Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Bust Picks

As discussed in my most recent article (see: Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Sleeper Picks), the number 1 mistake fantasy owners make when evaluating players is using the “eye test” instead of actual statistics. More so with bust picks than sleeper picks, fantasy owners overvalue their personal preferences, whether it be what team the player is on or the style they play, which leads them to pick injury-prone players who are past their primes or flashy players who can’t put up big numbers. In fact, three out of the four bust candidates I identify are among the most popular players in the NFL, which in turn has led them to be over-drafted. Let’s take a look at this year’s bust picks.

 

Russell Wilson, QB – Seattle Seahawks; ADP – 68

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Out of all the bust picks mentioned in this article, this one gives me by far the biggest amount of hesitation. Russell Wilson easily has the talent to churn out yet another season, where he could finish among the top three to five quarterbacks for fantasy scoring, just as he did in 2014 and 2015. In some regards, it doesn’t seem like much has changed; the Legion of Boom is still intact and better than ever, Wilson has nursed his injuries back to full health, and the Lacy-Rawls-Prosise running back committee will pretty much match Lynch’s production in his latter years. However, Wilson’s changing role and Seattle’s inability to address their issues during this offseason will prevent him from returning to glory.

The most troubling stat line about Wilson, from a fantasy football perspective, is that he finished with a career high in passing yards (4,219) and a near career-best in completion percentage (64.7%), but only finished as the 14th ranked quarterback. In terms of passing, Wilson hit his ceiling last year (aside from his meager 21 touchdown passes), but finished nowhere near he did in the previous two years. How is that possible? Well, there’s a straightforward explanation; Wilson simply stopped running the ball, which has severely hampered his fantasy production. After establishing himself as an elite mobile quarterback, Wilson posted career lows last year in rushing attempts (72), rushing yards (259), and rushing touchdowns (one). This last season was the third time in the past four years that Wilson has only rushed for one touchdown on the year. With his limited mobility, which can be attributed to his injuries and the Seahawks telling him to run less, Wilson ran less and consequently threw 11 interceptions, a career high.

This offseason, the Seahawks did Wilson no favors by not improving their offensive line or receiving corps. Last season, the Seahawks had one of the worst offensive lines in football, which not only crippled Wilson’s mobility and the Seahawks’ run game but also contributed to Wilson getting injured after being hit so frequently. The Seahawks also did nothing to improve their thin receiving corps, which still lacks a solid second wide receiver after ultra-talented Doug Baldwin or a third receiving threat after Jimmy Graham. Additionally, the Seahawks’ running back committee will give headaches to both the Seahawks’ staff and Russell Wilson all season long. The trio of Lacy, Rawls, and Prosise will need time to figure out how this committee work, which should destroy the run game for the first couple of weeks in the season. Later in the season, I believe that this talented group will steal touches from Wilson, which will do him no favors either. The moral of the story is avoid Russell Wilson unless he falls very far down the board.

 

Lamar Miller, RB – Houston Texans; ADP – 26

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Photo Credits: AP Images

There’s no beating around the bush; Lamar Miller was simply one of fantasy football’s biggest let downs last year. Obviously, this was a huge surprise to many fantasy players, as Miller was coming off a couple of very productive seasons in Miami, and joining a much better NFL team in the Houston Texans. It is not to say that he can’t turn things around the season, as he is still the skilled back we once thought he was, but at his current ADP, Miller is a prime candidate to be a bust.

To be frank, Lamar Miller was downright terrible last year; nearly every advanced metric ranked him in the bottom third of qualified running backs and most didn’t even take into effect the horrible defenses the AFC South presented last year (the Jaguars, Colts, and Titans all vastly improved their defenses this offseason). Last season, Miller was just one of 13 running backs among the 42 who qualified (minimum 100 rushes) to finish with a negative DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement). This stat pretty much indicated that against an average NFL defense, Miller performed worse than the average NFL running back. Although the sample size is somewhat limited as we are just looking at one season (this is generous – Miller had 299 touches), it is downright terrifying that someone with this stat line is being drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round.

What’s potentially even more concerning about Miller is his lack of upside. After averaging 19 touches per game last season, Texans’ coach Bill O’Brien said that he would be monitoring and limiting Miller’s touches, which wasn’t so surprising given his lack of success and massive volume. This wouldn’t be such big news if the Texans didn’t go out and draft D’Onta Foreman, who will still at least five touches per game as well as short-yardage goal-line work from Miller. With less of an opportunity to score touchdowns, Miller’s prospects seem to fall even further. The Texans’ quarterback situation does not appear to be helping much either; Watson will take time to learn the offense, which will be to the detriment of Miller’s performance, and later in the season, will likely throw the ball much more than Savage would, which eats into Miller’s touches as well. All I’m saying is don’t draft Miller with the expectations of him being an RB1.

 

Dez Bryant, WR – Dallas Cowboys; ADP – 21

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Photo Credits: USA Today

Dez Bryant is among one of the most enigmatic players in the NFL; if he could always play the way he did against the Packers, where he torched them for 132 yards and two touchdowns, Bryant would easily be the best receiver in the NFL. Unfortunately, injuries, among a number of other factors, have severely hampered his performance in recent years, which has caused him to be a bit of a letdown. He was better than most give him credit for, as he finished as the 19th receiver in PPR formats, but for his current ADP, he’s going to have to perform a lot better than that just to live up to expectations. With that being said, I am advising fantasy owners to stay away from the brewing mess in Dallas.

Bryant faces a number of challenges that stand in the way between him and a great fantasy season. The first, and most apparent, challenge would be Ezekiel Elliot’s six game suspension. Without Elliot in the backfield, opposing defenses will be able to sit back in zone coverages that divert specific attention to Bryant, which for obvious reasons is not good for his production. Elliot’s suspension lasts for more than half of the fantasy football season (seven out of 13), meaning Bryant should be rendered down for a good portion of the season. Additionally, Bryant appears to be highly injury prone, at least one would think so based on his extensive injury history, so it is fair to assume he will miss at least a game or two with a nagging injury.

Perhaps Bryant’s biggest challenge lies in his astoundingly hard schedule he faces in this upcoming season. I honestly can’t say that I have ever seen an opposing schedule this hard, as Bryant faces nearly every top cover corner in the league. Bryant’s divisional schedule alone includes two games against Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who held Bryant to just two receptions for 18 yards in those games against the Giants, as well as two games against one of the top physical corners in the league, Josh Norman. Outside of the division, Bryant faces brutal competition in Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Richard Sherman, and Casey Heyward, just to name a few. To put that into perspective, Bryant faces an elite (top 10) cover corner in 10 out of the 16 games this season. Please hear my warning and do not draft Dez Bryant.

 

Martellus Bennett, TE – Green Bay Packers; ADP – 85

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Photo Credits: ESPN

Let’s get something straight; I’d love to have Martellus Bennett on my fantasy team this season. However, at his current ADP of 85 in PPR formats, Bennett becomes a much less attractive in my opinion, as amazing fantasy talents are on the board. I have always been an advocate on waiting to pick tight ends until late in the draft; once the first tier is gone (Gronkowski, Kelce, Reed, Olsen), the difference between the Eifert (TE6) and Fleener (TE15) is projected to be a meager 2 points per week. If you insist on picking a tight end so early, I would highly recommend pick Kyle Rudolph (ADP – 70) or Zach Ertz (ADP – 87), as both have much more upside than Bennett and are fairly priced (unlike Bennett).

There are two main arguments for not drafting Bennett: his declining performance and poor fit in the Packers’ offense. Regarding the first, Bennett enters the 2017 season, his 10th in the league, at 29 years old. Although Bennett has impressively only missed five games over the last five seasons, it is clear that his performance is on the sharp decline. In his last three full seasons, Bennett’s quarterback has been Jay Cutler twice (2013 and 2014) and Tom Brady (2016). Everyone who has ever watched football before would agree that Brady is the better quarterback, and with Gronkowski out for most of the year, Bennett played roughly the same amount in both offenses. However, despite playing with the greatest quarterback of all time, Bennett averaged 120 less receiving yards, 38 fewer targets, and 28 fewer receptions per year than he did in Chicago; it is foolish to ignore that Bennett is on the decline.

Although Bennett is a couple of years out of his prime at age 29, he can still put up big numbers and be a very productive fantasy asset. However, his problem this year lies more in his team than himself. Aaron Rodgers nor Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ coach, have ever relied on their tight end too heavily, which is mildly concerning for a player that feeds on volume. Historically, Packers’ tight ends have been irrelevant in fantasy. With a loaded receiving corps in Green Bay, which features Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb, as well as wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery, Rodgers has many mouths to feed in Green Bay, and this trend seems likely to continue. Unlike in years past, the Packers have a solid running game, which should steal attention from their elite air attack, and hurt Bennett even further. The point I’m trying to make is that Bennett is talented and should be drafted if he falls, but if he doesn’t, his current ADP is way too high for his small window of opportunity.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, and Fantasy Pros. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Chicago Magazine

Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Sleeper Picks

The number 1 mistake fantasy hopefuls make when evaluating players is using the “eye test,” meaning they rely on their assessments of players more heavily than actual statistics. In some sense, fantasy football seems somewhat unpredictable when you use this strategy; player performance has very high variance from year to year when factors, such as injury and schedule, are in play. In this article, I identified players, purely from a statistical standpoint, who are being severely undervalued for their ADP, meaning they have a high probability of being a “sleeper” pick for this year. ADP (average draft position) is based on data from PPR leagues on ESPN, Yahoo, and FantasyPros. Let’s take a look at this year’s sleeper picks.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB – Tennessee Titans; ADP – 99

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

As I have mentioned in my previous articles, when evaluating potential in players, you should only be looking at two things: opportunity and talent. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Marcus Mariota has one of the best combination of these two things in the league, but is still going off the draft board in the 9th round! Outside of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, Mariota may very well be the most talented quarterback in the league with his elite skill set and dual-threat abilities.

After getting off to a very slow start in the 2016 season, Mariota caught fire from weeks 5 to 12, as he was the single highest scoring player in fantasy football over that 8-week span. Given that the fantasy football regular season is only 13 weeks long, this means that Mariota was the highest scoring fantasy player for a majority of the season, which he by no means is getting credit for given his current ADP. Most critics will point out that Mariota slumped heavily at the end of the season. However, Mariota faced the two best defenses in football in Denver and Kansas City and was injured in the game against Jacksonville, which provides a reasonable explanation to all three weeks. The most promising thing about Mariota is that he achieved this incredible run with Rishard Matthews as his top receiver. Matthews is certainly a talented receiver, but now with Decker, Davis, and Taylor also on board, I can’t even begin to imagine Mariota’s potential for this upcoming season.

In terms of opportunity, the only quarterbacks who are better off than Mariota are Tom Brady (with the late addition of Brandin Cooks to the best receiving corps in football) and Jameis Winston (who now has a loaded receiving corps with the additions of OJ Howard and DeSean Jackson). Everything that has happened this offseason has been for the benefit of Mariota; after having one of the worst wide receiver groups in football, the Titans went out and drafted Western Michigan standout Corey Davis and nifty slot receiver Taywan Taylor, and signed a prominent red-zone threat in Eric Decker. On top of having a loaded receiving arsenal, which now includes Davis, Decker, Matthews, Taylor, and Walker, Mariota plays behind an elite offensive line and has the best 1-2 running back punch in football, which both divert attention away from him and helps play-action.

The Titans have the 6th easiest schedule in football this year, which should allow Mariota to thrive against these sub-par defenses. Mariota is poised to have an astounding season, and it is laughable that he is still on the board in the 9th round.

 

Isaiah Crowell, RB – Cleveland Browns; ADP – 34

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Photo Credits: AP Images

Yes, before you start laughing, I know that Isaiah Crowell is on the Cleveland Browns, which have been regarded as one of the most laughable franchises in professional sports over the past decade. Despite playing on one of the most abysmal offenses in NFL history last year (this year’s Jets are soon to join that list as well), Crowell finished with excellent numbers, as he was the 14th highest scoring back in both PPR and non-PPR formats.

In terms of opportunity, Crowell potentially gained more this offseason than any other player in fantasy football at any position. In March, the Browns first went out and signed Kevin Zeitler to the richest contract in NFL history for a guard, only to later that day sign JC Tretter, another lineman. With these two signings, the Browns rival the Cowboys and Titans for the best offensive line in football, which should prove very valuable to Crowell’s 2017 prospects. What’s potentially even more beneficial to Crowell’s potential is the Browns’ overall improvement on both sides of the ball; after drafting Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, and DeShone Kizer, signing Kenny Britt, and now having a healthy Corey Coleman, the Browns are poised to be a much better team. Since the Browns will be much improved from last year, they will spend more time on offense, which consequently means more carries for Crowell. In fact, Crowell was the only top-20 running back last year to have fewer than 205 attempts, meaning that Crowell has huge potential with extra carries.

There is nothing I love more in a fantasy player than their coach publicly saying that they are committed to using that player more. After signing Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter this offseason, Browns coach Hue Jackson came out and told media that the Browns would be more committed to using Crowell this off-season. Jackson continued to say that Crowell has the potential to “take it to another level” this season with the additional carries and Browns’ vastly improved offensive line.

Crowell stands to heavily benefit from the Browns’ off-season transactions, as they will give him much more “opportunity” than he had last year. Crowell will undoubtedly put up solid RB2 numbers, and with this new upside, likely even RB1 numbers, which make him a huge steal at his current ADP.

 

Pierre Garcon, WR – San Francisco 49ers; ADP – 77

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Pierre Garcon has consistently been one of the most underrated fantasy football players over the past couple of years, and this year is no exception. Coming in as the premiere threat for the San Francisco 49ers, Garcon is the clear cut WR1 for San Fran, but his draft position at #77 certainly is not reflecting that.

As the #1 target in San Francisco, Garcon has immense upside because of the volume of targets he should receive. As one of the worst teams in the league, San Francisco will be playing from behind nearly the entire season, meaning that they will have to throw the ball a substantial amount. Although Brian Hoyer is a shaky quarterback at best and certainly a downgrade from Kirk Cousins, Garcon should see a huge bump in his targets from last year, and consequently better fantasy performance even with decreased efficiency. Garcon should also see more red-zone targets, which are quite valuable for fantasy, as he no longer will lose them to the posterizing Jordan Reed or deep threat Desean Jackson.

In one of the most intriguing headlines of the offseason, Kyle Shanahan became the coach of the San Francisco 49ers, meaning that Garcon is reunited with his old coach. Although they last played together in 2013, Garcon was one of the league’s best receivers, as he led the league in receptions. Historically, the top wide receiver has flourished under Shanahan’s system, including Garcon himself in 2013, Andre Johnson in his glory days in the late 2000s, and most recently, Julio Jones. Shanahan’s system fosters great production for the lead receiver, so this certainly gives good reason to expect big things out of Garcon this year.

Going off the board at #77, Pierre Garcon presents a very low-risk player with tremendous potential upside, which makes him a great sleeper pick for this upcoming season.

 

Kyle Rudolph, TE – Minnesota Vikings; ADP – 73

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Photo Credits: ESPN.com

The tight end position is by far the least flashy position in fantasy football, as year after year, the position has been a letdown. Riddled by injury and poor performance, many fantasy owners reach on tight ends to get an “old reliable” type, such as Greg Olsen, instead of waiting for value at the end of the draft. This is a rookie mistake.

Kyle Rudolph presents tremendous value in all formats, particularly in PPR leagues, because of his high target volume. Rudolph led not only the Vikings, but also the entire tight end position with an impressive 132 targets. Rudolph took a huge step forward last year with this increased volume, as he previously averaged 28 yards per game on three targets, while this past year he averaged 52 yards per game on five targets. This is not to say that Rudolph wasn’t targeted in the red zone either; Rudolph ended the year with an impressive seven touchdown receptions.

The Vikings’ offense simply is one of the best offenses in the league for tight ends. Not only does the offensive coordinator support an offense that relies heavily on the tight end, but also Bradford has historically targeted his tight end at a very high rate. This tight end happy offense, along with less defensive coverage because of a healthy Stefon Diggs, should allow Rudolph to build on his career numbers from last year.

After an impressive 2016 campaign that was not inflated by ridiculous red zone statistics, Rudolph is poised to have yet another strong season in 2017. His ADP, on the other hand, does not reflect this, making him a good value pick.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, and Fantasy Pros. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

Fantasy Football: Undervalued Rookies To Target

The 2017 NFL Draft was stacked with potent offensive talent towards the top, headlined by dynamic offensive weapons in Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. However, with respective ADP’s of 29 and 43 (in PPR format), Fournette and McCaffrey won’t make great “value” picks unless they have an Ezekiel Elliot-esque rookie campaign. Let’s take a look at some very underrated rookies who have a chance to make a fantasy impact immediately.

 

Dalvin Cook, RB – Minnesota Vikings; ADP – 61

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

By no means am I arguing that Dalvin Cook is the next Adrian Peterson, but he is a very talented player that should replace him as a top tier back in the long run. Cook was electric at Florida State, as he averaged 6.68 yards per carry, 2,094 yards from scrimmage, and 20 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. Cook is not a one dimensional either; he racked up nearly 500 receiving yards while averaging 14.8 yards per reception last year. Although the Vikings offensive line is quite terrible, Cook’s raw talent and playmaking ability should make him a premier threat for years to come, starting from Day 1.

I can not overstate Cook’s ability, as he very well might be the most offensively talented player in this year’s class. Even with their terrible offensive line, the Vikings still are a prime landing spot for Cook due to their lack of a passing game. From Day 1, Cook will be the premiere threat and centerpiece of their otherwise lackluster offense.

In current PPR formats, Cook is being drafted behind Eddie Lacy, who faces issues not only with his weight but also with stiff competition from Rawls and Prosise, and Spencer Ware, who is in grave danger of losing his job to Hunt (see below). Cook faces little competition for the job (Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon) and the Vikings traded up for him, which virtually guarantees they are going to heavily utilize him this year. Cook is a huge steal at this point in the draft.

 

Kareem Hunt, RB – Kansas City Chiefs: ADP – 112

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

The Kansas City backfield is developing into one of the most interesting storylines of this offseason. After Spencer Ware started the 2016 season off red-hot, he faded very hard down the stretch. Ware’s decline, along with the departure of Jamaal Charles, prompted the Chiefs to draft Kareem Hunt, who is an excellent pass-catcher and a more capable power runner than Ware. Hunt has been gaining massive traction as a potential starter, as his coaches have regularly been praising him, offbeat writers think he is the guy to pick out of Kansas City’s backfield, and he has been lighting it up in OTA’s.

Hunt’s situation is also interesting for an entirely different reason; the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes II (an excellent pick by the way), who will be the quarterback for the Chiefs in the future. After spending a pick on a “future” player, it seems unlikely that the Chiefs would use their next pick on a player they wouldn’t use immediately, which presents a compelling case that Hunt would start playing immediately. Even as a backup, Hunt still provides great value for his ADP. However, if he gets the starting job either by his talent or Spencer Ware getting hurt (he is injury prone), Hunt immediately becomes a coveted RB1 under Andy Reid’s fantasy-friendly backfield.

In current PPR formats, Kareem Hunt is being drafted behind Matt Forte, who is years past his prime and the backup running back for the Jets, and James White, who is stuck in a crowded Patriots’ backfield and could very well be their 3rd back. At pick 112, Hunt presents tremendous upside with minimal risk (10th round pick), which probably makes him the best value pick in the entire draft.

 

Samaje Perine, RB – Washington Redskins: ADP – 123

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

The Redskins’ backfield is much less convoluted than it might appear. Aside from one incredible primetime performance, Robert Kelley was below average for the rest of his starts, and Perine has everything working for him: praise from the staff, better raw skills than Kelley, and ability to be a 3-down back. It is inevitable that Perine will become the lead back for the Redskins, so the question is more of a “when” than “if.” It is becoming increasingly more likely that Perine assumes the starting role very early in the season, potentially even in the preseason.

I think a lot of fantasy owners forget how talented Perine is because ultra-talented Joe Mixon overshadowed him during his tenure at Oklahoma. Perine was nothing short of amazing though; despite being in a clear time share or even a backup role and missing three games due to injury, Perine recorded 1,166 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. It should come as no surprise that the Redskins staff is raving about his abilities.

In current PPR formats, Samaje Perine is being drafted by Johnathan Stewart, who is losing the vast majority of his carries to Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, and Darren Sproles, who is currently the 3rd running back on the Eagles’ depth chart behind LeGarrette Blount and Ryan Mathews. Perine is an absolute steal at this point in the draft, given his ability and likelihood to become the starter early in the season, and in my opinion, has the best chance to be the Jordan Howard of this class.

 

Zay Jones, WR – Buffalo Bills: ADP – 158

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Fantasy value depends on two things: talent and opportunity. Luckily for Zay Jones, he’s got both, as he possesses tremendous talent and found himself in an incredibly opportune situation. There’s no denying that Zay Jones is talented; not only is Jones the career NCAA leader with 399 career receptions, but also is the single-season with an astounding 158 receptions this past season. On top of that, Jones averaged 11.1 yards per reception, bringing his yardage total up to 1,746 receiving yards, which ranks as the 17th most ever in a season.

Regarding opportunity, Jones hit the jackpot as well. Barring any shocking news from the Bills training camp, Jones will open up the season as Buffalo’s #2 wide receiver, which should garner him plenty of targets. Given Sammy Watkins’s injury history, Zay Jones should find himself as Buffalo’s #1 wide receiver at some point in the season, which would give him tremendous upside. Even with Watkins on the field, Jones should have no trouble producing, as defensive fronts will focus on stopping Buffalo’s run-heavy offense and top corners will be covering Watkins.

In current PPR formats, Zay Jones is being drafted behind Tyler Lockett, who vastly underperformed lofty expectations as a sleeper pick last year, and Michael Floyd, who is still dealing with legal ramifications from his DUI. Going off the board in the 13th round, Jones has great value for this point in the draft, given his considerable upside, especially if Watkins happens to get injured.

 

Joe Williams, RB – San Francisco 49ers: ADP – 180

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

After Kyle Shanahan arrived in San Francisco, everything has changed, particularly at the running back position. Hyde, drafted as the “face of the franchise” just three short years ago, may no longer be the starter; Joe Williams, a 4th round pick out of Utah hand picked by Shanahan’s new regime, now has a very legitimate to unseat Carlos Hyde from the starting job immediately. Hyde is going into the final year of his contract, one which the 49ers do not plan on extending, which means that Williams will be getting the carries if the staff views them as equal. On top of that, Hyde is very injury prone, which would give Williams an easy pathway to become the starter if he already isn’t.

While most fantasy players have never even heard of Joe Williams, he is by no means not talented. In fact, at this point, many offbeat writers think that he has more ability than Hyde. Williams is a talented runner who can burst to and through the hole, and can make defenders miss in the open field, even more so than Hyde can. After missing the first month of the 2016 season due to his sister’s death, Williams recorded 1,332 rushing yards and ten touchdowns in just seven games. To put this into perspective of how incredible that performance was, he would have rushed for an astounding mark of 2,093 yards and 16 touchdowns had he played for the entire season. Those 2,093 yards would have been the 15th most in a single season in NCAA history.

In current PPR formats, Joe Williams is being drafted behind Matt Jones, the 3rd running back in Washington’s loaded backfield, and Jeremy Langford, who could start off the season as Chicago’s 3rd or 4th back. So far, everything that has happened this offseason has worked in Williams’s favor, which makes him an excellent value pick for this late in the draft (14th round).

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, Fantasy Outlook, and FantasyPros. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

It’s a Rocky Road

The Colorado Rockies are forced to play in the shadow of the same storyline that analysts slap on them every Spring Training. It goes something like: “Coors is a hitter’s park. The pitching won’t hold up in that thin air.” It seems a bit tired. The narrative never changes. However, the start of this season brought some promise. Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon were already established stars. Trevor Story was returning from a thumb injury that ended his 2016 campaign in which he set a record for the most home runs (7) in a team’s first six games. Throw in newly signed Ian Desmond, and there was some buzz in baseball about the Rockies potential for a dominant lineup. The starting rotation, however, had question marks. Coming into opening day, the staff would be rookie heavy. The kids responded, having pitched more than 60% of the Rockies starts and innings. The rookies — Kyle Freeland, 24; Antonio Senzatela, 22; German Marquez, 22; and Jeff Hoffman, 24 carried the load. Tyler Chatwood, the relative old man on the staff, pitched to a solid 4.08 ERA. Greg Holland re-discovered his Royal glory days, capping off the formation of a nice bullpen. After taking 3 of 4 at Wrigley on June 10th, the Rockies found themselves 2.5 games up in the division. Have the Rockies figured out Coors Field? How are they pulling this off? Well, 11 games against the San Francisco Giants could have something to do with it. The Rockies had the luxury of beating up on the Giants, with a 10-1 record. That was until last week, when the decrepit Giants swept the Rockies.

 

The façade of excellence ended the week before, actually. The Mark Reynolds renaissance and the consistency of Blackmon and Arenado kept the team afloat, but after losing their last two series to the D Backs and being swept by the Dodgers, the Rockies undisputable deficiencies have come to light. Their run has stopped, mainly because said run was unsustainable. The Rockies are 11-4 in one run games. Although their bullpen has been effective, this is a sign of some luck. For perspective, the Dodgers are 8-9 in one run games despite being arguably the best team in baseball. Moreover, the Rockies had the 4th best record in baseball before this rough stretch. However, if you look deeper, they had the 7th best run differential, a sign of unsustainability.

 

Speaking of unsustainability, let’s talk a bit about these rookie pitchers.  Kyle Freeland threw a career high 162 innings last year in AA and AAA, he is at 93.2 already. He sure won’t be giving the team 7+ innings of 2 run ball in September. Antonio Senzatela threw a career high 154 innings in 2015 at Class A Advanced (nowhere near the majors) and in 2016 he was riddled with a shoulder injury. The expectation for him to throw 150+ innings of sub 4 ERA ball is absurd. Tyler Chatwood threw a career high 158 innings with the Rockies last year and was solid, posting a 2-win season. This year, however, his HR/FB % is up more than 12 percentage points. Their upstart rotation is showing signs of slowing down, posting a 5.11 ERA over the last 30 days (7th worst in baseball over that time), and a 6.75 ERA the last 14 days (by far the worst).

 

When the casual fan hears the Rockies are winning games, their mind immediately turns to hitting. The Rockies must be mashing, right? Right?! No. In fact, the last 30 days, the team has produced a putrid wRC+ of 77, tied with the Phillies for last in baseball over that time. And over the past two weeks, they have a wRC+ of 46! Trevor Story cannot regain the phenom status, hitting only 11 home runs so far this season while striking out 34.4 % of the time, by far the most among shortstops. Pitchers have clearly adjusted to him and despite his elevation in launch angle, he is slugging behind “defensive” shortstops such as Orlando Arcia, Andrelton Simmons and Tim Beckham. His 71WRC+ is 16th worst in baseball.  Ian Desmond isn’t living up to his $70 million contract, walking only 3.8 % of the time and striking out 25% of the time. He is on a hot streak, but he and Carlos Gonzalez still have a wOBA under .305, putting them next to names such as Buxton, Schwarber and Hamilton. Let’s not get into Gonzalez. To put it simply, CarGo is CarGoing through something bad.

 

 

Let’s look at the Rockies in a historical context. For the year, the Rockies have the worst wRC+ in baseball at 78. Since 2000, only 3 teams have ever made the postseason with a wRC+ 90 or lower. The 2007 Cubs, 2005 Astros, and 2001 Braves. If we go team by team, it’s clear that these teams had elite pitching and/or defense to carry the offense. The Cubs had the 2nd highest UZR in the league, 5th most valuable bullpen by WAR, and produced the weakest contact among all starting staffs in the league. Consequently, they sported the lowest BABIP in the league by 8 percentage points. The Astros had one of the greatest rotations since the turn of the century. Their big three of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, and Roy Oswalt created the 2nd most valuable rotation by WAR. All three hurlers had sub 3 ERA’s, with Clemens at a miniscule 1.87. And subtracting their defense, the staff had the best xFIP- in the league. The Braves also had a great rotation. They had 3 pitchers over 219 innings pitched with names like Maddux and Glavine spearheading the rotation to the 4th best WAR. These teams all made the playoffs with a wRC+ above 88, and quite frankly, the Rox don’t have any Clemens walking through the clubhouse. Given, all these teams played in the one wild card team era. Still, the Rockies are nowhere near these teams.

 

 

The Dodgers, Nationals and Diamondbacks aren’t going anywhere. Once the Cubs figure things out, they will handle the Central. That leaves one wild card spot open. Hopefully the following week can put the Rockies back into legitimacy, as they play the Reds and the White Sox at home. If not, the Rockies will be the official overachievers of 2017 and they will hear the Coors Field narrative all of March 2018.

 

Picture from MLB.com. Thanks for reading!

Chad Kuhl is Throwing Heat

On the surface, Pirates’ starter Chad Kuhl appears to be having a disappointing season. However, there is more to it than just that.

Generally speaking, a slash line (ERA/FIP/xFIP/SIERA) of 5.58/4.28/4.77/4.80 isn’t very encouraging. These are the numbers that Pirates’ starter Chad Kuhl has put up to date this season through 69.1 innings. Last year, he threw 70.2 MLB innings, so we have comparable sample sizes. Yet, he seemingly hasn’t improved upon last years numbers. Yes, the strikeouts are up, from a 17.6% K-rate to a 19% this year. However, the walk rate is also up (6.6% to 9%), the ground balls are down (44.3% to 41.8%), and the home run rate has risen accordingly (0.89 HR/9 to 1.04). What, you may be wondering, do I see in this guy?

Check out his plate discipline stats.

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact%
2016 26.40% 68.80% 45.00% 65.70%
2017 30.50% 65.90% 46.40% 57.40%
Season Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2016 87.50% 80.30% 43.90% 57.10% 8.90%
2017 85.30% 75.20% 45.00% 59.40% 11.40%

Improvements across the board. His chase rate has gone up while his in-zone swing rate has gone down. Hitters are making far less contact on pitches out of the zone, and even a bit less on pitches within the zone. This explains the increase in strikeouts. The walks shouldn’t be increasing, unless hitters are really going much deeper into counts, since they are making less contact. Nonetheless, this should change if Kuhl keeps things the same, because he’s throwing in the zone more often and getting more swings outside of the zone. Of the 118 pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings this year, Kuhl’s chase rate ranks 43rd, his in-zone swing rate is tied for 48th lowest, his z-swing minus o-swing ranks 37th, and most impressive, his swinging strike rate is tied for 26th. In fact, his swinging strike rate is the same as Yu Darvish–he even has a higher chase rate than him (30.5% and 29.3%), and Darvish has a superb 26.9% strikeout rate. The underlying statistics are optimistic, so if Kuhl keeps pitching this way, the strikeouts will increase and the walks will decrease. The bigger question is, what is the driving force behind these improvements?

According to PITCHf/x data on FanGraphs, Kuhl’s average 4-seam fastball velocity has jumped from 93 last year to 95.5 this year, touching 99. Contrary to what his name might suggest, Chad Kuhl is throwing heat. In fact, all of his pitches have seen an increase in velocity (and he’s added a curveball, but he’s only thrown 38 of them and they have been largely ineffective):

Season Pitch minVel maxVel Vel
2016 SI 83.3 96.5 92.7
2016 SL 81.6 89.5 86.6
2016 FA 87.4 96.1 93
2016 CH 81.6 88.3 85.1
2017 SI 88.6 99.5 94.1
2017 FA 90.2 99.4 95.5
2017 SL 77.2 91.8 88.5
2017 CH 81.7 90.7 88
2017 CU 79.7 86.4 82.7

The velocity increase has given Kuhl more confidence in his four-seamer, and his usage of the pitch has risen to 29% this year, up from a mere 10% last year. This explains part of why the ground ball rate is dropping–the uptick in four-seamer usage has caused a drop in sinker usage (down from 57% last year to 37% this year).

In addition, while his sinker has seen an increase in arm-side run (1.6 inches more), the ground ball rate is also dropping because the sinker has seen a decrease in drop (1.1 inches less). While the drop on his sinker has decreased, the rise on his four-seamer has increased. It is now above average, ranking 52nd out of the 118 pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings as of morning June 27th. This is in part due to a slight change in vertical release point:Brooksbaseball-Chart-16.png

This year, Kuhl is throwing more over the top with all of his pitches. This graph shows that, for his sinker, he is on average releasing the ball about two inches higher. Now, Pitch Info (which powers this graph) says that Kuhl doesn’t throw a four-seamer at all, only sinkers, as opposed to PITCHf/x. Either way, at this point, Kuhl’s “sinkers” don’t sink very much. Using Pitch Info’s data, Kuhl’s sinker has the eighth worst drop amongst the 87 starters who have thrown at least 200 sinkers this year. In that same group, the ground ball rate on Kuhl’s sinker is also eighth worst. Coincidence? I think not. His overall ground ball rate of 41.8% this year is below average, ranking 78th-lowest of the 118 pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings this year.

All of his pitches are generating more whiffs, looking at both Pitch Info and PITCHf/x. This is probably due to the improved velocity. Using Pitch Info’s data, his slider ranks 15th in whiffs per swing out of the 87 starters who have thrown 100 sliders this year (not to mention, it ranks 10th in average velocity), and his sinker ranks 17th out of the 87 starters who have thrown 200 sinkers this year. However, his changeup still gets whiffs at a below average rate: it ranks 71st out of the 92 starters who have thrown 100 changeups this year. Although the changeup has gotten more run this year, it too has lost vertical drop and the velocity gap between it and the fastball has closed a bit. Generally, changeups are used to sit down batters of the opposite handedness, because they have arm-side run. Kuhl, a righty, has struggled against lefties this year, as they have a .445 wOBA against him, while righties have a mere .286 wOBA. At the same time though, he has gotten more strikeouts against lefties (30) than righties (29), despite having faced fewer lefties (147) than righties (163). Also, I’m not too worried that Kuhl will have struggles against lefties in the long run because his sinker has great arm-side run.

The fact that Kuhl has a diminished ability to get ground balls doesn’t bode well for his old skill set, where he relied on his control and inducing weak contact, but with an increased penchant for strikeouts, backed by improving velocity, it shouldn’t matter that much. I would still take a flyer on him; the strikeouts, walks, and platoon splits should improve, along with his ERA.

Data from FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Prospectus. Picture from MLB.com. Thanks for reading!

2017 NBA Draft Analysis

I’m going to take on a bit of a bold task here: doing a quick, first impression analysis of every move made during the 2017 NBA Draft – including both picks and trades (in chronological order) – and giving a grade to each one. I’ll be doing this as the draft progresses in real time, so these scores I assign each transaction (letter grades) will be after fairly brief amounts of research; instead of being based on my previous prospect rankings and the draftees’ fits on their selecting teams.

 

  1. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers

The right pick according to my prospect rankings, Fultz is a gifted all-around point guard prospect. The idea of him playing alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid for the years to come is scary.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers

Again sticking by my prospect rankings, Ball is another tantalizing point guard prospect due to his speed and vision. The Lakers made the right call here, and they have their point guard of the future to pair with a young, budding coach and a growing roster.

Grade: A+

 

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

 

Proposed Trade #1: Chicago Bulls trade Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 Pick (Justin Patton), Minnesota Timberwolves trade Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 Pick (Lauri Markkanen).

It looks like the Timberwolves are giving up a ton here to get Jimmy Butler, but the move could push them over the hump and into playoff contention. A starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gorgui Dieng/Justin Patton is an incredibly dangerous group. These guys are going to be really, really good, and soon.

Timberwolves’ grade: A

For the Bulls, meanwhile, this is a good way to begin the rebuild. Taking the long-term view, the Bulls added 3 young, talented pieces to a roster that was devoid of that beyond Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine. Zach Lavine has star potential if he can recover from his knee injury, Markkanen should develop into at least a decent starter due to his shooting, and Dunn didn’t have a great year but is just one season removed from being a top point guard prospect – he can still defend and distribute at a high level. In the short-term, they’ll suffer; but if those five guys can mesh and the front office can add a few more pieces, this could be a strong team in a few years.

Bulls’ grade: A-

 

  1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

I’m not a huge fan of what Boston did here. Not because Tatum lacks skill as a prospect (on the contrary, he has the potential to blossom into a great scorer), but because Josh Jackson was still on the board. Jackson is less offensively polished right now than Tatum but offers much more long-term two-way potential.

Grade: B

 

  1. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns

Great pick and great value for the Suns at fourth overall. Jackson has a lot of upside as a high-motor, athletic two-way player. Pairing him with long-term prospects Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender along with established players Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and TJ Warren gives this team the potential to be really good in the future.

Grade: A+

 

  1. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

I’m not as high on Fox as some other analysts, but that doesn’t mean I think he can’t play. He’s incredibly fast and has a massive upside if he can develop a jump shot. The Kings needed a long-term point guard, so I think this pick could end up paying dividends for them. I’d rather have Ntilikina or Smith, but Fox will also be a very good player.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic

A great pick for the Magic, Isaac was ranked 5th on my prospect rankings and offers a lot of upside at 6’11” with the skill-set of a guard. He should fit very well going forward in the Magic’s lineup, as starting him at the 3 will allow them to play Aaron Gordon at his natural power forward spot.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (due to Proposed Trade #1)

This seems like a reach to me. In my eyes, Markkanen is not a Top 10 prospect this year as he’s very one-dimensional. He’s a great shooter, which gives him a high floor, but a higher upside big man with a jumper would’ve been Zach Collins.

Grade: C

 

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Photo Credits: Unknown

 

  1. Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks

I’m so rarely happy as a Knicks fan, so let me have this win. Ntilikina is exactly what they need – a stable ball-handler that can distribute the ball and shoot. I had Dennis Smith ranked higher in my rankings, but Ntilikina is a better fit for a team in such disarray.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Dennis Smith, Dallas Mavericks

Great pick. By my prospect rankings (Smith is 6th) this is a steal. Smith has a massive upside due to his incredible athleticism. He should fit next to Yogi Ferrell, Wesley Matthews, or Seth Curry in the Mavs’ backcourt.

Grade: A+

 

Proposed Trade #2: Portland Trail Blazers trade No. 15 (Justin Jackson) and No. 20 (Harry Giles) Picks, Sacramento Kings trade No. 10 Pick (Zach Collins)

This was a good deal for the Trail Blazers, but not a great one. They possessed many picks in this year’s draft so they could afford to move up and snag a top prospect in Collins. The Gonzaga big was a fairly safe choice with a huge ceiling, so giving up picks to acquire him is understandable. However, through no fault of their own, one of the picks they gave away was used to select a player that is arguably a better prospect (health permitting) than Collins in Harry Giles. That being said, Collins should fit great next to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Trail Blazers’ grade: B+

Meanwhile, the Kings pulled off an absolute winner here. They not only were able to acquire Giles, an absolute prize, at a later point in the draft (meaning they’ll be able to give him a cheaper contract), but they picked up Justin Jackson (a possible future starter) along the way to go with the already-selected De’Aaron Fox. Wow. What a haul.

Kings’ grade: A+

 

 

  1. Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers (due to Proposed Trade #2)

A good pick for the Blazers. Collins offers a lot of upside as a rim-protecting, shooting, and post player. He’s less of a risk than Harry Giles here, which makes sense for a Portland team trying to contend for the playoffs now.

Grade: A

 

  1. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets

A great value at 11th overall, Monk is a great scorer and a spectacular athlete. He and Kemba Walker can form a special backcourt in the near future, as both can flat-out put the ball in the hoop.

Grade: A+

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

  1. Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons

A reach. I think he could thrive as a role player due to his incredible shooting, but he’s far too one-dimensional for my taste. He might do well playing behind Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope because he won’t be asked to do too much besides shoot, but Detroit could have selected other more complete prospects.

Grade: C

 

Proposed Trade #3: Utah Jazz trade Trey Lyles and No. 24 Pick (Tyler Lydon), Denver Nuggets trade No. 13 Pick (Donovan Mitchell)

This is a great deal for the Jazz, who were able to clear out a crowded frontcourt and replace it with a top guard prospect. Mitchell is a great athlete and will more than make up for the loss of Lyles. Trading the 24th overall pick was a debatable move, but given who was taken, if I were a Jazz fan I’d be happy that I had Mitchell rather than another rotation-level forward.

Jazz’s grade: A

For the Nuggets, though, I don’t quite see how this trade made sense. They have so many young assets already and adding two more players that will barely see the court (due to such a full rotation) doesn’t seem like the desirable option as compared to selecting Donovan Mitchell.

Grade: C-

 

  1. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (due to Proposed Trade #3)

Utah already has a very good team, and adding Mitchell to that equation is only going to make it even better. He’s an extremely athletic guard that should thrive as a defensive presence in their backcourt, a scary idea for a team that sports Rudy Gobert around the rim.

Grade: A

 

  1. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

I don’t like this pick for the Heat. Bam was ranked several spots lower on my prospect rankings, and he’s not a good fit next to Hassan Whiteside. There were several other big man options that wouldn’t clog Whiteside’s paint as much, such as TJ Leaf, John Collins, or even Harry Giles.

Grade: C-

 

  1. Justin Jackson, Sacramento Kings (due to Proposed Trade #2)

I like Jackson as a prospect, but this seems like a bit of a reach here. However, he’s a shooter with good athleticism, which is a good fit next to newly-picked De’Aaron Fox (a great perimeter defender who can make up for Jackson’s shortcomings).

Grade: B

 

  1. Justin Patton, Minnesota Timberwolves (due to Proposed Trade #1)

Similarly to Jackson, this seems like a bit of a reach, especially with Harry Giles and OG Anunoby still on the board. However, he plays a different game than Gorgui Dieng (Patton is more of an athletic rim-runner that can stretch the floor) and can give the new-look Timberwolves good depth when Dieng and/or Towns sit.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: NCAA.com

 

  1. D.J. Wilson, Milwaukee Bucks

He may be a slight reach given who is still available, but Wilson fits the identity of this Bucks team: long and athletic with a very high upside. Wilson’s range could also give the Bucks another way to space the floor, as stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker both aren’t known for their jumpers.

Grade: B+

 

  1. T.J. Leaf, Indiana Pacers

A good pick at 18th overall. Leaf has the potential to be an offensive superstar and can be a great fit next to Myles Turner (who can make up for Leaf’s defense). The only thing holding this back from being an even higher grade is that Harry Giles is still on the board.

Grade: A-

 

  1. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

A very good pick for the Hawks, who will need Collins’ strong rebounding now that Dwight Howard has been traded. Collins also has a decent jump shot and is an impressive athlete – and of course, he put up incredible numbers last year at Wake Forest. Of course, though, Harry Giles is still available.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings (due to Proposed Trade #2)

A great, high-upside pick for the Kings. Giles, of course, has had a great deal of knee problems that robbed him of significant production last year. However, when healthy, there are few prospects that possess his talent. The Kings can also afford to take a risk here after already selecting Fox and Jackson. Great pick.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Terrance Ferguson, Oklahoma City Thunder

A very good pick for the Thunder, as Ferguson can be a great change of pace from Andre Roberson – a spectacular defender who can’t shoot. Meanwhile, Roberson can help mentor Ferguson on how to use his incredible athleticism to become a lockdown defender. Ferguson might have growing pains, but this is a great spot to take a chance on a guy with great upside.

Grade: A

 

  1. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets

A good value pick here, Allen can go a long way toward replacing Brook Lopez. While he doesn’t have the offensive capabilities of Lopez, he can develop into a great rim protecting presence should do decently on offense as he develops with D’Angelo Russell passing him the ball.

Grade: A

 

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Photo Credits: Sporting News

 

  1. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors

The only reason that Anunoby fell this far was concerns over his knee; but if that can heal properly, the Raptors have got themselves a massive steal. Anunoby is a lockdown defender with great physical tools, and he’s shown the ability to shoot from deep as well. Anunoby can develop into a top two-way player in the league – but again, that’s all dependent on his knee.

Grade: A

 

  1. Tyler Lydon, Denver Nuggets (due to Proposed Trade #3)

This pick doesn’t really make sense to me. The Nuggets already had a crowded frontcourt with bigs and wings that can shoot before adding Trey Lyles, so adding another guy that fits such a similar mold seems repetitive. Where he’ll even fit in the rotation remains to be seen, and I had him much lower on my prospect rankings than where he was selected. I love the Nuggets’ young, talented roster, but unless they plan to trade Lydon, I don’t see how picking him here was beneficial.

Grade: D

 

  1. Andzejs Pasecniks, Orlando Magic (Update: Now Philadelphia 76ers, due to Proposed Trade #5)

I like Pasecniks, but this seems like a little bit of reach based on my prospect rankings. That being said, there weren’t many available true bigs ahead of him left besides Ike Anigbogu, so I understand the pick if that’s the only direction the Magic wanted to go in. Pasecniks should develop into a solid rotation player or even a starter due to his height, athleticism, and ability to shoot.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: Barstool Sports

 

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Portland Trail Blazers

This draft spot matches exactly where I had Swanigan on my prospect rankings. The guy can flat out rebound, and he’s incredibly strong. The ability to shoot from deep, which he showed off last year, makes him an extremely valuable commodity in today’s league. He should be a good complement to Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.

Grade: A

 

  1. Kyle Kuzma, Brooklyn Nets

I’m not a fan of this pick. I didn’t rank Kuzma in my Top 50, and I still believe that there are many small forward prospects that Brooklyn would have been better off taking. While I may have underestimated Kuzma, he didn’t deserve to go this high.

Grade: D

 

Proposed Trade #4: Utah Jazz trade No. 30 (Josh Hart) and No. 42 Picks (Thomas Bryant), Los Angeles Lakers trade No. 28 Pick (Tony Bradley).

The Jazz clearly like their rebounding, so for them, obtaining Tony Bradley was a priority. They have plenty of depth already as well so they could afford to give up an extra pick. In theory, this deal should make their frontcourt even more intimidating.

Jazz’s grade: B+

The Lakers, on the other hand, are looking to acquire as many young pieces as possible, and Hart and Bryant both have the potential to turn into solid role players. A smart move by the rebuilding franchise.

Lakers’ grade: A

 

Proposed Trade #5: Orlando Magic trade Andzejs Pasecniks, Philadelphia 76ers trade 2020 1st Round Pick (via Thunder) and 2020 2nd Round Pick.

This seems like a good long term move for the Magic, as Pasecniks probably wouldn’t have gotten much time behind Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo.

Magic’s grade: B+

The 76ers, meanwhile, have finally started trading their picks instead of trading for others. Pasecniks will join a young, growing, and dangerous core and will have a legitimate chance to contribute. If he can use his physical tools to develop, he’ll be another talented player as part of the Philadelphia team that will take the world by storm in the next few years. Hopefully for Philly, by 2020, their picks will be toward the end of their respective rounds instead of towards the beginning.

76ers’ grade: B+

 

  1. Tony Bradley, Utah Jazz (due to Proposed Trade #4)

Bradley is a decent overall prospect that can serve a role in the NBA due to his offensive rebounding skills. He might not be more than a role player, but that’s okay when you’re playing behind the Stifle Tower.

Grade: B

 

  1. Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs

I have White ranked fairly low on my prospect rankings, in part due to his age (22); however, I was impressed watching his film. He has a good jump shot and can distribute the ball well. Of course, he’s now going to the Spurs – meaning he’ll probably be a great value pick and become a productive NBA player.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

  1. Josh Hart, Los Angeles Lakers (due to Proposed Trade #4)

Hart was a great college player at Villanova, and he does a lot of things very well without being elite at one particular thing. He was a little lower than this on my prospect rankings, but he’ll have a chance to develop on a young Lakers team.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Frank Jackson, Charlotte Hornets (Update: Now New Orleans Pelicans due to Proposed Trade #6)

A good value pick here, Jackson is athletic and possesses a good jumper. He’ll likely play behind Malik Monk and Kemba, but he could be a useful role player and backup point guard on a talented Hornets team.

Grade: A

 

Proposed Trade #6: Charlotte Hornets trade No. 31 Pick (Frank Jackson), New Orleans Pelicans trade No. 40 Pick (Dwayne Bacon) and Cash.

Unfortunately, the amount of cash being handed over here is unknown at this time, so it’s impossible to give a complete grade for either team. However, both players have the potential to be solid role players in the league. Jackson most likely will be the better player, but that’s to be expected due to the draft slots that are being traded. Overall, the total benefit of the cash will determine exactly who comes out ahead here, but I would give the benefit of the doubt to the Pelicans.

 

  1. Davon Reed, Phoenix Suns

I didn’t rank Reed in my Top 50 Prospects or in my sleepers to watch for, so I believe there were much better options on the board for the Suns.

Grade: D

 

  1. Wesley Iwundu, Orlando Magic

I did not have Iwundu in either of my lists either, but Iwundu does have a good jumper and a large wingspan. He could pan out, but there were better options on the board.

Grade: C-

 

  1. Frank Mason, Sacramento Kings

Possibly selected to be De’Aaron Fox’s backup, Mason is an incredibly accomplished college player with a great shot. I don’t have him ranked this high in my prospect rankings, but I agree with Jay Bilas’ sentiments; he’s too tough to fail in the league.

Grade: B

 

Proposed Trade #7: Orlando Magic trade No. 35 Pick (Ivan Rabb), Memphis Grizzlies trade Future 2nd Round Pick

It remains to be seen how valuable that future pick will become, but I would swing this trade in favor of the Grizzlies because Rabb is as solid a 2nd round selection as they come; it’s unlikely that the Magic will be able to match his value with a future 2nd rounder.

 

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Photo Credits: Scout.com

 

  1. Ivan Rabb, Memphis Grizzlies

A lot of people forgot about Rabb, but I like the value here. He’s a tough rebounder with a lot of talent and decent touch on his jump shot. It wasn’t long ago he was in first-round consideration – he can surprise some people.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Jonah Bolden, Philadelphia 76ers

These 76ers know how to draft. Bolden is a high-upside prospect; he’s extremely athletic and has a great jump shot. He’ll be able to grow with their young core, and could be a good contributor to a good team.

Grade: A

 

  1. Semi Ojeleye, Boston Celtics

A great pick for the Celtics, Ojeleye is a physical specimen with a great deal of athleticism that can shoot the ball really well. He can grow on this stacked team and become a valuable contributor off the bench.

Grade: A

 

  1. Jordan Bell, Chicago Bulls

A third great pick in a row. Bell is a defensive superstar with great athleticism and a high motor. Anyone that plays as hard as this guy has a shot to be really good, a la Draymond Green.

Grade: A

 

  1. Jawun Evans, Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers can do no wrong. Evans is a great offensive threat, as he can drive, handle, and dish at an extremely high level. He’s only 6’1” – but as a Michigan fan, I was rarely as impressed when facing an opposing point guard (because Derrick Walton Jr. would often shut them down) than I was in the Michigan/Ok. St. matchup.

Grade: A

 

  1. Dwayne Bacon, Charlotte Hornets (due to Proposed Trade #6)

I listed Bacon under my sleepers section; the guy can put the ball in the hoop really nicely. His deep shot isn’t great, but his decent free throw shooting percentage suggests he can improve. If he can also distribute and rebound better in the future, he can stick around as a role player.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: ESPN.com

 

  1. Tyler Dorsey, Atlanta Hawks

Dorsey is a great scorer who stepped up on the biggest stage in March, showing off his great 3-point stroke. He bears some similarities to Tim Hardaway Jr. as a scorer so Hardaway can function as his mentor while Dorsey backs him up.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Thomas Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (due to Proposed Trade #4)

Bryant is a very rebounder who can step out on the perimeter and make a 3 every now and then, a valuable skill for a modern big to have. He has a massive wingspan, so defensively he could have the potential to grow as a rim protector as well.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Isaiah Hartenstein, Houston Rockets

A great selection by the Rockets. Hartenstein could fit very well in the modern NBA, as a smooth, athletic big with the ability to shoot. As Fran Fraschilla stated, he has a lot of talent – if he stayed in the draft for one more year, he might have been a lottery pick. This is a good find.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Damyean Dotson, New York Knicks

Another great pick for the Knicks? What? I know, it’s unsettling, but Dotson is a great shooter and an underrated athlete. Even if Phil Jackson is insistent on running the triangle. Dotson will do very well in the system due to his ability to not only catch and shoot, but also pull up off the dribble.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Dillon Brooks, Houston Rockets

A college superstar, Brooks was long considered the best player on the Oregon Ducks before Tyler Dorsey had a superhuman March. Brooks has succeeded at every level he’s played at, and despite his relatively small height and wingspan, he could potentially develop into a good bench player.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Sterling Brown, Philadelphia 76ers

Brown was another great college player; but in part due to his age, he’s not the same level prospect as Brooks. However, he has a very nice jump shot and ability to both rebound and pass. He’s got a shot to be a decent player.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: Yahoo! Sports

 

Proposed Trade #8: Chicago Bulls trade No. 38 Pick (Jordan Bell), Golden State Warriors trade Financial Considerations

This is a coup for Golden State. I’m not an expert on the Bulls’ finances, but to trade a guy with Bell’s talent for what’s most likely a small amount of financial benefit seems silly. The Warriors just gained another incredible defensive threat (whose motor I compared to Draymond Green’s not 15 minutes ago). It’s just not fair.

 

  1. Ike Anigbogu, Indiana Pacers

Finally. Anigbogu was drafted far after where I had him in my prospect rankings. He’s extremely raw, but he possesses great athleticism and has the innate ability to block shots (in part due to his ridiculous wingspan). Apparently, his medical reports were concerning, which is why he slid in the draft – but if he’s healthy, he can be a great rim protector.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Sindarius Thornwell, Milwaukee Bucks

Thornwell was a college superstar who has the potential to be a great defender along with a decent scorer at the next level. He’s displayed that he can rebound and shoot from deep as well. Overall, he likely only went this low because of (again) his age. He has the potential to be a very good player.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Vlatko Cancar, Denver Nuggets

Cancar is mainly known as a wing shooter with decent length for the small forward position (a 6’11” wingspan). He’ll likely be a draft-and-stash player, which makes sense for a team with as crowded a rotation as the Nuggets do.

Grade: B-

 

  1. Mathias Lessort, Philadelphia 76ers

A solid athletic player with a high motor. Similarly to Cancar, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a draft-and-stash player, as the 76ers have made a great deal of picks tonight and playing overseas would give Lessort an opportunity to grow.

Grade: B

 

  1. Monte Morris, Denver Nuggets

A fantastic pick. Morris is a spectacular distributor who never turns the ball over and also possesses a pretty good jump shot. I ranked him 35th in my prospect rankings; and while he may not get a chance in Denver (I’m a broken record – crowded rotation) to show off what he can do, he’s definitely an NBA point guard.

Grade: A+

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

  1. Edmond Sumner, New Orleans Pelicans

A solid pick for the Pelicans. Sumner is a good scorer and distributor who has been dragged down by injuries. If he can stay healthy, he has the chance to make a mark in the NBA.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Kadeem Allen, Boston Celtics

I’m not sure I love this pick. Allen is old for an NBA prospect at 24, and his numbers were solid across the board but nothing special (10-4-3). I have trouble believing that he has a lot more improvement left in him.

Grade: D

 

Proposed Trade #9: Houston Rockets trade No. 45 Pick (Dillon Brooks), Memphis Grizzlies trade Future Second Round Pick

This seems like a wash to me. Brooks has a chance to be a decent player, but he’s pretty average as far as second round picks go. The future second rounder should more or less be a fair value for him. However, the Grizzlies do have to be a little careful here, as this is the second future second rounder that they’ve traded tonight.

 

  1. Alec Peters, Phoenix Suns

A great pick. Peters is a great shooter and rebounder and should be able to thrive as a small-ball 4 at the next level. I had him higher on my top prospects rankings, and I think he has the potential to make an impact for this young Suns team.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Nigel Williams-Goss, Utah Jazz

Williams-Goss did a little bit of everything at Gonzaga – scoring, dishing, and rebounding. If he can improve his shot from deep, he could be able to crack an NBA rotation.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Jabari Bird, Boston Celtics

Bird was a solid scorer at California as well as a good rebounder for a 2-guard. I doubt he cracks the Celtics’ stacked rotation, but he has a shot to play in the league one day if he maximizes his potential.

Grade: B-

 

  1. Aleksandar Vezenkov, Brooklyn Nets

Vezenkov is known mainly for his shooting, but he’s not particularly athletic or strong. I doubt he ever plays in the league.

Grade: D

 

  1. Ognjen Jaramaz, New York Knicks

Another tall point guard picked by the Knicks, Jaramaz will likely be a draft-and-stash player. Again, it’s unlikely he makes any impact in the league.

Grade: D

 

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

 

  1. Jaron Blossomgame, San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs do it again, my gosh. Blossomgame is a very good athlete with strong physical tools. Because they’re the Spurs, they’re probably going to fully extract his defensive potential and turn him into a productive NBA player.

Grade: A+

 

Proposed Trade #10: New Orleans Pelicans trade No. 52 Pick (Edmond Sumner), Indiana Pacers trade Financial Considerations

I like what the Pacers did here, acquiring a guy with more talent than his draft position would suggest, but it’s unlikely that Sumner will make any true impact in the near future. That being said, I still don’t believe that the Pelicans should have traded him for what is likely light financial support. Sumner does have legitimate potential, even if he might not reach it.

 

  1. Alpha Kaba, Atlanta Hawks

Kaba is physically gifted, having measured a 7’5” wingspan at Eurocamp in 2015, and he had a good season rebounding overseas. However, like most Mr. Irrelevants, it’s unlikely that he ever makes an impact in the league. But hey, you never know.

Grade: C

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Basketball Reference, NCAA.com, and NBA.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Ben Koch

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Vegas Golden Knights Joust Their Way To A Succesful Expansion Draft

This past Wednesday night, the Las Vegas Golden Nights took part in an NHL Expansion Draft, making them the 31st team to enter the NHL. This draft was full of twists and turns, as well as a plethora of surprises, including a number of trades on draft night. Let’s take a statistical look at their very successful draft:

 

James Neal, LW via Nashville Predators

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

In an expansion draft in which teams could either protect 7 forwards and 3 defensemen or 8 skaters, teams were quick to lock up their top-scorers, leaving little options for Vegas’s offense. However, Vegas drafted an absolute stud in James Neal, who is one of the NHL’s top sharp-shooters and most potent offensive scoring threats. Neal has tallied at least 20 goals along with a shooting percentage of at least 10% in each of his 9 seasons in the league, which should provide substance to Vegas’s offense from Day 1.

Neal is a very durable player as well, as he logged over 1000 minutes of ice time in 8 of his 9 seasons thus far. Unlike some other sharp-shooters, Neal is anything but a liability when he is on the ice, as his relative Fenwick % (% team differences in shots+misses when on ice) and relative Corsi % (Fenwick % with blocks as well) have been positive for each of the last 7 seasons. Neal, one of the premiere scorers in the league, is also responsible for 58.5 point shares, which averages out to an impressive 6.5 point shares per season.

 

Marc Methot, D via Ottawa Senators

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo Credits: NHL.com

While high-scoring forwards are a very protected asset in an expansion draft, potential first-pair defenders are too, which makes it surprising that Methot was on the chopping block for Ottawa. Methot has consistently proven himself to be a lockdown, first pair defender who is capable of shutting down some of the league’s most prolific scoring threats, just ask Sidney Crosby.

Methot is an absolute tank, as he has logged at least 920 minutes of ice time in each of his 9 seasons in the league, and has recorded at least 90 hits in 8 of the 9 as well. Over the past 3 seasons, Methot hasn’t tallied a plus-minus less than +12, showing that he is very positively contributing to his team while on the ice, despite oftentimes facing the opponents’ top line. Methot is also responsible for 29 point shares, which is somewhat impressive for a defenseman who doesn’t produce offensively.

 

Marc-André Fleury, G via Pittsburgh Penguins

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

In possibly the most anticipated move regarding the Vegas Golden Knights this off-season, the Knights selected Fleury just days after winning his 3rd Stanley Cup. Despite losing his job to Matt Murray earlier this season, Fleury fought hard to gain his job back and was instrumental in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run, showcasing the amazing goalkeeping talents he still has.

Over his 13 season career, Fleury has a .912 Save % and 2.58 GAA, which easily put him among the league’s top tier of goaltenders. Admittedly, Fleury has aged a bit and is likely more of a middle tier goaltender going forward. However, with Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knight will be getting a seasoned veteran with extensive playoff experience and multiple Stanley Cups under his belt. Fleury is also responsible for 120.3 point shares, which is the good for the 89th most in the history of the league.

 

David Perron, LW via St. Louis Blues

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David Perron, Vegas’s pick from St. Louis, is simply a grinder and embodies the tough-as-nails style of play that Vegas is going to play with. Perron has recorded at least 1000 minutes of ice time in the last 5 of 6 seasons, which is seriously impressive given his aggressive style of play. Over the past 4 years, Perron has made his presence felt by averaging 129 hits per season, which is practically unheard of for a forward.

With that being said, Perron can also produce on the offensive side of the ice as well. In the past 10 seasons, Perron has finished with at least 36 points in 7 of them. Additionally, Perron has a 12% shooting % over the course of his career, which makes him a legitimate scoring threat if he shoots more. As “irrelevant” as some might think he is, Perron is responsible for a solid 42.4 point shares in his career.

 

Alexei Emelin, D via Montreal Canadiens

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

Alexei Emelin, Vegas’s pick from the Montreal Canadiens, bears striking resemblances to David Perron in his style of play. Just as Perron, Emelin is a very physical player, who embodies that grinder and tough-as-nails style on the blueline. Emelin is a very solid, yet physical defender and has recorded 189 hits or more in 5 of the past 6 seasons. What is the lone exception you might ask? It was the 2012-13 season where he only played in 38 games.

Emelin is a trooper as he has recorded 1130 minutes of ice time in 5 of the past 6 seasons, with one again, the lone exception being in 2012-13. Emelin has proven in the past that he can be a lock-down defender with a very physical edge, and should be a valuable edition to the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster. Emelin has recorded 14.5 point shares over the past 5 seasons, which is impressive for a non-producing (offensively speaking) defenseman.

 

Jonathan Marchessault, C via Florida Panthers

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

The Florida Panthers’ logic going into this expansion draft was quite questionable, as they left an absolute young stud in Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault is a young, rising star with serious goal-scoring potential and should provide an immediate offensive boost for Vegas.

Marchessault recorded 51 points last season via 30 goals and 21 assists, which is a seriously impressive mark for such a young player. Marchessault is also a power play threat, as he tallied 18 power play points via 8 goals and 10 assists. He played 1268 minutes last season, which is quite a large amount for a young player as well, and shows that he can be heavily utilized in Vegas. Marchessault was responsible for 6.2 point shares last season, which is quite notable also.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Hockey Reference, NHL.com, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: NHL.com