2019-20 Fantasy Basketball Awards Preview

Tommy Beer
Rotoworld

All-Star Saturday Night lived up to the hype this year. Bam Adebayo beat Domantas Sabonis to win the Skills Challenge. Buddy Hield scored 27 points in the final round to nip Devin Booker at the buzzer in the Three-Point Contest. And Derrick Jones Jr. beat Aaron Gordon in a controversial final round of the Dunk Contest. Now, let's move on to fantasy hoops.

While the All-Star Break is symbolically supposed to represent the mid-way point of each NBA season, we're actually about two-thirds of the way through the 2019-20 campaign. In fact, some fantasy leagues have already begun postseason play. Thus, with such a large sample size in the books, let's take a look at who are the favorites to take home this year's hardware in several different categories.

Fantasy MVP:
One could make a case for a number of players, as no one has clearly established himself as the obvious, unquestioned choice. Early on, it appeared James Harden was going to run away with MVP honors. Through mid-January, Harden was averaging a mind-boggling 37.8 points, 7.5 assists and 5.1 made treys. However, over the past month, he's come back down to earth. Over the Rockets last 15 games, he is averaging a more modest 28.0 points, 6.9 dimes and 3.1 treys. Also, during this stretch, he's shooting below 40% from the floor and below 30% from downtown, while committing 3.8 turnovers a night.

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On the other hand, after a relatively quiet start to the season, Damian Lillard has been playing at an otherworldly level of late. Over his last 15 appearances, Dame is putting up 36.5 points, 8.9 assists, 5.0 boards and 5.2 made trifectas per contest. However, it may surprise some folks to learn that the No. 1 overall per-game ranking in nine-category formats this season belongs to Anthony Davis. Although AD has missed seven games and his rebounding numbers are down a bit (after pulling down 12.0 boards a night last season, he's below 10 RPG in 2019-20 for the first time since his rookie year), his all-around numbers are simply incredible. Davis is scoring 26.6 points (while shooting 51.9% from the floor and a career-high 85.3% from the floor) to go along with 3.3 assists, 1.1 treys, 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks. According to Basketball-Reference, he is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average more than one made 3-pointer, more than 1.5 steals and more than two blocks throughout a full season. Oh, he's also on pace to join Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Kevin Durant as just the fourth player in the last 35 years to score more than 26 points a night while shooting above 51% from the floor and 85% from the charity stripe.

Fantasy Rookie of the Year:
This is a race between the Grizzlies' two first-round picks. Ja Morant is well on his way to taking home the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Not only does he lead all rookies in total points and assists by a wide margin, he ranks fourth in steals and is sixth among all NBA players in 4th quarter scoring. Clarke's shockingly high value (76th overall among all players in nine-cate leagues) is due to his tremendous all-around production. He helps you everywhere and hurts you nowhere. He's shooting over 62% from the floor and 79% from the free-throw line en route to his 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, while committing less than one turnover per game. 

Yet, we can't talk about rookies and not discuss the outsized impact Zion Williamson has had since setting foot on the NBA hardwood. After scoring a career-high scoring 31 points this past Tuesday, Zion poured in 32 points on Thursday. Through his first ten games, he's currently averaging 22.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 dimes, while shooting 57.6% from the floor. Dating back to 1985, only three players have averaged over 22 points and shot over 50% in their first ten career games: Zion, Shaq and Michael Jordan. Not bad company to keep, huh? Per Basketball-Reference, Zion is the first and ONLY player in NBA history to average 20+ PPG and shot better than 56% from the floor over their first ten career games. His FT% and surprising lack of defensive stats drag his fantasy value down a bit, but if/when he puts it all together? Yikes. 

Fantasy Coach of the Year:
Logical arguments could be made for several different dudes this season, but I'm leaning towards the fantasy-friendly coaching style of Mike D'Antoni. The Rockets, long ahead of the curve in this pace-and-space, 3-point happy era of today's NBA, not only doubled but tripled-down on that approach this season. By trading away Clint Capela and committing to starting 6'5" P.J. Tucker at center, Houston has gone "all in" on their 3-happy approach. Consider this: Before 2012-13, no team in league history had attempted more than 2,300 treys in an entire season; yet the Rockets have already put up 2,369 three-point attempts, and we're only at the All-Star break this season. As a result, Tucker and Danuel House have carved out top-150 fantasy value. Ben McLemore was roster-worthy for a stretch. Now, Lord Robert Covington will flourish in his new surroundings. 

And, of course, the biggest beneficiaries are James Harden and Russell Westbrook. We know what Harden's been up to, but Russ has been a beast since settling into his role as well. Surprisingly, Westbrook's increased production is due primarily to his forgoing 3-point attempts in lieu of better looks. Still, all that spacing that D'Antoni's offense creates has done wonders for Westbrook. Dating back to New Year's Eve (a 16-game sample-size), Russ is averaging a whopping 32.8 points and 7.4 assists (and 0.6 made 3-pointers on just 2.3 attempts) while shooting 52.2% from the floor, with a 57.1% True Shooting Percentage, 53.3% Effective FG percentage, and 113 Offensive Rating. 

Most Improved Fantasy Player:
This is yet another award that could go to a bevy of meritorious players; however, in my opinion, Brandon Ingram gets the nod. 

Remember, Ingram put up decent counting stats last season, but some of his peripheral numbers were brutal. For instance, he shot 67.5% from the free-throw stripe (on 5.6 attempts) in 2018-19 and committed 2.5 turnovers (vs. just 3.0 assists). In addition, Ingram averaged career-lows in made 3-pointers (0.6) and steals (0.5) during his final season in LA. To cap it off, he missed the final two months of the season due to a scary blood clot condition in his right arm. He finished the season ranked 224th overall (just behind Joakim Noah and ahead of Ed Davis) in nine-cat formats.

Following the trade to New Orleans in the Anthony Davis deal, Ingram has emerged as a stud for the Pelicans. He only sees slightly more playing time (34.1 minutes this season as opposed to 33.8 in 2018-19), but his production has increased dramatically. He’s averaging career-highs across the board: points (24.9), blocks (0.7), steals (1.0), assists (4.2), rebounds (6.4), treys (2.5) and FT percentage (86.2%). He is on pace to become the second player in NBA history age 22 or younger to average at least 25 points per game while shooting over 45% from the field, 40% from 3-point range and 85% from the free-throw line, joining Kevin Durant (2008-09) - and is the only player in the league currently posting those stats. 

In his first three seasons in Los Angeles, Ingram produced seven total games where he recorded at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Thus far in 2019-20, he's posted 16 of those 20/5/5 games. Also, over his first three years in the league, he shot 127-of-386 from downtown and 520-of-785 from the line. This year, he is 118-of-295 from downtown and 249-of-289 from the FT stripe. Ingram ranks 14th in nine-cat formats this season, just ahead of a couple of guys named LeBron James and Luka Doncic.

Most Surprising Production:
Much like Ingram, Hassan Whiteside struggled through a frustrating and disappointing 2018-19 campaign. He was in the doghouse in Miami for much of last year. However, a trade to Portland has given him a new lease on his fantasy life. 

In 2019-20, he ranks third in the league in rebounds per game (14.1), seventh in field goal percentage (61.3%), and leads the entire league in blocks (3.0). Whiteside has recorded a double-double with at least five blocks in 13 games this season, which is eight more than the next closest player (Rudy Gobert, who has five such games).

In addition, Whiteside been a much improved free-throw shooter. He came into this season converting just 59% of his FT attempts over his first seven years in the league. This season, he's up over 70%. And after shooting below 56% from the floor over the last three years combined, he's over 61%. All told, Whiteside has rocketed up from outside the top-100 in 2018-19 to seventh overall in 2019-20. 

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Biggest Bust:
Nothing more frustrating than a player ruining what could have been an otherwise solid season. Personally, Otto Porter burned me big time in 2019-20. I was higher on him than most, slotting him 37th overall in my top-150 preseason rankings. It certainly didn't seem like a reach, as he was a consistent producer during his days in DC and averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 triples, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.7 turnovers for the Bulls after a trade to Chicago last February. He ranked 31st overall in nine-category leagues over the final two months of 2018-19.   

However, Otto stunk up the joint (averaging just 11/3/2) before suffering a broken left foot. He's appeared in only nine games for Chicago, as he's been sidelined since early November. 

Late-Season Breakout:
The late-season surge from Christian Wood has already commenced! With Andre Drummond shipped off to Cleveland, Wood has been a primary beneficiary. Over the Pistons final five games before the All-Star break, Wood averaged 20.2 points, 10.2 boards, 2.0 dimes, 0.8 blocks, and 1.8 trifectas, while shooting 53% from the field, 41% from deep, and 77% from the stripe. If he can maintain even close to this level of production down the stretch, he could be a league-winner.

It should be noted that the Pistons have been decimated by a recent rash of injuries, with Derrick Rose (left hip), Luke Kennard (knee), Markieff Morris (illness), Brandon Knight (left knee) and Svi Mykhailiuk (right hip). Derrick Rose (left hip), Luke Kennard (knee), Markieff Morris (illness), Brandon Knight (left knee) and Svi Mykhailiuk (right hip) all missing time. Assuming Morris and Rose return after the All-Star break, they will eat into Wood's minutes and shot attempts, but there should still be plenty of opportunities for him to produce fantasy-friendly lines. 

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