By Juan Blanco, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The 2018-19 NBA season is officially here, and to dominate in fantasy it’s good to have an idea of which players are set to win big once the season is done. We’re not talking about your usual NBA season awards though — we’re talking about the ones that’ll have the most impact in fantasy now that the preseason is done. So, without further ado:
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Jarrett Allen, BKN
When you think of young bigs with upside on developing squads, Jarrett Allen must be mentioned. He should have plenty of opportunity to blossom in his second season. Allen will have the top center job all to himself from the start of the 2018-19 campaign after a 31-start apprenticeship during his rookie year. Allen finished with solid averages of 8.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks across 20.0 minutes over 72 games overall, providing him with a solid foundation upon which to build on this season.
The Nets are expected to have a win total in the mid-30s, and like the Suns, they should also play at one of the faster paces in the NBA. Allen should therefore have plenty of possessions with which to rack up points, rebounds and blocks, and it’s certainly conceivable that his minutes hit the 30-mark on average as the starting center.
“True” Fantasy MVP: Kevin Love, CLE
I guess you could label this a “shadow” MVP designation of sorts, as the official award typically goes to a player on an upper-echelon squad. That said, since we’re not bound by those constraints for the purposes of this exercise, I’ll take a little creative license and nominate a player who I think will embody the true spirit of a “Most Valuable Player” designation.
That would be Love, whose stat line has a chance to return to its glory days of earlier in the decade when he was with the Timberwolves. The veteran forward will naturally see a significant spike in usage this season with LeBron James now in Los Angeles. He has a highly realistic chance of averaging shot attempts in the upper teens again as in his Minnesota tenure. With some serviceable but far-from-elite talent around him, Love will be leaned on heavily and is a virtual lock to comfortably average a double-double — and the best part? Fantasy owners don’t have to pay a true MVP price for Love’s services in drafts.
Rookie of the Year: Deandre Ayton, PHO
There will be plenty of candidates for this award considering the sky-high upside of this year’s draft class, but the first overall pick rightfully stands a notch above the rest. Ayton has set the tone for a dominant rookie campaign by already flashing midseason form during the summer league and exhibition slate. After averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the former, he posted a pair of double-doubles and scored in double digits in four of five preseason contests. He also impressed on the defensive end, notching a trio of multi-block outings and four total steals. His ADP has skyrocketed accordingly over the last two weeks.
At a legit 7-foot-1, Ayton should put an impressive stamp on a Suns squad that will suddenly be a lot more formidable down in the post than it has been in years. What’s more, Ayton is far from a paint-exclusive big man, as he flashed an impressive jumper in his one college season and can even drain a bucket from distance when called upon. In a fast-paced Suns attack that should generate plenty of possessions, Ayton should see ample opportunity to be the most productive first-year player out of an impressive crop.
Sixth Man of the Year: Seth Curry, POR
This may seem like an unlikely selection on the surface, but I’m banking on it looking a lot more reasonable by season’s end. Curry might be victim to a bit of “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” syndrome as the season starts, considering he sat out all of last year due to a leg injury. However, the sharpshooting wing certainly has the talent to bounce right back and make a significant mark while offering the iron-man backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum some valuable down time.
The timing of Curry’s injury was particularly inopportune, considering he’d broken out with the Mavericks in the 2016-17 season. The 28-year-old had posted career bests in points (12.8), assists (2.7), rebounds (2.6) and steals (1.1) while shooting a career-high 48.1 percent across 70 games. With his offensive skill and ability to potentially back up three positions, Curry — who holds a Yahoo ADP in the mid-130s — will be a valuable component for a Blazers team in desperate need of scorers when McCollum or Lillard aren’t on the floor.
Long-Range Marksman of the Year: Klay Thompson, GSW
Naturally, another Splash Bro is a perpetual candidate for this designation as well. It could literally be a toss-up between the two, but I’ll give Thompson the nod after he drained a career-best 44.0 percent on 7.1 three-point attempts last season. As is customary, he’ll see his share of open looks with the Warriors’ star-studded starting five and the fact that he’s rarely hurt has provided a boost to his fantasy stock throughout Golden State’s dynastic run. Thompson has ranked within the top 10 in the league in three-point percentage each of the last five seasons while finishing in the top five in made-threes in each of the last six seasons.
Defensive Player of the Year: Victor Oladipo, IND
Kawhi Leonard could well make a run at this as well, if he proves to be at full health and plays the entire season. However, Oladipo is certainly a viable candidate in his own right, having just doubled his steals over that of the previous season to a career-best 2.4 in the 2017-18 campaign. That figure was also good enough to pace the entire league, and given that Oladipo remains in the prime of his career and often switches off to handle point guards one-on-one, he should be in for another robust tally in that department this coming season.
Big Man of the Year: Joel Embiid, PHI
Embiid will naturally be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year as well, but we’ll give him his own award that encompasses his diverse talents. Embiid finally played extended minutes at the NBA level and tapped into his vast potential last season after having provided a glimpse of his upside the year prior when he’d played 31 games. Embiid logged 63 appearances last season, easily averaging a double-double (22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds) and an impressive 1.8 blocks. The floor-spacing big man also put up nearly 3.5 three-point attempts per contest and drained them at a 30.8-percent clip, setting the stage for what could be an even better season as the 76ers look to push further into the postseason.
Most Underrated Free-Agent Pickup: Julius Randle, NOP
Our final award is designed to recognize an offseason acquisition that may not have received the same amount of hype as those involving LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarcus Cousins, but that nevertheless will make a major impact on the fantasy landscape. Randle gets that honor as he’ll prove to be a valued source of offense for a Pelicans squad that lost Cousins to the Warriors. The No. 7 overall pick in 2014’s arrival in New Orleans was actually a direct function of two of the summer’s marquee moves, as James’ arrival in Los Angeles naturally made the former expendable.
Randle averaged a career-high 16.1 points on a career-high 55.8 percent shooting last season, while still offering above-average production on the boards (8.0 rebounds). In New Orleans, Anthony Davis should naturally log heavy usage while Jrue Holiday will be the No. 2 option in the offense on most nights. However, Randle should be able to easily acclimate to New Orleans’ fast-paced style, and he’ll benefit from a talented passer in Elfrid Payton at point guard.
Randle has always been talented, but he was often marginalized in Los Angeles. The Pelicans aren’t handing him the keys to the car, but he’ll find himself in a much more consistent role alongside one of the best defensive big men in the league, which will take some pressure off of Randle on that end. If the Pelicans turn Randle (who is an underrated passer with 3.0 APG over the last two seasons) loose when Davis is off the floor, it’s not hard to imagine him outperforming his early-sixth-round ADP.