Where do the top players from 2018 go from here?
Last year's draft class was historically great. That's a true statement both for the draftees as NBA players and fantasy players.
Expectations are high leading into year 2. And although progress isn't linear (see, e.g., Tatum and Mitchell, exhibits 1A and 1B), there is reason for optimism.
Today, we'll be looking at three of those top 2018 players: Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young. Good reason exists to expect big things from each of these players in year two and beyond. With apologies to a long list of players also deserving (Read: at the very least, JJJ, Bagley, Bridges x2, and Mitchell Robinson), let's focus in on these three for the time being. And look for a sequel blog on a few more rising Sophomores soon.
1. Deandre Ayton
It's possible that Ayton is somehow being undervalued, both as an NBA player and in fantasy. According to our Rank of Ranks, Ayton's average draft position is falls between 26-33 on the most popular sites, despite him finishing last year as (checks notes) the 35th best player. Some fantasy rankings suggest he should be drafted closer to 37th, meaning that he'd take a step back from his rookie year.
That's certainly a possibility, but we believe that the more likely outcome is career growth. There are basketball reasons why, which should guide the analysis. Ayton showed signs of steady improvement (particularly on defense) as his rookie year went on. He may have more of a green light to shoot 3s this year. Rubio's best asset is his ability to improve shot quality for centers. Suns staff have raved about Ayton in particular during the summer.
There are also fantasy specific reasons to expect progress. Ayton's game resembles what we call the "quiet pro" meaning that his game - particularly his high percentages and low TO rate - give him a built-in fantasy value floor. Any incremental leap in other categories (be it in points, assists, blocks, etc.) thus build on an already good foundation. That's a great recipe for fantasy success.
Our guides, models, and tools all generally agree with this assessment. Our Rank of Ranks places ranks him 21st, with a confidence score roughly equivalent to a player like Andre Drummond. Our Dynasty Trade Tool is even higher on Ayton, and values him more highly that Trae, Luka, and JJJ (notably, they are all close - within 1% point of value from one another. Again: 2018 was a really, really good draft).
2. Trae Young
Trae is a divisive talent. Some continue to believe he'll be a better NBA player than Luka; others (myself included) see him as a potentially lethal offensive player but with a career expectation that won't match Luka. His fantasy value is similarly difficult to map: his confidence value is huge in our Rank of Ranks (and again: the higher the value the less predictable the player's actual value, meaning that a large number means we're not too confident where he could end up). Having a higher confidence value than Ayton, JJJ, and Luka reflects Trae's on-court expectations, and suggests high boom-or-bust potential.
What it means, simply put, is that using a high draft pick this year on Trae is like buying a lottery ticket. Over a full career, however, where growth smooths out and looks less uneven, Trae's value becomes more interesting. Our dynasty trade tool loves him, for example, and views his value roughly equivalent to Luka's value (and sees Trae as the better player particularly in years 3 and 4 of his career).
2. Luka Doncic
If this post were focused on real life play, Luka would hold the leading edge by a significant margin. His profile, NBA-skill set, mix of offensive and defensive skill (not great on the latter, but better than first advertised), and first year ability are really, really impressive. Second best step-back in the game is high-praise.
There are reasons for concern, most of which are related to his FT% rate. That doesn't bode well for his fantasy game, nor does it help provide a good trajectory for other aspects of his game. And because he draws fouls at a high rate, that percentage matters more than say, a Lonzo Ball. Optimism does abound, of course, with his coach suggesting that FT% was a priority over the summer. His summer league play to date suggests that priorities aside, we may see a similar outcome.
Our Rank of Ranks likes Doncic putting him at 30, two spots higher than Trae Young and a single spot higher than his newest teammate. It also projects a higher confidence score than I'd prefer (30.4), which suggests a good degree of boom-or-bust potential this year. It's certainly far better than Trae's score, and closer to the variability we'd see from a player like Covington (his due to injury risk) or Adebayo (his due to new found starting role).
Our Dynasty Trade Tool likes Doncic, which should be expected. Surprisingly, however, the tool suggests his value is roughly equal to Trae Young, meaning that if the Hawks were playing fantasy, their draft-day trade was a good one. We'll see, of course. In my estimation Doncic has a higher likelihood of becoming a superstar, and if that happens he becomes over 5% more valuable year-over-year than Trae or Ayton).
Check back again soon for Part Two of our 2018 player series.
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