January 23, 2020, 3:57 pm
Hey Hoop Ballers! Welcome back to another edition of Deep League Digging – my regular column scouring the darkest reaches of the fantasy NBA landscape in search of diamonds in the rough for deep league owners.
We are about a month away from the All-Star break, which always serves as the final unofficial pit stop in the fantasy season before the playoffs commence. At this point, the wheat has mostly been separated from the chaff. Managers have a pretty clear picture of where their team stacks up against the rest of the league, and it is either time for one last Hail Mary trade or lottery ticket waiver wire addition, or time to start looking forward to getting your team in the best shape possible for a playoff berth.
However, there is still plenty of value to be found on the wire, and many managers are still clinging to dead weight on their roster hoping for things to turn around. Depending on where you are in the standings, stashing injured or under-performing players is a viable strategy, but if you find yourself on the outside of the playoff picture looking in it is time to start thinking about making some big moves.
As always, I’ll be focusing on players that are potentially 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-roster 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-roster player in larger leagues.
Consider Adding if Available
Daniel Theis, Celtics (17% Rostered) – Vanilla Theis has been anything but “ice ice (cold) baby” over the past few weeks, averaging 9.6 points on 65 percent shooting with 0.9 triples, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks in only 22 minutes per game. It is tough to trust anyone in the Celtics’ crowded frontcourt, but Theis seems to be the one most consistently worth rostering in the ever-rotating big man carousel. We need to wait and see on any news regarding a potential foot injury to Enes Kanter, but if Kanter is set to miss any time Theis becomes an even more appealing fantasy option. Regardless, he doesn’t need many minutes to make an impact (largely thanks to his fantastic per-minute block rate) and appears to be consistently carving out a larger spot in the rotation.
Donte DiVincenzo, Bucks (15% Rostered) – At this point, it is hard to explain away what Donte DiVincenzo is doing. Even with a Bucks squad at almost full strength over the past few weeks, the second-year wing is still managing to put up top-100 fantasy numbers. His value is largely predicated on an impressive steal rate of 2.9 per 36 minutes, but his shot does seem to be falling more consistently, giving him some additional stat set appeal as an option for points, threes and rebounds. His impact on the court is demonstrable, considering the fact that the Bucks are a whopping +8.6 per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Regardless of whether he starts or comes of the bench, DiVincenzo has carved out a consistent role and should continue to hover around the top-150 thanks to his steady steal rate.
De’Anthony Melton, Grizzlies (9% Rostered) – Speaking of huge plus/minus impact guys, De’Anthony Melton may be the king of that stat, holding down a ridiculous +17.5 per 100 possessions. Plus/minus is far from a perfect stat, but it is telling that Grizzlies’ lineups that have recorded over 50 possessions that include Melton average a +10.2, with the most effective being a +35.1. That is all to say that, when Melton is on the floor, the Grizzlies are a better team. There are so many guys ahead of him in the rotation that is upside is limited this season without a ton of injures, but the team seems to have noticed his impact and is rewarding Melton with an increasingly consistent 20ish-minute spot in the rotation. That may not get it done for 12-team leagues, but it is more than enough to be valuable in any 14- team league or deeper.
Royce O’Neale, Jazz (6% Rostered) – Speaking of plus/minus heroes… Royce O’Neale has an impact on the game that transcends traditional box score numbers. In an average of 29.5 minutes per game on the season, the Jazz are +10.1 per 100 possessions with O’Neale on the floor. Of the Jazz’s best lineups that have played over 50 possessions, three of the top four most effective lineups include O’Neale (+25.9, +22.4 and +15.7). You may be asking yourself “plus/minus is not a fantasy category, why does any of this matter?”
Well, in what we can call Boban’s Law, the most important fantasy category out there is minutes. Per-minute production is great, but if a player doesn’t contribute to winning basketball, they aren’t likely to see enough time to be fantasy relevant regardless of how epic their per-minute fantasy production may be. O’Neale’s playing time isn’t going anywhere, and while his numbers may not jump off the page, his stat set is well-rounded enough to hold down steady top-150ish value for the remainder of the season, making him a must-roster player in all deep leagues.
James Johnson, Heat (2% Rostered) – In a throwback to the James Johnson of years past, Johnson is averaging 9.1 points on 53 percent shooting with 1.7 threes, 3.8 boards and 1.0 blocks in 20 minutes per game over the past two weeks. A few things about this run seem unsustainable, starting with the elevated shooting percentage. As a career 47.8 percent shooter, Johnson is certainly no slouch, but his efficiency recently is largely buoyed by one outlier game where he went 9-for-11 from the field, hitting four triples. The block rate is also likely set to decline a bit, as players his age tend to see a pretty serious decline in blocks on average.
Still, Johnson is playing his way into more minutes lately as Meyers Leonard struggles, making him at least worth a speculative add in all deep leagues. The Heat’s rotation has been tough to pin down this season, so I don’t expect him to see consistent minutes moving forward necessarily, but feel free to ride him while he is hot and move on if he cools off or falls out of favor with Erik Spoelstra.
Isaac Bonga, Wizards (1% Rostered) – Bonga is another name that, at least on a short-term basis, needs to be on more deep-league fantasy rosters. The Wizards are still without Rui Hachimura and Moritz Wagner, opening up more minutes for Bonga to play minutes at the three and four. It has come inconsistently, but over the past two weeks Bonga is averaging 6.0 points on 68 percent shooting with 0.7 threes, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.3 blocks in 21.5 minutes per game. He won’t continue to shoot 68 percent, but the steals and rebounding appear legit. In 16-team leagues, consider Bonga more of a boom or bust streaming option given his inconsistency, but in deeper formats he is worth adding on at least a short-term basis until the Wizards are fully healthy.
Wesley Iwundu, Magic (<1% Rostered) – Iwundu isn’t really a player to consider outside of steals streaming in shallower formats, but in 20-team leagues or deeper he is doing enough to warrant at least a short-term add. As long as Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross remain healthy, he isn’t going to have a large enough role to warrant an add in most leagues given his poor per minute fantasy production. However, in deeper formats, he should probably be on someone’s roster given the fairly consistent flow of defensive stats he produces.
Consider Moving On
Dewayne Dedmon, Kings (27% Rostered) – After a great season last year, Dedmon has unfortunately largely been dead weight on fantasy rosters this season. Dedmon is not quite in the drop zone yet in deep leagues for as long as Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley remain sidelined, but when they return there is a good chance that he falls out of the rotation entirely. He could be worth stashing in the hope of a trade landing him in a better spot, but the production just hasn’t been there this year even when the minutes are. If a priority add is on the wire, Dedmon should at least be on the list of guys you consider dropping to make the swap.
Kent Bazemore, Kings (21% Rostered) – With Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harrison Barnes now ahead of him, Bazemore landed in one of the worst possible spots for his fantasy value following the trade executed between the Blazers and Kings. His debut in Sacramento didn’t result in much, as he posted seven points on 50 percent shooting with one triple, three rebounds, one steal and nothing else in only 16 minutes. He will likely be better than that moving forward as the Kings integrate him into the rotation further, but with Holmes and Bagley still set to return soon, Bazemore can situationally be considered a drop candidate in at least 14-team leagues, and maybe even 16-team leagues.
Isaiah Thomas, Wizards (14% Rostered) – It is truly sad to say, but Isaiah Thomas appears to be cooked at this point in his career. Despite seeing an average of 23.4 minutes on a depleted Wizards roster, Thomas still is still outside of the top-250 on the season and is struggling even more lately, posting numbers outside of the top-350 in the last month. There isn’t much upside there, and despite the constant churn of injuries in Washington, and Thomas starting when healthy, he still has not been able to establish much of a claim to the starting job. He is fine to hold onto in 18-team leagues and deeper, but probably should only be considered a boom or bust streaming option in anything shallower.