Fantasy Basketball 2015-16: A Dozen Dimes, Volume 2
It's still very early in the season and certainly way too soon to be giving up on just about any of your top-100 draft picks. Try to remember, you drafted those guys because you researched them thoroughly and studied adequately-sized samples to make informed decisions. Don't let a handful of games change your mind.
No six- or seven-game stretch is ever as scrutinized and overreacted to as much as the one during the first couple weeks of a new season. If a few months worth of games were already incorporated into players' stat lines, most of these mini-slumps would've gone practically unnoticed. Remember that when you approach guys like Danny Green, Chandler Parsons, etc. A week from right now, you might regret that you ever considered dropping them or trading them off.
Patience is key in season-long fantasy basketball. Daily fantasy basketball is a game of instant gratification, where players become expendable as quickly as they became relevant. In season-long, you have to account more for regression to the mean and trust the process over short-term results. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't grab a hot free agent that emerges (Kent Bazemore), nor that you should hold a player whose role has changed to the detriment of his standard-league relevance (David Lee). It just means that you should not trust the validity of stat lines that are way out of whack with a player's career norms until the sample size is big enough to accept the change as a new reality.
We've still got about another week or two to go before we get to that point. For now, the savvy owner should pay particular attention to the players that seem like they're breaking out, while trying to buy low on the slumping players that will have every opportunity to regress to their mean.
Here are some of those plays.
Add/Buy Evan Fournier
It might be too late to add Evan Fournier, as he's now 70% owned in Yahoo leagues, but go check your waiver wire for him anyway. If you're lucky enough to be in one of the 30% of leagues where he's unowned, grab him immediately. If you missed out, you might even want to consider buying him from an owner that considers him nothing more than a hot, expendable free agent.
Fournier has been great for the Magic so far this season, starting in all seven of their games. If you ignore his 3-point, 4-rebound dud to start the season, he's scored in double digits in six straight contests, averaging 21.3 points, 2.5 triples, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steal, and 2.0 turnovers, while shooting 49.0% from the field and 78.9% from the free throw line. That's good enough to rank 37th in nine-category leagues over that span. There's a worry that Aaron Gordon eventually earns himself a starting gig, but for now, Fournier is second on the team with 37.6 minutes played per game, and he should manage to hold decent mid-round value for as long as he's up in that range.
Add Jared Sullinger
The Boston Celtics are overrun with decent to good power forwards and centers, making it a bit hard to trust any of them in fantasy hoops. David Lee and Tyler Zeller started at the four and the five in the Celtics' first three games of the season, but have since been replaced by Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson, who have started in the last two. Johnson is a decent enough add, but Sullinger is currently the Boston big with the most upside in his current role. Over his two starts, Sully has posted averages of 15.0 points, 2.0 triples, 9.5 boards, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.0 blocks, and 1.5 turnovers in only 24.5 minutes per game, while shooting 52.2% from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from the charity stripe. For as long as he's a starter in Boston and getting a decent share of the frontcourt minutes, his versatile fantasy line will make him well worth owning.
Add Nemanja Bjelica
Nemanja Bjelica was a bit of an unknown coming into this season, but he's managed to carve himself out a nice role with the Minnesota Timberwolves in relatively short order. He's currently coming off the bench behind Kevin Garnett, but don't let that deter you from picking him up, as KG is only playing 15.0 minutes per game compared to Bjelica's 28.8 (third most on the team).
Over the first five games of his NBA career, the 27-year-old "rookie" is averaging 7.6 points, 1.2 threes, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, and 1.4 turnovers, while shooting 46.4% from the field and 54.5% from the free throw line. The low scoring and less-than-ideal free throw percentage are suppressing his rating, as he currently ranks 113th in nine-category leagues, but he has all the tools to be a good scorer and was a career 70.7% free throw shooter over 211 games of European competition. He's one of the hottest pick-ups in fake hoops coming off a breakout performance in which he had 17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal, and a block on Saturday night, so don't miss out on him (especially with the Timberwolves playing a whopping five games this week).
Hold/Buy Gorgui Dieng
While we're talking about Timberwolves bigs, let's pump the breaks on the whole idea of dropping Gorgui Dieng. In fact, if Dieng's owner in your league is frustrated with his reduced role through five games, see if you can get him for pennies on the dollar.
Minnesota's frontcourt is admittedly jammed, with Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Garnett, Nemanja Bjelica, and Adreian Payne all splitting minutes, and interim coach Sam Mitchell has been using Dieng strictly as a backup for Towns at center thus far. While that is certainly an obstacle to Dieng's chances of hitting the top-50 value he put up in nine-category leagues last season in 30.0 minutes per contest, it still leaves room for him to be a top-100 guy with early-round upside should the rotation ever change or if one of the other bigs goes down with injury (or in KG's case, sits a lot because he's old).
Dieng simply doesn't need a lot of time to be a standard-league asset anyway, since his per-minute value in rebounds, steals, and blocks is so high, and he's a rare big that produces positive value in both percentages. With five games on the slate for the Timberwolves this week, it would be a silly time to drop a guy with such a high fantasy ceiling and a sneaky good time to buy low.
Buy Nikola Mirotic
Man, the Nikola Mirotic hype train has taken some sharp turns over the last couple weeks. He was a popular breakout pick this year with the potential for a starting job and increased role after a strong finish to 2014-15. Niko came roaring out the gates this season, averaging 18.8 points, 3.3 threes, 6.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 3.0 turnovers, 46.8% shooting from the field, and 90.0% from the line in 30.4 minutes per contest over his first four games, good enough for top-30 value in nine-category leagues. Over his last three games, though, he's imploded, averaging a negligible 3.7 points, 0.3 triples, 4.0 boards, 1.0 assist, 0.3 steals, and 1.7 turnovers in only 19.0 minutes per game, while shooting 16.7% from the field.
Three terrible games in a row is a troubling trend but not a total indictment. His dips in minutes and production in each of those contests can be explained away if you try hard enough -- a blowout loss to Charlotte, matching up against Serge Ibaka, and getting in foul trouble against the Wolves. Mirotic's role doesn't seem in danger as he's a key part of the Bulls' offense and Joakim Noah hasn't exactly won the starting role back. If Niko's owner in your league is panicking, be there to swoop him up.
Hold/Buy Meyers Leonard
Meyers Leonard has had a bumpy start to his 2015-16 season, his first as a starter for the Portland Trail Blazers. Through seven games, he's averaging 8.3 points, 0.9 threes, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 0.9 turnovers, 40.7% shooting from the field, and 88.9% from the free throw line. That places him 161st in nine-category leagues to date, a far cry from his top-100 average draft position (ADP). He's been dealing with numbness in his left (non-shooting) hand and is coming off a sprained right ankle, so basically nothing is going right for him or owners that took a flier on him in fantasy drafts this season.
Portland seems dedicated to him as the starting power forward, though, and owners would be wise to remain patient as Leonard adjusts to his new role as a bigger part of the Blazers' future plans. His shooting percentages are well below his career averages, as are his scoring and rebounding rates. He'll bounce back and provide good value in threes, rebounds, both percentages, and turnovers for fantasy managers who hold or buy him.
Add T.J. McConnell
T.J. McConnell is the latest Philadelphia 76er to go from unknown to fantasy darling overnight. He's an undrafted rookie this season, but is suddenly starting at point guard for the hapless Sixers and has averaged 31.9 minutes per game in his three games since taking over that role.
On the season, McConnell is averaging 5.5 points, 0.5 threes, 4.7 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 2.5 turnovers per contest, while shooting 46.9% from the field. That's good enough for 76th-ranked value in nine-category leagues on the season. His season-long value will take a hit when Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall return from injury in roughly a month, but for now, McConnell's an amazing source of rebounds (for the position), assists, and steals as someone who almost certainly went undrafted in your league (just like real life!).
Add Nik Stauskas
Speaking of Sixers who put up solid enough numbers to deserve fantasy attention, because, well, someone has to: Nik Stauskas has put up top-100 value in his five games played this season on the strength of 14.6 points, 2.6 threes, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 2.0 turnovers, 40.0% shooting from the field, and 85.7% from the line. It's hard to drop anyone of value for him, but if you have dead weight on your roster and could use the boost in scoring, threes, or free throw percentage, his 31.7 minutes per game and starting role seem safe enough to give him a look to see where things go with his new team. Also, I was looking for a Sauce Castillo joke, and it never came naturally. Sorry.
Add/Buy Kristaps Porzingis
Knicks fans who booed the Kristaps Porzingis pick in this year's draft probably want to take it back. The rookie has been solid through his first seven games in the NBA, averaging 12.3 points, 0.7 threes, 8.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 1.6 turnovers in only 24.2 minutes per contest, while shooting 39.5% from the field and 80.8% from the line. That's good enough to rank him 73rd in nine-category leagues so far this season. He's got a very versatile fantasy game, and things should only get better as the season moves along and he earns more trust from his coach and teammates. You might have missed your chance to pick him up, as he's now owned in 73% of Yahoo leagues, but you should scour your waiver wire just in case. If he's gone (and he should be), toss a feeler his owner's way and see if you can still buy him before he becomes unaffordable.
Buy/Add Terrence Jones
Terrence Jones has missed five consecutive games for the Houston Rockets due to a laceration on his eyelid but is set to return on Wednesday to face the Brooklyn Nets. Jones' ownership percentage has dropped to 71% on Yahoo, so run to your wire for him if you're in one of the leagues where an owner was silly enough to drop him. He finished last season as the 69th-ranked player in nine-category leagues, despite playing only 27.0 minutes per game in a crowded Houston frontcourt. That logjam has loosened considerably this year, and Jones should be in for his usual starting role and the lion's share of power forward minutes once he returns. He was one of our breakout candidates this year and is currently projected as our 45th-ranked player the rest of the way. He's a must-add if available and a great buy-low if his owner grew frustrated with the missed time.
Sell Tyson Chandler
If you have Tyson Chandler on your team, it's likely because you wanted his rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, and low turnovers. The 10.9 rebounds are pretty well on par with his top-40 performance from last season, but his points (7.0), blocks (0.6), and field goal percentage (48.5%) are all notably down, as is his 28.1 minutes per game. At 33 years of age, with a tendency to miss large chunks of seasons due to injury, and now playing on a team where young prodigy Alex Len is backing him up, there are plenty of things that could stand in the way of Chandler being the mid-round value he has been for five years running this season. The gaudy rebound numbers should make him an easy sell, so now is the time to strike.
Drop Jabari Parker
Last year's second overall pick, Jabari Parker, is back from an ACL injury that ended his rookie season after 25 games. He's got superstar upside, but that simply isn't likely to be realized this year. ACL injuries typically take a feeling out year before a player returns to 100% effectiveness, and that uphill battle will only be compounded by the usual ups and downs that rookies (or in this case, second-year players that have only played 28 career games) go through. He's not playing both games in back-to-back sets and will be dealing with minute-limits for awhile. He might become a decent source of points, rebounds, steals, and field goal percentage before season's end, but he simply isn't likely to be worth owning in standard leagues during the potentially long ramping up period. His current 80% ownership rate in Yahoo leagues seems way too high for his capped upside during what is essentially a rehab season.