Are players like Tatum and Griffin fantasy busts?

After an impressive rookie campaign, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum hasn't had a true breakout this season. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Going into every draft season, I make my ESPN-mandated list of probable busts.

I make my choices based on the players I feel will return the lowest investment on their ADPs. Players I choose always tend to hail from an opposing fantasy mindset to my own.

These are players who prize volume over efficiency. Players that may force you to punt a category. Players that tend to be points-first types of NBA players.

At the same time, I have a responsibility to all readers. And I play in multiple leagues. So, I force myself to select players I would never choose if i played in only one league. Players I figure to be overrated. Players I figure to be busts.

I take these players to force myself to follow them. Because I feel like my job is to look at team building from different viewpoints.

Because believe it or not, I want to be proven wrong. Because if I'm wrong, then I can learn about a new statistical development. (And I can grow, rather than be stuck to graying paradigms.)

Now I want to reexamine my preseason bust list by position ... and see if I was right or wrong.

PG: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

ADP: 13.7
Player Rater: 28
Key fantasy stats: 16.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 8.2 APG, 0.0 3PG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 58.3 FG%, 57.1 FT%
Key advanced stats: 59.5 TS%, 23.7 USG, 21.57 PER

No player excites me more in terms of untapped fantasy potential than Simmons. Iron out that shot ... and he's a top-five fantasy player. Simmons is a transformational fantasy talent. He forces you to alter your perception of what's statistically possible per his given position of point guard.

But, when you regard Simmons' numbers relative to other point guards? He has to be viewed as a relative disappointment ... especially when you factor in his high second-round ADP.

If you're taking Simmons at 13th overall to run your imaginary point? His punt-worthy free throw production and non-existent 3-point production make him a liability at the 1.

He's elite -- second only to Westbrook -- as a rebounding point guard. He's elite in assists. But again, relative to his ADP, he's a disappointment as a high-second-round point guard. Rostering Simmons as your lead PG forces you to run out a stretch-4 or stretch-5 to make up for his cratering from beyond the arc.

But Simmons is a player who bends perception. He sports a unique positional handle (PG/PF). So, I personally prefer to view Simmons as a second-round power forward with first-round upside.

If you're starting Simmons at power forward, alongside a mid-round PG like a Mike Conley, Simmons' atypical production becomes a huge plus.

Until Simmons discovers a shot outside of 0-10 feet, he's either a mid-round PG who rebounds very well ... or an early-round PF with mega-elite assists. Because assists are scarcer than rebounds, I'll roster Simmons as a PF.

SG: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
ADP: 48.4
Player Rater: 30
Key fantasy stats: 21.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.8 3PG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 45.6 FG%, 80.2 FT%
Key advanced stats: 55.0 TS%, 25.7 USG, 16.42 PER

I normally never bet against a near-elite player in a contract year. But I felt strongly enough about Thompson to list him as my top bust this past preseason...back when he projected as a second-to-third-round fantasy pick.

My exact preseason quote: "Just don't be surprised that come next April, he'll only deliver 3rd-to-4th round value against the high ADP." After I wrote that, Thompson's ADP must have crashed through the floorboards, because he finished with only a fifth-round ADP.

Now, against a 48.4 ADP, Thompson is delivering a two-round positive return on managers' draft investment. So, in terms of tabbing Thompson a bust? I was wrong.

Here's the thing: relative to when I was making my prediction...I wasn't wrong. Referring to my preseason quote, Thompson is delivering late-third-round production. Because he's struggling where I worried he would struggle: true shooting percentage. In terms of TS%, Thompson is on pace for his worst season since 2012.

Players in contract years tend to galvanize their volume-based numbers at the expense of efficiency. I was worried Thompson would take more shots less efficiently. And there, I've been right: Thompson is taking a career high 18.8 field goal attempts per game. And he's shooting a career low 36.6% from downtown. He's also hitting a relatively low 80.2% of his free throw attempts...also near a career low.

Because Thompson is only a little better than replacement-level in rebounds, steals and blocks, Thompson requires breakthrough averages in 3s and true shooting percentage to be elite.

His volume has been good enough to put him at 30 overall on the Player Rater. But with DeMarcus Cousins about to make his season debut, the other Warriors' shot volume will decrease.

At the same time, Thompson is due for some bounceback in terms of his shooting efficiency. He's about five percentage points behind the 59.8 TS% he posted in 2017-18. I'd guess the regression in shot volume will be cancelled out by some progression in TS%.

In the end? Thompson should provide solid third-round value. Which would put him about where I pegged him back in October.

SF: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
ADP: 40.7
Player Rater: 43
Key Fantasy Stats: 16.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 3PG, 1.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 45.1 FG%, 84.1 FT%
Key Advanced Stats: 55.7 TS%, 22.0 USG, 16.19 PER

I had Tatum tabbed as a bust due to two conditions: the return of Gordon Hayward and the irrationality of Celtics fans.

I love Tatum long term. He possesses third-round upside. But Boston's depth (and coach Brad Stevens' rotation) is going to kneecap his immediate production. Don't forget: There's always at least one Celtics exceptionalist in every fantasy league, which means there's always going to be at least one other manager who is going to reach for Tatum.

As I'm sure you know ... Boston has had some season-long issues ironing out its rotation.

I'd argue the best version of Boston's rotation features Tatum playing 32-34 MPG and taking 15-18 shots per game, as opposed to the 31.1 MPG and 13.5 FGA he's averaged so far this season. But Tatum is good enough (at age 20) to be a solid second offensive option.

Boston needs to tap its upside to compete with Milwaukee and Toronto. Tatum and Jaylen Brown represent that upside.

More than anything, from a fantasy perspective, Tatum requires consistent minutes. He should be getting 32-34 minutes without fail. I'd argue his regression in shooting efficiency (55.7 TS% vs. 58.6 TS% in 2017-18) can be traced to a lack of reliable minutes.

Two weeks ago, I'd have tabbed Tatum a prime buy-low candidate ... but now he's starting to actually play 32-34 MPG and taking 15-18 shots per game regularly. If Tatum posts those averages from here on out, he becomes a Round 3-4 player.

PF: Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
ADP: 34.9
Player Rater: 25
Key Fantasy Stats: 25.4 PPG, 8.2 PG, 5.2 APG, 2.4 3PG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 47.7 FG%, 75.9 FT%
Key Advanced Stats: 59.3 TS%, 30.1 USG, 21.17 PER

Griffin makes my bust list every season. (I was just reviewing my busts from October 2012. They were: Griffin, Eric Gordon, Steve Nash, Danilo Gallinari and Dwight Howard.)

I put Griffin on my annual bust list for two reasons: lack of durability and lack of defensive stats.

Griffin hasn't played more than 67 games since 2013-14. He hasn't averaged more than 1.4 steals+blocks since 2013-14.

But he's played 40 out of 43 games in 2018-19. And despite his continuing shortcomings on the defensive end ... he's having a career campaign in points (25.4 PPG), 3-pointers (2.4 3PG) and true shooting percentage (59.3 TS%).

Griffin is 25th on the Player Rater. But in terms of fantasy impact, I think he's even been a bit better. The atypical production in 3s and assists push Griffin into my personal top 20.

Griffin's point-forward skill set is reaching full apex in Detroit. His rebounding may take a hit, but everywhere else, Griffin is maximizing his fantasy potential.

His replacement-level free throw production (75.9 FT% across 7.6 FTA) will keep him out of the top 15, but as long as Griffin is healthy? If Griffin plays 75-plus games? This is as good as he will ever get.

C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
ADP: 15.7
Player Rater: 55
Key fantasy stats: 16.8 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.1 3PG, 1.6 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 49.9 FG%, 52.4 FT%
Key advanced stats: 51.5 TS%, 23.2 USG, 20.34 PER

What made Drummond special last year? Mega-elite rebounding, mega-elite steals+blocks, atypically great assist production, and an improved free throw percentage.

What's made Drummond a disappointment this season? A regression in assists and free throw percentage.

The divot in assists can be directly attributed to Griffin. Last season, Drummond's APG dropped by nearly 2.0 per game after Griffin's arrival. (Most replacement-level fantasy managers won't get upset regarding Drummond's sudden distribution regression. Before last season, Drummond had never averaged more than 1.1 dimes per game.)

But 2017-18 Drummond's pre-Griffin assists average was a special area of fantasy interest ... and I was sad to see them go. The list of players in today's NBA capable of averaging 15.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists ends at Drummond.

The regression in free throw percentage is another disappointing stat.

Drummond had progressed from all-time-worst levels of free throw production (38.6 FT% in 2016-17) to something resembling ballpark acceptable (60.4 FT% in 2017-18), which makes this season's slide back to a 52.4 FT% all the more frustrating. (I wasn't buying the preseason palaver tabbing Drummond as a future stretch-5, but I wasn't counting on a near ten-point divot in free throw percentage.)

Overall? What I see is a player trying to expand his offensive range ... and failing.

In 2017-18, 65.9% of Drummond's shot attempts came from 0-3 feet. The percentage of those attempts has fallen to 58.0% in 2018-19. At the same time, Drummond's attempts from 3-10 feet have increased. But he's hitting only an anemic 35.9% of those attempts. He's also taken a career-high 30 3-point attempts ... but he's hit only four of them (good for a 13.3 3FG%).

Again: expanding ... and failing.

The result: His field goal percentage has dropped from 52.9% to 49.9%. And his TS% has fallen from 55.5% to 51.5%.

In fantasy terms, the shortfalls in true shooting percentage and assists per game have proved impossible for Drummond to overcome.