Unlike in fantasy football, a first-round fantasy basketball pick gone awry will rarely sink your roster. Even for early-season underachievers like Anthony Davis and Chris Paul, you’re still getting enough production out of them (when healthy) to field a competitive roster. Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson and Jeremy Hill owners wish they could say the same.
Like fantasy football, though, mid-round picks are what often make or break a championship contender. If you hit big on a few of them and your roster is suddenly loaded with top 50 talent, you should have little trouble cruising to a playoff spot. Through the early portion of the 2015-16 campaign, there’s been no shortage of draft-day steals rising to the surface, a few of which we’ll touch on below.
Here, we’ll highlight three players who are vastly outperforming their preseason expectations (based on Expert Consensus Rankings and Average Draft Position) and three players whose fantasy stock is plummeting, whether based on playing time or dismal performances. You shouldn’t necessarily sell high on the rising players or buy low on the falling players; instead, use this to recalibrate your expectations for all of them moving forward.
Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
Through the first few weeks of the 2015-16 season, Danilo Gallinari’s fantasy owners have been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride. One night, he’ll labor his way to eight points on 2-of-12 shooting, four rebounds and two assists; the next, he’ll erupt for 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting, eight boards, eight assists and five treys. Over his past seven games, he’s topped the 25-point plateau four times, but he finished with a single-digit point total in the other three contests.
Assuming Gallinari is able to stay healthy, fantasy owners will simply have to deal with the ups and downs, as he’s currently ranked 29th on ESPN’s Player Rater despite his few lackluster outings of late. Seeing as you likely grabbed him with a sixth-, seventh- or eighth-round pick (depending on the size of your league), you should pat yourself on the back for selecting him and refuse to move him for anything short of a stud if any of your fellow owners come sniffing around.
Nicolas Batum, SG/SF, Charlotte Hornets
Save for a dud against the New York Knicks on Tuesday, Nic Batum has been a man on fire as of late, averaging 22.6 points on 54.7 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.2 treys, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks over his past five games. To long-time veterans of fantasy basketball, seeing stat lines like that from Batum should come as no surprise, as he was a top 20 fixture in roto leagues for years prior to his miserable 2014-15 campaign.
The Frenchman appears to be growing more comfortable with his new role in Charlotte, where the Hornets are relying upon him as a primary offensive option alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Though he may not maintain the top 15 value he’s currently providing, he’s certain to continue rewarding owners who were able to steal him with a fourth- or fifth-round pick this fall, barring injury.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas picked up this year where he left off the last: scorching all nets at the TD Garden. The Pizza Guy is averaging a sizzling 20.8 points (on a not-so-sizzling 41.8 percent shooting), 6.3 dimes, 2.0 boards, 2.0 triples and 1.5 steals in just 30.5 minutes a night, helping the upstart Celtics win five of their last seven games after a lackluster start to the season.
Better yet, head coach Brad Stevens moved Thomas into the starting lineup due to some early-season injuries to Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, but he’s yet to relinquish the role even with both young guards now healthy again. If the Washington native continues receiving roughly 30 minutes per game, he’s going to obliterate his ADP of 57.7, much to the delight of owners who were savvy enough to scoop him up with a mid-round pick.
Danny Green, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs
In theory, Danny Green is one of the top buy-low targets in fantasy basketball at the moment, as he’s started the 2015-16 season ice-cold. Over his first 11 games, the UNC product is averaging just 7.2 points on a miserable 32.9 percent shooting, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 treys (on 30.0 percent shooting from downtown), 0.7 blocks and 0.6 steals, putting him 176th on ESPN’s Player Rater.
The odds of him replicating his top 25 finish from last year appear to be dwindling by the day, but it’s difficult to imagine the career 41.6 percent shooter from deep continuing to struggle with his outside shot this severely. Though there’s a chance LaMarcus Aldridge’s addition to the starting lineup has dealt a permanent blow to Green’s fantasy value, his upside is such that it’s worth dangling a buy-low offer to his presumably frustrated owner before he busts out of this early-season slump.
Ty Lawson, PG, Houston Rockets
If you spent a mid-round pick on Ty Lawson this fall, assuming he’d integrate himself seamlessly into the Houston Rockets’ starting lineup, you have every reason to panic at the moment. To put it bluntly, the UNC product has been brutal in Houston, averaging just 8.3 points on 31.8 percent shooting, 5.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.8 treys in a whopping 34.9 minutes per game.
After head coach Kevin McHale received his pink slip Wednesday, interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff decided to move Lawson to the bench, where he chipped in just two points (on 1-of-8 shooting), one assist and one steal in 20 minutes in the Rockets’ overtime win against the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s too talented to cut outright, but you’d be selling him for pennies on the dollar in any trade.
Nikola Mirotic, SF/PF, Chicago Bulls
Nikola Mirotic is one of the best examples of why you should never make blockbuster trades in the first week of a fantasy basketball season. The Bulls’ bearded big man started the season on fire, averaging 19.7 points on 51.4 percent shooting, 8.0 boards, 3.3 triples, 1.7 steals, 0.7 assists and 0.3 blocks in 31.1 minutes per game over his first three contests, but he’s since come plummeting back to earth.
Over Mirotic’s next eight games, he averaged just 8.3 points on a ghastly 29.0 percent shooting, 5.4 boards, 1.3 treys, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks, with his playing time chopped down to 21.7 minutes a night. If he doesn’t bust out of his funk soon, head coach Fred Hoiberg may have no choice but to relegate him to a bench role for the time being, which would only further hamper his fantasy upside.