December 21, 2017, 3:05 pm
Hey Hoop Ballers! Welcome back to another edition of Deep League Digging – my weekly column scouring the darkest reaches of the fantasy NBA landscape in search of diamonds in the rough for deep league owners.
If you can believe it, we are more than a third of the way through the NBA season at this point. There have already been a number of curveballs thrown at fantasy owners in the way of injuries, trades, and everything in between, and it is probably safe to say that we are not even close to out of the woods when it comes to future shakeups.
One of most exciting – and also challenging – parts of the fantasy NBA season are the first few weeks. The rankings are a complete mess, and the challenge is to evaluate whether that undrafted player tearing things up is worth adding, or only a flash in the pan better left on the wire.
Those questions have largely worked themselves out at this point in standard leagues, but deep league wires always remain somewhat more in flux given the momentous swings in value that can result from relatively minor adjustments in the rotation. Those waves of change don’t ripple up to standard leagues for the most part, but are consistently felt throughout the season in larger leagues. Add in additional versatility this year from the new two-way contract system that allows players to bounce back and forth between the NBA and the G-League, and things get even more fun.
Over the past few weeks, there have been some eye-popping performances from players that may not have even been rostered in 30 team leagues, so it felt like the right time to weigh in on some big-time performances from players who are far from household names. We will also spend some time deciding what to do with a few players who are cooling off after smoking hot stretches.
As always, I’ll be focusing on players that are roughly less than 5 percent owned, since that is about the level of player available in leagues with 16-teams or more. I am trying to cover everything from 16-team leagues to 30-team leagues, so consider your league size before acting on any analysis presented. If a player is must-own in 30-team leagues, that may only translate to streaming value in 16-team formats. Conversely, if a player is roster-worthy in 16-team formats, it is generally safe to consider them a must-own player in larger leagues. I try to spell that out as much as possible below, but I do need to float that quick disclaimer first.
Mike Scott (5% owned) – Mike Scott has been on some kind of tear lately, scoring 16 points per game on nearly 72 percent shooting over the past two weeks (averaging 19 points on 70 percent shooting in the last week). Since his hot streak began, Scott has seen more minutes often at the expense of Wizards starting four, Markieff Morris. To be clear, there is absolutely no way that Scott continues to shoot this well given his proclivity to let it fly from deep, but he has shown enough to warrant some extended run while Morris continues to struggle. At 29 years old, Scott is not exactly the future of the Wizards, so there is no incentive for them to develop him. That said, he has the hot hand right now and is providing them with better production than Morris, so he is worth adding in all deep leagues while this electric shooting streak continues.
Reggie Bullock (5% owned) – Since moving into the starting rotation roughly a week ago, Bullock is averaging 15 points per game on 65 percent shooting with 3.0 triples, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals and has made all of his attempts at the line. If 65 percent shooting on high volume from deep sounds like a fluke to you – I am inclined to agree. Adding yet another wrinkle, his two best performances in the stretch of games mentioned above also came while Avery Bradley did not suit up with an adductor strain. It is certainly encouraging to see Bullock performing well when given the opportunity to start over Stanley Johnson, but expectations need to be tempered. He will not continue to shoot this well from the field, and there is no guarantee that he continues to see 30+ minutes per game as a starter as he has been largely out of the rotation for significant stretches of the season so far. He is fine to add in all deep leagues while he stays hot, but don’t be afraid to move on when he cools off as he won’t give you much outside of threes and steals.
Mario Hezonja (5% owned) – Not to be confused with the homie – Super Dario – Super Mario has come out of nowhere and put up top-75 value in the past two weeks. Even before the season began, the “B” word (Bust) was being attached to his name, and until this point, that appeared to be the case. He hasn’t been a significant part of the rotation all year, and when he did manage to get 10-15 minutes on any given night, he didn’t do much in that time. That begs the question – what do we make of this sudden awakening from the fifth overall selection in the 2015 NBA draft? The reality is that this run occurred with Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Terrence Ross and Aaron Gordon all sidelined with injuries, so he will almost certainly lose touches when they are all healthy. My optimism stems from the fact that the Magic did not pick up the fourth year team option on his rookie deal, so he truly is playing for his NBA career this season. That has no impact on what Coach Frank Vogel decides to do with him once the Magic are back at full strength, but it does mean that Hezonja will be hungry to prove that he belongs in the league if he is granted a larger role following this prolific stretch of games. His hot shooting will surely regress a bit, so he is more of a flier in 16-team leagues, but he should be rostered in all larger leagues given his short-term value while the Magic are still banged up.
Torrey Craig (3% owned) – TORREY CRAIG! TORREY CRAIG! TORREY CRAIG! Okay, sorry – I needed to get that out of my system. If you’re a Deep League Digging regular, you already know that I am high on Craig. He has a sneaky effective offensive game and unlocks a lot of possibilities for the Nuggets to get creative with rotations given his defensive prowess out on the wing. Coach Mike Malone agrees apparently, as Craig has started at small forward in the Nuggets’ past three games against the Pelicans (19 minutes, six points, four rebounds, one triple, two assists, one steal, one block), Thunder (30 minutes, 14 points, three triples, two rebounds, one steal, one block) and Wolves (37 minutes, 10 points, six rebounds, two threes, two assists). He played big minutes against the Thunder, and had the unenviable task of guarding Russell Westbrook for most of the night. That is a huge indication of faith in Craig – sticking a two-way player fresh out of the G-League on the reigning MVP. Westbrook still put up a huge line, but Craig didn’t make it easy.
With all that said, don’t mistake my enthusiasm for what Craig has done lately as an endorsement of must-own status for him. He is on a two-way contract, so he can only spend 45 days (not games) with the Nuggets before being sent back down to the G-League, or signed to a full NBA contract. However, I’m rather optimistic that he is eventually signed. Both Malone and the front office love what Craig brings on a nightly basis, and he has proven over this stretch that he can hang with the NBA’s elite, but that shadow of doubt regarding his ongoing role in the rotation does give me some pause. Craig is more of a watch list player in 16-team leagues (I wouldn’t blame you for taking a flier), but is worth a hard look as a speculative add in larger leagues on potential. His stat set is so fantasy friendly, and he fills a huge gap defensively while Paul Millsap remains sidelined.
Isaiah Canaan (<1% owned) – Canaan signed with the Suns less than a week ago on a hardship exception after Devin Booker went down with a strained left adductor in early December. It is safe to say that next to no one saw this level of production coming from Canaan, who appeared to be more of an emergency stopgap than a significant rotation player when signed. Since joining the Suns, he is averaging 14 points on 41 percent shooting with 1.3 triples, 3.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 25 minutes per game. That not only puts him on the deep league radar – it makes him a top-60 player over the past week. Mike James has been effectively out of the rotation since Canaan joined the team, and he is eating into the minutes of Tyler Ulis as well. All of this is coming from a player that was waived by the Bulls this offseason (and then the Thunder and Rockets in October), so it is hard to overstate how remarkable his performance has been.
The Suns are now faced with a difficult decision. Mike James was signed to a full NBA contract only two weeks ago after using up the 45 day limit on his two-way deal, Ulis still has three years of guaranteed salary left on his rookie contract, and Canaan can only remain with the team for as long as Booker stays out (he is due back later this month). The team would have to part ways with someone to bring Canaan on through the end of the season. They don’t necessarily need to waive a point guard to make room for Canaan, but the newly signed Mike James present one of the cheapest options to release. It is impossible to predict what the Suns will do, but Canaan has put deep league owners on notice. He is worth a look as a speculative add in all 16-team leagues and larger until we see how this situation is resolved.
Davis Bertans (<1% owned) – Davis Bertans has quietly put together an impressive string of games in the past two weeks. It all started on December 3 when Kyle Anderson went down with an MCL sprain while Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge were all sitting due to a combination of rest and injury. Bertans hung up 16 points, four triples, four rebounds and five blocks on Thunder in 29 minutes that night, and he has continued to provide top-150 value in the two weeks since. There is no denying that he has been great over the past few weeks, but Kawhi is slowly ramping up his playing time, LaMarcus Aldridge is still cooking, and Kyle Anderson should be back soon, so Bertans’ days as a consistent rotation player appear to be numbered. He is worth holding in the deepest of leagues until his production falls off, but it is hard to recommend more than a speculative add for the Latvian in anything shallower than a 20-team league. If you can sell high on him for a top-150 asset, pull the trigger now, because it is hard to imagine him being more than a garbage time hero when the Spurs are at full strength.
Joe Harris (3% owned) – Following a strong start, Harris has been reeling lately. He is currently sitting just inside the top-350 following a stretch of nearly top-150 value. His value is almost entirely dependent on shooting from deep, so it is not surprising that he has been an inconsistent asset at best this year, but to fall outside of the top-300 is a major shift from what Harris had been doing. He did miss some time dealing with an illness only a few games ago, so there may be some lingering impacts there, but the more likely culprit for his sudden downturn is the addition of Nik Stauskas in the Jahlil Okafor trade. Stauskas had a big game in his Nets debut and ended the night with 28 minutes (which was followed by a subsequent dud), and the fact that he is seeing rotation minutes means that there are less touches to go around at the two for the Nets. Consider that Harris and Stauskas fill the same niche, and Harris’ outlook looks even dimmer. He is fine to hold in 30-team leagues, and you could justify holding Harris in 20-team leagues, but owners in shallower formats should move on.
Garrett Temple (2% owned) – Until recently, Temple was actually one of the more consistent fantasy assets on the Kings and was turning in solid late-round value in 16-team leagues. It never felt like that was going to last, as Temple’s consistent minutes were coming at the expense of meaningful playing time for the Kings’ stable of young wings in Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin Jackson. Over the past few weeks Temple has slipped outside of the top-250, while Hield, Bogdanovic and Jackson have all seen significantly increased playing time. There really is no telling how long that will stick, as Coach Dave Joerger is about as inconsistent as they come with his rotations, so it is probably worth holding on to Temple in 18-team leagues and larger for as long as he remains a starter even with his upside capped. In 16-team leagues, it will be dependent on team build, but there are probably better options around on the wire.
Pascal Siakam (2% owned) – Siakam’s production has taken a big hit lately as he continues to march through what has been a significant shooting slump, losing minutes along the way. There isn’t any one factor to point at for his slide in the rankings, but rather a series of compounding factors that are eroding his value away. The most significant impact has been the revitalization of Serge Ibaka. He has been crushing it lately and continues to play upwards of 30 minutes per night, which has relegated Siakam back to a minor bench role over the past few weeks. Another possible culprit for Siakam’s declining play is the increasingly impressive play of Jakob Poeltl. They play different positions as Poeltl is more of a five while Siakam fits better at the four, but there are only so many minutes to go around for the Raptors’ reserve big men. For a stretch, it was Siakam that was the backup player to own, but the balance has shifted lately in Poeltl’s favor. He isn’t doing huge things, Poeltl has averaged roughly 22 minutes per game in the past week while Siakam has seen around 18. Finally, Siakam’s shooting touch appears to have simply disappeared lately. He is shooting a dreadful 29 percent from the field over the past two weeks (25 percent in his last three games).
His shooting touch should return, as he is hovering around the 48 percent mark on the season, but I am more concerned about the impact that Poeltl and Ibaka will have on his value. When Siakam’s shooting returns, I’m worried that he will now be locked in a timeshare with Poeltl for minutes, and the impending return of Lucas Nogueira only complicates the reserve rotation further. Siakam is worth holding in all 18-team leagues and larger for the moment, but in shallower formats, owners can move on. Despite the fact that his shooting should turn around, it is not a great buy-low moment in deeper leagues given all the uncertainty surrounding the Raptors’ frontcourt rotation.
That’s all for this week deep leaguers. If you enjoy retweets of Torrey Craig highlights, feel free to connect with me on twitter: @z_bodhane. Until next time!