The 2018-19 fantasy basketball season is finally upon us, which means the six-month drought of relevant box scores is over and we get to compete once again. Our experts have spent the past month prepping you for your drafts and will spend the next six months helping you make a run at your championships.
But before that, it's time to have a little outlandish fun. We asked our experts for their biggest, boldest predictions for the fantasy season that lies ahead. Here's where they've staked their claims:
John Cregan: Devin Booker will finish in the top three in points per game and will post a top-15 fantasy season.
I have no reasonable defense as to why Booker is languishing at No. 34 in ADP (average draft position). Yes, he's coming off of an injury-shortened campaign (just 54 games played in 2017-18), but it was also a season during which he averaged 24.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.7 3PG and 0.9 SPG. And that was just his age 21 season. There's a strong case to be made for Booker being ranked as high as SG2. Considering he's still four years away from being able to rent a car, there isn't another young guard out there with Booker's upside.
After Harden, which 2-guard could you state -- with metaphysical certitude -- will have a better season than Booker? DeRozan? Oladipo? Butler? Mitchell? Beal? That's what Fantasyland must believe, because all of those shooting guards are currently coming off the board before Booker. Managers are predisposed to prefer players who score, but somehow the second-best scoring shooting guard out there is at No. 34? The mind boggles.
Last week, on Twitter (follow me @ProfessorDrz), someone asked me whether they should keep Randle or Griffin in their keeper league. It was really interesting to look at their numbers down the stretch of last season, as after the All-Star break, Randle averaged 20 PPG, 9 RPG and 3 APG, while Griffin averaged 20 PPG, 6 RPG and 6 APG. And their peripheral and defensive numbers were similar.
Randle now joins Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic on a fairly crowded frontline, while Griffin prepares for his first full season next to Andre Drummond. Drummond will always suck up all of the rebounds in Detroit, while Randle should still have more opportunities. Meanwhile, new Pistons coach Dwayne Casey seems unlikely to let Griffin play full-time point forward, which could help his scoring but cost some assists. But really, it comes down to health: I don't trust Griffin's, which makes Randle the safer bet this season in my opinion.
I've championed Bledsoe's potential to ascend in Mike Budenholzer's fantasy-friendly scheme throughout the offseason, with the premise being that Milwaukee's bully of a combo guard was the only player last season who averaged at least two steals, 1.5 3-pointers and five assists among NBA players. A true threat to lead the league in steals while potentially improving on key offensive metrics such as shooting efficiency and passing volume, Bledsoe could be a league-winning acquisition.
Joe Kaiser: Donovan Mitchell finishes the season as a top-12 fantasy player
It's almost as if Mitchell didn't have a rookie season. Rookies aren't supposed to enter the league and pour in 20.5 PPG while adding 3.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.5 SPG and 2.4 3PG with shooting better than 80 percent from the free throw line. That's what the Utah shooting guard did in his first NBA season.
With someone as talented as Mitchell, you can expect those numbers to improve each season for at least the next five or six years. If he bumps up to 23 PPG, 5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.7 SPG and 2.5 3PG, which isn't far-fetched, we will be talking about Mitchell being "the next James Harden" and a late first-round pick this time next season.
Eric Karabell: Trae Young averages more than 20 points per game
I know how and why Young could struggle as a rookie. For one, he is a 20-year-old likely to struggle to hit shots on any consistent basis. He also might not be able to properly defend his own shadow, yet alone another guard. However, his team is so bad and lacks offensive weapons, so I think it's a distinct possibility, perhaps even bold to say Young gets the chance for enough shots that he averages more than 20 points per game, while contributing six assists and perhaps as many as 3 3-pointers a night. Even if he shoots 35 percent from the field (not on 3s, but overall) -- which makes him tough to roster in roto -- that is just one category.
I think Young and Suns forward Deandre Ayton exceed 20 points-per-game averages this season and battle for top rookie honors.
Tom Carpenter: Lonzo Ball leads the league in steals per game
Ball is not a shooter and is set to be a point guard on a team with a crafty veteran point guard in Rajon Rondo and a ball-dominant legend in LeBron James. So where will he make his mark in box scores? How about by playing off of the veterans and using his long arms and athleticism to control passing lanes to rack up a ton of swipes?
In 16 games after the All-Star break last season as a rookie on a bad team, he averaged 2.1 SPG. I still think he pushes beyond seven dimes and seven boards this season -- and tops that off with the most steals per game in the league.
Joe Kaiser: Chris Paul plays fewer than 40 games
It's no fun predicting injuries, especially to legends like CP3, but the future Hall of Famer is entering his 14th NBA season and has been unable to avoid the injury bug in recent years, missing 24 games last season and 21 the year before that. Given how much the Rockets lean on Paul and the up-tempo system they use under Mike D'Antoni, it is getting increasingly difficult for Paul to hold up for the duration of a grueling NBA season.
He has missed at least 20 games during four of the past seven seasons and will turn 34 by season's end, which has me staying away from Paul, considering it still will take a second-round pick to get him in most leagues.
Jim McCormick: Tim Hardaway Jr. finishes in the top 20 in the NBA in per-game scoring this season
"THJ" enjoyed a 20-percent leap in scoring output transitioning from Atlanta back to the Garden last season, while another such leap would result in 21 PPG and a spot on the scoring leaderboard. This also signifies a significant boost in fantasy value for Hardaway Jr., who profiles as a strong value in drafts as the offensive leader for the Knicks.
André Snellings: Lonzo Ball will finish second on the Lakers in fantasy points this season
With LeBron joining the Lakers, the big question has been which of the young players on the team would be ready to step up as his lieutenant. Brandon Ingram has gotten the most positive pub of the young players, playing some point forward in the preseason and posting some huge scoring games. Many felt that Kyle Kuzma was the most impressive rookie on the Lakers last season, and he plays a finishing game that should fit well next to LeBron and all the playmakers. Plus, with Rajon Rondo in town, there's question as to whether Ball will have competition. Also, Ball is coming off offseason knee surgery.
Despite all of these issues, Ball is special. He's a better finisher than you'd expect for a guy with a famously poor jump shot, and that should play well on this team. Plus, Ball will still be the best playmaker on the team, and his rebounding and defense will be much appreciated on a Lakers team likely to play a lot of small ball.