The collective NBA wisdom: The "leap" year in player progression transpires in Year 3.
My fake NBA wisdom: The moment NBA players are at their most underrated for fantasy purposes is at the dawn of Year 2.
Year in, year out -- no group of players is more overhyped, overrated and overvalued than rookies.
We love our rookies. Their newness. Their boundless potential. Their lack of red flags. (And I'm right there with you. Over the years, I've developed a draft-season move of actually closing my laptop when certain rookies are thrown into auctions just to stop myself from bidding.)
Then the actual season starts. Rookie luster loses its sheen, as can't-miss rookies devolve into inconsistent young vets. But every mid-June, new rookies are loaded up into the hype machine, and we do this again.
Hype, overdraft, repeat.
But you, the savvy manager, doesn't give a hoot about hype. You're on the prowl for one dynamic: creation of gaps in draft-day valuation. Chasms between perceived value and fantasy reality.
Discounts trend deep in Year 2 for the same reason Week 2 is the best week to bet in the NFL: market overreaction. Come Year 2, the sting of rookie overvaluation still hangs in the air.
Entering Year 2, do you think Brandon Ingram is any less of a talent then he was entering Year 1? That he's less of a high-upside asset? I sure as heck don't. Ingram is more of an asset.
Post-The Process, this season's sophomore class offers a metric ton of sleeper value. This is due to two factors: 1) many of last year's best fantasy rookies (Jamal Murray, Malcolm Brogdon, Taurean Prince) were waiver-wire types who flew below our preseason radar, and 2) the higher-profile rookies (Ben Simmons, Ingram) didn't make much of an impact.
Here's one name we don't have to worry about flying under the fantasy radar. Embiid will be the first sophomore off the board in every draft. If he plays 72 to 75 games, he could deliver late-first-round value ... as long as you're in a non-turnover league. Embiid's sky-high-for-a-big turnover rate (3.8 per game) drops his value by a round in nine-category leagues.
I think of Embiid as the Rob Gronkowski of 2017-18 fantasy hoops. If reasonably healthy, he could deliver an imaginary championship. But if he goes down, you'll be scrambling to replace a key player at a position of high scarcity.
Headed into draft season, I can't think of a more pronounced risk/reward pick. The reward: 20 PPG, 10 RPG potential, with 2.5-3.0 BPG, 2.5 APG and decent percentages. The risk: He plays only 50-60 games. The season hasn't started yet, and he's already been tabbed as an in-season shutdown candidate. But if you want him, you may have to go as high as the third round.
2. Malcolm Brogdon, PG/SG, Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17's Rookie of the Year enters 2017-18 with only Matthew Dellavedova to beat out for playing time. Minus his (absolutely) perfect free-throw percentage, I like Brogdon to mirror his production from the final month of 2016-17: 12.0 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 50.9 FG%, 100.0 FT%.
Brogdon doesn't possess superhigh upside, but he's a solid eighth-rounder going a lot lower in most leagues. And don't forget that his coach is one of the great fantasy point guards of all time ... some of that is rubbing off.
3. Jamal Murray, PG, Denver Nuggets
I'm no genius, but I know this: Athletically explosive point guards slotted to run high-upside, low-expectation teams tend to outperform their ADPs. Murray quietly put together some monster lines over the last week of the 2016-17 campaign, including a 27-point night, a 30-point night and a double-double.
Denver is poised to have one of the buzzier teams in fantasy, and Murray should beat out Emmanuel Mudiay for the starting gig.
I like Murray beginning in the ninth round.
4. Ben Simmons, PF, Philadelphia 76ers
Technically, Simmons is a rookie. But I'm throwing him on the list in the name of due diligence.
Projecting Simmons is tough. He's suffused in hype, but there's a lot of gray area when assessing his fantasy potential. He missed an entire year with a broken right foot and will be playing a hybrid position (point forward) on a rebuilding team with a lot of question marks up and down its lineup.
Simmons should contribute right away in the volume categories. His assist potential gives him unique fantasy upside. But his spotty shooting history from distance makes Simmons a fantasy risk. Across 18 college games, he attempted one 3-pointer. And while Simmons can finish near the basket, his mediocre free throw shooting (66 percent at LSU) undermines his offensive upside.
Simmons' preseason performance is key in pegging his draft slot. If he demonstrates improved outside/free throw shooting, he may match his ADP of 58. But if he doesn't hit 3s and shoots only 66 percent from the line, he's going to go too high in most leagues.
After Embiid and Simmons, Chriss is next in terms of risk/reward potential. Chriss has been tabbed with the occasional Shawn Marion comp. Mostly by Suns fans, but in terms of across-the-board production, one can make out a hazy early-career resemblance.
Regardless of years of service, there aren't a lot of fours in Fantasyland with 1+1+1 upside. Chriss nearly got there as a rookie (0.9 3PG, 0.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG) despite averaging only 21.3 minutes per game. The free throw shooting (62 percent in 2016-17) is a problem, but I've been drafting Chriss as high as the eighth round.
6. Taurean Prince, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Prince is the most criminally underrated sophomore of the 2017-18 class. Despite playing himself into a large role during the 2016-17 playoffs (31.2 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG) Prince currently has no ADP. He's in the lead to start at small forward for the low-expectation Hawks and should get every opportunity to build on a strong rookie campaign.
Prince's value could hinge on his 3-point shooting. He reminds me a lot of early Trevor Ariza. Ariza was another high-upside wing who needed a couple of seasons to iron out his 3-point stroke.
Like Chriss, the 1+1+1 upside is there. Unlike Chriss, Prince is already solid (79 percent) from the free throw line. Prince is a great endgame pick who should return at least 10th-round value.
Double-double potential with a steal and a block. If Hernangomez can log 23-25 minutes per game, that's the upside. Hernangomez nearly got there (8.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 0.5 BPG, 0.6 SPG) as a rookie despite averaging only 18.4 minutes per game.
Hernangomez will get at least 25 MPG to start the campaign; don't forget that Joakim Noah is suspended for the first month of the season. That will give Hernangomez an extended opportunity to play his way into an expanded role.
8. Brandon Ingram, SF/PF, Los Angeles Lakers
The fact that Ingram is so low on this list speaks to the depth and potential of this sophomore class. In terms of raw second-year athletic upside, he's probably second only to Embiid.
After sputtering through an inconsistent first half of the season, Ingram closed 2016-17 with a strong final month (14.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG). He added weight in the offseason and has a new pass-first point guard running the show. The minutes will be there. I'm thinking 10th round feels about right.
9. Dario Saric, SF/PF, Philadelphia 76ers
Saric is the third Sixer to make this list. But with an ADP of 66, he's going way too high in drafts.
I'm a fan. Saric was my preseason pick for last season's fantasy ROY. He didn't disappoint. But with Simmons returning, the drafting of Markelle Fultz and signing of JJ Redick, the basketball Gods have conspired to relegate Saric to a sixth-man role.
Normally, I'd be looking for Saric to expand on his impressive rookie numbers. Instead, he'll be fortunate to stand his statistical ground. He's a high-upside endgame pick.
Hield's rookie season was a ready reminder that rookie potential hinges on environment. After struggling in New Orleans, post-trade Hield blossomed over the final month of last season (15.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.3 3PG). Proving a change in scenery can mean everything, he finally realized his fantasy potential in Sacramento.
The opportunity will be there. Minus DeMarcus Cousins and his top-10 usage rate, Sacramento will be looking for players to fill the scoring void. Think early Tyreke Evans, minus the assists, but with more 3s. If he can average more than a steal per night, he'll return 11th-round value.
Other sophomores to watch:
Skal Labissiere, PF, Sacramento Kings
Thon Maker, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
Dragan Bender, PF, Phoenix Suns
Denzel Valentine, SG, Chicago Bulls