We’re roughly two weeks into the NBA season, and it’s officially time to panic!
No, no. I’m kidding, of course.
Luckily for you, there are suckers in almost every league that think this way at the start of each year. If a big-time star has a few down weeks in March, it barely makes a dent in his overall ranking, and it hardly registers a blip on the radar. At the beginning of the year, however, a top-tier draft pick has a few bad games, panic ensues, and owners go into full-blown damage control mode, selling off their studs for pennies on the dollar.
This is your time to shine, savvy owners.
Undeniably, "buying low" and "selling high" comes with some inherent risk. You could always be unfortunate enough to buy a player who is actually falling off a cliff in their production, or sell a player who is in the midst of a breakout campaign.
These are risks that come with playing the game, my friends. You know what they say: Nothing ventured, nothing gained; you should strike while the iron is hot (insert other random business-related clichés that relate to fantasy sports). There’s rarely a better feeling in fantasy sports than buying or selling a players stock at exactly the right time. More often than not, it’s worth the risk.
Here are this week’s fantasy assists, admittedly heavy on the “buy” side. I could probably list 30-40 guys you should be shopping for, but I’ve included simply my best-bets-for-a-bounce-back buys (mostly to accentuate how much I believe in these particular buy-lows, but also as an excuse to use that awesome alliteration).
Buy Larry Sanders
In the last week, Larry Sanders has complained about a lack of playing time, allegedly got into a bar fight in which he broke a champagne bottle over some guy’s head, witnessed his wife give birth to a child, and missed practice and games due to a swollen right thumb.
To say Larry Sanders has started this season surrounded by distraction would already qualify as the understatement of the season. Lost in all this madness is the fact that he had been losing minutes to bench players Zaza Pachulia and John Henson, even when he was playing. He is averaging a meagre 17.3 minutes per game as a starter behind 31.4 and 26.6 for Pachulia and Henson respectively.
This is not what the Bucks had in mind when they paid Sanders $44 million for a 4-year contract over the summer and it’s certainly not what owners had in mind when they burned a pick on him in the early rounds of fantasy drafts.
Sanders emerged out of nowhere last season and was arguably the waiver wire pickup of the year, averaging 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds. He finished third in the league in total blocks (201), second in blocks per game (2.8), first in block percentage (7.6), and sixth in defensive rating (98.5). He even finished seventh in Defensive Player of the Year voting, which some might argue was even a bit low.
While this season showed the promise for an even bigger breakout, off-court issues, foul trouble, and reduced usage by a new coach have all stunted his growth. You’re never going to get a better buy-low window than right now. Sanders is already being tagged with a bust label after playing only three games. Defense and rebounding are not skills that you lose overnight, regardless of how many champagne bottles you break.
Pachulia and Henson serve as decent plug-and-play options while Sanders gets his affairs in order, but try to steal Sanders from an owner while you can still get him for a song.
Update: It was announced on Monday evening (a few hours after this article was first posted) that Sanders had surgery on his right thumb and will miss six weeks. Your best options now are either holding Sanders or buying incredibly low. Pachulia and Henson are now must-own until Sanders returns. You can flip a coin to pick which one, but I like Henson's upside more.
Buy Jonas Valanciunas
There was a lot of hype surrounding Jonas Valanciunas coming into this season after he won MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League and played well for Lithuania in Eurobasket. He was a middle-rounder in fantasy drafts, as it is well known that he is the building block of the Raptors and that they should be looking to get him heavily involved in his sophomore season.
So far, that hasn’t been the case. He’s only averaging 25.4 minutes per game as a starter, which is pretty much in line with his rookie season. The results have been decent with averages of 9.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks. That’s good, but not what we were expecting.
It’s no secret that the Raptors roster is not likely to stay as it is now. New GM Masai Ujiri came in with plans to hack and saw at this roster in order to give it a fresh new look and hope for the future. He hacked when he got rid of the Raptors’ albatross, Andrea Bargnani, but has yet to saw.
Dwayne Casey, like most coaches hired by a previous GM, is already on the hot seat after some questionable decisions to start the season. Furthermore, the team’s highest-paid player and leading scorer, Rudy Gay, is already floating around in trade rumours. In fact, word on the street is that every Raptor is potentially available, with the exception of Jonas.
Any of these moves would likely lead to a better situation for the Lithuanian big man. If Casey left town, any new coach would likely be tasked with running the offense through Valanciunas and giving him big minutes. Gay exiting would mean more touches for JV (and mercifully, fewer 18-20 footers bricking off the rim for the Raptors as a whole). It’s probably only a matter of time before at least one of these things happens.
Give Jonas starters minutes and we could see him truly come into his own. His per-36 averages are pretty sweet at 13.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, and 1.6 blocks. If this is the year he gets those minutes, he’ll be worth having on your frontline. Send some lowball offers to his owner and see if you can get him in your lineup.
Buy Derrick Rose
We’re now 3 years and an ACL surgery away from Derrick Rose’s MVP season in 2010-11. The start of his first NBA season since the injury is off to a slow start (to put it very lightly). He’s averaging a pedestrian 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks. Worst of all, he’s turning the ball over 5 times per game and shooting a pretty awful .320 from the floor and .273 from three.
Those numbers are certainly not worth the first or second round pick that people spent on him in recent drafts. Heck, those numbers aren’t even really worth a waiver wire add. For comparison, he is currently ranked behind Arinze Onuaku, Tony Mitchell, and Toure Murry on basketballmonster.com’s player ranker. I’m not afraid to admit that I have no idea who those three players are.
Considering how stellar D-Rose looked in the preseason, I’m not the least bit worried about him regaining early-round value in a hurry. His usage rate is still as high as it ever was at 31.1 (compared to 32.2 in his MVP year). His shot will start falling at a better rate soon and the peripherals will increase as he gets more comfortable jumping into passing lanes and chasing down blocks.
When Ricky Rubio came back from an ACL injury last year, he averaged 5.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, on .309 shooting from the field in his first 19 games. He looked tentative and frustrated owners to no end. In the remaining 38 games, he went for 13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.3 assists (finishing 10th in the league), and 2.8 steals (finishing 2nd in the league), with a slightly better shooting percentage of .372. Basically, he went back to being what we thought he was.
You can expect a similar return to form for Rose. He’s shaking off some rust and the enormous pressure that comes with returning from such an injury. Go get his MVP-level numbers at a discount while you still can.
Add Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is showing that there’s more than one player named Michael with a hyphenated last name that deserves your attention this season (that intro was a stretch, but an excuse to tell you that Michael Carter-Williams is still well worth owning). After going second in last year’s entry draft, MKG had a very quiet rookie season playing for the Bobcats, filled with inconsistency.
It’s still early in the year, but MKG is showing signs of finding his role. He’ll never be a primary option on offense, but his defensive and rebounding abilities make him worth owning if he can put up a few points to go with it. Over the last three games, he has averaged 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 2.3 blocks while shooting .680 from the field. He’s worth the add right now to see if he can keep it up and take his game to the next level.
Add Trevor Ariza
Every year, Trevor Ariza makes us think that he’s a difference maker in both real and fake basketball. He always manages to show hints of what made him such a hot commodity when he played in Houston in 2009-2010 (averaging 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.9 threes). Those moments usually last a few games at a time, then we come to our collective senses and move on to some other hot free agent.
In six games so far this year, Ariza looks like his old self yet again. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 2.5 threes while starting and playing 37.2 minutes per game for the Wizards. Hey, welcome back!
Woah, woah, not so fast. Ariza makes for a great play for right now, just don’t drop someone valuable for him. He tends to become this player for stretches and then disappears into the background as the season wears on. Ariza is in the last year of his contract and the Wizards paid Martell Webster rather handsomely this past offseason to play his position. Don’t be surprised if Ariza’s expiring deal is moved before the deadline and he’s forced to take on a lesser role for a contender. For now though, game on.
Hold Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are not the sexiest fantasy players. Neither of them jump off the page with big popcorn numbers and they both play in San Antonio, where coach Greg Popovich is unpredictable with minutes and random DNPs. Many people go into drafts with a plan to avoid Spurs players for these reasons. It’s an understandable strategy for the old guys (Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and, to a lesser extent, Tony Parker), but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you avoid the opportunity to own the fantasy swiss-army knives that are Leonard and Green.
Leonard finished 23rd in 9-cat last year, according to basketballmonster.com. Looking at his numbers, he averaged 11.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 1.1 3s, with 1.1 turnovers on .494 shooting from the field and .825 from the line. None of these numbers scream must-start on their own, but there are simply no holes in that stat line. The turnovers are low, the percentages are solid, and any player that averages a combined 3.4 steals/blocks/3s can be extremely valuable.
Leonard is hovering around the same averages this year with 13.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 threes, 1.4 turnovers, on .527 shooting from the field and .818 from the line. His usage rate is up from 16.4 to 19.4 this year and many are predicting that he will become even more the focal point of the Spurs as the season wears on. He was removed from the starting lineup on Sunday for matchup purposes against the Knicks, but don’t panic over a perceived slow start and isolated benching. He’s all set to be a player that makes “the leap” this year, like Paul George did last year. If anything, try to convince another owner that he’s not going to break out and buy low.
The same goes for Danny Green. He was getting dropped all over the place after starting out the season averaging only 8.7 points and 1.0 threes (down from 2.2 last year) on .375 shooting from the field and .300 from long range. Again, stay the course. He blew up for 24 points, 10 rebounds, 6 threes, 1 steal, and 1 block on 8 of 11 shooting from the field on Sunday against the Knicks. He’ll be fine.
Sell Arron Afflalo
Arron Afflalo has upped his scoring average in every single year of his six as a pro. He has continued that trend in his seventh season by jumping up to an average of 19.7 points through the Magic’s first seven games. He’s also averaging career bests in rebounds (5.1), assists (4.4), steals (1.0), and threes (2.3).
While the evidence is clearly there to suggest that Afflalo is capable of improving his game and sustaining improved numbers, this year’s situation is destined for a regression to the mean. First of all, he is shooting threes at an unsustainable clip of .471 (career average of .385).
He is also an NBA veteran on a team that is clearly promoting a youth movement. When Tobias Harris comes back from injury and as rookie sensation Victor Oladipo proves he deserves more minutes and touches, Afflalo’s career high usage rating of 24.1 will likely see a dip, followed by the rest of his numbers.
Another possible outcome could see Afflalo flipped to a contender, where he’d be a highly valued shooter and defender. If sent to a situation with more seasoned weapons, his numbers would likely drop off as well. Regardless, this is probably a good chance to sell high on Afflalo and see what you can net in return. Whether traded or kept, he’s not likely to stay the number one option on any team.
Add Markieff Morris
Markieff Morris is turning heads off the bench in Phoenix. After scoring just 6 points in each of the first two games of the season, Markieff has gone for 17, 23, 28, and 23 in his last four games. He’s also managed to average 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in that span.
Despite two lackluster games to start the year, Morris still managed to put up an impressive 16.6 nERD (stat explained here) over his first six games, good enough for 7th on our NBA Player Rankings.
He has come off the bench in every game for Phoenix this season, but is seriously challenging for a spot in the starting lineup. If this development continues, he will have the chance to put up big numbers in Phoenix and could be a valuable pickup down the road. He is a versatile stretch four that can put up points and rebounds while contributing a few threes for good measure.
Just make sure you’re getting the right M. Morris on Phoenix, as his twin brother Marcus also plays there and isn’t performing as well. Perhaps Markieff hogged the basketball gene they split between them.
Drop Omer Asik
Omer Asik was a great pickup for the Rockets last year, as they stole him away from his reserve role in Chicago and featured him as their starting C. He broke out to the tune of 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks, shooting .541 from the field. He finished first in the league in total rebounds (956) and second in total rebound percentage (22.0).
He would be in line to continue those impressive numbers this year, if not for the fact that GM Daryl Morey picked up an even newer and shinier toy at C in Dwight Howard. Asik is still second in the league in rebound percentage (behind Dwight), so in theory, they should make for an unstoppable duo. The only problem is that they don’t really work all that well together on offense and sort of get in the way of each other. The most likely outcome of all this, whether Asik starts or comes off the bench, is that he plays fewer minutes to make room for Dwight.
Through seven games, Asik is averaging only 5.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks. Although the rebounds and field goal percentage (.520) are nice, those numbers aren’t really worth a roster spot in standard leagues. Keep an eye on him if he gets traded to a less crowded front court, but for now he’s safely droppable.
Add Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley was considered by many to be a sleeper in fantasy drafts this season. People who drafted him in the late rounds were rewarded with news that he would start the season as the Rockets’ starting PG, having seemingly beaten out Jeremy Lin for the job.
Unfortunately, Beverley's season hit a speed bump when he suffered a torn muscle in his midsection during the first game of the season. He was originally expected to miss roughly two weeks of action, but rewarded patient owners by coming back after missing only three games.
He is working his way back from a scary-sounding injury, so he deserves some leeway while he gets back into shape. For proof that he should be owned in all leagues, look no further than his last game on Saturday. He managed to start and play almost 38 minutes (often playing alongside Lin), totaling 19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, and 3 threes. He shouldn’t be on any waiver wires.
Buy Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter
When Utah let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk during free agency this past summer, it was obvious that they saw Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter as their big men to build around. They both had drool-inducing per-36 numbers last year (Favors at 14.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 2.6 blocks and Kanter at 16.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, and 1.1 blocks) and proved that they could produce whenever they got the call to start.
They’re both off to decent starts this year, but are not ranking very high due to small shortcomings. Favors is only shooting at .417 (career .494) and Kanter isn’t offering much on the defensive end (0.1 steals and 0.6 blocks). Both those deficiencies are a good bet to improve and it won’t be long before they’re performing at a level that justifies their mid-round ADP.
There is no one in Utah to challenge them for minutes and at 0-7, the Jazz are clearly going to spend the year developing their twin towers and the rest of their young core. Buy these upcoming bigs while their price is still reasonable.
Add Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas is coming off the bench for the Kings. Greivis Vasquez, who came over from the Hornets/Pelicans in the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade deal, became the starter by default behind his averages of 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, and 1.1 threes last season.
In six games this season, Thomas and Vasquez have put up eerily similar numbers:
The only difference that really jumps out is that Thomas is scoring exactly twice as much as Vasquez without giving up anything else in any other category (with the exception of assist-to-turnover ratio, which will likely fluctuate). If you watch the games, he also seems to have a better chemistry with DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings’ franchise player.
If all this leads to a starting lineup change and starter minutes for Isaiah Thomas, he could really have a breakout year. Even if he stays on the bench, he could continue to put up good numbers and make a case for Sixth Man of the Year honours. Either way, he’s worth a roster spot.