Fantasy owners make a lot of investment in "fake" draft picks in the form of both pretend cash and our time. But, most of all, we entrust these selected NBA stars with a sense of our own existential worth.
Every season, some players exceed our lofty expectations -- players like Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Isaiah Thomas, Jrue Holiday, Avery Bradley and Robert Covington. Yes, the Covingtons and Greek Freaks are the picks that leaven our sense of self and buttress our self-esteem.
However, there is a yin to every yang because, as we know all too well, some players stumble out of the gate, posting a slow start in November, followed by a frustrating December and backed up by an infuriating January. These players force us to question our self worth and make us wonder why we didn't just stick with fantasy football.
By the time we hit February, if this struggling player still hasn't reversed the trend? It's cold shower time and a fantasy intervention is required.
Let's examine three such players who have disappointed and, if we are being honest, aren't coming back.
Millsap logged a career-best fantasy campaign in 2015-16, checking in at No. 11 overall on the Player Rater with 13.37 points. More impressively, he did it despite averaging only 17.1 points per game. For the duration of his career, Millsap has been a walking rebuke to myopic fantasy thinking: the narrow idea that a high points per game average is a prerequisite for elite fantasy value.
After Al Horford left the Hawks to join the Celtics, it seemed like Millsap was a lock to at least maintain elite value, if not improve upon his production. After all, no Horford should equate to an increase in usage rate. Entering his age-32 campaign, Horford looked like a player whose game should age gracefully due to increased volume plus elite efficiency in one of the NBA's better systems -- and on top of that, he's in a contract year.
So what could go wrong? Millsap is currently 38th on the player rater with 7.84 points, and continuing to trend in the wrong direction, with a PR30 of 6.96, a PR15 of 4.83 and a PR7 of just 2.34. Last week's monster double-overtime line against the Knicks (37 points, 19 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 3-pointers) looks more like a 60-minute mirage. Additionally, while Millsap's usage rate has climbed (from 22.7 to 23.6), the truth appears in Millsap's drop in PER, down from a near-career high 21.33 to 18.24.
The warning signs have been there. Over the past couple of seasons, we've witnessed a steady decline in Millsap's field goal efficiency. In 2015-16, Millsap's 3-point percentage dropped from .356 to .319. 2015-16 was the first season since his move to Atlanta where Millsap averaged less than one 3-pointer per game. This season, Millsap is hitting a career high 1.2 3-pointers per game, but he's averaging 3.7 attempts per game. All of which translates to a 3-point percentage that checks in at a replacement-level range of .326.
Is it age? Were people wrong about Millsap's game aging gracefully? Is it the trade rumors? Is it an injury? (Millsap has slumped before while playing hurt.) Does he miss the chemistry he shared with the equally unselfish Horford and Jeff Teague?
It certainly looks as though Millsap's 2016-17 crash has less to do with the loss of Horford and Teague and more about the addition of Dwight Howard. Millsap's shifting numbers portray a player who's been pushed out of the space best suited for his prior peak fantasy production. Howard's immediate impact is seen in Millsap's supporting stats. Millsap's blocks rate has nearly been cut in half. He's down from a career high 1.7 per game to 1.0 per game. Millsap's rebounds and steals have also declined slightly (down to 8.0 and 1.4 per game).
Yes, Millsap is averaging a career high 3.8 assists per game, but it hasn't been enough to offset the drop in defense and rebounds. Most of all, it hasn't offset his plunge in field goal efficiency. Long one of the NBA's most efficient shooters, Millsap's true shooting percentage is a career-low 53.5 percent. That's still better than average, but well below his career peak (57.8 percent).
Worst of all, Millsap's field goal percentage is down to a career-low .442. We're talking about a career .494 shooter, and a player who shot .470 just last season. None of this springs from a decline in 3-point shooting: that decline started last season. Rather, the ding is coming from a Howard-powered redistribution of Millsap's space.
According to Basketball-Reference, Millsap's percentage of 2-point attempts taken from 0-3 feet is down from .363 to .264. His percentage of midrange-to-long 2-point attempts has risen as his percentage from those distances has dropped. All of these elements have combined to knock Millsap's effective field goal percentage down to a career low .476.
We're not talking about a slump. We're talking about a player struggling to mesh with a new center and new starting point guard. At this stage in the season, it's difficult to see Millsap justifying his 21.2 ADP.
Remember Aldridge's last two seasons in Portland? Those two 23/11 "pay me" seasons that launched Aldridge's fantasy rep sky-high? Aldridge was the Anti-Millsap: stratospheric volume, decent efficiency. In 2014-15, Aldridge averaged 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. In 2016-17, Aldridge is currently averaging 17.4 and 7.3 rebounds per game. That's a crash -- and it's one you could see coming from a mile away.
Aldridge's fantasy value was over-inflated due to a 2013-15 spike in possession. With all due respect to Damian Lillard, Aldridge was Option No. 1. Aldridge's usage rate pushed 28.0. He averaged over 20 field goal attempts per game. He logged two full seasons where he had the green light from anywhere on the floor.
In fantasy, averaging 23.4 points per game can mask a lot of statistical quirks and Aldridge is a unique fantasy producer. He's a 7-footer with the midrange priorities of a swingman. Here's one quirk: in 2013-14, 42 percent of Aldridge's 2-point attempts were launched from 16 feet or more. That type of "1962-esque" shot selection was always going to be unsustainable outside of Portland.
Then Aldridge signs with San Antonio. That's certainly laudable in terms of prioritizing the acquisition of, say, a championship ring. However, nobody goes to San Antonio and improves their fantasy value, at least not unless said player suddenly develops a 40-percent 3-point shot from the corner. There was no way Aldridge's 2013-15 brand of offense was going to translate from the land of Voodoo Donuts into a Greg Popovich system.
Last season, a late binge managed to nudge Aldridge up to a 31st-place finish on the Player Rater, which created the illusion of increasing value. Some assumed that, post-Tim Duncan, Aldridge would ramp up his touches and become Option No. 1-B to Kawhi Leonard's No.1-A. That viewpoint ignored the fact that Aldridge's "Portland brand" of vintage shot selection will never, ever wash in San Antonio.
This is Leonard's team. Aldridge is Option No. 2. Unlike Millsap, Aldridge's impending crash was completely foreseeable. He wasn't going to become Tim Duncan, circa 1999. No, Aldridge is Duncan, circa 2015.
Aldridge's fantasy value also isn't supported by secondary statistics such as blocks, assists or 3-pointers. Aldridge is a great free throw shooter, but only compared to other big men, and that's his only supporting stat. His value is trending down. His PER is 19.11 and at its lowest point since 2010. His PR30 is 2.59, and his PR15 at an almost-invisible 0.14. If he isn't scoring 20 points or averaging 10 rebounds, he's a mid-round big man -- maybe worthy of a sixth- or seventh-round selection.
Aldridge is capable of getting hot from the field, so he still has an outside shot at climbing into the fantasy top 50. However, if you're waiting for Aldridge to stabilize near that 30.1 ADP, it's definitely time to move on.
Last season, Jordan averaged 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. He shot 70 percent from the floor. Yet. he only finished 56th on the Player Rater. Why so low? Because of something that, at the age of 28, will never get better: Jordan is one of the worst free throw shooters in the history of basketball.
When the NBA invents a rule to shield a delicate, impressionable public, to prevent them from seeing you attempt as many free throws, that's a sign of a flaw in your game that may be impossible to overcome. However, despite all of the evidence that Jordan's history at the charity stripe makes him -- at best -- a reliable fifth-round pick, he was, on average, drafted No. 32 overall.
From what distant corner of the fantasy universe was that extra two rounds of production supposed to materialize?
Worst of all? It's unfair to Jordan, who is trying his hardest to be less terrifying at the line. When assessed in a sort of alternate universe. fun-house mirror perspective. Jordan is logging a career-high free-throw campaign. He's shooting 51 percent at the line! Relatively speaking, that's lapping his career 43 percent. In Jordan's mind? He's killing it. He's Bill Sharman.
Nevertheless, I have to include him here, all because some of you deluded yourselves into drafting as though Jordan would begin to mine new areas of fantasy production, even when all evidence pointed towards him hitting his ceiling in each of his most valuable categories. Players don't suddenly start blocking or rebounding at a higher rate in their age-28 season. Historically, those numbers go down.
We should be celebrating Jordan's free throw improvement and his 1.2 assists. We should be throwing parades for his outperforming his entirely rational 61.8 ADP. Instead, you drafted him 30 spots too high. You should all be ashamed of yourselves!