By Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
RotoWire’s Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha toss out eight bold fantasy predictions for the 2020-21 NBA season.
Zion Williamson will not command a third-round draft pick
While Zion had an electric — albeit abbreviated — rookie campaign, it didn’t translate to fantasy success. On a per-game basis, he was just the 91st-ranked player in eight-category leagues. He’s dominant as an efficient scorer around the rim, but he doesn’t do much else to bump up his fantasy stock.
Zion didn’t hit threes, wasn’t much of a passer, failed to rack up significant defensive stats, and is only an average overall rebounder — his fitness is a question mark, as well. Some improvement should be expected in his sophomore campaign, but it would be shocking if he’s able to climb upwards of 50 spots. - Alex Barutha
Kevin Durant returns to top-10 status
By the time next season starts, Durant will have gone more than a year-and-a-half without playing in an NBA game. The layoff is a concern, especially as Durant creeps toward his 32nd birthday, but by January of 2020, Durant will be more than recovered from the torn Achilles that ended his run with the Warriors.
Considering the severity of the injury, it’s reasonable that Durant could take a step back, or at least require some time to work his way back into peak condition. But even if that’s the case, Durant at, say, 85 percent of his prime is still an All-NBA-caliber player. In Durant’s “worst” non-rookie fantasy season — ironically, his 2018-19 campaign — he still finished eighth overall in per-game value and fifth in total production.
Given all of the factors at play, Durant could very well slide on draft night — just don’t let him fall too far. - Nick Whalen
Giannis Antetokounmpo should slide out of the top 5 in next season’s drafts
The Greek Freak was essentially a consensus top-3 pick in this season’s fantasy drafts given his defensive upside and usage on offense. However, a couple of things went wrong. Antetokounmpo saw his workload drop for a second straight season, finishing the year at 30.4 minutes per game. While he increased his scoring and rebounding, his assists and defensive stats took a dip. But most dramatically, his free throw percentage dropped nearly 10 points, and at 10.0 attempts per game, he was the biggest free-throw drag in all of fantasy basketball. Maybe that improves next season, but maybe it doesn’t.
When draft day comes, managers may look at similarly high-usage players with fewer questions about their minutes and shooting ability. That could result in Giannis slipping out of the top-5, especially considering the other elite options. James Harden, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic each figure to be in the mix. The talent at the top of the league is dense. - Alex Barutha
John Wall finishes inside the top 40
Wall hasn’t stepped foot on an NBA court since December of 2018, but by all accounts, he’s fully healthy and will be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season — whenever that may be. If you take it from Wall himself, he feels better than ever, having recovered from a torn Achilles, while also using the time off to address lingering bone spurs in his ankles. Wall’s own proclamations should be taken with a grain of salt, but he’s still only 30 years old and — like Durant — will have the luxury of an ultra-long recovery period to re-acclimate at his own pace.
Wall missed significant time in each of his last two seasons — combined 73 games played in 2017-18 and 2018-19 — but in the four seasons prior, he sat out a total of just 12 contests. Betting on an explosive player coming off of a severe injury is a risk, but Wall’s upside is worth it. In his five healthiest seasons, Wall has an average finish of 9.8 overall in eight-category leagues. Factoring in some age and injury-based regression, Wall could still be a top-40 player relatively easily.
Over his last five seasons, Wall averaged 20.1 points, 9.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 76 percent at the line. By comparison, Ricky Rubio finished 37th in total value this season behind 13.0 points, 8.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals with 42/86 shooting splits. - Nick Whalen
Christian Wood will be a top-15 center in fantasy
After the Pistons traded Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers, Wood stepped into a legitimate starting role at center. From Feb. 3 onward, Wood averaged 22.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.9 combined steals-plus-blocks. He also shot 56.2 percent from the field, hit 1.7 threes per game at 41.0 percent, and was a 75.9 percent shooter from the charity stripe. All of that work was without Blake Griffin, who will presumably start next season healthy, but Wood should be a top offensive option on the team and figures to be a building block of the rebuild. If he can come close to those numbers again, he should be able to crack the Top 15 of the center position. - Alex Barutha
No rookie finishes inside the top 120
Initially, I was going to predict that no rookie finishes in the top-100, but let’s take it a step further. While the 2020 NBA Draft class is one of the least-hyped in recent memory, I’m not sold that this will ultimately be viewed as a bad draft when we look back in five or 10 years. In the short-term, however, it’s tough to imagine the likes of Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball, or Deni Avdija having the level of immediate impact necessary to crack the top 120.
This season, only two rookies — Ja Morant and Kendrick Nunn — met that criteria in terms of total value for eight-category leagues. The previous draft class was a different story, with all seven of Deandre Ayton, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Mikal Bridges, Jaren Jackson, and Mitchell Robinson finishing inside the top 120. History suggests at least one rookie will find a way to fantasy-relevance, but with the question marks facing every one of the top prospects in 2020, I’ll be staying away until the later rounds. - Nick Whalen
It’s worth the risk (again) to take Mitchell Robinson in the fourth round
Heading into this season, Robinson was thought to have immense breakout potential, and he was even selected as high as the second round in some drafts. His playing time was still limited by coaches David Fizdale and Mike Miller, with the sophomore center seeing just 23.1 minutes per game. Robinson managed to be productive, averaging 9.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks, but it wasn’t the soaring heights fantasy managers expected.
With new coach Tim Thibodeau, who notoriously runs guys into the ground, maybe we finally see Robinson trend near the 30-minute mark. In the eight games this season that he saw 30-plus minutes, he averaged 11.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 assists. - Alex Barutha
Chris Paul plays fewer than 60 games
It’s finally time for some pessimism. For as much fun as it was to watch Paul lead the Thunder this season, the reality is that his durability was an anomaly. Not counting the Thunder’s final seeding game in Orlando, Paul sat out just one game all season — a Jan. 27 loss to the Mavericks. Over the previous three seasons, Paul missed 24, 24, and 21 games, respectively. Set to turn 36 midway through the 2020-21 season, time is not on Paul’s side.
The chances of a player with his history of landing on the injury list making it through another year unscathed are slim. Health concerns aside, the Thunder will likely place the 10-time-All-Star on the trade block this offseason. While he may ultimately land in a better basketball situation, teaming up with another star on a deeper roster — say, in Milwaukee — would likely mean fewer possessions with the ball in his hands. Betting big on Paul in 2019-20 paid dividends for fantasy managers, but doing the same in 2020-21 could prove dangerous. - Nick Whalen