Fantasy hoops drafts – Collin Sexton, Mikal Bridges among key category specialists

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With every passing season, the modern NBA edges towards a certain … sameness.

Meaning: statistical flatness. The devolution of traditional, role-based statistical differentiation. With every 3-pointer canned by some 7-footer – or double-double posted by a point guard – the lines sorting categorical production by position are blurred. And in time, those lines will be erased.

Taking the long view from Fantasyland, I’m not sure this is a good thing. An all-you-can eat buffet of homogenized categorical production will be boring.

I love all-purpose Swiss Army knife-esque lines like Dejounte Murray‘s (10.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.1 APG). But give me variety.

Give me Kris Dunn‘s 2.0 steals … and precious little else.

Nerlens Noel‘s 1.5 blocks packed in just 18.5 minutes.

Ish Smith‘s 4.9 assists.

Novel concentrations of out-of-whack production helps to keep our dork pastime fresh.

So, let’s take a moment to appreciate the specialists, shall we? The providers of imbalance. The one-trick pony that’s always on the wire, ready to throw down in the one category you need to win your week.

Points

Collin Sexton, PG/SG Cleveland Cavaliers

2019-20: 20.8 PPG

After his rookie campaign, my brain earmarked Sexton as a longterm “empty points” player — a player who scores points but brings little else to the table. I generally avoid empty points players for one reason: a too-concentrated high-points-per-game average leads to draft overvaluation.

And while Sexton still concentrated most of his fantasy worth into points per game last season, he did show signs of future statistical diversification. He doubled his steals (0.5 SPG to 1.0 SPG) and improved his scoring efficiency (52.0 TS% to 56.3 TS%).

But going into 2021, Sexton’s short-term fantasy reputation still rests largely upon hie raw scoring punch. And while empty points players annoy me in principle (sharing is the spice of life), points remain one of fantasy’s scarcest categories. And unlike most “empty points” players, Sexton’s ADP actually aligns with his actual fantasy value.

Other players to watch: Zion Williamson, Kendrick Nunn, Marvin Bagley III

Rebounds

DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn Nets

2019-20: 10.0 RPG

Jordan’s once-robust fantasy resumé has receded into the endgame. He doesn’t post defensive counting stats anymore. He averaged single digit points per game for the first time in forever last season.

On the sunny side, Jordan continues to drastically improve his free throw shooting (43.0 FT% in 2015-16, 68.0 FT% last season). And he remains one of the most efficient all-around bigs in the league (68.2 TS%). But the shot volume just isn’t there — at least not with the kind of heft that would help those percentages really move the needle.

Somehow, Jordan is projected to start over the fantasy-friendly Jarrett Allen. As long as Jordan starts and stays above 20.0 MPG, he’ll remain a cheap, pure source of rebounds.

Other players to watch: Clint Capela, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr.

Assists

Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

2019-20: 7.3 APG

I’m placing Morant here by way of a warning. That he’s being drafted as a future fantasy star (27.0 ADP) — but he’s only a slight regression in a couple of categories away from being just pure volume in terms of assists and points per game.

As I wrote recently, in terms of Year 2 stars, I have more faith in Morant justifying his high ADP than Zion Williamson. But Morant is right on the edge of average in rebounds (3.9 in 2019-20), steals (0.9 SPG), 3s (0.9 3PG) and shooting efficiency (55.6 TS). While we project upticks for Morant in all these categories, statistical atrophy — his inability to progress in counting stats outside of assists and points will hurt him long term.

Other players to watch: Ricky Rubio, Mike Conley, Derrick Rose, Elfrid Payton

Steals

Mikal Bridges, SF, Phoenix Suns

2019-20: 1.5 SPG

Entering his third season, Bridges is already among the NBA’s elite in generating steals. But Bridges owns more upside than your typical one-stop-shop specialist. When I watch Bridges play, I think of Trevor Ariza: a player who was able to refine his gifts to fulfill and define a specific need (the 3-and-D role).

Given time, Bridges could be that level of fantasy producer. The talent is certainly there. So is the defensive tenacity. The immediate issue is playing time. With Kelly Oubre Jr. departing Phoenix, Bridges has a free path to seizing the Suns’ starting small forward role.

But even with Oubre gone, Phoenix’s forward rotation is still a little congested. Between Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric, Bridges will have to stay locked in on defense to keep above 30 MPG.

Given all his upside and elite defensive production, Bridges is going way too late in our drafts (ADP 129.5). Small forward is bone dry in Fantasyland this year, and high-upside endgames like Bridges could spell the difference between fake victory and defeat.

Other players to watch: Kris Dunn, Donte DiVincenzo, Markelle Fultz

Blocks

Mitchell Robinson, C, New York Knicks

2019-20: 2.0 BPG

In an under-the-radar way, Robinson was one of my most personally disappointing players of the altogether difficult 2019-20 season … and I don’t suffer from Knicks exceptionalism. I can only imagine how you Knicks fans must have felt.

Despite flashing all kinds of elite per-minute defensive volume as a rookie, the uptick minutes did not result in an expansion of Robinson’s rookie goodness.

My opinion? Two culprits.

One: foul trouble. Despite logging only 23.1 MPG, Robinson fouled like a full-time starter, throwing down 3.2 transgressions per game.

Two: lack of oxygen. A deficit of opportunity based off the fact that last offseason, after striking out on the big-name free agents, the Knicks famously went out and signed (unofficial count) 38 bigs. Robinson struggled to evince growth in the midst of the Knicks staging one of the more annoying games of musical chairs I’ve ever seen.

This season? Robinson has the same opportunity. But the Knicks now have to find time for fellow specialist Nerlens Noel and latest rookie hope Obi Toppin. Not to mention Julius Randle and Kevin Knox II (who was Obi Toppin before Obi Toppin).

3-pointers

Duncan Robinson, SG/SF, Miami Heat

2019-20: 3.7 3PG

Miami was such a good watch last season. To me, the Heat and Nuggets defined the concentrated charms of bubble basketball. The Heat’s dynamic presented like a hot-air popcorn popper: you never quite knew who was going to float to the surface, heat up, and explode.

As as sophomore, Robinson filled his narrow role to perfection. Thanks to his rarified accuracy, Robinson became roster worthy despite averaging only 9.4 field goal attempts per game. He succeeded because 8.5 of those 9.4 attempts were from deep — and Robinson converted that downright egregious 3-point attempt rate into pay dirt 44.6% of the time.

Robinson’s other categories beyond 3s, and 3-point accuracy? What other categories? Robinson is not only as existentially pure a specialist as any player on this list, he’s perhaps the purest specialist in basketball.

This season, Robinson’s path to repeat singular glory seems assured; he needs only to navigate out of potential timeshares with Tyler Herro, Avery Bradley, Andre Iguodala and Kendrick Nunn. A long list of fellow contributors to be sure, but as long as Robinson’s 3-point stroke doesn’t succumb to a slump, the magical 4.0 3PG barrier awaits.

Free throw percentage

Bojan Bogdanovic, SF/PF, Utah Jazz

It’s not quite fair to peg Bogdanovic as a specialist. His scoring and 3-point production clearly constitute an operational triple threat. But Fantasyland is nodding off on Bogdanovic, and I am seizing this opportunity to devote some oxygen to bring his ADP back to life.

I normally shy away from defensively allergic forwards. But Bogdanovic’s offensive stats are maturing with the kind of quality that I can’t ignore. Playing in Utah last season elevated Bogdanovic to another fantasy level. His 3-point production accelerated into elite (3.0 3PG, 41.4 3FG%). He cracked the 20.0 PPG ceiling.

But I really appreciated Bogdanovic’s ability to create more opportunities at the line. This can be hard for a player with his perimeter gifts. But Bogdanovic was artfully able to get to the line a career-high 4.4 times a game — and hit 90.3% of his attempts.

Other players to watch: Lou Williams (always), Danilo Gallinari

Field goal percentage

Brandon Clarke, PF, Memphis Grizzlies

After my beloved, pathologically, offensively obsessed Wizards, the Grizzlies are lining up to be my favorite fantasy team of 2021.Why? That most-glorious combination of young upside and middling expectations. The issue is similar to Phoenix’s: how to dole out the minutes and touches within said young upside.

Clarke gets an early free run at fantasy relevance; his near-roto-doppelganger, my personal fave, the one-and-only Jaren Jackson Jr., will begin the campaign in street clothes. Until Jackson revs back up, Clarke will get opportunities to duplicate the boffo mini-runs he posted in 2019-20. I still tear up when reflecting of Clarke’s 3-game binge last December, when he averaged 22.0 points and 6.7 rebounds with a Bunyan-esque 69.0 FG%.

Clarke is capable of pythonic efficiency from the field (sorry, “pythonic” is what happens when I have to temporarily come out of copy-writing retirement in my daytime labors). The predicament is volume. Will Clarke attempt enough shots to make his percentages land with any impact?

That, most dear reader … is why they play the games.

Other players to watch: Montrezl Harrell, Mason Plumlee, T.J. Warren



Source : ESPN