Any way you slice it, this is a savagely cruel game we play.
After the latest gut punch to fantasy squads — the ankle sprain to Nikola Vucevic (re-evaluated in 7-10 days, per the Orlando Sentinel) — I went ahead and pieced it together round-by-round, and there’s certainly a scenario where you could've drafted this team in fantasy:
Stephen Curry, Nikola Vucevic, De’Aaron Fox, D’Angelo Russell, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Derrick Favors, Zach Collins, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Huerter — and you have a squad where your first 10 picks are sitting there with an “O” or “INJ” next to their name.
And I haven’t even mentioned the suspended Deandre Ayton and John Collins, or the currently injured Kyrie Irving, but I don’t even need to. The fact is, we are just one month into the season (exactly one month today), and 2019-20 is already all about survival.
Given all the injuries, and how much everything has been tossed into turmoil, I thought now would be an excellent time to take a look at a new top-25 for 9-category leagues:
1. James Harden
I don't take much joy from watching him in real-life games — that’s just my personal preference/lack thereof — but it’s pretty difficult to argue with 38.4 ppg, 7.5 apg, 1.7 spg and 4.8 3s, regardless of the aesthetics involved. If this current scoring mark held, per Basketball Reference it would be the best for a season since Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63 (44.8 ppg), which is just insane.
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He’s averaging a career-high 26.0 ppg and a wild (for a big man) 3.9 treys, with 12.1 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.3 spg (also a career-high) and 1.5 bpg. Seeing what Harden and KAT are doing, it crushes me that I took Curry first overall in the Rotoworld league. Given his numbers the last time he played a season without Durant (30.1 ppg, 6.7 apg, 2.1 spg and 5.1 3s), it seemed like a good idea at the time. But enough about Steph! KAT is great and I’m happy for everyone who has him. No bitterness at all.
He’s currently sidelined with back spasms — presumably a short-term blip — and his season stats took a hit while he was trying to play through it. The back spasms reportedly struck when he played the Raptors last week, and prior to that game vs. Toronto, he was averaging 32.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.5 bpg and 3.8 3s on 49.8 percent from the field and 91.2 from the line with just 2.9 turnovers, a very respectable number for a high-volume dynamo. There are few players I’d rather have in fantasy going forward this season than Lillard. Specifically, there are two of them.
You can easily make a case for Davis anywhere in the top four, and for all the injury concerns, he has only missed one game this season. And prior to last season’s trade demand craziness when he played just 56 games, he played 75 games in each of the previous two years. He’s currently leading the league in blocks (3.1) while putting up 25.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.4 spg and 0.8 3s. It’s not as dominant an AD as we’ve seen in years past (rebounds, for example, are down three from last year’s 12.0), but in a season of complete chaos, this stat line will more than suffice.
5. Luka Doncic
I really didn’t believe he’d make this leap after his struggles with percentages (42.7 / 71.3) left him as the 100th-ranked player in 9-category leagues last year (per BasketballMonster.com), but make the leap he has. Doncic is averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games (31.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 10.5 apg, 1.1 spg and 3.3 3s), and we can live with the turnovers (4.8) when that and the lack of blocks (0.2) are really the only blemishes on a killer stat line. Congrats, Steve. You did it.
6. Paul George
Now things get interesting. Kyrie Irving is hurt. Jimmy Butler has been a top-10 value, but I’m hesitant to put him this high with his track record of missing so many games (has only played more than 70 games twice in his eight-plus years in the league). Enter Paul George, who has stepped on the court and immediately started crushing box scores after his shoulder surgery layoff, putting up 28.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg and 4.0 3s in just 28 minutes a game over his first four. He’s already putting up top-10 value in L.A., and the beautiful thing is he’s only going to get better as the steals ramp up. He averaged 2.2 of those per game last year.
7. LeBron James
Here’s the most glaring piece of evidence that bias against old dudes can go too far. Many of us (myself included) were hesitant to draft LeBron after his career-worst 55 games played last season and an uncharacteristically low fantasy ranking (No. 23 in 9-category leagues). He’s been a top-12 player so far while putting up 25.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 11.1 apg (career-high), 1.3 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.9 3s.
If I had told you just three years ago, when Drummond was shooting 38.6 percent from the line, that he might shoot 70 percent for a season one day in the near future, you’d have called me a maniac. But here we are. Contract-year Drummond is averaging career-highs of 18.6 ppg, 16.8 rpg, 3.1 apg and 2.1 bpg, adding 1.6 spg while shooting 69.4 percent from the line. He has also missed just 10 games total in the last six-plus years.
9. Jimmy Butler
Can’t let the aforementioned Butler fall any further than this. He’s putting up less than 20 ppg (specifically, 18.7) for the second consecutive season, but his supporting stats are carrying a lot of weight — with 5.7 rpg, 7.0 apg, 2.7 spg, 1.0 bpg and 0.8 3s through his first 10 games. As for the scoring, after a rare five-point game in his second outing of the season, he’s averaging 20.1 ppg so far in November. As long as he’s healthy, Butler in Miami will be a beast.
Here’s where I remind you that these rankings are based first and foremost on 9-category leagues. If you’re playing in a points league, there’s a strong case to take Giannis No. 1. That’s because one month into the season, he’s currently sitting at 30.1 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.3 3s. Those numbers are nothing short of very serious.
However, if you’re playing with FTs, you are punting that category whether you want to or not. So far this season, he’s shooting just 60.6 percent from the line on 11.3 attempts a game. For some perspective, that’s almost peak Dwight Howard territory (Dwight shot 57.9 percent on 10.8 attempts a game for a five-year span from 2007-2012). So, if you’re not actively punting free throws yet and you’ve got Giannis, you might as well get active with it. Time to trade for Rudy Gobert (63.5 percent), Ben Simmons (57.9) and Russell Westbrook (71.1), to name a few.
11. Bradley Beal
After a miserable shooting slump to start the year (30.6 percent on 24.0 attempts a game through his first three), Beal has shot 52.7 percent over his last nine games, putting up 33.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.0 spg and 3.1 3s, with 4.0 turnovers a game. He was a consensus top-10/top-12 pick coming into the year, and he’s reminding us why right now.
12. Kyrie Irving
Assuming that we don’t get some news that his shoulder injury is actually something significant, it’s hard to put even an injured Kyrie lower than this when he’s been the No. 6 player on a per-game basis so far this year (thanks to 28.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 7.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.5 bpg and 2.8 3s through his first 11 games). I didn’t draft him in any of my leagues for this exact reason, but I still rank him right around here because his ceiling when he’s on the floor is extremely high.
13. Jonathan Isaac
Here’s some excitement to kick off the back nine. Isaac’s stunning combo of steals (1.3), blocks (2.8) and 3s (1.2) has the 22-year-old finally fulfilling his lofty fantasy potential, thanks also to career-best marks of 12.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg, with high percentages (48.2 / 86.2) and low turnovers (1.6). He basically does nothing to hurt your fantasy squad while giving it an enormous boost in blocks, and while I would never deal away a high-volume stud like Beal to get him, Isaac has massive fantasy value right now — and a case to stay in the top-15 all year.
14. Kemba Walker
There’s a lot to be said for reliability and durability in this day and age of NBA hoops. Walker has been right around top-20 on Basketball Monster’s leaderboard so far, but his combo of 22.6 ppg / 4.9 rpg / 4.8 apg / 0.9 spg / 0.6 bpg / 3.6 3s and basically never missing games (average of 80.5 the last four years) is worth a lot. It will be worth even more if and when his slightly sub par FG percentage (40.9) normalizes. He shot 43.6 percent his last three seasons in Charlotte combined.
15. Trae Young
If you just punt turnovers — a very easy category to punt — Young goes from the No. 23 overall player to No. 13. He’s already putting up 26.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 8.6 apg, 1.7 spg and 3.0 3s (44.0 FG / 81.6 FT / 4.8 TOs), and things will only get easier for him once John Collins (suspension) and Kevin Huerter (shoulder) return. If there’s a chance to get Trae closer to a top-25 cost in fantasy right now, I’d do it.
16. Jrue Holiday
Like Beal, he had some early-season shooting woes (36.4 percent in his first eight games). Like Beal, he is emerging from it full force, with 23.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 7.8 apg, 2.4 spg, 0.6 bpg and 2.2 3s on 49.0 percent shooting over his last five.
17. Nikola Jokic
Here’s where I’ll say that at some point this exercise becomes a little bit arbitrary, as there are a ton of players you can argue into the top-20, and shuffle them around to different spots without all that much objection from me. These things change week-to-week and even day-to-day, so it makes all the sense in the world to me if you disagree with some of these. As for Jokic, this consensus top-seven pick has been nothing short of a major disappointment so far this year. Let’s compare:
Last season: 20.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 7.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.0 3s, 51.1 FG, 82.1 FT, 3.1 TO
This season: 17.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.2 3s, 47.1 FG, 75.7 FT, 2.6 TO
As you can see, he’s taken a hit in almost every major category this season, which is why he currently sits close to 40th overall in 9-category leagues. I think there are some legitimate concerns, but I’m ranking him this high because I’m inclined to trust the track record, as well as a recent spike in scoring. Over his last six games, Jokic has averaged 20.0 ppg, with 8.2 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.5 3s.
18. Joel Embiid
I’ll put Embiid here, and feel neither wonderful nor terrible about it. I’m numb on this one. Embiid has already missed four games this season (one due to injury, two due to suspension and one of the load management variety). If you’re looking for a positive though, he is planning to play both games of the back-to-back this weekend, and could be a bit of a buy-low after a slower start (22.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.5 3s) than what we became accustomed to last year.
19. Nikola Vucevic
With the recent news that he’ll actually be reevaluated in 7-10 days — a major upgrade from the initial report of four weeks — I can’t move Vooch down much further than this. He was starting to go full Vooch just prior to the injury (including a 30-17-6 line against the Wizards), and has a strong case for top-15 value once he’s back healthy.
20. Kyle Lowry
Ditto Kyle Lowry, who hopefully/presumably won’t be out too much longer with his thumb injury, and has been a top-15 player when on the court this season, thanks to 24.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.1 spg and 3.9 3s in his seven fully healthy games. If not for the injury, I’d have Lowry several spots higher. (Note: Shortly after I published this on Friday afternoon, word came down that Lowry could return on Dec. 1. Good news.)
21. Clint Capela
Pretty quietly, he is enormously valuable, as the No. 17 overall player right now (assuming you don’t count the numbers of Deandre Ayton and John Collins, which I don’t given how long they’re still out). Capela had some hiccups early in the year, but is on an insane rebounding binge right now, with five consecutive games of 20-plus boards, and 14.6 ppg / 20.2 rpg / 0.6 spg / 2.4 bpg during that run. He’s also a bad free throw shooter, but is considerate enough to only shoot 2.5 per game. Thank you, Clint.
22. Pascal Siakam
After an electric start (a 34-18-5 stat line on opening night), Siakam has settled into really solid top-25ish value, and is averaging 23.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.9 bpg and 2.1 3s so far in November.
23. Kawhi Leonard
I’m not drafting him in the top 25, and maybe not even in the top 30 or 40. After all, he missed 22 games last season and has missed five of his first 15 this year. I can’t willingly sign up for that kind of guaranteed headache, but he’s still a top-10 player when on the court. So I put him somewhat arbitrarily right here. No. 23, the President of Load Management Enterprises, Kawhi Leonard.
24. Kevin Love
Here’s a top-20 player with a flashing red **SELL-HIGH** sign next to his name. I have no doubts about Love’s ability to put up these numbers when healthy (18.7 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 2.3 3s). I do, however, have serious doubts about Love’s ability to stay healthy/avoid a shutdown as a veteran on a Cavs team that is cratering fast (4-10 record so far, five straight losses heading into Friday night).
25. Brandon Ingram
At what point do we believe that the Ingram breakout is real? He’s started to miss a few free throws this month (73.0 in November so far), which I expected coming into the year, but he’s still cruising along with top-20 value, including a monstrous 28.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.8 bpg and 2.2 3s in his last five healthy games. I was a major skeptic on Ingram coming into the season — remember, he was 224th overall last season in 9-category leagues — but he’s quickly erasing most of my doubt.
Missed the cut for various reasons: I would have no arguments with Donovan Mitchell or Devin Booker. … Ben Simmons has an argument as well, as does Chris Paul. … Malcolm Brogdon has been injured recently, and figures to take a slight hit with the eventual return of Victor Oladipo. … Fred VanVleet has been a beast lately (21.0 ppg, 7.8 apg sans Kyle Lowry), but loses some value once Lowry is back. … John Collins and Deandre Ayton (suspension) are easy top-25 guys once healthy, and I remain all for trying to acquire them in trades. … It's the same story for Russell Westbrook: bad percentages and high turnovers. … Mitchell Robinson can be an easy top-25 guy once his silly minutes limitations and early-season foul trouble fade away. … Early-round pick Rudy Gobert is currently closer to top-50 than top-25 because his scoring and blocks are slightly down, and his turnovers are slightly up. … Who else did I leave out?