Every year in NBA fantasy drafts there are early-round players to avoid. This may be due to rest, injury, or poor performance. While some of these things cannot be predicted, there are players in the early rounds that have warning signs. To be clear, the players mentioned in this article will be elite when they play. After all, there is a reason they are going high in drafts. But in an NBA fantasy season, the most important part of selecting the core of your team is minimizing risk. Otherwise, you will already be trailing your competition right away.
Early Round Players to Avoid in Fantasy Drafts
Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple-double over the past three seasons. So why does such a coveted asset make the avoid list? Westbrook has had one of the highest usage rates in the league over the past few seasons, and now is joining another high usage, ball dominant superstar in James Harden. While Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni will be able to stagger both of them, they will have to play minutes together.
D’Antoni’s system also is dependent on three-pointers, an area Westbrook has been poor in throughout his career. In fact, he has shot 29 percent from three in four out of the last five seasons. His free throw percentage has plummeted the past three seasons, going from a solid 84 percent in 2016 to 65 percent last season. He also had offseason knee surgery, which isn’t his first knee surgery. He should still post great numbers in Mike D’Antoni‘s system but will struggle with efficiency. Take somebody else in the second round on draft day.
After a remarkable postseason run that saw him capture his second Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard is considered by some to be the best player in the world. If fantasy basketball were a postseason competition, Leonard would be a top-five pick. However, this is a regular-season competition.
Leonard has played in more than 66 games only twice in his eight-year career. With him barely making it to the finish line last year after playing in 60 games for the Toronto Raptors, it’s gonna be hard for him to improve on that mark this year. He will also be sharing more of the scoring load with other members on the Los Angeles Clippers. Currently drafted as a late second-round pick, there are much safer options that you can take. Let somebody else reach for him.
Blake Griffin was superb in fantasy last year, paying dividends to those who took him in the early rounds of drafts. Before this past season, the last time Blake Griffin played in more than 61 games in a season was back in 2014-15. That’s a long time ago. Griffin surprisingly played in 75 games last year and averaged a career-high 25 points per game.
While this may seem encouraging, in the game of fantasy you have to ignore recency bias. The 2011 slam dunk champion should go back to missing more games this year. He is being drafted in the mid-fourth round of drafts, and with younger, higher upside players still available around then, it doesn’t make sense to count on another 2018-19 season from Griffin.
There are numerous red flags when looking at Paul George. He is entering this year still injured, and coming off of shoulder surgery this offseason. His career-high 28 points and 8 rebounds per game last season are an outlier for his career. George’s previous career-high in scoring was 24 points per game. Let’s not forget he also will have to share the ball with players such as Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell next season on the Clippers.
Like Kawhi Leonard, George will certainly be rested throughout the year to stay fresh for the postseason. George is currently going in the late second round, and the facts suggest he should be going later in drafts. George is one of the early round players to avoid in drafts.
This might be the biggest shock of this article, but LeBron James is a risky first-round selection. As of right now, he is being taken with the fifth overall pick in most drafts, and that is simply too high. James played in 55 games last year due to a groin injury he suffered on Christmas Day, and this could be a sign that father time is starting to catch up to him.
Turning 35 in December, James will have lots of rest days this season for the title-contending Lakers. Granted, he will be a great player as always when he is out there, but the rest days will make him a headache to own this season. With superstar Anthony Davis joining him on the Los Angeles Lakers, some of the scoring burden will also be taken off of James.
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