January 18, 2018, 4:08 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.
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. Owners 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.
Of course, talking about the fantasy playoffs now seems a bit premature with so much basketball left to play, so I’ll save in-depth analysis on teams’ fantasy playoff schedules for a special trade deadline edition of Deep League Digging around the All-Star break. For now, let’s stay focused on mining the wire for players that can provide some nice short-term value for deep league owners, while also keeping an eye on those stash candidate players who have a chance a big impact down the stretch run of the fantasy season.
As always, I’ll be focusing on players that are around 5 percent owned or less, since that is roughly 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.
Waiver Wire Watch
Tyrone Wallace, SG, Clippers (3% owned) – Since signing a two-way deal with the Clippers two weeks ago, Wallace is a name that even standard league owners are becoming familiar with as he continues to roll along at top-100 pace. Since signing with the Clippers, he is averaging 12.4 points (on 0.7 triples) on 50 percent shooting with 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks in 31 minutes per game. The shooting efficiency and steal rate jump out as the more obvious parts of his game bound for some regression, but the fact that he continues to deliver on a night-to-night basis indicates that there is something here. He is getting snatched up off the wire so owners will need to act quickly, but he is worth a speculative add for short-term value in all deep leagues. Just keep in mind that his shelf life may be limited as he is on a two-way deal, and his minutes should drop dramatically when Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari are healthy.
Wesley Johnson, SF, Clippers (3% owned) – It is easy to forget about the quietly improved season that Wesley Johnson is enjoying with all of the noise surrounding the Clippers revolving door of fantasy relevant two-way players (see Wallace, Tyrone above). After missing a few games with a minor foot injury, Johnson has a money counter magnet lately, averaging 1.8 triples, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks in 24 minutes in his last four outings. Johnson won’t get you much outside of those stats, but the rare combination of threes, steals and blocks gives him some serious utility off the wire on most rosters. Even with Danilo Gallinari out, he still isn’t getting much playing time, so expect some regression from the numbers listed above, but Johnson should be back-end roster worthy in 16 team leagues and must-own in anything larger for as long as Gallinari is sidelined.
James Ennis, SF, Grizzlies (2% owned) – Ennis is another player that is quietly rewarding owners that may have taken him late in deep league fantasy drafts. He doesn’t do anything spectacularly well, but he is an efficient low-volume scorer and really doesn’t hurt you anywhere. Imagine my surprise to find that a guy who usually has about as vanilla a stat set as can be is sitting inside of the top-90 in his last four games after putting up fringe top-200 value all season. The big change to bump him up about 100 spots in the rankings? A massive increase in both his steal and block rates. There isn’t a reality that exists where I believe that sticks, so he is more of a player to consider adding while he is hot in 18-team leagues and larger, but don’t expect the value to stick for long. Chandler Parsons is due back soon, which doesn’t sound particularly ominous, but it will eat into his playing time. I’m also concerned about the Grizzlies fully embracing their seemingly accidental tank and giving Dillon Brooks a longer leash, so keep your expectations tempered when adding Ennis.
The latest news that J.J. Redick will miss at least 10-14 days with a bone edema and small corticular crack in his left leg opens up an interesting suite of options for deep league owners looking to make a short-term add. T.J. McConnell, PG, (9% owned) is the strongest add, but odds are that is not sitting around on the wire in many deep leagues given his strong play of late. At this point, all signs point to Jerryd Bayless, PG (2% owned) entering the starting lineup in Redick’s absence, but his upside even in a starting role is limited compared to McConnell. That said, when the minutes are there, Bayless can be a solid source of threes and steals making him at least worth a look as a short-term add in 18-team leagues and larger. Finally, for those owners in super deep formats, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, SG (<1% owned) should also get some extra run while Redick is out. I’d be hesitant to assign him must-add status outside of leagues larger than 20-teams (even then he is on the fringe), but he has that sparkplug-type scoring ability and can light it up from deep when he is feeling it, making him a boom or bust type of add in deeper formats.
Davis Bertans, PF, Spurs (1% owned) – Bertans has been on quite a run lately, albeit inconsistently. His lines from the last four games range from 31 minutes, 28 points, six threes, three assists and two blocks to 17 minutes, two points and two rebounds. Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? Despite the inconsistency, the high points have been high enough to keep him just above water as top-100 player over the past two weeks. If you would have asked him what to do with Bertans on Wednesday morning, I probably would have said that he is fine to own as a back end option in 18 or 20-team leagues and is a solid 3-point streaming option in shallower formats. However, in light of the cryptically worded bombshell dropped yesterday afternoon regarding the injury status of Kawhi Leonard, my outlook has changed slightly. Bertans still is not necessarily a must-add player in 16-team leagues, but he should get more run with Kawhi on the bench, so a speculative add may be warranted as we wait for more news on Kawhi’s timetable to return. Just don’t expect him to give you much outside of points and threes with the occasional block. At least for now.
Khem Birch, PF, Magic (<1% owned) – After playing only 39 total minutes all season, Birch erupted for a four-block double-double performance in only 19 minutes on Tuesday. After a quick google search to see who exactly Khem Birch even is, owners were likely left with the question – what do we do with this? Birch has spent a majority of his time in the G-League this season, where he averaged 13.9 points on 59 percent shooting with 9.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.6 blocks in 33 minutes over his 20 appearances so far. However, with Marreese Speights out last night, Birch was recalled from the G-League and put on a show. The question now is will he slide back into obscurity when Speights is back in action. The Magic are abysmal this season, and if they haven’t already, it seems that they may be gearing up to pull the plug and declare this a lost season. There is little incentive for them to play an aging veteran in Speights over a recently signed and relatively unknown 25-year old Birch. How Birch is utilized when the Magic next play on Thursday against the Cavaliers will be telling, but owners may not have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for another big game (or dud). Given how fantasy friendly his stat set is, and the potential for an increased roll on a fading Magic squad, Birch is a strong add candidate in all deep leagues. Just be aware the impending return of Jonathan Isaac and Nikola Vucevic will almost certainly have a negative impact on his rest of season outlook.
Second Half Stash Candidates
Zach Collins, PF/C, Blazers (1% owned) – While John “The Baptist” Collins is off to a ripping hot start in his rookie campaign, the other rookie named Collins is currently ranked outside of the top-350 in 9-cat leagues, meaning that he is barely rosterable even in 30-team formats based solely on his production to date. The good news is his playing time and output on the floor have been quietly trending up over the past month. He has gone from a frequent DNP to splitting the backup center minutes evenly with Ed Davis and playing 20 minutes per night. Collins is still raw, and his offensive skillset remains a work in progress, but as he builds consistency and continuity in a more solidified role, you don’t have to squint too hard to see the nightly double-double potential with a steady supply of threes and blocks. While Collins’ stock is on the rise, Jusuf Nurkic has largely been a disappointment this year. He has been posting fringe top-100 numbers lately, but the story for most of the season has been inconsistent minutes, foul trouble and inconsistent production. There is no doubt that Nurkic still gives the Blazers a better chance to win at the moment, and should hold on the starting job as long as he is healthy, but Collins has a real chance to take a firm hold over the backup center job and push Ed Davis further down the depth chart as he continues to improve. His upside is limited by the fact that he won’t likely see more than 30 minutes per night this season at any point barring an injury, but he is still worth a look as a stash candidate on upside alone if you have the roster spot to burn in 16-team leagues and larger.
Jarrett Allen, C, Nets (5% owned) – This isn’t the first time that Allen has been featured here on Deep League Digging, and it may not be the last. He is likely already owned in a lot of 16-team leagues out there, but if not, I would try to find a way to make him fit on the back of your bench if you’re high up in the standings at this point. In terms of polish on his game, much of what was said above for Collins applies to Allen as well. There are moments of mental lapse on defense, and he needs to work on rounding out his offensive skillset, but he has far and away the most upside of any big man on the Nets (not a high bar necessarily, but the point still stands). Despite the holes in his game, he has the potential to make an impact this year given his fantasy stat set. His block rate is the most obvious draw for owners, but we’ve seen flashes of some big time double-double potential without the struggles at the line that other big men of his stature can exhibit. So enough on why I like Allen, the reality is that you can’t put up numbers if you don’t play, and he is only averaging 17 minutes per game on the season. That is slowly ticking up, as he is averaging closer to 20 minutes per game over the past few games, but he is far from taking hold of the starting center job for the Nets, or really even the backup role at that. He is currently locked in a timeshare with Tyler Zeller, Jahlil Okafor and Quincy Acy, but there is a strong possibility of that changing. I doubt Allen becomes a starter this year, and if he does it will be in name only, but if he is even able to earn a locked in 25 minute per night role off the bench a top-150 finish seems likely.
Deyonta Davis, PF/C, Grizzlies (<1% owned) – Here is a stash candidate for you fantasy hoops degenerates out there in super deep formats, though owners in 16-team leagues would be wise to keep an eye on Davis as well. The 21-year-old big man didn’t make much of an impact in his rookie season, but is showing some signs of progress this year, and his situation on a Grizzlies team that continues to look more like a lottery candidate than playoff candidate makes him an ideal stash candidate. The physical tools are all there for Davis to be a dominant two-way player in the modern NBA – size, length, athleticism. Similar to Marquese Chriss, the weapons are all there, but Davis’ ability to maintain discipline and utilize those weapons on a consistent basis is in question. It is tough to predict intangible development like that, but the numbers say that that he has taken a major leap forward this year and continues to progress as the season moves along. He has gone from a garbage time only player to a consistent cog in the rotation in the last month. Last night he earned his first ever NBA start with both Marc Gasol and Brandan Wright sidelined, and looked the part of an NBA-caliber rotation player. It wasn’t an eye popping line from his first start, but we need only go back to Monday to find a tantalizing five-block performance off the bench. If the Grizzlies continue to slide, keep an eye on Davis as there is little incentive for them not to give him a longer leash and see if he can continue to develop. He is worth a stash spot if you have the roster space in 18-team leagues and larger on upside, and should be on your watch list in 16-team leagues.
That’s it for this week Deep Leaguers! If you need me, I’ll be watching Deyonta Davis block party highlights for next few days, but as always, you can connect with me on twitter: @z_bodhane. See you next week!