There's no doubt about it, the 2019-20 fantasy basketball season was like no other. While the NBA was able to resume after a pause caused by COVID-19, most fantasy leagues weren't able to resume since all teams didn't return to action.
Let's try to put a bow on what was a strange campaign and take a look back at some key takeaways from the season.
The Defense Rests
To no surprise, scoring continued to surge across the league. Going back to the 2015-16 season, 24 teams allowed 106 points per game or fewer. Four seasons later, we finished with no team allowing fewer than 106.5 points per contest. In fact, there were seven teams that allowed at least 115 points per game this season. That's up from five teams allowing at least that many points per game in 2018-19 and no teams allowing at least that many in 2017-18.
Let's take this another step further. Two seasons ago, we only had four teams who allowed at least 110 points per game. This season, 16 teams allowed at least that many. As teams continue to shoot more three pointers and play at a faster pace, there's seems to be no end in sight for this offensive outburst.
Does Size Matter?
The Rockets have been known to play small under head coach Mike D'Antoni. But they took it to another level this season after they traded Clint Capela to the Hawks. Houston moved P.J. Tucker over to the five, which enabled him to average a career-high 6.6 rebounds per game. Still, he likely wasn't a relevant fantasy option in most leagues. Robert Covington, was, however, and he took advantage of playing in so many small lineups by averaging eight rebounds across 22 games with the Rockets. He also averaged 2.2 blocks after being traded to Houston, which left him with significant value when you also factor in his ability to rack up three-pointers and steals.
While the Rockets may have taken it to the extreme, clearly the movement to smaller lineups isn't going away anytime soon. The Celtics were able to have success with very little size up front outside of Daniel Theis. The Spurs used more small lineups while giving LaMarcus Aldridge added run at center.
Although it was because of an injury to Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves were even using James Johnson at center at times. From a fantasy perspective, so many plays splitting minutes at multiple positions means they will likely be eligible at multiple positions. The more positions a player is eligible to play, the more flexible your roster can become.
Take a Load Off
"Load management" isn't going away anytime soon. While Kawhi Leonard might be the most notable player to sit out at least one game of back-to-back sets, he's certainly not the only one. Good teams are trying to keep their stars healthy for the playoffs, and while it might be frustrating from a fantasy perspective, it's difficult to argue with the logic in the real basketball world. If the NBA tries to pack a full schedule into a compressed calendar next season, load management days could become an even more common occurrence than we saw last season.
There was no shortage of big injuries this season. Kevin Durant (Achilles) never played a game for the Nets. Kyrie Irving (shoulder) was limited 20 games and couldn't come back even with the pause in the regular season. Kristaps Porzingis went down with a torn right meniscus in the first round of the playoffs. Karl-Anthony Towns appeared in only 35 games. And we haven't even discussed the Warriors yet, who were without Stephen Curry (hand) and Klay Thompson (knee) for most of the season.
If there is a bright side to the league possibly not starting next season until a couple months into 2021, it's that all of these incredibly important fantasy options will have had added time off to rest and recover. In all likelihood, Porzingis is likely the only one to have any significant worries about heading into next season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has never been a great free-throw shooter. Still, he does so much in other areas that he entered last season in the discussion for the number one pick in fantasy. What few saw coming was him shooting 63.3 percent from the charity stripe. That was by far the lowest mark of his career and significantly lower than his free throw percentage over the previous five seasons (74.6%). The now two-time MVP turned in another monster statistical season – even in reduced minutes – but he took so many free throws (career-high 10.0 per game) that the inefficient shooting significantly tanked his fantasy value.
Can Giannis rebound in that area next season? It is alarming that his free-throw shooting percentage has dropped in each of the last three seasons. What's also a concern is that if he doesn't improve, he's not going to stop parading to the free throw line. Giannis is still a first-round pick in most formats, but until he proves he can shoot closer to 75 percent at the line, he's simply not in the No. 1 overall pick conversation.
Like A Good Neighbor, Chis Paul Is (Still) There
Few teams undertook as many significant changes as the Thunder did last season. Out went Russell Westbrook and Paul George. In came Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. It seemed like the Thunder wanted to undergo a rebuild, meaning they might look to move Paul during the regular season. However, Paul managed to stay healthy, which helped propel them into the playoffs.
Paul showed that when he's healthy, he can still be a special fantasy option. He only missed two games, finishing with averages of 17.6 points, five rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 three-pointers a game. While he attempted fewer three-pointers a night than he did with the Rockets, he more than made up for it by shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field.
In terms of health and team situation, last season was probably about as close to best-case scenario as it gets for Paul. Will the Thunder finally start a full-blown rebuild this offseason, especially after head coach Billy Donovan left for the Bulls? There is still a lot that needs to unfold for us to have a better grasp on Paul's value for next season, but as he continues to grow older, questions surrounding his durability will only intensify.
Can Tyler Be Your Herro, Baby?
Did any player raise their fantasy stock more in the bubble than Tyler Herro? He certainly didn't struggle during his rookie campaign, averaging 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 three-pointers a game. However, he went crazy in the playoffs, averaging 16 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 three-pointers. That's even more impressive when you consider he faced four of the best defensive teams in the league in the Pacers, Bucks, Celtics and Lakers.
Now the question is: can Herro translate his bubble success to next season? A lot of that will depend on the status of Goran Dragic, who is a free agent this offseason. If he leaves town and Herro is inserted into the starting five, he could have tremendous upside. However, if Dragic does return, be sure not to overdraft Herro based on his playoff run.