5 Fantasy Basketball Breakout Candidates for 2015-16
With about a week to go before the start of the NBA regular season, now is the time when fantasy basketball drafts generally go down. If you're getting ready for a hoops draft yourself, checking out our fantasy projections is a great place to start your preparation (or light a fire under it).
If you're looking to further that quest for fake-sports knowledge, we're here to offer you a look at five of the best breakout candidates in fantasy hoops for the 2015-16 season. This is a group of players that all have an average draft position (ADP) within the top 100 but who we project to handily beat that mark in overall nine-category value this season (think Jimmy Butler from last year).
For the sake of distinguishing the difference between a breakout candidate and a sleeper, we'll call a sleeper someone with an ADP outside the top 100 that is mostly off the general public's fantasy radar but who our projections say will be a standard-league asset this season (think Rudy Gobert from last year). We'll cover some sleepers in an article later this week.
For now, here are our top breakouts.
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
Yahoo O-Rank: 42
ESPN Rank: 31
nF Fantasy Rank: 15
To say that we're high on Jeff Teague this season would probably qualify as an understatement. We're projecting him as the sixth-best point guard in all of fantasy basketball for 2015-16, despite the fact that he's currently being drafted as the 11th. Teague finished last season as the 26th-ranked player at any position in nine-category leagues, after posting career numbers across the board and making his first All-Star team. In a way, that suggests that the breakout has already happened, but the industry is being conservative with his ranking this season, hinting at the expectation of a regression. Meanwhile, we have him among our top 15 players in all of fantasy hoops this year. We get the sense that last season's numbers are his new baseline, and that the departure of DeMarre Carroll and two offseason surgeries for Kyle Korver will result in more responsibility falling on 27-year-old Teague's shoulders. Last year's mini-breakout was just an appetizer for the real thing this season, as we project his scoring, threes, rebounds, and assists all to go up at the expense of only slight dips in steals and blocks.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Yahoo O-Rank: 76
ESPN Rank: 48
nF Fantasy Rank: 26
You might have been surprised to find Isaiah Thomas ranked ninth on our list of the top projected fantasy point guards of 2015-16. That's fine; he's been dealing with doubters his whole life. The reason we're so high on Thomas in his first full year in Boston is that coach Brad Stevens has made it clear that he considers IT2 to be the Celtics' most effective offensive player. There have been rumblings that this could result in a starting job for the diminutive guard, and to wit, he's started two of the four preseason games he's played in thus far. That position battle isn't exactly decided yet, but whether he starts or comes off the bench in a sixth man role, we still like Isaiah to top 30 minutes per contest. With that, we could see a return to his 2013-14 form, when he finished as the 32nd-ranked player in nine-category leagues as a most-of-the-time starter in Sacramento. When given the minutes, IT2 fills up the stat sheet with points, threes, assists, steals, and a high free throw percentage, and the potential for added responsibility could make him an absolute steal at his current ADP.
Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls
Yahoo O-Rank: 54
ESPN Rank: 79
nF Fantasy Rank: 44
Nikola Mirotic finished last season as the 124th-ranked player in nine-category leagues but is being picked in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts this year because of his monstrous post All-Star Break numbers. From March 1st on, in particular, he ranked as the 44th player overall, due to averages of 17.7 points, 1.8 threes, 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steal, 0.9 blocks, and 2.0 turnovers in 28.0 minutes per game, while shooting 41.8% from the field and 82.7% from the line. We like him to continue that late-season pace in his sophomore season as a minimum, while the prospect of his starting over Joakim Noah or in place of an injured Mike Dunleavy makes his high ceiling even more tantalizing. When given the floor time, Niko gives you solid points, rebounds, and free throw percentage, with the opportunity to join guys like Draymond and Danny Green in a group of rare fantasy studs that average at least one three, one steal, and one block per contest.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
Yahoo O-Rank: 89
ESPN Rank: 98
nF Fantasy Rank: 59
Terrence Jones looked poised for a breakout last season, following his 64th-ranked finish in nine-category leagues during his sophomore 2013-14 campaign. The opportunity for a bigger role and more minutes seemed to be there for him in Houston in 2014-15, but a series of injuries limited his third NBA season to only 33 appearances. To make matters worse, when he returned from injury at the end of January, Houston's frontcourt had become full of power forward depth in Donatas Motiejunas, Josh Smith, and Kostas Papanikolaou. Going into this season, Smith and Papanikolaou are no longer Rockets, and Motiejunas is recovering from a major back surgery, so the lion's share of the power forward minutes will almost certainly belong to Jones. With that, his ability to stuff the fantasy stat sheet with rebounds, blocks, a high field goal percentage, and low turnovers (with the occasional three-pointer) makes him a high upside pick in the late rounds that could very well finish the season with early-round value.
Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder
Yahoo O-Rank: 96
ESPN Rank: 93
nF Fantasy Rank: 66
Enes Kanter's 86th-ranked finish in nine-category leagues last season was easily a career best, but it doesn't properly show just how valuable he was as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. After being traded to OKC in a deadline deal, Kanter was the 30th-ranked player in fantasy leagues over his final 26 games. During that period, he averaged 18.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 2.0 turnovers in 31.1 minutes per contest, while shooting 56.6% from the field and 77.6% from the line. Granted, a lot of those games were played without Serge Ibaka in the lineup due to injury, but Kanter should still be in for a lot of minutes with the Thunder this season after signing a $70 million extension this summer. Steven Adams is set to start at center for the team, but he only averaged 25.3 minutes per contest in that role last season and is a fairly limited offensive player. Even coming off the bench, we expect Kanter to get more minutes than Adams, and with that will come great fantasy value in points, rebounds, and both percentages down around the 100th pick of your draft.