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Fantasy Basketball Industry PRO/ject: Most surprising player

When it comes to fantasy basketball, there is an abundance of opinions available from multiple sources. As a way of collating those opinions, the Industry PRO/ject series was born. Every few weeks, I will join an elite company, garnering opinions on a range of fantasy basketball topics. The purpose of this series is both to entertain and educate, as well as giving you, the reader, a chance to agree or disagree.

In this edition of the Industry PRO/ject, I asked the analysts which player has been the biggest surprise this season. Upon reading, you will notice a common theme amongst the opinions. I won’t give too much away but there have certainly been a couple of players that have stood out.

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Fantasy Basketball’s Most Surprising Player

Dan Besbris (@DanBesbris)

Brandon Ingram – I have to admit, I did NOT see this one coming. And as a Laker fan second to my fantasy love, I simply cannot express how often I sat back in my chair and said, aloud, “His arms are 45 feet long! How come he can’t get a defensive stat?” I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how confounding it was that he could shoot such a high FG% on mid-range jumpers while simultaneously missing at the free-throw line.

Ingram was always a points-league darling due to his ability to volume score, grab some boards and deliver a handful of assists as a primary offensive option on the Lakers. However, he was always multiple categories away from being an elite category-league asset. His FT% was a detriment, he didn’t hit threes, and he lacked in both defensive categories. Although, the low steals total was certainly the more sore topic.

Banking on even one or two of those improving dramatically felt like a monster gamble, but that’s what it would take to get him into even the middle-late rounds. Betting on Ingram fixing all three of his worst spots was lunacy! And yet, here we are. His threes increased from 0.6 to 2.5 (while his FG% only dipped by 2%); his FT% increased from 67.5% to 86.2%, an insane achievement; and his steals are up from 0.5 to 1.0. These changes happening in one offseason defies logic, and hence, Ingram’s season is the most surprising of the year.

Eric Ong (@FantasyHoopla)

Brandon Ingram – There were many out-of-nowhere surprises in fantasy this season, part of what makes the game so much fun to play and write about. One of the biggest risers so far, hands down, has been Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans. I was a non-believer back when the Lakers (former team) were touting him as a future All-Star, yada, yada, yada.

This season, Ingram was able to break out in a big way. This was thanks to improved shooting efficiency and overall across the board leaps and bounds. Even the eventual season debut and handful of games of Zion Williamson were not able to slow him down too much. He’s now a bona fide star and will be a highly coveted draft target come 2020-21. Why? Well, his big jump is legit and Ingram’s shown that he’s now got a stable floor value with which to carry his pro career moving forward.

Kyle McKeown (@RotoKyleNBA)

I’ve been surprised by several players this season. I don’t know how many people expected the jumps we’ve seen from Brandon Ingram, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young, but it’s been fun to watch. DeVonte’ Graham and PJ Washington opened the season in impressive fashion that we weren’t expecting. We saw Hassan Whiteside perform at an elite level in the past. We knew he would have an opportunity to play while Nurkic was out. However, it’s been pretty amazing to see how prolific Whiteside’s production has been and the luck that’s fallen to him in regard to the injuries the Blazers have had in the frontcourt, requiring him to play a huge role.

I think probably the most surprising thing this season, though, is how well Russell Westbrook has shot the basketball, especially from the free-throw line, where he had fallen off dramatically in recent seasons.

Sam Macey (@macetastic)

Brandon Ingram – The biggest surprise this season in my eyes is Brandon Ingram. I simply did not see this efficiency from both the field (a slight drop from 50% to 47% from last season, but four more attempts) and the line (86%, bettering his previous high of 68%), on a night to night basis. He only needs eight more threes to pass his first three seasons combined! I love the pairing with Zion because he plays more like a small-ball C, with Williamson’s bully-ball scoring inside opening up the outside for Ingram to either hoist threes or slash in the lanes. If the Pels trade Holiday, his usage will stay constant and his value will hold for the rest of the season.

Kevin So (@kevinso)

Hassan Whiteside – At 30 years old, it was really looking like Hassan Whiteside was declining. His free throw shooting and block numbers were all heading in the wrong direction over the last few seasons. Signing with Portland, and removing himself from a Miami situation that always seemed to be conflict-filled at least looked like a chance at 2nd half career redemption. He obviously benefited from injuries (Nurkic and Collins), but man, did he come through.

Sporting a cool 15.9 points and 14.1 boards. His real value jump came from a surprising return to form on his free throw shooting and blocks. While being drafted in the 7th round on average, he has been paying off huge with his current #7 ranking overall in standard leagues. Sometimes you just really need a change of scenery and Whiteside has taken full advantage, much to the delight of those who roster him.

Nick Whalen (@wha1en)

Chris Paul – In terms of results versus expectations, the answer is probably Brandon Ingram. But I’ll go with Chris Paul. His assists numbers are down, but he’s been better-than-expected in just about every other area. After hitting a career-low 41.9 percent of his field-goal attempts last season, Paul is up to 47.7 percent — his highest figure since 2014-15. He’s right around his career average in three-point percentage, and he’s hovering around 90 percent at the line, as usual.

But, to me, what’s most surprising is we’re a week away from the All-Star break and Paul has missed only one game. Over the past three seasons, Paul missed 18, 23, and 20 games, respectively, before the break. We’ll see how his body holds up over the course of 82 games, but owners who took a chance on Paul having his healthiest season in years at age 34 have been handsomely rewarded thus far.

Mike Barner (@rotomikebarner)

Devonte’ Graham – The biggest surprise has to be Devonte’ Graham. He’s come out of nowhere to become a very productive player and is arguably the top waiver wire add of the season. Even though he shoots for a poor percentage and has been a bit up and down lately, he should continue to be a valuable source for points, assists, and three-pointers down the stretch.

Alex Barutha (@Alex_NBArutha)

Devonte’ Graham – Graham’s ADP on Fantrax was 424, and he’s been a top-60 player this season in terms of per-game production. There’s almost no comparable jump this season other than Richaun Holmes, but Holmes’ minutes and production are largely a result of the Marvin Bagley injury and the Dewayne Dedmon saga. Graham’s 37.4 FG% on 15.1 shots per game is obviously a major detriment to his value, but he’s been able to make up for it through a high volume of threes (3.5 makes per contest) and great passing (7.6 APG).

Graham is also the epitome of modern NBA basketball, hitting triples and getting to the free-throw line at a high rate. Surprisingly, Graham is on pace to become only one of two players in NBA history with the following stats for a single season: >53 TS%, >7.5 APG, >.61 Three-Point Attempt Rate, >.24 Free Throw Attempt Rate. The other player is Kyle Lowry, last season.

Al Hunter (@Hunta512)

Devonte’ Graham – The biggest surprise of this fantasy basketball season? It’s easy. DeVonte’ Graham. Heading into this year, all the hype was around Terry Rozier finally getting his starting role with the Hornets. Graham was expected to be at best a secondary option to the former Celtic. Well, 51 in games into the season, Graham ranks 29th in total fantasy points scored, over Rozier, who is 40th.

Furthermore, Graham is averaging more assists and shooting a higher FG% than his backcourt mate who signed a 58 million dollar deal this past summer. In our 20-man industry expert league held right here on Fantrax, Rozier was selected in the third round and Graham went undrafted. While many claim they predicted an improvement from the guard in his second season, no one expected Graham to leap from 4.7 PPG to 17.9 PPG in a year’s time. He was the steal of the year and if you have him on your roster, you’re most likely sitting at the top of your fantasy league.

Joel Bartilotta (@BartilottaJoel)

Devonte’ Graham – I hate to say this because Graham has been struggling mightily recently but this guy literally came out of nowhere. Part of me even thought that he might be playing somewhere in Europe before the year started and for him to be averaging 17.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 3.5 three-pointers is truly a miracle. He wasn’t even in anybody’s rankings at the beginning of the year and to get a guy like that off the waiver wire is an absolute treasure chest of a find. Honorable mention to Domantas Sabonis. I never would have anticipated him averaging 18.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game when watching him struggle in OKC.

Adam Stock (@AdamGStock)

Brandom Ingram – It’s hard to go with anyone other than Brandon Ingram. Some players’ games are just not made for fantasy, and before this season, Ingram was one of them. Coming into the year, he was looking like another Andrew Wiggins or Collin Sexton. Players with flashy popcorn numbers that are not very valuable because of all the holes in their line. Last season’s mini-breakout with LeBron sidelined hinted that a big season was coming, but not that to this extent.

When he was running hot in January and February of 2019, his free throw percentage, threes, and defensive numbers were still terrible. Props to his player development guys. I can’t think of any similar jump to this. Players jump for the late-rounds to the early-rounds occasionally, but players with as many holes in their line as Ingram had in prior years never do. The closest comparison I can think of is Brandon Knight in 2014-2015 when he went from a top-200 per-minute player to a borderline top-50 per-minute player.

Alex Rikleen (@Rikleen)

Brandon Ingram – The biggest surprise of the fantasy basketball season has to be Brandon Ingram, right? I mean, Fred VanVleet and Richaun Holmes have also risen from draft day afterthoughts to Fantasy’s top-25, but Ingram ranks highest among those three, with a substantial edge in 8-cat. Ingram’s ADP was just outside the top-100, and he’s become Kevin Durant-lite. Ingram adds value in all eight categories, and he’s made significant improvements from last season in seven of those. He’s 15th in scoring and 12th among non-PGs in assists per game. That’s incredible production from someone multiple experts had outside of their top 150! The biggest shocker is Ingram suddenly transitioning from a “meh” three-point shooter to a lights-out guy averaging 2.5 triples per game. After three seasons making less than 0.8 per game, safe to say that absolutely no one saw that jump coming.

Adam King (@adamking91)

Given the clear darlings when it comes to the most surprising player, I decided to take a different route. A player that has surprised me, for a different reason, have been Gary Harris. He was certainly not viewed as a top-50 player, however, there was optimism he could bounce back after disappointing during the 2018-19 season.

Harris was only a couple of years removed from being a top-40 fantasy player. Last season was disrupted by multiple injuries, leading to him being dropped in almost every competitive league. He came into this campaign well-rested and seemingly ready to rediscover his fantasy-friendly game. Unfortunately, that is yet to come to fruition and there has been little to suggest things are going to improve moving forward. In fact, it has been Will Barton who has managed to turn things around, putting up top-60 numbers thus far. Harris remains rostered in deeper formats but those in standard leagues have likely moved on.

Mike Catron (@WatchTheBoxes)

Devonte’ Graham – I am still surprised by the emergence of second-year guard Devonte’ Graham. Averaging about 15 mpg last year at the age of 24, he had zero breakout potential coming into this season. But here we are 53 games in and Graham is still producing at a standard league starting level. His overall numbers are a bit propped up due to a hot first half, but he continues to provide value where it counts. Even with his FG% reverting back to under .400, roto players have to roster him due to his elite assists, top tier 3PM, and above-average scoring/reb/stl for his position.

Not once would I have thought Graham could win me assists week-in/week-out, but I’m certain in H2H leagues he is putting teams in the playoffs. When punting FG% and TOs, as most H2H players do, he is currently ranked 29th overall and only trails six players in assists, one of the rarest categories gain. (LeBron, Trae, Doncic, Rubio, Simmons, and Dame are those top six).  Graham is now a standard league factor moving forward and we could see people reaching for him in the middle rounds to solidify their last chance for assists next season.

Is Adam on the money with his Industry PRO/ject piece? Let him know in the comments below! Also, check out our fantasy basketball waiver wire and all of our other fantasy basketball content.

Adam is your go-to man for anything fantasy basketball related. Follow him on twitter @adamking91 or hit us up @fantrax or @fantraxnba

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