Fantasy basketball roundtable: Biggest early-season surprises, draft-day redos and best preseason hunches

Defenders haven't been able to slow down Jimmy Butler so far this season. AP Photo/Brandon Wade

We are merely two weeks into the fantasy basketball season, but already it's easy to identify some draft-day hits and misses.

Our team of fantasy experts -- Eric Karabell, Andre Snelllings, Eric Moody, Jim McCormick and John Cregan -- got together to discuss some of the things that have stuck out to them in the early going.

Which players are your biggest surprises from the opening weeks of the season?

Karabell: Charlotte's Miles Bridges has to top the list. We knew he was more than just a flashy dunker, but to show legit signs he can double his scoring average long-term is quite impressive. Bridges is hitting many 3-pointers but his overall field goal percentage is just like last season. How did we miss on this? Well, chances are the Hornets did not expect this either, so do not feel too bad. Bridges may settle in around 20.0 PPG and 7.0 RPG but with the steals, the 3-pointers and excellent shooting, that is a top-20 option in fantasy, and I doubt anyone expected that.

McCormick: It's gotta be Miles Bridges and Cole Anthony. Bridges is currently second on the Player Rater and has taken a relatively unexpected leap to statistical star for Charlotte. Even as he's settled a bit as a scorer, Bridges brings elite defensive rates and relentless rebounding to the floor most nights. Anthony, meanwhile, has recently become a go-to scorer for the Magic and is among the best rebounding guards in the league through two weeks. I admittedly didn't actively pursue either in drafts this season, but there are elements to both production profiles that signal their respective leaps are somewhat real. If these ones are too obvious, how about Kyle Kuzma becoming a nightly double-double for the Wizards? The rebounding chances and nature of the roster suggest Kuzma could really be a special source of rebounds. Because, you know, we all think of Dennis Rodman when we hear Kuzma's name.

Moody: Taking into account Al Horford's age and the youth of the Boston Celtics, his per game averages of 30.3 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 3.8 BPG are impressive. Robert Williams III has also flourished on the court alongside Horford. Right now, the 35 year old Horford is a top-20 player in category formats and a terrific value when you consider his average draft position (110.6).

Cregan: There are a few I could mention as pleasant surprises: Horford, Harrison Barnes, CJ McCollum. But I'm pleasantly floored by the sudden acceleration of Ja Morant from top-40 riser into the top-10 in both Points and Roto formats. When a player arrives in full like Morant, it's no mirage. This doesn't tend to be the result of a few hot games, because Morant's boost is broad-based: volume, efficiency, minutes and usage.

Snellings: The biggest surprises for me so far have been Al Horford and Miles Bridges. I expected both players to be improved this season, but they currently rank 13th and 14th in fantasy points per game. Bridges has always been an elite athlete, but he's married skill to that athleticism and catapulted up the ranks. In Horford's case, he had been a top-50 producer in his last stint with the Celtics a few years back, but had struggled with poor fit with the 76ers and was out of place as a veteran on the rebuilding Thunder last season. When he returned to the Celtics and played himself into the starting line-up, I thought he could be a diminished version of what he'd been before with top-50 as his best case scenario. I hadn't seen top-15 as on the table.

If you could do your draft all over again, what is the one thing you would do differently?

McCormick: I would have been more open to taking Derrick White. The opportunity rates for White are finally strong in San Antonio and perhaps I let confirmation bias of overdrafting him last season get in the way of what was clearly a pretty enticing role on this thin Spurs roster. With such a fun block rate and real equity as a playmaker in the San Antonio offense, White will almost certainly outperform, or at least deliver, on his draft price. If not this, then I wish I'd had believed my eyes more with Scottie Barnes in the preseason; he was dynamic in creating for himself and others in the exhibition season and that's entirely translated thus far.

Cregan: I would drafted Josh Giddey in every league, rather than only two. Oklahoma City is the land of fantasy opportunity. Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, all a player needs to jump up the fantasy radar is a steady diet of minutes. I made Giddey an endgame pick whenever I could, but I should have started targeting him around round 10. Oh, and I would have filtered the Michael Porter Jr. hype with a bit more intensity.

Karabell: You mean other than draft Miles Bridges by Round 5, of course. Well, I tend to avoid rookies early in drafts but it sure looks as if Cleveland's Evan Mobley is mature enough to keep aiding fantasy managers in typical big-man categories, while shooting well and adding steals. Sure, there will be some off-nights, but he and Jarrett Allen can coexist. Speaking of rookies, I still think Houston's Jalen Green has a bright future, but for his first season, it may include him torching everyone's field goal percentage more than we can deal with, which is a problem.

Snellings: I would lean into my inkling that the value early on was in the frontcourt and not the backcourt. My reasoning at the time was that quality frontcourt players are more scarce this season than pure guards, so when in-doubt one should lean frontcourt. The reality so far has gone even further. Perhaps it's because of the rule changes on how fouls are being called, but the dominant perimeter volume scorers are all off to slower starts. If you look at the position eligibilities of the top players in fantasy thus far:

*The top-5 fantasy scorers on a FP/G basis have either forward or center eligibility
*Nine of the top-11
*15 of the top 21

While I still expect players like James Harden, Luka Doncic, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard to eventually find their levels, the way players like Paul George or Jimmy Butler are playing would make me more comfortable to have chosen them instead.

Moody: Jimmy Butler is a player I would actively pursue. His play on the court has been outstanding to start this season. I had some concerns that Butler's supporting cast wouldn't be good for his fantasy value along with his age (32) since he missed 20 games last season. He's averaged 34.3 MPG, 25.3 PPG, 0.5 3PM, 7.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.8 SPG, and 0.3 BPG thus far.

What was your best preseason hunch that appears to be panning out just as you envisioned?

Moody: Not hesitating to select Anthony Davis at his ADP (20.1). Last season, he played only 36 games and finished 28th on a per-game basis, so he burned many fantasy managers. For a player like Davis, a short turnaround after a championship wasn't ideal. Davis is performing well this season and contributes in multiple statistical categories, as he always has.

Cregan: In terms of the longview, this is all extremely health-dependent, but targeting Jimmy Butler in the late second round is panning out nicely so far. I went for Butler and ignored the historical injury red flags for two reasons: his underrated late-career spike in efficiency (PER since 2018-19: 19.8, 23.6, 26.5, 30.3) and the anecdotal hunch that this is an "all-in" season for the Heat. I hate playing hunches with top-20 picks, but the Heat's moves headed into this campaign smacked of a go-for-it mindset. And with players who play with a certain reckless abandon, the players who tend to get to hurt more than others? I've found they tend to pace themselves a bit more in those dynamics. So I've got Butler down to play 70-72 games, which would give him early-second-round upside.

Snellings: That Dejounte Murray would step up into the offensive void left by the late-season departure of LaMarcus Aldridge and the offseason trade of DeMar DeRozan, and catapult up into the top-20 fantasy producers in the league. Check Murray's numbers last season, what I projected for him, and his actual stats for this season:

Last season: 15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 5.4 APG, 0.9 3PG
Projections: 18.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.2 3PG
This season: 17.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 8.4 APG, 1.4 3PG

So far, I've slightly over-estimated his scoring increase at the expense of his actual improvement as a distributor, but the overall package has been very similar to expectations. Which has led to Murray producing at top-2 round value.

McCormick: Sticking with Toronto, it's the ascent of OG Anunoby as a valuable 3-and-D contributor. On a Raptors roster ready to feature Anunoby as a wing scorer, he's now above 20.0 PPG with strong rebounding and defensive metrics to complement a strong fantasy profile. I had envisioned that Anunoby would finally pay off the years of hype he's earned from fantasy nerds, and this is looking like the season where his talent and production marry.

Karabell: That Knicks star Julius Randle would continue to pile on the assists despite the addition of actual point guard Kemba Walker. Let us be fair: Walker appears healthy and is shooting well, hitting a ton of 3-pointers and he has been active defensively with the steals, but this offense still runs through Randle. No other Knick, including Walker, is close to averaging even four assists per game. Randle should not have come at any draft-day discount.