By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Whether it's due to injury, lack of chemistry, or some other unpredictable factor, each season there are always players who underperform relative to expectations. But one bad year isn't always a slippery slope that leads to progressively worse seasons.
Some players bounce back.
By identifying bounce-back candidates, you may be able to get some steals in fantasy drafts in which other gamers are too hesitant to pull the trigger.
Here are some players who underwhelmed a year ago but are poised for a bounce-back:
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Best career 8-cat rank: 13
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 49
Green was a top-20 fantasy player back in 2015-16, which was, of course, the season before Kevin Durant arrived. Since then, his fantasy rank has declined each season, bottoming out at 49 last year. That’s mostly been due to a decline in usage, as Green hit four-year lows in points (7.4), rebounds (7.3) and assists (6.9) per game. With Durant moving on, Green has an opportunity to take back a significant portion of the offense. The addition of D’Angelo Russell complicates things, but with Klay Thompson out until the 2020 portion of the season — possibly February or March — the Warriors will need to involve Green if they have any hope of remaining competitive in the Western Conference.
Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Best career 8-cat rank: 1
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 19
Formerly the best player in fantasy basketball, Paul’s value has slipped due to age, injuries, and changes in role. He was ranked 10th during his final year with the Clippers (age-31), and he ranked 13th and 19th, respectively, in two years with the Rockets. Now the point guard of the Thunder, Paul moves away from a high-usage backcourt partner in James Harden. That could allow the veteran to thrive, especially in the assists department. Health remains a massive concern, but there’s potential for a big payoff if Paul takes control of OKC’s offense, as expected.
Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks
Best career 8-cat rank: 22
Last season’s 8-cat rank: N/A
Recovering from a torn ACL, Porzingis didn’t play last season, but he was the 22nd-ranked player in 2017-18. Paired up with Luka Doncic, Porzingis is part of one of the best young duos in the league. Doncic will be the best playmaker Porzingis has ever played with, and the latter should often be put in a position for easy looks. Porzingis was a force as a scorer (22.7 PPG) and shot-blocker (2.4 BLK) the last time we saw him, though that was 19 months ago. Playing on a better team will hopefully lead to higher efficiency (43.9 FG%) and potentially some assists (1.2 APG) — both areas in which he underwhelmed in New York. There may be some rest days for the injury-prone big man, but he heads into the 2019-20 season with plenty of upside.
Otto Porter, Chicago Bulls
Best career 8-cat rank: 40
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 60
A rare injury-filled season caused Porter to play just 56 games in 2018-19. Normally, he’s one of the healthier players in the NBA, having played between 74 and 80 games across the prior four campaigns. Perhaps as a result of the injuries and/or team chemistry issues in Washington, Porter’s field-goal percentage (40.6%) and rebounding (5.6 RPG) took significant dips compared to 2017-18, which dropped his per-game fantasy ranking by about two rounds relative to his career production.
Once he was dealt to Chicago, Porter played arguably the best basketball of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a combined 1.8 STL/BLK across 32.8 minutes. He’ll need to continue having a significant role on the wing for the Bulls in 2019-20, as the team’s depth at small forward is incredibly thin. As a result, we should expect Porter’s production to jump back up to its usual levels.
Jeff Teague, Minnesota Timberwolves
Best career 8-cat rank: 19
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 95
While we shouldn’t expect Teague to crack the top-20 again, his 2018-19 campaign isn’t indicative of his potential for this season. He appeared in just 42 games due to injury after playing at least 70 games in every season since 2012-13 — and even when he was on the court, Teague wasn’t 100 percent healthy. He struggled with his shooting, dipping below 44.0 FG% for the first time since 2013-14, but Teague’s passing numbers were excellent, as he averaged a career-high 8.2 assists per game.
As the Timberwolves’ main source of playmaking, that should carry over to 2019-20. During his first season in Minnesota, he ranked as the 50th-best fantasy player, which seems to be a mark he could realistically reach again.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
Best career 8-cat rank: 23
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 133
Hayward is now two full years removed from his devastating leg injury, and it’s reasonable to expect a bounce back. From 2013-14 to 2016-17, Hayward was a top-45 player, and he made his first All-Star team in the loaded West the year before leaving for Boston. Given the offensive options around him (Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Enes Kanter), we shouldn’t expect Hayward to get back to 20-plus points per game. But it’s within grasp for him to trend near his career highs in rebounds (5.4) and assists (5.2) per game, assuming he can play minutes in the low-to-mid 30s. Hayward is unquestionably a risky pick, but he’s obviously a talented, well-rounded player when at full strength.
Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans
Best career 8-cat rank: 36
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 96
Favors has always been a very productive fantasy player when given the minutes. From the 2013-14 season through the 2015-16 season, he had an average fantasy rank of 47.6 while seeing 31.0 minutes per game. However, he’s failed to crack the top-90 since, and he saw just 23.2 minutes per game for the Jazz in 2018-19.
Now, Favors takes his talents to New Orleans. There, he projects as the Pelicans’ starting center, and his competition for minutes is relatively thin. Zion Williamson will play some small-ball five, but he should play mostly at power forward. Rookie Jaxson Hayes is very much unpolished, and Jahlil Okafor is, at the end of the day, Jahlil Okafor. As a result, Favors should be set to return to the expanded minutes-load he saw during his peak years in Utah.
Ricky Rubio, Phoenix Suns
Best career 8-cat rank: 34
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 86
Trapped in Utah’s slow-paced offense and arguably misused, Rubio should have an opportunity to revert to his former self in Phoenix. The presence of Devin Booker means Rubio may still spend more time off-ball than is ideal for a subpar floor-spacer, but the latter was brought in to help facilitate open looks for the rest of the team. As a member of the Timberwolves, Rubio held an average fantasy rank of 45.0. While that would be quite the jump from last season’s mark of 86, it’s within the realm of possibility if he’s properly utilized.
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets
Best career 8-cat rank: 16
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 105
Batum was a top-55 fantasy player for six of seven seasons between 2011-12 and 2016-17, but his production has fallen off over the past two years while Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb saw their roles increase. But Walker and Lamb are both gone, and new starting point guard Terry Rozier won’t make up all of that usage on his own. The Hornets have a troubling lack of reliable playmakers, which is why Batum could have a bounce-back season. Historically, he’s provided fantasy value as a three-point shooter and passer who rebounds at a decent rate. While Batum is a veteran and the Hornets are a rebuilding team, he’s not exactly old — this is his age-31 season — and the roster is mostly devoid of other quality options on the wing.
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
Best career 8-cat rank: 178
Last season’s 8-cat rank: N/A
Our sample size for Murray is small. He tore his ACL and missed all of 2018-19, and he only became a true rotation player in his sophomore season. With that said, Murray was the 74th-ranked player during his final 34 games after taking the starting point guard role from Tony Parker. He only needed 26.5 minutes per game to accomplish that, meaning we shouldn't be too concerned that Derrick White emerged as a backcourt weapon last season.
As a point guard whose primary fantasy value lies in his rebounds and steals, Murray is a unique fantasy asset. He’s also not much of a three-point threat. But if he can expand his range and become even a marginally better shooter, we could see Murray crack the top-70, if not higher.
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
Best career 8-cat rank: 59
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 103
Putting aside the fact that Ball has played just 99 games in two seasons, he’s had an unusual start to his NBA career. He was asked to be the point guard of a rebuilding team during his rookie year, then was tasked with finding a suitable role next to LeBron James last season. It’s difficult to imagine most young players succeeding in those scenarios. Ball will get a fresh start in New Orleans during the 2019-20 season, where he is expected to start next to Jrue Holiday. On the back of excellent passing and defensive numbers, Ball managed to be a top-60 player during his rookie year. If he can make any improvements as a shooter, his entire game could open up.
Kent Bazemore, Portland Trail Blazers
Best career 8-cat rank: 66
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 146
Bazemore’s fantasy value has been up-and-down, but he hit a new four-year low last season. He struggled with his efficiency, posting the third-worst true shooting percentage (50.7) of his seven-year career. He also saw his workload (24.5 MPG) drop to its lowest mark since 2014-15. But the Trail Blazers are desperately thin on the wing, and his presence will be needed. Whether that translates into significantly improved fantasy value is up for debate, but he’ll likely be given every opportunity to establish himself as a reliable two-way option at small forward.
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
Best career 8-cat rank: 15
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 106
Whiteside’s fantasy rank has decreased every year since 2015-16, reaching a new low last season when he was eventually benched for Bam Adebayo. But with Jusuf Nurkic likely to be sidelined until February or March, Portland has opted to take a chance on the mercurial big man. The theoretical makings of a bounce-back year are there: Whiteside is in a contract year and the Blazers need him to be a legitimate, high-minute option every night. If he trends close to 30 minutes per game, the statistical impact could be huge. He provides elite production in rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage, which helped fuel back-to-back top-30 seasons during his second- and- third years in Miami.
Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
Best career 8-cat rank: 23
Last season’s 8-cat rank: 154
Dragic fought through injury to appear in 36 games last season, but he never really looked healthy. There are some factors working against Dragic this upcoming season, the primary two being his age (33) and the Heat’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler. Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters also figure to handle the ball a fair amount. Still, Dragic might be able to make some noise as a bench-leading playmaker. He even posted a top-80 season when seeing just 26.5 minutes per game in 2011-12. There’s probably not much upside to taking Dragic inside the top-100 this season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he sneaks into the double-digit ranks by the time we get to April.