Opinions on players in fantasy basketball are often created by expectations. If a player performs better than he was projected to, then their praises are shouted from the mountaintops, like Myles Turner and C.J. McCollum.
On the flip side, if a player fails to produce at a certain level, they are quickly assigned the dreaded “bust” label. For example, owners who drafted Nikola Vucevic in the fourth round are probably staring daggers in the direction of Orlando, Florida right about now.
However, so much of this kind of analysis hinges on draft position that it can sometimes distract from a true evaluation. Understandably, owners get frustrated, and give up on players too early because they were expecting more. Even Turner and McCollum, had they been selected in the top five, would be getting a much cooler reaction, just as Vucevic wouldn’t get nearly as much heat if he had been selected in the last round.
It’s not just in fantasy basketball circles where we see this phenomenon, either. Take Kwame Brown, who is largely considered one of the greatest busts of all time after being selected first overall in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards. Yet, Brown played 11 seasons in the NBA and earned nearly $60 million during his career. Had Brown been drafted in the second round instead of first overall, he would be thought of as an unmitigated success.
The bottom line is that expectations can and do twist our perception of players. Here are a few players who haven’t lived up to expectations just yet this season but still possess reasons to be optimism.
When Orlando swung a huge trade to bring in Serge Ibaka this past summer and then signed Bismack Biyombo in free agency, concern instantly popped up in fantasy circles about Nikola Vucevic’s minutes. Sure enough, this season he has seen a decrease in time on the court from 31.3 minutes to just 26.9. However, that hasn’t been the cause of his fantasy free-fall.
Vucevic has actually increased his rebounds by nearly two per game, but his blocks have been cut in half from 1.1 to .5 and his field goal percentage has plummeted from 51 percent to 42 percent. To make matters worse, his free throw percentage has dropped from 75 percent all the way down to 48 percent, and he currently ranks 163rd on ESPN’s Player Rater.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for owners who probably grabbed Vucevic in the fourth round of their drafts, but there is reason for optimism. Mainly, Vucevic has been above 50 percent from the field for the last four years, and regularly shoots free throws in the mid-70s. Even with fewer minutes, once his shot comes around you are looking at a mid-teens scorer who can grab double-digit boards and block almost one shot per game. He’s in an awful shooting slump, but it won’t last forever.
For years, Marc Gasol has been a steady fantasy basketball center who could contribute across a number of categories as long as he stayed healthy. He provides a high number of assists for his position (3.1 average for his career) and hits 76 percent from the free throw line.
This season Gasol added the three-point shot to his arsenal, increasing his average attempts from .1 last season to a whopping 3.5 this year. He is shooting a very strong 40 percent from downtown, but taking more outside shots, in general, has dragged his field goal percentage down to 41 percent.
Gasol also declined from the field last year, and at 31 he doesn’t have age on his side, but as a career 50 percent shooter one has to think that he will find some balance between his deep shots and the ones he takes in the paint. Currently sitting at 60th on ESPN’s Player Rater, Gasol has the potential to jump into the top 40 once he gets going.
After being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Kentucky’s Devin Booker turned heads with an outstanding closing stretch of the season. That, combined with a fantastic Summer League and preseason, had many owners (myself included) scrambling to draft the sweet-shooting guard.
Unfortunately, Booker has had a shaky start to the season, shooting just 28 percent from three and seeing his assists virtually stagnate despite playing about five more minutes per night compared to last season. Don’t despair, though.
Booker is adjusting to defenses that are now keyed in on stopping him, and as he adapts the rest of his stats will come around. He just turned 20, so it may take him a little time to get acclimated to his new role, but he is simply far too good of a shooter to stay at these levels all season.
Even now, when his shot isn’t falling, he is averaging 19.2 points per game. Imagine what he is capable of when he starts hitting the bottom of the net again. If he hits his ceiling, Booker could end up a top-30 player in fantasy basketball this season.