Thursday, December 7, 2023

2022 Fantasy Basketball Awards: MVP, ROY, DPOY, pickup, most improved and bust of the year

With the end of the regular season right around the corner and many Fantasy seasons ending this week, it’s time to hand out some Fantasy awards. These often mirror the real-life NBA awards, but there’s some more wiggle room when discussing Fantasy production, and there’s no guilt surrounding propping up players on losing teams.

Below are the winners and two runners-up of six Fantasy awards for the 2021-22 season. They include the core real-life awards plus two Fantasy-only achievements.

Most Valuable Player

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Runners up: Joel Embiid, Trae Young

This award was straightforward. Sometimes trying to discern value between a player’s total production and per-game production can lead to headaches, but Jokic led both this season by a wide margin. And while Kevin Durant and LeBron James ranked second and third in per-game production, KD has appeared in just 49 games, and LeBron has seen just 55. In Jokic’s 69 appearances, he’s averaged 26.3 points on 58/35/81 shooting, 13.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.3 combined steals-plus-blocks in 33.2 minutes – the fewest minutes of anyone in the Top 10 per-game ranks.

Embiid follows up Jokic by ranking fourth in both per-game and total production, having made 62 appearances with 29.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.6 combined steals-plus-blocks. However, his field-goal percentage (48.9) is so far behind Jokic that it completely takes him out of contention for the No. 1 spot.

Young was a surprising third-place nod. He’s sneakily been the second-best player on a total production basis while ranking eighth per game behind averages of 28.0 points, 9.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 69 appearances. In addition to his gaudy scoring and passing numbers, his 90.2 percent mark from the charity stripe on 7.1 attempts helps. If there were a fourth-place spot, it would go to Karl-Anthony Towns, who isn’t far behind Young with a total rank of three and per-game rank of nine.

Rookie of the Year

Cade Cunningham, Pistons

Runners up: Franz Wagner, Scottie Barnes

This race was very close. If we’re going by total value, the order should be Wagner, Barnes, Cunningham. Wagner has played 76 games and has been steady in his 15.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists all year. Barnes has a marginally boosted stat profile – 15.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals-plus-blocks – but has played only 67 games. The notable omission is Evan Mobley, who may be the most impactful real-life player, especially defensively, but the stats haven’t been as gaudy. His free-throw percentage (66.4) hurts him, and he doesn’t hit any 3s (0.3).

Ultimately, I opted to side with Cunningham. He’s only played 60 games, but he’s been excellent down the stretch and is the best per-game player, ranking 50th. From December on, he has averaged 18.8 points on 43/35/84 shooting, 5.9 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 combined steals-plus-blocks. Fantasy managers in turnover leagues may not like him as much, but that’s the case with almost every high-usage young player.

Defensive Player of the Year

Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies

Runners up: Robert Williams, Robert Covington

The way I treat this award is: Who would be the most valuable player to roster in a defense-only league? By a mile, it’s been Jackson. He’s appeared in 74 games – a pleasant surprise for the oft-injured big – recording 2.3 blocks and 0.9 steals in 27.3 minutes per matchup. He’s had his share of monster efforts as well – eight games with five-plus blocks; four games with three-plus steals; 12 games with multiple steals and blocks.

On a per-game basis, Williams isn’t far behind (2.2 blocks and 0.9 steals), but he’ll finish the regular season with just 61 games played, as he recently tore his meniscus. And as relatively disappointing as Covington continues to be on offense, he remains a steals-plus-blocks monster. In 65 games, he’s averaged 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks in 27.7 minutes.

Pickup of the Year

Desmond Bane, Grizzlies

Runners up: Franz Wagner, Jalen Brunson

I limited this award to players drafted outside the Top 150 to cover most standard leagues, and even some deeper leagues. Wagner went undrafted in almost every league, so simply by biggest gap between ADP and total rank (41), he could be a winner. The same goes for Brunson, who is ranked 48th despite rarely being drafted. However, their impact doesn’t quite stack up to Bane.

Bane’s ADP settled at 163, so even 14-team leagues could have seen him slip through the cracks during the draft. He took a massive step forward this season while staying healthy nearly the entire year. In his 72 appearances, he’s averaged 18.2 points on 46/43/90 shooting, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals in 29.9 minutes. His stock will continue to rise down the stretch as Ja Morant (knee) remains sidelined for the near future. Bane was also a candidate for the following award, but I didn’t want to double-dip.

Most Improved Player

Miles Bridges, Hornets

Runners up: Dejounte Murray, Jordan Poole

There are so many candidates for this award that it was tough to narrow it to three. It could also be named Sleeper of the Year. Here are some names that didn’t make the Top 3 but deserve mention, and there will be plenty I don’t include: DeMar DeRozan, Darius Garland, Saddiq Bey, Gary Trent and Tyrese Maxey.

Poole is getting a bump late in the year with Steph Curry (foot) sidelined, but he’s even exceeded expectations compared to his preseason hype. In his 70 appearances, he has  averaged 17.9 points on 45/36/92 shooting, 3.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 0.8 steals. He’s also played 70 games, helping boost his total rank up to 37. Murray has a very compelling case to win the award. He’s ranked seventh in total production after an ADP of 47 – a massive boost for that early in the draft – with averages of 21.0 points, 9.3 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals.

Ultimately, though, I decided to give Bridges the nod. He’s ranked 14th after a 115 ADP, going undrafted in shallow leagues. He elevated himself from a true role player to a Fantasy stud, with averages of 20.1 points on 49/32/80 shooting, 7.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.9 combined steals-plus-blocks in 35.9 minutes. His most notable improvements came in increased shot volume (while maintaining his efficiency from the field) and more involvement as a passer. Heading into next season, the goal will be improving from beyond the arc, an area in which he shot 40 percent last year.

Bust of the Year

Russell Westbrook, Lakers

Runners up: Julius Randle, Spencer Dinwiddie

If you include players who dealt with injuries, this list looks completely different and includes guys like Zion Williamson, Damian Lillard and Michael Porter. However, I wanted to keep those situations out of the conversation and stick to players who remained relatively healthy (60+ games) and still let down Fantasy managers.

Dinwiddie is having a bit of a late-season revival, but the middle portion of his campaign was downright awful. From Nov. 22 through Feb. 17 (32 appearances), he averaged just 10.9 points on 35/27/74 shooting, 5.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 30.2 minutes, and that even includes a mini-revival from late December into mid-January. Though he’s picking things back up now, it’s too little too late. He had an ADP of 59 but sits at rank 144.

Randle’s crash back down to Earth this season represents the Knicks as a team. His ADP was 21, and he’s ranked 63rd. He has slid in every statistical category except his minimal block numbers. Down across the board, he’s averaging 20.1 points on 41/31/76 shooting, 10.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists. It’s serviceable, but a harsh blow to Fantasy teams that drafted him in the second round.

But it’s no question who takes the No. 1 spot: Westbrook. In most drafts, Westbrook was an early-second-round selection but is now outside the Top 100 (104). He’s managed to keep his percentages relatively stagnant at 44/29/67 compared to last year’s 44/32/66, but his usage has crashed. When increased efficiency doesn’t follow, it’s a nosedive down the ranks. He’s averaging 18.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.0 steals – great numbers in a points-based league, but the percentages and lack of defensive numbers kill him in category formats.

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