• 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 over-reaction 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 20 minutes or less. A few early performances in 10-15 minute 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 poor decision-making.

    To drive this point home, let’s hop in our DeLorean and go allllll the back to the first-week rankings from the 2016 NBA 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 and recoil in horror as we see the number 10 spot occupied by then-rookie Jake Layman… yes… the same Jake Layman that ended the season outside of the top-450 on a per game basis. Venture a bit further out to the top-50 and you see names like Tim Frazier and Matthew Dellavedova. Those players were serviceable for periods of time last year, and provided relatively steady back end value in deep leagues, but dropping a player with top-150 upside for either of them 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. With that said, there are also examples of players on the wire early even in 20-team formats who end the year ranked comfortably inside the top-200. With that in mind, join me as we dig through the early season rankings and sort out the guys that you can trust from the guys that will end up being a bust.

    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 less than 5 percent owned, as that seems to be roughly the level of player available in my own 16-team leagues.

    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 for deep league owners.

    Tarik Black, PF, Rockets (<1% owned) – Current Ranking: 68/46 (8/9-cat)

    Bust: On a per minute basis, Black has the potential to put up Boban-esque value in limited minutes. He is sitting inside the top-50 in 9-cat leagues in just 25 total minutes over two games on the season. The problem is, when Nene Hilario is healthy he will rarely even see the floor as the third string center. He is more of a player to keep on your watch list and stream in at a moments notice should Capela or Hilario miss time. Outside of that spark-plug streamability, he may be worth a back end roster spot in 30-team leagues on the hope that he jumps Hilario on depth chart at some point this season, as the production should be there if he gets minutes.

    Jakob Poeltl, PF/C, Raptors (3% Owned) – Current Ranking 67/79 (8/9-cat)

    I will give a clear-cut take on the value of most players, but I’ll take a slightly different approach with Jakob Poeltl and Ian Clark. I don’t see them coming even close to sustaining this current production, but I do think they both could have some sneaky value this year in deep leagues.

    Bust: Poeltl has made the most of his time filling in for the injured Jonas Valanciunas with a pair of three block games and two double-doubles. That said, the Raptors frontcourt is pretty crowded and it is hard to see him getting more than 20 minutes per game when everyone is healthy barring a serious leap forward. He would have to set himself apart from other back up big men Lucas Nogueira and Pascal Siakam to earn a more consistent role, and until we see more evidence of that he is primary just a stash in shallower dynasty leagues and a high-upside mid-to-late round player in 30-team leagues.

    Trust: I like Poeltl’s long-term outlook too much to categorize him in the bust category without also shedding some light on his upside. In the absence of Valanciunas and Nogueria, he earned a majority of the minutes and seems to be distancing himself from Siakam on the depth chart. His upside this season is capped when Valanciunas and Noguiera are healthy, but he has significant dynasty potential. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his minutes increase steadily as the year progresses, especially if Valanciunas struggles. Pay attention to his minutes when everyone is healthy and keep him on your watch list in 16-team leagues. He is worth a look as a speculative add in larger leagues, but don’t expect anything remotely close to this level of production season-long.

    Ian Clark, SG, Pelicans (5% owned) – Current Ranking: 100/78 (8/9-cat) 

    Bust: Clark has been off to a red-hot start this season after signing with the Pelicans this summer. He played the previous two years with the Warriors where he was buried on the depth chart behind Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. We know that Clark can shoot, and he has started the season burying two triples per game on 56 percent shooting. Throughout his career he has continued to increase his efficiency, but expecting this level of shooting to continue is a bridge too far. Expect some regression closer to his years on the Warriors where he shot 46 percent from the field on average. Add that likely regression with increased competition for minutes from recently signed Jameer Nelson and eventual return of Rajon Rondo and it is hard to see him coming even close to maintaining this production.

    Trust: It didn’t feel right placing Clark solely in the bust category and moving on, as I think he does still have some streaming appeal in 16-team leagues and should be a back end roster candidate in 20-team leagues and larger. My rationale there is that the Pelicans need all of the floor spacing that they can get. Clark is one of the few threats from deep that they have, and any player on the Pelicans that has the ability to pull defenders out of the lane and open things up for DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis should still see rotation minutes.

    Cory Joseph, PG, Pacers (5% Owned) – Current Ranking 118/100 (8/9-cat)

    Trust: Let me put out a qualifier here. I absolutely do not trust Joseph to maintain top-100 value going forward. His line on Tuesday (21/5/2 on 73 percent shooting) is the major outlier here that has him ranked this high. However, I do trust that his role as the primary back-up point guard for the Pacers is secure, and I do trust that he should provide steady value in that role. Last year he finished just outside the top-200 in 9-cat leagues playing 25 minutes per game off the bench for the Raptors. He should see about the same level of playing time this year behind Darren Collison, and it is hard to find a reason why he can’t provide similar value again this year. Consider him a back end option for assists and steals in 16-team leagues or larger.

    Langston Galloway, SG, Pistons (2% owned) – Current Ranking 138/119 (8/9-cat)

    Bust: Galloway started the season off with a 16-point performance with three triples, four rebounds and three assists on efficient shooting. Since that game, his production has fallen off a cliff and he is already losing minutes to rookie two guard Luke Kennard. Owners in anything short of a 30-team league can move on from Galloway. In 30-team leagues, he does have some back end value as a source of points, which are hard to find that deep, but his upside is capped by the time-share with Kennard.

    Johnny O’Bryant, PF/C, Hornets (<1% owned) – Current Ranking: 169/152 (8/9-cat)

    Bust: The current ranking for O’Bryant is based off a two game sample size, and he has yet to clear the 15 minute mark in either contest. Prior to those games, he was not in the rotation with Cody Zeller soaking up a bulk of the reserve minutes at center. O’Bryant has played well filling in for the injured Zeller, but his value should evaporate with Zeller likely returning soon. When the Hornets are healthy, O’Bryant will likely struggle to even see the floor most nights, so feel free to move on from him as a long-term option even in 30-team leagues. If Zeller’s injury is more serious than is being reported, or he goes down again at any point, give O’Bryant a look as his ability to score and grab rebounds in limited action puts him on the radar in 18-team leagues and larger.

    Thabo Sefolosha, SG, Jazz (2% owned) – Current Ranking 174/173 (8/9-cat)

    Trust: Sefolosha appears to be ramping up for another year of sneaky good fantasy value. Would it shock you learn that he finished as the number 119 player last year in 9-cat formats? It surprised me, and I’m a card carrying member of the Sefolosha fan club. I doubt he hits that rank this year since he probably won’t get quite the run that he did in Atlanta, but the energy he brings on the defensive end means that he has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. His hot start is partially attributed to Rodney Hood missing time with an injury and Joe Ingles being under the weather, but Sefolosha is still worth a look as a steals streamer in 16-team formats even when the Jazz are at full strength.

    Joe Harris, SG, Nets (<1% owned) – Current Ranking 198/164 (8/9-cat)

    Trust: When it comes to finding fantasy value in extremely deep leagues, look no further than the reserve corps of the Nets. Coach Kenny Atkinson likes to run deep rotations, limiting his starters to under 30 minutes per game on many nights. This means extra of minutes for back up players like Harris to soak up. The Nets will also be trying to run and gun their opponents out of the gym on most nights, so there will be plenty of shots to go around in limited minutes. With Jeremy Lin done for the year, D’Angelo Russell should be playing most of his minutes at the one, which will open up more minutes for Harris at the two. This is not an endorsement of Harris as a must-add player in all deep formats. He is more of a flier or streamer in leagues shallower than 20-teams, and a late round guy in 30-team formats, but when his shot is falling, it doesn’t take much more than 15 minutes per night for Harris to return top-300 value.

    That’s it for this week. If you want to join me in mourning the loss of our afroed hero, DeAndre Bembry (I had to sneak in a Bembry plug despite his injury), or just want to chat about dynasty leagues and all things fantasy hoops, you can reach me on twitter: @z_bodhane. Until next time Hoop Ballers!

Fantasy News

  • OG Anunoby - F - Toronto Raptors

    The Raptors are expressing optimism that OG Anunoby will be able to see the floor for their NBA Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors.

    Anunoby's size and defensive versatility could make for a very valuable weapon against the Warriors' small-ball lineups. That being said, he has been out for nearly a month and a half, and the Raptors' eight man rotation has hit its stride in the crux of this playoff run. It remains to be seen if he will make it back, but in the event that he can, there is no guarantee that he will be able to crack meaningful minutes in Toronto's tight rotation.

    Source: Ryan Wolstat on Twitter

  • Michael Porter Jr. - F - Denver Nuggets

    As a symptom from his back surgeries, Michael Porter Jr. developed drop foot, and will wear to a leg brace to help stabilize it when he makes his professional debut in Summer League according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

    Drop foot makes it hard for one to lift the front part of their foot and is a common symptom of back related ailments, of which Porter Jr. has had two surgeries to address over the last year and a half. Porter Jr. remains an unknown commodity with a laundry list of health concerns as an NBA player. There has been some recent success with young guys being able to bounce back in big ways after suffering year-long injuries, but Porter Jr. will remain a mystery until we see him on the court for his inaugural season.

    Source: The Denver Post

  • Jonas Valanciunas - C - Memphis Grizzlies

    Jonas Valanciunas said that he wants to see who the Memphis Grizzlies hire as their next head coach before deciding on his $17.6 million player option.

    Valanciunas saw his role increase in Memphis after being traded from Toronto, and actually played to compete with the Grizz trying to win enough games to convert their, at the time, low-end lottery pick to Boston. Valanciunas made it clear that he doesn't want to return to Memphis if their plans are to pivot to a rebuild and not compete again next year, saying, "I want to know, how we gonna look in 82 games. I don't want to be a tourist. I want to win.". The Hoop Ball favorite will be hard pressed to find a situation that will give him as much run, and fantasy value, as Memphis did, making this a decision fantasy owners everywhere should monitor.

    Source: Dontas Urbonas on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard - F - Toronto Raptors

    Kawhi Leonard held Giannis Antetekounmpo to just .353 shooting from the floor with an offensive rating of 89.4 when guarding him in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    This is needed to emphasize just how dominant of a defensive player Leonard really is. For reference, Giannis shot .578 from the floor with an offensive rating of 121 through the regular season. A total swing of nearly 23 percent and 32 less points per 100 possessions is preposterous for any player, especially an MVP caliber offensive juggernaut in Antetokounmpo. Keep these numbers in mind as the debate over Leonard being the league's best player continues to heat up.

    Source: Micha Adams on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard - F - Toronto Raptors

    Kawhi Leonard posted a monster line in Saturday's 100-94 Game 6 win, scoring 27 points with 17 rebounds, seven assist, two steals, two blocks and six turnovers.

    Leonard put the Raptors on his back and carried them into their first NBA Finals appearance. After losing the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals the Raptors stormed back to take the next four to seal the series. Kawhi has been simply marvelous for this team and found a way to crank it up another notch, averaging almost 30 points per game this series. He was all over the court this game and dominated the Bucks from inside the paint. A 4th quarter dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo punctuated this dominance and sent the hometown crowd in a frenzy. The Raptors will try to keep their hot streak going as they face the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks

    While Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a five-year supermax contract worth over $247 million, ESPN's Malika Andrews is reporting that the 2020 playoff run could swing whether or not Antetokounmpo stays with the Bucks long-term.

    The Bucks have three of their starters and two key bench pieces heading into free agency this summer, so they might have to make some bold choices to keep the necessary parts around while also improving the team on a budget. It's possible that this is the Antetokounmpo camp's way of encouraging Milwaukee to empty the wallet and keep the current group together, but it goes against what Giannis has said publicly about the team and city from day one. The Bucks were eliminated mere hours ago but we're already having this conversation. The NBA news cycle is perpetual.

    Source: ESPN

  • Kyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors

    Kyle Lowry posted a solid line in Saturday's Game 6 win scoring 17 points while adding five rebounds, eight assists, three 3-pointers, one steal and only one turnover.

    After a pedestrian series against the 76ers, Lowry stepped it up against the Bucks, averaging almost 20 points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals. He did a great job making smart plays for the Raptors and they will need him to continue to operate at this high level as they head off into the NBA Finals next week.

  • Marc Gasol - C - Toronto Raptors

    Marc Gasol scored six points, all from behind the arc, in Saturday's Game 6 win, adding three rebounds, two assists and a block/steal in 26 minutes.

    Gasol continues to do what the Raptors ask of him though the years of grinding in the paint for Memphis are long gone. He has adjusted his game play and now acts as a facilitator for the rest of the team. Gasol continues to split time in the post with Serge Ibaka (25 minutes, nine points) and will see his minutes fluctuate based on the Raptor's offensive scheme heading into the NBA Finals.

  • Fred VanVleet - G - Toronto Raptors

    Fred VanVleet was a difference maker for the Raptors' series clinching Game 6, scoring 14 points off the bench on 5-for-6 shooting while adding two assists.

    VanVleet played 34 minutes off the bench and continues to be a menace from behind the 3-point line (4-for-5 today). In the past three games he has gone an unbelievable 14-for-17 from behind the arc. The Raptors will continue to rely on his ability to stretch the floor as they head into their first NBA Finals and will square off against the Warriors and their own formidable shooters.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks

    Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 21 points in Saturday's Game 6 loss while contributing 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals, three blocks and two turnovers.

    Antetokounmpo did all that was asked of him on both sides of the ball but could not get past the Raptors this series. Giannis continues to operate at an MVP-level but his freethrow woes continue to plague him. He was "Shaq-esque" this series (55%) and shot 5-for-10 in tonight's loss. This is a tough break for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks as they head into the offseason with four of their five starters entering free agency.