This article is part of our Season Review series.
Hornets (39-43), preseason over/under: 35.5
Under new direction with head coach James Borrego, the Hornets played above expectations. On the court, that started with Kemba Walker. The 28-year-old point guard made his third All-Star game in a row, playing all 82 games and averaging 25.6 points, 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds (career highs) and 1.2 steals in 34.9 minutes. He finished 11th in total production and, chances are, he was drafted outside of that in your fantasy league.
Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Marvin Williams were the other Hornets players to crack the 2,000-minute mark, and they represented the other truly fantasy-relevant options on Charlotte. Lamb's work was the most notable, as he went undrafted in a variety of leagues, but he ended up top-60 in terms of total production. He set career highs in points (15.3), rebounds (5.5), steals (1.1) and made threes (1.5) per game. Batum didn't quite reach value on his ADP, largely due to his offensive role being reduced. Compared to 2017-18, the veteran took 2.7 fewer shots per game and handed out 2.2 fewer assists. However, he played in a solid 75 games and saw 31.4 minutes per contest, giving him a high floor as a fantasy asset. Finally, Williams finished just inside the top-110 in terms of total production, notably hitting 1.9 threes per contest while collecting 5.4 rebounds.
We've seen another year of Walker's prime go to waste due to poor front-office work. Across his seven-year career, he's appeared in just 11 playoff games. Players like Batum and Williams are solid rotation pieces, but they made over $38 million combined in 2018-19, and they're on the books again next year (assuming Williams accepts his $15 million player option). The Hornets also got virtually nothing out of Malik Monk for the second straight year, and he failed to crack the top-200 in terms of total fantasy production.
On the injury front, Cody Zeller failed to crack the 70-games played mark for the third straight year, and he's now played only 144 games since the 2016-17 season. If he were to stay healthy, Zeller could probably finish top-100, but he finished outside of the top-180 this season while appearing in 49 tilts. Various ailments limited Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to 64 games, but he saw his role reduced anyway under coach Borrego. In addition to losing a starting job for the first time as a professional, MKG saw the fewest minutes per game of his career (18.4). The result was a fantasy finish outside of the top-240.
State of the Franchise
Maybe it's partially an effect of the small market he plays in, but Walker has essentially made his impending free-agency a non-story by insisting that Charlotte is where he wants to be. The Hornets have the upper-hand in courting Walker due to the ability to offer him the supermax, and maybe he's the type of star to stay and grind it out with the team that drafted him, but it's hard to see how the grass wouldn't be greener on the other side. Charlotte still owes Batum $27.1 million and Zeller $15.4 million in 2020-21, meaning Walker will be 31 – virtually out of his prime – by the time those contracts are off the books. Almost any other financial situation in the league is better. If Walker stays, the Hornets should remain competitive with just spotty rotation players around him – he's that good (plus, it's the East). But chances of making it to the second round of the playoffs in the foreseeable future seem extremely slim. If Walker leaves, the face of the franchise is gone, and the rebuild begins. And given the Hornets' poor draft history, that's a scary thought.
Kings (39-43), o/u: 26.0
Winning 27 games in 2017-18 didn't give many people a good reason to have faith in the Kings this time around. However, everything seemed to come together perfectly, as Sacramento's plethora of young players took a leap forward together. Buddy Hield showed this year that he can be a legitimate scoring threat every night. He hit 3.4 threes per game and shot 45.8 percent from the field en route to 20.8 points, not to mention 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 32.1 minutes. And after a spotty rookie season, things seemed to click for De'Aaron Fox. The sophomore averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 31.6 minutes while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. Both players finished inside the top-25 in terms of total fantasy production and, chances are, neither of them went sooner than the eighth round in your draft.
Rookie Marvin Bagley also impressed late in the year. His role and production weren't encouraging early on, but he settled into a consistent role by the time February rolled around. During his final 25 appearances, he averaged 17.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting, 9.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists and a combined 1.5 blocks/steals in 27.7 minutes. Plus, in four games as a starter, he averaged 20.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and a combined 2.0 blocks/steals in 33.0 minutes.
Given how drastically this team outperformed expectations, it's tough to point to anything that went truly badly. Almost everyone fantasy relevant outperformed their ADP. But, there were still some situations that could have led to a more productive and/or successful campaign. For example, was it necessary for Nemanja Bjelica to play over Bagley for the vast majority of the season? Bagley was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft and couldn't find a consistent 25 minutes per night until the season was nearly over, and Bjelica wasn't exactly outplaying him. Justin Jackson, the 15th overall pick in 2017, also failed to make any significant strides, and he was eventually traded for Harrison Barnes. Considering Barnes has a similar fantasy profile to Andrew Wiggins, that trade didn't exactly make waves. And while it was good that Harry Giles got onto the court considering his injury history, he picked up 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes, and coach Dave Joerger was forced to pull him often.
State of the Franchise
Unless the Kings' draft pick for 2019 miraculously hits on a 1% chance of being No.1 overall, it will go to the Celtics. So, chances are, Sacramento will not be adding another young prospect to their talented core. Still, things are certainly looking up. By development alone, the Kings could project as a playoff team heading into 2019-20. And depending on what happens with Harrison Barnes' $25.1 million player option, Sacramento could have some room to ink a significant free agent either this summer or next summer.
Pistons (41-41), o/u: 38.5
One of the main keys to Detroit's success this season was the health of Blake Griffin. He appeared in 75 games – the most since the 2013-14 campaign. Griffin was the driving force of the Pistons' offense, averaging a career-high 24.5 points to go along with 7.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.5 threes across 35.0 minutes. Due to his injury history, many fantasy owners grabbed Griffin around the fifth round, but he ended up returning top-30 value.
Andre Drummond was the Pistons' other top-end fantasy talent. Grabbed around the third round in most drafts, Drummond was able to return top-15 production for fantasy owners who took the chance. He set a career high in points per game (17.3) while also contributing 15.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and a combined 3.4 steals/blocks across 33.5 minutes. Reggie Jackson stayed healthy as well, playing all 82 games after combining for 97 appearances across the previous two seasons. Though he didn't exceed expectations in terms of his role, his total contributions helped him be a top-85 player.
How far can you get as team when Langston Galloway is fourth in total minutes played? Griffin, Drummond and Jackson is an acceptable core, but one that has a very low ceiling if there's not other high-quality role players around it. There was hope that Luke Kennard would evolve into a bigger role, and he played well (1.7 made threes per game at 39.4 percent), but it wasn't the leap necessary to put the Pistons in position to succeed in the postseason (i.e. not being swept in the first round).
There simply wasn't enough talent on the Pistons to make a real run at things, and you could argue that winning 41 games was about the best the team could accomplish – based on the Pistons' marvin of victory, they should have won 40 games. Having Griffin and Drummond means rebounding the hell out of the ball, but having the possession advantage only means so much when you are the fifth-to-worst team in terms of effective field-goal percentage.
State of the Franchise
Coach Dwane Casey and the Pistons deserve credit for making the postseason despite the roster challenges mentioned above. But a real change feels necessary. Making waves through the draft seems unlikely, as the Pistons are locked into the 15th pick. Turning to free agency isn't an option, either, as the Pistons have $116.8 million committed for next season. If management wants to make a real change as soon as next season, a trade seems to be the only route. Otherwise, waiting until 2020-21 is the course of action. Then, Detroit will only have $75.6 million committed, with $36.5 million going to Griffin and $28.7 million going to Drummond if he accepts his player option. However, by that time, Griffin will be 32 years old. He was healthy this year, but was this the outlier?
Clippers (48-34), o/u: 37.5
After winning 42 games in 2017-18, there wasn't a belief that the Clippers would be able to reach that mark again. 2018-19 would mark a full season without Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan, and LeBron James moved into the division. But coach Doc Rivers managed to get everybody to buy in, and the Clippers made the playoffs with its minutes leader being a rookie, plus dealing away Tobias Harris at the deadline. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the 11th pick in the draft, played 2,174 minutes for the Clippers, starting in 73 of his 82 appearances. His stats didn't jump off the page, but his total contributions led to him being the 85th ranked player on the season, despite going undrafted in many leagues.
But the biggest stories from the season were the play of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. On his way to a second straight Sixth Man of the Year award, Williams played 75 games and finished as a top-65 fantasy player. Harrell moved into a bigger role after the departure of Jordan, playing 26.3 minutes per game. He was often taken in the very late rounds of drafts, but ended up returning top-50 value on the back of 16.6 PPG on 61.5 FG%, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG and 1.3 BLK. Harrell will likely finish top-3 in Most Improved Player voting. Danilo Gallinari also put together of his best and healthiest seasons, finishing as a top-50 player.
The front office did some great work as well, scoring big on three trades. Tobias Harris, an expiring contract, plus Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott were dealt to the 76ers in exchange for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, two first-round picks and two second-round picks. Muscala was then, miraculously, dealt to the Lakers for Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley. Shamet ended up shooting 42.2 3P% as a rookie on 2.0 attempts per game, and Zubac, once on the Clippers, averaged 9.4 points on 53.8 FG%, 7.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 20.2 MPG.
Before the season, the Clippers dealt Austin Rivers to the Wizards for Marcin Gortat in attempt to load up on some size to make up for the departure of Jordan. But Gortat showed his age quickly, and he ended up appearing in just 47 games for LA, playing 751 total minutes. It's far from a blunder considering how well Harrell played, but, considering we're now seeing Austin Rivers get real playoff minutes for the Rockets, the Clippers could have probably gotten more for him. In another move that didn't go as planned, Luc Mbah a Moute played just four games this season due to an injury after garnering 25.6 MPG for the Rockets last year. His presence could have helped bolster the Clippers' three-point shooting and defense.
Also, Milos Teodosic essentially just quit NBA basketball. In November, he noted "I think I definitely won't stay [in the NBA] because...I came, I saw how it looks and somehow...I enjoy more and it's nicer for me to play in Europe," Teodosic said. "So, I will return to Europe for sure, will it be during this season or at the end, we'll see." I mean, he said in November that he might just leave the Clippers in the middle of the year to go back to Europe. It was a strange end to what was initially an exciting add last season.
State of the Franchise
When disappearing acts from Gortat, Mbah a Moute and Teodosic are the worst things to happen in a given year, you're doing pretty well. Now, after giving the Warriors some competition in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers have two max free agent slots for the summer of 2019. The likes of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant are certainly on the radar. Locking up one player of that caliber would be groundbreaking, getting two would be historic.
Even if the Clippers miss on that front, they have a quality core of players to push forward. Gallinari and Williams provide scoring punch, while a duo of Harrell and Zubac could lock down the center spot. Combine that with the three-point shooting of Shamet and the development of Gilgeous-Alexander, and things are looking good again for next year and beyond.