With a small break post-All-Star weekend, it’s really the last chance to assess how your NBA fantasy team is truly performing.
Do you have the right mix to really contend? Or are there enough imperfections in your roster that could become cracks down the stretch?
It’s impossible to construct a perfect roster. As Robin Williams’ character Sean Maguire said to Will Hunting—played by Matt Damon—no one is perfect, but finding the perfect balance is what really matters.
Believe it or not, but it’s been almost 20 years since Good Will Hunting was released. It’s a movie about finding yourself, but also about overcoming fears and obstacles to reach your true potential.
Your NBA fantasy team may not be perfect, but you still have time to overcome the odds and go for glory, so let’s start by assessing the season so far.
With that in mind, it’s time for my 2016-17 NBA Mid-Season Fantasy Awards—Good Will Hunting style.
Will: [Continuing the therapy session] I don’t care if Helen of Troy walks in the room, that’s Game 6!
Sean: Oh, Helen of Troy…
Will: Oh my God; and who are these fuckin’ friends of yours, they let you get away with that?
Sean: Oh… they had to.
Will: W-w-w-what’d you say to them?
Sean: I just slid my ticket across the table, and I said, “Sorry, guys; I gotta see about a girl.”
The “When You Know, You Just Know” Most Dependable Player award goes to… Jeff Teague of the Indiana Pacers
This pivotal moment of the movie, when Sean explained how nothing else mattered at that moment besides what he wanted most, sums up how you need to take a chance sometimes to find what you’re really seeking.
After a down year last season in Atlanta, there were many who thought Teague’s best days were behind him. They thought he’d struggle in Indiana playing with a ball-dominant wing in Paul George and that his value would take a hit. There were others, though, who put the struggles down to him being hampered by a gimpy ankle and expected a fresh start to be just the thing the 2015 All-Star needed to rejuvenate his career and return to his solid fifth-round value. They were willing to take a chance on him and ignored the naysayers.
The latter camp was certainly right as Teague, after taking a few weeks to get his feet wet with his new teammates, proceeded to get right back to being one of the most stable fantasy point guards in the league as he was year after year in Atlanta. Teague is ranked inside the top 50 on the season, is averaging right around what he has the past four-to-five seasons in points, steals, field goal percentage and three-point percentage, while setting career-high marks in rebounds and assists.
He’s been as reliable as they come each month and has put all the doubters in their place. When you know, you just know.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 4, 2017
Sean: [Sitting on a bench in front of a pond in a park] Thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. Stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me… fell into a deep peaceful sleep, and haven’t thought about you since. Do you know what occurred to me?
Sean: You’re just a kid, you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talkin’ about.
The “I Didn’t See This Coming” Biggest Surprise award goes to… Trevor Booker of the Brooklyn Nets.
With a move to the struggling and talent-starved Nets this past offseason, Booker was expected to have a small bump in production that would make him a borderline end-of-bench-value kind of guy in 12- to 14-team leagues. With an ADP of 130 in Yahoo and 140 in ESPN, Booker was not really on many people’s draft boards and after ranking around 200th last season and well below that the year before, you’d be forgiven for overlooking him.
Fast forward to now and Booker is owned in 60 percent of leagues, ranks inside the top 100 and has been a welcome addition to many shrewd managers’ rosters. With career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, steals and PER, if anyone tells you they predicted this from the seventh-year veteran, tell them they don’t have the faintest idea what they’re talking about, because they’re clearly lying through their teeth.
The “You Weren’t to Know” Most Disappointing Player award goes to… Derrick Favors of the Utah Jazz
Entering his seventh season at just 25 years of age and coming off a second straight very strong year, many thought this was Favors’ time to become an elite big man for fantasy owners.
He averaged a career-high 16.4 points last season to go along with 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, a solid 51.5 field goal percentage and a career-high 70.9 free throw percentage. Good for top-35 value and worthy of a fourth-round pick on draft night.
After missing time in preseason and not dressing on opening night, he started off slowly and then missed 13 straight games in late November and into December. Since returning to the court, Favors has never really looked himself and has shown no consistency in his play.
He’s averaging the lowest output since he became a full-time starter back in 2013-14 and is offering around 14th-round value in 12-team leagues, although he’s bumped that up to about 10th-round value the past month. Hopefully he can pick it up after the break, because right now he’s borderline un-ownable.
But don’t despair, it’s not your fault.
Sean: [To Will] You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.
The Best in-Season Turnaround award goes to… Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards
Let’s be honest, Beal has been one of the most talented yet frustrating players to own in recent memory. He has All-Star-level talent, however he’s just not been able to stay healthy.
After Beal missed 31 games last season, fantasy managers’ goodwill towards him took a massive hit and he slid down draft boards this season to the sixth or seventh round in 12-team leagues.
Most just didn’t trust him to get through a season after averaging just 62 games in his first four years as a pro. Those were the bad times, but it appears the athletic, sweet-shooting two-man is waking people up and making them focus on the good stuff he offers.
To quantify that, he’s putting up career-highs in points (22.2), assists (3.7), free throw percentage (81.1), field goal percentage (47.3) and three-point makes (2.9). All of that equates to top-40 value, and if you took the chance and grabbed him this year, you’re looking like a genius right now.
Beal is a huge reason why the Wizards have surged into third place in the East standings and he was unlucky not to be joining his backcourt partner in New Orleans this past weekend.
Sean: [To Will] You’ll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you’re afraid to take the first step because all you see is every negative thing 10 miles down the road.
The “First Step” Best Preseason Risk Player award goes to… Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans
After a strong post-All-Star break run and a healthier season last year, Holiday’s entire 2016-17 season was put in jeopardy due to a personal tragedy. His pregnant wife required brain surgery, but only after their daughter arrived safely, so Holiday’s mind was anywhere but on the upcoming season.
With no definitive timeline for when he would return, Holiday fell down draft boards, but several shrewd managers took the gamble, knowing that even if he missed a couple months of action, he could be a difference-maker down the road this season.
Holiday has been fantastic so far this season. Firstly, he’s been healthy, playing in all but three games since returning in late November. But more importantly, he’s been producing top-50 value and getting better each month. Through eight games in February, Holiday has stepped up his play even more to the tune of 19.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists, along with 2 steals and 1.3 triples.
Anthony Davis wants Holiday back for next season and if you were smart enough to take that risk on him this year, you’ll want him back too.
Skylar: [Eating on a counter at a fast food stand] You were hoping for a goodnight kiss.
Will: No, you know. I’ll tell ya, I was hoping for a goodnight lay, but I’d settle for a goodnight kiss.
Skylar: [Bursts out laughing] How very noble of you.
The Player We Fell in Love With This Season award goes to… Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets
The Joker was a preseason favourite after his strong late-season run as a rookie last year, but he’s exceeded all expectations. Coach Mike Malone realised that Jokic was his best frontcourt player and inserted him into the starting lineup permanently in December.
Since then, Jokic has played at such a high level that he’s being spoken about as a future All-Star. He’s averaging 16.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists, with stellar shooting (effective field goal percentage of 60.6) and an impressive 26.5 PER, ranking him inside the top 20 in standard nine-cat leagues.
Over the past month, Jokic has taken it to another level, upping his play to 21.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.2 blocks, which has made him a top-10 player over that span. He’s even recorded two triple-doubles this month and is likely on his way to more.
Jusuf Nurkic has been moved as a result of Jokic’s stellar play, and this team is likely to be built around him as the Denver front office loves him. As we also fall in love with his game, you’d be wise to build yours around him too.
— NBA (@NBA) February 17, 2017
Skylar: [In her dorm room, on her bed, jokingly to Will] I can be in the NBA. I’m tall, I like to wear shorts. Hook! Hook! Dunk! Dunk! Baby, I’m all about three points.
The “Making It Look Easy” Best Fantasy Rookie award goes to… Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers
Although he’s been brought along slowly after sitting out the past two years, Embiid has shown us enough glimpses of his talent for us to realise he’s not only the best rookie this year, but he’s got a chance to be a special player in this league.
He’s also kept us very entertained along the way.
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) February 9, 2017
For fantasy purposes, while it’s been tough to counter the missed games and minutes restrictions in redraft leagues, owners—especially dynasty leaguers—are loving what he’s bringing and looking forward to when “The Process” can be truly trusted and unleashed without restriction.
Based on averages, Embiid ranks inside the top 40 this season with 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks, so clearly the future is bright in Philly and for fantasy owners everywhere.
The “You’ll Have to Wait ’Til Next Year” Not Quite Ready award goes to… Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic
When Frank Vogel came to Orlando this season, he spoke of using Gordon as a Paul George type of player. “Aaron is going to be playing small forward. We are going to put the ball in his hands a lot. We’re going to use him like Paul George.”
Vogel acknowledged that was more out of necessity given Serge Ibaka would man the four spot and the Magic lacked wing talent with Victor Oladipo moving on. It boosted Gordon’s draft stock, making him a sixth- or seventh-round pick in most formats.
He took on the challenge of playing slightly out of position but has struggled for consistency all season, especially from the perimeter (he has a 29.2 three-point percentage).
He’s had some very nice moments (excluding the dunk contest this past weekend), with games like 33 points (4-of-8 threes) and seven rebounds against the Clippers and 30 points (4-of-4 threes) versus Memphis, but he’s not been able to string together stretches of solid play. In addition, his usage has not been high enough to make a big impact so he ranks outside the top 150 on the season.
With Ibaka moved to Toronto last week, Gordon should slide over to his more natural position of power forward, but that will also require some adjustment and we may need to wait a bit longer to see what kind of player he will really become.
Sean: You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally… I don’t give a shit about all that, because you know what, I can’t learn anything from you, I can’t read in some fuckin’ book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t want to do that do you sport? You’re terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief.
The Player We Learnt the Most About award goes to… Otto Porter Jr. of the Washington Wizards
The former number three overall pick, who was considered a borderline bust early in his career, has gone from this to this. He’s stepped up so much this season for the Wizards that he had some All-Star buzz from some in the media.
Porter has quickly established himself as a tough, defensively minded, efficient small forward and his fantasy production backs that up.
With an ADP of 103 in ESPN formats and 65 in Yahoo formats, Porter has smashed them both. He ranks top-15 in Yahoo standard formats and sits 26th on the ESPN player rater, making him a joy to own in all formats this season.
Averaging career highs across the board, even on a per-36-minute basis, Porter has also upped his field goal percentage from 47.3 to 53.4 this season, his free throw percentage from 75.4 to 79.5, and his three-point percentage from 36.7 to a staggering 46.5. Along with those improvements, Porter’s offensive rating is an unfathomable 130 this season, which makes his 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.1 triples look even better.
Porter is legitimately great in real life and in fantasy, so if anyone was unsure what Porter was about before this season, I’m pretty sure they know what they need to know about him now.
The “How Do You Like Them Apples?” MVP award goes to… James Harden
It was tough to separate the top five heading into fantasy drafts this season, but there was some uncertainty around most of them. Steph and KD would take numbers off each other, Russ’s percentages and turnovers could hurt, while KAT had only played one year. So if you went with the guy with the least uncertainty, the one with the new head coach known for maximising offensive output, then you have no regrets.
The biggest change for Harden this season has been his ability to play more of a point guard role and create for his teammates. Boy has that worked out well as he leads the NBA in assists with a staggering 11.3 per game.
If he carries that on to end the season on top, he’ll become the first player 6-foot-5 or taller to lead the league in dimes since Magic Johnson last did it in 1986-87 and the first shooting guard to lead the league since Micheal Ray Richardson in 1979-80.
As impressive as that is, Harden is also on track for career highs in points (29.2), rebounds (8.3), three-point makes (3.2) and PER (27.6).
The 8.3 rebounds actually rank him just outside the top 20 in the league and ahead of more seasoned rebounders like Draymond Green, Steven Adams and even LeBron James.
Of course, his turnovers are also on a career-high pace and that is his one downside this season, but he’s clearly the number one player in eight-cat formats and he’s top-five in nine-cat formats too.
The Beard has been a delight for owners this year and has allowed anyone who drafted him to ask their opponents “How do you like dem apples?”
— NBA Talk⛹🏾 (@6ixManRT) February 17, 2017
Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta see about a Fantasy Title.
Statistics taken from Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com and Yahoo.com.
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