By Juan Blanco, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
On the eve of the final night of the regular season, let’s take a look at five rookies who could make a jump next season, as well as five veterans whose fantasy stock is on the decline.
Sophomores on the Rise
Landry Shamet, Clippers
Shamet has played well in extended minutes since coming to Los Angeles at the deadline, averaging 10.8 points (on 45.5 percent three-point shooting), 2.3 assists and 2.2 rebounds across 27.7 minutes over 24 games (22 starts). The 22 year old wing improved his scoring and shooting percentage in each of his three college seasons at Wichita State, and his first full NBA offseason should only help his upward trajectory. As a rookie, three-point shooting is Shamet’s primary fantasy asset, so improving as a distributor and defender will be points of emphasis.
Perhaps the biggest threat to Shamet’s development as a fantasy prospect are the Clippers ambitions to transform into a title contender next season. With names like Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving potentially on the radar, LA’s roster could look significantly different next season than it does right now. An influx of talent wouldn’t render Shamet useless, but there’s a chance it could cap his fantasy ceiling in the short-term.
Kevin Huerter, Hawks
Huerter has been unsurprisingly outshined by fellow first-round pick Trae Young this season, but the sharpshooting two-guard has enjoyed a steady rookie year in his own right. Still a developing talent at 20 years old, Huerter is likely to see considerable improvement with the benefit of a full NBA offseason.
After draining 50.3 percent of his field goal attempts in his final season at Maryland, Huerter has posted a relatively inefficient 41.4 percent success rate during his rookie campaign. However, he's hit 37.8 percent of his 4.7 three-point attempts per game, and he’ll continue to play in one of the league’s most fantasy-friendly offenses. The Hawks will add at least one high-lottery pick to the roster in June, but Huerter remains a key piece in the rebuild.
Plus, some of the names with whom he’s shared time this season could be on their way out. Kent Bazemore has been on the trade block for the better part of the last two years, while Atlanta quietly listened to offers on Taurean Prince at the deadline.
Kevin Knox, Knicks
Advanced numbers paint Knox as one of the most detrimental rookies in the class, but the Knicks knew he’d be a project player when they grabbed him with the ninth overall pick. Knox will head into the offseason on one of his better stretches of the season, as he’s averaged 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists across his last 11 games. He’s shooting 42.8 percent, including 37.5 percent from behind the arc in that time. While his overall shooting percentage during that stretch still leaves plenty to be desired, it's still a marked improvement over his 37.2 percent figure for the season.
Like Shamet, Knox could face some question marks if the Knicks make the splashes they think they can make in free agency. And while Knox may not be ready to be a positive contributor on a team shifting from bottom-dweller to title contender in the course of a few months, the foundation is there for the 19 year old to develop into a reliable points/rebounds/threes contributor down the road.
Troy Brown, Jr., Wizards
Brown had only logged over 20 minutes once prior to March 16, but he's eclipsed that number in each of the subsequent 10 games. A season-ending groin injury to Trevor Ariza has opened up an extended stretch of starts for Brown, who's averaging 11.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists across 31.6 minutes as a first-unit player over the last nine games.
With Ariza on an expiring contract and the Wizards’ would-be cap flexibility tied up in Ian Mahinmi and John Wall, the starting small forward job in the Wizards' fast-paced attack could well be Brown's to open what may end up being a 2019-20 campaign focused on youth development.
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
Deadline acquisition DeAndre Jordan is on an expiring contract, and in what certainly appears to be a nod to the future, he already ceded his starting center spot to Robinson five games ago. The 2018 second-round pick has averaged 11.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 3.0 blocks and 1.4 steals across 34 minutes during that stretch after shining off the bench since mid-January.
A 7-foot-1 rim protector who boasts multiple blocks in a whopping 28 consecutive games, Robinson has a chance to head into next season as the starter, which would likely make him the betting favorite to lead the league in blocks. Robinson already laps the field in that category on a per-minute basis, and he should only improve after essentially making the leap to the NBA straight from high school.
Other names to watch: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC; Miles Bridges, CHA; Mikal Bridges, PHO; Jaren Jackson, Jr., MEM; Kenrich Williams, NOP; Rodions Kurucs, BRO
Veterans on the Decline
DeAndre Jordan, Knicks
As covered above, Jordan is almost certainly on his way out of the Big Apple, and it remains to be seen where he'll fit next season at 31 years of age and with 11 seasons of mileage on his body. The veteran was solid once again for the Mavs and Knicks, but he could be on the brink of transitioning to a lesser role going forward.
Jordan’s scoring and field goal percentage have been on the decline in each of the last three seasons, and he hasn’t been an elite shot-blocker since the 2015-16 campaign. While Jordan has demonstrated some improvement as a passer and remains among the league’s best volume rebounders, his effort on the defensive end has noticeably waned, and he’ll have a hard time finding a job as a 30-minute-per-night center in 2019-20.
P.J. Tucker, Rockets
Tucker has stuck it out in the starting power forward role for the entire season in Houston, but the Rockets need to add depth this summer, and that could cut into Tucker’s workload. Tucker is undersized for the four at just 6-foot-6, and although he has plenty of defensive savvy, he’s fairly limited as a fantasy contributor. Virtually all of his offensive value comes via three-point shooting, and 2018-19 will mark the second straight year in which he’s failed to crack 40 percent from the field.
Paul Millsap, Nuggets
Fantasy owners were able to grab Millsap at a slight discount after he missed more than half of last season due to injury, and while he’s bounced back to play 68 games, Millsap’s production is as low as it's been since his second year in the league. While the veteran is shooting 49 percent from the floor — his best mark since 2012-13 — he’s taking fewer than 10 shots per game and holds his lowest assist rate and usage rate since 2010-11.
Of course, the emergence of Nikola Jokic and, to a lesser degree, Jamal Murray, plays a major role in Millsap’s statistical decline. His workload is down to 27.1 minutes per game — nearly three minutes lower than a season ago. But that’s just how things work for 34 year old big men, and Millsap will likely continue to transition into more of a complementary role going forward. At this point, it’s very much unclear if he’ll be back in Denver, but the Nuggets almost certainly won’t pick up his $30 million team option for 2019-20.
Tyreke Evans, Pacers
Evans didn't exactly make a strong case for a big payday this offseason with his play in Indiana, as he averaged career-lows in points (10.0) shooting percentage (38.4), rebounds (2.9) and assists (2.4) per game in 68 contests. Perhaps most telling was that the Pacers saw the need to go outside the organization and trade for Wesley Matthews after Victor Oladipo's season-ending knee injury, as opposed to letting Evans have a run at the starting shooting guard job. This time last year, Evans was in the opposite position following an impressive run with the Grizzlies, but looking ahead to 2019-20, he likely won’t find himself on the radar of most owners.
Will Barton, Nuggets
Much like Evans, Barton's offense has taken a dive this season. The seventh-year pro is posting his lowest scoring average (11.8 PPG) since the 2014-15 season, while his 40.5 percent success rate from the floor is his worst since his rookie campaign. He isn't exactly heading into the postseason on a high note, as he's averaging just 8.3 points (on 36.4 percent shooting; 26.7 percent from three), 2.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists across 25.3 minutes in his last seven games.
With both Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley showing some promise this season, Barton will have to earn his way back toward the 33.1 minutes per game that made him such a valuable fantasy asset a year ago. Heading into the final two games of the season, the 28 year old Barton ranks outside the top 200 in Yahoo leagues.
Other names to watch: Marvin Williams, CHA; Markieff Morris, OKC; Dwight Howard, WAS; Marc Gasol, TOR; Nic Batum, CHA; Kent Bazemore, ATL