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NBA Roundtable: Surprises, Disappointments, Rookies + More

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

With the first two months of the regular season in the books, the RotoWire NBA staff answers a six-pack of fantasy questions.

Which player has been the most pleasant fantasy surprise thus far?


James Anderson: Andre Drummond. I wouldn't say this is a "pleasant surprise" as before the season I was super low on his viability in the current NBA, and I like being right, but his improvement as a free-throw shooter has been shocking. Stan Van Gundy deserves some down-ballot coach of the year consideration for his use of Drummond as a facilitator in the mid post -- he already has 111 assists after notching just 90 assists last season.

Nick Whalen: LaMarcus Aldridge. While his reemergence is due in part to the absence of Kawhi Leonard, I didnít think Aldridge still had this level of play in him. As of Friday, heís been a top-20 player under the NBAís standard scoring format, and while that ranking will likely drop a bit as Leonard gets up to speed, itís nonetheless been an impressive start from a player who was going in the 60s and 70s in our preseason mocks.

Alex Barutha: Donovan Mitchell. As much as I'd like to say Victor Oladipo here, many people assumed Oladipo would have an improved year (though certainly not this much). On the other hand, there were questions as to whether or not Mitchell would be fantasy relevant at all in standard leagues. If someone goes from fantasy irrelevance to top 25-35 (depending on the format), they get my vote.

Ken Crites: Victor Oladipo. To be honest, Shannon told me this summer that Oladipo would be huge, but I didnít quite believe. Clearly, Shannon was right. CBS Sports has Oladipo ranked 4th for YTD Totals. The offense runs through him, but itís the career highs in steals and blocks that have made him truly awesome.

D.J. Trainor: Victor Oladipo and Donovan Mitchell are the obvious answers, but I've been pleasantly surprised by Robert Covington. He goes by the name of "Ham Sandwich" here in the RotoWire office, because a staffer once famously said "I wouldn't even trade a ham sandwich for Covington". At that time only a couple years ago it was a completely fair statement, but Ham Sandwich has turned his career around since then and has firmly earned his place as one of the best 3-and-D guys in the league.

Shannon McKeown: While there have been plenty of pleasant surprises (hello, Donovan Mitchell!), Victor Oladipo is the obvious answer. After playing second fiddle to Russell Westbrook in OKC last season, Oladipo has completely reinvented himself to be a fantasy monster. He has been a top-10 fantasy value on Yahoo based on total stats and per-game averages. Oladipo is averaging career-high marks in points (24.3), rebounds (5.3), treys (2.7), steals (1.9) and blocks (1.0).

Which player(s) were you high on coming into the season who has disappointed thus far?


Anderson: Josh Jackson. This one's not really close. Jackson was my favorite player in last year's draft, and so far he has been the least efficient player from the lottery who is seeing regular playing time. Obviously I wasn't expecting him to come in and immediately be an above-average offensive player, but I thought he would show flashes of developing into a Shawn Marion type of player, and that hasn't happened. From a real-life perspective, if I were running another team I'd be sniffing around to see what the acquisition cost is, because he's in a terrible situation and I think he's still salvageable. However, if the draft were held today, I'm not sure he still goes in the top 10.

Whalen: Myles Turner. Most of the truly ďdisappointingĒ players have dealt with significant injuries, and while Turner did miss some time early in the season, he hasnít rebounded like Iíd hoped. Through 21 games, his scoring and rebounding numbers are down slightly compared to last season, as are his field goal and three throw percentages. Granted, heís been an elite shot-blocker and continues to improve as a three-point shooter, but Turner hasnít quite made the leap that most fantasy owners expected.

Barutha: Jusuf Nurkic. He's failed to live up to the high expectations he set for himself in Portland. He's scoring less efficiently, grabbing fewer rebounds, handing out fewer assists and blocking fewer shots.

Crites: There are more obvious names for this, but personally I was hoping for more of a breakout season from Jaylen Brown. I knew heíd start over Marcus Smart, and the 31 minutes per game leave lots of room for ROS improvement. But the 59% free throw shooting is unacceptable, and the 1.3 assists a game is uninspiring. Heís only 21 years old, so obviously Iím being impatient.

Trainor: I have almost 100-percent exposure to Wilson Chandler across all my leagues, and unfortunately that hasn't gone well for me. For years he and Danilo Gallinari cut into each other's usage in Denver, and I was certain he'd step up with Gallinari now out of the picture. I was certainly wrong. In fact, save his rookie campaign, Chandler is flirting with career lows in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and field-goal percentage so far this season.

McKeown: Brook Lopez, by a large margin. Lopez was valued as a top-40 player in the preseason and most experts applauded picking him anywhere in the 3rd or 4th round. Forget providing top-40 value, Lopez hasn't even been able to provide top-100 production. His playing time has dwindling to under 23 minutes per game, as the Lakers have prioritized giving minutes to their younger core players.

Other than Donovan Mitchell, which rookie has surprised you the most?


Anderson: Jayson Tatum. His three-point shooting will obviously regress, but it's still shocking to me that he's even above 35 percent from behind the arc. He has also been much better defensively than I anticipated.

Whalen: Iím going to take this opportunity to eat crow on Lauri Markkanen. Heís cooled off a bit in recent weeks -- 40.1% FG, 33.5% 3PT on the season -- but heís still looked much more NBA-ready than I anticipated. While the three-point production (2.2 made threes per game) is to be expected, his ability to rebound (8.1 per game) at the NBA level has been a pleasant surprise considering how much he struggled in that area at Arizona.

Barutha: Ben Simmons. I figured he'd rebound and pass the ball well, but I was not expecting 17.5 points and 2.8 combined steals/blocks per game. He's making a case for the All-Star game.

Crites: Iíll stick with my Celtics. Itís shocking that Jayson Tatum has been this consistent. The rook is shooting 50% from the field and draining 1.6 treys a game, and improvement over the 1.4 per game pace during his one year at Duke. How does a guy go from shooting 34% from 3-point land in college to 50% from behind the longer arc in the pros? Heís also had only four single-digit scoring games out of 29 games this season.

Trainor: I'm taking the negative route on this one by going with Malik Monk. A lot of us thought he'd be having the season Mitchell is having right now, but coach Steve Clifford has favored Michael Carter-Williams and Treveon Graham more than Monk to date. Michael Carter-Williams and Treveon Graham!

McKeown: Josh Jackson has surprised in a negative way. The Suns rookie swingman is averaging a measly 8.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 38 percent from the floor and 56 percent from the line. To make matters worse, his numbers have only gone down since grabbing a spot in the starting five in place of the injured Devin Booker. I'm still a believer in Jackson's talent and long-term potential, but it's hard to envision him making much of a fantasy impact this season.

Which breakout player is most likely to regress to the mean over the course of the remainder of the season: Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, or Andre Drummond?


Anderson: All of them, but if I have to choose, Aaron Gordon. We're basically debating between Oladipo's 3P%, Gordon's 3P% and Drummond's FT%. The rest of their numbers are right in line with what I'd expect. Gordon never shot 30 percent from three before this year and now he's over 40 percent, that'll come down by quite a bit, especially now that he thinks of himself as a three-point shooter.

Whalen: Overall, I think each of these players have improved to the point where this production will be somewhat-sustainable. That said, I canít imagine Gordon will still be hovering around 40 percent from beyond the arc in a month or two. He was a career 28.9 percent three-point shooter coming into the year, and heís taking (and making) more pull-up threes than ever before. After a blazing start, the regression has already begun, as Gordon is hitting only 32.5 percent of his threes over his last 12 games. Coincidentally, the Magic are 3-9 in that span.

Barutha: Drummond. I'm confident the assists per game will stay, but I'm still hesitant to declare his free-throw shooting here for good. Gordon's three-point shooting has been regressing heavily as of late, but he's still scoring well, so I'm not too concerned there. I think Oladipo's usage is too high for him to regress across the board, and he's shown no signs of slowing down at all.

Crites: The Drummond regression is already happening. Heís scored 6.3 points per game over this last three contests while shooting 55% from the line. While that 55% is a decline compared to the rest of this season, itís still much higher than his 40% career average. There is more room to drop. Oladipo is running the Pacers offense and has a nice history of gradual improvement. Gordon is only 22 years old. He could still improve, as well.

Trainor: Shame on whoever picks Oladipo here. Being freed from the Magic organization and the shadow of Russell Westbrook has allowed him to reach his full potential for the first time in his career. Speaking of the Magic, Gordon should be hitting a wall any day now. He's currently on track to play 2,762 minutes this season, which would be about 500 more than his previous career high. To put that into perspective, he only played 797 total minutes his rookie season.

McKeown: I have faith that all three players will continue to provide the best fantasy value of their careers. But if I have to pick one to regress, I'll go with Gordon. The Magic forward is shooting over 40 percent from downtown after failing to creak 30 percent in any previous season. He's only shooting 28.1 percent from deep since the calendar flipped to December and has been on a steady decline after an extremely hot start.

If you're starting a standard, dynasty league tomorrow, who do you take with the number one pick?


Anderson: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Is there another answer? I honestly can't think of an argument for anyone else.

Whalen: Giannis is the easy answer, and probably the correct answer. The fact that heís yet to make any tangible progress as a three-point shooter is a major concern, but age and impact in the defensive categories give him the edge over Kevin Durant and James Harden, neither of whom will be slowing down anytime soon.

Barutha: Giannis Antetokounmpo. This season, he's averaging 29.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and a combined 3.4 steals/blocks while shooting 54.6 percent from the field. I can't comprehend what he'll be averaging in five years when he's 28 and in his prime.

Crites: Giannis. I know, thatís not a particularly creative pick. But the Greek Freak is only 23 years old. 23! Heís the number four fantasy player right now and will get better. Antetokounmpo is five years younger than James Harden and nine years younger than LeBron. Plus I love the defensive contributions from Giannis.

Trainor: I'm having trouble deciding between Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but without over analyzing it too much, I'll pick Durant since he has an overwhelming edge in three-pointers and free-throw percentage.

McKeown: Giannis -- The Greek Freak is already a top-5 fantasy player and he's about 3 years away from his peak.

Name one player you hope is traded before the deadline for fantasy reasons


Anderson: Nikola Mirotic. I'd just like Lauri Markkanen to get as much run as possible with Zach LaVine over the rest of the season so that The Wonder Boy, Luka Doncic, can get a good feel for who he'll be setting up in 2018-19. Wilson Chandler is an honorable mention, because I like watching Trey Lyles gun.

Whalen: Skal Labissiere. Even in a different situation, itís no guarantee Labissiere would be fantasy-relevant, but Sacramento continues to prove thereís no worse place for young talent to develop. After showing encouraging flashes as a rookie, Labissiere is playing fewer minutes this season on perhaps the most ill-conceived roster in the league. The Kings have been a wasteland when it comes to fantasy utility, and the teamís insistence on prioritizing minutes for Zach Randolph (God bless his heart) and Kosta Koufos over Labissiere -- and at times, Willie Cauley-Stein -- has been frustrating, to say the least.

Barutha: George Hill or Zach Randolph. I don't want to have to guess when Skal Labissiere gets 30 minutes and when he's in the G-League. Same goes for the Kings' guards/wing players' playing time in regards to Hill's presence.

Crites: You mean, ďwhoís the next Eric Bledsoe?Ē Selfishly, Iíd like to see Willy Hernangomez leave the Knicks for say Atlanta or Dallas. I wonder when Toronto gives up on Jonas Valanciunas, but Iím not I see where he could thrive. Is it safe to assume those Julius Randle trade rumors are going away? Heís averaged 27 minutes per game over this last 10 matches.

Trainor: Will Barton has been my answer to this question for multiple years, and I'm still holding firm. He'd be a top-20 fantasy option if he were playing for Atlanta, Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, LA Clippers, or Sacramento right now.

McKeown: Nerlens Noel needs a new home. While it may seem like Nerlens has been around forever, he's still just 23. If handed 30 mpg, Nerlens would be a walking double-double with the potential to average 4+ stocks (steals + blocks) per game.
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