June 29, 2020, 7:24 pm
In this series, we’ll be looking back on the fantasy season to see how and why over- and under-performers managed to juke out fantasy GMs during draft season. Player rankings fluctuate every season, but the batch of players we’ll be looking at bucked convention and gave us plenty to think about.
Marc Gasol’s 2018-19 fantasy season was one to be tolerated. The big man finished 46th/50th in terms of per-game value for 8- and 9-cat leagues. Gasol was the 31st/32nd ranked player in fantasy through the first 53 games of the season and plummeted to 90th/96th over his final 26 games following a trade to Toronto. It wasn’t the great ending that fantasy GMs hoped for from an early-round pick and perennial stud, but Gasol got a pass for the waves of change that crashed down upon him in early February.
Even as Gasol’s fantasy game suffered, it was clear that his skills made the Raptors a far more deadly team on either end of the floor. During Toronto’s run to the title, Gasol still flashed the wide variety of abilities that made him a renowned fantasy asset and vital on-court contributor. Though he averaged just 30.2 minutes per contest in the postseason, down from the 33.7 he received in Memphis, Gasol kept the money stats flowing by averaging 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks while hitting a cool 38.2% of his 3-pointers. Although Big Spain was adjusting to playing a supporting role on a deep and talented roster, the building blocks of his fantasy value remained.
If nothing else, it was a reminder that Gasol was a necessary part of the equation for Toronto. He played just 24.9 minutes per game in 26 regular season games with the Raptors, and it was reassuring to see that Gasol’s game hadn’t eroded – only his minutes fell as the team worked to fit him into their system.
With some more time to jell in Toronto and Kawhi Leonard’s departure reshuffling the pecking order, the opportunity was there for Gasol to return to early-round fantasy heights this season. It just hasn’t happened.
Though Gasol has been limited to 35 games because of some hamstring troubles, his statistical output hasn’t rebounded, even with an increase in minutes over last year’s regular season run with the Raptors. Here are some of Gasol’s key fantasy numbers over the last two seasons, split into relevant time buckets:
The most obvious area of decline is scoring, which is directly tied to Gasol’s dips in usage and field goal attempts. This season, Gasol ranks 15th out of 18 Raptors in usage, and Leonard’s vacated 30.3 usage has simply been soaked up by the rest of the team – OG Anunoby is the only regular whose usage has also shrunk from last season, while Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have had big jumps.
His shooting percentage is also terrible for a center, though he’s been below .500 every season since 2011-12 and under .450 in three out of four campaigns since introducing the three ball to his repertoire. That should be the expectation going forward given his shot profile, but at this point the volume of shots is low enough that subpar efficiency isn’t the main factor here.
It would be easy to say that Gasol came into the year on low battery after both the Raptors and the Spanish national team took home gold. Those minutes and accompanying parade festivities, essentially back-to-back, will take a toll on a 35-year-old. But Gasol hasn’t looked winded – he just no longer looks like the Gasol that the fantasy community has grown accustomed to.
Ultimately, a lot of his slide down the fantasy rankings can be explained by his role. The expected return to offensive prominence sans Kawhi simply hasn’t happened despite the additional opportunity. Gasol averages more assists than 2-point attempts.
As for the reason why Gasol isn’t taking advantage of those extra shots, as strange as it is to say, the Raptors simply don’t need him to do anything differently than he is right now. It’s said that a rising tide floats all boats, and Gasol is the tide that lifts Toronto to its greatest heights.
When Gasol is on the floor, the Raptors have a collective net rating of plus-10.4. When he’s off, it sinks to plus-4.1. That differential is second amongst rotation regulars, trailing only Pascal Siakam. When Gasol shares the floor with Toronto’s other four usual starters (Siakam, Lowry, VanVleet and Anunoby), the team boasts a plus-11.7 net rating. That is the team’s most common five-man lineup, and with good reason. Their second-most frequently used lineup features those same four, only with Serge Ibaka in place of Gasol. That group’s net rating is minus-5.5. Number after number points to Gasol’s importance to his teammates; nearly everyone performs better with him than without him, across a wide variety metrics.
More broadly, Gasol has emerged as a truly unique fantasy player. Every draft season, GMs are advised to focus on the real money stats and avoid the siren song of gaudy scoring numbers that amount to empty fantasy calories. In this case, we have the opposite, where Gasol’s output of steals, blocks and 3-pointers has remained consistently helpful while his points have tanked.
Gasol has managed to thread the needle in becoming a team pillar who also requires zero attention. His fingerprints are all over the game but no action is ever forced. His influence on the Raptors is outsized, but also the rare sort where statistical production isn’t guaranteed. His vision and smarts do the heavy lifting, opening everything up for his teammates.
Should Gasol sign elsewhere this offseason, he’ll make for a tough evaluation in fantasy circles. Those primary scoring tricks might still be in the bag, but at this point in his career it may be widely accepted that the best version of Gasol is the one we’ve seen in Toronto; a player who exerts his will defensively and makes the right play to generate open shots on the other end even if it doesn’t register in the box score. Whether a new team would ask him to become a main option again remains to be seen, but the rest of Gasol’s game remains steady enough that the right setting could send him rocketing back up towards the top-50. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, Gasol remains a worthwhile fantasy asset, but it appears that he’s no longer the player that he was once drafted to be. He has assumed a job description that keeps him in the statistical background despite his irreplaceable play.
After emerging as the ultimate role player on a championship run, perhaps it was premature to expect Nick Nurse to fix something that wasn’t ever broken. This may be what Gasol looks like on competitive teams from now on, and while fantasy players know he’s capable of more, it’s the sort of work that will help Gasol continue to age gracefully as his fantastic career winds down. In the end, maybe it’s not that anything in particular went wrong with Gasol’s season, but rather that fantasy GMs miscalculated the type of player Gasol would be going forward.
July 9, 2020, 10:05 pmNikola JokicC, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic posted his fourth straight elite fantasy season and his best season to date, finishing as the 9th best option in 9-category formats.
Jokic is as reliable as they come with another season of huge popcorn numbers. He scored 20.2 points (a career-high) to go with 10.2 boards and 6.9 assists on a strong 52.8% shooting from the floor and 81.3% from the line. The cash counter output also maintained from past seasons, with 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.1 triples. At this point, Jokic's best asset is his consistency. This is what we've grown to expect from him as someone who always shows up to work. He played every game for the Nuggets this season and has missed just 20 games total in his five-year career. As long as he is healthy, he's money in the bank.
July 9, 2020, 9:57 pmJamal MurrayPG, Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray took a nice step forward in his fourth NBA campaign and approached top-50 value in 9-category leagues due to a large increase in shooting efficiency.
Murray was limited to 55 games due to a sprained left ankle but performed well when he was on the court. The popcorn numbers were similar to his 2018-19 season, with 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 3-pointers in 32.8 minutes. The 25 spot jump to the 52nd player in 9-category format was directly tied to a 1.8% improvement to 45.5% from the floor and a 4.5% improvement to 89.3% from the charity stripe. If he can continue to improve his passing and game management, he can hop into the top-50 with ease going forward.
July 9, 2020, 9:46 pmPaul MillsapPF, Denver Nuggets
Paul Millsap maintained his typical per-minute production, finishing as the 97th player in 9-category formats in just 24.4 minutes per game.
Millsap's minute decline over the past three seasons in Denver have muted the upside he enjoyed during his heyday in Atlanta. In 44 games and a few nagging injuries including a left knee contusion and a sprained right ankle, he put up 12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks on good percentages (48.6 from the floor and a career-high 83.3% from the free throw line). Millsap should continue to be a good per-minute producer even if he moves on to a new destination for 2021, but expect the minutes to be the real sticking point as he enters his age 35 season.
July 9, 2020, 9:38 pmMason PlumleeC, Denver Nuggets
Mason Plumlee slogged his way to an unimpressive 2019-20 season, finishing well outside the top-250 in 9-category formats and averaging 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds without much else worth noting.
On top of unexciting popcorn numbers, Plumlee shot an abysmal 53.6% from the charity stripe. He was a volume play only who didn't really provide anything exciting in limited minutes. Playing behind Nikola Jokic was always going to limit Plumlee's production and keep him even out of streaming range.
July 9, 2020, 9:20 pmMonte MorrisPG, Denver Nuggets
Monte Morris compiled top-150 value in 9-category formats as the primary backup option to Jamal Murray during the 2019-20 season.
Morris had a strong season splitting time between backup point guard and fill-in starter when Jamal Murray went down with a sprained ankle. Morris enjoyed top-100 value during Murray's absence and put together a solid line of 8.4 points, 3.5 assists and 0.8 steals in 21.4 minutes. It was a solid campaign on compiled volume, but it was a step back from a top-100 season in 2018-19 where he got three more minutes per contest and made good for two more points with heightened efficiency. Going forward, Morris should be a solid deep-league point guard who can provide assists cheaply without any major weaknesses.
July 9, 2020, 9:10 pmTorrey CraigSG, Denver Nuggets
Torrey Craig played serviceable streamer minutes when called upon for the Nuggets and was an underappreciated starter at various points for a good Nuggets team.
Craig is an unheralded player who is one of the prime examples of the "better in real life" syndrome. He won't wow anyone on the stat sheet and therefore he's hard to love in fantasy basketball. His 5.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.7 triples on decent shooting from the floor was good for just 297th in 9-category formats. He did have good stretches and was an acceptable daily play on the right night, but getting into an everyday streamer role is tough in a crowded wing situation in Denver.
July 9, 2020, 8:46 pmKeita Bates-DiopSF, Denver Nuggets
Keita Bates-Diop played sparingly for the Nuggets in 2019 as one of the many pieces involved in the four-team deadline trade and finished on the fringes of the top-300 for fantasy purposes.
Bates-Diop got shuffled into the deck in a crowded Nuggets organization. He was limited to two games with his new club and just 9.5 minutes when he did appear. He spent time in the G-League after joining the Nuggets and on the season he appeared in 39 games, mainly as an injury replacement, and provided 17.1 minutes of 6.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 defensive counters, 0.8 triples and some needed energy. Bates-Diop has some potential in the right situation to be a streamer and we'll have to see whether he makes an impact during the NBA restart and if he will be able to crack the rotation in the upcoming season as well.
July 9, 2020, 8:16 pmNoah VonlehPF, Denver Nuggets
Noah Vonleh mainly rode the bench for the Nuggets, appearing in only four games after being acquired at the deadline in the large four-team trade that sent Malik Beasley to the Timberwolves.
Vonleh had a decent season in New York in 2018-19 as a perfectly reasonable streamer just outside the top-150. In 33 games this season split between Minnesota and Denver, he averaged 3.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.5 defensive counters in 11 minutes per game. The Nuggets aren't the team to be on to try to get depth minutes in a crowded rotation so if there's any hope for Vonleh to be a streamer again, it'll be on a different team.
July 9, 2020, 8:06 pmPJ DozierPG, Denver Nuggets
PJ Dozier had a forgettable stint in Denver, with 21 mostly lackluster appearances, but will be at the end of the bench during the Nuggets' restart campaign on a full NBA deal.
Dozier played just 11.1 minutes per contest while shuttling back and forth between the NBA and the G-League. In 21 games, he scored 4.1 points and added 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists with minimal contributions elsewhere. The outlook for Dozier on this team are less than sunny unless there's an injury crisis in front of him. Otherwise, he'll be off fantasy radars as he was in this abbreviated stint outside the top-400.
July 9, 2020, 8:03 pmMichael Porter Jr.PF, Denver Nuggets
Michael Porter Jr. averaged 7.5 points, 0.8 3s, .4.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks on .495 shooting in 48 games for 263/249 value in 8/9-cat leagues.
Porter Jr. had some huge games and amazing highlight reel stretches which had fantasy owners clamoring to scoop him on the waiver wire several times this season. The game tape shows a rookie who is extremely raw, but has an uncanny knack for making plays on both ends of the floor. It's way too hard to trust MPJ given his injury history (hip injury in college and back surgery last year), but he'll be a juicy "sleeper" pick next year for all of the reasons above. For now, it's too hard to peg his actual value with all the moving parts the Nuggets have.