Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The fantasy preseason is dominated by discussion of “sleepers” and “busts”, with the occasional mention of potential “breakouts,” which often overlap with the sleepers discussion. But one of the best ways to build a fantasy juggernaut is to find the production we already know is possible, as long as we remember to look beyond the most recent season.
There are two primary categories when it comes to bounce-back candidates: players recovering from injury, and players looking to rebound after a poor season.
At different points throughout his career, Rajon Rondo has exemplified both types. Rondo first broke out as a fantasy top-40 performer in 2009-10. From that season on, we knew of Rondo’s potential, though to this day it remains his best fantasy performance. While his production fell during each of the next two seasons, he was midway through his bounce back from poor performance campaign in 2012-13 before it was cut short by an ACL injury. Though he was sidelined in late January, on a per-game basis he had returned to top-60 status and had reached the top-20 in eight-category settings.
The injury set him back substantially, and Rondo remained unownable in most nine-category leagues until he landed in Sacramento for 2015-16. There, he finally reproduced some of his pre-injury numbers, averaging a points-assists double-double in his first top-50 season this decade.
Let’s take a look at some players who underwhelmed last season but could bounce back and return to fantasy relevance in 2017-18.
Bazemore was a popular breakout candidate in 2016-17, but that busted hard. Now, just hoping for a return to his 2015-16 numbers feels optimistic. That 2015-16 campaign was inconsistent, but it included a 46-game stretch during which he averaged 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.7 threes, and 1.3 steals to go with 46-40-83 shooting.
Jae Crowder finished 2016-17 as a borderline top-50 player with a startlingly similar line: 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 threes, and 1.0 steals on 46-40-81 shooting. The biggest problem facing Bazemore is that, unlike Crowder, he is not a particularly good player in real life.
For Bazemore to hold any value, he has to maintain a starter-level workload, but Bazemore is not a starter-level talent. Fortunately for him, his current backups are even further from being starter-level talents. With apologies to the Bulls, the 2017-18 Hawks might have the least-talented roster in the league.
Most of the Hawks’ starters would be end-of-rotation players almost anywhere else. Yet, despite the complete absence of talent, somehow this team will put together at least 90 points, 40 rebounds, and 20 assists nearly every night. It’s an inauspicious title, but Bazemore is arguably the second-best player on this roster.
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Favors’ 2016-17 was an unmitigated disaster. He missed 32 games, mostly due to an ongoing knee injury. After several seasons as a rising fantasy star, Favors ended last season available on most fantasy waiver wires.
Favors is entering his eighth season, so it is easy to forget that he is still only 26 years old. And even amidst last season’s wreckage, there are justifications for optimism. He scored in double-digits in seven of the nine games in which he played at least 29 minutes, and his field goal percentage improved as the season went on.
The Jazz will be without their top two scorers from last season, and Favors could be a primary option to replace that production. He’s averaged more than 16 points per game twice — in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 — while only one other member of the current Jazz roster has ever averaged more than 14.5 points per game (Joe Johnson, almost half-a-decade ago).
3. Rajon Rondo, New Orleans Pelicans
Rondo’s last bounceback campaign came when he played alongside DeMarcus Cousins as a member of the Kings in 2015-16. The two former Kentucky Wildcats are now reunited in New Orleans
In many ways, the new digs are an improvement upon their last partnership. This Pelicans roster has considerably more supporting talent, and the players/coaching staff relationship appears significantly more stable. On the other hand, Rondo was the clear top point guard in Sacramento, and Cousins was the clear franchise centerpiece. Now, neither of the two long-time friends are clearly the best player at their own position, and the Pelicans’ projected starting roster is a mishmash featuring two point guards and two centers.
After the All-Star break last season — a.k.a. after the Bulls locker-room stopped attacking each other on social media — Rondo had the second-highest adjusted turnover rate among players averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game, which means he would have been among the league leaders in assists had he played more minutes or had his teammates shot better.
The Pelicans’ depth chart is paper-thin, and its starters are better than Rondo’s recent casts, so it’s probable that Rondo both plays more and that his teammates shoot better.
4. Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers
Young is never a sexy pick, but he’s quietly been a top-80 player for each of the past six seasons (top-100 in eight-category settings). Yet, while he’s often good, it’s been years since he approached great.
He has mostly played for bad teams, but this Pacers squad might be his worst supporting cast since Young was a 76er in 2013-14. That season, Young’s bad-team stat inflation helped him achieve 17.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.1 threes, though he also posted the worst field goal percentage (45.4%) of his career. He ended that season ranked inside the top 35 in both eight-category and nine-category formats.
The Pacers enter 2017-18 without last season’s first, second, fifth, and sixth-highest scorers, and without three of their top four assist producers. The new starters at point guard and small forward are significantly worse rebounders than the players they replaced. There is a ton of available production in Indiana, and at only 29-years-old, Young should still be capable of capitalizing on the opportunity.
5. Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Oladipo’s development slowed a bit during his third season in Orlando, but he was still improving in important ways, such as limiting his turnovers and fouls and improving his rebounding and three-point efficiency.
But as a member of the Thunder, Oladipo regressed. His per-game and per-36 averages fell in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. After breaking out as a top-35 performer in his last season in Orlando, he fell outside the top-80 with the Thunder.
Oladipo’s drops in points, rebounds, and assists can easily be attributed to playing alongside Russell Westbrook. The Thunder’s defensive rebounding scheme deliberately positioned Westbrook to vacuum up backcourt rebounds, and Westbrook’s league-leading usage rate cut into Oladipo’s scoring and passing opportunities. On the other hand, explanations for the decreased steals and blocks either paint a decidedly less rosy image of Oladipo’s development, or require pop psychology.
It’s entirely possible that his career trajectory has already begun its downward slope, despite his only being 25-years-old. But if Oladipo’s slip in 2016-17 was mostly due to his poor fit with the Thunder, then few players offer the fantasy upside of a high lottery pick entering his prime and joining a terrible team.