December 28, 2017, 2:08 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.
With all of the noise this past offseason created by blockbuster trades, huge free agent signings, and a stellar rookie draft class, one of the more significant changes in recent memory to NBA roster rules flew under the radar. The introduction of two-way contracts as a means of owning exclusive rights to G-League players was a huge shift in how teams have done business in the past compared to the 10-day contract system.
For those that may not be intimately familiar with how the new two-way contracts are structured, here is a quick synopsis on how they work. Each NBA team is now allowed to sign two players on two-way deals serving as the 16th and 17th roster spot (the previous cap was 15 players). Those two players can only spend a total of 45 days (not games, so that includes travel and practice days) with the NBA team that signed them. Any time not spent in the NBA must be spent in the G-League, and when a player has used all of their 45 days with the team, the team can either decide to sign them to a full NBA contract for the veteran minimum, waive the player, or send them back to the G-League for the remainder of the season.
Not only is this a major departure from how NBA teams have traditionally interacted with G-League players (any G-League player could be signed by any NBA team on a 10-day contract) – it has already had some interesting implications for fantasy hoops owners. We’ve seen breakout performances from two-way players early on in the way of Mike James, and Torrey Craig has been the latest player to blow up on the big stage after signing a two-way deal. What makes these players so interesting for fantasy is the volatility of their situation. There really is no telling if they will be sent back down to the G-League, signed to a full contract, or waived (or signed, then waived in the case of Mike James).
If we think of the NBA as a stock market for the purposes of fantasy, the two-way contract system has already caused some major disruption, making it hard to evaluate the true season-long value of these players given all of the uncertainty surrounding their outlook.
The list of players on two-way contracts making waves in deep leagues continues to grow, and for those that have already spent a significant amount of time in the NBA, their 45-day limit for NBA eligibility is starting to get perilously close. With all that in mind, this week we will be taking a look at some of the two-way players making the biggest impact so far, and try to discern whether it is worth the risk to fill a roster spot on your own fantasy team with a two-way player.
Clippers’ Two-Way Players – The Clippers have won three of their last five games, and that has to be at least partially attributed to the contributions from two-way players Jamil Wilson and C.J. Williams. Wilson and Williams, partners in ball, are two of the latest examples of standout players cutting their teeth in the NBA on two-way contracts. Both are coming close to using up their 45 days in the NBA, so a closer look at each of their outlooks is prudent.
Jamil Wilson, PF
Since entering the rotation on November 30, Wilson has seen his role steadily increase, and started for the Clippers in their past nine games. As a starter, Wilson has been a fringe top-100 fantasy asset, averaging 9.4 points on 48-percent shooting with 2.4 threes, 2.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 1.0 block in 23 minutes per game. If those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page to you at first, perhaps his nearly 43 percent efficiency from beyond the arc will help raise some eyebrows.
The catch? The Clippers have basically been a rolling MASH unit lately with injuries to Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Wesley Johnson. The absence of such key figures in the rotation has allowed reserve forwards like Wilson, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell to see extended run, with Wilson arguably making the most of the opportunity. It has been a great stretch of games in the starting rotation, but Griffin appears to be eyeing a return by the end of the month – that spells trouble for Wilson’s value. Further muddying the waters is the fact that Wilson only has eight days left on his two-way contract. When the 45-day limit expires, the Clippers will have to decide whether to sign him to a full NBA contract, release him, or send him packing back to the G-League.
Despite the reality that his fantasy value will take a hit when Griffin is back on the court, he has arguably earned a spot on the roster, forcing the Clippers to make some tough decisions in the coming days. They would need to waive or trade a player to make room for both Wilson and C.J. Williams (I’ll get to him in a minute), and they would need to do it fast. The Clippers haven’t given any indication of what they plan to do with their two-way contract standouts, but my best guess is that they find a way to hold on to their suddenly blossoming assets. Wilson and Williams were both sent back to the G-League on Wednesday, but that was likely just a move to save a few extra days of eligibility, and they may rejoin the team on Friday for their matchup against the Lakers. Wilson is worth holding in all deep leagues until we see how this plays out, but I don’t think his ceiling is much higher than a top-250 player if he does ink a deal with the Clippers. His shooting is due for some regression, the return of Griffin will hurt him, and if his shot isn’t falling he doesn’t offer much more than streaming appeal for threes and blocks outside of leagues larger than 20 teams.
C.J. Williams, SG
Much of what was said above applies to Williams. He began seeing significant rotation minutes roughly a month ago, and has been named a starter in each of the last five games. As a starter, Williams has averaged 7.4 points on 38 percent shooting with 0.8 threes, 2.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.2 blocks in 28 minutes per game. That production is good enough to land Williams comfortably inside the top-200, and makes him a fringe top-150 asset over past two weeks.
Concerns over his role in the rotation once the Clippers are back at full strength apply to Williams, though as a backcourt player is less directly impacted than Jamil Wilson by the return of Blake Griffin. My main concern lies in the fact that he becomes yet another piece in the already confusing backcourt puzzle in La La Land featuring Austin Rivers, Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic as the more solidified pieces, with rookies Sindarius Thornwell, Jawun Evans and C.J. Williams all fighting for the remaining minutes. My optimism lies in the fact that Williams is tenacious defender, which allows him to play as a small-ball three. However, when Wesley Johnson and Danilo Gallinari return, his value will take a hit.
As a fantasy asset, I’m actually a bit higher on Williams than Wilson given his stat set potential, but the 45-day limit on his two-way deal is set to expire not long after Wilson’s, and the same questions regarding his future with the Clippers remain the elephant in the room. Williams is worth holding in all deep leagues until his contract situation is resolved, and if he is signed, Williams won’t likely be roster-worthy in leagues smaller than 18-teams beyond a streamer for defensive stats when the Clippers are healthy.
Torrey Craig, SF, Nuggets – I’ll spare you from further pontificating on Craig, as my opinion on his situation has not changed much since I wrote about him last week. A few notable developments – he has fallen out of the starting rotation, and seen his minutes have dipped significantly in the last three games. Even in a reduced role, he is still flirting with top-200 value. I still believe that the Nuggets will make room for him and offer him a full contract when his 45 days are up, and I still believe that he is worthy of flier status in 16-team leagues and is a strong speculative add in larger leagues.
Kobi Simmons, PG, Grizzlies – Simmons went undrafted in the 2017 NBA draft, but was signed by the Grizzlies on a two-way deal this past offseason. The 20-year-old point guard spent the first few months of the season playing with the Memphis Hustle – the Grizzlies G-League affiliate – but has been in the NBA since December 16. In his last five games, Simmons is averaging 2.8 points on 33 percent shooting with 2.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks in 16 minutes per game. His minutes have drastically increased over the past three games, with his best performance coming on December 26 (26 minutes, six points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block).
There is no denying that Simmons is raw, and his lack of an outside shot can be a liability for a guard in the modern NBA, but he has played well enough to take significant minutes from Mario Chalmers as the primary ball handler in the bench unit. Despite the holes in his game, Simmons’ raw athleticism, speed and energy have led to some game-changing moments, and he fits well as a spark-plug type player off the bench.
He is a tempting add candidate, but his fantasy appeal is almost entirely dependent on the timeline for Mike Conley to return. The latest news is that Conley is expected to be out for at least another week, but the team has been tight-lipped about his progress and doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to get Conley back out on the court given the significant slide they have been on lately. That is a long-winded way of saying that we don’t really know when Conley will return, or what his minutes will look like when he is back. Simmons is worth a flier in all deep leagues if you have an open roster spot, and is worth a look as at least a short-term add for assists and steals in 20-team leagues and larger. I don’t think his ceiling is much higher than a top-300 player this season, but as the Grizzlies continue to plummet in the standings they may opt to see what they have in Simmons and solidify his position on the depth chart.
Sean Kilpatrick, SG, Bucks – Kilpatrick was waived by the Nets earlier this month to create a roster spot for Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas who came over from the Sixers in a trade. It didn’t take long for Kilpatrick to find a new home, signing a two-way deal with the Bucks on December 17. It feels like it would be pretty hard for things to get worse given the season he was having with the Nets, but it is possible as he now joins what was already a messy guard rotation on the Bucks. Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton are the locked in starters, but behind them things start to get complicated. Kilpatrick will be fighting for minutes with Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova, DeAndre Liggings, rookies Rashad Vaughn and Sterling Brown, and the ageless wonder, Jason Terry.
Beyond the sheer number of guards suiting up for the Bucks, predicting their utilization on any given night can be a mystifying task at best. It’s hard to guess exactly where Kilpatrick fits in the rotation going forward, but it appears that Coach Jason Kidd does appreciate his scoring off the bench to some extent, as Kilpatrick played 10 minutes and 15 minutes in his first two games with the Bucks (only to be a healthy scratch in his third). Kilpatrick is who he is at this point, and there really isn’t much room for growth, so he is probably best left on the wire outside of 30-team leagues. Even then, you could make the argument that he may be the last player on your bench, and that spot could be better used stashing a player with more upside.
Briante Weber, PG, Rockets – Weber has spent much of the season tormenting opposition guards in the G-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, but was recently called back up to the Rockets to serve as a reserve in the wake of an injury to Chris Paul. In his two games with the Rockets since December 22, Weber has averaged 1.0 point on 20 percent shooting with 1.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steal and 1.0 block in 17 minutes. Those numbers are far from exciting, but his ability to rack up defensive stats in limited minutes makes him a top-200 player since being called up. It doesn’t appear like Chris Paul will miss much more time, so Weber’s shelf life is pretty limited as he will likely be sent back down to the G-League once Paul is back on the court. He won’t give you much outside of steals, but Weber is a good deep league streaming option for steals for as long as Chris Paul remains sidelined.