I've been doing this for a while.
In terms of extrapolating actual NBA basketball into numerical geek fodder? 2019-2020 has been the GOAT to date.
The operational word? Dynamic. Paces are heightening. Offenses are soaring. The numbers have never been as trackable, deep and diverse.
New names hit fantasy relevance on a nightly basis. I've never worked a campaign where so many players have subverted statistical expectations. Where so many ADPs were over- and underperformed. Where the waiver wire has offered so much opportunity.
Most importantly for the future? Where so many young players have suddenly taken "the leap."
Think of all of the third- and fourth-rounders who could suddenly burst into second- or even first-round value. Brandon Ingram. Ja Morant. Devin Booker. Donovan Mitchell. Kristaps Porzingis. Domantas Sabonis. De'Aaron Fox. Pascal Siakam. Jaren Jackson Jr. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Let's talk who's got next. Let's talk our current rookie class.
Drafting a rookie in fantasy hoops? Perennially dicey proposition. But it's empirically rare for a rookie to meet or exceed his ADP.
Year 2 is when things start to get really interesting. And these current rookies offer a ton of upside.
By my count? There are six-to-seven rookies who could claw their way into top-100 relevance next season.
1. Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
Given a binary choice? I'm going with Morant over Zion. But it's very, very close.
Morant is delivering seventh-round value. He'll exceed his 83.7 ADP by at least a round. Given present competition? In the aggregate? That's probably good enough for fantasy Rookie Of The Year.
Sophomore potential is governed by two dynamics: upside and fit. Morant brims with both.
When projecting Year 2 upside, I look for extended peaks rookie performance -- a slate of games where said rookie delivered his best numbers on a night-in, night-out basis.
Remember: there is no rookie wall. It's a lazy myth. A lukewarm hot take. Rookies operate in peaks and valleys. Look for stretches where rookies hit their peak rhythm.
Check out Morant from Jan. 2 to Jan 17. Eight games that best represents Morant's upside for 2020-21: 19.8 points, 8.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 3s, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, 59.4 FG%, 88.9 FT%, 42.1 3PT%.
The opponents? Collectively less than stellar: Kings, Clippers, Suns, Timberwolves, Spurs, Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers. But numbers are numbers. That line is a reasonable floor for Morant's 2020-21. It displays where Morant is already special... and where he has additional ceiling.
Where he's already special? Assists. Morant should hit top 5 in assists in 2020-21. Given the categorical scarcity of assists, that's a potential fantasy superpower.
Morant's shooting has run hot and cold over the year. (Over the last week? Pretty darn cold.) But when Morant puts it together? He's capable of being a true plus-True Shooting Percentage player (anything over a 60.0 TS%). He's already at a better-than-average 56.6 TS%. When Morant exceeds 60.0%? He'll automatically become a top-40 producer.
There's a lot of Trae Young in Morant's comp. When Young ironed out his shot toward the end of his rookie year, his fantasy potential surged. It drove his counting stats across the board.
Morant is inconsistent from deep. But his 35.4 3PT% for 2019-20 isn't half bad. He could easily hit 40.0% next season. His 3-point attempts should double (from 2.3 per game) At a bare minimum? Morant's 3s per game will jump from 1.0 to 1.8.
Another area where Morant could crib from Young: free throw performance. Look at the Player Rater. Young is already a top-3 PG from the line. Morant is 66th. But Morant's game is custom made for drawing contact and getting to the line.
Morant is capable of getting to the line six-to-seven times a night. Morant might not be Trae Young (86%) from the line next year, but he could be Kyle Lowry. Which would be enough to push Morant into the top 6 for point guard free throw performance.
Morant offers only replacement-level defense. 1.2 steals + blocks per game. But keep in mind Morant is averaging only 29.9 MPG. Morant's Year 2 counting stats will expand based on playing time alone.
Finally, there's fit. Morant is in a prime fantasy position in Memphis.
Morant will be Memphis' offensive North Star for the next 10 years. There's no playoff pressure in Memphis. It's a pure developmental situation. With all respect to Tyus Jones, there's no real threat to push him for minutes. Morant will have license to evolve at his own pace.
Memphis' draft pick (top-6 protected) will likely convey to Boston. Growth will have to come from within. Morant's minutes, touches and efficiency will all benefit. Morant's 25.5 Usage Rate is going to spike in Year 2: my guess is into the 30.0-32.0 range. Upside: check. Fit: check.
Morant's 2020 fantasy floor: late fourth round. Ceiling: late second.
2. Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Williamson's extended peak? Unfolding in real time. His past seven games: 26.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.1 3s, 58.9 FG%, 62.5 FT%, 100.0 3PT (on just one attempt, so don't get too excited).
Zion's scoring? Off-the-charts elite. SportsCenter manna. Statistically Electric. The scoring is so dazzling... it makes me worry. Worry about how high Williamson will be overdrafted come Halloween.
Morant scores like a fantasy first-rounder. But he does everything else like a 10th-rounder. As of this writing, Zion is basically a glorified specialist.
This level of imbalance presents a terrifying proposition when it comes to protecting fantasy valuation. Because nothing skews ADP like points per game. And Williamson's split in terms of scoring vs. other categories is steep.
Put it this way: If you punt points production, Williamson loses five rounds of fantasy value. As a columnist who suggests ignoring points when you draft, Zion is borderline undraftable.
Zion's going to go in most top 30s next year. Some top 20s. But if he doesn't boost some secondary categories? Zion will be a bust.
The positive spin: Zion has a vaulted ceiling. He's just getting settled. He has just begun to play back-to-back games. And he's already elite in fantasy's flashiest category. The rest of the categories will arrive after a healthy offseason and training camp.
One area ripe for easy improvement? Defensive counting stats. Williamson averaged 3.9 steals + blocks per game over his single season at Duke. Zion's only notching 1.3 per NBA game. Zion posted four steals and one block against the Timberwolves on Tuesday night. It was a career fantasy night on defense. It at least gives managers some early-round justification.
Zion's two big fantasy unknowns: 3s and assists.
Williamson hit four 3s in his first game. Since then? One. Williamson could be a decent 3-point producer for his position. Or he could be buried by the legions of stretch 4s operating all over Fantasyland. We just don't know.
Williamson has good court vision. He has delivered some highlight-reel assists. He could easily operate in the 3.0-3.5 APG range. But we just don't know.
Then there are the free throws. This is where Williamson suffers in comparison with Morant, because Morant doesn't hurt you in any category. But Williamson could really put a dent in your fake team's bottom line. He's at just 64.1 FT% for the season, across 8.4 attempts per game. That low efficiency at that high volume is going to sting.
In terms of fit, Williamson won't have a problem with playing time. But the building talent level up and down New Orleans' roster could hurt him. Williamson already has to share with Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball is making a move. The high talent level up and down the Pelicans' roster could work against Williamson's fantasy value. But again, it's an unknown.
Hopefully, the rest of the season and training camp will lock in Williamson's ADP based on more than just empty points. But the comp most easily made right now is early Blake Griffin: gaudy scoring and field goal percentage. Bad defense and damaging free throw percentage.
2020 Fantasy Floor: late seventh round. Ceiling: early fourth.
Here's an extended peak to drool over -- White's past seven games: 25.7 points, 3.9 3s, 3.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks.
White hasn't operated as a classic fantasy point guard. Chicago's backcourt rotation is too mushy to offer that kind of definition. But White is gaining all kinds of momentum as Chicago's season winds down. After posting just a 50.5 TS% for the season, White has heated up to a 63.0 TS% over the past seven games.
Is White just on a shooting tear? Or is this a permanent uptick? Here's a comp that will betray my age: rookie Gilbert Arenas. Rookie Arenas got a similar everlasting green light post-All-Star Game and took advantage. The green light helped him catch fire from deep. By the end of the season, he had evolved from waiver-wire prospect to third-round target.
But I worry here too. Worry because White's fantasy ascension is also too points-heavy.
What's missing from White's picture? Assists. White's amorphous backcourt role hasn't lined him up for point guard-worthy dimes. The usage is there (30.1 over the past seven games). But until Chicago figures out who its PG of the future is, it's tough to envision White sustaining this production alongside a fully healthy Zach LaVine. Chicago's backcourt is clogged. White's fit and role going forward into 2020-21 is still difficult to pin down.
But the momentum is real. White shouldn't be on anyone's wire at this point. And the last month of the regular season is going to tell us a lot.
Past eight games: 15.1 points, 1.9 3s, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks, 58.9 TS%
Fantasy-wise, Reddish is flashing signs of 1+1+1 potential. If just the 1.9 3s and 1.8 steals + blocks alone translate into next season? Reddish becomes a top-100 player. That's his upside. The fit is harder to pronounce. Atlanta has some other talent on its wing (De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter).
Past eight games: 17.8 points, 2.8 3s, 3.5 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 63.9 TS%
Nunn's peak is the product of a career-best hot streak from the field and multiple injuries (especially Tyler Herro). The multicategorical potential is impressive. I just worry that on a playoff team, the minutes might not be there on a reliable basis. Nunn could play his way into a bigger role for 2020-21, or he could remain a glorified fantasy streamer.
Hachimura is taking advantage of the Wizards' Process Cosplay. No defense required. Just keep up the pace, and make sure Beal eats.
But fantasy leagues don't adjust for circumstances. Numbers are numbers. And Hachimura is playing his way off the wire with consistent scoring, TS%, rebounding, and a big improvement in a key stat: steals. Hachimura has doubled his SPG since All-Star Weekend.
Hachimura's past four games: 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 3s, 1.5 steals, 64.6 TS%
I'm not sold on Hachimura's upside. But he is solid, and efficient. Best of all? His fit is fantastic.
Watch what the Wizards do in the draft and free agency. But if they don't bring in any serious competition at power forward, Hachimura should start and nab at least 32.0 MPG next season. If the steals and TS% stick, Hachimura could be a solid endgame pick with some upside.
So much fit. So much Usage. The volume is all there. The Knicks' existential situation mandates that Barrett is given every available opportunity. It remains to be seen if all the minutes and touches translate into sustained offensive efficiency. But over Barrett's past four games? He's bearing a faint resemblance to a solid late-round upside flier.
Barrett's past four games: 18.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 3s, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 61.6 TS%
8. Brandon Clarke, PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies
Clarke has flashed major fantasy upside in limited playing time. I don't know what his role/fit will be come next season. But if Clarke gets anything above 25.0 MPG, he'll be roster-worthy at worst. Major upside here.
Past eight games: 11.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.4 3s, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks, 62.7 TS% (in just 21.8 MPG)
9. Any Golden State Warrior