March 16, 2016, 2:45 pm
As we enter the final few weeks of the regular season, it becomes a time of frustration for fantasy owners. Players are held out for minor injuries on the regular and older veterans receive rest days frequently. That’s why it becomes much more important for owners to have players who are performing at their best, as opposed to players at their worst.
We have reached that time of the week again where here at HOOP-BALL, we become your meteorologists. Like last week, the top players will be held out of the “WHO’S HOT” section because we’d be talking about the same players weekly. Let’s dive into the “WHO’S HOT and WHO’S COLD?.”
G – Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
This Sun shines bright in the desert. With the makings of a future star, 19 year old Devin Booker is one of the lone bright spots to an otherwise lost Suns season. By all accounts, Booker has surpassed expectations in a very impressive rookie season. As is the case with most young players, he didn’t get a real opportunity until the Suns were decimated with injuries.
Booker had a tough month of February (which is expected for a 19 year old rookie on a terrible team), but he is heating up in a big way in March. Over his past seven games, he is averaging 25.1 points, 1.7 threes, 2.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 46.3% shooting from the field and 88.9% shooting from the charity stripe. Those numbers are good for top 50/60 (8-cat/9-cat) production over that time span.
Booker has shown the ability to score around the basket, off the dribble or by spotting up. He has the athleticism and great first step to get by and around defenders. His shooting has always been his strength even at Kentucky, but even as he’s struggled with this three-point shot as the season has progressed, he has shown the ability to improve as a passer. His assist numbers have risen each month as he has shown that he is a willing distributor, able to find teammates in some tight windows.
With Brandon Knight back and in the starting lineup, he may not continue his pace as a top 50/60 player. But even then, the improvements in his game have shown outstanding maturity and growth. With Alex Len becoming a focal point in the offense, Booker should continue to find himself open when defenses collapse on Len. But even with all this said, Booker is still owned in only 64% of all Yahoo! leagues. Given his upside and proven ability to continue to improve, Booker should be owned in all but the shallowest leagues. Especially in keeper/dynasty leagues.
G- Josh Richardson, Miami Heat
In a game full of frauds, Josh Richardson is the truth. The 40th selection of this past June’s draft, he continues to blossom as his role expands with the Miami Heat.
Over the past six games, Richardson is averaging over 28 minutes and posting 12.3 points, 2.5 threes, 2.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.5 turnovers on 57.4% shooting from the field. Those numbers are good for 4th round/6th round (9-cat/8-cat) value over that time span.
With Gerald Green seemingly falling out of the rotation and Tyler Johnson injured, there is no reason to believe that Richardson should see his minutes and opportunity decrease over the last few weeks of the season. His length, physicality and athleticism make him a versatile and willing defender. When paired with fellow rookie Justise Winslow, they provide Erik Spoelstra with versatility off the bench that any other team in the NBA would envy.
He has worked hard to improve his offensive game as well. Spalding must love Richardson, as the Heat probably have to order new balls daily with Richardson making it rain fire in South Beach. He has connected on a staggering 15 of his last 20 3PTA. That is due for obvious regression, but it shows he has the ability to knock down the three consistently. He attacks the rim with ferocity and isn’t afraid to make plays around the basket. In Monday’s game against the Nuggets, Dragic spent the fourth quarter on the bench as Richardson closed the game out, even bringing the ball up the court on multiple occasions.
With the Heat playing great basketball of late, don’t expect the rotation to change. Richardson is seemingly here to stay. If he is available on your wire, stop reading and pick him up.
SF – Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Unlike the other Canadian first overall pick, Andrew Wiggins has continuously shown that he is a stud in real-life with incredible potential. Unfortunately, his game never translated well in fantasy. But this beta wolf is showing signs of turning into the alpha wolf.
Over his past seven games, Wiggins is averaging 20.4 points, 1.0 three, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals on 54.4% shooting from the field. That is good for top 40 value over that time span.
Over the past seven games, he is putting his elite athleticism to better use and has become an absolute beast in transition. His shots in transition have risen from 15.8% of his total FGA on the season to 34.3% of his FGA. Not surprisingly, given his physical attributes, he is converting on 70% of his transition opportunities. He has also almost entirely cut out the pull up three, settling for spot up threes that he has been converting at a 53.8% clip that is likely contributing to global warming. It is no surprise that his FG% has jumped up nearly 10% over this time span.
He’s also improving as a passer and has seen his steal numbers steadily increase. When paired with Karl-Anthony Towns, they make a frightening duo. Still only 21 years young, Wiggins seems to finally be tapping into his potential. If his fantasy potential starts nearing his real-life potential, he could be in for a huge breakout next season.
PF – Luol Deng, Miami Heat
Yet another reason why it is raining fire in South Beach. Ever since Chris Bosh has been out of the lineup, Luol Deng has turned the clock back to his Bulls days and has been an absolute monster. The Heat have gone small with Deng at power forward, a decision that has likely saved their season.
Over the past month, Deng has been a top 35/45 (9-cat/8-cat) player. In that time span, he has averaged 17.5 points, 1.1 threes, 9.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 steals on 49.7% shooting from the field.
Looking at his numbers shows a player becoming more active in transition and less reliant on the three ball. His transition FGA have risen from 16.1% to 21.7%, while his 3PTA have dropped from 37.8% to 25.4% of his FGA. He has replaced those threes with more shots inside 10 feet, with such FGA rising from 41.1% to 52.4%. As a result, his FG% has risen over 7 points in the last month.
It appears as though his change to power forward has rejuvenated him, as he’s more active defensively and on the boards. You need to ride him while he is this hot. He needs to be owned in all leagues.
C – Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
A major reason for the Celtics’ surge up the Eastern Conference standings has been the play of Jared Sullinger. He is showing why he was a projected top five pick before a back issue dropped his stock considerably.
Over the last month, he been performing at a top 50/70 (9-cat/8-cat) level. In that span, he has been posting 13.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks on 47.9% shooting from the field.
Taking a look at his stats shows a player who has improved his shot selection, improved his efficiency, and has seen his entire game improve as a result. He has been a poor 3PT shooter all season, and over the past month he has seen his 3PTA rate nearly cut in half. He has also cut down the rate at which he takes pull up jumpers (which he converts at an approximate rate of 34%) by over half, instead replacing them with more shots within 10 feet of the rim (which he has been converting at a rate of 56.4%). His shots within 10 feet of the rim half increased from 45.2% of his FGA prior to the all-star break, to 54.9% post all-star break. He is definitely taking positive strides in his shot selection.
The injury to Kelly Olynyk and the abysmal play of Amir Johnson opened the door wide open for Sullinger. To this point, he has taken full advantage of the opportunity. Olynyk is expected back within the next week, but he is sure to be brought along slowly. Sullinger is safe at least for the next couple of weeks and should help lead teams down the playoff stretch.