September 29, 2020, 3:38 pm
The NBA Finals are upon us and that only means one thing. We are another month closer to the return of fantasy basketball. For the September edition of ‘Nights at the Roundtable,’ I decided to go to our elite panel of experts, garnering their thoughts on a few player preferences for next season. Given a pairing of similarly positioned players, they were asked to provide their thoughts on which they would draft first in an 8-cat roto format, projecting ahead to 2020-21 of course.
Jayson Tatum vs. LeBron James
Dan Besbris – 8-cat… I have to go with LeBron. Too many times in my life I’ve foolishly bet against that machine. If we were punting TOs, I think I’d roll with Tatum and the promise of additional growth, but given the only reason these two are close is because of LeBron’s extra 1.4 TOs/game, I have to go with the King. If the Lakers win the title this year he might move into a bit of a coast setting next regular season, so this position is subject to change, but even still he’s likely to outperform Tatum on a per-game basis, and I’ll hope he can stay within 4 or 5 games of the younger fella on the year.
Josh Millman – Let’s not blindly assume that picking last in a draft next season is going to be the death-by-flagpole wedgie that people will think it is. If I’m staring at a choice between LeBron and Tatum because Luka, Trae and Dame are all gone in 8-cat leagues, then I will look at that frothy glass of beer as half full and life may not be so bad next season. All I’m thinking about in that scenario is how I’m going to choose to build my team and which percentage am I most likely going to have to chase or punt in the later rounds, FG% or FT%. The free throws are likely harder to make up and I’m encouraged by Tatum finding his Celtics teammates during Bubble play that I won’t regret passing up on LeBron’s massive assist output. Going strictly on a hunch that the Lakers will try to identify a third superstar to take more of the load off LeBron, I’ll go with Tatum who may still develop further to play his way into MVP conversations, as opposed to LeBron who at this point is just (justifiably) griping about them.
Steve Vidovich – My answer is pretty easy here and the answer is youth. Tatum takes it over LeBron for two main reasons. The Celtics’ forward appears on the cusp of becoming one of the best players of the new generation and I don’t envision a situation in which he misses games or has minutes monitored barring a serious injury. LeBron, on the other hand, will be treated like a 36-year-old coming off a possible championship. LeBron is one of the greatest to ever play the game and there is no reason for the Lakers to extend him greatly during the regular season. As Michael Irvin once said “Father Time remains undefeated” and that saying remains undefeated.
Erik Ong – This is an interesting choice, presenting a dichotomy of old vs. young as well as begging the questions, “How much better can Jayson Tatum get?” and “How much more does LeBron James have left in the tank?” Based on 2019-20, LeBron was able to defy the odds and Father Time and post one of his best fantasy performances career-to-date. On the other side, Tatum made a significant leap forward towards fantasy superstardom. And while the expectation is that James will eventually begin to fade and their trajectories will be up for an intersection point in value, James’ unique physical gifts and intelligent care for his body has allowed him to perform at a top-tier level despite his age. This is cutting it truly close, but I’d still lean on LeBron outperforming Tatum in 2020-21. He’s still in the midst of completing the final touches of his basketball legacy and is simply not done yet. That said, I foresee their value being almost too close to call, and if it weren’t for the nature of this roundtable discussion, I’d say you could go either way. But for the sake of providing a definitive preference, I’m saying “James.”
Mike Passador – I’ll take LeBron. The two real holes in his fantasy game are free throws and turnovers, and if we’re talking 8-cat roto it makes the decision easy. Tatum may be a better all-around option than James (that’s a weird thing to type out) but I’ll take James’ expected domination of the FG%, rebound and assist categories in this head-to-head. LeBron also offers a heck of a track record and I generally play it a little safer with my first-round pick if possible. I can’t necessarily win the league with a first pick, but I can definitely dig myself a hole by swinging and missing on a player who might finish top-25 instead of top-15. James will decline one day, presumably, but I’m not brave enough to call it before it happens.
Aaron Bruski – Ask me as we get closer to draft season for the real answer but I can give an easy lean to Tatum here as we’re about to see peak Tatum and LeBron’s age has to be an asterisk-giver at this point. Whether it’s rest days, slippage or injury risk, you just take that Tatum money and run.
Adam King – Not unlike my fellow peers, my decision could hinge on the result of the upcoming NBA Finals. My initial thought is to go with Tatum, simply because of his current trajectory. He has all the tools to be one of the best two-way players in the league and certainly turned a lot of heads with his play in the bubble. Not only that, but he and the Celtics are going to have a lot to prove next season making him a dangerous weapon. LeBron has upped his production throughout the playoffs, demonstrating he is still arguably the best player in the world when he chooses to be. If the Lakers end up winning it all, does that give LeBron an excuse to slow things down next season? Only time will tell…
Bradley Beal vs. Devin Booker
Dan Besbris – The return of John Wall makes projecting here a bit tougher. Beal was about 5-10% better than Booker in 8-cat formats this year on a per-game basis, but one of these players has an arrow pointed sideways (neutral) or maybe a hair up, and the other is welcoming back one of the higher usage players in the NBA. Given they were so close before the John Wall return, I’ll assume that drops Beal a round of value at least and lean Booker.
Josh Millman – Or as I like to call this one, the battle of who is more likely to be wearing a Brooklyn Nets uniform next season. Should I include Jrue Holiday in this comparison for poops and giggles too? I fully realize I’m not going out on some Wile E. Coyote type cliff that Beal won’t huck up 23 shots a game with six dimes on Giannis-level usage once John Wall finally dougies his way back into the Wizards lineup. Then again, Beal was a relative top-25 player when playing alongside one of the more dominant point guards in the league back when said PG had two fully functioning lower extremities. It would be hard to bet against Beal’s track record and recent durability when compared with Booker, who has a reputation of being one of the league’s premier high-scoring deep threats despite 45 players making as many or more 3-pointers than he did this season. So with those arguments rooted in logic and data in mind, give me Booker because if the Bubble was a legitimate glimpse of what a fully loaded and actually functional Phoenix Suns team looks like with Book as the focal point and taking more than 20 shots a game, then I’ll roll the dice with the 24-year old who may be the next elite percentage high-volume shooter while still having some untapped upside. Small sample sizes be damned!
Steve Vidovich – This is very close for me and the most difficult one for me to decide out of all four comparisons. You could make an argument that Beal is coming off his best season to date while Booker clearly had his best fantasy and reality season in 2019-20. It actually surprises me to say that I would lean Booker and here is the main reason: I believe the Suns will have less change over the course of the offseason and the stability in the front office, the coaching, his teammates and the rotations will allow Booker a clearer path to fantasy success. The Wizards offseason will have much larger question marks heading into 2020-21 including, but not limited to, how the team will re-integrate John Wall.
Erik Ong – Bradley Beal. For me, this wasn’t that close of a call. Beal has established himself as a rock-solid top-10 to 15 talent, while Booker, who may be on an upward trend, is still not there yet. Beal has the more refined game, while Booker has some insane momentum propelling him upward in the rankings. A potential concern surrounding Beal would be the impending return to action of John Wall. I’m not concerned. Not at all. Like it or not, the Wizards are now Beal’s team, not Wall’s. If anything, it’s Wall who has to adjust and support Beal. As far as Booker is concerned, he has to curb those turnovers and be more active on defense (get more steals), things he can work on, and actually improve on.
Mike Passador – Beal. The only real issue here is how good John Wall might think John Wall is despite coming off a shredded Achilles at age 30. Beal went supernova with all of Wall’s vacated usage but everyone in Washington should have seen enough to ensure that the Florida product remains the top dog. Wall’s going to chip away at his touches, yes, but I also think that the Wizards are thin enough to ensure that Beal leads the way every single night in ways that Booker won’t necessarily have to. I’m also hesitant to buy new career-highs as a player’s new floor, as I would need to be with Booker’s .489 from the field and .919 from the line, in order to expect another top-15 finish. His previous bests were .467 and .878, so there are some minor red flags.
Aaron Bruski – Beal could easily have another clean ramp at unfettered usage for Washington, but Devin Booker is just going to get another year better and his chance of maintaining last year’s value is better than Beal’s chances when we factor in John Wall’s return. Make no mistake, it’s Beal’s team now but integrating Wall will have consequences for the entire team.
Adam King – Can I pick Bradley Booker or Devin Beal? This is a really tough one and it’s all because of one player not mentioned in the initial quandary. John Wall is slated to make his return for the Wizards, and while he is going to be rusty, he certainly demands the ball and is undoubtedly going to have an impact on Beal’s usage. With that being said, Beal has proven he can put up second-round value even with Wall on the court. Additionally, it could be argued that this is Beal’s team now and his role is far greater than it was two seasons ago. Booker, on the other hand, is the clear alpha on a Suns team that is on the rise (pun intended). He was dynamic during the seeding games, almost lifting the Suns into the playoffs on the back of an 8-0 record. Neither are elite on the defensive end, however, I do feel as though Booker has more room to move in that department. Based on all the facts, my lean would be slightly towards Booker but it may come down to how I am feeling on the day.
Bam Adebayo vs. John Collins
Dan Besbris – This is a weird case of fantasy versus reality. If I’m starting a real team, I want Adebayo here 100 times out of 100. In fantasy, though, there are weird factors that shift the balance toward Collins. Adebayo has the large edge in assists, steals, and his turnover disadvantage is moot in 8-cat, but quietly, Collins outperformed Bam in threes, points, blocks, FG% and, perhaps most importantly, FT%. Collins’ became a positive impact foul shooter, while Bam continues to be a boulder to his team’s value there. His solid numbers across the board are not elite enough to wipe out that negative, so give me Collins here even with Clint Capela coming around to put a ding on his rebounding.
Josh Millman – There’s a degree of recency bias we may need to consider because Bam Adebayo is on our screens actively going Galactus and devouring the Eastern Conference while John Collins hasn’t played professional basketball since March. In a vacuum, this is a decision based on whether or not Bam decides that he wants to start knocking down 3-pointers. I think we can all agree that he is ultra-talented and can still take that next step offensively but because the Heat are making a deep playoff run and there is going to be a very short offseason, you’ll need to forgive my pessimism that he’ll be able to truly make the long-ball a real part of his arsenal in the near term. If he doesn’t start taking those shots, you’re looking at potentially ceding as many as three categories to a guy like Collins. Really two if your preference is steals and the defensive categories do give Bam a slight leg up. But the Hawks won’t suddenly stop running and the Heat won’t stop grinding fools into dust. That will result in five or six possessions per game over the course of a full roto season and may be a real difference-maker when making these kinds of decisions in the early rounds. I also try not to draft based solely on health or else Bam would be the guy. But assuming full health, which is never a certainty given an extremely short offseason and an extremely long one, respectively, I’ll take Collins and hope that a healthy Capela won’t eat too much into his rebounding and that we can ensure he doesn’t do anything stupid prior to NBA Officials deciding that it’s time for his urinalysis.
Steve Vidovich – Collins will likely take a step back from the 10th place per-game value that he brought to the table with the addition of Clint Capela. From a totals perspective, Bam well exceeded Collins’ value but we shouldn’t expect another 25-game suspension. If anything, I think that Collins has a better chance at playing in more games based on the fact that the Heat will have a much shorter offseason as they are headed to the NBA Finals and Adebayo is averaging 36.5 mpg in the postseason so far. It is also possible that Collins improves his assist numbers while playing alongside Capela even though his rebounding numbers will take a hit. I believe in Adebayo more as a reality player, but believe that Collins will have an easier path to fantasy success in 2020-21.
Erik Ong – Ooh! It’s difficult not to fall in love with Adebayo, especially after seeing his performance in the playoffs. Also, it’s difficult not to feel a bit of concern about how well Collins will be able to share the paint with a healthy Clint Capela. Still, on per-game averages alone, Collins was able to hover around the top-10 value zone, while Adebayo was still a farther way off that mark. So, I’d still lean on Collins at this spot. It’s easy to undervalue shooting percentages, which is a mistake. Collins is a high-volume scorer and is worthy of being a fantasy team’s field goal percentage anchor. Adebayo wins the counting stats race, but overall Collins still manages to hit enough threes and block enough shots to give him the leg up as far as fantasy basketball is concerned.
Mike Passador – Adebayo seems to have fewer ways for this to go south, so that’s my pick. Collins was superb when he was on the floor last season, but his sophomore campaign led to top-50 value as his defensive numbers slipped to 0.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. Both of those seemed a bit low, and Collins was able to get them back up to 0.8 and 1.6 last year to cement himself as an early-round guy. Next season, however, will see Collins take on a fresh role to help accommodate Clint Capela. Moving away from the rim doesn’t seem like a recipe for success there and we know that Collins with mediocre blocks won’t be able to keep up with his ADP. Additionally, while Collins has spoken about his desire to improve as a playmaker, that’s an area where Bam is already excelling. I’m just not enchanted by a potential version of Collins that blocks fewer shots and grabs fewer rebounds than he did last year.
Aaron Bruski – One of the challenges of (successfully) predicting Bam’s ascent this year was a ceiling on his value in a full deployment scenario. He’s going to improve but not in the ways that typically help fantasy value. He’ll continue to move his game away from the hoop and lose explosiveness year after year. Collins, on the other hand, is still exploring his ceiling on a team that has nothing to slow him down, that’s built for him to succeed. I wonder about Collins in any other environment where he’d be challenged for playing time and usage, but for now, he’s got another shot at elite fantasy play this season.
Adam King – As much as I love Collins’ game, my pick is going to be Bam on this occasion. The arrival of Clint Capela is going to have an impact on Collins’ rebound numbers and will also push him further from the basket, limiting his shot-blocking opportunities. However, Collins does have the ability to step out and hit the three, giving him an edge in that department. Bam has been a monster during the playoffs and has been arguably the MVP thus far. He is an elite passer from the center position and typically provides stellar defensive production. His scoring might not match that of Collins but his all-around productivity gets him over the line in my eyes.
Kristaps Porzingis vs. DeAndre Ayton
Dan Besbris – If the season was 35 games long, I’d roll with the Unicorn and never look back. His per-game upside is probably a solid round higher than Ayton’s. Unfortunately, though, the season is still likely to be 82 games, and Porzingis has shown zero ability to avoid key injuries, no matter how careful his team has been with his usage. Ayton is your safe play here, getting normal big man stats without any real hit on your percentages. I suppose you could make the argument that if your first-round pick is a durable monster, you could survive Porzingis missing some time, but if your first-round pick has any risk at all, I’m not sure you could double down at that point.
Josh Millman – I like both of these players but this one is easy for me. Without getting into the analytics and all that basement nerd stuff this is really a matter of positional scarcity, eligibility and your league’s roster settings. If a league is somewhat relaxed about positional eligibility or you play in a simple G/F/C format then this is largely irrelevant. But if you need to start a PF and Kristaps Porzingis is staring you in the face then you need to take him. Because if you don’t, you’re looking at a best-case scenario of Pascal Siakam or Domantas Sabonis coming back to you and they don’t have his shot-blocking ability among other nuances, or Jaren Jackson Jr., who isn’t as involved in his offense and just can’t catch a break with his health. After those guys, it’s a whole lot of “hoo boy.” Just like all those ads for ‘Local Singles in My Area,’ I know it says that Nemanja Bjelica is a PF and a top-50 player, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be desperate enough to buy it. Now if Deandre Ayton is staring me in the face then there’s a good chance that there’s some combo platter of Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, Jusuf Nurkic, Andre Drummond, Bam Adebayo, and Rudy Gobert will also be available in the same vicinity. Perhaps I’m looking too much into this since the Unicorn would be my guy here regardless of the argument but I enjoy the opportunity for Hoop-Ball bickering nonetheless.
Steve Vidovich – Although I do believe more in the player that Kristaps is in today’s NBA, I have trouble taking him over Ayton due to injury concerns. This may seem silly as Ayton actually missed 35 games compared to just 18 by the Zinger in 2019-20. However, it is worth noting that 25 of the missed games from Ayton were the result of a suspension, something that can’t be predicted to occur again next year. Kristaps missed the last three games of the Mavs’ series vs. the Clippers due to a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee and has already missed an entire season after tearing the ACL in his left knee. I would choose to build my team around Ayton as opposed to the Unicorn even though I do believe that Kristaps has better per-game numbers.
Erik Ong – This is going to be a vote for Ayton from me. Porzingis is not the healthiest of players, even though he deserves a lot of credit for playing the number of games he was able to log in the shortened 2019-20 season. For now, durability is what is tipping the scales in Ayton’s favor, even though Porzingis has a clear edge in the blocks, threes, and points categories. It’s been slow yet steady for Ayton, who I project will be taking another small yet clear step forward in 2020-21. It’s hard to go wrong with someone who’ll easily flirt with 20-10 nightly, who also has solid shooting percentages and a sprinkling of decent peripherals here and there.
Mike Passador – Once again I’ll play it a little safer and go with Ayton. Passing up on potentially elite blocks from Porzingis is tough, but his proclivity for taking threes really dings his efficiency. In terms of roster construction, I’d rather get outstanding percentages from a big-volume player and chip away at threes later given how many players shoot them these days. That’ll be something that’s easy to stream for over the course of the campaign. Perhaps most importantly, Ayton actually showed some improvement on the floor last year. His defense still has a ways to go but Ayton looked far less lost than he did as a rookie, and that helped lead to a jump to 1.5 blocks a night. It’s possible that those swats are a fluke but if they aren’t, I’ll gladly take the 10-point gap in FG% and try to make up the difference of 0.5 blocks and 2.0 threes later in the draft. And while Ayton has dealt with his share of injuries through two seasons, he still poses less risk for me than Porzingis, especially after his latest significant knee problem.
Aaron Bruski – A great question here. Ayton seems to be at risk for defensive number slippage and for that reason I like Porzingis, who could see continued improvement next to Luka Doncic in the efficiency department, which could boost his value significantly. A few extra percentage points there and he’s heading in the right direction, whereas if Ayton loses some blocks it could negate any improvement he brings in terms of overall production. Don’t get me wrong this is very close and the injury history of Porzingis doesn’t help, but if I’m measuring pure value and upside against that risk the move is Porzingis for me.
Adam King – Another tough one here. Whoever came up with these player comparisons must be a genius. Ayton is clearly the safer bet given the multitude of injuries suffered by Porzingis. Although, Ayton has been no stranger when it comes to missed games with his ankles seemingly a minor issue going forward. Ayton lifted on the defensive end last season when he was on the floor, something that could plateau at some point. He is also yet to establish himself as a 3-point threat, something KP can do in spades. The obvious question here is whether Porzingis can stay healthy. Both are likely to go in the second or third round which is very early to be taking risks. For that reason, I would err on the side of caution and go with Ayton. If not only for the fact you can typically boost your 3-point production later in drafts.