The NBA will announce the starters and captains for the 2017-18 All-Star Game on Thursday. And as we pass beyond the midway point of the season, it’s also time for our fantasy experts to recognize the best — and worst — they’ve seen in Fantasyland so far.
Who reigns supreme as the midseason fantasy MVP? How about the biggest bust, biggest surprise and top rookie?
Our experts cast their votes and break down the most fun fantasy player to own, their worst draft pick and a player on the rise for the second half.
Waiver-wire pickup of the season
Rookie of the year
Joe Kaiser: Ben Simmons
André Snellings: Ben Simmons
Jim McCormick: Ben Simmons
Eric Karabell: Ben Simmons
Kyle Soppe: Donovan Mitchell
Most improved player
Joe Kaiser: Lou Williams
André Snellings: Victor Oladipo
Jim McCormick: Victor Oladipo
Eric Karabell: Victor Oladipo
Kyle Soppe: Victor Oladipo
Most fun player to roster
Joe Kaiser: Cousins. How many players in the league are capable of scoring 40 points? OK, now how many of those players could also grab 20 rebounds? From that list, how many could also make 5 3-pointers? There should be only a handful left to choose from. From that list, how many could also dish out eight assists? And from what’s left, how many could also block five shots and swipe five steals in a game? At the end of the day, Cousins is the only player who can do all these things. LeBron and Kevin Durant wouldn’t get to 20 rebounds. Neither would James Harden or Stephen Curry. Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis don’t shoot enough 3s. Karl-Anthony Towns doesn’t block or steal enough. The list really starts and ends with Cousins, which is why it’s so fun to have him on your fantasy team!
André Snellings: Joel Embiid has been the most fun player to have on my teams thus far, because I drafted him in almost every league below cost due to his injury risk. That he’s played most of the season at such a high rate has been great, and both his game and personality make him fun to pull for. Of course, if he gets injured moving forward, he won’t be nearly as much fun to have on my teams at that point!
Jim McCormick: Evans has been putting up LeBron-esque lines as the point forward in Memphis. Somewhat like how Williams has enjoyed a rewarding spike in usage and opportunity rates (touches, drives and shooting volume) on a decimated Clippers backcourt, Evans has consumed a career-high usage rate (28.3 percent) and is just behind Chris Paul and just ahead of Curry at 15th in the NBA in touches per game over his past 15 games. Some might deem Evans’ surge in shooting efficiency as an outlier, but he’s actually hit 38.9 percent of his 3-point attempts in 105 games, dating to the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Evans is slashing for 19.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.8 APG and 2.2 3PG, a feat that only 11 other players have sustained over a full season, per Basketball Reference. Even though it might make sense to move Evans to maximize his value before the trade deadline could augment his role, he’s been incredibly fun to roster to date.
Eric Karabell: Cousins was a fantasy star in Sacramento and somehow, despite joining a new team already with a big man as skilled as DeMarcus, his numbers haven’t dropped. They’ve improved! I’ve rostered Cousins in a dynasty league for years and was concerned he’d slip to something like Marc Gasol numbers in New Orleans, numbers that are still good, but not top-10 worthy. But Cousins doesn’t have bad games! He fills the box score across the board and is fun to watch, too, because he’s pretty much unstoppable. LeBron ranks better on the Player Rater, and perhaps it will end up that way, but to get all these assists and 3-pointers and blocks and everything, with no drop in field goal percentage, is a blast.
Kyle Soppe: Cousins. He has been my answer to this question in the past and likely will be moving forward … you just never know. So far this season, he has had consecutive games with 10-plus 3PA, a four-day stretch during which he grabbed 53 rebounds, a pair of games during which he had five blocks, and a trio of games with at least five steals in each. That’s not to say there isn’t a bad side to this enigma (at least six turnovers in five different games within a 12-day period), but for pure entertainment value, no one does it better.
My worst draft pick
Joe Kaiser: Myles Turner‘s hype train was chugging loudly leading up to the fantasy draft this season, and it’s perfectly understandable why that was the case. He proved to be a durable shot-blocking presence last season in his second year in the league while adding points, rebounds, steals and even some 3-pointers to the cause. Year 3 was supposed to be the season when he took another step forward. Instead, he has played 2.2 fewer minutes per game and has seen his scoring, rebounding and steal numbers all take a fall. He also has missed 11 games already after missing only one last season, and a right elbow injury is expected to keep him out for at least three more games. Most who drafted Turner, like I did, expected second-round type of production out of the Pacers’ young big man. Instead, he has played more like a mid-round pick, a slightly better version of Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, who blocks more shots but makes fewer 3s.
André Snellings: My worst draft pick so far has probably been Turner, because he’s just had so much trouble staying healthy. I took him in the upper third round in a roto league and thought I was getting value, but between the time away and the underwhelming play when healthy, he’s been a drag on that squad.
Jim McCormick: Employing a gem from the DFS lexicon, I’m “overweight” on Julius Randle this season. Which is to say, I have too many shares of him, given the risks that I dismissed in the offseason. Namely, the fact that the Lakers are approaching a major roster transition this coming offseason, and Randle doesn’t appear in the team’s long-term plans. Randle remains a talented rebounder and passer for his position, but I think this was a case of me getting too enamored with a player’s upside without properly weighing the decipherable risks. He’s rounded into form a bit after a slow start to the season, but it might not be until Randle’s next destination that he can realize his fantasy potential.
Eric Karabell: Turner wasn’t supposed to get hurt all the time and regress statistically as he approached age 22. He was supposed to be a huge fantasy star, a potential top-10 option on the Player Rater. Last season, Turner was in the top 20. Then the Pacers sent their top scorers packing, and their center should have blossomed. He hasn’t. Turner is barely top 75 on the Player Rater. There’s half a season to go, and things could change, but this is a case of many in the fantasy world expecting a young player to really emerge once presented with opportunity, and we might have to wait until the fall of 2018 or longer. I don’t recall investing in Leonard, Gobert or Gordon Hayward anywhere, so Turner gets my nod.
Kyle Soppe: Gorgui Dieng. I was hopeful that despite the additions made this offseason, the T-Wolves would give Dieng the opportunity to essentially be what Taj Gibson has been for them this season: the “other” guy in a loaded offense who manages to produce sneaky-viable fantasy numbers. It’s his birthday this week, so I don’t want to rain on his parade too much, but I’m more than a foot shorter with my glory days of high school hoops well in the past … and yet I’m only one double-double away from matching his season total.
A player who will exceed most people’s expectations in the second half
Joe Kaiser: Nikola Vucevic. It’s very easy to forget about or overlook Vucevic, especially as he’s recovering from a broken left hand and expected to be out another three to five weeks. In Vucevic, though, you have a proven scorer (17.4 PPG) and rebounder (9.3 RPG) who has averaged highs in both assists (3.3) and 3PG (1.4) in 33 games this season while also recording 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. This is a top-20 fantasy player who also makes his free throws — 82.1 percent this season — and I expect similar production once he returns to the lineup sometime next month. Now would be a great time to think about trading for the Magic’s star big man so you can reap the rewards when it matters most.
André Snellings: I’ll go with Isaiah Thomas here. His slow return from injury seems to have soured many people on his upside, but from what I’ve seen of how he operates on the court, I think he still has the upside to be solidly more productive by season’s end than Kyrie Irving ever was in Cleveland. He’s comfortable as a volume scorer and seems able to get easy and makeable shots playing off LeBron — he just has to knock them down.
Jim McCormick: Many NBA pundits and fans likely don’t properly appreciate how well Eric Bledsoe has played in Milwaukee this season. The Bucks are sort of a one-note narrative this season, as it’s all about Antetokounmpo’s meteoric rise to superstardom. I’m not sure the fantasy market recognizes Bledsoe’s amazing steals rate (2.1 SPG) places him behind only Paul George in added value in larceny on the Player Rater. Bledsoe is a top-40 fantasy contributor by averages on the Player Rater with production that appears entirely sustainable. The gifted playmaker could take his game to another level if the team can acquire a gifted rim runner like DeAndre Jordan to complement him in the pick-and-roll. Either way, I think Bledsoe has and could continue to exceed expectations with the Bucks.
Eric Karabell: John Collins gets a bit lost in this fantastic class of rookies because he’s barely scoring double-digits for the season and his team is deliberately awful, but he’s also not getting many minutes. That figures to change soon. The Hawks should be shedding their rotation of anything old and remotely valuable, and Collins, the Wake Forest product who is struggling to add minutes mostly because of foul trouble, will gain value. Collins should see the opportunity to average at least 14 points and seven rebounds a night, with the occasional blocked shot, so look for him to show up on more rosters soon.
Kyle Soppe: I’m doubling down on D’Angelo Russell. I talked him up in a big way during the preseason, and what has changed? Sure, he’s been injured, and Spencer Dinwiddie has performed admirably, but you’re looking at a high-usage player in an offense that is still operating at the fifth-highest pace in the league. Jrue Holiday has been great this season, and I don’t think it’s crazy to believe that Russell could produce similar numbers once he is firing on all cylinders.