Three things I was wrong about

Published January 20, 2023, 9:00 AMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

NBA.com Philippines writer Polo Bustamante admits he had misconceptions about two players and one team.

I’ve been playing NBA fantasy basketball for 20 years now and during that stretch, I’ve never made as many trades with one team as I’ve had this season. I completed three trades – two major moves and one minor move – all of which happened before the halfway mark of the season.

As I look back on my moves, I realized that I made them because I had certain misconceptions about a couple of players and a certain team. So, with that in mind, here are the things I was wrong about early in the season.

I was wrong about Luka Doncic's numbers regressing

Who lucked into Luka Doncic with the sixth pick in his fantasy draft? This guy.

Doncic was an MVP contender averaging 28-9-8 last season. With all the reports that he was in the best condition of his NBA career coming into this season, I figured he could slightly improve on those numbers. I was immediately wrong about that assumption.

He started the season on fire, averaging 36 points on 50 percent shooting while still grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out nine assists. For the first month and a half of the season, I enjoyed watching him strap the Dallas Mavericks on his back and lift them to improbable wins.

Then, I started to get worried. It seemed like the load he was carrying was unsustainable. He was playing close to 40 minutes a game and averaged a usage rate of 37.8 percent in the first six weeks of the season. I thought to myself, either Doncic breaks down or he eventually regresses back to his averages last season.

In the middle of October, I was offered a two-for-one trade for Doncic. Because of my worries, I pulled the trigger on the trade. I figured the two players I was getting would have better stats than Doncic if he slowed down.

You can imagine my dismay when Doncic turned it up even more in December, increasing his scoring average to 35 points while keeping his other numbers on the same level. I couldn’t even watch his historic 60-21-10 game because it was like watching your biggest mistake haunt you repeatedly for 48 minutes.

Even if he isn’t on my fantasy team anymore, I’m still a Doncic fan. I hope he wins the MVP. I just can’t watch while he does it because of my stupid mistake, though.

I was wrong about LeBron James being washed

One of the players that I received in the Doncic trade was LeBron James (the other was Jalen Brunson). One of the deciding factors for me was the fact that I never had James on any of my fantasy teams since he joined the LA Lakers. It’s sentimental, I know. But I really wanted to be able to enjoy the King James experience in fantasy basketball one time before he retires.

The trade couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I got James right before he missed several games due to injury. When he did return, he was underwhelming. He was inconsistent and just looked like a shell of his former self. I thought to myself, “Did the Lakers get the Washington Wizards Michael Jordan version of LeBron?” 

It really seemed like James was ceding control of the Lakers to Anthony Davis. He seemed disinterested for stretches of the game and visibly looked a lot less explosive than in previous years. Maybe Father Time was finally gaining ground on James.

So, I decided to cut my losses and traded James along with Josh Giddey for Joel Embiid and Scottie Barnes.

Then Davis got injured and James decided to shut me up, along with the other doubters. In the 11 games he’s played without Davis this season, James is averaging 34.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 7.5 assists. Washed, you say? Far from it. Just to stick it to the haters, he dropped 47 points on his 38th birthday.

Beyond the stats, James has kept the Lakers’ head above the water in the West. They’re still in contention for a play-in spot, even without Davis because he’s led them to a 6-4 record in their last 10 games, including a five-game streak (four of which he played in).

It always amazes me that James and I are the same age. He’s still racking up triple-doubles in the NBA. Sadly, he’s not doing it for my fantasy team.

I was wrong about the Denver Nuggets not being a championship contender

One of the trades I explored while shopping Doncic was a straight swap for Nikola Jokic. It was a ballsy offer given that Jokic has been the top fantasy player in the past two years. But, unlike Doncic, Jokic started the season off slowly. So I was selling high on Doncic while buying low on Jokic.

I believed Jokic would eventually find his form and put up monster stats like he’s done in his past two MVP campaigns. I also wanted to get Jokic because I saw the Denver Nuggets as a middling team that would be fighting tooth and nail to stay out of the play-in tournament.

After averaging only 21 points in October, Jokic put up MVP numbers in December (29-12-10) to pull his average back up to 24.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 9.8 assists for the season.

While I was right about Jokic, I was so wrong about the Nuggets being a middle-of-the-road team. Right now, they’re the second-best team in the league and the top team in the West with a 31-13 record. They were 9-6 in the middle of November and looked like they were a team without an identity. Since then, they’ve won 22 games and only lost seven times.

With Jokic leading the way, the Nuggets are once again one of the top offensive teams in the NBA. They’re averaging 117 points (8th) on 50.9 percent shooting (1st). They’re second in assists per game (28.7) and are the most efficient 3-point shooting team in the league (39.9%).

The pieces around Jokic just fit so well. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are back, and they give the team an explosive offensive punch around Jokic. They’re able to get their points without taking touches away from their MVP which makes them even more dangerous. They brought in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to add more shooting to the team and they’re getting solid contributions from Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, and Bones Hyland.

Denver has experienced playoff heartbreak after playoff heartbreak in the past three seasons. But they’ve learned from those experiences and have made the right adjustments heading into this season. Now, their core is healthy and they have the right role players to move them forward.

I was wrong about Denver. They’re a championship contender this season. And yes, until now, I’m still working up trades to try and get Jokic on my fantasy team.