By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The preseason is just around the corner, with the first game tipping off Friday just north of Tokyo, Japan, between the Wizards and Warriors. The fantasy draft season is heating up as well. Plenty of leagues are already in place, and we have some early data on players’ Yahoo average draft positions.
ADP doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Yes, some players’ ADPs are almost literally representative of where they’re selected in every draft. But other times, the ADP is the middle ground of wildly varying draft positions. Below are five players who fit that bill – some of the most polarizing players in fantasy this season.
Russell Westbrook, Lakers (Overall ADP 88.6)
Westbrook took a massive step back last season while being the third option behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The point guard had his moments when one or both of James and Davis were sidelined, but fantasy managers shouldn't look to those games as reasons Westbrook could have a better 2022-23 campaign.
The fit didn’t work, and it’s no secret the Lakers are attempting to offload Westbrook in a trade. That’s proven difficult given his declining performance and massive – although expiring – contract. Fantasy managers are in a tough spot. Projecting Westbrook’s performance if he remains in Los Angeles is challenging enough – Can he become a better shooter? Will he buy in defensively? – but what happens if this looming trade occurs? Does he get dumped and bought out? Can he maneuver into a higher-usage role again somehow? And this is all before considering what lost athleticism due to age means for his style of play.
Ben Simmons, Nets (Overall ADP 83.5)
Simmons sat out the first half of last season while a member of the 76ers for mental health reasons. He was dealt at the deadline to the Nets for James Harden. It seemed like Simmons would suit up for Brooklyn late in the year, but he required surgery for a herniated disc in his back. He was sidelined for all of 2021-22.
With all the baggage surrounding Simmons, plus the Nets as a franchise, it’s easy to forget that the 26-year-old has meaningful accolades. He’s a three-time All-Star, a one-time All-NBA selection, a two-time All-Defensive Team selection and he led the league in steals per game once. His playoff success has been mixed at best, but fantasy basketball is a regular-season game.
Pessimistic fantasy managers will ask: Does Simmons love basketball, and is he dedicated to winning? Beyond that, can he thrive in his new role next to stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving? Optimists will point to his accolades and past fantasy success and suggest his upside is that of a hyper-athletic Draymond Green – a distributor, defender and rebounder who will put his teammates' scoring above his own.
Zion Williamson, Pelicans (Overall ADP 40.9)
Williamson’s injury situation last year could be classified as a saga. He showed up at training camp with the announcement that he had undergone surgery for a broken foot. His recovery timeline kept getting pushed back farther and farther, but always with the expectation that the up-and-coming star would eventually suit up. That never happened.
The hope is that Williamson, now healthy and noticeably thinner, will emerge as a true superstar on the revamped Pelicans. That’s what everyone wants – to be honest, I’m surprised his ADP is this low – but is that what will actually happen? Anyone who paid attention two years ago understands the explosive potential of Williamson. He’s a linebacker with a 40-inch vertical who can operate on either side of a pick-and-roll, and he deservedly made the All-Star team.
Two questions arise for the pessimists, however. Can he stay healthy? He's already torn his meniscus and suffered a broken foot. Losing weight should help prevent more injuries, but his physicality remains unprecedented. Also, what's the pecking order in New Orleans? This team proved it was good without Willamson last season, giving the Suns a bit of a scare in the first round of the playoffs. Given CJ McCollum's presence, it seems unlikely Williamson will handle the ball as much as he did toward the end of the 2020-21 season. Plus, Brandon Ingram is a capable playmaker, and even Jonas Valanciunas can be effective as a post option. How Valanciunas and Williamson mesh is a question of its own. Maybe less attention on Williamson will help, and he can thrive as a cutter and offensive rebounder. Given all the different factors pulling at him, it's no surprise he draws strong opinions from fantasy managers.
Bradley Beal, Wizards (Overall ADP 33.7)
After two consecutive seasons averaging over 30 points per game, Beal crashed last year. He suffered from both decreased volume and efficiency – a rough combination that resulted in him averaging just 23.2 points. While he increased his assists to a career-high 6.6 per game, it wasn’t enough to salvage his fantasy value. Adding injury to insult, Beal underwent surgery for a sprained wrist in February and missed the remainder of the season.
The three-time All-Star has a better team around him – Kristaps Porzingis, Will Barton and improving young depth – than in previous years. Will that make his job easier, or will it result in another year of deflated play?
While Washington did bring in more help, none of the additions are high-usage playmakers, so Beal's job as the clear-cut No. 1 option is safe. It's just a matter of how egalitarian coach Wes Unseld Jr. wants the Wizards to play. If last year is any indication, we shouldn't expect Beal to return to first-round fantasy value. At the very least, a bounce-back to his usual efficiency seems fair to expect.
Dejounte Murray, Hawks (Overall ADP 21.4)
Arguably the most valuable fantasy sleeper of last season – Miles Bridges and Jordan Poole being the other key candidates – Murray took over as the No. 1 option on the rebuilding Spurs. His career year resulted in him returning first-round value in some formats. But shockingly, San Antonio decided to move the 26-year-old to the Hawks for picks to dive into a full-on tank.
Is there any chance Murray is as valuable as last season? My gut says no, but his ADP suggests plenty of people believe he’ll come close.
If Murray maintains top-level fantasy value, it probably won't be through the same archetypal production. Even if you're an optimist, the reality is that Murray is no longer the go-to option on a floundering squad. But, the young guard may trade assists and field-goal attempts for increased efficiency and 3-point volume. It will help if Trae Young runs more off-ball actions. Plus, Murray will presumably run the second unit. And we can't forget he's a top-notch defender who led the NBA in steals last season (2.0 per game) and may have even more energy to expend on that side of the ball.
So, what’s the pessimist’s perspective? Murray loses tons of usage playing next to a star point guard in Young, who doesn’t want to play off the ball or struggles to adjust; Murray can’t shoot the three effectively, affecting floor spacing; other players like De’Andre Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic make strides or are better fits in closing lineups; Murray’s high rate of rebounding (8.3 RPG) drops playing with Atlanta’s glass-eating frontcourt. Those things probably won’t all happen, but they’re on the table.