The NBA Loser Lineup: Nuggets' chase for repeat fails — should Nikola Jokić repeat as No. 1 fantasy pick?

Welcome to "The Loser Lineup," where we delve into what teams eliminated from playoff contention must do to elevate their fantasy basketball game. As the dust settles on this season's disappointments, it's time for these teams to strategize, rebuild and reinvigorate their rosters for a shot at redemption next season. Join us as we explore the pivotal moves and player evaluations that could change the fantasy landscape by next year.

This story will continuously be updated as each NBA team heads for Cancún and we add them to the Loser Lineup.

Denver Nuggets

The reigning champs met a worthy adversary in the Minnesota Timberwolves, falling just short of reaching the Western Conference Finals. Nikola Jokić's time as the 1.01 in fantasy is at risk with Victor Wembanyama's arrival, but I wouldn't fault anyone for selecting Jokić with the top pick. Jokić, a three-time MVP who rarely gets hurt, has a floor of 25/11/8. He's an all-time great and is one of the best in the history of fantasy basketball.

Jamal Murray finished in the top 30, and while he played less than 60 games, he was uber-efficient from the field for a guard, posting a 48/43/85 shooting split in his eighth NBA season. Murray outperformed his ADP, as did Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr. tallied over seven rebounds per game for the second time in his career, but I'd likely draft him around the seventh round in fantasy as his ceiling is capped playing third wheel in Denver.

Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope flirted with top 100 value at various points in the season and offer reliable backend depth for fantasy managers.

While Christian Braun and Peyton Watson may currently be relegated to dynasty formats, their potential for fantasy success is undeniable. They are intriguing options, especially if any injury occurs, adding an element of excitement and anticipation to their future in fantasy basketball.

The Nuggets may not see significant changes, but the path out West is growing more challenging by the year.

New York Knicks

Talk about defying expectations. The Knicks showed marked improvement, driven by MVP candidate Jalen Brunson's meteoric rise and the elevated play of Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart. DiVincenzo and Hart took full advantage of their uptick in minutes down the stretch, becoming invaluable assets for fantasy managers. Injuries and a mid-season trade opened up those minutes, but the chemistry was clear between the trio of former Wildcats.

Tom Thibodeau's coaching ethos of running tight rotations with heavy minutes to the starting unit tends to bode well for fantasy purposes — until players get hurt. Miles McBride and Precious Achiuwa had their moments as a result, and the Knicks' underrated depth carried them and fantasy managers at various points in the season. Isaiah Hartenstein was another gem, becoming one of the best waiver pickups of the year after Mitchell Robinson went down with an ankle injury back in December. Hartenstein closed the year 75th in category leagues, and the Knicks will have to decide whether they want to bring him back, as he's an unrestricted free agent this summer.

The Knicks are now faced with a pivotal decision regarding Julius Randle. Having ascended to the second seed in the Eastern Conference and coming within a game of reaching the Conference Finals, the team's success has raised questions. With significant cap space and draft capital, the possibility of moving Randle is on the table. Should Randle remain a Knick, he should still be drafted in the fifth or sixth rounds of drafts.

Additionally, OG Anunoby's likely decision to opt out of his $19M player option adds to the intrigue of the upcoming offseason. Change is undoubtedly on the horizon, but the Knicks find themselves in the most promising position they've been in as a franchise in two decades.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are building one of the most promising rosters in the league. While a second-round exit is disappointing, they’re loaded with draft picks, cap space and young stars. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a consensus top-five pick (probably top-five), and Chet Holmgren is on a late-first, early second-round trajectory. Jalen Williams is trending similarly and will likely go in the third or fourth rounds of drafts, which is a few rounds better than his ‘23-24 ADP.

The area of opportunity lies in trading Josh Giddey. There haven’t been any rumors yet, but his role diminished last season and depreciated further in the playoffs. His playmaking skillset is redundant, so OKC should trade him before he becomes a free agent in 2025.

There’s no need to give him an extension with Cason Wallace poised to get more minutes or potentially spend on a marquee free agent who can offer more perimeter shooting and defense. I’d also expect the Thunder to go after a big man to beef up their frontcourt. They’re vastly undersized on the interior, so an upgrade to Jaylin Williams would give them more rim protection and rebounding.

That said, it’ll be an exciting offseason, and we might actually see GM Sam Presti push some chips in to take OKC to the next level — a championship contender.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers held it down for fantasy managers this season with standout performances from key players. Donovan Mitchell, a first-round value, had one of his best seasons, while Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley ranked in the top 50 on a per-game basis. Darius Garland and Caris LeVert also made their mark, securing positions in the top 75 and 100 players respectively. However, this lineup may undergo significant changes in the upcoming season.

Despite winning 48 games, injuries mounted, ultimately ending the Cavs season in the second round. That second-round exit won't be enough to keep this team together because of looming contract and chemistry issues.

Mitchell is eligible for a contract extension but has been noncommital on his future with Cleveland. Rumors of his potential departure and the impending extension of Evan Mobley could significantly impact the team's dynamics, potentially pushing the Cavaliers into the second apron if both players are extended this offseason.

There's also the question of whether it's worth running back the frontcourt duo of Mobley and Jarrett Allen. There's no space for either to operate in tandem, so seeing one of these two move before next season wouldn't be surprising.

Mitchell's decision is the first and most important domino to fall, and if he leaves, we'll likely see a better version of Darius Garland, who had a down year taking a backseat to Mitchell. The Cavs role players were solid all year, so I'd expect Max Strus and Caris LeVert to remain late-round options heading into next season.

Orlando Magic

The Magic exceeded last year's win total by 13 games, the second-highest margin in the league. Paolo Banchero earned his first All-Star berth, and Franz Wagner put up career-highs in points, rebounds and assists. But what really caught the league by surprise was Orlando's shift in becoming a top-three defensive team, a testament to their potential for future growth and performance.

One of the most exciting developments this season was the mini-breakout of Jalen Suggs. His improved defense and shooting from the field make him a promising prospect for the upcoming season. Similarly, Wendell Carter Jr. is expected to see a rise in his numbers, especially if the Magic decide not to re-sign Goga Bitadze.

These potential player developments hint at a bright future for the Orlando Magic.

As we look ahead to the next season, there are still some uncertainties for the team though. It's too early to know if Anthony Black or Cole Anthony will take over point guard duties or if Jonathan Isaac can maintain his performance for fantasy relevancy. However, one thing is for sure — there's a lot to look forward to for this young Orlando unit. Don't be surprised to see them invest in some much-needed shooters to pair with Banchero and Wagner this summer as they continue to shape their roster for the future.

Los Angeles Clippers

Fantasy managers enjoyed an unexpected win with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden playing in 68-plus games this year. All three were great values relative to their ADP, but can they be trusted going forward? Leonard's knee is acting up again, forcing him to miss multiple games against the Mavericks, so he hasn't shaken his injury risk yet. And there's more.

Leonard and Norman Powell are the only notable players under contract beyond 2025. James Harden is an unrestricted free agent looking for a deal, while Paul George and Russell Westbrook could exercise their player options to stay with the team.

Ivica Zubac is coming off his best season, and he appears safe with no competition in the frontcourt right now. Still, with so much in flux with this team's stars, a lot can change this offseason.

Philadelphia 76ers

What will move the fantasy needle for 76ers? Finally, Tobias Harris will be out of there. After one of the worst max deals in recent memory, the Sixers will have considerable financial flexibility this offseason. Locking up Tyrese Maxey is of the utmost priority, and it'll be interesting to see how Daryl Morey and Elton Brand elect to build around their two stars — knowing that the recent iterations have flamed out, especially with Joel Embiid off the floor.

It’s not all on the front office though. Embiid, a perennial MVP candidate, hasn’t been able to stay healthy and I expect his availability issues to move him down a few spots on draft boards next year.

Decreasing the demand on his top-three usage rate could help on the health front — and in turn, force Philly to be less dependent on their big man. Given Maxey’s trajectory, he’s overdue for more touches.

Back to the front office. Will they lure another star? Or, seek out multi-faceted role players to address the team's lack of athleticism, playmaking and shot creation? If not, these issues will continue to fester for this underachieving squad.

Milwaukee Bucks

Pour one out for the Bucks because that wasn’t close to Milwaukee’s Best. After getting out to a 30-13 start, things didn’t improve once HC Adrian Griffin was removed. The Bucks finished the regular season 17-19 with a first-round exit under Doc Rivers.

Injuries played a factor, but the lack of continuity impacted their play. Taking the summer off to get healthy is key, with Khris Middleton missing 27 games during the regular season and Giannis Antetokounmpo (calf) and Damian Lillard (Achilles) missing several games in an opening-round loss to the Pacers.

It helps that most of their core players are under contract going into next season, but they’ll need to accelerate the development of Andre Jackson Jr. and Marjon Beauchamp. Between the injuries, being cash-strapped and lacking draft picks, the Bucks will be penny-pinching for depth if they want to remain contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Miami Heat

Heat Culture suffered a setback after last season's Finals appearance. Tyler Herro missed 34 games this season, plus newly acquired Terry Rozier (neck) and Jimmy Butler (knee) weren't available in the playoffs.

Since Rozier, Butler, Bam Adebayo and Herro take up most of the team's cap space, it'll be hard to make any needle-worthy moves that don't include at least one of them. Trading away Herro and Duncan Robinson's $19M per year contract makes sense financially, but it will also open up more opportunities for standout rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr.

Another late-round sleeper to watch for is Nikola Jović. Post all-star break, he started 24 games and amassed 14.7 points with 8.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 threes and 1.0 steals per 75 possessions. If he can inch closer to 30 minutes a night, that's a decent fantasy profile worth investing in.

Los Angeles Lakers

The obvious move for this team to get back in order next season is to bring LeBron James back. He's still playing at an elite level, and his success raises the floor for others. Fantasy managers can feel comfortable selecting James in the third round next year.

And while Anthony Davis and D'Angelo Russell had their best fantasy campaigns in years, I'd explore including Russell or Austin Reaves in a trade package to bring in a true point guard who can reduce the demand on a soon-to-be 40-year-old LBJ.

The other glaring change we all saw coming was moving on from Darvin Ham as the head coach. His inability to make in-game adjustments and frequent tweaks to the rotations wore thin, and it's clear that this team needed another leader in the locker room.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pels have a ton of fantasy upside, as four players ranked inside the top 100 in nine-category leagues this season. Zion Williamson just missed the cut at 103. While the current roster won 49 games and nabbed the eighth seed in the West, a first-round sweep all but guarantees that change is coming. Given the ascension of Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones becoming one of the best defenders in the league, we could be looking at a scenario with Zion or Brandon Ingram getting traded.

Their salaries plus CJ McCollum's take up a significant portion of New Orleans' cap space, so moving one of them would give the Pelicans more flexibility in addressing some needs in the frontcourt and the second unit.

Of course, if Zion or BI are moved, it will make waves in fantasy, so let's wait and see how this plays out.

Phoenix Suns

A first-round sweep, let alone exit, is grounds for dismissal for one of the Big Three. Devin Booker is their franchise player, so that leaves one of Bradley Beal or Kevin Durant. And since Bradley Beal has a no-trade clause (yuck), the Suns should be on the horn exploring trade options for KD.

Phoenix re-signed Grayson Allen, but there are far more holes to fill, and moving KD could net more role players or draft capital for the future. If this happens, Booker could creep into late-first-round draft status by next season.

Keep it locked here as more teams get eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, and the Loser Lineup roster is filled out ...

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