6 Fantasy Basketball Busts to Avoid in 2016-17
It's fantasy basketball season, and that means fantasy basketball drafts.
You can get a jumpstart on your research by checking out our fresh NBA player projections, which feature total and per-game projections as well as a one-number fantasy value, showing a player's importance based on his overall contributions to your fantasy squad.
This week, we've already identified five sleepers based on where our projections are higher than average draft position (ADP) statistics and rankings across the industry. For our busts, we're taking the same approach in reverse.
Here are six players who our algorithms project to underperform their ADP this season.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
ESPN ADP: 10
Yahoo ADP: 14
nF Fantasy Rank: 27
The term bust is relative in fantasy basketball. "Will we get what we pay for?" is the question we need to ask ourselves. The answer to that is cloudy when we look at DeMarcus Cousins.
On the one hand, Boogie turned a league-leading 35.4% usage rate into 26.9 points (fourth) and 11.5 rebounds (fifth), to go with 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 three-point field goals. With Rajon Rondo now out of the picture, even more of the offense is expected to flow through Cousins. In fact, we expect most of his numbers to increase across the board. That's the good.
Increased usage will likely only inflate his already high turnover rate of 3.8 per game (fifth-most), uncommon for a big man, but that's okay if you play in an eight-category league or plan to punt turnovers. Boogie finished 20th overall last year in nine-category leagues, but he jumps to 16th by punting turnovers, 13th if you are punting free throw percentage, or 14th if you punt field goal percentage.
Neither his free throw shooting (71.8%) nor his field goal shooting (45.1%) is horrific, but the sheer volume still acts like a lead weight as Cousins led the league in field goal attempts (20.5 per game) and was tied with James Harden for most free throw attempts (10.2 per game). However, that's a lot of punting you'd need to do to realize the rest of the fantasy goodness Cousins offers. That's the bad.
Drafting Cousins won’t give you horrible results; he will stuff the stat sheet when he isn’t missing time from racking up technical fouls. It’s the volume and inefficiency that makes him more of a second-to-third-round target, but he is taken by the early second. And that's the conundrum.
Unless you plan to construct your roster carefully around him, you might be getting just a little less than you pay for with Cousins.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
ESPN ADP: 21
Yahoo ADP: 29
nF Fantasy Rank: 56
Our projections have actually increased for Blake Griffin in both points and assists now that Doc Rivers has stated that he will stagger the minutes of Griffin and Chris Paul. This should mean the multi-faceted talent may see an uptick of his career-high 29.8% usage from last year, though with it will probably result in more turnovers as well.
The biggest drag on Blake's fantasy hoops skillset in the past has come from long distance, though Griffin has said he plans to shoot more often from beyond the arc than we have projected. If that happens, he will unlock some yet-to-be discovered fantasy potential. However, though he still sometimes cleans the boards at a high rate, his rebounding is down from the days he averaged over 10 per game, and he doesn't contribute enough defensively to reach the elite production we need from a second-round draft selection.
You might say that an even bigger drag on Griffin's fantasy outlook is his penchant for injury. He has played in 80 or more games in three of his six NBA seasons. Blake has missed at least 15 games in his other three seasons. This year we have split the difference, giving him 72 tilts to rack up fantasy points. Of course, we all know he only played in 35 games last year, so drafting him will be extra scary.
When we factor in his shooting inefficiency, at least based on the weighted volume he hoists it up from the field and the free throw line, we need to be careful when we decide whether or not to queue up Griffin where you will need to in your fake hoops drafts. You will have to weigh whether the risk of more missed time is worth the reward.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
ESPN ADP: 49
Yahoo ADP: 53
nF Fantasy Rank: 89
From here on, you may begin to notice a trend. Minutes lead to production. Nikola Vucevic is competing with new Orlando Magic bigs Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo for playing time this year. Vucci Mane is not as versatile and he does not defend as well as Orlando’s other bigs. This will likely lead to less court time for Vucevic late in games or when Orlando decides to play small ball with Ibaka at the five and Aaron Gordon at the four.
As a result, we are projecting Vucevic to play one fewer minute per game (and perhaps that's conservative). But, when factored in with the new acquisitions and the maturation of Gordon and Evan Fournier, we think Vucevic's already declining production from past years (down to 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds in 2015-16) will drop further yet this year.
Floating around the interwebs are trade speculations centering around Vucevic. If that happens, Vooch might just go back to producing at last year's third-round value. Until then, the big 26-year-old center appears to be a riskier fantasy investment than drafters have baked-in.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
ESPN ADP: 61
Yahoo ADP: 62
nF Fantasy Rank: 103
You’re drafting Nerlens Noel because he is one of a select few big men with the potential to average two blocks and two steals per game. Last year, he led all center eligibles in steals (14th overall) and finished 18th overall in blocks. Along with his defensive exploits, Noel added 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists on an improved 52.1% clip from the field. Although he shot 59.0% from the charity stripe, he still finished 32nd if you punted free throw percentage last year.
Again, one of the most important factors in fantasy basketball is minutes, and Noel is right in the middle of a time crunch. Because he failed in the experiment playing together with Jahlil Okafor at power forward last year, Noel finds himself competing with fellow draft lottery centers Okafor and Joel Embiid for court time. In addition, Richaun Holmes has developed and looks to be a factor as a small-ball five, putting further pressure on Noel’s playing time. As a result, we foresee his minutes dropping by a couple from his 30 minutes per game average for his career.
After finishing 56th and 57th in nine-category leagues in 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively, Noel has an ADP in the low 60s, so some may think his downtick in production is baked in. However, we think there is more downside risk than upside. If you are a fantasy owner, you are not only hoping for a trade to unsnarl this congestion but also specifically a trade of Noel to a team in need of a defensive presence at center. Until that happens, you will likely be disappointed by Noel's output if you use a late-fifth- or early-sixth-round pick on him.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN ADP: 83
Yahoo ADP: 110
nF Fantasy Rank: 206
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN ADP: 95
Yahoo ADP: 120
nF Fantasy Rank: 185
They both own the pedigree as high lottery picks from major power universities. They play in the league's second-biggest TV market. And they both have loads of potential. Maybe that’s why Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are both being overdrafted this year.
After a broken fibula cost Randle his first year, 2015-16 was essentially his rookie season. Make no mistake, Randle is a rebounding machine (13.1 per 36 minutes) and can lead a fast break like a freight train through the paint. However, from a fantasy standpoint, Randle is a drag in every category but rebounding. In particular, his impact on your field goal percentage is harmful to your build given his lack of output elsewhere. If you are drafting him anywhere near his current ADP on either site, you are expecting him to increase his scoring while adding to his peripheral repertoire. All are certainly possible entering his third year, but our projections don’t see it.
As for Ingram, he just doesn’t appear to be quite ready for prime time, let alone the Showtime Lakers. Listed at a rail-thin 6'9", 190 pounds, Ingram started off his first preseason slowly but has at least shown some improvement to the tune of 8.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks with 1.0 three-point field goals while making 38.9% from the field and only 53.% from the charity stripe, all in playing 24.1 minutes per game.
Ingram just isn't projected for the type of production you are expecting based where he is being taken.
Deng, a natural small forward, impressed last season as he replaced Chris Bosh at the four and is projected to play 31.3 minutes this year with his new team. Add the 22 expected minutes for Nance to the mix, and we have a time crunch for both Randle and Ingram.
Drafted around pick 120 but projected to be the 102nd ranked player while contributing in all categories across the board, Deng appears to be the best value of the Lakers forwards this year. Take Deng, the solid, re-conditioned pro, and let the other owners in your league be hypnotized by the new-car scent of youth in Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram at their current ADP.