NBA Draft Kit: Griffin, George Set to Regress?

NBA Draft Kit: Griffin, George Set to Regress?

This article is part of our NBA Draft Kit series.

In nearly any fantasy draft, nailing your early-round selections is the easiest path to competing for a league title. Round 1 is arguably the most important, but Rounds 2 and 3 can also make or break your season.

The goal, of course, is to take the most productive player available at each selection, but the NBA is unpredictable, and hitting on each of those picks is no guarantee. However, risks can be mitigated by sticking with proven, safer options and avoiding players with regression potential.

Beginning at the top, let's take a look at the safest, most underrated and most overrated players likely to come off the board in each round this season:

Round 1

Safest

The consensus top-five: James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Stephen Curry

Harden has been a top-five fantasy player for the last seven years and has three straight No. 1 finishes. Antetokounmpo has been top-seven for three years and finished third last season. Davis has been top-eight for six years and has put together back-to-back No. 2 seasons. Towns has been top-eight for three years and finished sixth last season. Curry has been top-10 in every season since his rookie year and has two No. 1 finishes.

These are truly the proven, elite-of-the-elite fantasy players. Picking in the top-five is not the time to call your shot with someone unproven.

Underrated

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

While Lillard hasn't reached truly elite fantasy levels -- his best finish was

In nearly any fantasy draft, nailing your early-round selections is the easiest path to competing for a league title. Round 1 is arguably the most important, but Rounds 2 and 3 can also make or break your season.

The goal, of course, is to take the most productive player available at each selection, but the NBA is unpredictable, and hitting on each of those picks is no guarantee. However, risks can be mitigated by sticking with proven, safer options and avoiding players with regression potential.

Beginning at the top, let's take a look at the safest, most underrated and most overrated players likely to come off the board in each round this season:

Round 1

Safest

The consensus top-five: James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Stephen Curry

Harden has been a top-five fantasy player for the last seven years and has three straight No. 1 finishes. Antetokounmpo has been top-seven for three years and finished third last season. Davis has been top-eight for six years and has put together back-to-back No. 2 seasons. Towns has been top-eight for three years and finished sixth last season. Curry has been top-10 in every season since his rookie year and has two No. 1 finishes.

These are truly the proven, elite-of-the-elite fantasy players. Picking in the top-five is not the time to call your shot with someone unproven.

Underrated

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

While Lillard hasn't reached truly elite fantasy levels -- his best finish was 9th in 2017-18 -- he's been extremely reliable. Since 2014-15, he's missed only 25 total games, and he's held an average rank of 13.8 overall. He's the closest you'll get to Stephen Curry, as Lillard provides top-level production in points, threes, assists and free-throw percentage. And this season, as the Blazers trot out a new supporting cast, it will be up to Lillard to keep the ship stable.

Overrated

Paul George, Clippers

There isn't much optimism regarding George's availability for the start of the 2019-20 campaign after he underwent surgery on both shoulders during the offseason. As a result, it's possible George could be working with a ceiling of about 72 games, which isn't ideal for a first-round draft pick. And that doesn't take into account potential rustiness once he returns, additional injuries, and the potential for a reduced role on a deep Clippers team.

Plus, it doesn't seem likely George will be asked to play the 36.9 minutes per game he saw with the Thunder last season, when he finished as the eighth-ranked player. All things considered, last season may have been George's absolute peak, and it may be best to wait on George until the second round.

Round 2

Safest

Russell Westbrook, Rockets

From a fantasy pedigree perspective, Westbrook is the guy to look for in Round 2. He had a "down year" in 2018-19 and still finished as the 15th-ranked player. He also finished top-10 from 2010-11 through 2016-17. Going from the Thunder to the Rockets complicates things, as Westbrook and James Harden will presumably make up the highest-usage backcourt of all time.  

But they'll likely spend as little time on the court together as possible, and the improved spacing of the Rockets' offense, compared to that of the Thunder, could help Westbrook. If he can even moderately improve his rapidly diminishing free-throw percentage (65.6% last season), we could see him crack the top-10 again.

Underrated

Jrue Holiday, Pelicans

As Holiday has transitioned into more of a scoring role over the past two years, he's seen his fantasy value increase. He ranked 19th two years ago and 17th last season, setting new career highs in scoring in each season. Anthony Davis' departure from New Orleans opens up nearly 20 shots per game for the Pelicans, and Holiday figures to take a decent chunk as the unquestioned best player on the roster. While he has a spotty injury history, Holiday carries plenty of upside for what should be a fast-paced Pelicans team.

Overrated

Kemba Walker, Celtics

Walker is coming off the best season of his career, which he finished with an overall ranking of 18th. It also marked his fourth straight season at a top-30 level. But his usage could be reduced significantly with the Celtics, who have plenty of other offensive options compared to the Hornets teams Walker had previously been carrying. He may not need to play 34 minutes per game, either, which is a mark he's surpassed in every season since 2012-13. Given those factors, it's very possible Walker's value slips into the low-30s, which is still very good, but not the level of production you're hoping for with a second-round pick.

Round 3

Safest

Devin Booker, Suns

Booker has finished in the top-five in usage rate in each of the past two years, putting together back-to-back top-25 seasons in the process. The addition of Ricky Rubio could take the ball out of Booker's hands more often, so it's quite possible Booker won't reach the 6.8 assists per game he dished out last season.

However, that could also set Booker free as a scorer, and he's already shown tremendous upside in that department, despite the lack of a quality set-up man in recent seasons. He's raised his scoring average in each year of his career, topping out at 26.6 points per game last season. There's reason to believe that number could climb even higher, considering Booker hit just 32.6 percent of his threes -- by far a career-low.

Underrated

LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs

Aldridge has been a top-30 player in each of the past two seasons, and while that's not on the high end of second-round value, he provides a relatively safe floor. He's been a focal point of the Spurs' offense, averaging at least 21.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 blocks across the past two years. He's also been efficient over that period, shooting at least 51.0 percent from the field and 83.7 percent at the line. Aldridge turned 34 in July, and while there's always risk in drafting players around that age, Aldridge has played at least 72 games in each of the last four seasons.

Overrated

Blake Griffin, Pistons

Griffin reached a three-year high in fantasy value last season, checking in as the 37th-ranked player. Still, that's hardly third-round value, and it doesn't take into consideration his injury history. Griffin played 75 games last season, but it was his first year topping 67 games since 2013-14. Unsurprisingly, Griffin broke down toward the end of the year and was ultimately able to play in only two of the Pistons' four first-round games against Milwaukee.

Given how last season ended, it's fair to expect the Pistons to try to limit Griffin's workload in an effort to preserve him for the postseason. But even if that's not the case, history suggests Griffin's chances to hit 75 games again are extremely low. On a per-game basis, Griffin figures to have another productive year, but the likelihood of significant time off diminishes his fantasy upside.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Barutha
Alex is RotoWire's Chief NBA Editor. He writes articles about daily fantasy, year-long fantasy and sports betting. You can hear him on the RotoWire NBA Podcast, Sirius XM, VSiN and other platforms. He firmly believes Robert Covington is the most underrated fantasy player of the past decade.
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