• Hello again Hoop Ballers! Welcome to the first regular season 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.

    At this point, it is probably safe to assume that you have completed your draft. It is the most wonderful time of year in fantasy basketball. Hope springs eternal; you can’t find a single fault in your draft; every sleeper you wanted is perfectly placed on your roster. Or… your computer crashed in the first round and you ended up at the mercy of the default rankings. Whether you are convinced you just drafted the winning team, or are already frantically searching for trade partners, it is never too early to identify some candidates for your waiver wire watch list.

    It is no secret that the deeper your league, the less likely you are to find a wire pickup that swings your team from bottom-feeder to playoff-contender. However, diligence in monitoring the wire is still essential to build a winning team in even the deepest of leagues. As the season goes on, these wire watch articles will be based purely on projected rotation shifts from big news items, but in this first installment it makes sense to look at ownership percentages and see where there may already be a season-long gem sitting on the wire. With that said,  I’ll still touch on early season news as it would be gross negligence on my part to not also cover the deep league fallout from the early season injuries to Nikola Mirotic and Gordon Hayward, as unpleasant as it may be.

    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 try to note things like that to limit confusion, but it is an important caveat. Finally, I will always list players in order of their relevance in leagues from shallowest (16-team) to deepest (30-team) leagues. Phew, glad that is over – now to the fun stuff.

    Jerian Grant, PG, Bulls (6% Owned) – Grant has not been getting much love in standard leagues despite his status as the de-facto starting point guard for at least as long as it takes Kris Dunn to return from injury. If he is on the wire in 16-team formats (or any deeper), give him a hard look. He should hold top-150 value for as long as Dunn is out, and I don’t see how he loses enough playing time to not maintain at least back-end value in 16-team formats even when Dunn returns as the two will likely be in a timeshare barring anything drastic happening.

    Cheick Diallo, PF, Pelicans (2% Owned) – Yes, he only played one minute last night, but I will stand by my assessment that Diallo should have stand-alone value in deep leagues this year beyond his already established value as a handcuff for Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. He has a solid path to minutes having likely overtaken Alexis Ajinca on the depth chart, and should be the first big man off the bench for the Pelicans going forward. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him playing close to 20 minutes per game depending on the matchup. Diallo is a beast around the rim, and his contributions in blocks and rebounds alone could warrant late-round value in 16-team leagues. That is all before considering the fact that he could be looking at larger minutes if Cousins or Davis is scheduled to miss time at any point this season. Diallo is a candidate for top-200 value this year with huge upside, making him an excellent late-round guy in 16-team leagues and must-own in anything larger.

    DeAndre’ Bembry, SF, Hawks (<1% Owned) – Am I alone here DeAndre’ Bembry island? His ownership percentage would certainly seem to suggest so. He has a solid floor this year since he has the versatility to play at both the two and the three behind Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, and it wouldn’t take much for him to earn a larger role. Don’t mistake my enthusiasm for him as a declaration of must-own status in 16-team leagues, but if you need assists and want a guy with more upside than the usual denizens of the deep-league wire, give Bembry a look. With that qualifier stated, if he is somehow on the wire in a 20-team or 30-team league, drop everything and pick him up now.

    Terry Rozier, PG, Celtics (2% Owned) – A quick aside here before jumping into the analysis. Tuesday night was a reminder for me that fantasy sports are hands-down one of the best ways to interact with any sport that we enjoy, but at the end of the day it is a game that we play with real people as the game pieces. Every injury has real-life consequences on the livelihood of these guys, so the black and white picture that often gets painted leaves out the humanizing shades of gray. I’ve been a huge Hayward fan since his Butler days, so seeing him suffer such a gruesome injury really put me in a funk, but just as the show must go on for Celtics, so must it for all of us who are lucky enough to write about the sport that we love.

    With Gordon Hayward likely done for the season, there are going to be extra minutes available for numerous role players on the Celtics. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart are some of the names that have been floated as add candidates in standard leagues, but the ramifications of the injury will also be felt further down the depth chart. Prior to the injury, Terry Rozier was relatively buried behind Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart. Now there is a serious gap in minutes to fill out on the wing, so Smart will likely be asked to play more at the two as Jaylen Brown slides over to the three. This means Rozier should get more run in the backup point guard role, or potentially at the two beside Smart. He is a strong add candidate in 16-team formats, and should be as close to a sure-fire add as possible in 20-team or 30-team leagues if he is still on the wire.

    Cristiano Felicio, PF/C, Bulls (2% Owned) The Bulls quietly signed Felicio to a 4-year, $32 million contract back in June, re-enforcing the idea that he is a part of their long-term plan. He will start the year as the primary backup behind Robin Lopez, but given the Bulls’ likely position as bottom-dwellers in the east, you don’t have to squint too hard to see potential for Felicio to overtake Lopez on the depth chart after long. While Lauri Markkanen is probably the primary beneficiary of the injury to Nikola Mirotic, Felicio should see a slight uptick in minutes even as a backup, making him a strong add candidate in any league larger than 16-teams. Owners in 16-team leagues may still consider adding him on the potential that Lopez (who is due to make $28 million over the next two years) is traded or benched in favor of a youth movement.

    Brandan Wright, PF/C, Grizzlies (1% Owned) – You only have to go as far back as the 2014-2015 season to find a point in time where Brandan Wright finished the year comfortably inside the top-100. So what happened to cause such a rapid fall from grace for Wright? He simply couldn’t stay on the court. Flash forward to the present and Wright finds himself in a great situation to soak up minutes in a thin Grizzlies frontcourt if he can just manage to stay healthy. He has the potential to put up big-time block and rebound numbers with ridiculous shooting efficiency, but it is far from a sure thing that he will be healthy for enough games to be relevant to owners season-long. Still, he has a high enough ceiling that if he is sitting around on the wire it may be worth betting on a full season of Brandan Wright. In leagues shallower than 20-teams, keep him on your watch list ready to pull the trigger if he gets off to a hot start. In leagues deeper than that, he should be rostered on potential alone.

    Spencer Dinwiddie, PG, Nets (<1% Owned) – Dinwiddie ended up sneaking his way into the top-200 last year backing up the oft injured Jeremy Lin. He seems to have solidified himself as the clear-cut backup point guard this season, so he should see enough run to make him a deep league asset even with Lin healthy. With Lin now done for the year, his outlook improves tremendously. This elevates him from a waiver wire candidate in 30-team leagues, to someone to consider in all leagues 16-teams and larger.

    Tyus Jones, PG, Timberwolves (<1% owned) – Jones is pretty far off the radar even in 16-team leagues, but will likely be name that every owner in super deep formats will become familiar with by the end of the season. With Kris Dunn leaving town earlier this year, Jones became the clear-cut backup point guard for the Timberwolves behind Jeff Teague. Tom Thibodeau is not necessarily known for his deep rotations, but Jones should still see consistent minutes at the one due to his prowess on the defensive end. He will give you next to nothing on offense, but his ability to distribute and rack up steals should give him steady value in deep formats even in backup minutes. He could end up being a waiver wire steal come season-end for owners in 20-team or 30-team formats.

    That’s it for this week. If you want to discuss buying some space on Bembry Island, 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

  • 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.

  • Khris Middleton - F - Milwaukee Bucks

    Khris Middleton scored 14 points in Saturday's Eastern Conference Finals loss adding just four 3-pointers, four rebounds and two turnovers.

    All-Star Middleton struggled this entire series as he was tasked with the unenviable task of guarding Kawhi Leonard. He was poised to continue his fabulous playoff success following strong performances against the Pistons and Celtics but failed to deliver this series, with the exception of a 30-point Game 4 loss. Middleton will be a free agent this summer and will be one of the Bucks' top priorities heading into the offseason.

  • Eric Bledsoe - G - Milwaukee Bucks

    Eric Bledsoe scored an inefficient eight points (3-for-9 FGs, 1-for-3 3-pointers, 1-for-2 FTs) in Saturday's loss while adding five rebounds, seven assists, one steal and two turnovers.

    Bledsoe seemed to ebb and flow all series and just could not find the consistency that the Bucks needed during the Eastern Conference Finals. He has always been able to produce outside of scoring but his team really needed him to put the ball in the hoop this game.

  • Brook Lopez - C - Milwaukee Bucks

    Brook Lopez scored 18 points on Saturday's Game 6 loss, adding nine rebounds, one assist, four blocks and zero 3-pointers.

    Lopez had a productive 4th quarter for the Bucks scoring six points in the paint against the Raptors frontcourt. Unfortunately, he could not get it going throughout the rest of the game and caused most of his damage at the freethrow line, going 8-for-9. Lopez provided a great boost for the Bucks this season and will be a free agent this offseason.

  • Patrick McCaw - G - Toronto Raptors

    Patrick McCaw, who has been dealing with a personal issue for the last few games, is active for Game 6 on Saturday vs. the Bucks.

    It looks like McCaw got things sorted out. With him active now, the Raptros will get a bit more depth at the guard spot. That said, Fred VanVleet has been playing well, so McCaw will not likely see a lot of burn tonight outside of potential garbage minutes (if any).

    Source: Blake Murphy on Twitter