It’s never too early to start preparing for next year’s fantasy basketball season.
One way we’ll help you do that is by reviewing each team, highlighting what went right and what went wrong in 2017-18. We’ll also take a look at the current state of the roster to see what moves they could potentially make over the summer, and what impact those could have, from a fantasy perspective.
As we continue to work our way through the reverse order of the regular season standings, it’s time to examine the Raptors, Rockets and NBA champion Warriors.
On paper, the Raptors reached new heights in the 2017-18 season, setting a franchise record for wins (59) and home victories (34). Toronto often appeared head and shoulders above the majority of teams in the East, even if their fortunes ultimately changed drastically in the postseason.
The Raptors also saw their solid nucleus of young players make notable strides this past season. Big man Jakob Poeltl and guards Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet all positioned themselves for larger roles at a minimum in 2018-19, and given that the Raptors have made it clear no one is untouchable in trade talks this offseason, they could find themselves as outright starters next season.
Poeltl saw action in all 82 games, boosting his scoring from 3.1 to 6.9 PPG, his rebounds from 3.1 to 4.8 RGP, his blocks from 0.4 to 1.2 BP and his shooting percentage from 58.3% to 65.9% in his second NBA season. The seven-footer provided stalwart defense down low while seeing seven more minutes per game (11.6 to 18.6 MP) than his rookie season, and he displayed some scoring upside with 20 double-digit point tallies during the regular season.
VanVleet may have shown the most improvement among the three, boosting his scoring average from 2.9 to 8.6 PPG while seeing his shooting percentage jump from 35.1% to 42.6%. He was also considerably improved from distance, draining 41.4% of his attempts from behind the arc. Although he didn’t log any starts among his 76 regular-season appearances, VanVleet ran with the first unit in Game 3 of the semifinal round against the Cavaliers, potentially a harbinger of things to come.
Wright improved his scoring over that of the previous year for the second straight season, posting a career-best 8.0 points per game on a career-high 46.5% success rate from the floor. The latter figure included a respectable 36.6% tally from three-point range, adding to Wright’s value in a role that grew to 20.8 minutes per contest in 2017-18. The 2015 first-round pick played in a career-high 69 games, as well, laying the groundwork for a potential starting role next season.
Despite their stellar regular season, the Raptors’ campaign ultimately ended in futility. Toronto was knocked out of the postseason courtesy of LeBron James yet again, and by a clean sweep in the semifinal round to boot. The unceremonious exit led to the firing of head coach Dwane Casey, particularly ironic considering the team’s stellar regular-season record and the fact Casey had just garnered the Coach of the Year honors.
Kyle Lowry also saw a concerning drop in scoring, putting up 16.2 points per game, his lowest figure since his first Toronto season (2012-13). The downturn was partly explained by the fact Lowry took over three less shot attempts per contest (12.1 FGA) as compared to the prior season (15.3 FGA), but he also saw his success rate from the field tumble from 46.4% to 42.7%.
There are plenty of rumblings this offseason that the Raptors are considering a variety of trade scenarios, some which certainly include the 32-year-old Lowry. The development of VanVleet and Wright provides Toronto with some flexibility in the backcourt if they were to move their multi-time All-Star, although that could prove challenging given Lowry is set to make $64.3 million over the next two seasons.
State of the Franchise
The Raptors find themselves starting over with a new head coach, as former assistant Nick Nurse takes over the reins of the franchise from Casey. The team could have a markedly different roster in 2018-19 if it follows through on the rumors of a makeover, a development that would likely lead to some growing pains. It’s not every day that a franchise that enjoyed the success Toronto did last season has this murky of an outlook, but with some potential wholesale changes and no picks in next week’s draft, that’s precisely the scenario they find themselves in.
Despite a sour finish to the season in which they blew a 3-2 series lead to the Warriors in the conference finals, the Rockets have plenty to be satisfied when they look back at their body of work. Houston posted a season-high 65 wins, which set a franchise record. Additionally, they were impressive while disposing of both the Timberwolves and Jazz in five games apiece through the first two rounds of the playoffs. And they could make a strong case they’d have been facing the Cavaliers in the Finals had it not been for a hamstring injury knocking Chris Paul out of the last two games against Golden State.
On the subject of Paul, his play was another example of what went right in Clutch City last season. After a knee injury suffered in the opener cost him the subsequent 14 games, Paul went on to average 18.6 points, 7.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game across 58 regular-season contests. Paul meshed well with James Harden, who undeniably benefited from Paul’s arrival. The Beard posted career highs in scoring (30.4 PPG), shot attempts (20.1 FGA) and three-point attempts (10.0 3PA) across 72 games, and the Rockets will aim to keep the pair together next season by inking Paul to the max contract he’s reportedly seeking.
Clint Capela also took another step forward this past season, averaging career bests in scoring (13.9 PPG), rebounds (10.8 RPG) and blocks (1.9 BPG) while posting a career-high 65.9% success rate from the field. The 24-year-old was a defensive force down low, and he acquitted himself just as well in the postseason. Capela averaged an impressive 12.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.1 blocks across 30.6 minutes in the playoffs, posting seven double-doubles along the way. However, there’s at least one team reportedly interested in offering Capela a max contract as a restricted free agent this coming summer, a development that would leave the Rockets facing a difficult decision on a player they’ve been successfully grooming for the past four seasons.
As good as the Paul-Harden tandem was, they often weren’t sure where their support would come from outside of Capela’s fairly steady contributions. A big reason for that was the inconsistency of veterans Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, both of whom saw statistical downturns last season.
Ariza posted his lowest rebound total (4.4 RPG) since the 2008-09 campaign while also averaging his fewest assists (1.6) since the 2007-08 season. The veteran wing suffered through some injuries as well, missing 15 games altogether. Meanwhile, Anderson’s decline was even more pronounced, as he posted his poorest scoring average (9.3 PPG) since the 2009-10 season while putting up a modest 7.3 shot attempts per game. The floor-spacing big man also lost his starting job to P.J. Tucker after suffering a hip injury, and he averaged just 8.6 minutes across 11 postseason games.
Ariza is an unrestricted free agent and may not return, but the Rockets are saddled with Anderson’s contract for two more seasons at a cap hit in excess of $20 million in each unless they’re able to find a trade suitor.
State of the Franchise
After falling short of dethroning the NBA champs on consecutive occasions to close out their season, the Rockets undoubtedly head into the offseason feeling as if they’re within striking distance of the Warriors.
That’s expected to lead to at least one marquee addition this offseason, with both Paul George and LeBron James as potential targets. Houston is also reportedly set to play Paul the max contract he covets, as the perennial All-Star is considered a key component of any potential championship run next season.
Capela’s possible return will likely remain in the air until free agency begins and a team potentially offers the emerging big man a max contract. If that comes to fruition, Houston may move on and look to replace Capela with a more affordable option. It’s unlikely to come through the draft, however, as the Rockets only hold a second-round pick (46th overall).
Zhou Qi, the seven-footer who showed promise while playing in China two years ago but received minimal opportunity in Houston last season, could eventually be a replacement for Capela, but he’s likely to require considerably more development before he has a chance to develop into a rotation-caliber player.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The “good” for the Warriors is best summed up by the fact they secured their third Larry O’Brien trophy of the last four seasons with a clean sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. That accomplishment essentially negated the trials and tribulations Golden State faced throughout what was a more challenging season than those of recent past.
The Warriors ultimately overcame a pair of extended absences from Stephen Curry to reach their ultimate goal of another championship, with key contributions from fellow All-Star Kevin Durant unsurprisingly playing a significant role. The All-Star forward was even better than in his first campaign in Golden State, averaging 26.4 points on 51.4% shooting while also posting his best assist total (5.4 APG) since the 2013-14 season. He was especially sharp from distance, posting a 41.9% success rate from three-point range that was the second highest of his career. Durant often took the mantle of offensive linchpin when Curry was sidelined, with a 50-point Valentine’s Day effort against the Trail Blazers serving as a highlight of his regular season.
Curry’s injuries also opened up playing time for second-year guard Quinn Cook, who ultimately parlayed the opportunity into a multi-year contract extension. Cook posted 14 straight double-digit scoring efforts at one point in Curry’s stead, while also making strong contributions on the glass and as a facilitator. He even flashed at times during limited opportunities in the playoffs, putting up a trio of double-digit scoring efforts off the bench. While he naturally won’t put any serious dent into Curry’s playing time next season, Cook could very possibly have that effect on fellow reserve Shaun Livingston’s minutes.
Second-round pick Jordan Bell also provided some reason for optimism with a rookie season that saw him average 4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 block across 14.2 minutes over 57 games. Despite the limited opportunity, the young big man should see a boost in playing time next season with fellow frontcourt members David West and Kevon Looney not locks to return.
The Warriors had to make do without Curry for 31 regular-season games and six postseason contests due to ankle and knee injuries, which helped lead to their most losses (24) since the 2013-14 season. Second-year wing Patrick McCaw also suffered a potentially devastating back injury after being inadvertently undercut by the Kings’ Vince Carter in a March 31st game. However, he was able to return for the conference finals series against the Rockets and ultimately saw minimal action in six playoff games.
Outside of those two situations, it was difficult to find much that went awry for Golden State in yet another championship season. A case could be made that there is no viable young center candidate on the roster, but veteran JaVale McGee proved more than adequate when called upon, lessening the urgency for the Warriors to make a move on that front.
State of the Franchise
To the chagrin of the rest of the NBA, the Warriors appear to be in fine shape and primed to compete for more titles for years to come. Durant has already committed to exercising his player option and returning next season, while Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all signed through next season at a minimum. Golden State holds the 28th pick in the first round in next week’s draft, a selection they could conceivably utilize on a big-man prospect or a promising two-guard, given that Thompson will be heading into a contract year next season.