Our team of fantasy experts — Eric Karabell, Andre Snelllings, Eric Moody and Jim McCormick — got together to go over some of the biggest questions currently swirling around the world of fantasy basketball.
Here’s what they had to say about Zion Williamson, John Wall and other hot topics around the league.
Jonas Valanciunas is ranked No. 9 on ESPN’s Player Rater — one spot ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo — and is off to a great start this season. How much do you anticipate his production being impacted once Zion Williamson returns?
Karabell: I guess the first question I would have there is when is Zion returning from his foot injury and do we expect he can stay on the court the rest of the season? I am a bit skeptical, especially with the Pelicans off to such a brutal start and likely to take no chances. Sure, Valanciunas seems unlikely to score and rebound at quite this rate with Zion around, but he would probably shoot a much better percentage from the field with him, too. I am not panicking if I roster Valanciunas. I think he remains a top-30 fantasy option.
Snellings: If Zion returns at full strength, Valanciunas’ scoring would have to drop. Perhaps considerably. Last season, Zion (17.0 FGA, 8.7 FTA) and Ingram (18.0 FGA, 5.2 FTA) combined to use almost 42 shot possessions per game while starting center Steven Adams (5.3 FGA, 2.3 FTA) used just over six. Currently, Valanciunas (14.4 FGA, 3.8 FTA) is utilizing about 16 shot possessions to generate his 19.3 PPG. It wouldn’t be surprising if his shots and points drop by as much as a third. His other numbers, including rebounds, should stay strong.
McCormick: Adams was among the league leaders in rebounding chances last year, so the issue wouldn’t come on the glass. The key concern is how many post touches and post-ups Williamson will demand once he’s back; Valanciunas currently paces the team with 5.8 post-ups per game, no one else has more than 1.1. Williamson demanded 4.8 last year, with no one else on the roster topping 1.7. Can a modern NBA offense afford two players with top-10 post-up rates? They might just have to. I’m a believer given Valanciunas is posting very similar production to his numbers with Memphis.
Moody: The biggest impact Williamson will have on Valanciunas is the number of field goals he attempts. Currently, he averages 14.4, but Williamson will reduce that. Since Williamson has barely played center in the NBA, it would be surprising to see Valanciunas’ minutes decrease. Valanciunas contributes to so many other statistical areas that he can remain a valuable fantasy player.
At this point of the season, which player/players have been the biggest disappointment (not counting injured players)?
McCormick: It’s clear New York’s RJ Barrett is struggling to build on last year’s breakout; the shot isn’t falling and both his minutes and defensive rates have dipped. I’m more concerned with Chris Boucher, however, who went from league-swaying shot-blocking force last season to just 13.6 MPG this year. It’s understandable to lose confidence in Boucher given that his coach already has as well.
Snellings: I’d say the biggest disappointments have been Boucher, Kemba Walker and Marvin Bagley III. All three seemed to have the potential to produce big seasons, and all three have fallen almost completely out of their respective rotations as coaches decisions. I drafted each of them in at least one league, and they’ve been wasted picks.
Karabell: Something is clearly wrong with Sacramento’s backcourt, and it cannot be rookie Davion Mitchell’s fault. De’Aaron Fox is shooting 25% on 3-pointers. Yikes! His assists are down from 7.2 to 5.8. Double yikes! The scoring dip is a bit expected, and explainable to poor shooting and less volume. We would have assumed Tyrese Haliburton was eating into Fox’s production, but he is not! Can this all be about the Kings’ coaching? This version of Fox is well outside the top 50 on our Rater, and he may stay there. Both he and Haliburton looked far better last season.
Moody: Boucher stands out to me. Despite playing just 24.2 minutes a night, he averaged career-highs last season, including 13.6 PPG (on 51.4% shooting), 6.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.5 3PG, 0.6 SPG and 1.9 BPG. Besides playing at least 20 minutes in only three games this season, Boucher has played 10 minutes or fewer eight times, with all of his stats from last season down considerably. It’s hard to trust him in lineups right now.
Who is one player you are counting on to increase their production during the final ¾ of the season?
Moody: It’s Cade Cunningham for me. While he only played one season at Oklahoma State, there were concerns over his field goal percentage (43.8%) and his turnover rate (4.0). However, Cunningham has steadily improved with each game in the NBA and has the skill set to contribute in multiple statistical categories such as steals and blocks. In a similar manner to LaMelo Ball last season, he could be a difference-maker for the rest of the season.
Karabell: Cunningham is not going to shoot 33% from the field for much longer, and when he starts shooting more mid-range jumpers and less from 3-point range, we will see it. Oh, we will also see nightly threats with triple-doubles because Cunningham is a smooth, smart player capable of fantastic numbers if we are patient. Look, Luka Doncic averaged 21 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 6.0 APG as a rookie. Cunningham can do an approximation of this, and we should expect a big second half.
Snellings: It’s a five-way battle royal between James Harden, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal and Fox. The league rule changes seem to have a real, legitimate impact on volume perimeter scorers and these are five that seem to be most hard-hit. I’d say Tatum is most likely of this group to improve the most, because with his size and athletic ability he should be able to drive/operate in the paint enough to get his game working closer to normal levels in the new rules environment.
McCormick: I’m going to guess it’s fairly obvious that Tatum is going to correct to his career shooting rates and revive his fantasy value. A more interesting nomination would be Jaren Jackson Jr, who has seen a sizable 6.8% leap in usage rate with Morant off the floor. “JJJ” is averaging a wild 26.1 points, 8.4 boards, and four blocks per 36 minutes with Morant off the floor this year — suggesting he might just deliver star production while tasked as the team’s leader.
How optimistic are you about John Wall returning to the Rockets lineup and returning to fantasy relevance?
Snellings: I have zero optimism that we’ll ever see Wall play in a Rockets lineup again. I think that ship has sailed. However, there’ve been some social media rumblings that a team like the Knicks might be interested in trading their out-of-the-rotation star guard Walker for Wall. If that type of deal materializes, I could see Wall getting playing time for a team trying to compete now that isn’t in full-on rebuild. But I have trouble seeing the circumstances that would get him back on the court for the Rockets.
McCormick: Jalen Green, Christian Wood, and Kevin Porter Jr. are young, high-usage building blocks. The framing from the front office is that Wall would be a complementary piece to a young core, intimating it’s not a roster designed to be young players built around Wall. The most optimistic path is Wall assuming a Derrick Rose-like perch as the resident bench microwave who maybe carves real fourth quarter equity. I’m not so optimistic Wall adapts or thrives as Rose has, but it’s likely the only viable path to fantasy relevance.
Moody: In my opinion, there is no optimism since Wall and the Rockets aren’t aligned regarding his role on the team should he play. Houston is currently in the midst of a youth movement, and it is unlikely that Wall will be traded given his contract with two years and $91 million remaining.
Karabell: I would be surprised if Wall plays again for the Rockets. Frankly, I think it is going to be a great big tie in NBA games played this 2021-22 season between Wall, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Kawhi Leonard, Mookie Betts, Alex Ovechkin and you and me. Yep, I went there. (Jamal Murray will play in March, however.) I just do not see why the Rockets would bother with Wall. He is not part of their future. Perhaps they find another team willing to give him a chance, and that team will find he should become a role player at this point. Good luck.