Trae Young, Hawks

Young didn't exactly put on a show at summer league, with fans and reporters alike already trying to slap the "bust" label on the freewheeling guard. And it seemed that would be the course he took after Young had a slow first two months, shooting 37.8 percent from the field and 24.8 percent from distance through his first 23 appearances. Something changed around December, though, and Young quickly went from a bust to fighting for the Rookie of the Year honor.

In his final 57 appearances, the point guard averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 43.5 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from distance, even posting a 43.7 three-point percentage in the month of February. When everything was said and done, Young finished just four spots behind Luka Doncic in the fantasy ranks. It will be interesting to see who gets drafted sooner next season.

JaVale McGee, Lakers

After playing fewer than 10 minutes per game across the past two seasons, fantasy owners were hesitant to put trust in McGee for 2018-19, even with a thin center position in Los Angeles. McGee wasted no time turning himself into a hot waiver wire pickup, averaging 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, a combined 4.3 blocks/steals and 1.3 assists in October. Unfortunately, his role waxed and waned throughout the year, making it difficult for fantasy owners to set-and-forget him in their starting lineups. Still, those who hung onto McGee saw him return seventh round value, which was certainly not predicted before the season.

Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

Harrell played 17.0 minutes per game last year, and while it was reasonable to expect he might see an uptick in workload with DeAndre Jordan no longer on the team, Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic would presumably be in the mix as well. It didn't seem likely a risk worth taking. Gortat ended up showing his age quickly, averaging just 3.6 points and 5.5 rebounds in his first eight appearances and needing until Jan. 4 to record a double-double. And with Marjanovic historically playing limited minutes, Harrell ended up flourishing. He went undrafted in most formats, but ended up returning eighth-round value by averaging 16.6 points on 61.5 percent shooting, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 blocks in 26.3 minutes. Harrell also scored in single-digits just 11 times this season.

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks

Robinson flew under the radar of most fantasy owners, but for a good reason. He was a bit of a mystery prospect after leaving Western Kentucky before playing a single minute, and he arived in New York as part of a crowded rotation. Enes Kanter spent much of the year ahead of Robinson in the rotation, though the rookie showed what he could do early on by averaging 5.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and a combined 3.1 blocks/steals across 12 starts from late October to mid-November.

He disappeared again until early February, which was around the time Kanter was let go. In a string of 11 games, Robinson popped for 11.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and a 3.5 blocks in 23.5 minutes. Robinson ended up starting the final seven games of the year, and he put up similar numbers, though in more minutes. Overall, in 66 appearances, Robinson collected 11 double-doubles and had 30 performances with at least three blocks, providing fantasy owners with top-85 value. Robinson will head into next season as the best per-minute shot-blocker in the league.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Barutha
Alex writes primarily about the NBA for RotoWire. His work has appeared on CBS Sports, Bleacher Report and other sites. He enjoys both year-long and daily fantasy. Vince Carter and Alex both first dunked during their respective sophomore years of high school.
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