This article is part of our Season Review series.
76ers (51-31), preseason over/under: 54 wins
The Sixers underwent some changes mid-year, trading for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. But three players remained constant anchors for the team – Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick, who each played 2,000-plus minutes for Philly. In his sophomore season, Simmons didn't quite make the improvements fantasy owners were hoping for. He was unable to expand his offensive game, going just 2-of-25 from beyond 16 feet. As a result, his stats didn't improve much, and he finished the year just short of the top-20 – about five spots outside of where he was usually drafted.
Embiid was limited to fewer than 65 games for the second straight season, but he collected his second All-Star appearance anyway, averaging 27.5 PPG on 48.4 FG%, 13.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.9 BLK and 1.2 3P. Most fantasy owners factored in his injury history when drafting him, so he was usually selected in the mid-to-late second round, and that was about the value he returned.
Of the Butler and Harris acquisitions, Harris ended up having the stronger fantasy season. He played at least 80 games for the third straight season and set career highs nearly across the board. Once he reached Philly, he averaged 18.2 PPG on 46.9 FG%, 7.9 RPG, 2.9 APG and 1.6 3P. Harris was a popular fourth-round selection, but he ended up returning top-25 value.
Butler's season wasn't bad, but his game changed after coming over to Philly. Surrounded by more talent, he didn't have to do as much, and his raw stats diminished compared to 2017-18. And in terms of true-shooting percentage, he had his least efficient year since 2015-16. Plus, he only played 65 games – his fifth time in seven years appearing in fewer than 70 games. All things considered, fantasy owners got a player who ranked just inside the top-40, but one that was often drafted inside the top-25.
Also, the Markelle Fultz saga in Philly came to a close. He appeared in 19 games (15 starts) this season – 8.2 PPG on 41.9 FG%, 3.7 RPG and 3.1 APG in 22.5 MPG – before being diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, effectively ending his sophomore campaign. About two months later, he was dealt to the Magic in exchange for Jonathan Simmons, the Thunder's top-20 protected first-round pick and a second-round pick. Considering what the 76ers gave up to draft Fultz in the first place (essentially two first-round picks), this was a huge loss for the organization.
State of the Franchise
After winning an average of 18.8 games from 2013-14 through 2016-17, the Sixers have put together back-to-back 50-win campaigns. The challenge for Philly now will be to get past the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which the franchise hasn't accomplished since 2000-01 with Allen Iverson leading the charge.
The front office has important decisions to make this offseason. Butler (assuming he declines his player option), Harris and Redick will all be free agents. Retaining Harris, who will be entering his age 27 season, makes the most sense from a career-arc perspective – Embiid will be 26 and Simmons will be 23. Building around that core for the future would give the Sixers a very high floor. Still, keeping only one of Harris or Butler might put a bad taste in fans' mouths. Here's the list of assets the front office dealt away to acquire those two:
- Landry Shamet
- 2020 1st-round pick (top-14 protected)
- MIA's 2021 1st-round pick
- Robert Covington
- Dario Saric
- 2022 2nd-round pick
- Wilson Chandler
- Mike Muscala
- DET's 2021 2nd-round pick
- DET's 2023 2nd-round pick
- Jerryd Bayless
There are a wide range of outcomes for the Sixers' summer, but it's hard to deny that there's something positive happening in Philly. More than a handful of teams would kill for the young duo of Simmons and Embiid, who already have three combined All-Star appearances between them. We'll see if it amounts to a Championship in the near future.
Nuggets (54-28), o/u: 47.5
After missing the playoffs by just one game last season, the Nuggets surprised the league by claiming the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. A Game 7 loss at home to the Trail Blazers during the second round of the playoffs was an unfortunate way to end the season, but the campaign should be considered a success overall for a team that hasn't made it past the first round since 2008-09.
Much of Denver's rise to the top of the NBA should be attributed to the development of Nikola Jokic, who was voted to the All-NBA first team this season as a 23-year-old. He appeared in all but one game, seeing 31.3 MPG and averaging 20.1 PPG on 51.1 FG%, 10.8 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.4 STL and 1.0 3P. In fantasy, he finished as the fifth-ranked player, and he was usually drafted after that.
The Nuggets dealt with injuries all season, and Jamal Murray was the only other player on the team to accrue 2,000-plus minutes. The 21-year-old set career highs in almost all of his raw stats, but his efficiency slipped in the process. Most fantasy owners assumed both parts of his game would improve, so Murray was a common selection late in the fourth round or early in the fifth round. Therefore, his finish of rank 54 could be considered a disappointment in fantasy. But his overall development as a player is encouraging, and he was a huge part of a team that nearly went to the Western Conference Finals.
Monte Morris also deserves credit for his surprising season. Drafted with the 51st overall pick in 2017, Morris appeared in just three games last season. But this year, he played in all 82, even drawing six starts. He finished the campaign with the fourth-lowest turnover rate in the NBA, racking up only 52 turnovers to his 297 assists. Fantasy owners who picked him up off the waiver wire ended up with a top-120 player.
Losing Game 7 of the Conference Semis at home to the Blazers, who later went on to get swept by Golden State isn't a great look. But maybe it shouldn't have been unexpected, since the Nuggets needed seven games to get past the Spurs.
During the regular season, fantasy owners got burned by, mainly, three players. Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton all missed time with injuries. Millsap appeared in 70 games, finishing outside of the top-90 despite often being picked in the top-65. Harris got on the court only 57 times, which is nearly always a fantasy disaster. He barely cracked the top-200. Barton saw 43 games and didn't really look right for most of those contests.
Also, remember Isaiah Thomas? He got drafted in the final rounds of most fantasy leagues, which seemed like an acceptable risk to take considering he averaged 28.9 PPG two years ago. Coach Michael Malone gave Thomas a shot once he was healthy, but that experiment died quickly. Thomas finished the year appearing in 12 games, averaging 8.1 PPG on 34.3 FG%.
State of the Franchise
The Nuggets have a decision to make on Millsap, who has a $30.5 million player option for 2019-20. He's dealt with injuries recently and will be in his age 35 season, but he's been a strong part of anchoring Denver's defense. Aside from him, the Nuggets will presumably bring back the same team. While Denver's playoff run was bumpy, it offered glimpses into what the future may hold for this team. Jokic and Harris will be entering their age 25 seasons, and Murray will be entering his age 23 season. It's one of the most promising young cores in the league. Plus, we still haven't seen Michael Porter Jr.
Even if Murray doesn't develop into a stud and Harris remains "just" a quality role player, having Jokic locked up through 2022-23 ensures that Denver has one of the highest floors in the NBA moving forward.
Trail Blazers (53-29), o/u: 42.0
Oddsmakers were down on the Blazers after Portland won 49 games last year and got swept by the Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs. But Rip City came back with a vengeance, claiming the third seed in the West and making it to the Conference Finals. When you think Blazers, you think Damian Lillard, and he secured a spot on the All-NBA Second Team this season. He was up to his usual stuff, claiming a top-10 fantasy finish by averaging 25.8 PPG, 6.9 APG, 4.6 RPG, 3.0 3P and 1.1 STL.
In the midst of C.J. McCollum missing 12 games and having a bit of a down year, Jusuf Nurkic may have established himself as the second-most valuable player on Portland. He lived up to the expectations placed on him two years ago when he was initially brought to the Blazers via trade, finishing the campaign as a top-40 fantasy asset. Playing 27.4 MPG, the 24-year-old averaged 15.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.2 APG and a combined 2.4 BLK/STL.
Al-Farouq Aminu was also an anchor for the Blazers this season. He totaled the third-most minutes on the team, earning a top-95 fantasy finish despite often being drafted in the final rounds, if at all. His numbers didn't jump off the page, but 9.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.3 APG and 1.2 3P is enough for real fantasy relevance when someone plays nearly 2,300 minutes.
Can we even consider getting swept by the Warriors "bad"? I'm leaning toward no. Especially when you consider the Blazers were often a preseason pick to miss the playoffs, with some people campaigning for a roster shakeup. But the Blazers did take a big blow to their playoff potential and next season's outlook when Nurkic suffered a gruesome leg injury in late March. He was diagnosed with compound fractures to his tibia and fibula. It's unclear when he'll be back, and there's a strong possibility he misses a chunk of the 2019-20 campaign.
Fantasy owners were disappointed in McCollum. After missing just five total games across the past three seasons, McCollum missed 12 this season. His recently good health caused him to be a popular draft selection late in the third round or early in the fourth, but McCollum ended up finishing just inside the top-70. But all things considered, the Blazers, as a fantasy target, performed about as expected.
State of the Franchise
Finally, the combined $111 million given to Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard becomes expiring money next season. The duo's respective salaries have been crippling the Blazers' financial flexibility since they signed in July of 2016. It remains to be seen if Portland will seek to move either player mid-season – that will probably be determined by available veterans on bad teams and the Blazers' place in the standings – but the summer of 2020 is something that has to be circled on the calendars of the front office.
Though Lillard will be 30 years old and McCollum will be 29, each player should still be in their prime ahead of the 2020-21 season, and that could provide incentive for free agents to join. Whether it's one big name or a few high-quality role players, a bit of a shakeup around Dame and C.J. wouldn't hurt. Finding a creator at one of the forward positions figures to be a priority. Either way, Portland has been in the postseason every season since 2013-14, and it doesn't seem like that will change in the near future.
Bucks (60-22), o/u: 48.5
Savvy moves by general manager Jon Horst and newly-appointed coach Mike Budenholzer took the Bucks from a 44-win, seventh-seed team to a 60-win, first-seed team in just one season. Despite losing in the Conference Finals, the season has to be considered a success for a franchise that hadn't made it past the first round since 2000-01, which was also the last time Milwaukee cracked 50 wins.
On the court, an emphasis on floor spacing allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to transform into an MVP-caliber player, and he'll finish top-2 for that accolade. He only needed 72 games to finish as the fourth-best fantasy player, and he never slipped past the top-5 in drafts. Playing 32.8 MPG, Giannis averaged 27.7 PPG on 57.8 FG%, 12.5 RPG, 5.9 APG and a combined 2.8 BLK/STL.
The only player to see more action for the Bucks than Giannis was Khris Middleton. Fantasy-wise, he performed about a round worse than he was drafted, but that doesn't warrant putting him in the "bad" section. He played 77 games and made the All-Star game. Middleton's drop in fantasy production was almost exclusively due to his workload reduction. Last season, he saw 36.4 MPG. This year, it was down to 31.1 MPG.
Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez outperformed their ADPs, but it was Lopez who stole the show. Often drafted in round eight, Lopez finished the year with fourth-round value in what was essentially a late-career revitalization. Though he scored the fewest points per game of his career, Lopez turned into a legitimate volume three-point shooter and top-end rim protector. Lopez finished 17th in made threes with 187, and he finished third in total blocks with 179.
The Bucks lost just one of their first 11 playoff games, but then proceeded to lose four straight to the Raptors in the Conference Finals. Bledsoe shot an abysmal 29.4 percent from the field, while Nikola Mirotic turned into dust, failing to appear in the deciding Game 6 after shooting 6-for-31 from distance in the first five contests. Giannis' free-throw shooting was also an issue, as he shot just 58.3 percent from the stripe in the series. Coach Mike Budenholzer has also come under some criticism for his lack of in-game adjustments.
From a fantasy perspective, it's fitting that so few players disappointed considering the Bucks blew through preseason expectations. The closest thing we can get to a letdown is Malcolm Brogdon appearing in only 64 games, but he still finished as a top-100 player. The former Rookie of the Year also managed to reach rarified air, claiming a 50/40/90 season.
State of the Franchise
Having Giannis through 2020-21 guarantees the Bucks an extremely competitive team. However, this offseason will be significant for the future of the franchise. Khris Middleton becomes a restricted free agent, and he's likely to get near-max offers from opposing teams. And the Bucks, due to salary rules, really won't be able to spend that money elsewhere if he's lost. Nikola Mirotic, Lopez and Brogdon are also free agents. Mirotic will likely be a causality. Brogdon's status as a restricted free agent should lead to him being on the Bucks again next year.
But Lopez is a different story. Last summer, Milwaukee signed him to a one-year, $3.3 million deal. Considering the sort of season he put together, Lopez will be a hot commodity on the open market, and there's only so much the Bucks can do to carve out money necessary to keep him. Losing Lopez would feel like losing a part of the Bucks' identity, and it's not exactly clear how the offense, or defense, would look without him.