Fantasy Basketball: Westbrook, Harden Atop List of Top 60 Guards
Yes, we are in a golden age of guards, yet don’t be mistaken; without a top-end performer at the position, your Fantasy basketball title hopes are gasping for air from the outset.
It’s either James Harden or Russell Westbrook atop the list at both guard and overall. How it shakes out depends on your preference, but Westbrook should be the top choice after the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony gave him added firepower. Harden, of course, is bolstered by the addition of Chris Paul, yet the MVP-runner up will see a decline in assists just sharp enough to give Westbrook the edge. Then again, “settling” for Harden is like being told that while you can’t have Beyonce, Scarlett Johansson is waiting in the wings.
There is a drop after the Top 5-7 guards off the board, so brace yourself for mild turbulence once that happens. You’ve had enough of me hyping it up, so here are the rankings of our Top 60 Guards.
Be sure to see the rest of our 2017 - 2018 Fantasy Basketball positional rankings:
- Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder: While the issue regarding his left knee merits watching, it shouldn’t be enough to be deterred from drafting Westbrook first overall. He’s (obviously) not repeating last season’s numbers for the ages, but should be a lock for a fourth straight season of a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) above 25 per game and a fourth straight year of at least 8.6 assists a night. The presence of both George and Anthony will most impact his scoring, so expect Westbrook to be around 22-24 points per game, especially since he won’t hoist anywhere near the 583 3-point attempts he fired off last season.
- James Harden, PG/SG, Rockets: He’s in his second season of coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, so imagine the modifications Harden adds to his game. As expected, Harden will lose assists due to Paul, but the tradeoff should mean more explosive forays to the basket that will translate into more free throw attempts. He’s a lock for a fifth straight year of averaging at least 10.2 freebies per contest and the presence of Paul should also add a jolt to his 34.3 percent mark from beyond the arc. Don’t forget that Harden – while much-maligned for his lack of defense – does average 1.5 steals per game. One of the game’s more durable players, Harden is a lock for 25 points, six assists and seven boards per contest, and if you took him first overall, few would be shocked.
- Steph Curry, PG, Warriors: If you’re willing to pass on Curry because you expect some kind of decline, you’re foolish and most likely believe in the Great Pumpkin. The Warriors proved last season caring is sharing and while Curry’s PER fell from the lordly-like 31.56 in 2015-16, he did quite well carrying Fantasy players with a 24.74 PER last year. His True Shooting Percentage (TS%) has been over 61 percent the last four years with little falloff projected. Curry “only” hit 324 triples last season that made it just the second-highest total in Association history. He also goes a long way toward your team winning the 3-point category while also contending in free throw percentage.
[caption id="attachment_259423" align="alignright" width="434"] New Contract. Top guard in Fantasy hoops. Yes, you'd look up too if you were Russell Westbrook these days. Photo Credit: Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire.[/caption]
- Jimmy Butler, SG, Timberwolves: Reuniting Butler with coach Tom Thibodeau is almost as heart-tugging as the end of “Snoopy, Come Home,” so why rejoice in the moment and grab one of the game’s most unappreciated players? Butler will pair with Karl-Anthony Towns to form one of the league’s best inside-out combinations and having them paired in the open court will result in more than a few highlight reel moments. He’s averaged 1.6 steals in each of the last four seasons and could finally break into the two-per category as the anchor behind what will be an improved Minnesota defense. While Butler may not be an elite scorer, he’s a notch below that plateau and is a plus in free throw shooting (career 83 percent). The trend in his advanced stats suggests a career year this season. Just thought you should know.
- John Wall, PG, Wizards: Wall belongs the elite guards despite his hideous 3-point shooting (32.7 percent last season). He remains one of the fastest players in the game with his amazing ability to explode to the basket, and he’s coming off a career-best 23.1 points per game last season. Wall has proven his durability by playing in at least 77 games in each of the past four campaigns and has the talent around him to assure a fifth straight season of double-digit assists. Defensively, Wall has swiped at least 1.7 steals in his last four years and hit a career-high 2.0 in 2016-17. Just 27, Wall is hitting his peak years and as he continues to improve as a shooter, expect his PER to take a climb from last season’s 23.28 to greater heights this year. If only if he’d stop shooting so many triples…
- Kyrie Irving, PG, Celtics: Career Year. We could stop with those words and be justified, but this is the season Irving proclaims why he (truly) belongs among the elite when it comes to Fantasy production. Coach Brad Stevens’ offense is tailor-made for Irving, who hit career bests last season while playing Barney Rubble to LeBron James’ Fred Flintstone. Now that Barney/Irving is out of Bedrock and has his own show, let’s see how he makes his supporting cast shine. Irving will average 20 shots per game for the first time in his career yet also will see a rise in rebounds, while his assists total also takes a step up now that he’ll no longer have LBJ thieving his dimes.
- Damian Lillard, PG, Trail Blazers: He scores in droves and it’s not a stretch to imagine Lillard eclipsing last season’s 27 points per game and making a bid for the scoring title. Lillard learned to drive to the hole more efficiently last season and averaged a career-best 7.3 free throws per game and while his game makes him appear like the Innovator of Offense, Lillard gives you reasonable production on the glass (career-high 4.9 boards last season) while doing just enough on defense to push your steals numbers in the right direction. It’s at this point that the previous warning about dropping in value comes into play, so grabbling Lillard assures Fantasy owners a chair when the music stops.
- C.J. McCollum, SG, Trail Blazers: While not as popular as Fred and Carrie, McCollum and Lillard’s version of “Portlandia” is pretty damn entertaining. As good as last season was, McCollum has the upside and opportunity to improve his 23-point per game output of 2016-17. His 41-point outing against the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals may have been a calling card of sorts when it comes to what McCollum can do. He’s deadly from beyond the arc, connecting on 42.1 percent of his attempts and had 18 games of at least four 3-pointers. McCollum offers minimal Fantasy value outside his scoring, yet the promise of a breakout should be enough to entice Fantasy owners into grabbing him.
- Kemba Walker, PG, Hornets: With little fanfare, Walker has emerged as one the game’s better point guards and while he doesn’t offer the sizzle of the players ranked ahead of him, Walker’s numbers aren’t shabby. A third straight season of at least 20 points per game is a lock, while Walker will also hover in the neighborhood of four rebounds, six assists and just over a steal per contest. The advanced metrics indicate Walker has room to expand his numbers and the addition of center Dwight Howard should boost his assists totals, while presenting the prospect of increased scoring if D12 can stay focused and give the Hornets a needed inside force that allows Walker freedom to shoot from beyond, where he hit almost 40 percent last year.
- Chris Paul, PG, Rockets: He fits perfectly with Houston’s up-tempo attack and his ability to take pressure off Harden translates into his usual high assists totals (at least 9.1 per game each season since 2007-08), while Paul’s scoring should result in at least 19 points for the fifth time in the last seven years. Still one of the league’s top defenders, Paul has led the league in steals six times and recorded his tenth season of at least two swipes per game last year. His 3-point shooting has improved to where he hit 41.1 percent from beyond the arc last season. He’ll get plenty of chances to hone his long-range game in Houston and if you’re an owner who already has Harden and Paul is on the board in Round 2, take him and soak in the love that backcourt will give you most nights.
- Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies: Conley is another source of consistent play and comes off a career-best 20.5 points per game while adding more than six assists for the sixth time in seven years. Conley isn’t flashy but Fantasy owners know what they’re getting when it comes to him. He may carry a bigger offensive load this season, so don’t be too surprised if Conley can exceed his PPG total from last year. He’s also an improved marksman from beyond the arc, which further drives up his value.
- Bradley Beal, SG, Wizards: Hard to remember that Beal is only 24, yet sometimes it feels he played in the same backcourt with Gilbert Arenas. Beal is a shooter whose penchant for filling the basket goes beyond his 40 percent accuracy beyond the arc, as he shot a career-best 82.5 percent from the free throw stripe last season. He's also seen his TS% take a climb from 52.1 percent in 2014-15 to 54.7 percent to last season’s 60.4 percent. Point being: he’s got enough upside to continue climbing just enough to go from averaging 23.1 points per game to around 26-27 per night. The increased usage rate also suggests a scoring spike is coming.
- Jeff Teague, PG, Timberwolves: Speaking of spikes, expect Teague to see a spike in his assist totals as he will thrive with a young Minnesota team that will blend well with the veteran point. Even with Butler, Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Teague should still continue scoring in the 15-17 PPG range and could record the first double-digit assists average of his career. Teague will help in steals and will also improve his 35.7 percent mark from 3-point range last season. Sneaky good is perhaps the best description for Teague.
- Klay Thompson, SG, Warriors: You don’t come to a Klay Thompson Party to see him grab rebounds and block shots. No, you come to see Thompson do his thing from long range. Don’t pay his postseason struggles any mind as Thompson will record his fifth straight season of at least 220 3-pointers at or near his career 41.9 percent accuracy. A fourth straight year of averaging at least 21 points per game is also assured, so grab your ticket and punch it if Thompson is sitting there for you to grab in the early rounds.
- Gordon Hayward, SG, Celtics: Hayward won’t be The Man in Boston, but the 24.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists he averaged in the postseason showed he can be when needed. Hayward bailed from Salt Lake to Beantown and should continue as one of the league’s better stat-stuffers. He’s quietly averaged better than a steal per game each of the last four seasons as his points per game have improved each year of his career. Hayward may stall out at 21.9 points per game, but his 82 percent mark from the line is a plus while the 39.8 percent he shot from beyond the arc last season might have more room for improvement. He also has eligibility at SF, but he should spend much of the season paired in the backcourt with Irving.
- Kyle Lowry, PG, Raptors: Lowry was a poster boy for players in contract years, hitting career highs across the board before being rewarded lots of coin to stay in Toronto. The question with Lowry, however, is whether last season’s money run was his plateau. Even if it was, most Fantasy owners will be fine with Lowry repeating his 22/7/4.8 slash line while maintaining his TS% and PER totals. There’s plenty of reason to believe Lowry can do so, but those drafting in keeper/dynasty leagues may want to approach Lowry with caution because the drop can come much sooner than expected.
- Ricky Rubio, PG, Jazz: He looked like he had turned a corner with his shooting when he averaged 17.8 points on 47 percent shooting and 43 percent accuracy from the line in 14 games last March. Alas, Rubio reverted to his scattershot form in April, shooting 32 percent from the field despite averaging 14 points per game. There’s little reason to believe Jazz coach Quinn Snyder is going to be content with giving Rubio the 12.3 field goal attempts per game he averaged after the All-Star Break, but what Rubio will offer is a fifth straight year with at least eight assists and nearly two steals per game along with free throw shooting in the mid-to-upper 80s. Just remember: every time Rubio – a 31.5 percent 3-point shooter – pulls up from beyond the arc, an angel loses its wings.
- Eric Bledsoe, PG, Suns: Honestly, a strong case for ranking Bledsoe 4-5 spots higher can be made, but his injury history stifles that before the judge even sees it. Bledsoe averaged 21.1 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds last season but missed 16 games. He has played in just 99 games the past two seasons, but if he stayed healthy, Bledsoe could be a steal. He and Devin Booker could be downright filthy if he’s able to stay on the court.
- Goran Dragic, PG, Heat: Coming off a season in which he averaged a career-best 20.3 points per game, Dragic also averaged a personal-best 40.5 percent from 3-point line while becoming Miami’s go-to man from the perimeter. He’s more good than great in that his assists totals (5.3 or better per game in three of the last four seasons) aren’t overwhelming and his steal per game average is, well, average for the position. Dragic’s usage rate (27.0) could go up, so expect just a bit more scoring but don’t look for much else to do so. Again, not bad, but still…
- DeMar DeRozan, SG, Raptors: He will also have eligibility at SF, but is more valuable in the backcourt. DeRozan lit it up last season with a career-best 27.4 points per game and added 5.2 boards and 3.9 assists to go along with 1.1 steals per game. My question is whether he can maintain a 32.7 usage rate for another season while also expecting a further jump of his PER from the 21.58 he had in 2015-16 to last year’s 24.09. I’m leaning yes, but it’s a cautious thumbs up.
- Devin Booker, SG, Suns: One day soon, Booker will compete for a scoring title and it’s not too insane to suggest this is the year. Booker averaged 24.6 points after the All-Star Break, closing out the season with a 27.4 PPG average in his last five games. He may also gain PG eligibility at some point in the season, making him more versatile. He did show signs of being more active on the glass (4.1 boards per) after the break and his 4.1 assists in the same span is further indication Booker’s breakout may be on the horizon.
- Dennis Schroder, PG, Hawks: There’s little reason to worry about Schroder’s recent brush with the law. He’ll be in the lineup on Opening Night and should be on course for a career year. Check out his postseason production, as Schroder averaged 24.7 points, 3.3 boards, and 7.7 assists in six games. Atlanta has few top-end options with Paul Millsap moving to Denver, so look for Schroder to thrive as the be-all, end-all option on the offensive end.
- D’Angelo Russell, PG, Nets: Brooklyn will let Russell become the artist of the offense, and his strong second half (18.5 points, 5.0 assists per game) suggests that’s a hell of an idea. There are some who think Russell could still be better than Lonzo Ball, and while that’s a subject for another day, Fantasy owners who grab Russell will benefit from the fact he’ll finally get a chance to shine without having to look over his shoulder.
- Jrue Holiday, PG, Pelicans: Oh, the possibilities of throwing lob after lob and letting Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins destroy rims in the process. Holiday could exceed last season’s 7.3 assists per game and a strong April (8.0 dimes per game in six contests) bolsters that belief. His shooting percentages tailed off after the break and with Rajon Rondo in town, Holiday could see his share of time at the two. He’ll get his baskets, but the potential assists numbers are what should make Holiday a valuable asset.
- Marquelle Fultz, PG, 76ers: There’s little question that Fultz already has star potential, but it’s going to take some time for the pieces to come together in Philly. Draft him with the mindset that Fultz will take his first steps toward elite guard status sometime after the All-Star Break.
- Lou Williams, SG, Clippers: Williams must adjust to the realization he’s not the only bomber on the Clippers roster, yet he should still average 15-17 points per night. The problem is that he doesn’t offer much else beyond his scoring prowess. Last year may have been a career campaign for Williams, but if you’re looking for scoring, you could do much worse.
- Elfrid Payton, PG, Magic: The five triple-doubles Payton recorded last season offers hope, as does the fact he shot better than 47 percent from the field. On the other hand, his 3-point shooting (27 percent) makes small children cry and a point guard averaging 2.6 free throw attempts in this day and age is plain sad. Payton is just 23 and with the Magic trying to chart a course, there’s enough here to believe he can improve as a shooter.
- Andrew Wiggins, SG, Timberwolves: The points will be there, as Jeff Teague should help take Wiggins’ game to the next level. Wiggins has improved as a 3-point shooter and his advanced numbers suggest he can become more efficient. What drags him down is that he’s not much on the glass and treats assists like happy accidents. Come for the scoring but don’t stay too hoping for much else.
- Lonzo Ball, PG, Lakers: Ah, yes, him. The usage rate will be off the charts, so expect Ball to show his potential in streaky fashion. There will be nights when the prodigy will carry a Fantasy team. There will be nights when he will sink a Fantasy team. Dad’s brashness aside, Ball has the chance to be great. Realistically, Ball should be good for 15 points, six assists, five boards and a steal per night, while his shooting percentages shouldn’t be as horrid as some expect.
- Isaiah Thomas, PG, Cavaliers: Drafting Thomas means you’re going to open this package until after Christmas. Still, it’s a gift that can carry a Fantasy team once he gets adjusted to playing with James. That alone means he’s not coming anywhere close to the 19.4 field goal attempts he averaged last season but he should be able to at least equal his 5.9 assists even with King James serving as the de facto point and Derrick Rose also playing a factor. Thomas has considerable risks that goes beyond targeting a debut date for him, as his high player usage won’t work for him in Cleveland. As far as his strengths, Thomas can hit the 3-ball at a solid 38 percent rate and should be able to take some of the scoring pressure off James. There might be a night or two where Thomas reverts to his 2016-17 form, but don’t count it too often.
- Eric Gordon, SG, Rockets: At this stage of the rankings, stat-stuffers are thinning out, so why not go after a pure shooter like Gordon? He averaged 16.2 points last season and played in more than 70 games for the first time since his rookie year in 2008. Gordon has averaged at least 15 points in all but one year of his career thus far and it’s hard to imagine that total falling off on the shot-happy Rockets. He’s a career 38 percent shooter from beyond the arc, making him a value pick in the middle rounds.
- George Hill, PG, Kings: The colors...the colors. Hill should thrive in a more fast-paced offense in SacTown instead of the plodding, paint by numbers style he ran in Utah last season. However, his time as a starter could be limited as the Kings don’t plan to have rookie D’Aaron Fox in a supporting role for long.
- Seth Curry, SG, Mavericks: “The other Curry” has finally found his niche and should see improved numbers across the board now that he projects to play more than 29 minutes per night.
- Patrick Beverley, PG, Clippers: He’s never averaged more than 9.5 field goal attempts per game in his five-year career. That will change as he’ll see more scoring opportunities in LA than he ever saw in Houston. Beverley is also a good source for steals.
- Buddy Hield, SG, Kings: Hield closed out his rookie season with an encouraging 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in six games in April while shooting nearly 47 percent from the field. Expect him to be just as consistent in his second year.
- Malcolm Brodgdon, PG, Bucks: The unlikely Rookie of the Year winner shot 47 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs, a clear sign his offensive game has yet to be fully tapped. Brogdon has a chance to take a significant leap forward with his all-around play.
- Derrick Rose, PG, Cavaliers: He’ll have the first 30-35 games as the starting point. Maybe, just maybe, the Derrick Rose of 2009-11 still resides inside of him. There’s potential in grabbing him as a reserve for your squad, but sell high if Rose does play above expectations.
- Victor Oladipo, SG, Pacers: Freed from watching Westbrook hog all the fun in OKC, the former Hoosier will be asked to help carry a revamped Indiana offense. The upside for scoring is there but Oladipo’s process will need some time.
- Dennis Smith, PG, Mavericks: From the outset, the rookie from North Carolina State will start at point, yet Smith all also see time at shooting guard. His off-the-charts athleticism will make him a favorite on the highlight reel and while Fultz and Ball have garnered much of the attention, do not be shocked if Smith outplays both as a rookie.
- Nicolas Batum, SG, Hornets: Batum is one of the better stat-stuffers in Fantasy hoops, as he quietly churns out 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and a steal per game along with an occasional block. However, he won't be delivering much of anything as he was diagnosed with tore left elbow ligament that will keep up out until at least mid-December. His value obviously drops, but still is worth a late-round stash if your league allows for an Injured List.
Oh, and These Guys
41. Zach LaVine, PG/SG, Bulls
42.Evan Fournier, SG, Magic
43. Avery Bradley, SG, Pistons
44. J.J. Redick, SG, 76ers
45. Rajon Rondo, PG, Pelicans
46. Jeremy Lin, PG, Nets
47. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Lakers
48. Gary Harris, SG, Nuggets
49. Reggie Jackson, PG, Pistons
50. Wesley Matthews, SG, Mavericks
51. Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Nuggets
52. Marcus Smart, PG, Celtics
53. Darren Collison, PG, Pacers
54. D’Aaron Fox, PG, Kings
55. Kent Bazemore, SG, Hawks
56. Justise Winslow, SG, Heat
57. Will Barton, SG, Nuggets
58. Tim Hardaway, Jr., SG, Knicks
59. Rodney Hood, SG, Jazz
60. Austin Rivers, PG/SG, Clippers
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