In a recent podcast with Mike Gallagher we discussed players who contribute all-around fantasy value, such as Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Kent Bazemore. I wondered if there was a way to quantify such players and arrive at an objective list of ‘across the board’ contributors. As a result, I went back to my end-of-season fantasy ranks and eliminated every player who fell at least one standard deviation (SD) below the population in any category. It was a ruthless cull and even a player like Chris Paul didn’t make the cut in 9-cat leagues, on account of his relatively modest 2.6 turnovers per game. There are more players who fit the ‘all-around value’ description, but for this column I’m sticking to the group that survived the analysis.
In the end there were 43 players left standing, breaking down into the following primary positions:
Who are those rarified PGs and Cs who were good enough in every category to make the list? Beginning with the guards, we find the trio of George Hill, Patrick Beverley and Goran Dragic. Keep in mind these aren’t the most valuable all-around players, just those who didn’t hurt you significantly in any category — nearly all point guards were eliminated due to some combination of high turnovers, low rebounds and low blocks. To make those cuts, you had to average no more than 2.6 turnovers with at least 3.4 rebounds and 0.17 blocks.
From an 8-cat perspective, by ignoring turnovers we add to the list Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams. Both Rondo and MCW were perilously close to being excluded due to poor free throw shooting, but low attempts helped mitigate their negative impact. The other players who make the cut in 8-cat are Kevin Durant, James Harden, Eric Bledsoe, LeBron James, Nicolas Batum, Draymond Green and Tyreke Evans.
The three qualifying centers are Karl-Anthony Towns, Al Horford and Nikola Jokic. It’s worth mentioning that Marc Gasol didn’t make the list because, unlike the guys just mentioned, he made a total of two 3-pointers all season. Towns returned almost unheard-of value for a rookie last year, despite playing just 32.0 minutes per game — Hassan Whiteside was the only top-15 fantasy player to log fewer minutes. Versatility was key for Towns, who chipped in just enough 3-pointers (0.4), assists (2.0) and steals (0.7), all while shooting 54.3% from the field and 81.1% from the line. For some perspective on just how rare such a performance is from a rookie, check out the ‘Rookie Retrospective’ column I wrote earlier this summer. Tom Thibodeau‘s arrival should only help Towns, thanks to a likely increase in playing time, which cements him as an elite fantasy target. The 20-year-old phenom is already the consensus No. 1 target in dynasty leagues.
Al Horford is always one of the steadiest, most versatile fantasy big men, but his inclusion on this list is a product of increased 3-point shooting. The veteran connected on 1.1 triples per game last year, at 34.2% beyond the arc, a facet of his game which could actually increase in Boston. Brad Stevens isn’t shy about letting his big men spread the court — last season Kelly Olynyk took 3.0 threes per game, Jonas Jerebko took 1.4, and even Jared Sullinger took 1.3 despite shooting just 28.2% from deep. Horford isn’t a flashy player to own, due to moderate scoring (15.2 ppg), rebounds (7.3) and blocks (1.5), but he exemplifies the subtle glory of across-the-board value. He’s been a top-15 player in 9-cat leagues for five of the past seven seasons (the exceptions are the two years he tore his pectoral muscle), and he’s an easy target if he falls into the second round.
The final center to make the cut is someone you’ll hear a lot about in the weeks leading up to fantasy drafts — Nikola Jokic. The Rotoworld crew is (I think) unanimous in declaring Jokic a breakout candidate, and that’s not a bold statement. This is a guy who posted top-50 value (9-cat) as a rookie despite playing a mere 21.7 minutes per game. Extrapolated to per-36-minute averages, he comes in at 16.5 points, 0.6 threes, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.0 blocks and 2.2 turnovers, all while shooting 51.1% from the field and 81.1% from the line. More blocks would be nice, but there’s nothing else to complain about from Jokic, who will assuredly see his minutes creep toward the 30 mark in his second season with Denver.
Power forwards fared considerably better than centers in this analysis, with 12 players making the cut. In descending order of fantasy value, they were Anthony Davis, Paul Millsap, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, Marvin Williams, Luol Deng, Aaron Gordon, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Ersan Ilyasova, Jeff Green and Markieff Morris. Those last three guys wouldn’t have tanked you in any category, but they were still liabilities in 12-team leagues — Markieff Morris has the rare distinction of making the list despite being a negative contributor in every single category (he was almost excluded due to horrible FG%). As a consequence, Morris was the worst fantasy option out of the 43 players on this list. He fared better in almost every category after being traded to Washington, returning 10th-round value in his final 27 games, and is a modest bounce-back candidate on a Wizards team that lacks depth at PF.
Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk were aided by the Celtics’ aforementioned penchant to let their big men shoot from distance, and (unlike Sullinger) Olynyk was very accurate at 40.5% from deep. He teased owners with stretches of solid play but was ultimately done in by Brad Stevens‘ deep frontcourt rotation. Olynyk simply wasn’t consistent enough to own in 12-team leagues while playing 20.2 minutes per game, and his prospects are no better this year with Amir Johnson returning and Al Horford absorbing all of Sullinger’s playing time and then some.
Aaron Gordon made the list by the narrowest of margins, nearly missing out due to low scoring (9.2 ppg), 3-pointers (0.5) and assists (1.6), in addition to poor FT shooting (66.8% on 2.5 attempts). He shot below 30% from downtown and it’s unlikely that coach Frank Vogel will encourage him to fire away, despite the team’s need for court spacing, so I’m not relying on Gordon as a source of 3-pointers this year. The good news is that Vogel said the Magic will “put the ball in [Gordon’s] hands a lot” and he’s expected to start at small forward, which should result in a significant increase from last year’s 23.9 minutes per game. He’s versatile enough to warrant a look in the later rounds.
Veterans forwards Luol Deng, Marvin Williams and Dirk Nowitzki were pleasant surprises for their owners last year, with Williams in particular showing a level of consistency we’d given up on. He missed only one game and finished with easily the best fantasy ranking of his 11-year career, but he’s burned me too many times to reach for him before the 100+ range on draft day. Luol Deng is similarly sketchy, coming off a season with his lowest scoring average (12.3 ppg) since he was a rookie, and the threat of losing playing time to Brandon Ingram as the season progresses. Nowitzki used his versatility to post top-40 value in 9-cat leagues last year, while missing just seven games, and he’ll once again be an interesting risk-vs.-reward option in the early middle rounds — can he continue to play at such a high level (in 31.5 minutes per game) at age 38? Unless he freefalls on draft day, I’m going to let someone else find out.
Speaking of draft-day gambles, Anthony Davis was once again supremely versatile…when he was on the court. He was elite in scoring, rebounds and blocks, and didn’t even hurt owners in 3-pointers (0.6), assists (1.9) or turnovers (2.0). His field goal percentage (49.3%) was a career low, and his free throw shooting tumbled from over 80% to 75.8%, but even that isn’t bad for a big man. As regards his health, the partially torn labrum in his left shoulder didn’t require surgery and should be fully healed for training camp, but he’s also recovering from left knee debridement and a bone marrow injection. Risk-averse owners have a very strong case for avoiding him, but I won’t be able to resist if he falls toward the end of the first round.
The shooting guard contingent is led by a pair of elite options in Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson, followed by Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan, Monta Ellis, Bradley Beal, Evan Turner, Jordan Hamilton and Will Barton. Dwyane Wade stated that the Bulls are “Jimmy Butler‘s team,” but fantasy owners still have to account for Wade’s whopping 31.8% usage rate. Personally, I’m not too worried about Jimmy’s touches. That sky-high usage from Wade is sure to dip, and the Bulls also swapped out Derrick Rose (27.0% usage) for Rajon Rondo (18.9% usage), clearing some extra shots for Butler. His outlook is dented by durability concerns (he’s averaged 15.7 DNPs over the past three seasons), but Butler is still a solid second-round target thanks to his across-the-board production — last year he was at 20.9 points, 1.0 threes, 5.4 boards, 4.8 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.0 turnovers, with a solid FG% and an elite FT% (83.2% on 7.1 attempts).
Klay Thompson made a ridiculous 3.4 triples per game last year but he’s obviously more than a one-trick specialist, particularly since he was a net-positive contributor in FG%, FT% and turnovers. He’s been extremely durable in his five NBA seasons but faces renewed concerns now that Kevin Durant is in town — Thompson said he’s willing to accept a reduced offensive role this season, and fantasy owners should discount his value accordingly. On the other end of the spectrum we have Victor Oladipo, who finds himself as the clear No. 2 option for the Thunder. He’s still just 24 years old and is poised for a massive campaign, making him all but certain to return better than last year’s top-40 fantasy value. Scott Skiles isn’t around to mess with Oladipo’s role or playing time, and the only caveat for owners is poor shooting. Oladipo has slowly improved in his three NBA seasons but last year’s 43.9% mark was a career high, and a spike in volume would drag down his value in that category.
Monta Ellis was lucky to make this list. He blocked a career-high 0.47 shots, which is fluky enough, and he was nearly disqualified by low rebounds (3.4), terrible shooting (42.7% on 12.6 attempts) and high turnovers (2.5 per game). If you’re looking for guys who won’t hurt you in any category, I’d put a fat asterisk next to Monta’s name. DeMar DeRozan earned his spot, however, shooting a solid 44.5% from the field and a career-high 33.8% from downtown, while matching his career high with 4.0 assists per game. His role won’t change this year, and owners can only hope that the improved range wasn’t a mirage.
I’m none too excited about the other shooting guards mentioned above. Bradley Beal barely qualified for rebounds and blocks, and I’m not sold on an oft-injured shooting guard who will likely have a minute-limit and boasts career averages of 42.6% field goals and 78.1% free throws. Evan Turner is on my ‘won’t draft’ list due to low scoring, a lack of 3-point range and an uncertain role in the Blazers’ crowded rotation, Jordan Hamilton was a fluke addition to the list, and Will Barton isn’t likely to reproduce last season’s magic with Jamal Murray in Denver and a healthy Wilson Chandler returning to the rotation.
Last but not least we have the small forwards, who had easily the largest contingent of players on the list. Kawhi Leonard led the way as the lone first-round value, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jae Crowder, Trevor Ariza, Rudy Gay, Gordon Hayward, Tobias Harris, Otto Porter, Kent Bazemore, Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, Al-Farouq Aminu, Andrew Wiggins, Harrison Barnes and Marcus Morris.
Any concerns about LaMarcus Aldridge‘s impact on Kawhi were unfounded, as he racked up elite value in a modest 32.9 minutes per game. The only category in which Kawhi wasn’t a plus-contributor was assists, where he just missed the mark at 2.6 per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo could join Leonard with first-round value this year, if his finish in 2015-16 was any indication. In the final months of the season, Giannis averaged 18.8 points, 0.4 threes, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks, while shooting 51.0% from the field. He did hurt his value by going 67.3% at the line with 2.8 attempts, either of which would have disqualified him from this list on a season-long basis, but that’s a price most owners will be willing to pay. If you want him, you’ll likely have to burn a pick in the 10-15 range (or even higher in 8-cat).
The profusion of SFs in this analysis is good news if you miss out on guys like Kawhi, Durant, LeBron, etc. Owners looking for all-around value can rest assured that someone like Gordon Hayward, Trevor Ariza, Jae Crowder or Tobias Harris will be there for the taking later in the draft, ensuring that you don’t have to reach to fill the SF position. I’d suggest DeMarre Carroll as another viable across-the-board contributor, though he didn’t make the cut last year due to horrible shooting (39.2% FGs, 60.0% FTs). He appeared in only 26 games due to injury and was never able to find his rhythm, but now that he’s healthy I’m not opposed to snagging him in the late-middle rounds.
As usual, if you have any questions, comments or insights you can send me an email or find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW.