This article is part of our Season Review series.
Magic (42-40), preseason o/u: 30.5 wins
After winning just 25 games in 2017-18, oddsmakers figured the Magic would still be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. However, a new head coach in Steve Clifford, plus some player development, gave the Magic the boost it needed to secure the 7th seed in the playoffs. It all started with Nikola Vucevic – arguably the fantasy sleeper of the year. It seemed possible his role would diminish with rookie Mo Bamba in the fold, but Bamba's lack of NBA-readiness allowed Vucevic to see 31.4 MPG. He had the best year of his career, posting 20.8 points on 51.5 FG%, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 threes and a combined 2.1 blocks/steals per contest. Overall, he finished as the 10th-best fantasy player despite being drafted often in the sixth or seventh round.
Another fantasy overachiever was D.J. Augustin. In a somewhat similar situation to that of Vucevic and Bamba, there seemed to be a possibility that Jerian Grant would split time at point guard with Augustin, effectively rendering Augustin irrelevant in fantasy. But that didn't happen, and Augustin was given 28.0 minutes per night, playing all but one game. The veteran was often a flier late in drafts, but he ended up returning top-85 value. Terrence Ross got in on the action as well, as he led the scoring charge off the bench, and he often outplayed Evan Fournier. Ross went undrafted in nearly every format, but he ended up ranking inside the top-75 in terms of total production on the back of 2.7 made threes per contest.
Despite the overall play of the team, certain players that were expected to make a leap ironically fell short. Aaron Gordon appeared to be on the verge of a breakout, but his role was reduced, losing 2.9% usage compared to last season. Instead of an expected top-45 finish, the forward ended up at rank 60. It wasn't bad, necessarily, just underwhelming. He still managed to increase his free-throw percentage (73.1 FT%) and passing (3.7 APG). Plus, 2,633 minutes played is an accomplishment – only 14 players saw more action this season.
Evan Fournier also took a step back, but, like Gordon, he managed to keep his fantasy stock afloat by playing heavy minutes (2,553). Still, all of his shooting percentages took a dip, and he took fewer two-pointers (7.6), three-pointers (5.6) and free-throws (2.1) per game than last season. With his averages, he was outside of the top-125, but Fournier did finish top-90 in total production. It just wasn't ideal for those who took him in the seventh or eighth round.
Finally, Jonathan Isaac fell short of the lofty expectations placed on him by fantasy owners (see also: Jarrett Allen). A lingering ankle injury limited him to just 27 games during his rookie campaign last year, but he impressed on defense, racking up a combined 4.2 steals/blocks per 36 minutes. Fantasy owners banked on him seeing heavy minutes and possibly recreating that steal/block rate, so Isaac was often drafted in the eighth or ninth round – sometimes higher. So, what happened? His steal/block rate per 36 minutes dropped to 2.9, and he garnered 26.6 MPG, not the 30-plus that some people were hoping for. Isaac also continued to be a relative non-factor on offense, scoring only 9.6 PPG on 8.1 FGA. But I struggle to say that Isaac had a disappointing season. He's a 21-year-old sophomore who was drafted for his defense, and he finished 17th in the league in block percentage, with his team ranking eighth in defensive rating. His offense might not come along, but he still finished just outside of the top-100, which is great given how limited he's been on that end of the floor.
State of the Franchise
Even though the Magic could only steal one game from the Raptors, simply getting to the playoffs is a big accomplishment for a franchise that hadn't been there since 2011-12 – the final year of Dwight Howard's stint. But this is still a rebuilding team, and one that won't be getting a lottery pick. From a financial standpoint, Timofey Mozgov (yes, he's still here) will be owed $16.7 million next year, severely limiting what Orlando can do in the free agent market.
Those decisions start first and foremost with Vucevic. Before the season, a deadline trade to a contender seemed almost inevitable. Now, after what Orlando accomplished, it would feel wrong not to bring him back. He won't be cheap, though. All-Star centers in their prime (even if they're in the East) don't just grow on trees, and he'll have a variety of suitors.
It's possible the Magic will end up taking a step back before it takes a step forward again. But having Aaron Gordon on a declining contract gives the front office plenty of flexibility, Bamba and Isaac are still highly intriguing, and Markelle Fultz (how could you forget?) will look to revitalize his career – it's a better situation than a handful of other teams', even if Vucevic is lost.
Nets (42-40), o/u: 32.0
Coach Kenny Atkinson deserves Coach of the Year consideration for the Nets' 14-win improvement over last season. Nice strides were made by individual players as well. Starting at the top, D'Angelo Russell led the team in minutes (2,448) while playing all but one game. After his first three years in the league were relatively stagnant, Russell broke out in 2018-19, and he'll likely finish in the top-2 of Most Improved Player voting. Fantasy owners often drafted him in the ninth or 10th round, and those who did ended up getting a top-20 player who racked up 21.1 PPG on 43.4 FG%, 7.0 APG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 3P and 1.2 STL.
Something you wouldn't expect from a playoff team is Joe Harris racking up the second-most minutes (2,293), but his presence was crucial to holding together the offense. He shot an NBA-high 47.4 percent from distance, making 2.4 threes per game en route to 13.7 PPG, finishing as a top-90 fantasy asset. Spencer Dinwiddie also had an impressive year, earning himself a 3-year, $34 million contract extension in mid-December. Injuries limited him to just 68 games, but Dinwiddie still managed to finish as a top-125 player. And speaking of injuries, Caris LeVert ended up playing only 40 games due to a gruesome leg injury, tanking his fantasy stock. However, he showed off his development in the playoffs. LeVert often looked like the best player on the Nets in the postseason, and he recorded 21.0 PPG on 14.6 FGA, 4.6 RPG, 3.0 APG and 1.0 STL in 28.8 minutes.
I want to get this out of the way: Jarrett Allen did not have a bad year. But, fantasy owners placed too much faith in his upside, inflating his ADP. That's why he's in this section. The 20-year-old was often drafted in the fourth or fifth round with hopes of 10-plus boards and two-plus blocks per game. But the reality is: only three players 20 years old or younger in the three-point era have achieved 10.0 RPG and 2.0 BLK: Anthony Davis, Shaquille O'Neal and Andrew Bynum (Bynum played just 35 games so it's possible his numbers would have fallen. And he never averaged those numbers again – not even when he was an All-Star). So, Allen didn't have the year fantasy owners wanted, but he still played over 2,000 minutes and finished as a top-70 player, averaging 10.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 BLK and 1.4 AST.
Someone who legitimately played below expectations was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Much of that may have been due to nagging injuries, limiting him to 59 games. But he ended up seeing his workload drop from 28.3 MPG last year to 20.9 MPG this year, and he played 30-plus minutes just eight times. His role was absorbed by better three-point shooters like DeMarre Carroll, Rodions Kurucs and Jared Dudley. Allen Crabbe, often a top-100 selection, suffered a similar fate of injuries and a lost role.
State of the Franchise
In possession of the 17th pick in the draft, the Nets should be able to add a solid player for next season, though likely not one that's difference-making. The biggest decision for Brooklyn management over the summer will be how to approach Russell's free agency. Letting him go and finding a taker for Crabbe's $18.5 million expiring deal could open up two max slots for the Nets – obviously the ideal scenario. But there will be other teams competing for the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and so on.
Even if the Nets don't land a max free agent, there's clearly something positive happening in Brooklyn, and it's an organization that seems to have kept its players happy recently. Running back a similar team wouldn't be a failure. It's possible player development could push Brooklyn farther up the standings next year. Either way, for a franchise that felt like it was the laughing stock of the league just a couple years ago, 2018-19 was a massive step in the right direction.
Spurs (48-34), o/u: 42.5
We probably should have seen the Over coming to fruition here. The Spurs won 47 games in 2017-18 while getting nine games out of Kawhi Leonard, and Patty Mills was second on the team in total minutes. Adding DeMar DeRozan, despite mixed feelings about his impact as a player, certainly gave the Spurs a better chance to win games. And though DeRozan missed the All-Star game for the first time since 2014-15, he exceeded value on his ADP in fantasy. Usually drafted around pick 35, DeRozan finished as the 26th ranked fantasy player in terms of total production, averaging 21.2 PPG on 48.1 FG%, 6.2 APG, 6.0 RPG and 1.1 STL.
LaMarcus Aldridge similarly outperformed his ADP. With a Yahoo pre-season rank of 36, he finished as the 18th-best fantasy player by posting 21.3 PPG on 51.9 FG%, 9.3 RPG, 2.4 APG and 1.3 BLK. The only other player on the roster to crack 2,000 minutes was Bryn Forbes, who ended up playing all 82 games and seeing more run than expected due to the injuries to Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. Forbes went undrafted in virtually every fantasy league, but he managed to crack the top-130 in total production, being of good use in deeper formats.
The only other top-100 finisher on the Spurs was Rudy Gay, who made 51 starts in 69 appearances. His role increased with Leonard out of the picture, and he recorded 13.7 PPG on 50.4 FG%, 6.8 RPG, 2.6 APG and 1.1 3P, claiming a spot in the top-85. Even though White didn't finish as a top-100 player, his season needs to be highlighted. A left plantar fascia tear kept him out for the first nine games of the year, but he ended up starting every appearance from Dec. 19 onward. In that stretch, he averaged 11.9 PPG on 50.6 FG%, 4.2 APG, 4.2 RPG and a combined 2.1 STL/BLK in 28.3 MPG. White's quality play ultimately had more of an impact in real life and DFS than in season-long fantasy.
Losing Dejounte Murray to a torn ACL before the season started was a blow to the Spurs. He started the final 34 games of the 2017-18 regular season, posting averages of 10.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals across 26.5 minutes. Murray established himself as a top-tier defensive point guard, ensuring he would see plenty of run in 2018-19. He wasn't expected to be a high-usage player in the San Antonio offense, but his interesting blend of rebounds and steals as a guard made him a target in the back end of most fantasy drafts.
Jakob Poeltl also contributed less than expected after coming over from Toronto, even with Pau Gasol showing his age quickly and eventually being let go by the Spurs. Often a late-round flier, Poeltl was expected by fantasy owners to see 20-plus minutes on a regular basis, and possibly trend more toward the mid-20s. But he finished the year seeing only 16.5 MPG – less time than he saw last year with the Raptors – finishing outside of the top-185 on the back of 5.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.2 APG.
State of the Franchise
In addition to Gregg Popovich, the Spurs will be bringing back nearly an identical team next year (barring any unforeseen trades). The only significant free-agent decision that needs to be made is for Rudy Gay, whose contract has expired. Dejounte Murray making his return will be an impactful addition, but competition in the Western Conference will always be tough. The Lakers, the Kings and the Clippers all have realistic paths to improved records, though it's possible we see some slippage from the Warriors. Regardless, as has been the case for the past 21 years, the Spurs look to be on the path to the playoffs in 2019-20.
Thunder (49-33), o/u: 48.5
Paul George had the best season of his career, and there's a strong chance the 28-year-old will finish top-5 in MVP voting. George, who was often picked at the first-to-second round turn in fantasy drafts, ended up finishing as the league's No. 2 player. He led the NBA in total steals (170) while averaging 28.0 PPG on 43.8 FG%, 8.2 RPG, 4.1 APG and 3.8 3P in 36.9 MPG. Russell Westbrook had a quality year as well, finishing as the 12th-best fantasy player. And that was despite missing nine games, seeing his scoring average drop from 25.4 PPG to 22.9 PPG, and losing 2.1 FG% and 8.1 FT%.
After the clear top-two, Steven Adams continued to function as a great role player for the Thunder. He outperformed his ADP by about two rounds, playing 2,669 minutes and averaging 13.9 PPG on 59.5 FG%, a career-high 9.5 RPG, 1.6 APG and a combined 2.5 STL/BLK. At power forward, the absence of Carmelo Anthony and the poor play of Patrick Patterson allowed Jerami Grant to take a step forward. He set career-highs nearly across the board and finished as a top-70 fantasy player despite going undrafted in some shallower leagues. And though Dennis Schroder took a step back in his role compared to last season in Atlanta, he still managed to crack the top-100 in a role of 29.3 MPG.
While OKC's top five met expectations, and maybe exceeded them, the rest of the roster provided sparse contributions. For example, Terrance Ferguson – sixth on the team in minutes played with 1,931 – ranked as the 237th fantasy player. Through sheer shot-blocking and defensive ability, Nerlens Noel ended up in the top-150, but he played just 13.7 MPG. And after that, we get into the Abdel Nader/Hamidou Diallo tier – players nobody in fantasy circles had an eye on. But all things considered, there wasn't much "bad" to point to on the Thunder in terms of fantasy.
In real life, however, the Thunder getting the sixth seed with a top-5 MVP candidate and a former MVP on the roster feels like a disappointment. That's alleviated somewhat by being in the tougher Western Conference – OKC was just five wins away from the two seed. The Thunder walked into a postseason matchup against the Blazers, who just lost Jusuf Nurkic (a top-40 fantasy player) to a serious leg injury. Most experts picked OKC as the series victors. But Portland took the series in five games, and Westbrook came under fire for his performances. The series marked his third consecutive first-round exit, and he averaged 22.8 points on an abysmal 36.0 FG%, 10.6 APG and 8.8 RPG and 1.0 STL.
State of the Franchise
There's good and bad here. The Thunder are built to be a competitive team with a high floor for the foreseeable future. Westbrook and George are locked up through 2020-21, with George having a player option for 2021-22 and Westbrook having one for 2022-23. That's also part of the problem, though. Westbrook has fallen hard from his MVP status just two years back, and his contract is now referenced as one of the worst in the league – he's set to make $46.6 million as a 34-year-old. And Steven Adams is guaranteed the third-most money on the team over the next two years ($53.3 million), but it's almost a guarantee that he never makes an All-NBA team. There's only so much we can expect general manager Sam Presti and head coach Billy Donovan to do with the remaining money and talent available. It's a bench that has whiffs of Golden State's, but without the Warriors' unprecedented crop of talent at the top.