This article is part of our Season Review series.
Wizards (32-50), preseason over/under: 46.0
As a result of John Wall's injury – more on that later – Bradley Beal took a leap. Leading the NBA in minutes played (3,028), Beal averaged 27.2 points, 6.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals after Wall was lost for the season. A popular pick in the second or third round of fantasy drafts, Beal ended up returning top-10 value in total production. With Wall possibly out for all of 2019-20, Beal figures to be a first-round pick next season. Tomas Satoransky saw increased usage as well, finishing as a top-90 fantasy player. He too should see a bump in ADP in 2019-20.
Dwight Howard being limited to just nine games and Markieff Morris eventually being let go provided opportunities for Thomas Bryant and, later, Bobby Portis to see increased roles. Bryant finished inside the top-115 in terms of total production, while Portis was just outside of the top-115 by average production. Jabari Parker was also acquired in that deal that brought over Portis, and he was relatively productive in a sixth-man role, though inconsistent. A separate trade that sent Kelly Oubre to the Suns brought over Trevor Ariza, who proceeded to start 43 games for the Wizards, racking up top-90 total season numbers.
Wall, after slipping and falling in his home while recovering from heel surgery, ruptured his Achilles. He underwent surgery in mid-February and was given a 12-month timetable for a return to basketball activities, but it's unclear if he'll suit up at any point in the 2019-20 season, which is when his four-year, $170 million extension kicks in. In a deal that is now considered one of the worst in the league, the Wizards will owe Wall over $46 million during his age 32 season (assuming his accepts his player option). Maybe Wall makes a great recovery, but that kind of money being handed to someone that's made one All-NBA Third Team is a recipe for mediocrity, or worse. It's nearly impossible to view the 2018-19 season or the future without looking through the lens of Wall's injury and his contract. The whole situation makes Dwight Howard – a legitimate Hall-of-Famer – playing just nine games due to persistent back issues seem pedestrian, and maybe it is pedestrian considering he was owed less than $6 million this season.
Once the season kicked off, the organization didn't seem to know what direction it wanted to take. In the midst of a 12-18 record, the Wizards dealt Kelly Oubre – an intriguing prospect – with Austin Rivers straight up for Trevor Ariza, who will only get worse from here on out. Later, at the deadline, Otto Porter was essentially salary-dumped to the Bulls for Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis and top-36 protected 2023 second-round pick. Both players are young and have upside, but the over/under on total All-Star apparances for the pair would be set at 0.5 (I'll take the under).
State of the Franchise
I mean, this is really bleak. Wizards fans can take some solace in the fact that their first-round pick has a 37.3% chance at the top-4 and a 9.0% chance at No. 1. But those odds could have been meaningfully increased if a conscious decision was ever made to accept the season was over and limit Bradley Beal's workload. Instead, he was force-fed minutes in an effort to...well I'm not exactly sure what it was for. To get people to still go to games? To avoid a "losing culture"?
Keeping Beal ensures he's the best player on the team for the remainder of his contract due to financial reasons. That gets you, well, about 32 wins. Maybe a few more. But that puts you in NBA purgatory, especially in this case. The Wall contract is a sunk cost, and if the Wizards want to start recouping some value, moving Beal as soon as possible is the route to go. My guess is that this team will look unrecognizable in two years, if not next season.
Timberwolves (36-46), o/u: 42.0
It's not breaking news, but Karl-Anthony Towns is really good. 2018-19 marked Towns' fourth year in the league, and he missed the first game of his career (which was due to a car accident, rather than an on-court injury) after playing 82 games for three straight seasons. Even considering his relatively slow start for the first three months of the season, Towns still finished the year as the third-best fantasy player in terms of total production. From January onward, he averaged 26.9 points (54.3 FG%, 41.1 3P%, 84.0 FT%), 12.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 blocks in 32.4 minutes.
We also saw rookie Josh Okogie pick up the third-most total minutes on the team and play well, though he wasn't fantasy relevant. Derrick Rose was back, again, but briefly. His season was ruined by injuries, and he played just 51 games. However, he still managed to put together a season just outside of the top-100 in terms of average production, which is an impressive comeback. Robert Covington joined the Wolves in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the 76ers. Covington was impressive in his 22 games with Minnesota – 14.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 threes, 2.3 steals, 1.5 assists, 1.1 blocks – but he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss all of 2019.
The Jimmy Butler saga. Inhale. Butler turned down a four-year, $110 million extension from the Wolves in mid-July, which is when it became obvious Butler was not happy in Minnesota. By mid-September, Butler formally requested a trade from the Wolves. He was not with the team when training camp kicked off, but he returned to practice in dramatic fashion in mid-October, being verbally combative (to say the least) with multiple members of the organization, including Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler participated in games with the Wolves on-and-off, seemingly when he felt like it, and he was eventually traded, along with Justin Patton, to the Sixers in mid-November for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick. Exhale. This entire ordeal put a dark cloud over the organization, and coach Tom Thibodeau was fired after 40 games amidst a 19-21 record. Ryan Saunders was promoted to head coach, and he finished the year 17-25.
Starting point guard Jeff Teague was also limited to 42 games due to injury, which hurt the Wolves more than is probably acknowledged. Minnesota actually managed a 23-19 record in games Teague appeared in, and he was an important part of making the offense function, racking up a career-high 8.2 assists per game. Maybe more impactful for the future of the franchise is Wiggins' development, or lack thereof. If you use true-shooting percentage as a baseline of a player's efficiency (and you should), Wiggins has been getting worse each year since his TS% peaked during his sophomore season. He's also providing virtually nothing in terms of rebounding, passing or defense. Despite playing over 2,500 minutes, Wiggins couldn't crack the top-120 in terms of total fantasy production.
State of the Franchise
Minnesota is dangerously close to being trapped in late-lottery purgatory. With the 10th-worst record in the league this season, the Wolves have just a 13.9% chance of landing a top-4 pick this summer. But chances are, the player that's drafted won't have a massive impact next season. We know Towns is an elite offensive threat, and he's so good that it might keep the Wolves out of contention for a top-5 pick moving forward. But is there any way for this team to meaningfully improve while paying Wiggins at least $27 million per year across the next four seasons? Not to mention that Gorgui Dieng is owed over $33 million across the next two years. It seems like Minnesota will have to bank on some smart drafting and savvy player development to get an edge moving forward.
Lakers (37-45), o/u: 48.0
In terms of average fantasy production, LeBron James hovered around his ADP, finishing 13th. While it's hard to view this Lakers season outside of the context of LeBron's groin injury, there's reason to be optimistic considering his stats haven't hit a hard decline. While all of his percentages took a dip, his true-shooting percentage was about average in the context of his 15-year career, and it decreased noticeably after he came back from his groin injury. If he can stay healthy next season, LeBron appears to be in line for another top-15 fantasy finish.
Aside from LeBron, JaVale McGee was one of the few places fantasy owners found value on the Lakers for the majority of the season. He was a late-round flier in most drafts considering his lack of a meaningful role in Golden State in previous seasons, but it quickly became apparent that McGee was going to play significant minutes for the Lakers. On the back of 22.3 minutes per night, McGee finished as a top-60 player in terms of total production by averaging 12.0 points on 62.4 percent shooting, 7.5 rebounds and a combined 2.6 blocks/steals.
Injuries plagued the Lakers, with only Kyle Kuzma, McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope playing at least 70 games – Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope being the only players to cross the 2,000-minute threshold. Aside from that, popular fantasy picks on Los Angeles didn't make enough improvements to be worth their ADP, even when considering just their average production. Per Yahoo, here are some players' preseason ranks along with their finishes by average production:
- Brandon Ingram
- Preseason Rank: 83
- Average Production: 157
- Kyle Kuzma
- Preseason Rank: 80
- Average Production: 107
- Lonzo Ball
- Preseason Rank: 64
- Average Production: 106
- Josh Hart
- Preseason Rank: 125
- Average Production: 199
The Lakers managed to start off well before the injuries caught up with them, having a 17-10 record through the first 27 games of the season. But once players ended up on the shelf, it became an uphill battle, and the team slipped to .500 by the 54th game of the season on a 42-point loss to the Indiana Pacers.
State of the Franchise
Unless Adam Silver pulls strings on the Lakers 2.0% chance on landing the No. 1 pick, Los Angeles will have to make upgrades through free agency and the trade market. There's reason to be optimistic there, as the Lakers only have $66 million committed for next season, with LeBron being the only player making more than $8.7 million. And we all know how willing the Lakers would be to give up everything for Anthony Davis. Even with LeBron coming up on his age 35 season and coming off the worst injury of his career, simply having him on the team with roster flexibility gives the Lakers a bright future. Now it's all up to the front office to figure out how to best put pieces around one of the best players to ever play the game.
Heat (39-43), o/u: 43.5
The Heat were hit with the injury bug, but in the process, Josh Richardson proved that he's capable of taking on a larger share of the offense. Playing 34.8 minutes per game (12th in the league), he averaged 16.6 points, 4.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals. Justise Winslow also stepped into a point-guard role in December, starting 42 of his final 43 appearances. Across that stretch, he averaged 13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 30.1 minutes. He went undrafted in the vast majority of fantasy leagues, but ended up providing value off the waiver wire for a solid stretch of time. Bam Adebayo effectively took Hassan Whiteside's starting role once March came around. From March onward, the sophomore averaged 11.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a combined 2.0 steals/blocks in 26.8 minutes. He also played all 82 games, helping propel him to a top-80 ranking in total production. Dwyane Wade, in his final year, managed to finish just inside the top-130 in terms of total production.
Only one player, Richardson, drew more than 53 starts for Miami. He was also the only player to cross the 2,000-minute threshold. A spotty rotation due to injury made it difficult for the Heat to find consistency, and Miami underperformed relative to expectations as a result. The most notable injury was Goran Dragic dealing with a knee issue that required surgery, and the situation limited him to just 36 games. Aside from those who drafted Dragic, fantasy owners who took a chance on a Whiteside resurgence were let down. He still managed to finish just outside of the top-100 in terms of total production despite just 1,674 minutes played, but the center was often drafted in the eighth or ninth round.
State of the Franchise
Miami has just a 4.8% chance of landing a top-4 pick in the 2019 Draft, so, chances are, the Heat will end up with a late lottery selection. A player in that range is unlikely to add a significant amount of wins to the profile of the team. But the Heat don't have much room to maneuver in free agency either. If Whiteside and Dragic both accept their $27 million and $19.2 million respective player options, the Heat will have $129.5 million committed for next season already. Things have the potential to clear up a bit in 2020-21, as commitments from every option would have the Heat using only $70.1 million. That's when the front office can use the Miami market and team pedigree as leverage to potentially sign a star.