By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
With just over a week left in the NBA season, it’s time to look back at which young players lived up to the hype, and which failed to make the impact fantasy owners expected.
Breakout: Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls
After a frustrating and inefficient rookie season in Minnesota, Dunn was shipped to Chicago as part of the Jimmy Butler deal. The change of scenery did wonders for Dunn’s development, as he entered a vastly better individual situation, despite moving from a playoff contender to a rebuilding franchise.
When healthy, Dunn was the regular starter at point guard, though the Bulls announced Monday that a lingering toe injury, which he’s battled for the last two-plus weeks, will end his season. In 52 games, Dunn posted averages of 13.4 points, 6.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals, while shooting 42.9 percent from the floor, up more than five percentage points from his ugly rookie season figure (37.7% FG).
Missing more than a third of the season drags down Dunn’s overall value, but he still sits just outside the top 100 in Yahoo leagues, due in large part to his contributions on the defensive end. On a per-game basis, Dunn would rank just outside the top-50, ahead of the likes of Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and Dennis Schroder.
Breakout: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers and Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
It’s relatively rare for any rookie to be a high-caliber fantasy contributor, but both Simmons and Mitchell have bucked that trend this season. Which player has had the better season is a debate that will wage on until Game 82, but from a fantasy perspective, Simmons has the slight edge.
The top pick in the 2016 draft has been the 19th-most-valuable player in Yahoo leagues, racking up triple-doubles with regularity and averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game for the season. The only players — not rookies — in NBA history to meet those same benchmarks? Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Russell Westbrook.
Also of note: Simmons has done all of that damage without a semblance of an outside shot. Heading into the final full week of the season, Simmons is yet to make a single three-pointer, and he’s attempted only 11 on the year.
Meanwhile, Mitchell has been much more of an outside threat, knocking down 2.4 three-pointers per game at nearly a 34 percent clip. Mitchell is also adding 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists to go with 1.9 combined steals and blocks. That production ranks him as the 32nd overall player in Yahoo leagues, ahead of more established names like Jamal Murray, Klay Thompson and Gary Harris.
Disappointment: Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
While the Pacers have been arguably the biggest surprise team in the league this season, Turner has been among the most disappointing players. The 22-year-old is putting up nearly identical per-36 numbers as last season, which is fine in a vacuum, but vastly underwhelming for a player with a preseason ADP of 25 in Yahoo leagues.
Heading into Week 26, Turner is the 74th-ranked player in Yahoo formats, providing virtually the same value as Kelly Olynyk or Kyle Kuzma. If there’s a silver lining for fantasy owners, it’s that Turner has improved his three-point efficiency (37.4% 3PT), but that’s been met with a slight regression at the charity stripe, where he’s shooting 77.5 percent after sitting at 80.9 percent in 2016-17.
Breakout: Josh Richardson, Miami Heat
Whether Richardson qualifies as a true “breakout” is up for debate, but he’s managed to start 76 games for a deep Miami team without about eight guys who basically play the same position. In those 76 games, Richardson is averaging 13.0 points, 2.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks — all career-highs — while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from three.
Richardson offered similar counting stats in his second NBA season, but he’s vastly improved his shooting efficiency in all three categories while increasing his overall volume. Quietly, Richardson ranks as the 35th-best player in Yahoo leagues. Not bad for a player with an ADP of 196.
Breakout: Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks
Prince is a classic case of a player taking on a much larger workload in Year 2, and he’s made the most of the opportunity. While the Hawks have been on a collision course with the high-lottery for most of the season, Prince has been one of the few bright spots, starting 77 games and posting averages of 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.0 steal in 30.2 minutes per game.
Though his field goal goal percentage is less than ideal for a forward (42.0% FG), he makes up for it with efficient marks from beyond the arc (38.1% 3PT) and the free throw line (83.7% FT). Prince improved his three-point shooting by nearly six percentage points, despite more than tripling his number of attempts.
The former Baylor standout has bested his ADP (178) by well over 100 draft spots (52nd overall) heading into the final week-and-a-half of the season.
Disappointment: D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets
Russell began his first season in Brooklyn by making the proverbial leap many fantasy owners expected — or so it seemed. Through his first 12 games, Russell averaged 20.9 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.0 steal and hit better than 46 percent of his field goal attempts. While he was struggling from three (30.0%), Russell looked every bit like the assertive, lead guard the Nets expected to get as compensation for taking on Timofey Mozgov’s contract.
However, a knee injury forced Russell to undergo surgery in mid-November, and he’s failed to recapture the same level of assertiveness since returning in mid-January. Russell has had his moments, but since coming back, he’s averaging 13.5 points points per game on 38.4 percent shooting (32.8% 3PT). It’s tough to fault Russell given the lengthy layoff, but he ranks outside the top 200 in Yahoo leagues after coming off the board in the fifth or sixth rounds (ADP: 60) in many drafts.
Disappointment: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Even with most fantasy owners accounting for an expected decline in production given the arrival of Jimmy Butler in Minnesota, Wiggins’ fourth NBA season has managed to feel like a disappointment. His scoring is down more than five points per game, but more concerning is the fact that playing alongside Butler has led to a decrease in efficiency. Wiggins’ field goal percentage (44.42% FG) is his lowest since his rookie year, and he’s shooting just 33.0 percent from three after nearing 36 percent a season ago.
Defensively, he’s only averaging 1.7 combined steals/blocks, a disappointing figure for someone of his athletic profile. Wiggins entered the season with an ADP of 56 — he was up closer to 40 in CBS and ESPN leagues — and he currently ranks 86th in Yahoo leagues.
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