October 25, 2018, 3:41 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.
We are now officially just over a week into the young NBA season, and that means that overreaction season is upon us. Every year it is the same story. A relatively unheralded player turns in a few massive early performances, becomes a waiver wire darling, and hot takes start flying from all corners. The real money gets made when owners can cut through the noise and differentiate a player whose fast start is doomed to come to a grinding halt from the real-deal waiver wire breakout candidates.
This can be especially challenging in deep leagues given the early season risers are generally doing it all in 15-20 minutes or less. A few early outlier performances in 10-15 minutes of garbage time can make even a back end player in 30-team formats look like a standard league waiver wire steal. Compound that with the added competition on the wire and a diminished talent pool in deep leagues, and you get the perfect storm for rough decisions.
To drive this point home, let’s hop in our DeLorean and go allllll the back to the first-week rankings from last season. Upon arrival we see that it is truly a terrifying landscape filled a number of gems, but even more landmines. Look no further than the top-10 to see both Evan Fournier and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope occupying the 9 and 10 spots respectively. In fairness to them, they both were reliable fantasy assets for most of last season, but nowhere near early-round value. Venture a bit further out to the top-50 and you will be graced with the likes of Lucas Nogueira and Tarik Black. Bebe was serviceable at times last year given his ludicrous per-36 block numbers, but dropping a player with top-150 upside for him would have been a regrettable decision.
I won’t belabor the early season rankings from last year, but it is worth remembering that early season shooting stars often burn out just as quickly. However, there are also examples of players on the wire early even in 20-team formats who end the year ranked comfortably inside the top-150. With that in mind, join me as we put on our hazmat suits and dig through the dumpster fire that is early season rankings to sort out the rising studs from inevitable duds.
NOTE: I am trying to cover everything from 16-team leagues to 30-team leagues. 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’ll be focusing on the early season performance of players that are around 25 percent owned or less. Generally, we will be highlighting players available in at least 90-percent of leagues, but early season ownership numbers can swing wildly from a few good performances, so we will be zooming out a bit further in this article.
One last thing! When placing a player in the trust category, I’m not saying that they are locked in to continue producing at their current ranking. Most of the players I profile would be on the standard league radar at their current pace, so some regression is to be expected. However, the guys I designate as trustworthy generally have a clearer role defined, or some other variable that makes me believe they will provide season-long value in deep leagues.
Ish Smith, G, Pistons (25% owned) – Current Ranking: 86/73 (8/9-cat)
Trust: Ish Smith came out of the gate swinging this season averaging 15.7 points, 2.0 triples and 3.7 assists on 58 percent shooting in the Pistons’ first three games. As can be said with every hot starter covered so far, his shooting will regress back to the mean, but Smith should be able to provide back-end season-long value in 16-team leagues. We know exactly who Smith is at this point, and that is a top-175ish player that will get you around 4-5 assists each night without completely wrecking your percentages. He is probably already rostered due to the scarcity of assists in the later rounds, but take a look to make sure.
Nik Stauskas, G, Blazers (22% owned) – Current Ranking: 58/45 (8/9-cat)
Trust: I can’t believe I am about to write this, but I’m jumping on the Sauce Castillo hype train (gravy train?). On opening night, he hung 24 points and five triples on the LeBrongeles Lakers and had another big night on Tuesday against the Wizards (15 points, three triples, eight rebounds, three assists). Before I let my optimism get the best of me, there no chance of Stauskas continuing to shoot 53 percent from deep and he will almost certainly not continue to see between 25-30 minutes per game. However, I’m willing to buy some of the stat set improvement in the way of modest gains efficiency, assists and steals in a new Portland system (one that he seems thoroughly enjoy). He will eventually come back down to earth, but as long as he continues to outplay Seth Curry there is a chance that Sauce can provide top-200 value making him worth a speculative add in all deep leagues.
Dwight Powell, C, Mavericks (17% owned) – Current Ranking: 78/59 (8/9-cat)
Trust: In last week’s article, we discussed Dwight Powell in some length, so I’ll keep the analysis fairly brief. He flew under the radar last season despite posting big numbers down the stretch, he was overlooked on draft day this year and, as it turns out, is a pretty decent player. He is cruising right now on the back of 76 percent shooting. However, unlike Shumpert and Temple, Powell gets a majority of his looks at the rim, so shooting over 50 percent from the floor is the expectation and not the exception. Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes are still injured, so his minutes may take a slight hit, but even in the 15-20 mpg range Powell has a chance at top-150 value. Make sure he is rostered in all deep leagues.
Iman Shumpert, G, Kings (14% owned) – Current Ranking: 65/57 (8/9-cat)
Bust: You would be forgiven for thinking that Iman Shumpert mysteriously vanished from planet earth, let alone the fantasy radar, after appearing in only 14 games for the Cavaliers last season before being dealt to the land of fantasy purgatory, Sacramento. While Shumpert failed to log a single minute for the Kings last season following his trade deadline arrival, he burst onto the radar this year by averaging 13 points on 58 percent shooting with 2.5 threes, 1.3 steals and 0.5 blocks in his first four outings this season. Given his career 40 percent conversion rate from the field, it is safe to assume that Shumpert will not continue to post such efficient scoring numbers, making him more of a threes and steal streaming option than a locked in top-150 (or even top-200) player. Beyond the likely regression in shooting efficiency (noticing a trend?), Bogdan Bogdanovic will likely make his season debut within the next few weeks and move Shumpert back to the bench. Feel free to ride his hot hand while Bogdanovic is out, but he won’t likely hold appeal outside of a streamer outside of 30-team leagues.
Garrett Temple, G/F, Grizzlies (14% owned) – Current Ranking: 113/94 (8/9-cat)
Very Reluctant Trust: Speaking of streaky wing players that have recently played with the Kings… enter Garrett Temple and his massive 30-point performance on 91 percent shooting (no, I didn’t mean to say 19) with five threes, four rebounds, one steal and a block last Friday. Unless his offseason regimen included being retrofitted with robotic arms, we can assume that Temple will regress much closer to the career 40 percent mark from the field. He also stands to lose a few minutes in the rotation when Dillon Brooks (foot) is back to full health and Kyle Anderson presumably assumes a larger role. Even with all of those hits to his current production, it seems likely that Temple has a steady enough role to plod his way to a top-200 finish, technically making him a back-end rosterable player in 16-team leagues. If you plan on holding Temple, know that he is notoriously streaky, making him more appealing as a boom or bust streaming play.
Zach Collins, C, Blazers (13% owned) – Current Ranking: 83/85 (8/9-cat)
Trust: Given the hype that Collins received following a swat-tastic six-block performance in 26 minute against the Lakers, there is a solid chance that he is no longer on the wire in deep leagues. Again, I have to caveat this “trust” designation by calling out that Collins profiles more as a fringe top-200 player this season than a fringe top-100 guy with Jusuf Nurkic ahead of him on the depth chart. Even in limited minutes, he should still be able to provide back-end value in 16 team leagues averaging around a block per night with decent contributions in rebounding and threes. Add in Nurkic’s injury prone status and penchant for racking up fouls and Collins becomes an even more appealing player to keep stashed away at the end of your bench.
Damyean Dotson, G/F, Knicks (11% owned) – Current Ranking: 47/34 (8/9-cat)
Trust: Dotson’s early season production is about as fluky as it gets, but he may well be playing himself into a larger role. The Knicks are already dealing with injuries to Emmanuel Mudiay, Courtney Lee and Kevin Knox on top of the long-term absence of Kristaps Porzingis. The extensive wing injuries have opened up an opportunity for Dotson to play big minutes in the last three games, and he responded with some unexpectedly big 3-and-D-type lines. Dotson’s window of opportunity will exist for as long as Kevin Knox and Courtney Lee remain sidelined, so he should be speculatively picked up in all deep leagues for as long as he has the hot hand. He won’t continue to see these types of minutes when the Knicks are healthy, and it is hard to predict what head coach David Fizdale will do with the rotation moving forward, but he may well play himself into a season-long role off the bench.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Hornets (10% owned) – Current Ranking: 149/137 (8/9-cat)
Bust: MKG is fine to keep around as an end of bench option in 16-team leagues (and should probably be rostered in anything deeper), but given his lack of impact in any one category you may be better served letting him go to open up a streaming spot in head to head leagues. His value at this point is buoyed almost entirely by the fact that he has blocked 10 shots over his first five games. I’ll buy the prospect of a bounce-back year for Kidd-Gilchrist with Dwight Howard no longer clogging the paint, but his defensive stat production is bound to regress from the other-worldly level that he is at right now. There isn’t much upside left for Kidd-Gilchrist, so feel free to move on if someone like Zach Collins is still sitting on the wire.
Gorgui Dieng, F/C, Wolves (5% owned) – Current Ranking: 157/157 (8/9-cat)
Trust the Player, not the Role: As was the case with Dwight Powell above, Dieng was highlighted in last week’s article on early season fliers. If Dieng could somehow work his way into a 25-30 minute role per night, we know that he is easily a top-100 player. However, it seems likely that he will be confined to a roughly 15 minute role as long as he stays in Minnesota under Tom Thibodeau. He is one of the highest upside players that may still be on the wire in deep leagues, so consider a speculative add if you have space on your bench, but barring any massive shakeups with the Wolves he is more than likely in for another year of frustrating top-250 type production.
Dorian Finney-Smith, F, Mavericks (4% owned) – Current Ranking: 103/103 (8/9-cat)
Bust: The Mavericks are currently without Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris. Those are some pretty sizable chunks of the rotation that need filling early on in the season, and Dorian Finney-Smith has been one of the primary beneficiaries averaging over 32 minutes per night over the Mavericks’ first four contests. As those players get back on the court, Finney-Smith will almost certainly see his role diminish. Beyond the decreased role, his per-minute production is among the worst in the league. He is still young enough to hold some trade value on the promise of a breakout, so see if you can sell Finney-Smith high in 16-team leagues before he is likely on the outside of the rotation looking in. In deeper formats, feel free to speculatively add Finney-Smith to see if he has somehow turned a corner, but don’t assume a huge bump in season-long production.
Kevin Huerter, G, Hawks (2% owned) – Current Ranking: 71/217 (8/9-cat)
Trust: The rookie swingman is likely already on plenty of watch lists even in standard leagues due to the opportunity that he may get as the season grinds on and the Hawks begin to rack up the Ls. He flashed some of that potential upside in a blowout win on Sunday with a well-rounded line of nine points, three triples, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block in 25 minutes. As long as Kent Bazemore is playing around 30 minutes per night, nights like that will be few and far between for Huerter (in both minutes and production). However, the promise of a second half emergence from Huerter if Bazemore is traded or sits makes him worth keeping on your watch list in 16-team leagues and must-own in 20-team leagues and deeper.
Omari Spellman, F, Hawks (1% owned) – Current Ranking: 239/185 (8/9-cat)
Very Cautious Trust: I have to say off the bat that between the two Hawks’ youngsters listed here in Huerter and Spellman, Huerter profiles as the safer bet for season-long production given his diverse stat set and path to minutes. However, the same garbage time blowout that allowed Huerter to shine also benefited Spellman as he contributed 17 points and four triples in 24 minutes. However, Spellman’s path to minutes gets a bit murkier as he will have to fight John Collins for minutes while Huerter primarily has the aging Kent Bazemore standing in his way. Even with the tougher path to clearing out minutes, the upside is definitely there, so consider a speculative add on Spellman in 16-team leagues if you need blocks and boards with a touch of three point shooting. He should be rostered in deeper formats.
Frank Mason III, G, Kings (1% owned) – Current Ranking: 147/133 (8/9-cat)
Want to Trust, but… Kings: To start the season, Mason is averaging 10.0 points per game with 1.3 triples, 3.8 assists and 0.5 steals on 57 percent shooting from the field. On the numbers alone, he would warrant a roster spot in all deep leagues. My first concern – stop me if you have heard this before – is the unsustainably high shooting percentage. Mason shot a brutal 38 percent from the field last year in his rookie campaign, and while some efficiency gains are to be expected from a player in their second year, we should expect shooting more around the 40-42 percent range than 55-57 percent. My larger concern actually lies in how he will be deployed on a night to night basis. At this point, we know that the only consistent thing from Head Coach Dave Joerger is inconsistency. In rostering Mason, you will have to deal with many nights of him going off in 25 minutes on your bench only to follow that with a dud 10-minute performance when you start him. He should probably be on someone’s roster in 20-team leagues and deeper, but is better served as an assists streamer in shallower formats.
Ryan Arcidiacono, G, Bulls (1% owned) – Current Ranking: 151/143 (8/9-cat)
Bust: Arcidiacono will get run for as long as Kris Dunn is out, so is at least worth looking at as a short-term add in all deep leagues. There are probably better options around for a short-term add in 16-team leagues, but if you really need assists, Arcidiacono can fill that gap. He could have season long value in 30-team leagues, but it is just as likely that he falls out of the rotation entirely when Kris Dunn is back, so keep him on a short leash and move on if a higher upside player is available.
Johnathan Williams, PF/C, Lakers (<1% owned) – Current Ranking: 185/156 (8/9-cat)
Contractually Mandated Bust (maybe): I’ll cut to the chase here, Williams is worth a flier in 20-team leagues and deeper. He hasn’t quite shown enough to warrant a speculative add in 18-team leagues, but I wouldn’t hate it if you decided to take a gamble. The Lakers frontcourt is incredibly thin, and the Lakers are turning to the first year two-way player over their plodding 2016 second round selection, Ivica Zubac (he has played a total of seven minutes on the season so far). However, the BIG disclaimer here is that since Williams is on a two-way deal, he can only spend a total of 45 days – not games – with the NBA team (including practice and travel). That clock doesn’t start ticking until the start of the G League season on November 3, so he has plenty of time to prove that he belongs in the big leagues. Ultimately, the nature of the two-way deal will inherently limit Williams’ ability to provide season-long value, but if he continues to play well there is a chance that the Lakers use their remaining open roster spot to sign Williams to an NBA deal and Zubac falls out of the rotation entirely.
That’s it for this week! See you all next week to inevitably eat crow on my Sauce Castillo hype. Until then, you can connect with me on twitter: @z_bodhane.